"Sir, I have SG-1's code," the gate tech yelled. "I have no idea why."
"Open it," Hammond ordered as he walked in. "It's probably O'Neill and Jackson. They're the only ones still missing." The iris opened and they walked through, then Xander passed out. "What happened, Colonel?" he called.
Jack looked up. "Stupid demons, sir." Two hellhounds walked through the stargate. "Aw, shit," he said, backing up. Two more came through and a single one. "Get them."
John turned, firing on one. Dean got two more. Daniel tried for one with his gun but it moved. They got another one together. The last one was hiding now. Dean got one that tried to move, moving to guard Xander better.
"Boys?" Hammond called. "Send them back through."
"Where's the other one?" Sam called. "It's in camouflage."
"Under the gateway. There's a life sign."
Dean looked, then shot. It yelped and moved out of cover. Sam got it when it came into the open, killing it. They and John walked the bodies back up to the gateway, tossing them over. Once they were done it shut down. "Better. Xander?" he called. A doctor came rushing in. "Hold it. He only needs a nap. He extended himself too far."
"We have a whole infirmary for all of you," she said firmly.
He smirked. "No thanks." He nudged Xander on the thigh with a foot. "Xander?" He blinked at him. "Sit up. We can nap later."
"Screw yourself. I'm exhausted." He let himself fall back under again.
She smiled. "We can take you to the infirmary, sir."
"Hell no," Xander muttered. "No doctors. No castrating me; do not make me kill someone."
"Xander, that's my doc," Jack called. "She's safe. If she tries that I get to beat her."
Xander groaned but sat up, holding his head. "When can I nap?"
"Once I make sure you're fine," the doctor said.
Xander looked at her. "I hate doctors. Get off." She moved back. Sam helped him up and held him until he could catch his balance again. "Better." He looked at them. "We all good?" They nodded. "Good. Then let's find home. How long has it been?"
Jack checked his automatically updating watch. "Six months."
Hammond walked in. "Which is why I'd like an explanation."
"They wanted us to give up and beg, sir," Daniel said.
"Pity," Xander agreed. "It was only three days on that side. Sorry, if I knew how to stop that one I'd do it."
"That's fine. I'm assuming you're Mr. Harris?" Xander nodded. "How did you get back?"
"They had an unhitched gate," Daniel said. "Xander figured out how to power it with magic. We dialed home."
"I'd like a more comprehensive account," Hammond said. "After you all get checked over in the infirmary." Xander snorted. "Yes, you will, Mr. Harris."
He looked at him. "As much as I respect Jack, your uniform, and your duty, I'm not in the military. I do not like doctors because many of them like to hurt people like me. I'll heal. I'm like that." He looked at Jack. "I'm sorry they sucked you into that."
"It happens," Jack said. "You can trust the docs here."
"No I can't." He stared at him, then smiled and took his hairpin back from Jack's pocket. Jack groaned. "I can't risk that, Jack." He looked at her. "As nice as he says you are, I'm special and I can't let that be noticed by a medical person. I'm only suffering from magic exhaustion. I'll be fine with a good dinner or a nap."
"I still need to make sure you didn't bring back anything strange. Like an alien parasite."
"It won't live in me."
She blinked then pulled him aside. "I've seen any number of patients, Mr. Harris."
"Not like me."
"Including the GHS aliens recently."
"Still not what I'm worried about."
She groaned. "Is this the same problem that meant Daniel's broken foot healed without intervention?" she asked quietly. He nodded. "I can still check you over and not note that. I don't note his."
"That I can't guarantee." He nodded, stepping back. "I'll do yours myself."
"That would be *ours*," Dean noted calmly.
She stared then at Daniel, who nodded. "If I must." They nodded, letting Jack herd them that way. The general huffed and followed. They were fine. Xander needed some juice. He was taking a nap on a bed while the others were getting checked over, as long as one of his guards was there.
Willow walked in and over to Xander, staring before poking him. Sam nearly took her head off. "Hey! I wanted to apologize!"
"He's exhausted," Sam said firmly. "You can write a letter." She pouted. "The last time he saw you, you had us attacked and it's a damn good thing he's the guy he is." She nodded, looking down. "Write a letter, Willow."
"Like you never made a mistake," she hissed.
"Not that sort."
"Sam," John warned. "You can come see him when he's not exhausted." She nodded, backing up. "Thank you, Willow." She looked at him. "Give it a few weeks."
"I can do that. Buffy too."
"We'll see," John said. She nodded quickly. "Shoo." She rushed out.
"We don't like her?" the general asked.
"We're the reason you got her," Dean told him, coming out of the exam area. "She had us attacked by an overwhelming force."
"I heard." He looked at them, not staring at the sleeping man. He hadn't woken up through any of that. "Is he all right?"
"Magical exhaustion. He and Sam powered the gate together," John said.
"I have no clue," Daniel admitted. "Xander's a high priest to a few of the older gods; he got an idea, he plugged himself in, and Sam helped him. We dialed home, sent the code, then came through. The hellhounds were probably trailing us to make sure we came here instead of anywhere else. What we are can ruin places like that. It doesn't mesh well with the power that makes them."
"I see," Hammond said. "Is it something we can use in the future?"
"Not without draining Xander," Sam said. "Ask Willow. That's her thing. Xander's very minor and shouldn't be doing more than speeding up the garden. It was that or be killed."
Hammond nodded slowly. "I see. How would we quantify this to explain it?"
Jack shrugged. "I don't do science stuff. I only guarded. I'm good at that."
Hammond smacked him on the back. "I know that, Jack. Boys? You?" he asked John.
"I'm a demon hunter. I've only dealt with magic by stopping people doing bad forms of it."
"Xander's got enough power to grow plants or open things that're already there," Sam said. "The basics of what Willow can do."
"I'll ask her how he did it then," he agreed. "How did he pull up enough?"
"Emergencies make it necessary," Dean said simply. "We all get a lot of creative when emergencies happen, sir."
"Good point," Hammond said. "You are?"
"Dean. That's Sam, our father John. Xander."
"I figured out who he was. I met him for a few minutes a while back. You're his keeper?"
"We're his keepers," Dean agreed. "Dad guards us and keeps the demons from keeping us."
Hammond nodded. "Are there realms that aren't demon related?"
"Probably," Sam said. "But you'd have to ask someone from the DPP about that."
"Demonic Police Plane," Sam translated. He found Xander's necklace in Jack's pocket, handing it over. "To their realm. We have another one at home. Willow can summon one down to ask those sort of questions to."
Buffy walked in. "Six months?"
"Three days there," Dean said patiently. "He's napping off the exhaustion of getting us back, Buffy. Come down in a few days."
"Dean. That's Sam."
She looked then nodded slowly. "Okay. Can I apologize?"
"Give him a few days to finish recovering and check on the house," Dean ordered.
"Sure, I get that. He needs bananas and orange juice. Willow does."
"We'll get him something on the way home," Dean promised. He caught the piece of fruit that fell from the ceiling. "That'll work very well." He tossed it to Sam. He looked at her, smiling fakely. "Let him nap?"
"Sure, I'll let him nap. I'll let Jack drive us down in a few days when he has some free time so we can apologize."
"Thank you," Sam said. "Can we head soon? Faith's got to be worried sick."
"Faith?" Buffy asked.
"She's house-sitting," Sam told her.
"Bogart?" Xander murmured.
"I'm sure he's fine, Xander. We'll head home soon." Dean called her, smiling when she grabbed the phone. "Hey, Faith," he called.
"Bogart?" Xander called.
"She said he's fine and he's been moping in your bed, Xander." Dean nodded. "How soon?" he asked Jack.
"Have her drive up. It'll be about an hour," he promised. "Let us debrief you guys." They nodded and Dean said that then hung up. "She okay?"
"Panicked. Not even Vesvold could find us."
Xander lifted his head to look at him. "I'm going to kill the sucker that did that if I see him again."
"We," Sam corrected.
"Definitely we," Daniel agreed. Hammond looked at him. "I don't like being stolen any more than anyone else does." Sam rushed in. "Emergency happening?" he teased with a smile.
"Where were you?" she demanded, giving him a hug.
"Something decided to punish Xander for saying no," Dean told her. She gaped at him. He shrugged. "Took all of us." He looked at Sam, who helped Xander sit up. "What do you want to know, General? We have no idea where it is or half the things you want us to know."
"You're still on a classified base, son."
Xander blinked at him. "The demonic underground already knew about the gateway but they think you're traveling to other realms." Hammond gaped. Xander grinned. "I knew of Jack before I met Jack. Did anyone tell you if others like me were taken?"
"They did," Jack agreed. "We've talked with two who'd gladly change over to a new keeper if we can arrange the present bad one to go away." Xander grinned. "Thank you."
"Welcome." He slid off the bed, looking at the doctor, who nodded he was fine. "Can we go? I want my tub and my dog."
Hammond grimaced. "Your tub?"
"I have a specially built huge tub with jets and things. It'll help me take a nap to recover."
"I can understand that."
"We'd love to have something like that around here for after the bad cases," Jack said. "That was not a hint, Xander."
Xander nodded. "I have to find Steve anyway." He looked at the general. "Sir, with all due respect, you're not stranger than the demons who think I'm all that and could be theirs if their price is right. I saw the aliens who had the same sort of hormone condition I have when they showed up. I'm the one who called you guys. I could care less about your big ring thingy with the picture symbols. It's not in a language I read. I grew up doing demonic research. This stuff... science stuff, bores me to death."
John patted him on the back. "He's sorry he's missing tact but he's tired, General."
"I can see why," he agreed. "We'll be debriefing you boys tomorrow at your house. Do not tell anyone anything about this project. I know Mr. Harris has a security rating."
"I also have a file that says I bite," Xander said dryly, cracking Jack up. "He said so."
"You do," Hammond agreed. "I'll be seeing you tomorrow, boys."
"Yes, sir," they agreed, saluting him properly. He smiled, letting them go. John saluted as well before leaving.
Jack smiled. "They're not the average boys."
"How does Harris know how to salute?"
"He was possessed by a soldier's spirit way back when. That's how he knows artillery and tactics."
"Interesting." He looked at them. "Doctor, are they all right?"
"They're fine," she agreed. "They're not the average young man but they all checked out fine, sir."
"Good. This specialness?"
"Is something that is not allowed to get into the open knowledge base," she said firmly.
Daniel walked him off to a quiet corner where no one could overhear them. He pulled out the hairpin he had of Xander's and stabbed his hand then let him see it healing. Hammond gaped. "For some of us we're born this way," he said very quietly. "It's also why Xander carries a sword. It's a long story and it is not allowed to get into any database, sir."
"How are you going to be explaining this?"
"I'm not or it's too many times in a sarcophagus. Or where we just were."
"Agreed. I would like a more comprehensive briefing. Just for my own peace of mind?"
"As long as it does not get past your ears. You and Jack."
"I know but I have no idea why and I don't want to know," Doctor Frasier told him.
"Good." He looked at Daniel. "I can see why they're paranoid."
"Xander's been stolen a few good times." He walked back over to Jack and Sam. "Now what?"
"Now, debrief," the general said patiently. They went to the meeting area to do that. Teal'c ran into them on the way and followed to hear what had happened.
Xander saw his SUV. He smiled, coming over to hug it when Faith stopped. "I missed you too, baby. Did you keep the Impala company?"
Faith got out, looking at him. "Where were you?"
"It was only three days there," John told her. "Long story. Hellhounds too."
"Charming." She let him have the driver's seat, helping Dean get Xander into the back. Sam got the front seat while they squished into the comfier back area. "What happened?" she asked as they pulled away from the base's gate. "He's clearly drunk or something."
"They wanted to punish us for not giving in," Dean told her. "It was three days there and he's got magical exhaustion from getting us back. Sammy helped."
"Hey, the big tub works," she promised. "Steve even upgraded the tub in the master bedroom and moved his huge, heavy tub into Sam's room so he has one of those designer tubs in his now."
Xander blinked at her. "Steve did home improvement?"
"Only to update your tub and move your old one to Sam's room. Plus to fix the patch job in the GHS bathroom." He nodded, humming a bit, resting his head on Dean's shoulder. "Sure, you nap. We'll gab later."
"Buffy and Willow want to come down in a few days to apologize," Dean said quietly.
"We'll handle it," she agreed.
Dean smiled. "How did things go?"
"The cops got a bit antsy but I showed them the note and begged Vesvold to come talk to them. He brought DPP people. That impressed them and it's cool." John pulled onto the main road into town. "We're fine. I haven't driven the porsche. Or the Impala. Or the truck."
"Did you start it?" Dean asked.
She gave him a clueless look. "Why would I?"
"The battery can die," Dean said. "I'll handle it. How's the neighborhood?"
"It's good. A lot of them have moved. Steve's considering a plan to tear down a few and keep a few as guest houses but to plant more trees. Plus a huge fence facing the new mall going up."
"What's going in?" John asked.
"They're still building the buildings. It looks like a Sears or Penny's, maybe a Macy's. A few smaller ones. A few restaurants on the edges of the parking lot."
"Hmm," Xander said. "We'll have to see if it's worth it." He yawned. "Are they threatening the neighborhood?"
"No. They're going to be extending one of the nearby streets to go that way." They pulled through the downtown. John waved at a cop, getting a shocked look. "The news you're back is going to be around soon, X."
"Good. Safer," he mumbled. Dean stroked Xander's back, letting him fall asleep.
"One other small thing changed," Faith admitted. Sam looked back at her. "Someone's pet tiny beast decided to move in while you guys were gone." Sam groaned. "The parents apparently left it in their house when it was foreclosed on. It came running over. It was starved. She likes to watch Bogart play and romp. She cuddles very well. Bogart thinks she's a pillow and a toy."
Xander snored. Dean grinned. "We'll see the little thing when we get there. They'll be down to debrief tomorrow."
"Sure," she agreed. "We need food. I ate all the frozen stuff and the pasta. I can't cook."
"Me either," Dean admitted. "More than mac 'n cheese."
"It was easy to cook when you guys were little," John said. "He spoils us horribly by cooking such fancy stuff." He pulled onto another street, pulling over when the lights went on behind him. He turned off the engine after rolling down the electric window. "Yes, Officer? Did I forget to signal again?"
"You're finally back?"
"We are. It was another stupid thing that wanted us," Sam said. "This was his idea of punishment."
"I see. Are you guys all right?"
"We were taken with Jack," Sam said with a grin.
John smiled at that. "And Daniel."
The cop moaned. "At least you're all fine. Xander?"
"Napping," Dean said, lowering the back window. Xander snuffled. "The cop wanted to make sure you're okay."
Xander blinked at the cop, waving a bit. "Tired."
"Sure, you sleep. There's a new chief and he wanted to talk to you when you got back." Xander nodded at that. "Tomorrow?"
"Tomorrow we're being debriefed since Jack's on active duty and he got stolen too," John said. "The next day? That way he has time to deal with things?" The cop nodded. "Thank you for looking out for us."
"Not a problem, sir." He shook his hand. "Have a good trip home. Faith was very good while you were gone."
John smiled. "That's what I'd expect." He laughed as he walked off. "A lot of problems?"
"Not too many." John started the engine and moved them on. "A few delivery guys. I hit on one."
"Good," Dean agreed. "That's good for you." She smacked him on the arm. "Was he good?"
"Pretty decent." John smiled back at her before going through the newly green light. Another ten minutes and they were home. "Buttons is probably inside shedding on the couch." She went ahead. "Bogart, gather your toy. Daddy's home!" The dog went racing out.
"Hey, Bogart," Sam said, getting out to pet him. "Such a good boy. Very good boy." He helped Dean out of the back then helped him and John get Xander out. "Look, daddy's home." Bogart barked and tried to get Xander to pet him. "Let daddy nap, Bogart."
Dean picked the dog up with a groan. "She overfed you, dog." Bogart lapped Xander until he woke up and cooed with an ear pet. "Let's get you into the bath, Xander." He nodded, taking his dog to carry in that way. He stopped to look at the mini pincher. "Is that Buttons?" Faith nodded. "It's....vicious looking in an ankle biter way." Xander came back to look. "That's Buttons. It decided it lived here."
"Okay." He went back to the bath with his other dog. He could love two dogs. He cooed at his new tub. "That's a nice one Steve found us, huh, Bogart?" The dog barked. He grinned, settling in to pet the puppy while it filled. He had to lean over to plug the drain but that was fine. It gave him more time to play with the dog. Dean walked in. "Tub," he said with a pet and a grin.
"It's a huge tub, dude." He took a kiss from him and the dog gave him one too. "I missed you too, dog." He petted him. They both smiled. "Get into the tub. Want a soda?"
"Please? And a snack?"
"Snack I think I can do." He went to talk to John. "Snack?"
"Snack we can do." He got to work on a few sandwiches, cutting them into triangles for the boy. Dean poured him some soda and it was good. Dean went to deliver and check his room. Sam was talking to Steve. John had checked the armory. It was fine. Clean and well maintained.
Sam walked in with the phone between his shoulder and ear. "We're fine, Steve. I promise. No, no new presents this time. Dean, did Xander like the tub?"
"He was petting it."
"He was petting it, Steve. Yeah, we're good. Debriefing, the new captain of the PD wants to talk the next day but we're home for a while. Sure. I called Adam first so he could quit worrying. Sure. Thanks for fixing those, Steve. Yup, we're here. We'll see you soon." He hung up. "He doesn't like the land taxes."
"The more acres the bigger the tax," John pointed out. Sam nodded. "Go check on your tub." He went to do that, petting the old claw foot tub. Then he went to check Xander's new tub. He was chilling and napping in the jets with bubbles. The dog was in with him. He took a picture, getting Dean and John in to see too. They smiled and left the boy alone. Someone knocked so John went to get it. "Yes, Officer?"
"Mr. Winchester. Is Mr. Harris back as well?"
"He's asleep in the tub. Is there a problem?"
"Apparently he never showed up for his hearing yesterday? The judge sent me to do a wellness check. I told him you had been kidnaped for a while but were expected back soon."
"That thing with his parents," Sam complained as he came out. "When is it?"
"I have no idea but he needs to call."
"We can do that when we get up." The officer handed over the sheet. "Thank you for watching out for our stuff."
"Not a problem, sir. Faith didn't have any problems. The new fence is nice and not ugly. The builders putting up the mall like it because it blends well with the trees. The city liked it because it wasn't ugly." Sam smiled. "They weren't sure why he was buying up the neighborhood."
"More safety if no one lives next door. Plus more trees," John said.
"That's fine. I'm sure someone will ask soon." He shook their hands. "Welcome back. Call us if you need us."
"Of course," Sam said with a grin. "We like you guys."
"Thank you. We like you guys and your creative chaos you bring too." He left, going to the office to pass that on. "Sir," he said, finding the new head of the PD there waiting on him. "Mr. Harris is back. He's asleep in the tub. I told them about the wellness check. They'll call. I told them about the praise for the fence their manager put up. That the city council wasn't sure why he wanted to buy up more of the neighborhood. John said it was safer for Mr. Harris plus they wanted to plant more trees. Probably with a few guest houses." That got a single nod. "They're to be debriefed tomorrow since they got taken with someone who was active military."
"They let people like Harris into the military?"
"If they're not as bad as he is, it's probably easier to keep from being so backed up and confused from the hormones," he offered. "John said he'd be more than happy to see you the day afterward so you didn't have to wait on the debriefing to be done."
"I can do that," he agreed. "Trees?"
"Trees are good for people, sir. Probably some useful trees as well. The ones he already has are well tended and mostly useful trees."
"I guess it'd be nice. Especially from the mall side."
"Did Harris look all right?"
"He was asleep in the tub."
"That's fine. Anything look bad?"
"They looked a bit tired but they did just get home from being stolen."
"Good. I'll see them the day after tomorrow." He smiled. "The thing with the wellness check?"
The officer smirked. "His parents are suing him for leaving home and not taking care of them." The head of the Colorado Springs police department burst out laughing, having to grab a desk before he fell down. "Exactly." He went back to his desk to make notes. They'd handle it. They always did.
Xander hugged Steve when he came in the next morning. "I love the tub but one of the jets doesn't work." He grinned. "But I love it anyway."
"We can find someone to look at it," Dean promised. "Or move it to my room." Steve grinned at that. "We can. That one won't fit Sammy when he feels like cuddling. It barely fit him and the dog cuddling."
Xander spit at him. "Behave."
"Fine." He waved his coffee cup. Steve nodded. "We're expecting a general."
"That's fine. I need to go over the property taxes." He walked Xander into the study to talk to him about this insane, expensive plan of his. Dean brought in coffee for him. Xander got a plate of food and a nudge to eat. Xander kissed him for it. Dean went to talk to the general when he came in. "Sir."
"Mr. Winchester. Is everyone up?"
"Xander's financial manager is in to nag about the property taxes. Xander's eating breakfast with him."
"That's fine. I can start with you and your father. Is there somewhere we can sit that he can't hear?"
"Sure." He took him to his bedroom. "Sammy, get dressed," he called as he walked past Xander's bedroom door. Sam would hear no matter which room he was in. He let him in. "It's pretty clean. I don't throw clothes around too often." He sat on the bed, letting the General have the desk. "I'm not sure what we can tell you."
"Let's start with who took you all."
Dean shrugged. "I know we met one there but he was mad at whoever sent us too. What we are can destroy the fabric of some realms. The guy there with the hellhounds was not happy to have so many of us there. He tried to get us to use a portal thing that Daniel compared to a quantum mirror."
"We have a way of moving by magic. It'd mean we'd have to hit each and every one single realm between the two points for about ten seconds while the magic tests to see if you're home. Xander had to do it once. It took him two hours to get back from one. He has drunk parents and he went right for a bar afterward." The general shuddered. "Exactly. If there's going to be that sort of stress we agreed it'd be best to be a last ditch effort. He mentioned a gateway, we went to find it."
"How did you get it to work?"
"Daniel and Jack looked it over. Daniel said there was no power. Xander asked what sort of power it needed. How much, how long. He has weak magical skills. He thought he could pull up that since he hadn't done any in days. He lit a fire but it wasn't that hard. It nearly killed him to do it, which was when Sam jumped in to help him and used the latent talent his taint gave him."
"Back when Sammy was six months old, a demon decided he wanted Sammy to be his heir. He tainted him and he's the one who killed our mom. He also killed Sam's girlfriend to get him back into the hunting so he could grab him better."
"That's got to be painful."
"Very. Xander's the first real cheery Sammy I've seen since she died."
The general nodded. "I can see that. I know he frustrates Jack to no end but he usually isn't too irritated at the boy."
"Us too." The general smiled. "Anyway, Sammy grabbed on and shared somehow. No idea how. That's magic stuff and usually we only break in to stop it. Xander had to take some lessons because he can make plants grow."
"I had Miss Rosenburg explain that part to me. He used his own power to power it?" Dean nodded. "Our scientists said that it's impossible."
"Magic isn't exactly what they deal with."
"Good point." He settled in. "The beasts that followed you back?"
"Hellhounds. The one who told us about the gate apparently had them follow us to make sure we were going. I have no idea why they followed us through the gateway."
"Should we expect to run into more?"
"Depends on if you guys usually go to demon realms," he offered.
"Not as far as I know."
"That's good. If not, have Buffy deal with it. It's her calling."
"I can do that. We also called down the DPP people to see if they could explain how many realms there were and how many had gateways." He handed back the necklace. "Captain Carter is very happy with the new information."
"I'm glad for her. I sucked in science."
"So did I." Sam leaned in. "Come in." Sam came in and sat on the foot of the bed, crossing his legs so he could lean on them. "How did you augment Mr. Harris' natural power?"
"No clue," Sam admitted. "It felt like he sucked through me and him into it. He grabbed my hand when I made him and it drew through him to it."
"All right. Miss Rosenburg thought it might be something like that. Does it effect that specialness you three boys share?"
"Not as far as I can tell," Sam said. "Do I feel any different?"
"No. I felt you when you got the little lap cushion from out back. You felt like normal to me. I can't tell the difference though."
"Xander thinks Adam can. If so it'll probably be fixed sometime soon," Sam told him. "We do heal."
He nodded. "I can understand that." He looked at the boys. "What about the gateway?"
They both shrugged. "To be totally honest, sir. Unless you can send me to Kirk's planet with all the pretty girls in short skirts, why would I care?" Dean asked. The general chuckled. "Honestly."
"I'd think it'd be amusing to study but it's not my field," Sam offered. "I nearly went to law school."
"Does this lead to extended lives?"
"Until our heads come off."
"Ah, I see. So maybe in a few decades?"
"If we're not doing anything and you need guys like us, maybe," Dean agreed. "Xander would make a great ambassador." Sam gave him an odd look. "No one would ever be mad at him, dude. Even if he insulted them or slept with their wives."
"They might think we're all like that," Hammond said. "Though he does seem to have a knack for getting himself out of trouble."
"You have *no* idea," Sam said with a grin. "Xander's gotten himself out many things. Repeatedly. In the same day even. Back before the curse that deaged him and gave him to us, he had one day that he was nearly taken about sixty times. Including by officers in New York." Hammond moaned at that. "With a bodyguard helping him shop."
"That boy would drive me more nuts than Jack O'Neill does." He stood up. "Do you think Mr. Harris can tell me how he did it?"
"Ask," Sam offered. "Xander?" He came walking in with both dogs following him. "What is that thing?"
Xander looked then at him. "Cuddly pillow for Bogart. General, what do I need to tell you about?"
"How did you figure you could power it?"
Xander lowered his pants, making the man blush. "The tattoos are to the gods I anchor for. Ares, Strife, and Cupid for the most part. I prayed to Ares and he agreed I could do it but it'd be very hard. He told me to dump raw power into it, no focusing or anything like a spell. Sam grabbed on so I sucked some of his so I didn't die from my own being drained so far down." He pulled back up his pants. "We're paying fifty thou a year for property taxes." Dean hissed and Sam looked alarmed. "Because we're in this zoning district. The city council is thinking about rezoning thanks to the mall. We can ask them to rezone us too so we're cheaper. It'd fall to about thirty if we buy the whole neighborhood and plant a lot of trees. He thinks the city wants part of it though."
Dean nodded. "We'll have to ask."
"We can do that," Sam agreed. "That's still outrageous."
Xander nodded. "But we have a lot of house and a lot of trees."
"Good point." He looked at the general then at Xander. "Did anyone find out who or what did it?"
"Vessie did." Vesvold appeared, giving him a hug. "I missed you too even though it was only three days for us." He smiled. "Who did it so I can go yell?" He handed the general a report. Xander pouted. "You got him for me?"
"Of course. He pissed me off to no end." He kissed him on the forehead. "Are you going to be a good boy today?"
"Of course. I'm staying inside."
"Good." He smiled. "I ask because there's a new one in town and he's a hunter, Xander."
Xander nodded. "He comes here and we're on holy ground."
"Excellent." He kissed him again. "My mother's being fussy."
"Why? Can I help?"
"Only if you can give her more grandchildren."
"We're sterile but I'll understand if you want to find a new breeder."
"That's good of you." He smirked.
Xander gave him an evil smirk back. "I'll have to tell them to take care of you and cook for you."
"I have cooks."
"A real concubine can please you in more than bed, Vessie," he breathed in his ear. "In and out of bed, make you things to please your mind and stomach, and they should serve some other use as well. Secretary, accountant, something like that. Plus be able to protect you and themselves." Vesvold let out a deep, aching moan. "Find one so I can teach them the right way." Vesvold nodded, taking a kiss before disappearing. He grinned. "He'll find a good concubine for me to instruct on how to take care of someone properly."
Dean pulled him down. "You were teasing."
"Not on purpose."
"You were teasing," Sam said.
"I was telling him what he needed to find." They both gave him a dirty look so he shrank down. "I didn't mean to tease."
"No more teasing, Xander."
"He said there's a hunter in town."
"We'll handle it," Dean promised, pulling him closer. "No more teasing."
"Yes, Dean." He looked at him. "He should have a concubine that can take care of him in more than the bedroom and be good for more than that."
"They should be," Sam agreed, pulling him closer. Dean gave him a look. "I can cuddle. You don't like cuddling." The dogs hopped up and Bogart got Xander and Sam. The new one stared at Dean before climbing into his lap and laying down with a huff of pleasure.
Dean looked at the dog. "Whenever I think about owning a dog, it's usually bigger."
"Its mommy abandoned it," Xander protested. "Pet her, Dean."
"Fine." He petted the little beast. It yelped in pleasure but that was fine.
The general shook his head. "Sometimes I'm not sure if you boys aren't insane."
"It's all the hunting," Sam said dryly.
"It must be. Thank you, boys. You do know you cannot talk or say a word about the project, even to those who might already know?"
"Why would they ask us?" Xander asked. "We're not geeky like that. They know very well I'd never have a clue how it worked."
"Good. Just don't say anything without checking with me first, boys. Or Jack if you have to." He stood up, shaking their hands before leaving. He went to warn John as well. He and Steve were talking but John agreed readily enough. He left to let them handle their financial matters. He didn't understand that stuff either.
Steve walked into the bedroom, looking at the boys. "Are we going to continue to buy up the neighborhood?"
"What does the city want to do with it?" Xander asked.
"Put up a few condos and use some of the end as a park."
"Would we have to move?"
"No," Steve said. "It'll be one of those eco friendly, walker friendly neighborhoods."
"For yuppies with bikes?" Dean asked.
Steve nodded. "Basically."
"Can we put up a better fence?" Dean asked.
"Probably. Especially to keep your private park away from their park."
"Can we have lower property taxes?" Xander asked.
"I'll ask." He patted the boy on the head. "Behave, let me talk to them." He went to do that. This was going to drive him nuts and if they had to move it was going to create problems. He found the right office and knocked before walking in. "Is the Mayor busy?"
"Not at the moment. Who may I say is here to see him?"
"Steve Ellison. I handle financial matters for Mr. Harris. He lives where they're thinking about rezoning and some questions have come up."
"Let me check, sir." She called and said that quietly. She looked up. "Is he back?"
"He managed to save himself and those stolen with him. They got back last night."
"That's good." She said that then the mayor came out to talk to him. She hung up the phone and got back to her filing duties.
Steve sat down, straightening out his coat. "Sir, Mr. Harris had a few questions about the planned rezoning."
"I'm sure he does."
"The first is if you plan on trying to seize his house."
"No, I have no plans of that." He uncovered the plans. "This is what we're planning. As you can see, I plan on making the area from across the street to the other street a park. Then putting the condos on the other side of that park. That leaves his area for a few good sized lots."
"Xander owns these six," he said, getting up to point at them. The mayor moaned. "With his hormones it's safer if no one lives next to him."
"Can he sell back the two there to make one lot?" he suggested. "That would give him a good sized one. He would be more than welcome to put up good fences. There'll be one on the side of the park too."
"That's good. How many housing lots were you thinking of making that into?"
"I was hoping about three or four good sized, higher end ones."
"Xander's already paying an exhoribant amount of property taxes."
"Fifty thousand this year." The mayor winced. "Exactly."
"Giving up those two would mean he would pay less."
"Is the rezoning going to lower that?"
"Perhaps a bit."
"That would be helpful." He pulled out a pad to make notes. "I know the three on the end are for sale. I've held off on buying them for him because of the distance." He pointed. "This would be a good corner lot. Make another one here. If you extend the road around you could put one there beside the condos. Less costly probably but still nice. Fairly private as well since that would butt up against a highway they're extending due to the mall. Also, this street is going to be a traffic mess. It's already one really."
The Mayor nodded. "We're planning on a light here," he said. "That could help."
He pointed a few streets back. "Branch it off here. It's a straight shot, it's past a few stores that could use the new customers probably, and you wouldn't get the retirement home complaining."
"What did you do before you managed his money?" he asked with a slight smile.
"I ran a race track for my boss. Unfortunately I had to turn him in for doing some very bad economic things. The Feds were not happy."
"I can see why."
"My father runs a multi-national business."
"That's where I've heard the Ellison name."
"Fortunately we don't speak. He would not know how to deal with Xander." That got a nod and a smirk. "There are a few shops there that could use the business. Including a small grocery store Xander likes for their produce if I remember right."
"That's good to know." He made notes on that. "Would he consider selling those lots?"
"As long as we could ensure his security and privacy. One of the big problems with the current neighborhood is that people can get in his gate. Beyond the officers responding or checking on him."
"As long as it's reasonable. Not razor wire or electrified too high. Nothing too ugly."
"Xander would probably never allow it."
"Good to know." He shook his hand. "You can reassure him and I'll bring those ideas to the board. Are you local?"
"Cascade, Washington." He handed over his card. "Call me if you need help with him. I'll talk to him about those two lots." He left, going to get a burger on the way home. Xander clearly wasn't up to cooking yet. He found the boys on the couch, zoned out on cartoons. "Xander?" Xander blinked up at him. "C'mon." He took him to explain the plan to him. Xander nodded through it and the simple diagram he created. "What they'd like is these two."
"The blue and the red house?"
"The red and the white one with purple shutters."
"That should be a safe distance even if I let go with a hormone bomb."
"It would be. I hope." Xander grinned. "That would give you a few neighbors and the park to worry about. We can up the gate to something more sturdy but it can't be ugly. They're going to be the sort that'll be concerned about appearances."
"So no running around naked in the yard?"
"Do they let you do that now?"
"The older ladies up the street like it when I do. They giggle."
"I'm sure you're the thrill of their lives." Xander smirked. "The one across the street?"
"She gasps and turns away then tapes it."
"Ah. Maybe you should quit."
"Nah. It's fun." He grinned. "I called the judge about the lawyer missing the appointment about the stupid parents. Apparently he's in jail for tax evasion."
"Charming. How long do we have to get a new one?"
"I have to appear there Saturday."
"We can get you there."
"I called Angel's crew to see if they had a better lawyer who could help. They're not sure yet. So I may end up doing it on my own."
"Take the herbs," he said dryly.
"Oh, I'm already working it out in my head. My first question is going to be 'please show me in the legal code where it says I have to upkeep their lifestyle if I don't consider it a good one'."
"That's a good place to start. I'll look too."
"Thank you." He gave him a hug. "Anything else I should know?"
"Not right now. Go back to your cartoons. Don't worry about lunch, I already ate." Xander beamed and went to wiggle his way back into his spot. Dean gave him an odd look but oh well. He was going to be trapped watching more cartoons. Steve showed John so he could get to work on fence ideas. Strong, functional, and not ugly didn't always go together very well.
Xander walked into the courtroom, putting his bag down on the table. "I'm sorry I'm a bit late, Your Honor. I had to fly into LAX instead of the local airport. They're closed due to staffing issues again."
"Where is your attorney?"
"In jail for tax evasion." The judge moaned. "Sorry. If I had known I'd have taken care of it sooner. Unfortunately I didn't hear until after I got back from the last kidnaping."
"A unique hormone condition that drives people nuts." He sat down, looking at his family. Then back at the judge. "I have a lawyer who may be able to show up. He's not sure yet. It was awfully short notice."
"I can understand that. Do you think you can give a concise opening statement?"
"I can sure try. It might not be in lawyer speak by someone did help me some. Unfortunately he had to stay home to handle something else." A challenge and Sam had made him come anyway. He had knocked him out and put him on the plane actually. Sam was getting spanked when he got home. "Is it my turn?"
"It is. You can start, Mr. Harris."
"Thank you." He looked at the other lawyer. "I'd like you to open any book of laws in the US and show me the lines that say it's my job to take care of them." The lawyer gaped. "Any law book at all. I looked on the law sites and couldn't find it. My old lawyer said it's not in any book either. It's considered a good thing to do, but not illegal not to. I also want you to show me where it says I have to pay them to live a life I don't accept or want to deal with. Because I'm not going to give them money to drink it away. I spent too much time trying to get away from them and their liquor to ever fund them drinking more of it. Why should I pay for them being lousy humans?"
"You're they're son," he said. "It's your job."
"No, it's my job to take care of my family, not the parents who abused me, neglected me, and damn near killed me a few times while being drunk. Beyond that, I doubt this is more than an extortion event based on his gambling debts." The lawyer winced at that. "While I may play baccarat and poker now and then, I know how to walk away when I'm losing. I sure as hell don't spend the rent money on it and lose it too." He stood up and walked over to look at his parents.
"Beyond that, I'm not going to pay my father to buy more prostitutes, especially not the underage ones he likes. Nor am I going to support the occasional drug habit they like to enjoy. Nowhere in any law book I could find online or my friend could find in his former college library at Stanford has a law saying I have to put up with their shit once I escaped." He leaned down. "You wouldn't want the money anyway. I'm gay," he said with an evil smirk. "That means I'm one of those boys that you always said was never going to do anything, yet I do. Do you really think the mobbed up guys you owe are going to want to take money from a gay guy? They like to avoid us like the plague."
"How dare you," his mother sneered. "You should settle down."
"I'm sterile. The only kids I'll have are my dogs. My boyfriends are all overage too." She tried to hit him and he ducked. "By the way, I started self defense classes too, Mother. Try it again, watch me hit you back." She sat down and started to cry. "Whatever. Not like you taught me to care." He walked back over to look at the judge. "I can give you seven reports from CPS. I can give you reports from people who know me and them who know they haven't tried to contact me since the day I left the house. And not many times before then. I can submit school counselor's reports saying that they thought my parents were horrible human beings who should be turned in to CPS but apparently CPS wasn't working well that month." He looked at his parents, then back at the judge again. "Mostly I want to know why it's my job to support their bad habits. I support my own. They work, they can support theirs. There's no law anywhere that anyone has found that says I have to support their bad habits. Especially the ones I find disgusting."
"It might be easier if you did," the judge offered.
"That's extortion and then they'll keep coming back. I'm surprised they found me to get a legal summons to me."
"The local PD called yours to find you, sir."
"Good. That means they don't know where I live. I like it better that way. I'm surrounded by more practical people. As I myself am part of the time. When I can make myself give a damn about anything."
"This problem of yours?" the judge asked.
"Hormonally related. If I say more it can compromise my own safety and the safety of others."
"That's not fair," the lawyer said.
"Oh, I can prove it but I can't mention the name of the support group or anything," Xander assured him. "I have people who can vouch for it and that I was recently kidnaped because of it. They save others who have that problem as well. They can't give out names either because if others know they're more likely to be kidnaped and I'm not going to do that to anyone. Especially not in open records like this one."
The judge looked at him. "Is it something that would impact my decision?"
"It's something that impacts whether or not I remember to ask Steve, my financial manager, to pay things for me."
"Then probably not. I don't need to know. Are you done?"
"Yes, sir." He sat down again.
The lawyer stood up. "While not technically in form, Mr. Harris has a point. No, there is no formal law but it is an accepted custom, one that the courts have upheld many times that the child should take care of their aging parents." Xander raised his hand. "Wait your turn," he sneered.
"I was going to ask you if you knew how old they were."
The judge coughed. "Is that relevant?"
"He said aging parents. It's not like they're retirement age. They can and do both work or get checks."
"That is a point to consider then. I'll allow that challenge." He made note of it on his notepad. "Continue please."
"We all know good children take care of their parents. No matter if they don't like their lifestyle or the parent doesn't like the child's."
"I'm sure he got that money from one of the men who treat him like a whore," his father said.
"No. I have a steady boyfriend." Xander gave him a smug look. "It's been a long time since I played that way."
"So you're a fruity little mistress?" he sneered.
"Considering we're living in my house? No."
His father glared. "How did you afford a house already?"
Xander smirked. "Generous past lovers. After five weeks I gave it up for a steadier thing. Now and then someone sends me a present because they want me to play but they know there's no way I'm going to."
"You're a whore," his mother sneered.
"That would mean I was sleeping with them. I'm not. Haven't been. Probably won't. I have all I need and one waiting if I can get over a mental conflict and he can get out of his." She stared. "Honestly." He looked at the lawyer. "They're sorry they interrupted. They never taught me manners either."
"I tried, you never learned anything!" his mother shouted.
"Willow's mother didn't have that problem," he shot back coldly. "She could even manage to feed me now and then too."
His father started to get up but his lawyer held him down. "Please quit provoking them?" the judge asked patiently.
"They started it. I want nothing to do with their lifestyle. This excuse for attempted extortion isn't worth my time to get out of bed and do my hair."
The judge looked at his hair then at him. "There is a lot of it."
"I decided to grow it out a few years ago. I like it."
"I'm sure someone else likes it too," his father said.
"Yeah, but they don't like the hair accessories I use. They poke them."
"Them?" his mother said.
"Yeah. I have two boyfriends. They know about each other and both live with me and my dogs. Plus a friend I'm helping get back on her feet. And my friend's father. He adopted me and taught me better."
"I'm sure he wants to use you too."
"No, he taught me better aiming skills with guns. Doesn't like my SUV. But he supports me being myself fully. He's waiting outside too. That way I didn't have to risk traveling alone."
"He could come in," the judge offered. It might keep this young one calmer. "Bailiff?" He went to find him.
"His name's John," Xander said. He nodded and went to get him. John walked in after him and sat down beside him. "Any word?"
"Gunn got injured last night. He can't make it."
"Car crash or the usual?"
"The usual." Xander nodded at that.
The judge looked. "The lawyer?" They nodded. "We can phone conference."
"I can do that," John said, texting him. He got back an okay. They dialed it and put him on speaker after John gave him a short update. "There you go."
"Has Mr. Harris given an opening statement?"
"He has," the judge agreed. "His parents' attorney is trying to give his but the family seems ready to brawl."
"Xander, stay," Gunn ordered.
"I only responded."
"Stay anyway. You go ahead, man. I wanna hear what you have to say."
"You're an attorney?" he sneered at the phone.
"With Wolfram and Hart in LA."
The lawyer swallowed. "I see. You're which one?"
"Mr. Gunn. Angel brought me with him."
"I've heard about you," he said weakly. He cleared his throat. "Contrary to Mr. Harris's assumption that this is extortion, it is simply his family seeking recompense for their care of him. The years they took care of him, fed, clothed, and nurtured him. All the times they soothed nightmares. Even if they weren't the best parents...." Xander pulled out something and put it on the table. "What is that?"
"CPS reports to counter you in a minute."
"Them not feeding me, not clothing me, and not nurturing me. They never soothed a nightmare that they created. It says something since Sunnydale's CPS unit is woefully not working, and usually doesn't, that they actually showed up on my parents."
"I haven't seen a CPS worker in ages," the judge agreed. "Let him finish since that was his diversion. That is the last one."
"Yes, Your Honor." He cleared his throat again. "For all my clients knew, their only son had been killed. He could have been kidnaped and used for some horrible purpose. He could have joined the military and been shot in battle. They had no idea and their worry may have exacerbated some problems they already had. That is not the issue. The issue is that Mr. Harris owes his parents for the care they took of him."
"It's a parent's job to care," John muttered under his breath.
"Let's start with my first witness," the lawyer said. "Since he clearly wants to talk. Your name?"
"John Winchester. Father of two wonderful boys and adoptive father to Xander."
The lawyer gave him an odd look. "You adopted him at his age?"
"He needed it." He looked at the judge, who pointed at the stand. He walked up and let himself be sworn in. Then he sat down.
"How did you meet Mr. Harris?"
"Something bad happened while he was in New York. He was sent to me to protect him."
"For what reason?"
"The same reason he gets kidnaped now and then."
"Which would be?"
"A hormone condition. They're overactive."
"Can you explain that?"
"No. I'm not a scientist."
"What do you do?"
"I'm a former mechanic and now a hunter with my sons, Dean and Sam, both adopted as infants."
"Is that relevant?" he sneered.
"Could be. Better to be safe than to see outraged people."
"You hunt what?"
"Whatever I have to."
"Only former people. Now and then we do temp in as ghost hunters."
"So you defraud people?"
"No." The lawyer glared at him. "We worked for your sister three years ago, sir." He gaped. "I looked back through our notes. My son Dean handled her problem with the dining room if I wrote it down right."
He swallowed. "I see. And that's the reason they sent him to you?"
"Because they knew they could trust me and I'd protect the boy with my life. Which I have. Even if I wasn't the most attentive and my sons did more of it while I guarded him, it only made them closer."
"Is one of your sons one of his present boyfriends?"
"I see." He considered him. "That doesn't bother you?"
"I like Xander. He treats the family well. He respects both his boys. He spoils them too much but that's just how he is. He was never taught how to show good affection and now uses spoiling to do that."
"For my son Sam's birthday he bought him about two thousand dollars worth of new clothes and music. More than he expected or needed but Xander pouted him into accepting it."
"He's like that now and then. Usually he uses it as a bargaining tactic when he can't always get his way."
"Hmm." He looked at Xander, who gave him a 'fascinated' look. He glared at John. "Are you sleeping with the boy?"
"No," he snorted. "I'm a widow. I'll never have anyone but my former wife." The lawyer slumped. "Another good reason why I was trusted with Xander's safety."
"I reserve the right to talk to him later," the lawyer said. "After I hear Mr. Harris' questions." He sat down.
"John, how long have you known me?"
"Nearly three years now. Maybe a bit over. I don't remember the date we met you."
"That's fine. How often have you seen me drink?"
"I've seen you drink exactly six beers over the course of that time and you got drunk once after that traveling event when you were overloaded by what you saw."
"Do you know why I don't drink?"
"I asked you once through Dean and you told him your parents were drunks. You didn't want to go down that road."
"Have you ever seen me gamble?"
"During the convention in Las Vegas you snuck off to play some poker and baccarat."
"Do you think if I was on a losing streak I'd keep going beyond reasonable losses?"
"I think you'd get up and walk off if it wasn't fun, kid. It wouldn't keep your attention that long."
"Have you ever seen me hire a prostitute?"
"Not personally but I heard you did on that one trip the boys accompanied you on."
"Did they say she was underaged?"
"Hearsay, Your Honor."
"I'd call Dean or Sam but they're at home and busy," Xander told him. "For that matter, I told John what happened as well."
"He can repeat what you told him but not what someone not introduced as a witness told him," the judge said.
"Figures. They don't get away with that on Law and Order either." He looked at John. "When I mentioned that, did I say she was underaged?"
"No, you said she was someone who taught others how to have better...relations for lack of a delicate word. A regular pro, and a married couple that was teaching you if I remember right. All to teach you how to do it better and be more reasonable in bed. Before you kill someone. Again."
"How did you know I did that?"
"One of your friends from New York told me. I figured it was an accident since it was never investigated." Xander nodded at that. "Otherwise I wouldn't let you near my son."
"Do you think if they were better people I'd hesitate to support them?"
"I don't see why you would. You paid your ex-girlfriend's apartment rent. You bought her a car to help protect yourself while we were in LA. You spoiled her rotten. So much so that she begged."
"So you believe the only reason I'm not going to give into them is because I think they're bad people who do things I object to?"
"I think, with the research I did into your background when you showed up, that you're not going to pay their gambling debts or for their liquor addiction. You're not going to hand out money to give them a cushy life where they can drink themselves to death. You have a lot of respect for your body and the family you made out of your friends when yours failed. You'd do anything for them. That shows my research was right."
Gunn coughed on the phone. "John, do you think it's reasonable for them to demand this of their son?"
"Having a child is a right and an obligation. Parents are supposed to take care of their kids. No matter what. Even if they do end up doing things they don't like. You don't have kids because you want someone to take care of you when you're sick or older. You have them because you want to have kids. Or you had an accident while drunk and never noticed until it was too late and were too stubborn to adopt him out. Yes, children should take care of their parents if they can and if their parents are worthy of it. If they got taken care of by their parents. In cases where the parents didn't, let them handle it because they created the problems. They have to fix them."
The other lawyer stood up. "Do you expect your sons to take care of you?"
"Most of the guys in my business don't get that old," he said bluntly. "I'm one of the oldest ones I know and that's because I fell back to take care of Xander when he needed us to." The lawyer gaped. "If I get that old? I'll expect them to visit but it's up to a man to pay his own way in this world. Even when he's ancient. I'll let 'em walk the dog or something for me maybe. Maybe I'd let Dean clean my shotguns for me. Pay for things? No. I don't let Xander do it now."
"You're living in his house?"
"He demanded and it's easier to help him when he has problems."
"With the hormones?"
"Can you name others that have this problem?"
"I could but I won't because I'm not going to endanger their lives. If others find out, they can go after them to steal them instead of Xander. As he said, he can prove it without naming other names. Those are the group's rules."
"How do we know this isn't made up?"
"How do I know you're not a child molester?" John countered. The man went pale and backed up a step. "We can only go on what we know of someone and what they tell us about themselves. Even my son that was going to attend law school knew that lesson."
"He left school when his girlfriend was killed in a house fire. Went traveling with his brother."
"Oh. I see. Is he planning on going back?"
"Do you expect Xander to take care of you when you're older?"
"I'll let him visit, clean the shotguns, walk the dog if I have one. Otherwise, no. I can take care of myself. If I can't, that's why they make those people who come in to check on you."
"So you don't expect anyone in your family to take you in when you get ill?"
"I know they would if I wanted to. I know Xander would steal me in handcuffs if I tried to get away or went to hide. I can make my own plans for such occasions and expect my wishes to be carried out. A man pays his own way when he can."
The lawyer gaped. "Normal families would expect an adult child to take in a failing health parent."
"That depends on the situation the child was in and what the relationship was like, wouldn't it?" John countered.
The lawyer glared. "Do you take presents from Xander?"
"Now and then he'll buy dinner. A new shirt maybe. I complain, he pouts or sulks, I accept it because otherwise my sons complain to me about making him pout or sulk."
"You don't expect him to spoil you?"
"No. I protested when he wanted to pay for the oil change in my truck. That's my job to see to, not his. I did use the situation to teach him how to change the oil in my truck. He pouted me into letting him buy the new oil for the truck but I paid him back by putting the money into his wallet when he was asleep so he couldn't fuss at me."
"Do you think most people think like you do?"
"I think I'm on the more independent side of the scale but generally speaking, at least half would believe in not being kept like toys. It's also my job to drive off people who want to keep the boy like toys."
The lawyer grimaced. "That condition?"
"How often does that happen?"
"We just got back from a kidnaping," he said dryly. "That's why we're late. I had to stop one woman who wanted to claim Xander like he was her luggage earlier because he handed her a piece of hers to get to his." He would let the boy rent a car to drive them back to Colorado before flying commercial again. Even the fussy babies had liked Xander when he let her play with his hair.
"Where were you?"
"Damned if I know," John admitted. "They had taken a friend who's active military with us. I guarded the boy while he got us home."
"What was the name of the airport?"
"Private terminal and field."
"No road signs?"
"We hiked to get away from the situation. Less noticeable if you don't take the road but parallel it. No, I didn't see any of the ugly billboards either."
"How long was your flight?"
John shrugged. "I didn't time it. It felt like I was asleep there for a bit."
"Why does it matter?" Xander asked.
"I'm wondering the same," the judge admitted. "I have sworn statements from the Colorado Springs PD that the boy has been taken numerous times, their words, and it was another of those that delayed this hearing."
"I think he's lying. There is no hormone condition."
"Boy, I'm a retired Marine. I don't often lie and I do take my oaths seriously."
"Where did you land?"
"A classified airfield in Colorado that the friend in the military knew about. He got us permission. We spent the next day answering questions because he was snatched while he was on duty."
"As the faxed, notarized statement I got from Colonel O'Neill said," the judge agreed, handing it down. "Get back on point, Counselor?"
John noticed Xander's attention drifting. He coughed and Xander snapped back.
"Why has no one heard about this condition?"
"Because if news spreads then more people try to take them," John said bluntly. "I doubt you'd want to be the cause of anyone being taken, forcibly raped, and kept as a concubine until they were mentally agreeable to their mate?" The guy shuddered. "That's why we don't tell anyone, especially not people like you who'd use it vindictively." Xander was drifting again. He stared at the boy. "Focus."
"Xander, focus," Gunn agreed. Then he moaned. "Sorry, shifted my leg and it's sore from the stitches."
"That's excusable," the judge promised. "Mr. Harris, are you all right?"
"If my hormones are too backed up I'm usually confused and flighty." He shrugged. "It happens. I'm working on it." John nodded. "Can we move on though? Still way off topic and why does he want to know about my hormones? I mean, I could hormone him and the court; I'm being polite by not doing that."
"They can be used offensively?" the judge asked.
"As a last resort to get myself away from a kidnaper. Bait and then injure to get away."
"Oh, I see."
"Prove it." Xander held up a hand. "What? Asking a question?"
He came over and nearly swooned. "Ohh." Xander gave him a smug look. "That's...."
"What came out on my roadtrip in New York, yes." He put his arm back down. "Are you done with John? And can he have ten minutes to clear his head?"
"Granted," the judge agreed. "Can you clear yours?"
"Probably not." John gave him a look. "I can't. Not that fast. I can try but if I start to weed down the hormones and pheromones it'll be worse if I can't finish."
"Ah. Then go outside for a few minutes, Mr. Harris." He nodded, John following him. "Mr. Gunn, did you know about this?"
"I did. I'd suggest a fan blowing toward the doors, Your Honor. I know some types of incense cover it but I don't know if anyone's allergic or if you have any there and I'd have to look up the name."
"I'll see what we can find for the lunch break. Are you able to stay with us?"
"If you need me to. My boss isn't up yet and only Wesley's trying to fuss over my leg." He said something with the phone muffled, getting a complaining noise back. "Sorry, checking the stitches."
Xander walked back in and handed the judge something. "This covers my pheromone output. The Magic Box sells it. That way he can't appeal based on that." He walked back outside again.
The judge handed it to the bailiff. "Near him, near me, near the other table and set up a gently circulating fan?" He nodded, going to do that. "Is this problem that bad?"
"Xander's one of the worst hit. Some live totally normal lives if they can wear theirs out. Xander can't."
"It seems like such a shame. He seems like a nice boy."
"Only when he wants to be. He turns into a hellbeast when his family and friends are threatened." The other lawyer came back. "Want me to beep Xander?"
"Please," the judge agreed. Xander came in a minute later. "Thank you for that paging."
"Not a problem."
"Do you have any other witnesses?" he asked the parents' lawyer.
"I can call them. Or we can cater to him and let him call one."
"Go ahead and call them," Xander said with a wave of his hand. He sat down with John beside him. The judge nodded at that move.
His mother was walked up and sworn in. "Mrs. Harris, you gave birth to Xander?"
"No," Xander said. He held up something the bailiff took. "My adoption certificate. She found me."
The judge looked it over. "She did."
"I always considered it as I had given birth to him," she said firmly. "I took him in, loved him, took care of him, all the things good mothers do. He's my son and now he abandoned us. We weren't sure if he was alive or dead until that Willow girl went after him for being such a screw up. After he raped someone."
"No," Xander said, standing up. "Sorry, but everyone in town knows I did not rape Buffy because I was still in another state at the time." She gaped. "The PD knows too. John had to talk to them because I was out of it at the time, but that was widely known by everyone. Including Buffy, who sent a written apology for doing that since she was drunk and decided I would have saved her if I had been there. I can ask one of the officers to come in and give the court a report on that incident if they want me to," Xander offered.
"We all heard that," the judge agreed.
"I took care of you," she sneered.
Xander handed the bailiff the reports from CPS. "CPS reports, Your Honor."
He looked them over. Then at her. "Ten different social workers?"
"A few died while we were doing what they said. Even though it was the wrong way to do things. That's why he's doing this to us now."
Her lawyer got back to her. "You did comply with their orders?"
"Whenever we could. They wanted us to go through some expensive stuff and we couldn't afford it. We argued about it but they left the boy with us." Xander held something up. "What's that?"
"The old mayor's order that no children were to be removed from town by any social worker." The judge was handed it by the bailiff.
"I see he did order that. How would he have enforced it?"
Xander looked at him then smiled. "You came in after he died, didn't you? He had a complete and total hold on the town and all the city and government workers here. The FBI found him running numerous problematic things after his death, sir. Including killing a few of those social workers for trying to do their jobs."
"Oh, I see." He frowned. "Can we prove this?"
"I can call in some of the officers who're now in jail if you'll give me the time."
"It's not relevant," the other lawyer said.
"Probably not totally relevant." He looked at her. "Did the social worker ever want to remove him and said they couldn't?"
"They said there weren't any foster families in town that could take him in. One said he was too old."
"To get back to the point, you do love your son?" the lawyer asked.
"I do. It hurt me a lot when he left without a word."
"Did you try to look for him?"
"I have no idea how to do that. It's not like I do those sort of things for a living. I clean at the motel. My husband does physical labor."
He nodded. "You expected him to come back from his road trip, right? Come home, be normal, get married maybe?"
"I had high hopes for that Anya girl. She was a bit loud and blunt but she seemed to like him."
Anya appeared and Xander pulled her down to whisper in her ear, getting a nod and she sat down behind him. "Thank you for calling my ex." The judge made a note and a humming noise. "Are you done?"
"Good." Xander looked at his mother, not standing up. "When was the last time I lived in the house?"
"When you got back from that first road trip. After we doctored the car so you'd have to come back."
"So that's why I got stuck in Oxnard at the strip club doing dishes. I wondered." He stood up and moved closer. "Where was I living when I came back?"
"The basement and you paid us five hundred a month."
He nodded. "When was the last time you bought me clothes?"
"Um, no. No clothes magically appeared for graduation. I bought my clothes for graduation."
"I paid for your robe."
"No, I paid for that out of my roadtrip fund, mother."
"You asked for some money."
"When was the last time I asked you for money?"
"You always asked."
He stared at her. "Where was I standing when I asked?"
"In front of the tv."
He stared at her. "Your Honor, we don't have a working tv in the house and haven't for years. They have rabbit ears on a really old set. They stole mine to get their last working one." He looked at her. "Where did you put the money?"
"She said you asked," his father shouted, standing up.
"When was the last time I asked for anything?" he countered. His father glared. He stared him down. "You can answer. I don't mind. Go ahead. Think back."
Anya raised a hand. "You asked to change one of the breakers out before it sparked again and caught fire," she said. "Because it was next to your bed."
"Thank you." He looked at his mother. "You handed me money?"
"I put it on the table."
He frowned. "That's your magical cigarette stash, Mother." She growled. "The one you mysteriously find money in now and then." He rolled his eyes. "When did I move out?"
"Three months after you got back."
"Um, no," Anya said. "Two."
"Did he perhaps pay for an extra month?" the judge asked.
"They tried to raise it to a grand," Xander told him. "For the pleasure of living in the basement and listening to them argue." He looked at her. "Do you know what day today is?"
"I'm not working so it's got to be Friday."
He checked his watch. "Mine says Saturday."
"Maybe I'm where you get that *condition* from," she sneered.
"That would require you to have given birth to me. Tell me, when is my birthday?"
"We use the date we adopted you. That's the eighteenth of August."
The judge looked at the certificate. "This is dated in November."
"Maybe it's the date we found him then. He's trying to confuse me on purpose!" she complained.
"Even adoptive mothers who do what 'all the other mothers do' as you said you did would know their kids' birthdays." He walked back and sat down. "I'm done."
"You celebrated his birthday every year?" her lawyer asked.
"Yes. Until the clown incident then my husband said he had to earn one since he had embarrassed everyone by being scared of a silly clown."
"Um, Your Honor?" Xander said. The judge looked at him. "That clown came out and scared my grandmother to death in front of me. I was phobic for years."
"No birthday parties after that?"
"Only ones I threw myself with my friends. They broke the last presents I got."
"When was the last time you got him a holiday present?" the judge asked her. "Christmas or whatever you celebrate."
"We're good Christians." She sniffed. "Ten years ago?"
Xander thought back. "I'm twenty-three.... Nope, twelve. How old was I?"
"How old am I now?"
"Twenty-three," Xander corrected with a sigh. "Can I?" The judge nodded. "Are you done?"
"Mother, did you ever try to contact me when I moved out?" She gaped. "Stop me in the stores, come to my work site, send me a letter, stop by the Magic Box since I was known to be there most of the time when I wasn't working, call, anything?"
"No. You made yourself clear when you left and took everything with you."
"What would you have done if I had left anything? And by the way I did. I left the sleeper sofa."
"We tossed that thing out, it was ratty and smelled bad. You always had such stomach problems."
Xander frowned. Then he looked at Anya. She shook her head, not having a clue. "Stomach problems?"
"It smelled like sick," she said, grimacing.
"Mother, had my father been down there?" She nodded. "Then what makes you think it was mine?"
"He said so."
"Did he also say I forgot my radio and what happened to it?"
"No, I think that went to the pawn shop. He was quite upset with you."
He just nodded at that. "Do you really I would've puked on a bed and then used it?"
"Well, no. You were always taking showers daily like some neat freak. Most of the time you weren't even nasty, sweaty, or dirty. Sometimes even twice a day."
"No more questions," Xander said, sitting down. "I feel sorry for her," he told John.
"This is the consequence of her choice," he said quietly, patting him on the hand.
"I'm done with her. I call Mr. Harris to the stand." He stomped up there. Once he was sworn in he looked at him. "How old is your son?"
"He said twenty-three."
"How old did you think he was before he said that?"
"I guess twenty-three."
He nodded. "You did take care of the boy? Change his diapers, feed him?"
"That's his mother's job," he snorted. "Do I look like a woman to you?"
"That's an answer we hear from men of your generation," he decided. "Did you give the boy an allowance?"
"It was important for him to learn to earn his own way in this world."
"Did you try to contact him after he moved out?"
"Why would I have? He made himself clear." He glared at John.
The lawyer noticed. "Did you try to teach Xander how to do things like change the oil in a car when you did yours?"
"No. I'm not mechanical that way. I let my brother Rory try to teach him. He said the boy smarted off all weekend and wouldn't settle down."
Xander raised a hand. The judge looked at him. "Should I have someone find Uncle Rory to ask him about that weekend? Because all he wanted was a driver since his license was suspended and he was going to go out drinking to hit on women."
"He said he'd teach you something practical," his father shot back. "You were more mechanical. If you had been mine I might've wondered if she had slept with my brother."
Xander got the phone book off the bailiff's desk, finding the number for his uncle's garage. "In case we need to call him in," he said with a smirk.
"He won't come. I asked. He said he couldn't stand you, boy."
Xander looked at him. "Really? I got a letter from his last month by the postmark." He sat down again.
"If it's relevant we'll call him after lunch," the judge said. "Continue."
"You did buy food for the boy?"
"He ate too much but I did. We all ate well enough."
The lawyer nodded. "So it wasn't idyllic?"
"It wasn't a perfect childhood like on tv?"
"No. Those sissy boys needed some good backbone applied. Always whiny and wanting something. I made sure my own quit that when he started. Too bad he couldn't be more of a man."
"And yet, you want him to take care of you?"
"He's family. It's his job. He disappeared, worried his mother sick."
"Did you try to look for him?"
"I had no idea how to do that. Not like you can look people up in the paper."
"Thank you." He sat down.
Xander stared at him. "I know you've seen the ads for that peoplefinder group?" he said.
He nodded. "Waste of money. Spend thirty dollars on something like that?" He snorted.
"Yet, thirty dollars would've told you where I am. Not like I had a hidden address or phone number at the time." He stood up. "What did you think happened to me when I went on that trip?"
"As far as I knew, you'd disappeared after you left the house. That's what worried your mother."
"Yet you didn't check any of my known places to be?" he asked. "Work, the Magic Box? Willow's house?"
"I told her if she wanted you back to do that. She didn't listen."
"Yet, now you want me back. Why?" He moved closer. "You didn't like me. You made that very clear for years on end. Now you want me back?"
"I raised you better than this. A family takes care of itself."
"Do you think we're going to get together to do those family reunions with the picnic?"
"No. Not like your mother cooks all that often."
"I don't want that hair of yours in my house; it might infect things to turn gay too," he sneered.
"Then why do you want me back?"
He stared. "She wants you back."
"And what do you want?" He moved closer. "Let me guess. You want... money? To pay the gambling debts I heard you had? Bail money for when they catch you with the next underaged prostitute maybe?"
"Could use it but I've got that covered." He shifted under that stare. "You're not my son."
"Yeah, I am." He pulled his hair back. "Look more familiar now? I like the hair. Gives me something to fuss over."
"No real man has hair like that."
"And yet, I was working construction before that second road trip. Now I do a lot of weapons work cleaning and making sure they work properly. I've even rehabbed some guns so they work better. I also deal with a few other antique weapons. A real man would be able to do that, right?"
He swallowed. "Guns?"
"And then some." He smirked. "So what did you want me for, Father?"
"Others wanted you in town," he admitted.
"Hmm." He looked at John. "Even if I gave you money you know it'd come with strings, right?" His father smirked. "Including alcohol and drug rehabilitation?" His father's smirk fell. "That I'd choose. One with a good success rate. Not one of the celebrity ones where people go back every few months or years. A real rehab center. Would you still accept it?"
"Hell no. I like my life as it is."
"Then why should I pay you for bad habits that I don't like. If I came to you for money would you give it to me?"
"Then why should I pay you?"
"We're your parents."
"Exactly and it's supposed to go both ways." He walked off.
"Don't you dare!" he sneered, standing up. "We took care of you just fine."
Xander looked at him. "How much do you think you spent on my clothes?"
"Ten grand a year."
"From the thrift store? Then they've been making incredible profits, huh?" The judge coughed. "How much are you making a year?"
"So, thirty-eight thousand a year. You pay three hundred for the house payment the last I knew. That's thirty-six hundred a year. About the same for the car payment?"
"That's fifty-four hundred a year. That's nine thousand total. How much in utilities?"
"Just answer," the judge said. The lawyer made complaining noises. "He's clarifying the amount. Answer it please."
"Two hundred a month. Total."
"That's another twelve hundred. So we're at ten-two. How much do you spend on alcohol?"
"I don't know."
"Estimate. It's how much a bottle?"
"Sixteen for mine, nine for hers, plus beer."
"Hmm. I know you drink cheap beer so that's eight bucks a six pack. You two go through a case a day. Those, last time I knew, were..."
"Nineteen," his father sneered.
"And you go through a case and a bottle a day. That's forty-four dollars a day so just over sixteen thousand a year. With the ten-two earlier that's twenty-six thousand, two hundred. How much do you pay for your insurance?"
"Fifty a week through my job."
"That's twenty-six hundred a year. That brings it up to twenty-eight two hundred. Any other regular expenses like food? Oh, yeah, food. How much do you spend on food? Now or then. Whichever you remember."
"Six hundred a month."
"That's seventy-two hundred. So that brings the total to thirty-five, four hundred if my math isn't wrong. And I'm using a calculator," he said, showing his phone. "Did you give up anything to spend that ten grand a year on clothes for me?" His father snorted. "Since you said you make thirty-eight thou a year and that adds up to just over thirty-five thousand? And is that before taxes?" His father nodded. "Then that means that the rest of that three thousand was probably eaten by taxes."
"Why so much for food?" Gunn asked. "To blatantly interrupt."
"His mother can't cook that well. We order out a lot."
"Wasn't that one of the CPS orders?" Xander said. "To cook at home once the kitchen was clean instead of ordering out?"
The judge looked when Xander looked at him. "It was. It appears in three of them." He looked at him. "You didn't comply?"
"She can't cook!"
"How hard is it to learn?" Xander asked. "I did. I'm actually a very good cook. I learned most of it from cookbooks. Mother, you can read?"
"Of course I can," she sneered.
"Then why can't you follow recipes?"
"They take too much time and energy."
"In other words you forgot and walked off, letting things burn?" he asked. She snorted and looked away. He looked at his father. "Where did that mystical ten thousand you spent a year on my clothes come from?"
"Ah, those. The last time I knew, those were about two hundred a child and only happened at the start of school."
"They did. You made do."
"Who bought my clothes when they wore out?"
"I didn't pay any attention. Your mother probably."
"Hmm. When was the last time you actually saw her buy me clothes?"
"Your last voucher."
"Your senior year."
"I didn't get a voucher that year. She missed the deadline by being drunk off her ass. Just so you know, I haven't gotten one since eighth grade." His father growled. He sat down. "Gunn, did you have anything further to ask?"
"No. I think it's pretty clear what he's trying to do."
His father stomped back to his seat. Xander looked at the lawyer. "Any more you want to call?"
"You. Mr. Harris to the stand please."
"Of course." Xander walked over there and let himself be sworn in before sitting down.
"Mr. Harris, who pays for your current residence?"
"Money I've made in the past and selling the presents from the misguided people who think they want me but don't know me. I do try to get them to take them back and when they won't I sell them."
"I see. You don't sleep with them?"
"Why do they gift you?"
"Because they want me to be theirs. This is their idea of wooing. Only I don't like flowers that much. A lot of them give me chocolate or clothes there for a while. That's how I got most of my leather pants." He shifted to cross his legs at the knee.
"So they're wooing you and you don't make them take them back?"
"I do when I can find out who sent it. I do try to send them all back. I argue when I catch them bringing things. I've gotten some to give up."
"How many are we talking about?"
Xander looked at John. "I've weeded it down to how many?"
"Seven I think."
"Seven he thinks. He helps me discourage them." One appeared beside him with a tray. "Not right now unless you want to explain it to him," he said quietly. He saw the odd looks and removed the thing blanking him to normal sight. The judge gasped. "Tell him why you want me?"
"You're wonderful. Your hormones would make me the most wealthy and wanted man in terms of status and power. You need taken care of because you're a fragile one. I would not play too hard with you."
"The fact that I'm taken?"
"You can bring your family. It will only give me more honor and status." He held up the snack plate. "Food, great one?"
"No," John said. "Not right now." The demon pouted at him. "Aren't you a bit young to want Xander?"
"I'm more socially capable than my father." He sniffed and looked at Xander with a smile. "Please consider me?"
"I'm with someone."
"I can have them too. It would be good for my family." A larger version of the same demon appeared with a sigh. "Mother!"
"He's much too young for you," she told Xander.
"I know. That's why I'm talking him out of it." He looked at him. "Come back once you've established yourself. I might be single then but I am not right now and John would be horribly upset if I took up with you since you have to pass your majority." He fingered the demon's braid. "Your kind have a padawan braid." The demon blushed. Xander kissed him on top of the head. "Thank you for your offer. See me when you're older and I'm single." The demon nodded, leaving the food there. "I don't need it."
"You need to eat. You didn't eat breakfast," he chided. "That's not good for your frail systems." He and his mother disappeared.
Xander handed it to the judge. "Cracker with cheese, Your Honor?"
He groaned. "You get that a lot?"
"He was sweet but too young. I get some older ones who see people like me as future concubines and therefore status symbols." He nibbled on a piece of cheese. "Hmm." He got up and put it on the table, taking one back with him to nibble on. John could nibble too. Anya too. He sat down again. "Sorry about the interruption."
"That's how you afford your house?"
"No?" he sneered.
"No. I bought my house because on my road trip I decided to find myself sexually and answer the pesky am I bi/gay/straight question in New York. Only took me five weeks to fully find all the limits on what I will and won't do, and what I like to do. I made good money doing that and now I'm living on the interest of that because I have someone I trust to invest for me. Now and then I do get some outrageous presents so I do sell those. Last month someone gave me a black diamond choke collar for the dogs. None of the family but me liked them."
He swallowed. "Why?"
"To get my attention. If I can do that to you with only a sniff, consider what I can do if I like the person I'm with. People like me often become concubines. Willing and not. People with power want me. Therefore they gift me to get my attention. Because if I'm unwilling I can cause a lot of hell and ruin them or kill them to get myself free." He crossed his feet again. "It's easier if they woo me to their side. Most of them stop after a few 'not interested's."
"Prove it," he sneered. He pointed at the plate of food. "That isn't a great present."
"He was a teenager and it was a thoughtful gift. I'd much prefer them. As for other presents?" He pulled out a hairpin. "I got that last year from one. It makes a good defensive weapon."
He looked at it. "How?" Xander took it and aimed for his heart, making him yelp and back up. "Never mind." He stuck it back into his hair. "They let you in with those?"
"There's no rules about hair ornaments being sharp and pointy. Even without them I could probably defeat a lot of people. That's why I'm taking self-defense."
"How much do you spend a year since you ripped through your father's finances?"
"I keep within the bounds of my yearly interest after I set up the house. The only thing outside that is I'm buying a few lots around the house to give myself some room and more protection. For actual figures, I think I stay within fifty a year, John?"
"Usually. Now and then you go over but that's usually coming out of a present you sold. Steve said you did that this year instead of spending your interest."
Xander pointed. "He handles that more than I do. That's why I have Steve. John even makes me quit grocery shopping for stuff to learn how to cook."
"You're learning from who?"
"The food network and cookbooks."
"Do you have any outside teachers?"
"My self defense instructors. I take four classes a week this month and then next month I'll be taking two after I'm out of one of the teacher's range."
"Any other usual fees?"
"Spa time. Hairdresser. Steve's pay. Property taxes, which seem to be really high. The occasional shopping bout. Shooting range fees so we stay in practice." John gave him an odd look. "I found one. We have yearly memberships."
Xander grinned. "Bullets for that since we'll run out."
The man swallowed. "You're a decent shot?"
"I'm an excellent shot. I had to learn to be. I prefer to wound unless I'm in immediate danger. I also like knives more than guns."
The man nodded quickly at that. "That's fine." He looked at the judge. "Perhaps he needs a psychological evaluation?"
"I find self-defense to be reasonable in his situation and I'm sure they're looking for any funny mental issues." Xander and John both nodded. "Do you routinely carry a weapon?"
"I routinely carry a knife for protection. If I'm not at home, where the officers know to watch out for me, then I tend to carry more weapons one way or another."
"Good to know."
"It is for my own safety."
"I can see why, Mr. Harris. Get on with it?" he asked the lawyer.
"Mr. Harris, who bought your clothes?"
"After the voucher? I did."
"I had odd jobs now and then. Or I bummed off Willow's mom when she got disgusted with the state of my clothes."
"Who washed them?"
"I did. My mother got frustrated with the washer when I was ten. I did my own since the day she poured vodka into it thinking it would take out some stains from the bleach she had over poured. The fire wasn't that pretty."
He grimaced. "Who cooked?"
"If I made myself a sandwich I snuck back to my room. Otherwise, we had a lot of takeout. That's why I'm so proud I'm becoming a very good cook."
"What do you usually cook?"
"This last week I've been doing beef dishes. I tend to cook ahead then seal with a vacu- sucker machine to put things in the freezer. Pan and all if I can."
"That way all I have to do is thaw it while the oven warms up."
"Oh." He looked at John then back at him. "How much do you cook?"
"We have enough food stored right now so I don't have to cook for about a week if I don't want to. I usually try for a bit more than that so I have some variety. When I get home I'll do a huge batch of chicken and freeze some of it. Maybe some turkey or some veal."
"You eat veal?"
"You do know what veal is?"
"Yes. I've even petted cows."
He grimaced. "Do you expect others to eat that well?"
"I expect my family to eat well because I make sure of it. I also donate to a local homeless shelter with Sam's help. We made soups on Thursday to bring down there since it's a bit chilly at the moment. Six huge pots of soup. Plus Dean made me clean out my closet so I brought in about three bags of clothes too. We stopped to pick up some t-shirts, boxers, briefs, socks, and gloves on the way."
"Is that your only charitable contribution this year?"
"No. I often send lunch to the officers after I've had a bad day in town. One where they had to react to someone trying something. I donate to a few of the local churches who do good work with the poor. I remember how much it sucked ass."
"Language," the judge noted.
"Sorry." He looked at him again. "Other than that, I don't get asked for charitable contributions except for the Easter Seals people who mail me the labels. I did get my dog from the pound and I do support them when I find they need money and are doing a drive."
He blinked. "You're doing a lot with your money."
"I came from poorer roots. It's not fair that I don't help those who took my place in that crowded mass of people. Not everyone can get hormones and be kidnaped," he said dryly.
"Hm." He looked at him. "If your parents needed medical treatment, would you help them?"
"If they asked and I knew it wasn't going to go to alcohol, drugs, or their gambling debts, I might. I'm more than willing to send them to Haven Ranch, which is a very tough but good alcohol treatment facility. That would cure most of the problems and save the biggest chunk of their yearly income. Plus make them happier people to be around."
"What about their jobs?"
"Their bosses would probably allow it as long as they came back. It's not like alcohol treatment isn't a recognized medical need. Their bosses know they're drunks."
"Where is this facility?"
"In Arizona. Pretty country. They even take hikes there."
"Is it expensive?"
"Modestly so but they have a high success rate based on the five year staying sober rates. Unlike some in this state they don't baby the people and they know that most drunks drink because of failings they see in their own lives. They have counselors there to help them as well as help to get everything else straightened out."
"Would you pay for their house payments?"
"He only has a year left on it. The car only has six more payments on it. They're behind at the moment thanks to his gambling problem. Which links back to his drinking since no sober person would ever bet his wife."
She gasped and turned to her husband. "You promised not to do that again."
"I didn't mean to. It slipped out. I won you back."
Xander pointed. "Exactly. I'm glad no one took him up on his offer to own me when he tried to gamble me away."
"Wish they would have," his father sneered.
Xander looked up then at him. "Be thankful wishes like that don't get granted. Because I would've turned them on you so fast and you'd be dead for doing it." His father went pale and sat down. He looked at the lawyer. "Anything else? Or can I get another cracker?"
"Go ahead." He watched the boy do that. Then go back to the seat. "Your turn," he told the phone.
"Xander, that rehab facility, is it a bootcamp one?"
"Yes, for the first two weeks then you step back to getting privileges. That's why they have such a good success rate. There's one in state but I didn't like their stats."
"Why not somewhere nicer?"
"I don't think they'd get through to them. They'd go because I made them go, not going to get clean. After that, I wouldn't be giving them any money anyway. I'm not their cash cow."
"So you think this is them trying to have you handle all their problems until they come back again?"
"How often do you think that is?"
"I think my father owes about eighty thousand by the rumors I heard." His mother moaned. "I also think that if they don't pay up there's a knee breaker coming soon. With the figures they wanted, that would take care of it, give them a bit of room to play on, and if they didn't drink themselves to death they'd come back later on for more when he ran up his next debt. That way the thugs got paid."
"That is how they work as far as I know," Gunn admitted. "You own a business?"
"I won one in a baccarat game," he admitted. His father gaped. He smirked. "Yes, I'm where your card luck went. I only play baccarat and poker though."
"You could play for me, get me out of debt."
Xander looked at him. "It's your debt. I'd have to pay my debt if I was in the hole that much."
"Would you go to them for money or expect them to help you out with it?"
Xander snorted. "I'd expect to get yelled at and beaten if I tried that. He always said a man has to make his own way. That's why I didn't get an allowance."
"Do you think it's fair of them to do this?"
"No, I think this is something that happens when people get money. If I had more relatives they'd probably be trying too. I do respect Uncle Rory for not trying this. I think that's decent of him."
"Good. I'm done," Gunn told the judge.
"No, Your Honor."
"Then, Mr. Harris, call your first witness please?"
He stood up and walked down. "I call Anya Emerson." She skipped up there and let herself be sworn in. "Anya, when did we meet?"
"While you were in high school. I met you through an accident with your then girlfriend Cordelia Chase."
"How far did we get in our relationship? Were we living together?"
"No. We were thinking about it but you went on your road trip then Buffy and Willow told you not to come back because they were being insane and hurtful."
"You did stay over repeatedly?"
"Do you think that vomit smell on the couch I left in their basement was from me?"
"No. You know how to run to the bathroom when you make yourself sick." She looked at them. "It might've been one of them. No idea why though unless they decided to try to climb in with you and were too drunk to realize you weren't there anymore."
"How many times did you stay over when I was in the basement?"
"Many. Nearly three weeks out of that two months." She bit her lip. "Usually I left to go to work as soon as I could because they'd argue upstairs and you had to lock the door in case it spread. It wasn't conductive to me getting orgasms."
"Did we have any fights about them?"
"A few. I pointed out you could spend less in your own place, and therefore more on me. You said you were waiting for a decent one to open up near work once you finally quit bouncing from job to job and settled on construction work."
"Did you ever see my parents show that they gave a damn about me?"
"Language, your last warning, Mr. Harris."
"Sorry. Common phrasing but I'll find another one."
"Fine. Answer please?"
"No. They never did more than hit you up for the rent early that I saw. You never ate with them, went upstairs to do more than answer a yell of your name to come fix something. You used the basement door to the outside instead of going through the house. You know, you could ask Spike since he was stuck in there all day long."
"I would but I have no idea where he is."
"He's in one of the crypts by the college."
"Thank you." He looked at his parents then at her. "After I moved out, before I left, did you see them try to contact me?"
"No. I saw your mother snub you in the grocery store one day. You were frowning at her extra large beer purchase so she huffed off."
"No phone calls, letters?"
"Thank you." He sat down.
"Anya," Gunn said. "Did you think that his parents cared about him? I know your unique situation would give you a different outlook on how people view relationships but did you see any sort of caring relationship at all? In any manner?"
"No. All they seemed to want him for was rent money or to fix things. Even with what I've seen I couldn't say that was a parenting style that would be good or caring."
"Thank you. Your turn," he said.
"Miss Emmerson. Would you take Xander back if he asked?"
She laughed. "No. Xander and I are not going to work. I know what's up with him; there's no way I'd want him to have that sort of attention if I were with him. I'd have to get jealous and punish him."
"I punish unfaithful men for a living," she said bluntly. "In many mean, nasty ways. Last month I eviscerated one because his wife wanted him to be because he brought home an STD. So I gutted him, wrapped them around the prick I cut off for her, and put them up his nose. Like she asked."
He wobbled, grabbing the table. "You assassinated him?"
"It's my calling and my pleasure to punish men like that," she said with a grin. "Thanks to Xander dumping me for his hormones and Willow and Buffy doing their thing, I got my old job back."
He swallowed. "How do they find you?"
"They call to me. Or I feel them and ask them in the bars. Places like that. Oooh, last month I cursed one to only eat fish since his wife wanted him to give oral sex and he selfishly refused. Once he does, he won't mind doing it for her because he's so used to that sort of taste. Then the chains will fall off and she can make him beg to do it for her."
"I see." He sat down. "No questions for her."
"I have one. Anya, do you think we would've dated if I had normal parents?" Xander asked.
She considered it. "No, I think you would've been more horrified than Buffy was when we started to date if you had normal parents."
"Thank you." She walked back and kissed him. "Congrats on getting the job back." She beamed. "Be good."
"I'll pop around now and then to check on you. Make sure you haven't upset anyone." She winked and left.
Xander smiled at the judge. "I could ask Gunn to put my ex there on the phone. She knew me since kindergarten."
"No, I don't think it's necessary. Is she an assassin too?"
"No. Sharp of wit and tongue but no."
"We broke up and Anya did her a favor then she decided to change her mind before anyone got really hurt. Then I went out with Anya."
"You don't say no to a woman like that," John said dryly. He pushed the plate over, making the boy nibble and quit babbling. "Should we work on a closing statement?"
"I don't think it'll sway me any," the judge admitted. He looked at the lawyer. "Do you have one?"
"No, Your Honor. Not if it won't do any good."
"Probably not." He sighed. "While I have to go on the law, Mr. Harris was right. There is no law stating a child must give their parents money. In fact, in this case I think it would be counterproductive to their best interests if he did. He did offer to pay for a treatment facility if they were willing to go. Are they?"
"I like my life the way it is," his father said.
"That's your choice. It's clear that you didn't show that much care for your son when he was younger, Mr. and Mrs. Harris. If only because he considered a girl like that one a normal girlfriend. That's a clear sign of emotional abuse that he'd put up with someone like that." He looked at Xander. "I know you feel like you escaped." Xander nodded, nibbling on another cracker to keep himself from saying anything. "Would the offer of treatment be good later?"
"I have a small savings account set up for them for this purpose with the facility itself." He pulled that note out of his bag. "That way they could arrange to go there. They did agree to let them go to another one if it was a good facility. If they didn't before they died, they can absorb it as a donation." He handed it to the bailiff.
The judge looked it over. "That's a good service."
"I'm not the first son who's had this problem. Their social worker was understanding."
He put it back in the bailiff's hand. "For them." He handed it to their lawyer. "I do hope that they would seek treatment soon. It might help them in other matters. That sixteen thousand and sixty dollars they projected for their yearly drinking expenses could go to pay off their other debts if they did. I don't see any reason for Mr. Harris to support them since they wouldn't do the same if the tables were reversed. Or even if their son was in a bad medical condition in the hospital. I'm sure your debtors would let you work out payment plans." He banged his gavel. "I would suggest that treatment is a good way to get away from them. They can't hurt you when you're inside." He stood up and they rose, John had to pull Xander up. "Mr. Harris, I do hope you find some sort of cure for that hormone problem of yours. It sounds like a paranoid, harsh life if you're taken."
"That's why I have my real family," he said with a nod to John.
"Good. Dismissed." He left, going back to call his own mother. He loved his mother and he hated to see things like this in family court.
Xander finished his cracker, letting John have the last one he wanted. He smiled at the bailiff. "Go ahead and nibble if you want." He gathered up his bag and found his parents glaring at him. "You wouldn't do it for me if I ended up like that. Why would I do it for you." He walked out, John guarding him.
"He's using you," his mother called. "He probably wants you too."
"My late wife wouldn't like that," John shot back without looking.
"You've ruined both our families by taking him in," his father shot off.
John looked at him. "I saved the boy and my family by taking him in. He makes a good adopted son. You should have tried it when you had the chance." He left, going out with Xander. "What else are we doing? You said you had another stop to make?"
"I want to see Tara."
"Willow's ex." He smiled. "She's a good girl, John, and she could use the same sort of help I give Faith. Plus there's a chance that with Willow straightening out she could get back with her." He walked outside after getting his knife. He found someone petting his car. "Off, Jonno."
The geek stared at him. "Yours?"
"Rental. I'm in Colorado now." He slid on his sunglasses. "The world is a great, wide place."
"Are you coming back?"
"No. Not unless it's an apocalypse."
"Up the road from me in the military as it happens. They saved her from liver failure." He swallowed. "Why?"
"We're growing a sitch." Xander wrote a number on his hand. "Who's this?"
"Remember tall, dark, pale, and broody that used to follow her around?"
"Yeah. I saw him at the Bronze a few times."
"He does the same thing. He's in LA working with Cordy now. He can get word back to her or us if you need us." He smiled and head-nodded at John. "Still in the biz but a bit differently now."
"Welcome. Be safe and no taking over the world. I might have to protest and fight back. It'd ruin my hair." Jon gaped so he smirked before siding into the car. John got in to drive. "I asked at the Magic Box. She's up at the college."
"We can head up there. It's probably safer." He waved at the geeky boy. "Friend?"
"Same circles but I hung with Willow more and he has his own geek trio going." He waved, rolling down the window. "Call if you need us, Jonno. Willow's there too."
"Thanks." He walked off, going to tell his buddies. That hadn't been the Xander they knew! Especially with that hair!
John drove them to the college. "Why did you get this one? It's a fussy car."
"With a map system standard, a decent radio, and comfy seats I can stretch out in," Xander countered. "Besides, the new Impalas are trash according to Dean or I'd have gotten one of those." John smiled, letting the boy flip on the radio to a classic rock station. "Ah, the sounds of chaos." He waved as they passed by a truck. "My former boss on the construction site."
"Want to say hi to anyone else?"
"No. I'm good with Tara." That got a nod. They pulled onto the campus soon enough and he got out, heading over to the right building. They had told her where to find her about lunch, which was about when it was. He saw her. "Tara?" She flinched and looked around. "Sweetie, don't do that."
"Do...do I k..know you?"
"It's Xander, Tara." She blushed. He took off his sunglasses. "The hair seems to throw people." She nodded. "Got a few?"
"Sure," she said weakly. "Who's he?" she whispered.
"That's John. He's like a new dad to me. I'm dating his sons."
She gave him an odd look. "Y..you are?"
"Yeah." He smirked. "C'mon." He walked her over to a more private bench and sat down with her. "Do you want Willow back?"
She blushed, ducking her head so her hair covered most of her face. "I don't know," she said weakly.
"She's being straightened out. She's got major science geeks on her butt to chew it when she goes stupid." She looked at him. "She's in my town. On the same base Buffy's drying out on. They're part of a very special project." Another woman stomped over. "New girlfriend?"
"Protector," she said. "This is Xander."
He held out a hand. "Ma'am."
"The one who hurt Buffy?"
"I was in another state. She was drunk and decided I would've saved her so this is how she punished me. I wouldn't have been at that sort of party anyway and the charges were dropped when they found out I was in the Midwest."
"Oh." She looked at Tara. "Want lunch?"
"In a minute."
"I'm not going to hurt Tara. I like and respect Tara. I'm offering her a chance to go to a safer school if she wanted." Tara looked at him. "There's three good ones and Denver's only an hour or so away. There's some good schools there too. It'd be safer, closer to support if you needed it. Including for the other stuff that goes on," he finished more quietly. "Full ride, Tara."
"I... I can't aff..afford that."
She blinked. "Why?" He smiled and played with his hair. She swallowed. "I've heard of people like you."
"I'm helping Faith find herself. I think it'd be a shame if something like what we dealt with hurts you because you're the last one here."
"Spike watches out for me."
"That's great. I like Spike for that much alone even though we only had an uneasy truce." She nodded at that. "But it would be safer and if he wanted to move he could too as long as he didn't come over. Sammy might stake him on general principles."
"Or Dean might," John agreed.
"There's not a lot like you and Willow there but there's a great gay community in Colorado Springs. Very supportive. Denver too."
She swallowed. "I've got to finish here."
He leaned closer. "I can have you moved to a nice place, Tara. Near campus, just pick a school and apply."
"I'll think about it. You're sweet."
"I don't want to see anything bad happen to you. You're too precious to the world to lose. Women like you are rare creatures who should be protected."
She nodded. "Thank you." She stood up. "Are you staying?"
"No." He wrote his number on her notebook's back. "I'm there. If you need me, you call me. Immediately."
She nodded quickly. "I will."
"And watch out for my parents? They're going to get vindictive because the judge turned them down." He stood up. "They tried to sue me for maintenance payments so I'd cover their gambling debts."
She grimaced. "Bad of them."
He nodded. "It was. He agreed." He smiled. "I can have you moved tonight." She patted him on the wrist. "My boys won't mind. Faith won't. Honest. We have a spare room over the garage until you can pick a school. Please? Even Jonathan's saying something's going on in town."
She sighed. "I know. Spike told me. We might need Buffy." He wrote down another number and a name with it. She smiled and nodded. "I'll call."
"Today?" he suggested. "The kitty could come. I'll keep Bogart and Buttons off her."
"Give the girl time to think," John ordered.
Xander looked at him. "Bad things happen here, John. Where she knew Buffy and Willow they can come for her." He pointed. "Like the Order of Taraka." He looked at her. "Assassin?"
"Looking for Buffy," she said quietly.
Xander looked. "Buffy's on a military base," he called. The assassin stomped off. He looked at her. "Want lunch? We can wait that long." She nodded, letting them walk her and her friend to the car. Xander looked at her. "I want her safer."
"I can agree to that. There's been a few geeks who've hit on her."
"Figures." He slid into the front. "Where do you want to eat, Tara?"
"Steve texted a minute ago. The bank's down so the card's not working right," John offered.
Xander looked in his wallet. "I've got six hundred on me. We can get a decent lunch and a room tonight outside of town if we need to." He nodded, driving them off to a nice place. "The Garden Room?" She beamed and nodded. "West then three blocks, John. It's a vegetarian place."
"I can handle vegetables. I'm not Dean," he said dryly. Xander snickered. "My older son hates vegetables unless it's onions on his burgers."
"I make him brush his teeth before he kisses me. He likes them raw," he told her. She grinned. They parked and went inside. "Four."
"This way, sir." The greeter led them to a private corner. They looked like they were talking about things. He left menus then left them alone.
Xander looked. "What is that potato thing?"
"Fried," the friend said. "It's crispy but you can't cut it. I only get that when I eat at home."
Xander nodded. "I can use company and good manners."
"Yes you will," John told him. Tara giggled. "I had to teach him but he did learn."
"He did," Xander agreed. "Because I got deaged for a bit and sent to him to guard me." She gaped. He smirked. "That's why I was in the Midwest." She groaned. "Not Willow. One of my coworkers at the time. He was jealous."
She snorted. "I don't know why."
"I was making more money." She squeaked. "I'm over it and I figured out what I needed and wanted to. That's why I have my boys. That and hormones."
"Don't remind me," John said dryly. "It was nice you acted to minimize it for the judge."
"I was trying to not give him a reason to complain, John." He looked at her. "My parents are not good." She nodded she knew. "Willow told you?" She nodded again. "It happens." He gave her wrist a squeeze. "Get whatever you want. The last time I saw you, you nibbled." He looked at her. "No girl can live on nibbling."
"One of the sisters?" the other lesbian teased.
"Now and then," he said with a smirk for her. "But Dean hates it when I go femme or squeal."
"That's because you break eardrums, son," John said.
"That too." They giggled. The waiter came and they ordered. He pulled his bag over to pull out the PDA Sam had made him bring, - his phone. He logged on to find the local colleges. "There, that's what's within an hour or so of where I am."
She looked them over carefully. Then up at him. "It's expensive." Xander shrugged. "How can you afford that?"
Xander smiled. "Presents. I have made some good investments. Or if you wanted I could get you a place in Las Vegas to do UNLV. I have a business there. I can work it somehow with them to give you resident status I think."
"No. It's too hot there." She went back to looking. She liked the looks of a few of them. One she really adored the pictures of the campus. "Where's this one?"
He looked. "It's a half-hour from us away from Denver. I've never been there and I don't know the town all that well. I know they gave my porsche looks like I'm yuppie scum. Colorado Springs attracted some yuppies for the last decade." She smiled at that. "We can check." She nodded, going back to looking while their orders were brought. Xander dug in, looking at the extra dish on the side. "What is that?"
John looked. "Wasabi."
"Okay." He ate it without it. It was good and he wouldn't belch. Tara handed back the PDA then ate. He looked at her. "I can find you whatever you need so you're safer, Tara. And if your parents show up I'll beat them or let my dogs bite or something."
She giggled. "That's mean."
He shrugged. "I can be mean when I need to be. Especially since my parents' lawyer just walked in." He ducked his head a bit. "Please? You'd be safer. At least come look at them?"
"I'd have to tell Spike."
"We can do that. Not an issue."
She nodded. "I'll look next week. It's break."
He looked at her. "Do you actually have classes this week?"
"It's the spring, Tara."
"I'm missing one but I do have other ones."
"When do you get free?"
"We can stay overnight in LA?" Xander asked John. "Come back to pick her up then head?"
"We can do that. There's got to be somewhere close by."
Xander nodded, looking at her. "See?" His phone rang. "What?" He listened. "I thought mine wasn't on that block, Faith. Please." He waited while she handed the phone over. "Last time I knew my house wasn't on that plan." He ate while he listened. "Steve, my financial manager did." He looked up and muttered something. The man said something about not knowing why he was there then left. He hung up and called Steve. "Is everything working now? It looks like another so-called punishment for me not being theirs. Looks like I have to ruin someone." He smiled. "Thanks, Steve. Yes they did. Then we'd move to the resort or something I guess." He nodded. "Thanks, man. Please. Tomorrow with Tara. So she can look over the local colleges." He smiled. "Exactly. Thanks." He hung up. "He can arrange that easily and find out who tried to screw with me this time. That way I can have some fun later." He smiled at her. She squeaked and pointed. Xander looked. "Vessie." He gave him a hug and a kiss. "How's the council?"
"Good. That was someone's grand plan to make you want to go to them to fix it. Would you let me handle it?"
"I need something to do tonight." Vesvold gave him a look. "If you want but you're busy doing Council things."
"I can make them sorrier than even you can, Xander." He stroked over his hair. "I like it better when it's not braided. Be a good boy." He handed him something. "From Steve and Dean." He smiled at Tara. "I am harmless to you, Miss Maclay, but I have loved Xander for a very long time. If we can work out certain issues like people wanting to kill me for wanting him, I'll offer for him some day. Until then, watching him with Dean and Sam gives me a great bit of pleasure to spoil them." He disappeared.
"That's Vesvold, he's on the High Council," Xander told her, looking inside the envelope. "Steve and Dean planned ahead." He handed it to John, who checked then put it into his shirt pocket. "Anyone but him, Dean, Sam, and occasionally John for birthday presents I turn down. They all want my hair."
She went from gaping to giggling. "Xander!"
"It's the truth," John said dryly, eating a bite of salad. She shook her head, digging in again. "He's good and he helps protect the boy when the rest of them want to own him."
Xander nodded quickly. "One young one brought me a snack during the hearing. It was very nice of him but he was too young. Even his mother told him he was too young."
"Aww," the friend said.
Xander nodded. "Very. He was cute but I pointed out I'm taken and he has to be older." He dug in again, tasting the wasabi. He grimaced. "That's way too hot. I've lost my pepper tongue." He finished up and drank his water. He looked at her, giving her the puppy eyes look. "Please?"
"I have to keep up my grades."
"You won't be on financial aid, Tara." She blushed. "Really. As long as you're doing good I won't complain. It'd get you out of the area before the bad things happen like usual in the spring. Even Jonathan noticed. He asked me where Buffy was."
She nodded. "We can do that." He beamed. "Are you sure they won't mind?"
"Nope. They won't mind. Faith might try to pick but she won't mind that much." He winked. "It'll be fine. I've got a separate room over the garage for a protector when the family's gone." She blushed. "I need it." She nodded and pointed. He looked at the chef who was pouting. "I lost my pepper tongue in Colorado." He came out to hand them dessert then walked off. Xander looked at John, who rolled his eyes and shook his head. "It's been excellent." He dug in with a moan. "Oh, this is good. I want this recipe." The chef brought it out. Xander gave him a kiss on the cheek, nearly making him swoon but go back to the kitchen. Xander let Tara have a bite since she had something different. She moaned too. "We should stop in Las Vegas to get some from the good chocolate shop. Plus to check in."
"Later," John ordered. "Lets get you back to a safe area." Strife appeared, shaking his head quickly. "No?"
"Storm moving in up there. It'll be better to leave tonight, lay over in Vegas, then leave." He disappeared again.
"I pray to him," Xander said.
Tara looked at him. "I can see why." He grinned. "Does he like your hair?" He beamed and nodded. She swatted him gently. "Xander."
"I'm being good." He ate another bite. "Want some, John?"
"No, I'm good with my cheesecake, Xander." The check came and he paid it for them. The waiter pointed at the part that said it was paid. He gave him a look. "He pays for his own. He's not some starlette with an attitude issue." The waiter blushed and took it off. He had left a good tip as well. "Finish up, kids." He looked at the other girl. "We can drop you off anywhere you need us to."
"I'm in her dorm so I'll help her pack up the kitty."
Tara nodded. "You're sure?"
Xander nodded. "Not an issue. A kitty can even ride with you as long as she's not too loud."
She beamed and dug in. She had some packing to do. They took the girls back to the dorm and up to their rooms. She found all her stuff packed in a single bag on the bed and the cat in a carrier. "Who did that?"
Xander looked inside the bag then at her. "Vesvold?"
"No," a voice said. "The witch did it. She wanted Tara safe too."
He looked at her. "Willow."
She rolled her eyes. "We'll talk later."
"As you want. They said they'd be coming down to apologize soon." She nodded at that. "That makes three carry-ons. John, take hers? She'll take the cat. I'll take our bag?"
"That works," he agreed. She got her RA to sign her out so she could get her deposit back. Once that was done he drove them to the nearest working airport and got them passage to Las Vegas. Xander called Steve to warn him about the storm and to get him to tell the resort. Including that they had Tara's cat. Steve warned the resort and they had a room ready by the time they landed. They even had a car waiting. Tara blushed at the treatment. John gave her a gentle nudge. "He won it in a baccarat game," he said in her ear, making her give him a shocked look. He nodded. "The guy wanted to bet his country."
"I didn't want a country. Too much of a headache," Xander said as he slid in. Tara followed. John came after her. The door was shut and the driver drove them off. He grinned at her. "Like I said, full ride, Tara."
She looked around the strip. "Wow. Shiny."
"Very," he agreed with a grin, shifting next to her to point out the favorite sites he had seen during the convention. She beamed at him and they both relaxed since they were in a safer area. They got out at the resort. "Paul," he said, shaking his hand. "You remember John, right?"
"I do. Mr. Winchester. And this is?"
"Tara Maclay. A friend from home I'm taking under my wing so she can go to a good, safe school."
"Interested in UNLV? It's a great school."
"I'm thinking near him because my girlfriend's near there," she said quietly, not looking at him.
He smiled. "Then don't you worry about things, Miss Maclay. We're mostly polite around here. If not, Xander gave me permission to spank." He walked them inside, smiling at the cat that was watching him. "Hi, kitty. We have a disposable litterbox waiting on you in the suite for that one."
"Miss Kitty Fantatsico," Xander supplied since Tara was blushing and trying to watch the floor to keep it from getting away from her feet. That name got a smile. "She and Willow named her." He showed Tara pictures. "That's Bogart, the dog I got at the pound with everyone telling me to get something big and hyper. Like I am." She grinned and nodded. "He plays with me." He flipped the picture over. "That's Buttons, who got abandoned when her mommy moved. She moved in and confused Faith by deciding she had adopted us. Bogart uses her as a pillow a lot." She giggled. They got off and were walked to the suite, then let inside. "How are things going?"
"They're good. We're making some plans for expansion. Right now we're nearly at capacity so I wanted to do some expanding. Steve wanted us to add a few minor rooms but in Vegas, you have to add something spectacular to be noticed. Can we go over that?"
"I can't promise to be of much help. But sure."
"Thank you, Mr. Harris. I checked with the Gambling Board. They don't have a challenge to you owning it since you don't do day-to-day things."
"Why would they?" John asked.
"His file that lists his unique talent on electronic games." Tara squeaked. "He has the worst luck. He can tell when they want to go off." She gaped at Xander. Who nodded. "Since I have daily running duties and have Steve between us, it's all good to them."
"That's good to know," Xander agreed. "Were you going to add on luxury rooms?"
"A few. I'll get the plans together for after dinner?"
"That'll be fine," Xander agreed. "We just flew in and Tara probably needs a nap." He looked at her. "Want to eat out or in?"
"In?" she suggested. "I don't think I'd fit in."
"Las Vegas has millions of tourists a year, Tara. I'm sure they've seen stranger than me and you being cute."
She blushed. "Still."
"Okay." He looked at his manager. "How's Jace's doing?"
"She's fine. We've talked a few times." He smiled. "She's a very interesting and nice woman. Her place cashes in on the resort and relaxation people."
"She is," Xander agreed. "I'll probably invite her over tomorrow if we still have to stay."
"They're projecting a good three days for it to be shut down." Xander groaned. "They can handle it."
"I only left enough ready food for a week."
"Dean and Sammy can both cook enough to feed themselves," John promised. "You stocked the pantry and Sammy can use a cookbook, Xander." He nodded at that. He looked at the manager. "We don't want to interrupt anything, just hide from the storm."
"I understand. I remember the problems he had last time. When is the next convention in town?"
"I don't know. I'll ask Adam. I know it rotates about every decade." He nodded and left, leaving them to rest and then get dinner. "Rest?" She let Miss Kitty out to look around. She found the litter box first, which made them all happy. "There's two bedrooms. Tara, John?"
"Fat chance, kid. Hit the bed. I'll take the pullout couch. That way no one can break in and steal you." Xander nodded, getting up and pulling Tara up so she could pick her bedroom. He smiled. The boy was so cute with her. Like a big brother. Dean was clearly rubbing off on him. He censored that thought because it led places he didn't want to imagine or see again. He settled in, calling Jace's to let her know Xander was back in town for a few days due to that storm. Then he called the boys. "We're at the resort in Vegas. We heard about the storm. We're here with Tara and her cat." It hopped up to look at him. "Hi, Miss Kitty." He petted it. She stared at him then wandered off. "It's clear she's a practicing witch since that's a familiar." He listened to the boys. "We'll be fine. We're at the resort. We can handle a few days. Thanks, boys." He hung up. "They're fine, Xander, and Sammy broke out the popcorn to watch the snow with Faith."
"Good. I'm not sure if I like snow except it gives time and opportunity to cuddle."
John smiled at that answer. Tara was probably shaking her head but that was usual anymore. You had to take some time to get used to Xander.
Xander came off the plane sweaty and shaky. "I hate turbulence." He found Sam waiting and clung to him. "I hate turbulence."
"Me too," Dean agreed, taking his own cuddle. He looked at the shy blonde girl behind his father. "Hi, you must be Tara. I'm Dean, this is Sammy. Faith and Steve are still trapped at home. Faith can't drive on snow yet."
"We'll fix that," John agreed. "Which car?"
"The SUV. The porsche is hopeless on snow," Dean said. He let Sam walk Tara out.
He smiled. "Dean's a bit forceful and protective. Want help carrying her?"
"I'm good," she said timidly.
He pinched her on the arm. "You don't have to be scared of me unless you're an evil thing or you want to hurt Xander." She shook her head quickly. "Then we're good. C'mon, we changed the sheets in the apartment over the garage." He walked out with her, glaring at someone who tried to get closer to her. "Don't even try," he told the pickpocket. He ran the other way. She gave him a startled look. He grinned at her. "I don't want to have to beat a pickpocket today."
"C'mon, Sammy," Dean shouted.
"Had to stop a pickpocket," he said once they got closer. "Need anything on the way home? Everything's starting to open again."
She shook her head. "I'm okay."
He looked at her. "I used to have a girlfriend named Jess before she died, Tara. If you need stuff, let us know?" She nodded at that. "And relax. Before you shake yourself to death. We're not that scary. Well, Dean's stomach is but I'm not." He grinned his best good boy grin. She relaxed next to him. They got them into the SUV. The back was a bit cramped but they had put in the third seat and covered the X-Box. He helped her in then handed her the cat. Then he got in last, closing the door. "We all here?"
"We're good," John promised from the driver's seat. Dean was with him. "Xander?"
Sam looked. "Already out on the back seat, Dad."
He nodded, driving off. "Where is the four wheel drive switch?" Dean pointed. "Thanks, son." He flipped it and they were steadier. "This is downtown Colorado Springs, Tara. The base is the other direction by a few miles. Up toward the national forest." She nodded at that. "We can call out there for you later if you wanted to talk to Willow."
"Willow's showing up tomorrow to apologize," Dean said. He looked back at her. "She wrote one and apologized to all of us for that. Including a long phone call to Xander. Buffy's coming down to make her own with her tomorrow. If you want to hide you can."
"Willow packed long distance for her," John admitted. "She might already know she's in town."
"Let me warn Faith." He called home. "Is Rosenburg hovering?" He smiled. "Sacked out in the back. They had turbulence. Sure," he agreed. He hung up. "She'll be down late tomorrow afternoon, Tara. Faith told her she was not to bother you if you didn't want to be bothered and she agreed. She wanted chicken, Dad."
"I can do that and get Tara stuff she'll be able to eat."
Dean looked at her. "You a vegetarian or a vegan?"
"Vegetarian. Bordering on macrobiotic."
"We've got some great fresh produce places in town," he assured her. "Xander drags us through them a lot for dinner stuff." She grinned. Her cat meowed. He looked. "Hi, Miss Kitty." It stared at him. He looked at her. "Nature witch?" She squeaked and shrank down. "Chill, Tara. We're demon hunters. Have been since Sammy was six months old. As long as you're not an evil bitch, you're good with us." She nodded quickly. "Good. I doubt Xander would like you if you were an evil bitch anyway."
"Anya showed up for the hearing. Scared the crap out of his parents," John told him. "Don't worry, Tara. We've worked with some very good witches in the past. We don't mind whatever you're doing. Xander took enough lessons to be able to grow plants."
She looked at him. "Willow said magic went funny around him."
"We've gotten that fixed," Sam promised. She smiled at him. "It'll be fine, Tara. I promise. If Faith picks on you I'll spank her."
"She might like that," Dean quipped, turning back around. Sam kicked his seat. "Hey!"
"Quit, boys," John said patiently. Tara giggled. "Should've seen them when they were younger in the Impala," he told her. "We traveled all the time to handle things. They were horrible in the car."
Xander snorted and woke himself up, looking around. "John, are you kidnaping me too?" he asked.
"Faith wanted chicken," Dean said. "Tara needs veggies."
"Sure," John agreed. "Then KFC."
"They have fried chicken in the deli." When they got there he got out and went in there. None in the deli but he placed an order and they did it for him. By the time he got done, they had it ready. He smiled, taking it to the register. He paid and then walked the cart out there to load into the SUV. "No milk yet."
"That's fine," Dean promised. "We got some before the storm." He looked. "Mushrooms?"
"I like mushrooms." He finished putting in bags, handing him the fried chicken. "Hot off the frier." He grinned, going back up front. He closed the trunk and put the cart back then got back in, letting Sam get the door. "Done." He checked.
"The trunk light's on," John said, getting out to fix it while Xander held the bags back from the door. This time it closed and they got to drive home. He pulled in and let the boys carry in the groceries while he showed Tara the apartment. "Here you go, princess." She blushed, shaking her head. "It'll be fine. Don't let him spoil you too much. He'll try." He left, going back down to the kitchen. Faith gave him an odd look. "She's putting up her stuff and the cat."
"I put a litter box up there," she said. "Cat food too. We hit the pet store, boytoy."
"Thanks, Faith." He gave her a kiss on the forehead. "They made it special for you."
She dug in, moaning in pleasure. "That deli in the market?" He nodded, smirking some. "Love you."
"Welcome. Tara's a veggie person."
"That's fine. I won't snub her for it." She went back to nibbling. Tara came down. "Hey, Tara. I'm Faith." She licked her fingers then held out her hand.
Tara blushed. "I don't share spit when I'm not dating." She handed her a napkin then shook her hand. Faith giggled at that answer. "Can I help?"
"Sure, if you want," Xander promised. "I'm using the grill." He showed her the recipe. "That plus this," he said, showing her the other one. She smiled before washing her hands and helping with the mushrooms. Dean and Sam went to check on things. John went to check on his room.
Faith settled in to watch. Tara looked at her. "I have no idea how you do that stuff. This is like really good tv. He even swears when he screws up now and then."
"Was Willow good?" she asked.
"She was okay. Not pushy and she seems like she learned her lesson. She's got scientists doing the butt nibbling to make sure she stays straight plus helps people. B got the old boot camp shove with a boot to correct her drinking thing. They're good again."
"Good," Xander said. "Are they okay up there?"
"B seems to really like it. She's surrounded by people who do crazy, insane things and fight too. Seems okay." Xander looked at her. "No way. I'd never get to flash some tits at anyone again." She picked out another piece of chicken to nibble on while she watched. The dogs came in so she tossed down pieces for them. "Buttons, let him have his own." She tossed her one. "She's become an aggressive mooch, Xander."
"We'll train her better." He looked at the dog. "Begging is wrong. Bobby said so."
"I told him about Buttons. He laughed."
"So did I," Xander said dryly. "Not the dog I'd expect either of us to have, Faith." She grinned. "But he is good when you're watching tv." Tara let the dogs sniff her hands and petted them. They licked her a few times then went back to begging Faith for chicken. "Stomach love," he told her.
She washed her hands and face off. "All puppies do it." She got back to working on the mushrooms, making them pretty. Xander grinned and handed over something. That knife worked easier for her. She put them onto the grill. She got the cheese and buns out too so they could be warmed at the same time. He put on his grilled vegetable salad and it smelled great.
Faith sniffed. "That smells better than the chicken."
"Should," Xander quipped. "Save some of that for dinner."
"I am." She didn't go for a third piece. She could wait now that the empty, sucking pit was gone. "We emptied the freezer, X."
"I can make more," he said happily.
"Cool with us. You're a good cook most of the time." He grinned at her. "Even if you do burn garlic now and then."
"The trees like them," he told Tara, getting a laugh and a pinch. "Sam throws it out at the pine tree."
She flipped her mushrooms. They'd make excellent mushroom burgers. Xander got down plates. She picked at a spot on one, putting it into the dishwasher. She got another one down and it was better.
"The dogs eat off those," he told her. "Sometimes John is funny about that." She put it back and got something more formal since he had a lot of dishes and serving platters.
"Yeah, he visits the kitchen store for stress relief," Faith shared, getting a laugh from Xander. "You do!"
"I do," he agreed. "It means my closet and yours aren't bursting."
"I've got more clothes now than I ever had, X. Lay off my clothes."
He looked at her. "Your Christmas present is from Victoria's Secret." She moaned. He smirked and got back to work. "I can take it back."
"Don't you dare." Tara blushed at that, ducking her head some. "A girl's got to have good bras, Tara."
"Those are for girls who date," she said weakly.
He gave her a hug. "If you need stuff like that you'll let me know. John told me I couldn't spoil you like I do Faith." She shook her head. "Fine, spoil my fun." She nodded. He beamed. "We'll see about the holidays. You'll need something pretty for pictures and we're all doing jammies to open presents so I'll have to make sure you and Faith have something cute and tasteful so Dean doesn't have to drool on her. Maybe some adult footy pajamas for you, Tara."
"It's warm enough in here to wear my usual pants and tank top," Faith complained.
"Hush or I'm getting you something in lime green then guilt tripping you into wearing it in public."
Tara giggled at that. "You're so mean," she told Xander.
"Only when you make me be." She swatted him. They got back to work plating things. "Dinner!" he yelled. Everyone came in. The dogs gave him begging looks. "Bobby said no begging, kids. Shoo!" They ran off to play in the living room until they were nearly done and more susceptible for begging or outright stealing. He settled things around the table. "We need more room."
"I'll get the leaf out of the closet," Sam said. Dean came to help him slide it into place without disturbing what was already on the table. A few chairs from the study and they were set. Tara said her own grace while they passed around food.
Dean bit one of the burgers. "What is that? It's not bad."
"Marinated mushrooms and cheese," Xander told him. Dean hummed and continued to eat. He got some chicken too because a guy needed meat. John looked pleasantly surprised at the mushroom burger so he ate his instead of accidentally dropping it for the dogs. Faith too. Faith even ate the grilled vegetable salad. Dean too. It was a good, filling meal. Sam belched at the end but looked embarrassed. He apologized and Tara smiled at him. After the dishwasher was loaded they went to watch some tv while they got to know Tara. Miss Kitty snuck down but only Buttons bothered her. She glared at the dog and she quit. She even gave up part of her lap for her cat. She could keep the peace very well it seemed and bring a bit of normalness to the house. Plus she was protective in her own way. No one was going to get past her to hurt Xander or anyone else.
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