Warning: Adult themes and language in this chapter. Going to M rating to be safe.

South Los Angeles, California

Wednesday July 2nd 2005

11:32 PM

Back when he was just a high school freshman, if you had told Xander Harris that his life would end up like this…he would have laughed in your face, and thought you were nuts.

But a lot had happened since then, especially during his junior year of high school. THAT was when Xander's destiny, along with that of his classmate-slash-female nemesis Cordelia Chase, had taken a major left turn. All due to the ensouled vampire named Angel showing up at the wrong place and at the wrong time and physically hurting them both in an alley.

Xander no longer looked like who he had once been, both on the outside and, more importantly, on the inside as well. In the heart and the mind and the soul – in the discipline and self-mastery.

Harris had been trained by the most dangerous people on the planet, ever since he and Cordelia had been saved from the terrible fates Angel had inflicted upon them. He had traveled the world, he had money, influence and even a little real power, he could date just about any woman he wanted…it was just surreal to think about, sometimes.

But not here, and not now.

Dressed in a black suit and tie and wearing special aviator sunglasses despite the darkness of the night, the 24-year-old former high school slacker adjusted his jacket slightly as he reached up and activated the small device in his ear. "Comm check."

/Confirmed,/ a loud female voice reported back in his ear. /Still no sight of target./

Xander sighed. "You think this one might be different?"

/No, sir,/ his subordinate's voice came back simply. /The odds that she'll listen to you are absolutely astronomical./

Harris hated to admit it, but his underling was right. From her file and psych profile, the girl they were waiting on would be no different than the other four he'd dealt with previously.

There was a time when doing something like this would not have sat well with the young man. He'd had a protector's mentality, a Sir Galahad-ish desire for protecting people – women above all.

But after all the things Xander had seen and done over the years, he knew that the old saying was true: 'all that evil needs to flourish is for good men to do nothing, when the time for action comes.' Xander knew that letting a killer roam free to kill again, if you did nothing to stop it - then you were just as much to blame as the bad guy… or girl, in this case.

He and Cordelia had been shocked when they'd finally left their island 'home' – their prison, ever since 1997 – to learn that because of a magic spell by Willow Rosenberg, Xander's one-time best friend, the world now had roughly 1800 Vampire Slayers instead of the traditional 'one girl in all the world'. Buffy Anne Summers, who had once been the lust of Xander's life in Sunnydale.

While many considered Buffy to be the best example of what a Slayer should be, others thought that she was a joke (or worse) and wanted her status. Or more often, they just wanted her dead.

That was why Xander was doing this now. He had to clean up the mess his old friends had created, by activating every single Potential Slayer back during 2003. Granted, the Slayer army had been the only way to defeat an army of über-vamps that had appeared out of the Hellmouth…but it had also given super-powers to some females who used them to do some pretty horrible things.

Because the old Scooby gang still had a no-killing-humans mindset, it was up to Xander to take care of the worst of the worst and scare the others into at least worrying about doing the wrong thing.

/Target exiting the…building,/ the woman's voice came over the radio. Harris repressed a grin at his minion not wanting to say "crack-house".

"Understood. Stand by," Harris ordered as he walked into the light of the streetlight.

The short black girl stopped dead in her tracks as she saw him. She was wearing the colors of the local gang which controlled this area. "Oh boy, pal, are you SO in the wrong neighborhood!"

"No. I'm right where I need to be," Xander told her, the streetlight briefly reflecting off his sunglasses.

The black girl reached behind her back with eye-blurring speed, pulled out a .45 pistol and pointed it straight at him. "All right, white boy, why don't you just take a hike and I let you live? One-time offer, though, so if ya don't git - I'll fill you full of holes."

Xander just shook his head as he slowly kept advancing. He could easily see the silencer on the gun as he came within several feet of the girl. "You feel like you need to use a gun, Tabitha?" Xander asked, looking disappointed. "You're a Slayer. You could have had me on the ground and out cold before I could finish this sentence."

The Slayer looked at him in surprise. "Who are you, man? And how do you know my name?"

"Oh, I know a lot more than just your name, Slayer," Xander told her calmly. "You've been a member of the gang known as the Bloods ever since you were fifteen, and you've participated in three drive-by shootings against the gang known as the Crips. One that killed a five-year-old child three years ago…which is a big no-no in my book. Then last year, when you got your Slayer powers, you got hired by the LA branch of Wolfram and Hart to be their assassin on retainer. And in case you're wondering, the firm's file on you says that you're a real whiz at your job."

"I have no idea what you're talking about," Tabitha said grimly, as she kept the gun leveled at him. This guy knew way too much about her for her liking.

"Seriously?" Xander asked her. "Well, that's odd. On account of you're all decked out in red with the Bloods symbols on your clothing, plus you just came out of that crack-house back there. A known dead drop location point for Wolfram & Hart."

"You can't be one of the vampire's crew," the rogue Slayer reasoned, deciding to quit playing dumb. "None of them dresses like you, like they're in the Secret Service or something. So you must be from the Council."

"Wrong," Harris told her simply. "Oddly enough, I used to know some of those people, but I don't work for them. I work for someone that would just as soon kill you rather than wasting the time to talk to you."

"And who would that be?"

Xander just shrugged. "Sorry, I'm not a comic book villain who tells all like an idiot."

"Well then, you're no use to me." Tabitha said before she fired two shots at Xander's head.

The older man showed no reaction to the action at all. Harris just stood there in the microseconds it took for the two deadly slugs of metal to travel a few feet forward...

"What the fuck?" Tabitha swore as she saw the two bullets stop in mid-air, just inches from Xander's face…and then fall harmlessly to the ground.

"Magic," she seethed, finally getting it. "I really hate magic!"

"Not too fond of it myself, but it has its uses sometimes," Xander told her as he pushed one of the bullets with his shoe. "Now then, onto the reason why we're having this little chat tonight. You have two options, Tabitha. One - you can drop the gun, turn yourself into the police right now and tell them everything you've ever done, basically throw yourself at the mercy of the courts…"

She just laughed out loud at that. "And what's option number two?"

"Trust me on this if nothing else. You won't like option number two," Harris told her simply. "So you should take a few moments, and for once really think on what you're going to do next. Your life literally depends on it."

Tabitha tossed her gun to the street. "Don't have to think it over, pal." She moved forward into an attack position. "I'm going to beat you to death, then go home and pig out on Vanilla Bean Ice Cream, and then sleep like a baby!"

"Really?" Xander sighed. "Unfortunately for you, wrong answer."

A moment later, a bullet blasted its way through the 19-year-old Slayer's head. She was dead before she even hit the ground.

Xander moved towards Tabitha's body and leaned down. "I wish I could say I'm sorry about this…but then Slayers are supposed to be heroes, not drug-dealing scum that kills people for fun and/or money."

The Hyperion Hotel, Los Angeles, California

An hour later

The 'Fang Gang' looked up in surprise as Angel came storming back into the hotel. He looked no different than he did the night Xander and Cordelia had been severely injured, thanks to what he'd done in that alley; and in truth, that little episode was just part of his past now, Angel had seen and done too much over the last eight years since then for it to be otherwise.

Even though whenever he recalled the guy, Angel still cursed Xander in his thoughts for ever DARING to lay hands on his beloved Buffy.

In any case, Angel had just returned from his latest self-appointed mission. And Angel's Avengers could easily tell from the look on his face, that he was not a happy vampire.

"What's wrong?" the vision girl named Harmony Kendall asked, as her boss came down the short steps in the lobby.

"Tabitha's dead," the undead Champion said simply.

"What?" Harmony yelped, surprised.

Wesley Wyndam-Pryce came over. "Was it Wolfram and Hart?"

"No," Angel said, still looking mighty displeased. "They had no reason to kill her; she was doing all the dirty work they assigned to her on time and without getting greedy. Tabitha must have been shot by someone else."

"Hey, she was a member of the local set of Bloods," Charles Gunn told him with more than a touch of bitterness. "Like it or not, man, it's not all that surprising after what they and the Crips have been up to lately. And my opinion, it couldn't have happened to a nicer girl."

"Charles," the woman named Fred Burkle chastised him.

"No, Fred, don't even start with that!" Gunn replied, shaking his head at his ex-girlfriend. "You know I'm right - just 'cause she became one of the Chosen crowd, that don't mean that she was entitled to a free pass on everything she did before that!"

"She was a Slayer," Angel reminded him firmly, putting a lot of stress on the last word. "She deserved a chance to turn her life around-"

"Okay, look. I know you have a thing for Slayer redemption, dog, on account of your girl Faith helpin' us out with that Beast thing few years back. But that Tabitha girl, she was never going to change sides," the black man who had never once contemplated becoming a lawyer stated firmly. "You're kidding yourself if you actually thought you could have reached through to her, somehow. You or that bottle-blonde ex-honey of yours, Buffy whatever-the-hell-her-name-is."

Harmony got between the two men, not wanting to start this argument again. "Angel, was it a gang shooting?"

"Not unless gangs are using sniper rifles nowadays," Angel told his best friend. "Whoever did it was a pro."

"Have the police come up with anything?" Wesley asked.

Angel shook his head. "Not from what I've heard. Odds are they'll just play it off as a gang hit faster than the Sunnydale PD would have called it a PCP-related attack."

Wesley sighed, scratching the stubble on his face and neck. "Are you going to call Ms. Summers? Or do you want me to do it?"

"No," Angel said firmly. "I was the one who failed to do what she asked…I should be the one to call her."

"She hates losing Slayers," the Englishman reminded him. "Even if they weren't model citizens by any stretch of the imagination."

Los Angeles docks

The same time

A small black rubber boat was sitting quietly in the dark night, just off the main docks. Xander was sitting in the front watching and listening to the feed from the spy cameras in Angel's headquarters.

Xander could not help thinking the ensouled vampire was taking the news exactly like he'd thought Deadboy would. The young man had to set aside the deadly anger at seeing Angel again, though, even on video. It was enough to bring back memories that were nearly a decade old. Memories of pain and a killing rage that had been harnessed and channeled into making Alexander Harris one of the deadliest human beings to ever walk the earth.

Shutting off the screen, Xander took off the small headset and looked back to the driver's seat. There, a tall attractive blond woman in full black combat gear stood ready to go. Harris just nodded to her, and she started the engine without a word.

They traveled in silence for twenty-five minutes, before coming in sight of a very large white and black luxury yacht. The four-storey vessel pointed a light towards them that flashed a simple code. Xander took out a small flashlight and flashed the answer code back to the crew on the yacht. As they approached the rear of the ship, a small ramp was lowered below the water.

The woman known as "Mercy" piloted the small rubber craft right above the submerged ramp and killed the engine. The motor for the boat lift started, and they were quickly raised onto the yacht along with the ramp. In about a minute, a few men in black were securing the small craft as Xander and Mercy got out of the vessel.

"The Mistress wants to see you right away, sir," one of the men told Xander.

"Understood," Harris said emotionlessly as he watched Mercy grab her sniper rifle and sling it over her shoulder. He said to her, "I'll see you in the morning."

Mercy smiled back at him. "Of course. Have fun with your…duties."

A few minutes later found Xander stepping into the private living area of the mega-yacht. As he descended the carpeted steps, his boss and best friend came into view.

Talia al-Ghul, once known as Cordelia Chase, was sitting on a large leather couch wearing an incredibly expensive silver-colored silk robe as she watched the KTLA evening news on the TV. As she saw him, Talia shut off the idiot box and stood up. "Welcome back, any trouble?"

"None," Xander told her. The terse and brusque tone of voice reminded the brunette daughter of Ra's al-Ghul of a coiled serpent, ready to lash out at any moment.

Talia came over to him, and stroked his cheek. "You didn't have to take part this time, you know," she told him. "Mercy could have handled it."

"No," Xander replied coldly. "It had to be done, I had to personally see if she could be redeemed. I just hope that five dead criminal Slayers will give the others something to think about, before they join up with the wrong side."

The lovely brunette woman nodded. "I'm just wondering how many already work for dear old 'Daddy'."

"Knowing him, more than a few," Harris told her. "But that's irrelevant right now. We both know you won't be strong enough to go up against him and the League of Shadows for a very long time."

Talia looked away, acknowledging the truth of what Xander said. "And we can't even go after that damned vampire," she swore softly, referring to Angel. "We deal with the pawns, while he gets off scot-free!"

Xander took off his sunglasses, grabbed hold of her chin softly and raised Talia's eyes back to face him. For the first the time, his voice was not cold and emotionless as he said, "I know it sucks for you, and I'd like nothing better than to shove a stake up Angel's ass before ramming it into his heart as payback for what he did to us, all those years ago. But having Buffy grieve for her one true love as well as start up a blood hunt for you – for us – is a very bad idea, at least while she's got control of a Slayer army and all."

"Some 'one true love' he is," Talia replied scornfully. "Angel just abandoned her to go play private dick in LA!"

"And later she shacked up with that Spike guy," Harris sighed. "Unbelievable, I know."

"Tell me, Xander, you ever wonder what-if?" Talia asked him. "If we had been there for everything before Sunnydale finally got sucked underground, just how it would have all played out?"

"Occasionally," Xander replied. "And if nothing else, I know that that Ford guy would be dead right now for what he tried to do to Willow and Buffy."

They heard the massive yacht's engines starting up under their feet. "I told the captain to set sail for the Panama Canal as soon as you and Mercy got back. Once in the Atlantic, it's a straight run through to New York and the new Watchers Council," Talia said, as the Council's new HQ had been transferred to the States after the bombing of 2003.

Xander picked up one of the thick folders on the coffee table and opened it up to show a current picture of Willow Rosenberg, as she looked today. "I can't say I'm not nervous. It's been eight years, after all."

"Just remember we're in this together, pal," the former Cordelia Chase told him in jest. "So no running off with any cute redheads after we get there, okay?"

Xander rolled his eyes at hearing this old chestnut again. "According to this, Willow's been a lesbian for five, nearly six years now. So I very much doubt anything like that will be happening."

Talia grinned. "Have to admit, Xander, all the years we knew Willow – I never saw that one coming. And that Dawn girl…" Talia shook her head. "That's going to be kinda weird, if she's gonna remember us and we won't remember her."

Xander shrugged. "We know all that we need to about that situation, what the monks of the Order of Dagon did five years ago. Any lapses will be put down to the very long time we've been apart from the old Sunnydale gang."

"I suppose…" the woman winced slightly as she trailed off.

"Is something wrong?" Xander asked right away.

"Just a sore muscle from earlier on," Talia informed him. "I've been training all day."

Harris dropped the folder back on the table. "I'll take care of that right now."

The woman smiled. "Xander, you're such a sweetie!"

As they walked towards a set up message table, Xander saw everything already set up. "Well. Something tells me you already had this in mind a while ago."

"Who, me?" Talia laughed as she pulled the sash loose on her robe, allowing it to fall to the ground. The act left her completely naked in front of him, but Xander didn't even twitch at the sight. The brunette woman then added, "You know, Xander, I could be rich if I rented out your magic fingers."

"You're already rich, Talia," Harris told her calmly as she climbed a stool and lay down on her stomach on the padded table.

"I am, aren't I?" the former Queen C joked as Harris took off his suit jacket and rolled up his sleeves. As he applied the massage oil onto her back, though, Xander suddenly had a thought.

"Just in case – don't tell Willow we do stuff like this, at least not until I've explained everything that's happened over the last eight years first."

Talia turned her head back to face him, and gave Xander a very lewd grin. "Oh, so you only want to keep THIS a secret? Not the other things we do?"

"I'd prefer not to witness Willow's head explode from those visuals," Xander told her as he started to massage the naked woman's shoulders.

Talia sighed in true pleasure as Xander's hands worked their magic upon her skin. The whole 'friends with benefits' deal had been going for a while now, ever since she and Xander had finally been permitted to depart their prison. The young woman had initially been hesitant to take that step, as their friendship was the only thing that had sustained both of them ever since 1997, but luckily the sex hadn't ruined their relationship; it had only strengthened it.

And even though they weren't a couple in the strictest sense, if there was only one regret Talia al-Ghul had after being kidnapped from Sunnydale all those years ago – apart from not staking Angel or tossing him into the sunlight, of course – it was the fact that she hadn't been Xander's first...

Tropical island of Ra's al-Ghul

Wednesday October 22nd 1997

7:33 AM

After the dinner with Cordelia's newly-declared father the previous night, Xander Harris and Cordelia Chase, a.k.a. Talia al-Ghul, had been brought to a large villa set up as their living area.

The two crazy kids had discovered something unexpected about their new home. The master, and only, bedroom had all of Cordelia's things from her room back in Sunnydale. It was also laid out in the exact same way. It had just about everything save for her TV and radio, given how Xander and Cordy would not need the distractions of the outside world during their 'training'.

What was really weird though was that within the bedroom, there was a discreet alcove area with a small twin bed. They were told that Xander would be sleeping only a few feet away from Cordelia, no matter what his personal preferences may be. With the quick tour over, the two teens had been told to be at the training area the next morning, at seven am sharp.

Their personal wishes were irrelevant. The alarm was set, and the only things Xander and Cordelia had been allowed to do in the morning was brush their teeth and use a non-scented deodorant.

They had promptly arrived, albeit very tired, to find the woman they had met the night before waiting for them. The woman, who was seemingly in her late thirties, brought them to the island's barber right away.

Cordelia had of course complained profusely about anyone besides her personal stylist being allowed to touch her hair, but it had done her no good. Soon, her hair was short enough that it hardly fit in a small pony tail.

Xander, on the other hand, wasn't so lucky. His hair was shaved into a typical military recruit buzz-cut.

Right now, though, Xander and Cordelia were back on the practice field in their short hair and matching grey sweat suits as the woman said, "First off, my name is Margaret; and I will be acting as your liaison to Mr. Ghul. Until otherwise informed, you will have half your day devoted to various class work. The rest will be for physical training."

"What will we be learning?" Xander asked, feeling more than a little irritated at being given orders like a mindless drone this way.

"Whatever is deemed necessary," Margaret told him. "Today will be an evaluation of your current skill levels." She motioned to a very mean-looking man off to her right. "This is Mr. Farks."

The man stalked up Xander and stared him right in the eyes. "Am I going to waste my time with you, boy?"

Xander just gave him a nasty look.

"I said…" Farks repeated loudly, "AM I GOING TO WASTE MY TIME WITH YOU?"


"No what, you worthless scumbag?" Farks screamed into Xander's face.

"NO SIR!" Xander yelled, knowing what this man wanted to hear – even as a black hate was born in his heart for Ra's al-Ghul forcing him into doing this.

"I doubt that, boy, I really do," Farks told him. "I've read the file on the genetic garbage you were spawned from, and I've got you pegged as nothing but a damn quitter!"

Before anyone could even blink, the man shifted his gaze to Cordelia. "And what are you looking at, princess?"

"What's it to you?" the girl demanded haughtily.

"What's that?" Farks put his hand up to his ear. "I couldn't hear that!"

"What are you, deaf? I said, what's it to you?" Cordelia shouted back at him – before Farks viciously backhanded her across the mouth, sending Cordelia spinning down to the ground.

"Hey!" Xander shouted instinctively, but all that earned him was a vicious punch to the gut that sent him sprawling down next to Cordelia.

Farks backed up a little to address both of them. "Lesson the first – any attitude from either of you will not be tolerated, and you will both suffer for it! So take a real good look at my face, you worthless maggots! It will be haunting your nightmares as of now! The big man seems to think we can make something out of you two…but personally, I would rather bet on the Cubs winning the World Series. I'd have better odds of success!"

He pointed to the paved running track nearby. "Now get your worthless asses in gear! One mile around the track."

"You can't be serious-" Cordelia said automatically, but instantly regretted it

"You have a problem with that, CHEERLEADER?" Farks snapped, as he grabbed Xander up by the neck. He squeezed tightly as he added, "Afraid to do something that requires actually physical labor?"

"No!" she growled out at the man. "Now let Xander go!"

"What was that? Are you giving me an ORDER?" Farks screamed, looking mad.

"I sincerely advise you to co-operate, Ms. Chase," Margaret put in softly, gaining Cordelia's attention. "Your father has given orders that you are to live. But Mr. Farks is permitted to kill Mr. Harris, if you refuse to obey his commands."

Cordelia looked stunned, staring at Xander desperately trying to breathe despite Farks' hand around his throat. "All right, fine! But this isn't over..."

"That's what you think, little girl," Farks told her as he contemptuously threw Xander down to the ground. He then picked up his stopwatch and turned it on, as Cordelia helped a gasping Xander get up off the ground.

After a second, Farks looked at them both. "What the hell are you two idiots waiting for! The clock is ticking!"

Both teens shared a look before they took off towards the track, Farks easily keeping pace with them and yelling all the way.

Unisex locker room, elsewhere on the island

Five hours later

"Oh dear God…" Xander said as he collapsed onto the wooden bench. "I can't move my legs!"

"Yeah, I feel like I'm going to hurl," Ms. Chase said as she leaned against the lockers and slid to the floor. "And this is only the first day?"

Xander kept his eyes on the ceiling. "I've seen drill instructors on TV before…but that guy is just psycho! He musta gotten kicked out of the Army or something."

Cordelia glanced at her sweat shirt that was so drenched in sweat, it was literally sticking to her. "I…I can't take this, Xander. I didn't ask for any of this. I don't WANT any of this! I just want to go home, to my real life in Sunnydale!"

Xander propped himself up on one elbow. "I know, me too. But it's not like we have a choice, here. Like it or not, we gotta do what we're told – or we both get punished for it."

Cordelia looked away. "Or else you might get killed for it. Xander I am so sorry for putting you…"

"You didn't do this, Cordy," Harris told her firmly. "The only people we should blame for this are your father, and Angel."

"Buffy should have staked that guy a long time ago," Ms. Chase said with a look of revulsion, recalling what the vampire had done to her and hoping that the Slayer had done her duty by now. Knowing the Summers girl, however, Cordy truly doubted it.

They both looked up when the door opened, to see Margaret enter the room. "What are you two doing?" she demanded as she saw the pair sprawled out like that. "You have less than ten minutes to shower and change, so get moving!"

Not wanting to get up, Xander gave the girl next to him a nod. "You can go first, Cor."

"Right…" The female teen said as she started to get up.

"No," Margaret said firmly. "Do you not recall what Mr. Ghul said last night? You will both take a shower, right now."

Cordelia looked at her sharply. "Look, I don't care what my dear so-called father said…I am NOT going to take a shower with Xander!"

"Yes you are. Or else Mr. Farks will be told he still has work to do, in terms of harming both you and Mr. Harris," Margaret said firmly. "You do not have to like it, but whilst you are here you two will obey our rules. Unisex showers are normal here. And just in case you didn't know…in about eight minutes, the group of recruits currently training will be coming in to shower. So you can either shower together alone, or with forty more naked men and women."

Xander sat up. "You're serious, aren't you?"

"Of course," Margaret told him. "How do you think I got ready this morning?"

The two teens shared a look as Margaret left. "This place is friggin' nuts," Xander said, shaking his head.

Cordelia looked at the wall clock and then back to the shower room. "God damn it!" she shouted, and before Xander could react the girl pulled off her top to reveal her sports bra.

"Cordy?" Xander croaked in surprise.

"I am NOT going to shower naked with a bunch of strangers, Xander!" Ms Chase told him before she pulled off her bra – giving him a full view of her sweat covered full C-cup breasts. "There, you've seen them…it's old news, now let's move on."

Harris stared at her, stunned. "I can't believe you just did that!"

"It's not going to be going in the positive column of my diary, either," Cordelia told him. "And Xander, I never thought I'd ever say this to you…but take off your clothes, and get in the damn shower!"


"Six and a half minutes, Xander," Cordelia told him as she pulled off her sweat pants. "I sincerely advise you to hurry, before Farks shows up."

Xander just glanced backwards at the clock and back to the backside of the now fully naked cheerleader heading into the shower block. "This is gotta be like the worst Letter to Penthouse moment I could ever imagine!" he said to himself, before Harris quickly took off his shirt and pants and hurried after the former Sunnydale princess.

Ra's al-Ghul's private office

The same time

"Yes, that's right Quentin," the 534-year-old man said into the phone. "I do not need Mr. Giles or his allies making any inquiries as to the whereabouts of Ms. Chase or Mr. Harris." He listened to the Englishman on the other end of the line. "No, you do not need to know why they have come to my attention…only that they have done so. Just remember who put you into your position as the head of your precious Council…and who can just as easily remove you from it."

After a few more minutes, Ra's hung up the phone. "Small men and their delusions of power." A knock on his door caused him to look up. "Enter."

One of his aides came into the room. "You sent for me, sir?"

"Yes, Julian," Ra's told the man in black armour. "My daughter and her friend were associates of the current Vampire Slayer on the Hellmouth. While I've made sure the Watchers Council will not interfere, I want someone to make sure the Slayer and her Watcher do not do so either."

"A question if I may, sir," the man said, waiting for the boss to nod. "If the Council says they will not interfere, then why do you wish…?"

"Because this particular Slayer," Ra's cut him off. "This Buffy Summers girl, she seems to think she can do whatever she desires, that the whole world revolves around her bottle-blonde head. While I do not consider her a threat, her actions might provoke some of my enemies' interest – and that is something I do not need at this time."

"I understand. Do you wish for her to be killed?" Julian asked, as calmly as if his boss wanted him to swat a fly.

"No, or at least not right now," Ra's told him. "I want you to deliver a message to Ms. Summers, that my daughter and her friend are safe and alive…and that is all. If she tries anything, defend yourself accordingly – but try not to inflict any permanent injuries."

"As you wish, sir," Julian said before he bowed and left the room.

Unisex locker room

A few minutes later

"Will you quit staring at it?" Xander said, covering his groin as best he could with his hands as he exited the shower block.

Cordelia looked away. "I'm sorry! I just never saw one quite that big before..."

Harris quickly covered himself with his towel. "And here I thought I'd be too tired for something like…that."

"Oh no, I, ah…take it as a compliment," Cordelia grimaced, hating the fact that she was actually apologizing to Xander Harris of all people. "Nothing for you to be ashamed about."

"This is even worse than my 'being naked in class' nightmare!" Xander complained, as he tried to hold the towel with one hand while the other dug around in his locker.

Cordelia quickly got dressed and tied her shoes. "I'll…meet you outside then. You can just, ah…take care of that."

"Ya know what? I might as well let your dad shoot me right now," Xander growled out.

"Oh, I don't think it's come to that just yet," Margaret said as she entered the room.

Xander hid behind Cordelia, wrapping his towel tighter around himself as the woman and a new girl looking around twenty-something looking came over. "Well, you can just…" he started to say but was cut off.

"Really, Mr. Harris," Margaret told him. "There's nothing to be embarrassed about. You're a teenage male, it happens." She motioned to the blonde girl next to her. "This is Olga, from now on she'll be your personal assistant amongst other things."

Xander looked over towards the beautiful-looking blonde. For some reason he was instantly reminded of Ms. Natalie French, the preying mantis lady from last year, so Xander said, "Assistant? No thanks, I can-"

"This is not a request, Mr. Harris," Margaret told him sharply. "You need to be clear-headed during your training. That includes Olga taking care of all your bodily functions."

Cordelia just looked at her, able to understand what that meant. "You have got to be shitting me, right?"

"There's no need for such language," Margaret told her as she came over and grabbed Cordelia's hand. "Come with me, Ms. Chase, I need to speak to you alone."

Cordy resisted but got pulled along anyway, she gave Xander one last sorry look before the wooden doors closed behind her. Not knowing what to do, the young woman followed Margaret as they went outside to the paved walking path. "Is that Russian girl really going to have sex with Xander?"

"No," Margaret told her, suppressing a smile as she noticed an odd twang in Cordelia's tone. "She is just there to give your friend a…a helping hand, if you will."

"You people are nuts," Cordelia said firmly, able to understand what that meant as well. "This entire fucking island is completely looney-toons!"

Margaret laughed a little as they started to walk again. "There was a time when I fully believed that as well. When I first arrived here with my friend, at least we were both girls." She looked over to see a large group of men and women walking towards the locker rooms from the fields. "Had Mr. Harris been recruited into the ranks in the usual way, then he would be showering with them now."

Cordelia looked at the mean-looking group. "So, lemme ask something. Does every one of those guys have some girl to jerk them off as well?"

"No," the older woman replied calmly. "Such things are known to happen in order to relieve stress, but after the recruits get used to unisex showers, it does not take place very often."

"Well, newsflash, but Xander isn't a recruit – he's a kidnap victim! And so am I!" Cordelia snarled viciously, making Margaret wince. "You can talk around it as much as you like, lady, but God damn it – neither of us wants to be here! Just how far do you think you can push us with assholes like that guy Farks? Not to mention giving Xander his own personal whore, as the carrot to that particular stick?"

"There's no need for-"

"Yes there is! There is every fucking need for you and Daddy dearest to get it through your thick heads, that Xander and I are not here of our own free will! This isn't right," Cordelia told her harshly. "Xander and I shouldn't have been humiliated just now, by seeing each other naked like that!"

"It won't become public knowledge, if such is your wish," Margaret told her as they reached a small seating area. "Please take a seat."

Still fuming, Cordelia did so as Margaret sat across from her. "Look, why is this happening?" Cordelia demanded bluntly. "And spare me the bullshit story I heard last night, about me needing a personal bodyguard in order to protect myself. Neither Xander or I want to be trained by some…"

"Cult?" the older woman finished for her. When Cordelia nodded, Margaret sighed. "There are some things here I still don't agree with, but that's just part of life in the League of Shadows."

"Shadows?" Cordelia asked. "What is this damn League of Shadows?"

"I'm not allowed to tell you. If your father wishes you to know, then Mr. Ghul will tell you himself," Margaret replied. "But I can say this in regards to Mr. Harris's situation. Some members of the League do pair off together, and occasionally children are born of their union. In the past, there was no real problem with that for two reasons. First, it helped replenish the ranks. And second, since it was the women who bore the child…they did not care if they were out of the ranks for awhile."

Cordelia's eyebrow went up at that. "Meaning? This League of yours discriminates against women? Oh, color me surprised…"

"It was founded many centuries ago," Margaret said. "Back when women were not considered actual people to some. Merely chattel and property." Margaret leaned in. "But with regards to the current situation, your father wanted to make sure that you didn't end up with child."

"He thought that Xander and I might have sex?" Cordelia asked, looking shocked. It was obvious such a thought had never once entered her head before.

"Yes," Margaret told her. "You see, it's like your father said at dinner. You are his daughter, but Mr. Harris is expendable."

Cordelia looked horrified. "You mean…not that I have any intention of touching the big dweeb, of course, but if we were to have sex – then Xander would be killed?"

"Yes," Margaret told her bluntly. "Mr. Ghul believes that American teenagers have very active sex lives, and you two have known each other ever since kindergarten. Given the stressful relocation for both of you, the odds were that you and Mr. Harris would soon pair-bond with one another. Your father did not want you to get…knocked up, I believe is the term. One, because you cannot learn how to fight with a baby growing inside you – and two, Mr. Harris doesn't come from the best family. This means a lot to Mr. Ghul, since he comes from a time when such things were considered very important."

"I've said it before and I'll say it again. I don't believe this," Cordelia whispered. "Why am I so damn important to him that he would kill Xander, if I didn't even know he was my damn father until recently?"

Margaret smiled. "Your mother…your real mother."

"You knew her?" the female teen asked, recalling the necklace from last night which Margaret had given her.

Margaret nodded fondly. "I said I came here with another girl…well, that girl was your mother. When she met Mr. Ghul, he was a lot younger-looking than he is now. They had this amazing, star-crossed romance together. Your grandfather wanted to marry her off to a banker's son, but after a fight I would prefer not go into right now, we ended up in the League – and the rest is history."

Her words made Cordy think of Buffy and Angel for a moment. "So what happened to her?"

Margaret looked down. "Shortly after you were born…there was an attack by one of your father's enemies. She was killed saving your life." She gave the teen a hard look. "After her death, your father believed that their love had made him too soft. Against my advice, he gave you to two of his most trusted followers in Sunnydale to raise as their daughter."

"The Chase's," Cordelia murmured, recalling that taped message with a bitter feeling of betrayal and pain.

Margaret continued, "Your name – Talia al-Ghul – was never brought up again here by anyone. I was never even allowed to mention you, to make sure no one knew of you in case of spies or infiltrators. But after your father heard what that vampire had done to you…."

Cordelia just sat there, taking all this new information in. After a few moments she let a tear fall. "I wish I could have had a chance to know my bio-mom. The Chases hardly gave me the time of day."

"She would have been so proud of the strong young woman you have grown up into," Margaret told her.

"Thanks." Cordelia said. She meant it too, but there was utterly no warmth or friendliness in her voice, which Margaret instantly picked up on.

"Listen to me," the older woman told her. "I know this is very unpleasant for you right now, but like it or not you do need to learn how to defend yourself. Don't do it for your father, do it to keep yourself safe in this world. It's a lot darker than you think-"

"Spare me the platitudes, lady," Cordelia cut her off angrily. "I lived in a town built on the mouth of Hell, remember? I grew up alongside vampires and demons, even if I didn't know about them until I couldn't live in denial anymore."

"Think of this as more of the same. There is no point living in denial here, either," Margaret told her. "Your father knows best-"

"No, he damn well doesn't, you brainwashed cult fanatic," Cordelia cut her off at once. "He won't turn either Xander or me into one of his brainwashed followers, either!"

Margaret looked at her for a long few moments. "Shall we drop the pleasantries? Fine, then. It's true that most of the people here would die for him if your father ordered it. But you don't have to end up like that, neither of you."

"You think there's a way to stop it?" Cordelia asked sarcastically.

"You saw those new recruits just now, didn't you?" the older woman asked. "If Mr. Ghul had wanted a mindless drone of a daughter, you would be in that group. He said he wanted you to be able to defend yourself, not die for a cause that is not your own."

Cordelia frowned. "Xander and I want to go back to Sunnydale. Are you saying he would actually let us go?"

"Not for a few years, at least," Margaret told her honestly. "Now you can fight it all the while and probably get Mr. Harris killed, or you can dive into it and turn yourself into someone whom your father would have no worries about being on her own."

"Yeah, and what would I do then?" Cordelia demanded. "My life – at least the one that I had before I came here – is GONE!"

"You still have a chance to make a new life for yourself," Margaret told her very passionately. "For God's sake, girl! You are the daughter of Ra's al-Ghul! Do you have any idea what that means?"

Cordy just shook her head. "As far as I'm concerned, it only means that I'm a prisoner here."

Margaret kept going, trying to keep a grip on her temper. "It means that those demons you used to fear in Sunnydale…they would wet themselves at the mere notion of upsetting your father! Your last name means death to many demons and evil creatures out there. Not to mention, more money than is possessed by most countries in the world today."

"What-?" Cordelia looked at her, shocked.

Margaret gestured to the island base around them. "Did you think that THIS is all that the League is? Hardly – this is merely one of the smaller bases. There are others, far larger and far better equipped. I'm not exaggerating when I say your father could pay off the entire national debt for the United States, as easily as turning over in bed. He probably made that much in the world's stock markets, during the last few weeks alone!"

"You're serious?" the teenage girl asked. "And he'd just give me all this money?"

Margaret nodded. "Eventually, you could live anywhere; have mansions as summer homes, the things that a Chase family member could only dream of."

Cordelia looked conflicted. "And what about Xander?"

"You already know what your father's plans are with regard to him," the woman told her. "He will be your right hand."

"No. Even putting aside how much we've always disliked each other, there is no way Xander would just be one of the sheep that followed me around at Sunnydale High," Cordelia told her.

"Then don't treat him as one," Margaret said fervently. "Help us mold him into a man that no one thinks he could ever be." She looked deep into the girl's eyes. "Do you think Xander Harris is a good man?"

Cordy was taken back by the question. "What?"

"Would you be willing to put your life in his hands, right now?" Margaret asked. "Do you believe he'd save you if you needed it?"

"I guess so," Cordelia replied, recalling that incident a few weeks ago with Darryl Epps. "I was in a burning building with some zombie nutcase who wanted to cut my head off, not long ago…the truth is, I'd be dead right now if it wasn't for him."

"Which is why your father selected him for the role," Margaret said, feeling like she was finally getting somewhere around here. "He may not have liked you, but he still saved your life whilst risking his own. How many people do you know who would have done something like that? All you need to do is secure his loyalty, and Mr. Harris will die to protect you-"

"You're ignoring the whole Buffy and Willow factor. I mean, you do know who they are, right?" Cordelia said with a slight smirk. Then the female teen tried to prevent herself from laughing, when she saw Margaret was ready to start tearing her own hair out over how stubborn her new charge was being.

The residence of Xander Harris and Cordelia Chase

Two hours later

"Hey," Xander said as Cordelia came into the kitchen. "Where did you end up after that woman dragged you out of the shower block?"

Cordelia checked out the cooking chicken in the pan. "Here and there. Uh, apparently Margaret was my mom's…my real mom's best friend."

"Really?" Harris asked, surprised.

"Yes, really," Ms. Chase told him. "So what's the deal? You can actually cook?"

Xander shrugged and turned one of the chickens over in the pan. "Basic survival skills. Mom and Dad were pretty much on a liquid diet most nights, so I had to learn to fend for myself."

"Well, it smells good anyway," Cordelia told him as she leaned onto the large marble counter. "After today, I could eat a horse!"

"Don't know if we have one of those," Xander smiled briefly. "You wanna get the stuff for a salad out of the fridge?"

"Sure," Cordelia said as she went over to the massive two-door fridge. After she got the bags of lettuce and shredded cheese out, she looked for a large mixing bowl. As the young woman looked through the place she whistled, "Boy, this place is fully stocked!"

"One good thing about it, I suppose," Harris said as he started to mix the sauce.

Cordy started to toss the salad next to him. "Speaking of which…how did your, ah..."

"Hand job go?" Xander asked bluntly.

"Yeah, that," Cordy grimaced.

Xander stopped and looked at her. "Gotta admit, it was nothing like I ever suspected that sort of thing would turn out to be. I enjoyed it, sure – but it was just so…cold. Like Olga didn't really care about what she was doing one way or another, it was a just another job to her. At least a hooker would have acted like it was fun!"

"I'm sorry about that, Xander," Cordelia told him, even though she was rather glad her old kindergarten nemesis hadn't fallen in lust with the blonde Russian girl; primal female ego and all that. "I really am."

"I told you, it's not-"

"Yeah, I know it's not my fault," Cordy told him. "But still, I also know she's not the girl who you wanted to do something like that with."

"You're talking about Buffy," Xander stated, as he shut off the stove and started to serve the chicken onto the plates.

"Well it's no secret you have a thing for her," Cordy said as she brought the salad over.

"Yeah, Cor, but it's different now than how it was last year," Harris admitted as they sat down. "I mean, the Buffster made it pretty clear she prefers 'em tall, broody and lacking a pulse. Hell, after the near lap dance she gave me at the Bronze last month, just to make that goddamn vampire jealous…"

Cordelia gave him a small smile, "Well, yeah, even I thought that was pretty bad form."

"Thing is, I've had a while to think about it – and there's no point trying to fool myself about what's the what there, I guess. Buffy made up her mind, and much as I may hate it, she chose Angel instead of me," Harris said bitterly as he poured his milk. "Guess I just got pushed into the friend zone way too easily."

"Well, I heard how she once called you 'one of the girls', so big surprise there." Cordy took a bite of her chicken. "By the way, when I talked to Margaret just now? She made it clear that we wouldn't be leaving this island anytime soon."

Xander just shrugged. "I'd already figured that. From what I saw, the docks and that air strip were very heavily guarded. Hell, we don't even know where we are, whereabouts in the world this island is located. The mainland could be just twenty miles away…or two thousand."

"Yeah. But when Margaret and I talked," Cordelia said hesitantly. "Uh, I hate to admit it, but – what she said, it made a lot of sense."

"What are you talking about?" Xander asked, frowning.

"Xander, even if we did manage to escape this place, my bio-dad would just find us again," Cordelia said sadly. "Apparently he has more money than God, and he's got connections everywhere too. That's why he killed the Mayor of Sunnydale recently – and he'd do the same to you, once you went back to Sunnydale and he tracked you down there. Margaret said to tell you, uh..."


"My so-called 'father' would not only kill you, he'd kill Willow as well – just for you disobeying his orders," Cordelia said, looking sick. "She said to tell you that Willow's life depends on you doing what you're told, for as long as you're here."

Xander folded his arms, an ugly expression of fury visible on his handsome features. "I see. And did Margaret say anything else?"

"That we forget about our old lives and just go along with everything they want us to do here, all of it."

"What?" Xander demanded. "Have you completely lost it? Cordy, he may be your real dad and all, but we were both kidnapped and brought here by that son of a bitch-"

"I know, Xander!" Cordelia snapped at him. "I was there for all of it the entire time, remember? But the bottom line is, once that guy thinks that I'm trained enough to be able to defend myself, then he'll let us both go. Hell – I think he would even pay me, for God's sakes!"

"Well, gee, Cor. That sounds great for you," Xander said, giving her a glare after thinking that was just typical of her – give Cordelia Chase a sniff of money, and she'd instantly forget about everything else. "But in case you didn't notice, I have someone threatening my life every other moment here! Not to mention, threatening Willow's life as well!"

"I know that, Xander," Cordelia told him honestly. "But if even half of what Margaret told me is true, then these people will start doing what I say soon."

"How the hell do you figure that's gonna happen?" Harris demanded in disbelief.

"I'm the boss's daughter," Cordelia reminded him. "I just have to start acting like it."

Xander just looked at her like she was nuts. "Yeah, and how far did that get you with that guy Farks? Come on, Cordelia, wake up! You're not gonna be giving orders to anyone here, these people work for the asshole who kidnapped us both! You can't be stupid enough to think that you can actually trust any of these people-"

"But I can trust you!" Cordelia told him sharply. "Look, Harris, if you don't play ball then they'll kill you. It's that simple. And then I'll get stuck with a brainwashed yes man of dear old daddy, not that that would actually matter to you – because we both know how you really feel about me, don't we?"

"Damn it, Cordy…"

"Just think about it, Xander, please!" Cordelia pleaded with him. "You're the only person I can trust on this damn island, and I-I need someone in MY corner in order to survive all this." The brunette girl saw his suspicious glare, and wondered if she'd just alienated the only ally she had around here. "Look, how about this? We get done with this whole 'training' thing as quick as possible, and once it's over…then you're free to go. I'll take you back to Sunnydale myself once I'm allowed to leave this place, just please – I don't want to take you back in a body bag, okay?"

Xander just stared at her, the accusing look never once leaving his facial features.

Ra's al-Ghul's private office

Thursday October 23rd 1997

"I am told you wished to speak to me," Ra's said, as he regarded the young man standing on the other side of his desk

"That's right," Xander told him. "I do."

"Well, then. What is it you have to say, Mr. Harris?"

"First off, I want to tell you up-front just how much I hate you. Mister, the truth is I hate you more than I've ever hated anyone else in my entire life – up to and including Deadboy himself. More than I hate my own parents, even though I still find it hard to believe that's possible," Xander said frankly, as Ra's looked surprised for a moment. "You threatened Willow's life, and that's something I'll never forgive and never forget. If I ever get the chance to kill you – which is really unlikely, granted, but still – then to hell with that no-killing-humans rule. I won't hesitate to do it, in order to keep Willow safe from you."

The older man just looked at him coldly. "There is something to be said for blunt honesty, of course. But you would be wise to be careful what you say to me, Mr. Harris. I don't need to keep you alive, after all-"

"You kill me, and Cordelia will hate you forever – which is something you want to avoid. You think I wasn't able to figure out that was why Farks didn't pull the trigger this morning, after he pulled a gun on me for daring to talk back to him like that?" Xander smiled just as coldly as Ra's. "But let's move on. The second thing I wanted to tell you is that as long as I'm your prisoner here, I have a few conditions."

"Conditions?" Ra's said with a smile. "Mr. Harris, where did you get the idea you could dictate to me like this?"

Xander shrugged. "What have I got to lose? I'm stuck here for the duration; so I figure I might as well go for it, since you're the kind of guy who despises weakness."

"And what would these 'conditions' be?" Ra's didn't bother to acknowledge how Xander's assessment of his character was quite correct.

"I talked to Cordelia about this yesterday," the male teen told him. "She told me how even if we got off this island somehow, with your money and connections you'd just find us and bring us back afterwards."

"One of you, anyway," Ra's said to that, even if Xander ignored his comment.

"So here are the conditions," Xander told him, trying to muster up as much courage as he could. "One, no more death threats. Two, I don't join this League of yours. Three, when Cordelia is allowed to leave this place – you don't interfere with her promise to cut me loose, when the time comes."

Ra's looked at this boy who had just done what anyone else would have been killed for. "I have to admit – I'm honestly surprised, Mr. Harris. Given your character, I was anticipating you'd rather die than give in like this."

"I'm not giving in," Xander said firmly. "I'm simply making the best of my situation, and like I said – I'm keeping Willow safe from you."

"This will not be some summer camp you can walk away from afterwards, Mr. Harris," Ra's told him. "The League's training is meant to hone the human body into the best it can be-"

"I don't care," Xander interrupted rudely. "So spare me the speeches, okay? On account of I'm not one of your recruits, and I want as little to do with you and your League as possible. Like I said – I really do hate you, even worse than I hate my own father. It's just lucky for you how I haven't transferred that hate to Cordelia yet, despite how often she made my life miserable ever since kindergarten."

Ra's looked him over, as he slowly got up and walked around the desk to face Xander directly. "Your personal feelings I could care less about. But as a father, I want my daughter to be safe. While the training she'll get here will help, I need someone to watch her back, someone that she trusts – which does not include me, or any member of the League."

He stopped in front of Xander. "Very well – I will agree to your 'conditions' if you honor one of my own. You must swear a solemn oath to protect my daughter to the best of your ability, even sacrificing your own life if it comes to that, for as long as she desires your service. I will not lose her like I lost her mother."

Xander didn't even hesitate. "Agreed."

Ra's smiled slightly. "So be it, Mr. Harris." He reached over his desk and grabbed a knife, even as his other hand grabbed Xander's right hand. Before the male teen could blink, there was a small cut on his palm.

Ra's cut his own hand, muttered a few words in an unknown language and then shook his bloody hand with Xander's. Their hands glowed blue for a second, before the light disappeared.

"You have entered into a magical pact between yourself and my family, Mr. Harris." Ra's leaned in close, so they were nearly nose to nose. "If you betray this oath willing undertaken and witnessed by the higher powers, not only will your death be very unpleasant – but your soul will be forfeit to the deepermost pits of Hell."

To his credit, Xander didn't even flinch. "Right. And I hope I can personally sending yours there someday as well."

Abandoned Factory, Sunnydale, California

The same time

"Dru?" Spike called out, as his dark-haired vampire lover sang and danced around the factory floor. "Bloody hell, pet, what's gotten into you all of a sudden?"

The insane seer stopped in her tracks and went to her boyfriend. "Oh, it's such wonderful news, my precious Spike!"

"And what news would that be, luv?" the blond Master vampire asked. "A way to take care of Angel and that stupid bint of a Slayer?"

Drusilla shook her head. "No, no, ever so much more important than that. The whole world is changing, it is. The stars are singing, and the moon is dancing a jig with Miss Edith!"

"Whatever you say, Dru," Spike looked annoyed at his sire's ramblings. "Now what's changing, exactly?"

Dru moved to smell the dead flowers on the table. "Soon, soon they'll all be flying through the skies, they will. The Man of Steel, the Bat, and the Amazon. Those three will start it all!"

"Start what?" Spike didn't get Dru's cryptic answer.

"A new age!" Dru said, giddy as a schoolgirl. "A Golden Age!"