Willow fell over, the spell's energy whipping around the room. As she lost consciousness, her parents burst in with their Rabbi, but she was fading fast. Her part had been done, it had to help whomever had taken Xander to cure this.
Xander peeked into the library, smiling at the long table and the books lining the walls. "Gee, Giles needs one of these, we'd be able to find things when we needed them." He walked in at the wave, sitting down near Derek and holding his hand out to the dark-skinned woman across from him. "Xander," he introduced himself.
"Alex," she told him, shaking his hand. She pushed over a picture and nodded at the tapestry hanging up behind her. "Okay, that's the prophecy tapestry, and this is where we found you. Do you have *any* idea what this is about?"
"Um, nope," he said, pushing it back. "I'm happy to help however, but I'm a foot soldier. I take orders and give them in very bad situations when everyone else is too busy." He looked at Derek. "There's nothing more saying what's going on?"
"We're still looking for sources of information," Derek said, giving him a fatherly smile. "Did Nick and Philip ever get up?"
"They're eating." Xander looked at the other two pictures laying by Alex's arm. "Who're they?"
"They'll be up day after tomorrow. Well, one's immortal and one's the husband of a God," Alex told him, pushing them over. "This is Dr. Adam McKinley, Associate Professor at Rainier University in Cascade, Washington. The other is Dr. Blair Sandburg, same school but in Anthropology." He nodded, looking them over. "Sandburg's married to the Celtic protector of artifacts."
"Whose father is Strife, so that makes Dr. McKinley her stepfather," Derek noted dryly. "They're dating again." He tapped McKinley's photo. "This man may hold whatever knowledge we need, we're not sure yet. We're not sure of anyone's parts yet."
"I'm okay at research," Xander offered. "I can flip through books with the best of them."
Derek smiled and pointed at the lefthand wall. "Then you'll get to help Philip for now. He knows almost every book in this house." He looked at Alex. "You and Nick will finish digitizing the other faces and see what we come up with."
"All right, but I think someone spilled something on the tapestry," she said with a shrug. "One of the people has pink hair."
"Hey, pink hair is fashionable," Xander pointed out.
"Not among the serious paranormal people," Derek said gently. "I'll get Philip in here. For now, please start on the third shelf, all the way toward the window. Those are more theological, but it'll free up Philip to search through some of the books he's never seen before." He stood up. "Let's get to work."
"Do I need gloves or anything?" Xander asked. "You know, to not ruin the books?"
Derek shook his head but he was smiling. "No, they wouldn't be in the open if you needed gloves. Do be careful though, some of the pages are rather fragile."
"Yeah, no soda while working on that shelf," Alex said with a grin.
"Some'a them might reveal hidden messages if we spray them," Philip said as he walked in. He smiled at Derek. "Thank ya for hidin' me," he said quietly. Then he looked at Xander. "You helpin' me or them?"
"You," Xander told him. "I'm an okay researcher, of the flip through the book method. It's what I do at home."
Philip nodded. "All right. You can keep a drink at the table but not near the books, and nothin' greasy." He looked around all the shelves, and up onto the second floor. "Start up there, on the right, all the way this way. I've never been inta them." Xander nodded and went up to get the first book down. "An' mark your place with the cardboard," he called after him. He looked at Derek. "What, exactly, are we lookin' for? Prophecy or dealin' with it?"
"Anything you could find would be helpful at the moment, though we know how it happened. I'd like to find out *why* it happened, and how to get things back to normal." He followed Alex into the control room, disappearing through a map of the world.
"Don't worry about it," Nick said, giving his friend a light shove. "We'll figure it out and the rest of the world will go back to ignoring us." He frowned. "Do you think that the Vatican might have something? There's rumors about what's hidden under there."
"I know someone I can call on," Philip agreed. He grabbed one of the books on the third shelf, starting to flip through it. You never knew what else might have changed, and since he was most familiar with these he'd be able to tell.
Xander carried three books down the stairs, setting them out in a precise order. "I won't mess them up," he said at the look Philip gave him. He sat down and picked up the first one, flipping through it. "Were these supposed to be alphabetically ordered of some sort? There was a 'k' in with the 'y's."
"Nah, they're filed in another pattern. Just keep to it." He went back to reading, only letting himself be interrupted by Dominick bringing in tea for him and soda for the boy.
"Daddy!" Rain called. "Help?" She struggled against the sticky stuff her husband had accidently manifested around her, but there wasn't any way she was getting out of this without help. "Dad! Uncle Ares!" she whined/yelled.
Ares appeared, looking at her, then at Blair. "Figured out a way to keep her tied to the house?" he asked dryly.
Blair groaned. "No, she wanted me to make some light strands." He waved a hand at her. "This showed up instead and attacked her. I don't know *what* I'm doing." He flopped down onto the couch, giving his wife a pitiful look. "I'm sorry, honey."
She growled. "Just get me out of here and everything will be fine," she promised.
Ares reached over and tugged on one of the strands, but he couldn't budge it and now he was stuck too. "Shit," he muttered, trying to get free. That's why he didn't see the strands that were moving to grab his ankles. "Sandburg," he growled. "Fix this!"
"I don't know how!" he shouted, hopping up to look at them. "Trust me, if I knew how, she wouldn't be in there and you'd have shown up with her naked and under me!" He shot a glare at the sticky stuff, his eyes going wide as he concentrated. It changed the color from a deep purple to bright pink. "Mom!"
Hebe, better known as Naomi, appeared and started to snicker. "Yes, dear?"
"What did I do wrong? She told me to make lights, not make that shit." He waved at the disgusting strands.
She hugged her son, looking at the stuff slowly encasing Ares, then she snickered some more. "I think we need someone stronger. Oh, Strife, dear, please come down here and bring Hera? I think this needs a woman's touch." Strife and Hera appeared, him laughing at his relative's predicament, and her shaking her head while trying to banish it. "No, Hera, help him learn how to do this. He created it when she told him to do light strands. I'm not sure why she had him doing that, or how, but that's what he told me was going on."
Hera waved Blair over, taking his hand to test his powers. "They're quite erratic," she said thoughtfully. "Strife, grab his other hand, maybe you can help him focus better."
"You'd think this would be as easy as transcendental meditation," Blair complained. "I mastered that and yoga, why can't I get this?"
Strife popped him on the back of the head. "Don't whine," he warned. He grabbed on and tested the power structure for himself. "Huh, he's a mess. Worse'n what mom said Joxer was."
Hera snorted. "It took us nearly a century to fix him. And to make him leave the rest of us alone." She fed some of her power into Blair, smiling as Strife did the same. "Now, think about that power going out and disintegrating the pink strands *only*." She watched and felt as Blair tried, but his wife's shriek stopped the exercise. "Yes, dear?"
"I like that bra," Rain told them, teeth clenched tightly together.
"Sorry," Blair mumbled. "Will I ever get this?"
"It could be worse," Strife assured him. "Hey, Hera, what if we give him a minor title? Would that cure some of this, maybe make the power shift and form right?"
"We'd have to ask Zeus about that," she sighed.
"FATHER!" Ares yelled.
"He's busy, dear," Hera told him.
Zeus appeared, looking at the two people stuck in the pink stuff, then at the young Godling. "Problems?" he asked, holding in his smirk.
"Nothing more than I had when I was little," Hebe told him. Both senior Gods looked at her. "What? You don't remember the Aegean turning purple one year?"
"Good point," Zeus agreed. He studied Blair for a moment, then looked at his wife. "Did you have something in mind?"
"Strife suggested we give him a minor position to make his power form itself correctly."
He nodded. "It might. Did you have one in mind?"
"Just as long as it doesn't have anything to do with animals," Blair pleaded. "Animals and I don't always get along."
Zeus reached over and patted him on the head like a little child. "I wouldn't worry about that." He looked at his wife again, after glancing at Rain. "There's a research one under Athena."
"If she *touches* my man, I'm killin' her," Rain warned. She tried to struggle but was in there too tightly. "Make him over your artifacts, he's good at that stuff, helps me all the time."
"Good idea," Hera said, giving her a smile. "Not much call for it as we're still here, but it's an excellent idea. And you are an anthropologist, aren't you?" she asked him. Blair nodded, still looking pitiful.
"That would suit me," Zeus agreed. He and Hera touched Blair's forehead, gifting him with that.
"Oh, I'm so happy!" Hebe shouted, coming over to hug her son. "I was worried that Rain would have to do without you some day."
"Why? He was made immortal after their honeymoon," Zeus reminded her. She frowned at him. "He never told you?"
"No." She slapped her son's arm. "Why didn't you tell me?"
"I thought you knew, everyone else knew," Blair told her, shrugging. "But you were going on and on about Rain getting pregnant and we're not ready yet."
Ares growled, "Get us out of here. Now! Petty family arguments can wait!"
Blair concentrated, and the strands turned green, then they started to thin. By then he was panting and sweating. "Try it now," he said.
Ares groaned and started to struggle again, breaking a few of the strands.
"Sword, Unc?" Strife suggested, making one appear and handing it over. Ares snatched it and started to hack his and Rain's way out of there. While they were struggling, Strife brought his favorite treat, Methos. They sat together on the couch, watching as the two Gods fought their way out of the horrible strands. Together they cackled as Rain grabbed her bra to hold it up, but quickly stopped at her glare. Once they were free, Strife stood up, dragging Methos with him. "Gotta go do stuff in my area," he said, disappearing before Ares could get his mouth open.
"I don't want to know," Ares noted, then he went back to chopping up the green strands. When he was done, he brushed a hand through his sweaty hair and handed his niece the sword. "I feel better now," he announced, then he disappeared too.
Hera smiled down at Blair. "You shouldn't have so many troubles now," she told him calmly. "Just relax while you practice. It's a new skill that you'll master eventually." She smiled at Zeus. "I've got some mothers to go look in on. Coming, Zeus? I do believe you were *interested* in one of them." He grimaced but he followed her out of the apartment.
Hebe grinned at Rain, waving a hand and restoring her bra. "There you go, dear." Her smile got brighter. "So, when can I come tell you stories about my darling Blair being a little boy?"
"Um, heard it already," Rain told her. She frowned at her unhappy mother-in-law. "I'm not having kids yet, Hebe. I've still got duties to fulfill and I can't do them while pregnant or with an ankle-biter trying to eat lunch off me." She crossed her arms over her bare stomach when she felt some power touching her. "Don't even think about it," she warned. "If I get pregnant, I'm going to have to teach your son to break into places and to retrieve artifacts. I doubt you'd like that." The power left her alone and she smiled cruelly. "Are there any other requests you want to make about my body?"
"Dear, she's just anxious to have kids to play with again," Blair soothed, pulling her down into his lap. "I promise, she wouldn't do anything drastic to help you get pregnant. She's just one of those people that really likes kids."
Rain shrugged. "That's fine, and when I'm free of my obligations, I might push one out for her, but not until then."
Hebe sighed. "Yes, Rain, I do understand, but it would make you *happy*."
"Says you," Rain countered. "I like going out and being able to do things at night without struggling to either carry half the house around, or having to find a sitter." She kissed her husband on the nose. "Can we just stick with a cat or something for now?"
"Sure," Blair said with a smile. "After we get this mess straightened out, we'll go get you an animal. As long as it likes me." She grinned and kissed him on the nose. "Bye, mom," he called, waving at her. Hebe disappeared, frowning still. Rain captured his mouth again and he gave up thinking about anything else.
"Try a small light for me," Rain whispered, and Blair created a light just for her. It was centered in his lap, but it made her happy.
Methos woke up with a groan, wondering what he was lying on. When he figured it out, he wondered why he was lying on top of a hardwood bar, but then the last night started to come back to him. The breaking up of the porn ring trading tapes in a parking lot. The trip to the police station with the sincerely sorry pedophile they had found stalking a young runaway. Or at least he had been sorry after Strife had gotten through with him. The challenge by the immortal groupie. Stupid child. Strife sending him to one of Ares' temples for help and training. Ares showing up to bitch Strife out because he sent the semi-sane mortal to him. Oh, yeah, then Strife had decided he wanted to drink at this biker bar. This dyke biker bar. The type that thought men should be herded and kept like cattle for sperm donors and then slaughtered so they couldn't infect anyone else. Methos looked around at the chaos. Well, it had been one hell of a fight, but it was time to go. He checked his watch, it was nearly ten. "Strife, I have a class," he reminded his sleeping lover. They both reappeared in his office and Strife cleaned him up. "Thanks." He stole a kiss. "I'll see you in an hour." He grabbed his notes for class and walked out, some of those freshmen were actually starting to look promising. He was hoping a few of them joined the department. Besides he was leaving for a week tomorrow and they'd have to deal with a Graduate Assistant. That was torture enough.
Strife walked down the hall, not bothering to clean himself up. He had enjoyed the dyke bikers. And the fight. That was his sort of trouble.
"Lord Strife," the secretary called as soon as he caught sight of him. "The President of the University wants to see you."
He flipped her off. "He can wait until we get back," he called.
She jumped up and ran after him. "Sire, he's apparently had some complaints about what's being taught in this college by a few parents. He was adamant that he wanted to speak to you at the earliest possible opportunity." She shut up as soon as he turned around and held up a finger.
"I like what we teach here. I'm sorry if whothefuckever finds history, real history, offensive, but they need ta pull their heads outta their ass. He can wait." She nodded. "Good. Go get me some tea. I've gotta cut another grad assistant." He headed into his office, slamming the door behind him.
She walked away as quietly as possible, going to make him his tea. Maybe she would slip a note under Dr. McKinley's door, a blowjob would make Lord Strife's day. While the water was boiling, she called the President's secretary to pass along her boss' message. The other secretary was sympathetic and would put it in more...genteel terms. She knew how much having to cut his daughter from the GA roster had bothered him so she brought him the whole pot, and a little flask of rum to go with his lemon and orange tea. He grunted when she knocked so she walked in and put it beside his left hand. "I told the President's secretary, she's passing along the message. Is there anything else I can do for you?"
He looked up at her, one eyebrow going up. He looked her over, trying to figure out why she was giving off lust vibes. "My relatives here?" he asked finally. She shook her head. "You sure?" She nodded and he sat back. "Then why're ya actin' like Cupid's blasted ya with an arrow?"
"I've always hoped that I could serve you in a personal manner," she reminded him. "That's why you hired me."
"My man'd get really pissed."
"So would mine," she agreed. "But anything's better than you being this upset at the world." She leaned closer and dropped her voice. "We really don't need another incident like we had during the Paris conference. I'd like to make sure of it. It's part of my job description, sire."
He chuckled. "Don't worry 'bout it. I had fun last night. Made some new friends of some dyke bikers. I'm not pissed at the world, just at the Prez." His eyes slowly roamed across her body. "I'll remember that offer from now on though."
She blushed and hurried back to her desk, making sure to close his door.
Strife grinned and poured himself a shot, he hated hangovers. Yeah, he got respect, and lots of other stuff he never got before. Life was good.
Xander hopped up, grunting. "Oh! Oh, I think I found something!" Philip came down the stairs to look at the book. "Is that this?" Philip nodded and Xander grinned. "I found it."
"Calm down," Philip told him, pushing him down into the chair. He sat down too. "There's not much here."
"But it references others things," Xander pointed out. "It's a good start."
"True, it is," Philip agreed, giving him a smile. "Good work. Let me go give this ta Derek." He looked the boy over. "Go get a snack." They got up, Xander heading for the kitchen, Philip heading through the hidden doorway. He held up the book. "The boy found somethin'."
Derek snatched the book and read the part, flipping the page to check for more. "It references others. Tell him he did a good job." He smiled at Philip. "Any luck at the Vatican?"
"They're checkin'." He sat down in an extra chair. "What're ya gonna do with him when all this is over?"
"We'll see about that when it's over with," Derek said pragmatically. "For right now, we need his help, if for nothing else than to handle some of the things that we don't have time for." He looked at his friend. "He's been fighting now for years, Philip, don't worry about him."
"He's a *boy*, Derek."
"He's been fighting beside the Slayer," Nick put in. He called up the profile they had built for Xander, putting it on the larger main screen. "This is him."
Philip read it over, nodding to let Nick know he could page down. At the end, he sighed. "He's still a boy."
"Who's faced the end of the world," Derek reminded him. "Some Legacy members don't have that extensive a resume. I think we can count on him."
"If not always to be an adult, to do whatever needs done," Nick added. "He is still a kid, I wouldn't expect him to act like he's thirty."
Derek smiled at him. "I'll take that under advisement. Why don't you go eat also?" Philip nodded and got up, leaving them alone. "Nick, is that complete?"
"I've gotten up to his parents, who are drones in the system. His paternal grandmother's interesting because she became a consort to a midrange demon." Derek looked at him. "After her first husband died, she apparently sank into a deep depression. As the story recorded by New York goes, during her depression, a demon came up to her and offered her anything for her soul. She asked him if he could give her back her husband and he said he couldn't, but he could make her feel better. So he took her to bed." He grimaced. "This is where the New York house came into it, after she ended up in the hospital with a strange fever and injuries." Derek nodded slowly. "Apparently, she and the demon decided they felt something for each other and he came back. They got together, the demon stayed until she died. He went to her funeral service and then disappeared. No one's reported that demon since then."
"How old was his father?"
"His father was her *adopted* child and he was in the military doing mandatory service. He was one of the guys that was sent to 'Nam by court order instead of jail. He hooked up with Xander's mother after he came back."
Derek sighed. "That's a mess."
"Oh, no. Mess is something else," Nick said, pointing at a small article he had pulled up. "That's his best friend. Her parents found her." Derek leaned in to read it. "She's the witch working with the Slayer. I called over there and the spell they found lying beside her was something to help us. *And* the New York house has stated that they're going to work on her case."
"That I don't know," Nick offered. "They're the ones who sent the message about the article with a note saying that they're investigating. London didn't say anything."
"I'll talk with William," Derek said, patting him on the shoulder. "Good work." He looked at the security monitor, watching Xander lay out a few more books. "He's already back at work. He's definitely trying his best."
"Impression management." Nick looked up at him. "He won't be admitted, not with demonic consorting that close in his history."
"You said his father was adopted."
"He was, but the Legacy still won't allow it. It turned away three new members last year because it was over six generations back."
"I know." He smiled sadly. "There's also no saying that he would want admittance."
"Derek, he's been doing the work," Nick pleaded. "The boy deserves the chance."
"If he asks," Derek told him. He walked out, taking the book with him. "Xander, that was an excellent find."
"Pure luck," he said with a grin, pushing his glass of water a little way further away. "Should I continue to look through the books for more ideas?"
"Please." Derek sat beside him, looking at the book he was reading. "That shouldn't have much, it's a story about how someone trapped a ghost." He closed it and pushed it aside. "It's an almost worthless account at that." That got a small smile. "What were you planning to do after you graduated?"
"I hadn't planned that far ahead," Xander admitted. "With the fight we were in for during graduation, with the ascension and all, I wasn't sure I was going to have a future. I didn't make any plans at all."
Derek clapped him on the back. "I'm sure you'll find whatever will make you happiest." He stood up. "I'll let Philip follow up these leads, you continue to search." He walked out, going to find Philip. "I want you to find the books referenced in this account and run them down. Let the boy find anything else." Philip nodded, his mouth was full of sandwich. "Have you heard anything back from the Vatican?"
Philip took a sip of milk. "Not a thing. I'm gonna call 'em back this afternoon. If worse comes ta worse, I can count on someone else over there to find somethin' for me."
"Good. I'll be waiting on that information." He left the book open on the table. "We should also expect some help from the New York house, they're going to Xander's hometown to investigate something. Also, their daughter is coming tonight. Alex is going to pick her up." He got another nod and walked out. He decided he should tell Xander, but when he walked back to the library, he heard Nick doing it. That freed him of the dreaded task, so he headed for his office instead. He needed to talk to William. New York should not be taking cases in their area.
Xander ran past him, making him sigh. He heard a door slam and decided to let the boy come to him if he needed comforting.
Methos stumbled in from his class, smiling at the note that had been slid under his door. It was something he was going to do anyway. He crumpled the note and tossed it out, falling into his desk chair just as his door was knocked on. "What?"
MacLeod walked in, giving him a smile. "Have you heard yet? We're all in for it from the President of the University. He was apparently of the opinion that history was less messy than it really was." Methos grunted in annoyance. "He's about to suspend our whole department."
"We'll see about that," Strife said from behind him. He smiled at the quick way the immortal got out of his way. "Wanna come with me to bitch the idiot out?"
"No thank you. I still have to pack my journals in case we need them." He smiled brightly. "Do have fun though. I'm sure this will be...educational."
Strife's grin made both immortals shudder. "I'm sure it will be too. Gotta go. Unc's meetin' me there." He waved and disappeared, jogging down the halls.
Methos shifted in his chair, putting his feet up. "Was there anything else?"
"Are you sure I can't cover your classes for you while you're gone?" He closed the door, leaning against it. "I want to help fix this, I'm not comfortable being known about."
Methos shrugged. "We're not sure what's going to fix it, MacLeod. All we know is that there is a prophecy on a tapestry. The people who have called on us for help have it. They also have almost every book on the paranormal, any strange occurrence of note, and anything on most of what we've ever done in our lives."
"What about ...." He swallowed. "Ahriman?" he finished quietly. "That was never recorded."
"If you want, I'll take an account of it with me," Methos said in a calm tone of voice. "This doesn't seem like his work though, does it?"
MacLeod shook his head. "No, I still feel him, this is helping him but it's not because'a him." He shivered. "I don't want to have to fight him again."
"Cheer up," Methos said happily, standing up. "It could be worse. There are *many* worse outcomes that could have happened."
"Yeah, well, I fixed 'em," Strife's voice said from the air. "Won't happen. Had enough'a that. I'll be back in time to travel tomorrah."
MacLeod sighed. "All right. If they want it, call me and I'll finish writing it down." He opened the door, running into the secretary. "Sorry," he said as he walked around her.
Methos raised one eyebrow. "Another problem?"
"Some of the parents who complained to the President are here," she stage-whispered. "Can I do something?"
Methos just smiled. "Let them wait, Strife will be back soon."
Ares appeared, brushing a piece of lint off his shoulder. "No, I will be taking care of this little matter." He looked Methos over. "You look like hell," he said jovially. "Have fun tomorrow. And leave the boy alone. He suits me as he is, most of the time." He looked down at the secretary, who swallowed. "Where are they? We're going on a ....field trip."
She pointed. "Back in the waiting area." She watched his ass as he strode away. "He is so *fine*!" she hissed, then went to see what was going on.
Methos snickered and stood up, grabbing his door to close it. He was sure that Ares and Strife could easily show them what history was really like. He sat down and considered his wall of books and journals, trying to decide what to bring. He could always get Rain or Strife to come back and get something else for him, but he wanted to at least look prepared to help. Not that he was sure how he was going to do that, but someone thought he was important in all this mess. He grabbed a few of the books and put them on the windowsill, then checked the next shelf.
Xander looked up as he heard someone walking toward him. "Hey," he said weakly. "I'll go back to work in a few minutes."
Nick sat down beside him. "She's not dead, there's hope."
Xander laughed bitterly. "You don't know this, but Willow's one strong witch. She closed the Hellmouth as one of her first spells." Nick's mouth opened. "This wouldn't have happened if I had been home."
Nick shrugged. "It did, you have to deal with it and move on."
Xander stood up and glared down at him. "I know what my job is, Nick. I've known I was going to lose everything and everyone in my life for a hell of a long time now. You don't have to tell me how to deal with this." He walked away, heading into the library.
Nick sighed and stood up. He was getting too old for this. Philip should be dealing with this, it was what priests did.
Xander walked into the library and headed up the stairs.
"Shelve what you've got out," Philip called after him. "Before you lose the pattern." The boy came back down and grabbed the books, going to put them up. Philip watched him critically, then shrugged. "Somethin' happen?" he called up to the boy.
"My best friend decided to work a spell to help us. She's presently comatose." Xander leaned over the rail. "Then I just got a 'suck it up and move on' lecture from Nick." Philip grimaced. "Yeah, so not in the best mood here. Should I switch sections?"
"Go calm down first then we'll move to a new section," Philip told him. He watched the boy walk back out, but he was calmer. "Go eat somethin'," he called after the boy. He got up and went to find himself another book. When Nick came in, he tossed the book at his head. "Next time, leave that ta me. Ya nearly sent him inta a rage."
"I tried to be gentle," Nick protested. "He took it the wrong way."
"As you pointed out, Nick," Derek said as he came out of the control room, "the boy's been fighting now for years. If he hasn't accepted that he's going to lose them, then he's not the fighter you thought he was." He clapped Nick on the shoulder. "Philip, please be more gentle with the books. You know some of them are very fragile." He picked the book up off the floor and tossed it back. "Goot choice though, very sturdy."
Xander walked in and handed Philip a covered mug. "Where do I start?" he asked Philip, ignoring the other men.
"How about you work on this side, all the way toward the window?" Philip suggested. "The section you were in had prophecy stuff, but it was all about ghosts if I remember right."
Xander nodded and went up, putting his soda on the small table beside the stairs. He looked down at Derek. "I may not be the best fighter in existence, but I do know what I can do. The same as I know what I can't do. And a person should be allowed to grieve." He headed to the window and looked at the book. "Philip, I've looked through most of these at home, should I just pick up the ones I haven't seen yet?"
"No, I've found stuff in the books I already knew," Philip called up. "They're changed."
"All right," Xander said as he came down, curling up in the little alcove beside and behind the stairs. "I'm going to be over here." He quickly moved off the hard couch and created a nest on the floor with the cushions to relax on.
Derek smiled at the young boy's back, but he retreated when he saw Philip's meaningful look at the thrown book. Nick watched Xander for a few minutes, then shrugged and headed back into the control room to get back to work. There was still regular Legacy paperwork to do and it would probably be him that had to do it this time since Alex and everyone else was busy.
Derek picked up the phone and sighed at the raging voice on the other end. "I'm sorry, Mayor Reynolds, but I don't know what's going on." He grimaced. "Well, one of them *is* the Got of Mischief. I would almost expect that of him and his chosen mate, but they weren't supposed to be here until tomorrow." One hand drifted up to hold his forehead. "I'm sure if you asked him politely to calm down, he would," he suggested. "I don't know. Yes, that would be fine. I'll talk.... Lord Strife, please," he begged. "This man is giving me a headache and I already have enough of one with this whole prophecy." He smiled. "When can we expect you tomorrow? Yes, and them, we do have rooms out here if you need some. A whole house to yourselves if you need it actually." His smile got brighter. "Really? Well, I can't see the harm in that. Just make it more...subtle. The mayor appreciates subtle." He laughed and leaned back. "Thank you, Lord Strife. We'll expect you around noon then." He hung up before the mayor could take the phone back from the God of Mischief. "That'll make you remember not to piss me off in the future," Derek muttered. "You'll never call me a high-society hanger-on again." He picked up some of his paperwork, looking at the neat job Nick had done for him. He signed his name to the report and put it in the pile to be sent to the main house in London. They would appreciate finally getting it.
Xander wandered around the garden, soaking in the smells of the night, something he hadn't been able to do in quite a while. He hadn't been this safe for a long time, and it felt nice. No vampires jumping out at him. No big, scaly, scary monsters jumping out of trees, or coming out of alleyways. Nothing that might make him have to fight. Unless that person whistling behind him was Nick, then he was going to punch him. Just once, but it would make him feel better. He moved off the path, going toward the woods. He hadn't been in peaceful woods in a long time. He started to feel the air getting heavier and stopped, looking around, but there wasn't anything there so he moved on, just did it a little more carefully.
"Relax, kid," a deep, masculine voice said from in front of him.
Xander walked toward the voice, taking in the dark-haired man's well-built body, and the blood all over his leather clothes. "Um, are you a big bad thing or not? If not, why are you covered in blood?"
Ares looked down at himself, then shrugged. "I had to help my nephew with a small problem. Some parents got upset because history was bloody." He smiled warmly. "And no, I'm not usually bad. Only if you get on my bad side, which you wouldn't want to do."
Xander crossed his arms and shrugged. "Okay. Why are you interrupting my walk then?"
Ares snorted. "I like you kid, you've got balls. Bluffing the God of War is not always a good thing." Xander shrugged again. "You don't care?"
"Only if you can fix this to the way it was before. I could really care less about most of this, but I didn't want to let everyone know about what we'd been doing in Sunnydale. There's probably been a lot of suicides since this spell happened." Ares nodded. "Their ignorance was making them happy, I didn't mind that so much."
"That's a good thought, but not fully true."
"I said so much," Xander reminded him. "There are times when it sucked badly. But that's life in Sunnydale when you know what's going on."
Ares nodded. "Point. What can I do to make this better for you?"
"Make Willow better and tell me what I'm supposed to be doing," Xander suggested. He glanced around. "I like this place, but not enough to stay here until all this is done. The house is kinda creepy."
"Yeah, well, creepy is one of my sons," Ares pointed out. "As for what you've got to do, there's a lot of little tasks that have to be completed. Some will be done automatically. Your friend Willow's spell was one of them that wasn't done automatically. I don't know who has to do what, or even if any of them are assigned. Some of them will take time to deal with. Some of them aren't written down anywhere. As for the ones that are, tell that priest to light a fire under the Vatican and get the books out of the third *sealed* elemental's lair and workroom. There's books there and some under the catacombs in the old work areas. He might have to go get them himself though," Ares finished thoughtfully. "Oh, and there's a grimoire in the main library, someone named St. James, not the usual one, that has some more information."
Xander grinned. "I'll tell 'im. Anything else I can pass on?"
"Yeah, kick my nephew in the ass," Ares said dryly. "He's been influencing your life and I liked what you were doing before." He disappeared.
Xander, much more cheerful than when he had started, jogged back to the house, heading up to Philip's room. He pounded on the door. Philip opened the door and gave him an expectant look. "I just had a talk with a God of War. He said there's books under the Vatican we need and you might have to go get them personally." Philip pulled him into the room and slammed the door, looking at him. "Sorry, but I thought this was important," he said.
"It is," Philip agreed. "Where?"
"He said there's a grimoire, or something like that, by a St. James, but it's not the usual one. You need that one and some stuff from the third elemental's lair and work area. Also, there's some work rooms under the catacombs that need to be mined for books." Xander snapped his fingers. "He said the *sealed* elemental's lair. Third sealed one."
Philip nodded. "That's very helpful. But why would a God of War talk to ya?"
Xander shrugged. "Who cares? I don't care. He did say I could kick his nephew in the ass tomorrow though." He grinned. "He also said that not all the tasks are written down, that some will happen automatically. Some are more serious, things like what Willow did."
Philip smiled and patted him on the shoulder. "Good job. Was there anything else?"
"He said that not all the tasks are assigned or something like that." He shrugged. "I was more interested in the amount of blood he was covered in." He looked up at Philip again, his eyes having drifted to some of the pictures on the dresser. "Apparently he was teaching a lesson about history being very bloody and messy to some people who thought it was nice and cute."
Philip chuckled. "All right. Go write down exactly what he said. I'll call my contacts in the Vatican." He let Xander go past him, smiling at his back. That was one useful boy to have around. If Derek didn't want him, he might take the boy with him. He had a good mind and hand at the research, and if he didn't have anything to do, traveling was always broadening. He sat down on his bed and pulled over the phone, dialing a number of a very old friend stationed at the Vatican. "Sir, I have to report that you have books we need to solve this present dilemma. They're down in the work rooms."
Xander tossed the nerf ball he'd found at the skinny guy's head. "Your uncle said I could kick you but I thought that would be nicer," he said with a grin.
Strife tossed it back. "How was he?"
"Bloody but informative," Xander told him, coming down to give Strife a hug. "Thank you for saving me last year," he said quietly. Then he looked at Methos, who Strife had hold of. "You're his?" he asked. Methos grimaced but nodded. "Good. Keep him happy. He's a great guy." He waved and jogged off. "Derek, Strife's here!" he called. He went for the kitchen, knowing he had the time to down a sandwich at the least before he was needed.
Nick stuck his head in. "Don't get too happy with the food, we're having lunch in an hour," he warned.
"Nick, I'm seventeen. I'm supposed to be hungry," Xander pointed out as he finished off the small peanut butter sandwich. He gave the butler an impromptu hug and took his glass of milk with him back to the library. He took a seat at the end of the table, next to the new woman. "Hi, Xander," he said, holding out a hand.
"Rain," she said, shaking it. "This is my husband, Blair. How do you know my dad?"
"Easy, he saved my life twice now." He shrugged. "It was really nice of him too. He didn't have to do it the last time." He sipped at his milk, ignoring Derek's look at him. "So, what do you do?"
"I'm the Protector for the Celts. Blair's got the same job for the Greeks."
"Cool," Xander breathed.
"Only some days," she said with a grin. "Some days it's breakin' and entering." She winked at him and looked at the rest of the group. "All right, have we found anything else yet?"
"We have," Philip told her. "Xander had a visitation last night while out walkin' around. There's some books we need from the Vatican."
"Done," Strife and Rain said together.
After a short game of rock, papers, scissors, which Rain won, she smiled at him. "Where am I taking you? And shouldn't you be more...formally dressed?"
Philip chuckled and stood up. "Give me five minutes ta change," he requested as he walked away.
Rain looked over at Alex. "How many others have you identified?"
"Just that one's the daughter coming from New York," she told her. "Most of the rest of the figures are side views or just the back of their heads." She shrugged. "I've gotten as far as I can with the tapestry." She looked at Xander. "Did you write out the encounter? We record things like that."
"I did, I gave it to the night butler to put on Derek's desk." Xander finished off his milk. "What's my job now?"
"Until Philip gets back with the books, please continue with the task he set for you yesterday," Derek said, smiling fatherly down at the boy. "How many books did you two get through?"
"I got through part of the ones with the ghostly stuff, and almost a full shelf of the stuff on this side near the window," he said, pointing. "Philip had me going through them."
"All right. You can start that again after the meeting." Derek looked at Strife and Methos. "Do you have anything yet that might help?"
"Not yet," Methos told him. "All we know is what's happened so far in our own lives." He pulled out an envelope. "This was sent to you for your records. My coworker thought you might like a copy."
Derek unfolded the letter and skimmed it. "You know this MacLeod?" Methos and everyone in their group nodded. "I see. How did he do this?"
"He didn't fight," Methos said with a shrug. "He put his number in there so you could ask him yourself. All I know is that he angsted for a year then came back and took to Buddhist minimalist, and that he didn't fight. That's all he ever told me about the final fight."
Derek folded the letter back up and put it away. "I'll put this in our chronicles. I'm sure it will be of help to someone the next time this happens." He smiled at Rain and Blair. "Is there any news from any of your contacts?"
"Well, I do have something," Blair told him, pulling a book out of his backpack and sliding it down the table. "At the pink post-it." He cleared his throat. "There's an ancient story among a small tribe in Southern India. They've long since lost the tribe and become Hindu, but this story remains. It's about a missionary who changed the world, and then he had to fight off a certain amount of monsters to change it back. I'm not sure if it relates, but it sounded like it should be looked into. The monsters all had names and duties that had to be overcome, but that could be allegorical."
Alex took the book. "We'll go over it as soon as Philip gets back." He nodded.
Philip walked back in, smiling at them. "They just broke the seal." He held a hand out to Rain, who stood up. "Maybe you should change too," he suggested. Her battle leathers appeared and they left together.
"I love her in that outfit," Blair said with a grin.
"Newlyweds," Strife sighed with an eye roll.
Blair kicked him under the table. "You think we're cute like this. Besides, we're liking you more now because you're not demanding children yet."
Strife shuddered. "Please, not that." He looked Blair over. "She won't wanna have one."
"I know," Blair said calmly. "I figure when we're both old and settled down she might like one then." He shrugged. "Not a big issue for me, really. Just for my mother."
Methos snorted. "She is the Goddess of Youth," he pointed out. "She probably *adores* children."
"Which is why she's been bugging Rain," Blair agreed with a grin. "We made it clear, we're getting a pet instead."
Xander snickered. "I know someone who wants to get rid of a dog. Small, but not really lap sized. Just thinks it is."
Blair smiled. "Cool. Maybe we'll get together on that later." He nodded at the glass of milk. "Why don't you go get another since we're going to be waiting for a while." Xander shrugged and got up, and Blair glared at Derek. "He's a boy!" he hissed. "How can he be part of this?"
"Hey, he's a warrior too," Strife said harshly. "Both Unc and I watch over that kid." He flicked some of his hair back behind an ear. "Besides, the boy's been fightin' since he was ten. Leave 'im alone and I won't make ya go soft every time you look at my girl."
Methos patted his lover on the thigh. "I agree with Blair, he's just a boy. This sort of thing should be handled by those that have a very tight grasp of fighting."
"He's been doin' it since he was *ten*," Strife repeated, glaring at his lover. "I want him on my side, thank you very much." He smiled nicely at Blair, making the immortal shiver. "Listen, the boy's important because he *could* fight for someone else. He's been fightin' this the whole way. Besides, Unc coulda just shown up to anyone, he showed up to that boy. If we have to pick sides, I want him. You can have Rain."
"He's still not a trained fighter," Methos pointed out.
"No, but he *tries*," Strife told him. "Now shut up or no chains." Methos wisely shut his mouth, but his look said they'd be arguing about this later. "I can always take him and not you," Strife pointed out. Methos calmed himself. "Thank you." He looked at Derek. "They're right though, the boy don't need ta be *here*, he needs ta be safe."
"I'm not a trained fighter either," Blair pointed out. "But Rain and I will always manage to do what needs to be done."
Methos grunted. "How should we keep him safe, Strife?"
Strife shrugged. "Like I have a clue," he snorted. "All I know is what I'm told." He grinned. "Or what I sneak around and find out."
Philip and Rain reappeared and dropped off stacks of books, then disappeared again. Just in time for Xander to come back in with a can of soda and a plate of snacks, which went onto the table. Xander started going through the piles. "Huh, magic ones," he said, pushing them down the table. "I don't play with magic, so I refuse to go through them." He found a few more and sat down to flip through the first one, taking the small pad of paper off the table to tear off strips so he could mark probable spots for Philip to look through later.
Nick looked at Alex, then at Derek, both of whom shrugged. He took a book and handed it down to Derek. "I agree, I don't play with magic. Xander, pass down a book?" One was picked up and tossed at him. "Thanks."
"Xander, please don't throw books," Blair said calmly. The boy looked up at him. "To some of us, books are sacred."
"Sorry," Xander told him, going back to his flipping through. He marked a page and moved on. "I'm marking anything that's vaguely not English," he said when he felt people still staring at him. "French class was not my friend." He marked another passage and moved on, sighing when he came to a whole chapter of pictures. "Do we need to know anything about weaving?"
"Yes," Derek said. "If it is about this tapestry."
"Um, the..." Xander squinted, "Dulinthsh tapestry?" He looked up, but Derek looked clueless. So he turned the book around for the older man. "All I can tell from the pictures is that it's about a battle with a dragon." When Derek held out a hand, he slid it down the table, aiming away from the snack tray, which Alex moved for him. "Thanks," he said with a grin.
"I've never heard of this one before," Derek said, studying the picture. He went back to look at the other marked spots, translating quickly. "Yes, we need this book, but I'm not sure if it's something we need to deal with or not."
"What's the other language?" Alex asked.
"Sorry, I can do some Creole, but not full French." She looked at the stack of books. "Hand me one of the magic ones please, Xander." One was slid down to her. "Thanks." She started to look through it, and everyone else picked up a book to start working through too. Except Strife, who pulled out a laptop and started to type something in.
"Who's that to?" Nick asked. "We have a 'net link in here."
"Nah, this is directly ta the Fates, and the Archive up on Olympus," Strife said as he typed. "Um, that tapestry is important, it's hidden, and it's not something to worry about *yet*." He smiled and typed in something else. "Oh, and Hera said you weren't to have kids until ya had your powers straightened out," he told his stepson. "She said otherwise the kid'll be hell and he'll never get straight powers." He grinned. "She suggested ya get a cat."
Blair shook his head, but he was smiling. "I hate cats. Dog. Small, but not really tiny and squeaky. Good for apartment living."
"And for your Jim's allergies if he has to watch it for you," Methos pointed out.
"Good point," Blair agreed, going back to his book. He finally pushed it aside. "Is there anything in there in an Island or South and Central American dialect? Italian and Latin are harder for me than most of the native dialects."
Xander shrugged. "Not a clue. Come look." He sipped his soda and continued to flip through the books, sitting up suddenly and putting his can on the table. "Spell. Um, for reversal of time?"
"No," Derek said calmly. "We can't turn back time to fix this."
"Maybe you should try and find that Christina person," Nick suggested. "She helped in the past."
"I've already tried," Derek said sourly. "I haven't heard or felt anything from my sight all morning."
Nick and Alex sighed. They had both been hoping for some external intervention.
Philip and Rain reappeared, bringing more books, then disappeared again.
Rain sighed as she finally got to sit down on a soft surface, sinking into the couch. Thanks to the specific gravity of couches, she ended up leaning against Nick's side. "Anything yet?" she asked.
"Not a thing. We're expecting the girl soon though. You can always talk to her for us."
"Oh, I want to talk to her all right," she agreed.
"She sneezed," Strife pointed out. "Not really something she could stop." He looked at Xander, who was actually reading one of the books, apparently it was fairly engrossing. "Good book?" he asked.
"Great book. Very interesting," he said, absently taking a sip of his newest, and sixth, soda. "Lots of stuff in here that I could use."
"Is it important to this particular event?" Nick asked.
Rain tapped him on the shoulder. "You never know," she reminded him. "What's this about a dragon, dad?"
"Another tapestry," he said, looking up from his laptop. "Apparently it's something to be worried about at a later date. The Fates and Muses didn't like that scroll that much so they put it away."
"Can we see it?" Nick asked.
Strife shook his head. "I can't bring those scrolls off the Mount. They'll disintegrate."
Nick sighed and picked up his next book, starting to flip through it. "Hey, Xander, why don't you get us a snack."
Xander looked over the edge of his book. "Because I'm tired of living that job and you guys have servants?" he suggested. "I get enough disrespect at home that way, thank you." He went back to his book about knights. "Hey, who would Lancelot's son have been?" he asked. "He's listed as the main author of this book."
"It's about knights?" Rain asked, her nose wrinkling. "Why are you reading about knights?"
"Because we'll have to fight a dragon sometime and you never know when something dragon- sized will come to Sunnydale." He looked at her. "I still have a task I chose to do and I'm going to be going back there someday. I might as well take this opportunity to figure out how to fight something that size now."
She smiled. "Good! Very sensible. But what makes you think that the whole town won't look out for itself now?"
"Because they've forgotten again," Xander told her. "They're like that. Even with the knowledge shoved in their faces, the people of Sunnydale like their denial. It's the preferred state for them. Most of them even have voting rights and drivers licenses for there."
Strife snickered at the weak joke. "Good one," he noted. He looked at the boy. "What about travelin'? You could do that now. Your friend the Slayer's got it."
"No, the Police have it at the moment, the same as they have her," Xander reminded him. "I'd love to see them deal with zombies who want to blow up the school. Or even a nest of vampires." He pulled his book back up. "So I'm taking the opportunity to learn. It's not like I'm going to get this while I waste my time in high school."
"There's always the GED," Philip pointed out as he walked in with a tray of drinks. "Dominick's coming with food," he told them. He put another can of soda beside Xander's arm. "If'n ya bounce, you're gonna go read outside in the fog," he warned, taking his own seat. He looked at Strife's computer screen. "Anything useful for right now?"
"Well, it seems that the girl that's coming has very strong precogs. She's also not the person you would expect." He coughed, then grinned. "She'll be landing soon, Ares' been watchin' over her on the trip." He looked at Xander. "Hey, when she gets in, you're gonna get her up to speed. Got it?" Xander nodded. "Good. She'll react bettah to someone her own age. She smarted off ta Apollo. Bright and Shiny wanted ta check her out for other powers."
Philip smiled. "Good. Anything else?"
"Just one." He pulled the pillow from behind his back and tossed it at Rain. "Which vampire did ya run inta last night?"
"Some insane one named Dru."
Xander's head popped up. "Dru and Spike are in town? That's bad." Everyone looked at him. "Dru's not only insane, but she *sees* things. Spike's very cruel, very mean. Buffy can't beat him in a fair fight. Dru and he made a deal to leave town without us having to die fighting him. You've got to watch out for those two."
"Might she know what's going on?" Derek asked.
Xander looked helpless. "Not a clue. And I'm not going to walk up to her and ask her. I don't have that strong of a death wish. She's still mad at me about the lust spell."
"Lust spell?" Nick asked.
"Yeah, he was tryin' ta get back with a girlfriend and it misfired," Strife told him. "Biggest fuck- up I've seen in *years*. Had all the women, but not the one he was tryin' ta get back, goin' after his ass." He grinned at the boy. "Felt good though, didn't it?"
Xander nodded, grinning right back. "Up until the point when they started to get pissed and grabbed axes." Alex chuckled, so did Philip, but everyone else stared at him. "What? It was last year, she had dumped me on Valentine's Day. The spell was supposed to make just her want me, so I could dump her, and it backfired. Was kinda fun for a few hours though."
"I'd probably enjoy it too," Blair said honestly.
His wife growled. "Not a chance in any version of hell, *honey*."
"Yes, dear," he said with a grin for her. "I wouldn't dream of having anyone put a spell on *you* to love me."
She stood up, then pounced him, bringing him to the floor to tickle him. "Just for that, no sex tonight," she told him once she had him pinned and gasping for air.
"But, Rain," he complained. "I wouldn't do that to you. I was being honest!"
"Wives don't like that shit," Strife pointed out. Philip nudged him. "What? They don't. Ain't met one yet that wanted to know about her husband's past sexual stuff. 'Specially not when it has ta do with hookers, multiples, or twins."
"Or triplets," Blair added. His wife's growl got louder. "Wasn't me," he promised. "Really. It was my first roommate. I told you about him."
She got off him and grabbed a book off the pile and sat down again. "We'll discuss this later," she promised him.
Strife looked down at his son-in-law. "Remember, she likes the chase. She's a lot like Unc, the hunt turns her on," he advised.
Blair nodded and got up, running from the room. Rain blew a kiss at her father and gave him to the count of ten before she went after him, her jeans and t-shirt changing to tight leather pants and a halter top.
"Sex games," Nick sighed. "I hate newlyweds."
TO BE CONTINUED...