"A Reborn Wanderer" by Shadow Master aka Ryley Breen

email : : This message is merely to inform the readers that I do not own either the characters from Buffy the Vampire Slayer or those found in the Anime Rurouni Kenshin. They are owned by someone/s else altogether most certainly spend their time, at least once a day, laughing all the way to the bank considering the money they have made off of these two shows. In any case I am using these two shows and the associated characters to tell a story of my own for both my own personal enjoyment and for the enjoyment of people who enjoy reading such fanfics. I am making no money off of this whatsoever so suing me would be quite inefficient as it would likely cost you more to pay your lawyers' legal fees than anything you could ever peel off of my bones. Therefore it is suggested that you simply let this slide by unnoticed and focus on where the real money comes from.

Note : This story will begin slightly before the episode 'Incan Mummy Girl' and will take a slightly different path than the one fans of the show likely remember. I will make the effort to write a fanfic crossover just as entertaining as the episode itself. As for the Rurouni Kenshin Anime series please keep in mind that any dialogue or scenes I cut and paste from there will be coming from the English dubbed version.

A Reborn Wanderer

"This is so unfair!" Buffy complained as they all walked alone with the rest of their history class into the museum.

"I don't think it's that bad." Willow stated trying to get her best female friend to look on the positive side of things rather than the negative.

"It's the Uber-suck. Mom could've at least warned me." Buffy said with a look on her face similar to what one would wear when their parents refused to increase the size of their allowance despite much begging and whining.

It had been like that for most of the morning and truthfully he just wished that Buffy would quit being such a sourpuss over it. The whole cultural exchange thing was only going to be around for a week or so and then it would be over. No matter how irritating the exchange student the Slayer would get stuck with was surely she could put up with it for at least that long. True he wasn't in a similar position since his parents would probably start acting like real parents before they'd sign up for that whole exchange student thing. They complained enough about having to support him until he was legally adult so there was no way they'd willing take on another person into their house even if it was for a little over a week. Still he could vaguely imagine what it would be like to have someone from a different country his own age living in the same house for a week. From what he could tell the only real drag would be trying not to offend them by doing something his or her culture would consider immoral or dishonorable or something. In any case the only thing he could really do was remind his blonde friend that this would just be a temporary situation.

"Well, a lot of parents are doing it this year. It's part of this whole cultural exchange magilla. The exhibit, the dance..." Xander said as he began to explain to the Slayer the details of the whole event.

"I have the best costume for the dance!" Willow piped in apparently very excited about what she had managed to get.

"A complete stranger in my house for two weeks. I'm gonna be insane! A danger to myself and others within three days, I swear." said Buffy as she seemed determined to remain in her funk despite her friend's best efforts.

Alright! One last effort to turn that frown upside down for this depressed Slayer. Xander thought as he played his trump card.

"I think the exchange student program's cool." , Xander said and when he got the expected look of disbelief, "I do! It's a beautiful melding of two cultures."

"Have you ever done an exchange program?" Buffy asked with skepticism still in her voice.

"My dad tried to sell me to some Armenians once. Does that count?" Xander asked with mock seriousness.

Both Buffy and Willow shook their heads as they entered the museum that was working alongside the school with the cultural exchange program. Inside was not only a bulletin board with pictures of each exchange student but also a new exhibit to help students get their feet wet with the whole concept of other cultures. It was an exhibit on the country of Japan, specifically centering on the Revolution, the end of the Tokugawa regime and the early years of the Meiji government. He was about as familiar with the history of Japan as he was the history of the doorstop but he figured Buffy might get a kick out of the exhibit. After all it apparently had a section that displayed some of the weapons used during the Revolution and he knew that nothing brightened a Slayer's mood more then pretty weapons. Even he had a kind of interest in seeing them as he and Jessie had been big fans of those corny and badly voiced over kung fu and samurai flicks on late night TV. He doubted that he'd be interested in any of the other parts of the exhibit like the historical significance of this and the context of that. Still it beat sitting in a classroom and with the company of his pals it could be quite an enjoyable field trip.

However when they all went over to the Bulletin board to take a look at Buffy's exchange student they were dismayed to see that Queen C was there already. It kinda surprised Xander that the spoiled rich girl that both he and Willow hated since pre-school would even consider signing up for the student exchange program. After all she was bad enough to the people living in this country. Did she want to spread her snobbish attitude worldwide or something?

"Ooo! There's mine! Sven. Isn't he lunchable? Mine's definitely the best." Cordy squealed as she looked at the picture of some blonde guy that looked like he hadn't had a conscious thought in years.

Then again Queen C hadn't exactly been known to choose boyfriends for their intelligence. As long as they were handsome and wealthy she could care less if they could say something intelligent or not.

"What're you lookin' at?" Buffy asked as she tried to figure out what picture this 'Sven' guy was in.

"Pictures of our exchange students. Look. 100 Swedish, 100 gorgeous, 100 staying at my house! So, how's yours? Visually, I mean." Cordelia replied as she was thoroughly determined to have this one exchange student be assigned to her family while he was here.

"I don't know. Guy like?" Buffy said in a way that made it clear she hadn't really bothered to get too involved with this exchange program at least as far as doing her homework on who she was getting.

"By guy-like we are talking big, beefy, guy-like girl, right?" Xander asked deciding to have some fun with his blonde buddy's lack of knowledge.

"I was just told 'guy'." Buffy said unknowingly avoiding falling into his trap.

"You didn't look at him first? He could be dogly. You live on the edge." Cordelia said in disbelief as she strode off to join her Cordettes in another part of the museum.

For a moment Xander was tempted to go off on a dialogue of how he wasn't a big fan of the idea of some unknown guy living in Buffy's house for a week. After all while he still felt threatened by Deadboy's advancing in the 'be Buffy's boyfriend' race he knew he still had a chance while her fingers still lacked en expensive ring. As long as the two of them were still in the tentative dating phase there was still a chance he could win her heart and keep her from becoming a corpse humper. He was about to ask her something when he noticed her attention was focused on another student who was trying to covertly scrape off some paint from a wooden sword sheath.

"What's he doing?" Buffy asked with some confusion as she didn't understand why anyone would want to do what this guy was doing.

"Uh, that's Rodney Munson. He's God's gift to the bell curve." , Xander answered since aside from the name and general weirdness that this guy had he didn't know much else, "What he lacks in smarts he makes up in lack of smarts."

From there the museum tour guide who had been assigned to them asked them all to get together in one group so that he could show them around. Xander hadn't really seen him earlier with all the bustling but now that he got a good look something about the man was setting off alarm bells. He wore a tan suit, had black hair just shy of shoulder length and gave off the aura of a man who took his job just a little too seriously. Still he found it odd that a museum tour guide would be setting off his internal alarms when usually it took a vamp or Snyder to make him this uncomfortable. Pushing the feelings aside he tried to focus his attention on the surrounding exhibit rather than on the guide who was already well into his monologue about the Revolution. Looking at the various paintings, drawings and the very few pictures that hung about the room his 'weird-shit-o-meter' went up a notch as he began to feel a weird sense of familiarity with some of the images he looked at. One was a picture of two groups of samurai fighting each other in the middle of a town that was going up in flame. One side wore these green or bluish-green jackets while the others were blue and white ones with both sides wielding katanas or something similar. When he gazed at that picture in particular he could almost hear the faint sound of swords clashing and the screams of men dying.

"Xander?" asked a voice that made him nearly jump out of his skin before he turned and realized it was just Willow talking to him.

"Yeah?" he asked as he came out of the daze he had unconsciously slipped into and the weird feelings he had experienced faded away.

"You kinda zoned out for a second there." Willow replied with a little worry in her voice.

"Don't worry. I was just wondering what it was like back then when swords were the weapon of choice among the cool and the brave." Xander stated trying to reassure his friend that he was okay and that she had nothing to worry about.

"Perhaps I can help you a bit in that regard young man." Came a familiar voice from behind them.

Turning around the three members of the Scooby gang found that while their attention had been focused on the drawing the man who had been leading the tour had somehow snuck up on them. Instantly that niggling feeling that had been present the last time that Xander had looked at this guy returned. It was like a smoke alarm that you couldn't turn off, and the Zeppo just ignored it rather than try and figure it out. The man though seemed to take their silence as an invitation to carry through on his offer as he walked over to one of the display cases containing two Japanese swords. Looking at the small cue card that rested at the front of the case he saw that one was a katana and the other was called a wakizashi. The man then approached Xander but when the man's hand got a little too close to his waist the heart of the Scooby gang backed off on the defensive.

"Easy young man. I was merely attempting to tuck these beneath your belt so you could gain a better understanding of what it was like to walk around with a pair of swords on your hip during the Japanese Revolution." The man stated attempting to appear as non-threatening as possible.

It seemed a logical enough reason so Xander suppressed the uneasiness that had caused him to retreat a moment ago. However in pushing these feelings back they seemed to merge with the nagging feeling from earlier and he knew that some of his mental discomfort was showing on his face. Still he stood firm as the man placed both swords beneath his belt on his left hip and after making a few seemingly minor adjustments the guide took a few steps back. For a moment Xander merely stood there, trying to get used to the feel of the two swords at his waist but to his surprise there was an unusual feeling of familiarity in their weight. It was like when you slipped your foot into a shoe you've worn for years and have completely gotten used to or a bed that you have slept in all your life. This confused him as aside from his adventures with Buffy the closest that he had ever come to holding a sword was on Halloween and those swords were made out of plastic. Looking down at the two swords he reached with his right hand until it rested comfortably on the pommel of the katana. It was eerie, this feeling of familiarity, but beyond that he could think of nothing that could either describe the feeling within him nor deduce where it came from.

"Take the sword out of its sheath if you wish." the man offered with a small smile on his face, "Though do be careful where you swing it. The owner who loaned it to this exhibit kept it in excellent condition so it is still quite sharp."

Looking at him for a moment to see if he was serious then Xander did as the man said and as smoothly as possible pulled the katana out from its sheath. Once out he then gripped the weapon in both hands with his right hand next to the guard and the left hand just above the pommel. It felt like it had pretty good balance since neither the blade nor the handle seemed heavier than the other. However what had him two steps shy of wigging out was that the sensation he had felt when he had looked at that drawing of two sides fighting it out in Kyoto was intensifying. The feel of the handle, the way the light reflected off of the blade, seemed to remind him of something but for the life of him he couldn't figure out why. Just then his sense of hearing caught something cutting through the air and almost without thinking about it he turned, bent his knees a bit and brought the katana into a horizontal guard position just slightly above his head. With a ting that seemed kind of weird coming from two deadly pieces of metal clashing Xander found his sword blocking another katana held by a Japanese man with long black hair.

"Hey! What's the big idea!" , Buffy bellowed angrily at the man looking like she was two seconds from taking him down human or not, "You could've killed him!"

To this the mystery man only replaced the sword he held in its sheath located on his belt beneath his brown trench coat.

"Sorry young lady. Your friend here has the aura of a warrior about him and when I saw him hold the katana it almost seemed as though it belonged there." , the man stated while bowing at Buffy, "I merely thought to test him and I must say that he did quite adequate considering he hasn't had any official training."

"And what if he hadn't been able to block it in time?" Willow asked a little more respectfully but just as angrily than Buffy had.

"I would have stopped the blade myself before it pierced his skin." , the man replied with a confident grin, "A master is not a master unless they have complete control over their chosen weapon."

"Yeah well next time you want to test me buddy how about you make it a written one instead." Xander stated as he put the katana back in its sheath.

What no one but the man in charge of the exhibit and the man who had attacked him noticed was that Xander sheathed the sword in a way not done for many a year. The young Harris scraped one side of the blade up against the top of the sheath as if to wipe the blood off of it before he slid it smoothly into the sheath. Both men knew that in modern times like these swords were either decorations or used in non-lethal competitions where little if any blood got on them at all. Even those few Asian crime syndicates like the Yakuza who still used swords in their day to day affairs preferred guns and modern weaponry to the old ways. So to see the young resident of Sunnydale sheath the katana in such a manner pleased them. They kept their emotions well hidden though so none of the members of the Scooby gang saw anything that might cause them to think something was amiss.

"Perhaps young man but I find that some skills can't be taught or learned." , the Japanese man said as he turned to leave, "Some skills like swordsmanship can only come through actual combat and practice."

Seeing his mystery attacker walk away Xander felt that something odd had just taken place. Why was a man with a sharp sword allowed to walk around in a museum and why hadn't the security guards in the place moved to arrest him for attacking a student?

"You'll have to forgive Mr. Udo. He is the exhibit's historical consultant and unfortunately rather passionate about the authenticity of certain things." , the exhibit manager stated attempting to placate their suspicions about the sword-wielding man, "Still you should take it as something of a compliment that he considered you worth testing young man. Swordsmanship, especially those styles used during the Revolution in Japan, is something he specializes in."

"Still a wack job if you ask me." Buffy stated clearly not liking the fact that an insane sword wielding man had taken a swing at one of her friends.

"Perhaps so young lady, perhaps so." , the manager of the exhibit said before apparently spotting something going on elsewhere in the exhibit, "Now if you'll excuse me it seems that one of your less behaved classmates has decided to scrape off a piece of an exhibit to take home with him."

Before the Zeppo could ask the man what he wanted done with the katana and wakizashi he strode off to deal with Rodney Munson's acts of vandalism.

"Well that was weird in a 'I almost got killed' kind of way." , Xander said as he removed both swords from his hip and moved to put them back in their display case, "Still it was kinda cool that the guy thought I had potential with a katana."

"Yeah it was so cool that if you hadn't managed to get your sword up in time he woulda split your head in two." Buffy stated angrily while glaring in the direction that Mr. Udo went.

"Were you really worried that he might've hurt me Buff or are you just angry that I managed to block his attack before you could move a muscle?" Xander asked as he decided to enjoy the fact that he got one up on the 'Chosen One'.

"As if! You got lucky that's all!" , Buffy stated as she turned her potent glare on him, "Besides stopping swords with just your bare hands isn't as easy as they make it look in the movies. I was not going to risk going home with bloody hands and explaining why I decked some guy at the museum to my mother. She's mad enough at me for making a fuss over the student exchange thing as it is."

"Poor, poor Buffy! Scourge of the demonic by night but still afraid of facing Mommy's wrath!" , Xander said mockingly but he quickly clammed up when the glare she was using turned into 'The Look', "Hey! Let's go see what else this exhibit's got! I think I saw some spears that you might like Buff."

He breathed a sigh of relief when Buffy's attention shifted from him to the shiny weapons on display. It was one thing to have a laugh at a friend's expense or dangle a defeat over someone's head but when it was a woman and she gave you 'The Look' all men knew it was time to stop or face her wrath. Needless to say the Zeppo was not interested in finding out just how the Slayer would choose to get her payback for his words if he could avoid it. Besides which she had a point as far as Mr. Udo's attack went. It was lucky that he had heard the sword's blade cutting through the air in time to bring his katana up to block or he'd have wound up half the man he used to be. Now that he had time to think about it though he wondered how he had known which area of his body the attack was aimed at or the right position to place his sword in to guard against it. The entire encounter had only been a few seconds long and the man's swing had been very fast indeed. He hadn't even gotten a good look at the sword in Mr. Udo's hands before raising his own in a guarding position. So how could he have known what to do?

It was probably just dumb luck just like Buffy said. , Xander thought as he went to join his two girls, What other explanation is there?

Little did the young student realize that on a private security monitor in a dark room sat someone watching him with unusual interest for someone who had never seen Xander before today. Someone who knew of another explanation why a swordsman would attack him and one possibility as to how he was able to block the attack.

A Room on the Upper Floors of the Museum, One Hour Later

"What did you think of our newest hopeful my Lord?" said the manager of the Revolution/Meiji Era exhibit or Hiroshi as all his friends called him.

The man he asked the question of was a finely manicured man wearing an expensive oriental style suit. With long brown hair tied in a ponytail and brown eyes that looked like they could cut your soul in two with just a look he made for an intimidating figure. However instead of looking at the man who had addressed him his eyes remained focused on the TV he sat in front of. On the screen a section of the building's security camera played over and over again. It wasn't more than a minute or so in length and while Hiroshi was fairly certain that his Lord had already watched the footage numerous times the wealthy looking man's attention did not waver from the images being shown. It was about five minutes before the man finally picked up the remote control and turned the TV off. When his brown eyes finally settled on Hiroshi the manager of the exhibit could tell that they might have finally found the one they had been searching for these past ten years.

"He definitely seems to possess more skill than the other potentials we have found since we began our search." , the Lord's smooth voice said coolly, "He blocked Udo's attack almost without thinking about it. When added to his reaction to the painting of the fires of Kyoto during the Revolution and I believe we may indeed have found our target."

Getting to his feet the Lord walked over to a small wooden box which when opened revealed a large number of expensive cigars. Taking one out he cut the end off and placed it in his mouth before lighting the opposite end with a gold plated lighter. He took a moment to take a deep puff from the cigar before he turned his attention back to Hiroshi.

"Still he will have to be tested like all the others regardless." , the Lord said as a sinister grin emerged on his face, "However I have a more original one in mind than the usual 'bandits' approach we have used in the past."

"Oh? If I may, my lord, what is this new scenario you have devised?" Hiroshi asked with interest as it was an anomaly for his Lord to alter the long used 'bandits' scenario they had used in the past to test potentials.

"In the top most dresser drawer you will find a file folder containing the details. Most of the necessary resources are already in place and ready to be activated." , the Lord replied after taking another puff from his cigar, "All that is required is choosing a group of competent agents from my army and determining the proper time to implement the scenario."

Doing as he was bidden he went over to the dresser in question and withdrew the blue file folder from the top most drawer. It was fairly thin but he could tell from the edges of the white paper that poked out from the edges that each page was filled as much as it could be without being too messy. Opening the folder up he began to read the scenario that was detailed on the page and with each new page he read he began to see more and more of what his Lord had in mind. He felt a spring of excitement and anticipation well up within his body as he knew that if his Lord had taken the time to devise this particular scenario for this potential target then he must believe that their mission would end with this young man. If that were so then he would have to take extra care in choosing the right men for the test as well as the right location. It would take about half a week to have everything ready then it would simply be a matter of reviewing the reconnaissance reports on Mr. Harris to determine when best to begin the scenario. Looking at the scenario laid out by his Lord though he believed that it would be most effective if it took place as the sun was setting. After all it was only then that the skies would turn the proper shade of red and cast the necessary shadows upon the ground.

"An excellent scenario my Lord. This will surely have the desired effect on Mr. Harris if he is indeed the one you seek." Hiroshi said as he closed the folder and tucked it beneath his arm.

"Oh I think that very shortly we shall see our old enemy once again Hiroshi." , the Lord stated with some certainty as he absentmindedly placed a hand on his chest, "It is only a question of how swiftly he will fully emerge both in memory and in body."

"As you say my Lord." Hiroshi said obediently as his suspicions were confirmed.

With that Hiroshi left to begin preparations to put his Lord's test scenario into action. As he walked down the Hallways within the museum he could not help but try to picture young Mr. Harris with the features of his Lord's ancient adversary. It was difficult at first as Mr. Harris wasn't Japanese but once the discrepancy of race was out of the way he began to see how his Lord might be optimistic about the outcome of the test. The way the hair would have framed the boy's face and the way he held the katana before when Udo had attacked him made the idea less of a possibility and more of a certainty. He could definitely see some resemblance between the two but the differences that existed made it difficult to imagine things properly. Harris' height and build were certainly different but as he had learned since he began his new life with his Lord reincarnations were tricky things. There was literally no rhyme or reason to how a person would be reborn into this world. Sometimes they would be reborn in a form almost identical to the one they had before but in other cases they would wind up being the opposite gender or a power house when in their last life they had been weak pathetic nothings. He most certainly didn't look anything like he had when he had served his Lord in a previous life but after some consideration he had decided to consider it an improvement.

Others among the elite of his Lord's warriors from their previous lives weren't so fortunate with some being downright pissed at the cards they had been dealt as far as size and appearance were concerned. He knew for a fact that the woman who was once Yumi was jealous of the fact that not only had Katamari been reincarnated as a woman but apparently had been blessed with some real … assets as far as looks went. Not that the reincarnated Yumi was ugly but in this life it appeared she had some real competition for his Lord's affections. Now whenever they were in the same room together they spent the entire time trying to one up each other in terms of usefulness to their Lord and in making romantic overtures to him. A waste of time as far as Hiroshi was concerned as he knew from previous experience that his Lord did not particularly care for that side of life. All that warranted his attention now was power and influence with a little bit of violence thrown in for good measure. With this test though it would be pure business because if Alexander Harris were indeed the one they sought then he would be offered the same choice as the others.

Join or die.

Sunnydale High School, Library, Lunch Hour

"So, can I go?" Buffy asked as she threw a few punches into the training pad that Giles was holding up in front of her.

"I think not." Giles replied with some exertion as another of Buffy's blows landed.

It had been like that since the training had started and would probably continue until the bell rang for afternoon classes. Just about everyone in the school was buzzing about the costume dance that was slated to happen at the end of the student exchange week. Not only was it a nice rehearsal for Halloween at the end of the month but it was also an excuse for some brain dead jocks to try to take advantage of the female exchange students. It was a typical case of 'they don't know the customs over here' and 'they are so young and naïve' ending of course with 'I will probably never see her again so no need to worry about commitment'. For Buffy though it was just a chance for her to be little miss normal and forget about the things that go bump in the night. However Giles was of the opinion that as the Slayer her duty to the side of good took priority and that the entire idea of having a stranger in her house for a week was intolerable which led to this argument.

"How come?" Buffy asked with a pout as she took a temporary break from pummeling the practice pad.

"Because you are the Chosen One." Giles replied while trying to hide the relief he felt at the temporary reprieve from the pounding he had taken even with the pad to cushion the blows.

"Mm. Just this once I'd like to be the Overlooked One." Buffy growled in frustration as this was probably one of the times being a super hero sucked.

"Well, I'm... afraid that is not..." Giles stated carefully since he knew that an upset Slayer was a dangerous thing especially when you provide yourself as a nice target.

Xander couldn't help but wince in sympathy as Buffy landed four hard hitting blows that looked like they were going to leave impressive bruises later on. It was not wise to anger the Buffy for the Buffy is powerful and capable of sending many a jock to the school nurse if they get too touchy feely. Unfortunately it was also in the nature of the Buffy to overlook a perfectly respectable young man for a two hundred or more year old corpse with issues. While he was no longer entertaining the possibility of the two of them getting together he still didn't think it was right for her to get involved with something she was supposed to be killing. It was like an angel falling for a devil, the two just didn't mix no matter how romantic a tale you spun to convince yourself it would work out. If the novelty of the pairing didn't wear itself out then one species or the other would kill the couple rather than let them be happy. Like the Capulets and the Montagues neither party would stand to see a member of one side get together with a member of another and they might not even bother trying to knock some sense into the pair before killing them. However no matter what inclinations he might have towards turning Sir Broods-a-lot into a pile of ashes he wouldn't. Buffy would never forgive him if he did which meant until Captain Forehead did something to enlighten Buffy to his true nature he could only watch.

"Your secret identity is going be difficult enough to maintain while this exchange student is living with you." Giles stated while bracing himself more against his charge's blows.

"Nooot... with her. In the same house as her." , he quickly pointed out as he did not like the image G-Man's sentence induced as he strode over to the library counter, "Am I the only one who's objective enough to make that distinction?"

"So! I think going to the dance like a normal person would be the best way to keep that secret. Giles, come on, budge! No one likes a non-budger." Buffy said as she continued to make her case not only with her words but also with her punches and kicks.

Buffy made a valid point since keeping your cover, in this case a high school student, valid was just as important as keeping your true self a secret from becoming known. In every spy movie he had ever seen where undercover work was needed no spy ever did a half-assed job of pretending to be just what their cover said they were. They either did it flawlessly or they wound up dead although in James Bond's case it meant he had to blow the building he was in up and escape using the most expensive and destructive vehicle he could find. In Buffy's case it meant that she had to go to the costume dance or people might get suspicious. Still G-Man had at least one thing in his favor and that was the fact that students attending the dance were expected to bring their exchange students with them. While not necessarily a date per say he knew that Buffy would probably have to stick pretty close to the foreign student to make sure he didn't make a fool of himself. Almost made him wish that Buffy's mom had gotten a girl instead because at least the situation wouldn't have been a complete waste. Especially if it was one of those foreign models or tennis players since both by definition had to stay fit and were almost always knockouts. Not that he would be able to say more than two words to them since they would know little if any English knowing his luck.

"FINE!" Giles said as he finally conceded to her demands although it was probably more due to his aching arms than his inability to continue arguing with her.

"Yay! I win." Buffy said with a smile as she won the argument with physical strength and sound reasons.

"Y-yes, I'll just go introduce my shoulder to an ice pack." Giles stated as he lowered the pad to the ground with an obviously tender arm.

"So, I guess we're dance-bound. Cool. I think I can get my mom's car, so I'm wheel man." Xander said as he moved away from the library counter to join Buffy in leaving the library.

"I thought you were taking Willow?" Buffy asked with some confusion.

"Well, yeah, I'm gonna take Willow, but I'm not gonna take Willow. In the sense of 'take me'. See, with you we're three and everybody's safe. Without you, we're two." Xander replied as he tried in vane not to sound weird.

"Ah, and we enter dateville. Romance, flowers..." Buffy said with a smile as she clued into what was making her friend so uncomfortable.

"Lips." Xander stated as he put in his own two cents with more than a little unease at thinking of his since-pre-school best friend.

"Oh, come on. In all the years you've know Willow, you've never thought about her lips?" Buffy asked with an undecipherable twinkle in her eye.

"Buffy, I love Willow." , Xander replied honestly, "And she's my best friend. Which makes her not the kind of girl who I think about her lips that much."

This seemed to disappoint Buffy for some reason and he had an uneasy feeling the reason was right behind him. Still he figured it was best to get it all out rather than have his previous statements be misinterpreted.

"She's the kind of girl that... I'm best friends with." He said summing up his feelings for Willow as best he could.

"Hey guys." Came the voice of the subject of his and Buffy's discussion and the Zeppo knew that his best bud had overheard everything.

"Willow!" , Xander said as he immediately walked over to her to make up for anything he might have said to offend her, "Hi! We were just talkin' about happy things."

Seeing that he was not winning the battle he draped an arm around both of his friends who were girls and led them to a free table in the student lounge.

"Like the three of us going to the dance together. See?" , he asked rhetorically as he had them all sit down as one in the three chairs set around the table, "Happy!"

Unfortunately from the frown on his bestest bud's face it was clear that he might as well have been quoting from the dictionary for all the good it was doing to lift her mood. He knew that Willow had issues about her looks and how appealing she was to guys so hearing her only guy friend talk as though she wasn't worthy of the title of 'girlfriend' must have hurt. Which meant that he would have to endure at least a week of 'Xander? Who's Xander?' treatment from her.

Xander was about to say something when an odd whistle reached his ears and almost as though his body had a mind of its own he leapt up from his chair, turned towards the source of the whistle, his right hand reaching for something on his waist. However there was nothing resting by his waist for him to grab nor was there anything threatening standing where the whistle had come from. It was only when these facts became apparent that his conscious mind caught up with his body and he was left bewildered at the reaction he had to something as innocent as a whistle. It could easily have been some guy wolf whistling a pretty young woman or someone just trying to get a friend's attention. However for some inexplicable reason he had felt threatened by that whistle and not in the social way but rather in the 'someone is going to try to kill me' way. It was the same sort of reaction he had when he heard the familiar growl of a vampire about to attack or a single unfamiliar sound in a quiet room with little or no light. While that reaction to vamps or unfamiliar sounds might be justified given what went on in Sunnydale it is quite different with something as innocent as a whistle. If he had turned and discovered that it had come from a vamp or a demon then that would have been okay but since the source had apparently vanished he instead looked like a nutcase who was hearing things.

"Xander? What's wrong?" Willow asked both confused and concerned by her longtime friend's actions.

"Didn't you guys hear that odd whistle?" he asked trying to sound as though he was justified in jumping up from his seat like he did.

"Kinda but why did you act like Marty McFly being called a chicken?" Buffy asked as she made a pass of the room with her eyes to see if there was anything she could detect to explain her friend's actions.

"Well … it kind of sounded like the whistle soldiers in war movies use to tell their sniper to take out a target." Xander replied knowing before he completed his sentence that he was only increasing his embarrassment and humiliation rather than decreasing either.

Both Buffy and Willow just looked at him as though hoping he would say something else, something a little more believable, so that they wouldn't have to check him into the psychiatric ward of the local hospital. When nothing came out they both looked at one another and shook their heads in disappointment before Willow decided to save her friend from saying anything else bizarre.

"Xander I think it's time you stop mixing chocolate syrup with pizza and eating it before you go to bed." , Willow stated in a tone deliberately calibrated not to offend the person listening, "Besides being just plain 'eewww' it's obviously messing with your head. After all even if this is Sunnydale why would a sniper be out to get you?"

Realizing that his friend was right he decided to drop the subject right then and there. After all being cautious in Sunnydale might be prudent but acting all paranoid would just get you thrown in a padded room one way or another. Moving on to a more safe topic like the upcoming exchange student costume party he did his best to forget what happened and focus on more pleasant thoughts. However despite his best efforts there remained an undercurrent of unease in the back of his mind and at least twice more he had the inexplicable urge to reach for something that was supposed to be located at his left hip but wasn't there at all.

All in all it was very confusing as well as irritating since he couldn't for the life of him determine the reason why.

Mid-Evening, Sunnydale Bus Station

"So who is it exactly that we're looking for?" Willow asked as the collective members of the Scooby gang walked around the bus station parking lot.

"The exchange student mom got is from somewhere in Japan." , Buffy replied almost distractedly as she kept an eye out for the student and any demons that might be around, "I think his name is Sanjo Ken'ichi."

"You think?" Xander put in with some disbelief that his bud and personal hero didn't even know the name of the person she was picking up here.

"Hey I told you I wasn't exactly crazy about this whole exchange student thing to begin with!" , Buffy replied with a bit of anger at her friend not cutting her some slack, "Besides mom only just told me his name when I was running out the door to meet you guys so I wasn't sure if I heard her right. Besides what kind of Japanese name is Sanjo?"

"Actually Buffy in Japan they generally say their family name first and their given name second." , Willow stated pointing out the mistake her friend had made, "So his first name is actually Ken'ichi."

"Still a weird name." Buffy said with some annoyance at having her slip up pointed out to her.

"And Buffy isn't?" came a sarcastic male voice from the right side of the parking lot.

Looking in that direction they discovered a Japanese teenager who despite being relatively well off looking was wearing more formal and not quite teenager loud clothing that they had expected. Granted none of them had ever really seen what the 'in' fashion was over in Japan for teenagers but most of them had assumed it was similar to their own. Thus they had figured the exchange student would be wearing jeans, some kind of sports shirt as well as name brand sneakers like Nike or Adidas. Instead he was wearing your typical short-sleeved dress shirt with tan slacks and surprisingly enough sandal covered socks. It was the sandals and the socks that confused them the most as they had seen people with socks and others with sandals but never both on at the same time. After all the purpose of socks is to both keep your feet warm and offer some protection from the environment. Sandals on the other hand are meant for warm weather and people who don't want the annoyance of getting sand in their shoes. Putting the two of them together was like wearing a fur coat in the middle of summer which if anyone did that most people would consider them odd at the very least and nuts at most. He had a sack thrown over his shoulder along with something else that caught Xander's eye almost immediately.

It was a bokken, a wooden sword used by kendo practitioners.

"Hey! It's not like I had a choice in what my parents named me when I was born!" Buffy exclaimed at the slight she had just been given.

"Still a stupid name." , Ken'ichi stated choosing to ignore her dislike of his comment about her name, "Look I just had a long bus ride and a longer flight over here so can you just take me to where ever I'm staying while I'm here? I'd like to get some sleep."

This only fired Buffy up more and it didn't take the Zeppo or the Wicca very long to realize that if this went much further the Slayer may well lose her self control and pound this kid into oblivion. One of them would have to change the direction of the conversation and unfortunately from the resolve look on Willow's face he had been elected.

"So Ken' you any good with that big stick you have there?" Xander asked indicating with his right hand the booken that was sticking out of the sack on the teen's shoulder.

"It's called a bokken gaijin and I'll have you know I'm one of the best students in my class back home." Ken'ichi said with equal parts annoyance at the shortening of his name and pride at stating his skill and rank to someone who wasn't even a novice compared to him.

"So you can swing a wooden sword around! I can use a real one that could cut your bokken down to size in no time!" Buffy said snobbily as she tried to get one up on the exchange student who she had decided right then and there she didn't like.

Xander almost wince at one possible way of interpreting that last statement from her and hoped that Ken' would continue to ignore her rather than take offense at the statement. He was by no means an expert on Japanese customs or morality but he had seen enough samurai movies to know that an insult like that could lead to decapitation for the insulter quite easily. True it would probably not be that bad if Ken'ichi decided to make something of it but it could turn out to be a disaster if Buffy continued to try and outdo him. It would go from one insult to be worse insult and then a slap to the face to a slash with that bokken. He just hoped that Buffy would reign in her Slayer strength if she decided to get medieval on her exchange student because he doubt it would help international relations to have the mangled corpse of an exchange student on the news.

"Like I would ever fight someone shorter than me!" , Ken'ichi said with a glare as this American girl was starting to get on his nerves, "Besides which I would shame my sensei greatly to use his teachings for anything other than self defense or the defense of others."

"Let's just get back to my place." , Buffy said as she turned around and began to stomp back to her house, "Hopefully you'll be less of an ass after a good night's sleep."

"Feh, whatever." Ken'ichi stated as he followed her leaving both Willow and Xander wondering if either the exchange student or Slayer would survive the week.

Xander's Room, Harris Household, Sunnydale, California

He and Willow had seen both Ken'ichi and Buffy as far as the Summers' front porch but then had decided that they had been get back home for some sleep themselves. Tomorrow was another school day and given the look on Buffy's face they figured she'd probably be so pissed when she went out on patrol that she wouldn't need any help dusting vamps. In fact it would probably be good in the long run if she worked out her anger on the undead rather than let it fester too long and be unleashed on Ken' at the wrong time. In any case both he and Willow had decided that with the Slayer in such a mood she wouldn't need their help with patrol. True it would be amusing to see her pummel vamps into a fine powder but he figured it would get boring eventually. After all she took down most newbie vamps with ease when she was in a good mood so if she went after them in a bad mood the smart ones would stay in their coffins. Therefore he hopped into bed for a good night's sleep without any guilt as far as neglecting his nightly patrol routine with the gang. Unfortunately a good night's rest was the last thing that he would get as his mind was blurred with images and voices that sent an uneasy sensation through his soul.

Images of a primitive pre-electricity village filled his mind's eye with dirt roads replacing the paved ones some corner of his mind told him should have been there. All about him the sounds of clashing steel mixed with the death cries of men. Some sounds were closer, as though he needed only enter a building or go around a corner to find the source, while others were barely perceivable to his senses. A bitter taste was in his mouth and he could not for the life of him discern what it was nor how it had gotten there but that line of thinking was quickly shoved to the side as he sensed danger approaching rapidly from behind. As if they had a mind of their own his hands sprung into action unsheathing a katana he had not known rested at his left hip before turning and placing the blade in a blocking position. Metal clashed against metal and Xander could feel the strength of his attacker in more ways than one but for some reason he was unafraid. He learned the reason for this lack of fear a few moments later when in a move he was only barely able to perceive his arms pushed the attacker's sword up and back before it happened. With only a flash of reflected light to hint at what happened the attack seemed to be ripped apart into three separate pieces with two flying off to the right while the last one slid to the left. It was a sight of gore and blood that almost caused Xander to toss his cookies but as he was apparently no longer in control of his body he could only watch.

For what seemed like hours he watched helplessly as his body slunk around the various streets and alleyways of the mysterious village he was in and each time he was attacked by some shadow covered individual he was treated to a ruthless display of swordsmanship. Each time it happened he emerged the victor and his opponent almost always died with only one or two successfully fleeing into the darkness from whence they came. It was a sight that shook him to the very core of his soul for why he was no stranger to the blood and grime of killing it was usually demons or vamps falling dead to the ground. Each time one of them died at his hands he could console himself by thinking of the lives he had saved or by remembering that the demon was a soulless monster and a killing machine. He had no such luck with these images for while their faces and for the most part their clothes were unclear to him he could see enough to know that they were human. Nowhere was the simple 'poof' of a vampire turning to dust or a demon's blood being anything other than red in color. Here there was no mistaking what he had done or whose life he had taken in all its realistic horror. This was no movie or TV show or even video game he was experiencing here and it was scaring him more than anything he had ever gone through in his entire life. Given who his parents were and where he lived that said quite a bit.

With a final sword slash on yet another adversary Xander was mentally surprised when all the sounds that had become the theme song of the carnage he had been a part of up until then stopped. All was quiet and with it came an eerie feeling that almost had him wishing for the sounds of slaughter and battle. Then, as if the fearful atmosphere needed any more help, all the light in the other areas of the village went out one after another. In the end the only area still blessed with light was the area in the immediate vicinity of his location. It extended no more than twenty or so feet in any direction around his person and each time he moved the light moved with him. One could almost say that he himself was the source of the light. However while his body seemed to be perfectly calm Xander himself was freaking out more than if he had been dropped into a nest of vampires with only a box of tooth picks to use as stakes. While consciously his mind was too filled with fear to really think clearly his subconscious was another matter and it knew the signs that could be seen around him all to well. As any true watcher of horror movies could tell you it is when all is quiet and the light is at its weakest that the true horrors come out. They draw strength from the darkness and use it so that their prey has little or no warning of its approach until it is too late.

Fortunately or unfortunately depending on how you looked at it he began to hear the sound of footsteps coming towards him at a steady professional pace. He tried to figure out which direction the footsteps were coming from but even with his body co-operating by adjusting its position every few moments the sound seemed to come from everywhere. He felt his body grasp the katana at his left hip but not draw it from its sheath indicating that it would wait for this unknown person to show themselves before doing anything. With no way to determine the direction it was coming from Xander chose instead to focus on the volume of the footsteps and use how loud or how soft the sound was to judge distance. This was imprecise at best since if the one approaching knew what he/she/it was doing it could manipulate how much sound their footsteps made to make it sound as though they were much farther away then they actually were.

Still it was better than nothing.

As the sound reached a volume where both he and his body seemed to agree that the person or entity making it would be visible even in the darkness they searched through she shadows all around them for a sign of movement or form. It was on their third pass of the street to their right that they finally spotted a form emerging from the darkness. At first it was only a vaguely human-like shape but eventually he could make out someone roughly his own height and build coming towards him wearing an outfit straight out of an old samurai flick. From the hakama to the haori before finally ending with the black armguards tied securely to each arm. However just before the light would have touched the figure to make out more personal details the man stopped and simply stood there waiting for something. Waiting for Xander to say something? Waiting for Xander to do something? Nothing really was clear about what this person's intentions were or what would happen so both Xander and his body remained ready for anything. It was then that something odd happened to put him even more on edge than he had been beforehand. Without any physical movement to indicate that he was willingly doing it the unknown man's eyes began to glow bright amber. Not the entire eye but just the iris itself but that did little to detract from the intimidating feeling they gave off.

"It's better that I do not know why they should die. Doing so would disrupt my concentration." Said the figure in a voice that struck him as both hauntingly familiar but at the same time that of a stranger.

Xander shuddered at the coldness of the voice, the sheer lack of feeling in saying that knowing the specifics of his victims was less important than maintaining his concentration.

"Drop your sword." Spoke the man, no a young teenager, with equal coldness as he unsheathed a katana from his left hip.

To this both he and his disobedient body seemed to agree that dropping his sword would be a mistake that would cost him his life. He knew not who this teenage boy was but it was clear from the look in his amber eyes and the sheer lack of emotion in his voice that the unknown warrior would kill whether he was armed or unarmed. It mattered not to this person. All that mattered was his own agenda and his own mission no matter what horrible acts he had to commit to succeed. He was a killer, worse than vampires, human in flesh and bone and soul with no remorse for those cut open with his sword. If he was meant to die here he would face death with eyes open and spit in its face with his last breath. As if in agreement with him his body raised his sword into a combat stance that was neither offensive in nature nor defensive but could be shifted into either in a heartbeat. The teenager who had ordered him to drop his sword seemed to accept that the Zeppo wished to do this the hard way. Then, in the blink of an eye, their swords clashed together but even though the light that surrounded Xander should have illuminated the stranger the young man remained enshrouded in shadow.

Save for the amber eyes that bored holes into his soul still with their coldness.

Again and again their words met with a ting of deadly steel with the roles of attacker and defender switching back and forth every few seconds. Eventually though they both pushed off each other's swords and leapt back to gain some breathing space and rethink their strategy. While the thoughts of the stranger were not known Xander's own thoughts were tactlessly honest in their appraisal of the situation. Whoever this young man was he was unbelievably fast and skilled. So much so that it shocked him each and every time he managed to block one of his enemy's attacks regardless of the fact that his own body seemed to be equally swift and skilled. All that he knew was that he had to at least try to put an end to this soon or eventually he would make a mistake and pay for it. So as one did both he and his enemy renew the battle with both looking to strike the killing blow right out of the gates. Thus in a slow motion scene straight out of 'The Matrix' time seemed to slow to a crawl as they drew closer and closer to one another. Before long it seemed to take an entire minute for one of them to take a single step or to adjust the path their katana would take.

Xander's body had the katana aimed so that it would strike the enemy in the stomach with the intention possibly of disemboweling him. His enemy on the other hand seemed to be going for Xander's throat with the intention of running his blade cleanly through from Adam's apple to spinal cord. Not wishing to die Xander willed his body to dodge the tip of the sword coming towards him as fast as possible but the world still seemed to be locked in the 'bullet time' pace it had so recently entered. However his body did move but the Zeppo could tell that his body would not be able to move completely clear of the blade in time. Even while moving down and to the right his body was moving too slowly to evade the blade and as it invaded his personal space he felt his cheek come alive with pain. Brief though it was it still felt as though it was being done using a blade fresh from the forge and it was with this pain that he left the realm of dreams and returned to the dirty room that he had fallen asleep in.

Despite the fact that he was in a place where he should have felt relatively safe he could still feel the emotions running through him that he had been experiencing in the dream. Fear, anxiety, determination, revulsion, horror and anger all thrummed through him still and at such a potent level that he doubted the likelihood of them disappearing anytime soon. What shocked him the most though was that the searing pain of a red hot blade cutting through his cheek was still present and so realistic that he found himself reaching up with his right hand to touch the area that should have been cut. Rubbing his cheek he expected the pain to intensify as it normally did when one put pressure of any kind on a wound. However no matter what part of his cheek he rubbed he could find no evidence of a wound and the pain remained at the same level it had been since waking from the dream. To this unusual and scary occurrence Xander had just one thing to say before he went to find something to occupy his time before school.

"What the freakin' HELL was that!"

Sunnydale High School, Lunch Hour, Courtyard

"I worked really hard on my costume. It's pretty cool." Willow said to him as they both walked along the main pathway of the courtyard.

"Okay, but what about me? I've gotta think." Xander said as he put on his 'thinker' face but added a slightly mocking touch to it that hinted he wasn't actually doing it.

"Well, it's a celebration of cultures. There are lots of dress-up alternatives." Willow said trying most certainly to be helpful to her longtime friend.

"And a corresponding equal number of mocking alternatives. All aimed at me." Xander pointed out to his best friend for he was sure that no matter what he chose the bully league of Sunnydale High School would still find a way to make fun of his choice.

"Bavarians are cool." Willow suggested and waited to see if her friend would approve.

"Okay, no shirts with ruffles, no hats with feathers and definitely no lederhosen. They make my calves look fat." Xander said with a little bit of humor as he listed the various costume components he wouldn't be wearing anytime soon.

"Why are you suddenly so worried about looking like an idiot?" , Willow asked before rewinding what she said and looking it over before saying, "That came out wrong."

Xander gave her a smile to show that he wasn't offended at her words because he knew all too well that he had been guilty of saying similar things in the past. However joking about costume ideas was a useful cover for him to keep his 'best-friend-since-pre-school' from looking past the emotions on his face. It had been a little over seven hours since he had been jolted awake from the nightmare of swords and death and despite some effort on his part to go back to sleep the images kept him awake until it was time for school. Needless to say he grabbed a can of pepsi or two to give him the sugar energy he'd need to stay alert in class and not get picked on by the teacher or his classmates. So far no one suspected that this wasn't just another day for him and he intended to keep it that way until he could shake the images that seemed to be burned into his mind. Since waking up from it he had only given the nightmare a cursory examination before deciding that he'd do what the rest of Sunnydale did when they experienced something weird. Repress like crazy until it just went away or until the 'how' and the 'why' came up and smacked him in the face. So far it had been only partially effective as he was still able to function but occasionally got distracted when he saw something similar in either shape or color to what he saw in dreamland. Most times he was able to shake it off immediately but other times Willow caught him staring and he had to make some kind of lame excuse to cover for his daydreaming. After a particularly nasty one before the lunch bell rang he made a personal vow to block the images out of his mind no matter what.

As he looked across the courtyard to the archway leading to the parking lot though he had a feeling that someone up in another plane of existence was determined to make sure he'd never forget the nightmare ever. There walking side by side was Buffy and her exchange student from Japan Ken'ichi with both of them apparently determined to out perform the other in terms of insults or cultural superiority. Obviously the Slayer missed the whole point of the student exchange program. From the way Willow had explained it the student body was supposed to use this as an opportunity to experience other cultures and get an idea of how things were done in other countries. From the look on the Slayer's face the only thing she was learning how to do was restrain her fist from connecting with Ken'ichi's jaw. Deciding that he and Willow had better get over there before Buffy unintentionally added blood to the list of things that reminded him of his nightmare. As they moved closer and closer to the bickering two they began to pick up snippets of their verbal sparring and it got him wondering if they had started arguing as soon as they sat down at the breakfast table.

"I bet this is the first time you've even set fool on school grounds much less attended any classes!" Buffy declared never letting her glaring eyes leave his equally miffed ones.

"Of course I go to school you baka bottle blonde! It's kind of a prerequisite for the student exchange program!" , Ken'ichi stated superiorly as he found a flaw in her statement, "In fact only the top students in my entire school were considered when it came time to decide who to send over to America!"

"Oh please! The only reason they probably sent you was to get a break from your annoying superiority complex and pathetic smart ass attitude!" , Buffy said snobbishly as she exuded complete confidence in her theory, "In fact I wouldn't be at all surprised if they transferred you here permanently!"

"Not a chance! Even for them sticking me here for the next two years with you would be considered inhumane by any justice system on the planet!" , Ken'ichi bellowed before he decided to get the last shot in, "Besides if anyone's pathetic it's you Ms. Height-Impaired-Bottle-Blonde-Flat-Chested-Ugly-Witch! Now I have better things to do than waste my time with this mismatched battle of wits! See you later Ugly!"

With that the Japanese exchange student stalked away implying with every step that he had completely dominated Buffy in that battle of insults. Unfortunately that only got the Slayer even more steamed because as she was always the first the make with the wise cracks and quips with the vamps she saw herself as she Queen of Quips, the Countess of Come-backs and the Oracle of One-liners. To not only be losing the battle at that point but to also have her enemy just stalk off like that had been the ultimate insult. Xander could tell just by the look on the blonde's face that if it wasn't war between her and Ken'ichi before it sure as hell was now.

"Hey Wills? How about you try and keep Mount Buffy from erupting while I go see if I can make our guest from the land of the rising sun a bit more friendly?" , Xander whispered to her covertly without letting on to anyone else what he was doing, "Not that I like the guy but if things keep heating up like this she'll either kill him by the end of the week or wind up making out with him in the utility closet."

"Xander! She's in love with Angel you know!" , Willow replied before considering his earlier suggesting, "Still you have a point about stopping things before they get any worse. Okay, you go off and talk some sense into Ken'ichi while I try and get Buffy to cool off."

With that he walked off in the direction he had seen Ken'ichi go and hoped that the wake in the student mass that he had made with his foul temper hadn't disappeared or he might never find the young Japanese man. Fortunately the young man had apparently a fierce enough look on his face that anyone who took notice of it immediately moved to get out of his way. While the trail did thin out in parts where students didn't normally travel it was hard to pick out where he went from the last confirmed spot but eventually his chase led him to the bleachers beside the football field. The teenager looked like he was trying to get a handle on his emotions but looked like it would take him the rest of the day to reach a state of calm necessary to have a civil conversation. Unfortunately with classes due to begin in less than an hour and Buffy expected to act like a guide and helpful aide for the exchange student from Japan the guy would need to calm down a lot quicker.

So shall I make with the funnies or just try and bribe him into behaving for the remainder of his stay? , Xander thought to himself as he began to climb the bleachers towards his target, Well seeing as how cash isn't an option and I have no sushi on hand I guess making with the funnies will have to do for now.

He got to within eight feet of Ken'ichi before the dark haired teen noticed him and gave him a look that to anyone else would have sent people looking for someplace else to be. Xander however never claimed to be smart or even capable of doing the smart thing and given that he, an ordinary guy, had chosen to fight demons and vampires most would indeed question his intelligence if not his sanity. So he just continued uninterrupted on his way and when he finally stood next to Ken'ichi he sat down next to him and waited for the Japanese teen to say something.

"Are you looking to get struck on the back of the head with my bokken gaijin?" , Ken'ichi asked as though his bokken was there with him and not in the Summers' guest room, "I'm not in the mood to deal with your crude attempts at humor or anything involving that bleached bimbo you call a friend!"

"Hey! I happen to think that my humor is quite refined compared to some of the stuff those helmet wearing cave men out there on the field think is funny!" , Xander said with mock seriousness as he glanced at the high school football team practicing, "As for Buffy I think that you're being a little hasty in judging her. She's really not all that bad despite her fascination with leather wearing older men and making me look bad."

This seemed to throw the Japanese teen off his guard a bit as he obviously hadn't been expecting the Zeppo to saying anything bad about his friend. He probably figured that given the way that the blonde slayer acted towards him that anyone who was her friend would be timid and helpless like a sheep. Obviously Buffy's behavior was straying dangerously close to Cordelia's for anyone to make that kind of assumption because he knew for a fact that neither he nor Willow acted anything like Harmony Kendall. Personally he wondered if the stories were true that blondes were less intelligent than say redheads or brown haired people. True some might say that by implying that all blondes were somewhat dimwitted he'd be including Buffy in that but he was not entirely convinced that the Slayer was a natural blonde to begin with. Mind you he'd never touched on the subject when they'd talked and he sure as hell didn't imitate deadboy and watch her through her bedroom window but the variety of blonde coloring she showed up to school in since he met her gave him a pretty big hint. In any case he figured he'd better press his advantage with Ken'ichi before he returned to thinking that Buffy acted bitchy all the time rather than just towards him.

"Look you guys just got off on the wrong foot at the bus station that's all." , Xander said before making possibly the worst move he could, "Come to think of it you were the one that started acting like an ass before she did so it's partially your fault."

This of course undid about all of the progress Xander had made towards getting Ken'ichi to reconsider his opinion of Buffy and made him less willing to listen to the 'stupid gaijin'.

"Me? She said my name was strange when her own name is Buffy!" , Ken'ichi said as though he had just been insulted, "At least my name means something! In Japan Ken'ichi means 'strong one'! What the hell does 'Buffy' mean anyway!"

"Look! I know she probably made a mistake making fun of your name but did you ever think that to us Americans Ken'ichi sounds a little weird too?" , Xander said as he hastily tried to regain the ground he had lost in this conversation, "Besides she didn't even know you were listening when she said it so I'm sure she didn't mean to offend you. Besides you had to have known that there'd be a few misunderstandings and screw ups in dealing with another culture when you signed up for this right?"

"I didn't sign up for this! I was telling Miss Bottle Blonde the truth when I said that my school selected only the brightest for the exchange program." , Kenichi replied with increased anger and annoyance, "I didn't even want to come but my parents didn't want to offend the faculty of the school by refusing something that was seen as an honor. So here I am far away from where I want to be and being insulted by strangers who I have to tolerate for the next two weeks before I can go home!"

Now it was Xander that was knocked off balance as the exchange student revealed something he and he was willing to be the rest of the gang hadn't even considered at all since they had met him. They had all assumed that the student exchange program was something that you willingly signed up for like basketball team tryouts or a chance to audition for a role in the school play. They had never considered the possibility that he had been more or less forced to play along with the idea by both his parents and his teachers because of some sense of honor. True if the school and his parents (assuming they had acted like parents should from the beginning) told him that he had an obligation to them to go to some alien country for two weeks he'd tell them to go to hell. Freedom of choice was one of the greatest things about living in the United States and there was no way he would let anyone ship him off to a foreign country just to make a good impression. With Ken'ichi though he figured that the whole concept of honor and how most people on the other side of the Pacific valued it would make it pretty hard and dangerous to say 'no' when you're being double teamed. If he had been placed in the Japanese kid's shoes he'd probably be walking around with a chip on his shoulder too and be generally mean spirited to anyone who approached him.

Well I might not be able to do anything about getting him home faster but the least I can do is try to make his stay a little better. , Xander thought to himself before saying, "Look I'm sorry you got hijacked into coming here but the way I see it you can either spend the next two weeks being pissed or you can try to make the best of a bad situation. So what'll it be?"

Ken'ichi seemed to actually think the matter over which was a good sign because the Zeppo had been afraid that the guy would stay in his bad mood out of sheer stubbornness. However it seemed that the sincerity he had put into his words had caused the teenager to both believe him and to reign in his anger somewhat. After awhile most of the anger seemed to dispel but there still remained an undercurrent beneath the surface kind of like a slinking form staying just out of range. Basically it looked like he would give Buffy and Willow another chance but that his bad mood was still waiting in the wings to bring the fight to Buffy if she got snarky again.

"Alright, I'll give the blonde bimbo another chance but if she insults me again all bets are off." Ken'ichi declared honestly as he stood up to go back to the school and attempt to patch things up with a certain blonde bombshell.

"Fair enough. Now let's head in and endure another three hours of the horror that is high school!" Xander said with no little amount of dread as he knew images of the nightmare he had experienced would surface again soon with the abundance of familiar shapes and sounds to be found in the school.

Front Door of the Harris Household, Two Hours Before the Costume Dance

Well time to see how many times Dad can call me a loser before it's time to leave for the costume ball! , Xander thought with depression as he turned the knob on the front door and went inside, Hopefully he's too plastered now with booze to see or hear very well.

"Get in here boy and get this mess cleaned up!" bellowed a slightly tipsy Anthony Harris as he tried and failed to look intimidating to his son.

Damn! I swear there has to be some god or goddess up there in heaven that waits on purpose for me to hope for the best and then tweaks the odds so that the opposite happens! , Xander thought to himself as he looked about the house to measure the size of the mess, I bet that same god or goddess also arranged for my Mom and Dad to be particularly filthy and messy just so I'd have a big honkin' mess to clean up when I got home!

Needless to say when he was done looking at the living room and the kitchen he both cursed the god or goddess responsible and mentally wondered how to 'adults' could cause such a big mess in between when he left for school and when he got back. Fortunately though it looked to be more or less trash clean up and some stain scrubbing which if he just focused on the more obvious ones should be finished in time for him to meet up with the gang for the dance. He didn't have much of a costume though given the black hole of cash that was his parents' drinking addiction but he still had managed to put together a half decent cowboy outfit. True the intention of the exchange student costume dance was to come dressed as a member of another culture in another country but he just couldn't afford something like that. He also couldn't make one himself from scratch because not only did he not have the materials for it but he couldn't sew something together if the fate of the Earth hung in the balance as well. That meant getting something second hand from a thrift store and looking through the hand-me-downs he already had for something that would go together. He'd just make up some freaky story if anyone asked about some area of Italy where everyone dressed up as people from the old west. It was feasible that Willow and probably Buffy might buy it and if any of the jocks heard it they'd be too mentally challenged to be able to prove him wrong.

Still I won't be going anywhere if I don't get this mess cleaned up. He thought to himself as he set about picking up the various bottles and empty paper bags littering the floor.

So for the next hour and a half he went room to room being grossed out more and more with every new room he entered and wondering if the neighbors could smell the stench. He was particularly worried when he found some especially pungent towels lying near the heaters in a way that might cause them to catch fire if he hadn't found them right then. By the time he was done he figured he was just three items shy of having a pretty good case of 'reckless endangerment' against his parents. While tempting to call the cops and have them both carted away he figured he would wait a little while longer and give them some more rope to hang themselves with. With any luck he could find a way to sue 'em, keep the house and get a load of cash out of the whole mess in the process. So once he finished putting the last of the trash out on the curb for the garbage truck he went down to his room to get into his costume hoping he wouldn't be late meeting up with his girls. Sadly that was when the god or goddess that had originally dumped on the mess on his shoulders decided to let the other shoe drop.

When he looked upon his room he was shocked to find that several things were missing and when he raced over to look for his costume he found that it too was missing. Panic set in as he tried to figure out what could have happened. A thief breaking in was possible as he was sure that at some point during the day both his parents had probably passed out in a drunken stupor. Someone could have easily snuck in and stolen a few things but when he thought about it further he decided that a thief hadn't broken in. He was pretty sure that none of his parents' things had been taken otherwise one or both of them would have been swearing up a storm when he arrived. That would imply that only some of his possessions had been taken but that didn't make a lot of sense either since most of the things he owned were hand-me-downs or used to be in a thrift store. Due to this fact nothing he owned really had any value at all and wouldn't be worth a crook's attention.

So if no one outside of the house stole them then that just leaves….GOD DAMN IT! He thought as his mind clicked into what must have happened and who was responsible for ruining his evening.

His father and mother had sold some of his stuff again for more booze money! It had happened a few times over the years but ever since his dad somehow managed to land a job as a night watchmen at a warehouse in the industrial sector it had mostly stopped. So either his parents' liquor threshold had increased or his dad had gotten a pay cut resulting in a slight dip in funds for their nightly drinking binges. Normally the things they took were inconsequential and he could afford to do without them resulting in him being only slightly more peeved at his parents than usual. Tonight though he was moving straight past peeved and was rapidly approaching the exit to pissed at how his folks had messed up his evening. Thanks to them he was now officially without a costume of any kind and would stick out like a sore thumb amidst all the rest of the student body. He didn't have the money to get anything so it looked like he would have to go to the Summers house and tell them Buffy and Willow the bad news. He might even try and persuade Mrs. Summers to let him spend the evening over there since there was no way he was putting up with a drunken Mr. And Mrs. Harris after what they pulled.

Walking out of the house and purposefully slamming the door in order to aggravate Tony and Jessica's already booze induced headache. He knew he'd pay for it later but at that precise moment he didn't really care and felt it was worth whatever he got later to experience a little payback right now. Thus he steamed all the way over to Buffy's place but when he reached up to ring the doorbell he was reminded of his current predicament and wondered if it was really the smart thing to do to show up like this. He knew it would sour the mood for them and he didn't want to spoil what was probably going to be a blast for them at the dance. Still he knew if he just left that they would notice his absence and would probably ditch the dance to go looking for him. So in the end he would just have to tell them the truth and then insist that they go and have fun without him. With that plan of action in mind he reached up and rang the doorbell intending to flatter their costumes and then all but shove them out the door to make them go to the dance. It took a few moments but he eventually heard the tell-tale sound of feet stomping down the stairs and judging by the similarity to cement shoes he figured it was Buffy. It was funny that the Slayer could look so light on her feet when she was fighting a vampire but then be a complete lead foot when it came to basic walking around the house. When the door opened though his jaw almost dropped at the same time his eyes widened when he took in what the blonde Slayer had chosen to wear to the dance.

She hadn't elaborated any more than Willow had concerning what she was going to wear to the dance but he sure as hell hadn't been expecting this! From black wig to sandaled feet Buffy was dressed as a high-class geisha straight from Japan including the white face and blood red lips. It was something he had never expected to see Buffy dressed up as but he had to say that aside from the obvious Caucasian features on her face the outfit suited her. However from the look on her face he could tell that she wasn't exactly comfortable with the outfit and looked like she wanted to take it off ASAP.

"Hey Buff! I think you had an accident with a sack of flour because your face is all white." He said with his usual lopsided smile as she stood aside to non-verbally invite him in.

"Don't start! Mom picked this outfit out for me when she found out which country our exchange student would be coming from." , Buffy said with a glare that told him to drop the subject or receive pain, "Ken'ichi's been making fun of me all afternoon. Hey! Where's your costume?"

"My parents wound up giving to the salvation army downtown." , he said covering up the truth about his parents' booze habit, "So I decided to come over here and keep the lovely Joyce Summers company until you guys get back. Well that and score some of her world famous chocolate chip cookies before I have to go home."

To this Buffy at first looked sad that her friend wouldn't be joining her and Willow at the dance but just as quickly sad became glad as an idea popped into her head.

"Well if your not going then I'm not going! After all what kind of friend would I be if I went to a dance leaving my Xander-shaped friend all by his lonesome?" , Buffy said with faux compassion and sympathy, "I'll just go get this blanket Ken'ichi calls a dress off, wash this face paint away and then join you for some TV in something more American!"

"Buffy I appreciate the thought but you're kinda obligated to show up with your exchange student at the dance. Plus with Herr Snyder there you know you'll get in trouble if he finds you're not there." Xander said trying to do the best bud thing and make sure his friend had a good time since he couldn't.

"Trust me! Ken'ichi would like nothing better than to be far away from me and the feeling's mutual." , she said with a growl before continuing, "As for Snyder that troll can just kiss my perfect ass! Umm … on second though, eewww! Still I don't mind missing the dance and I'm sure Snyder will just give me a month detention at best even though he'd probably try and use it as an excuse to expel me."

"Still, try and think about Willow, she'll either get lonely there all alone or she'll copy you and get in trouble with Snyder as well." , Xander countered hoping to convince the Slayer that she should go to the dance, "Besides if you stay home it'll mean less chocolate chip cookies for me and if Willow joins us as well as Ken'ichi I'll be lucky to even get one!"

"If it'll get you too to stop being so 'nice' to one another I have something Xander might be able to use." Came the voice of Ken'ichi from the top of the stairs.

Standing right next to the steps all decked out in clothes that looked like they came directly from the set of a high budget samurai movie was Sanjo Ken'ichi. He even had his normally messy hair all combed out and put into a folded ponytail thing that samurai often had near the tops of their heads. He knew there was some kind of formal word for that folded hair thing but for the life of him he couldn't remember what it was. In short he really looked like an official samurai and even had his bokken tucked beneath his belt at his left hip. Still he didn't know what the guy could have that would fit him and be suitable for the dance.

"Well come on!" Ken'ichi said as he turned to return to the guest room that he was staying in.

Deciding not to test someone capable of sounding that mean Xander followed him obediently only to enter the room to find him rooting around in his travel bag for what Xander presumed was his 'costume' idea. It took a few minutes but when he was done a white yukuta with a purple-ish gi lay on the bed waiting for him. For a moment he was struck with images from his nightmare but he willed his face to remain neutral. He was not going to let that one nightmare rule his future! If Ken'ichi wanted to provide a costume for him so he could go to the dance he'd take it. It took him a few minutes to put the stuff on in the bathroom but when he came out it was almost properly put on but Ken'ichi insisted on making a few adjustments to make it perfect. Apparently he wasn't about to let a 'baka gaijin' dress up like one of his people unless everything was done exactly right.

"Hey Ken'ichi? I get you packing your outfit so you'd have something for the dance but why pack two?" Xander asked as he looked at himself in the mirror.

"My grandpa packed the one you're wearing. He said it was the same sort of outfit a famous swordsman wore when he was my age." , Ken'ichi said over his shoulder as they both began to walk towards the front door, "Personally I don't understand how any self-respecting swordsman could wear that color gi and not be pummeled by the others for embarrassing them."

Great! He tried to do me a favor and at the same time makes me a target for every in-guy and jock at the dance! , Xander thought to himself before glancing skyward, I sure hope whatever god or goddess is putting me through this is having a good time because I know I won't this evening!

The Bronze, Later That Evening

Well I think that my fun meter has just dropped to an all time low. Xander thought morosely as he tried to find a spot in the Bronze where the jocks wouldn't notice him.

So far every jock present had made fun of him at least twice and all the girls worth looking at had spent their time pointing at him and laughing. Needless to say he almost wished he was still cleaning up his house and trying to undo the damage his parents had done to it in their collective stupor. Almost. Still if something positive didn't happen soon he might just slip out of the place and head home. Knowing his luck he'll probably wind up bumping into a vamp and get himself killed. The way that his luck was running today that was just the sort of thing the demented god or goddess would do to him in order to cap off the day.

It was then that he noticed a young girl who seemed to be wandering around the place with no firm companion or idea of what to do next. She was obviously of Asian descent but what kind of puzzled him was her choice of costume for the dance. Her outfit was a female ninja he thought given the visible dagger tucked beneath her belt but also because of the headband she had tied on her forehead. While he might be mistaken he was fairly certain that ninjas of that sort came predominantly from Japan but if that was true then Sunnydale had two exchange students from Japan. That didn't make sense since he didn't see any other two exchange students from the same country present at the moment. For a moment he thought that maybe Japan was such a large country that they sent two students instead of the normal one but that meant that countries like Russia or Brazil should have sent somewhere around six. In short she was a mystery and if the looks she was getting from some of the jocks she was about to be a conquest if he didn't do something soon.

Doing his best to move through the crowd without drawing attention to himself while at the same time keeping an eye on the Japanese girl. Given the way she was dressed he had to wonder at her intelligence since it was a given when a beautiful young lady wears something that shows off that much leg she was going to attract the wrong type of guy. Add to that the way her shirt or whatever was showing off her … um … unique chest and he figured she was definitely asking for some aroused males to make a play for her with 'no' not being an acceptable answer. Being the kind of guy he was he figured it would probably be for the best if he made it look like she was with him and that she was off the menu before those jocks decided to sit down at the proverbial table. Before he cleared the main crowd he picked up two cups of soda and proceeded to walk up to her.

"You look like you're a bit thirsty." , Xander said to attract her attention before trying to pass her one of the cups, "Here."

"Nani?" the young woman said before tentatively taking the offered cup of soda.

"You just looked a little lost." Xander replied to what was obviously a question or the equivalent of 'huh'.

"Ummm … t-thank y-you?" the young woman said with a definite accent.

It was clear both from the look on her face and the way that she spoke that she probably only had a 'movie' understanding of the English language. That would make things more difficult as it would be harder to convince the still approaching jocks that they were together and that the young lady was not up for grabs. Unfortunately until he managed to get across to her what he was trying to do while at the same time using only words rather than actions. After all while it was possible for him to simply grab her by the arm and attempt to lead her away or put his arm around her like they were boyfriend/girlfriend such actions would likely earn him a punch in the face or a kick in the crotch from her if she misinterpreted his intentions.

"Are you from Japan?" he asked as he figured that finding out where she was from would be a good start.

"Hai! I from Nekomi." The young woman replied with a smile that definitely looked beautiful on her.

Xander of course had no idea where in Japan Nekomi was decided to play it dumb and just nod with his lopsided grin firmly in place.

"Are you with the student exchange program?" he asked deciding to satisfy his own curiosity by finding out whether she was or was not with the program.

"Uh-uh. I here to see …ummm … cousin." , the young woman replied, "He leave in bad mood so kaasan and tousan send me to … keep an eye on him?"

Well that confirmed that she wasn't a part of the program but it also let him know who she was here to look after. After all she said she was here to look after a cousin from Japan who was here at the Bronze tonight. That meant her cousin was most likely Ken'ichi. This would actually work in his favor because if he got her to the samurai costume wearing exchange students then between the two of them they should be able to keep the jocks at bay.

"Is your cousin Sanjo Ken'ichi?" he asked making sure that he put the family name first and the first name last.

"Hai! You know where Ken'ichi is?" she asked with a smile that only got bigger.

"Yeah. I borrowed this costume from him." , he replied as he enjoyed the look of happiness on her face, "I think I saw him up on the level above us. Do you want me to take you to him?"

"Hai!" she replied and immediately latched onto his arm.

Okay! So maybe she wouldn't be so angry about physical action as I thought! Xander said mentally as he led her to the nearest set of stairs that would take them to the second level.

For a time it seemed to work and when they both got to the second level with no conquering jocks in sight he figured he had managed to accomplish his mission. However when he took a second look at the stairs on the other side of the platform he spied the very football players he had been trying to save the young kunoichi from in the first place. Apparently they either knew him or knew his type and figured they could wrestle the lady away from him without much trouble. Frantically he looked about the area for Ken'ichi and the safety of having another guy with a mean glare in his arsenal to drive the Neanderthals away. Sadly when he did locate Ken'ichi the guy was almost on the other end of the platform and with the number of people here there was no way he'd be able to get to the two of them in time. In the end he was left with only a few options he decided to choose the potentially more painful of the two but also one that stood the best chance of scaring off the jocks and keeping the young Japanese girl safe.

Turning to face her he placed on hand on her shoulder and another on her waist and quickly said "Sorry miss but you'll thank me for this later!"

Before she could say anything, using her momentary confusion to his advantage, he pulled her towards him and kissed her full on the lips. He didn't intend to make it a long 'hot and steamy' kiss but rather one long enough that the jocks would take one look at the two of them and conclude that they were a couple and therefore she was not available. He hoped her state of confusion and shock would last long enough for the jocks to get the message but if it didn't then he hoped the second part of the plan kicked in. When he had done this he had done so with the idea that the young woman might get pissed and either slap him hard across the face or kick him in the family jewels or maybe both. He considered those responses to be universal ways for a woman to tell a guy she wasn't to be messed with or taken lightly or treated like a slab of meat. Therefore if she wound up doing it to him the jocks would take notice and move on to some easier targets or maybe back to fellow female classmates.

However what really did happen shocked him both positively and negatively at the same time.

Not only did the girl not push him away and either slap him field goal kick him in the balls but she actually seemed to be enjoying the kiss. That theory was verified when she wrapped her arms around his neck and pressed her lips harder against his own. Needless to say this sent his mind into complete overload rendering him unable to stop the kiss or bring himself to state that he wasn't in some small way enjoying it. It was only when she took things a step further by having her tongue seek entry into his mouth that his sense of honor and decency kicked in and he gently pushed her away. For a moment they both just stood there, him with a slightly dazed look on his face and her with a mix of lust and disappointment, before he finally could get his mouth and vocal cords to work.

"Ummm, not that I'm complaining or anything but why didn't you slap me or something?" , Xander asked as he wanted to understand her actions before he tried to explain his own, "I mean most girls I know would have done something violent if a guy they don't know suddenly kissed them like that."

"I not mind!" , the young Japanese girl said with a twinkle in her eye, "B'sides stupid men trying to pick me up all night. So I thankful for help in making them go away. Also you wearing clothes aunt and uncle gave cousin before he left so you must be nice."

Xander was pleasantly surprised at this and with a grin turned to begin to leader her to where he had last seen Ken'ichi but was interrupted when a bokken slammed into his forehead. From there all he would ever remember was falling to the ground, the darkness of unconsciousness filling his vision and the young Japanese girl saying the following:

"Ken'ichi! Why you do that? He do nothing wrong! B'sides he good kisser!"