That Old Feeling.

Xander looked over at Philip, then shook his head sadly. "Father, we need to run away." His voice dropped some. "We're the only ones working and I say we deserve a vacation."

Philip smiled at him, it was a very obvious play, though an ingenious tactic. "All right." He put his book aside. "Derek won't say much."

"Hey, if he does, let *him* come read," Xander remarked, putting his stuff away so he could follow the priest out the door. "Do you club?" he asked as he climbed into the ancient Geo Metro. "It's a little early, but someplace must be open in the city."

"No, Xander, I pub crawl," Philip said with good humor. He started the car on the fifth try and pulled away from the castle, heading for the ferry dock.


Derek swallowed hard as he looked over the diminutive Goddess of Love. He had never believed she existed before, but after having dealt with Strife he guessed she was just as real as the God of Mischief was.

"Got that right, toots," Aphrodite said dryly. She looked around the office. "You're gonna listen and listen good, hear?" she told him. He numbly nodded. "Good." She smiled. "Yeah, we're real. We're not over you guys though, so quit bugging us for shit." She took a breath. "Also, you've got one of my matches in this house and I'll be damned if your *so* important work will destroy them. Or that boy," she added as an afterthought. "I *like* what they're doing, even if you won't. So get this straight." She leaned over the edge of the desk, giving him a mesmerizing look down her bra. "You've got to lighten up, or you'll never succeed. For that matter, you'd better lighten up before the bad things start happenin'. Because they will come, and if you're too uptight, you'll never get them to move on. And for another thing, you've got to loosen up all that personal control. No one said *you* had to be celibate." She stood back up. "Got it?"

He blinked, but shook his head. "What I do is important, Aphrodite, I can't allow myself to be led astray."

She laughed. "Led astray? You mean like some bad guy fucking you to get to the house?" He nodded. She waved a hand. "Won't happen. They all know that you've got the mental chastity belt of pain." She giggled. "Besides, if Philip's going to be getting some, then you might as well lighten up too." She pointed and a book appeared on his desk. "Read it, it might make you *happy*, which is much more important than being miserable and fighting with yourself."

Ares appeared and patted Aphrodite on the head like a dog. "He fights, he'll wear himself out eventually and learn that lesson." He looked at Derek. "She's right though, there's no reason to be so serious. Not even *I'm* that serious about my battles. And yeah, the possibility exists, but it's so small that you never have to worry about it. None of the demons after you are female, and if they brought one in, you'd know it." He sneered down at the book. "That's practically worthless."

"Hey, I trained Joxie with that book," Aphrodite protested.

"Yeah, and have you seen his performance recently?"

She stomped her foot. "Leave my Joxie alone or I'm going to let him get you again." She smirked at him. "I *know* you don't want another year like you had in the sixteen hundreds." She put her hands on her hips. "That book is perfectly fine, it's very instructive."

"The pictures are for shit and the text is so old he'd have to translate it. I doubt he gets hot by translating." He created another book. "Try that one instead," he suggested, then he blew a kiss at his ex. "If you send him near me, I'm going to kill him this time," he said happily, then he flashed away.

She shrieked in outrage. "Joxie, go get him!" she yelled, then she too left.

Derek gently picked up the books and flipped them open randomly. He blushed at the illustrations and quickly closed them, hiding them in his desk. He didn't need the help, and besides, he needed to be celibate or he couldn't focus on the upcoming fight.

"Oh, bet me," a male voice whispered, and a wave of warmth flowed over Derek's body. The Precept moaned and slid down in his chair as the images overtook his mind. He didn't get to hear the insane-sounding laugh, he was a little busy.


Derek walked into the library, frowning when he saw the neat piles of books. "Philip? Xander?"

Alex walked in and smiled. "They headed out for a break."

"How could Xander do that?" he muttered. "This is too important to just take off."

She tapped him on the shoulder. "They needed a break. They've been doing most of the work." He opened his mouth. "Derek, none of us have worked as hard as Philip, and he's been driving Xander at his pace. They needed a break." She smiled again. "We could all use some fun for the afternoon."

Derek shook his head. "Fine, go have a picnic or something."

"We, Derek, we," she told him as she pulled him with her to the kitchen. "Dominick, we need a picnic," she announced.

"The other couples are waiting on you outside at the iron table," the butler told her. "I do believe Father Philip and Xander have left though."

Derek but nodded, but Alex grinned. "They decided to escape."

"Then they're probably headed for the Iron Rose, that pseudo-pub that's recently opened," Dominick suggested. He finished laying out slices of fresh bread and handed her a platter. "Please help me carry."

Alex happily carried her part of the meal, smiling at almost all her friends. "Where's Methos and Strife?"

"Having sex," Rain said bluntly as she took the tray. "Philip and the boy?"

"Pub crawl," Alex said.

Nick snorted. "Xander's not old enough to drink."

"I'm sure Philip will keep that in mind," Blair pointed out. He watched Derek walk over to their table. "You look bad, man. What happened?"

Derek sat down at the table. "I just got a lecture from Aphrodite." Rain stared at him. "She gave me some information on another matter."

"As in Goddess of Love Aphrodite?" Nick asked.

"There's only one," Strife noted as he and Methos strolled out to join them. "She startin' off on someone?" he asked Derek as they sat down.

"Yes. She warned me not to interfere, then gave me some information. It has nothing to do with the present crisis."

"No working over the meal," Blair said as he started off the cycle of food passing.


"Father," the barkeeper called, giving him a wave and a smile. "And who's this?"

"I'm turnin' him inta my helper," Philip called back. He found them a table near the bar, but against a wall, and sat them down.

Xander looked around, nodding. "This is a great place." He moved out of the waitress' way, surprised when she put a beer down in front of him. He felt the nudge and closed his mouth. "Thanks." He studied her, noticing she was part Asian, but very happy looking, which was not the look of your typical waitress. She was a beautiful woman, but she was about his age. He kept his flirting in check, Philip probably wouldn't like it.

She smiled at them both. "Can I interest you in some stew, Father Philip?" she asked sweetly.

"Sure," he said happily, so she scampered off. He looked at his helper. "This is the closest I get ta home these days. It's comfortin'."

"It feels a lot nicer than any other place I've been," Xander agreed. "It's warmer than most bars and more personal than most restaurants." He took a sip of his beer and looked shocked, making Philip laugh at him. "So *that's* what real beer tastes like."

Philip clapped him on the back. "True. That's part'a why pubs are so popular at home. They're the center of the community, and you can get a good pint ta take your mind off it all." He took a sip of his beer. "It's a great tradition, it gives ya a sense of community that ya don't much get here in America." He took another sip. "They did great importin' this one over." He smiled at the waitress as she brought over large bowls of stew for them. "Your Ma's back?" She nodded. "Good, glad for her. She well?"

The waitress set the bowls down but stayed beside the table. "She's doing much better, Father. Grandfather still doesn't understand, but he's stuck in the old ways." She leaned across Xander to give Philip a hug. "I'll tell her you asked." She hurried away.

"Wow, they really know you."

Philip's spoon paused on its way to his mouth. "I renewed their vows last year. They're a great couple. He immigrated about twenty years ago from London. Met his wife first day in the city." He ate that bite. "Eat, it's always better warm." He watched Xander look over the food, then snorted when he noticed the boy was moving all the peas to one side. "Eat 'em."

"Can't, they remind me of something...." He trailed off as a couple walked past them. "Something that attacked me last year and slimed me good, including in my mouth." He ate some of the pea-less stew. "I've developed a psychosomatic allergy since then."

Philip patted Xander on the back of the head. "I understand. Had somethin' similar happen, only with potatoes." He grinned. "It'll go again. Mine took three years, but it went away eventually."

"Only if I suddenly start really liking them," Xander answered smartly. He ate some more of his stew. "This is great," he said between bites.

"'Tis simple fare."

"No one in my family cooks. I'm basing this on the stuff from the can."

Philip laughed. "I can teach ya that too." He started eating again. "Whatcha gonna do after all this?"

Xander paused, then shook his head. "Not a clue. I guess that all depends on where we end up." He took a bite and chewed slowly, giving himself time to formulate the right words. "I've learned not to make elaborate plans, Philip. They tend to fall apart and bring you down. I can't plan for a bright and sunny future when I'm fighting for my life ever few days. I'm actually not seeing much beyond the next boring class and desperate fight." He quickly stuffed his mouth and looked away.

Philip touched Xander's arm. "There's more to life than that. I'm sorry you haven't seen that, but it is out there."

"Where do you find it?" Xander asked, looking at him again.

"First, you leave and find reality," Philip said quietly. "Then ya find life and watch it until you're ready to leap in and start crawlin' around in the muck. Eventually, ya find a bank on the other side, and on it ya find your purpose." He smiled gently. "Or ya drown in the mud."

Xander smiled at that and shook his head. "I thought I was already on a bank. Just a really sloppy one."

Philip nudged him again. "Nah, you're on a crumblin' bridge. All teens are. It's from childhood, when ya had the stability and protection of those around ya. Yours is just on fire too, makin' it crumble faster."

"Yay, I'll get to jump," Xander sighed.

"Nah, ya could burn," Philip pointed out brightly. "Always a choice." He scraped his bowl. "Finish up. We'll go somewhere and talk."

Xander ate quickly. They split the check and left, Philip driving them to a park so they could walk around. "So, this bridge is from when I was little?"

"Yup. Supposed ta be solid, but some's not all that stable. Some are even little rope bridges that're weavin' heavily in a strong wind." He shrugged. "I don't like it, but it happens."

"And then we walk off the end of our bridge and fall into life?"

"Yup, right around graduation." Philip put his arm around the boy's shoulders. "There's a lucky few who already have the far bank in sight, those that know what they want or are called ta service." He looked the boy over. "You've managed to find a hillock in the middle of the muck, but you're slidin' down again."

"Yeah, that seems to fit," Xander said after considering it. "So, how do I learn to swim and find that bank?"

"Well, for some, it's education. For some, it's somethin' that they're good at. And for some," he sighed, "it takes them searchin' for a bit and paddlin' their hearts out." He smiled at Xander. "I felt like that for years. " Xander stopped walking and looked at him. "Yeah, even me," Philip said with a sad smile. "I've had conflicts all my life with the ways of the Church. There's lots of things that I have to hold up when I'm questioning it myself."

"I guess that's hard," Xander agreed, moving back under Philip's arm. It was very comforting. "I'd say that's probably why you're a pretty popular priest though," Xander said after a few minutes of walking. "People realize that you see reality as something more than ancient words on really thin paper, and that you're human."

Philip nodded. "Probably," he agreed. "All priests are human though."

"Tell that to the one in Sunnydale, who told Buffy that women shouldn't have to fight because they're weaker and not meant to do more than stay home. Or the one from LA that comes in and tries to teach everyone about this fantasy world where everything's okay and nothing's ever wrong." He stopped again and looked at the older man. "Why can't they see reality?"

"Because it's easier," Philip said quietly. "They've managed to find a way around all the evil in the world by sidestepping what makes them uncomfortable. They suffer just as much, but they don't realize it because they don't want to. In a lot of ways, I feel sorry for them. Their blinders are makin' them very big targets."

"You mean like how life always manages to burst any happy bubble because it rears up and changes things once you find your comfy spots?" Xander asked quietly.

Philip pulled him in for a hug. "I'm sorry for your losses, Xander, but you did your best, I know ya did." He let the boy go. "Have ya ever talked about them?" Xander shook his head. "I can listen if ya want. I'm told I'm good at it," he finished with a grin.

Xander shook his head and punched Philip on the arm. "Maybe later. Happy moods should be cherished because they're often interrupted by screaming, running, and/or fighting." He punched Philip again. "Tag, you're it." Then he started to jog off.

Philip shook his head but he followed the boy. If it made him feel better to play, who was he to naysay it? He caught the boy and tagged him, heading off into another direction. Xander huffed but went after him, enjoying the respite from life.

Strife closed his laptop, smiling at his mate. "They're good," he told him, shifting over to pull Methos into his arms. "'Dite was right, Philip's good for the boy."

"Hopefully, Philip will be able to heal that boy before he turns into a younger version of MacLeod," Methos sighed. "The boy's had too much drama already. Turning into a brooding old man before he's twenty would destroy what was left of the life in him." He kissed his lover. "Philip will do for him what you did for me."

"Mushy," Strife accused, but he was grinning. He stole a kiss. "Always happy ta help, you know that." He pinched his lover's cock. "You needy yet?"

"Again? We only had sex thirty minutes ago," Methos sighed, but he shifted so his lover had easy access to all of his body. "Do whatever pleases you, my Lord, I'll gladly lay here and take it."

Strife's eyes lit up and he pounced. It wasn't every day that he got an offer like that, and he was going to enjoy it.


Xander trudged into the house behind Philip, smiling but exhausted. He followed the butt up the stairs and walked into his own room, which Philip pointed out, and promptly fell face-first on the bed with a pleased sigh. He heard the laughter from the door, but it didn't bother him. He wanted to think of Philip as a friend. They'd talked about a lot of stuff that afternoon, it was something he had missed with his supposed friends back at home. He turned his head so he wouldn't suffocate and smiled at the man standing there. "You could come in and sit down."

"Nah, wanna take a shower. I sweated while we played." Philip closed the door behind him and went to his room.

Xander's grin stayed even after he fell asleep.

Philip found Nick waiting for him on his bed when he got out of the shower, and only gave his friend a look as he went for some clean clothes. "Have fun today?" he asked when Nick didn't say anything.

"Did you? There was a news report on adults playing in the park." Nick smiled at him. "They identified you correctly by the way."

Philip shrugged. "It was a harmless bit'a fun. We both needed ta let go and relax for a while."

Nick held out a piece of paper. "They caught you cuddling earlier too. The camera crew was out there filming a frisbee game. Your Bishop would like to speak to you."

Philip sighed as he pulled on a t-shirt. "I'll call 'im in a few." He sat down on the bed, taking the note to read. "I was counselin' him. He needed a friend."

"I'm sure he does. I'm also sure that Derek about blew a gasket in his head when he saw the report. Alex taped it." He stood up. "Fair warning, Derek's locked himself in his office and is complaining to William about Xander."

"He can blow himself," Philip muttered. He smiled at Nick. "Thanks. You can tell him to come yell at me yourself." He waited until the door was closed to fall backwards onto the bed. "Why me, God?" he whispered. "Haven't I suffered enough?" He grabbed the phone and dialed his perish's office. "Bishop Reynolds? Yes, I heard." He smiled. "No, he's a fine young man; just needed a friend and some advice." His smile got brighter. "Yeah, he's a good boy. Nah, he's been helpin' me with my research these last few days." The door opened and Derek frowned at him. "He needed some time ta think about heavy subjects, then decided to put it off again for a bit. No, he's a good boy. Sure, you can meet 'im." Philip's smile drifted away. "It's not like that," he protested. "Yes, he's seventeen."

"He'll be eighteen in another three weeks," Derek said quietly.

"He'll be eighteen soon, and it's still not like that. Yes, Bishop, I know my vows, but I also know that my callin' is ta help those that need it. If I can spread some of my life out to help someone, then I will. We'll be there tomorrow," he sighed and hung up. "If you're gonna yell, go away," he said quietly.

"I had much the same thought as your Bishop apparently," Derek said, coming so he could close the door behind him. "You can't get attached to that boy, Philip, your calling won't allow it."

Philip stood up and glared at the older man. "I know my callin' better'n you, Derek Rayne. You don't have ta try and act smug, you're not God." He took a deep breath. "The boy and I are *friends*, nothin' more. Even if I wasn't a priest, I wouldn't have done anything with him today. I'm not some whore who'll pick up anyone and sleep with them after the first date." Derek took a step back as his face paled a bit. Philip noticed and calmed down some. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have thrown that back in your face," he said quietly. "This still isn't any of your business though."

"It's happening in my house, it's my business," Derek reminded him. "Everything that happens in this house must be weighed for the possibility of harming the others."

"I'm not harmin' anyone," Philip said coldly.

"Lay off him," Nick warned as he opened the door. "Philip, Xander's having nightmares."

"I'll be there in a few," Philip told him, giving one last glare to his former boss. "I know what I'm doin'. If you don't like it, I could gladly go home and take the boy with me." He walked away, going to help his friend.

Derek looked at Nick. "Nightmares?"

"Something about pee monsters," Nick said with a shrug. "I have no idea, but he was calling Philip's name." He walked away too.

Derek left the room, heading down the hall, but a thin, pale hand pulled him into another room. "Did you need something?" he asked Strife.

"Yeah, you to leave those two alone. You won't like the consequences of fuckin' with them." He grinned. "Trust me, you'd rather face all'a Hell's minions naked, weaponless, and with a hard dick than fuck with one'a Aphrodite's matches."

Derek shook his head and walked away wishing for the simpler days from before the sneeze.


Xander woke up warm, cuddled, and being laid on top of. He opened one eye, smiling and opening the other when he saw who his bed-buddy was. "Your room cold?" he asked quietly, waking his friend up.

"You had nightmares," Philip said through a yawn. "I came in ta help and apparently fell asleep on ya." He sat up and stretched, then grinned at his bedmate. "You feel better?"

Xander sat up, making sure the sheet covered his morning erection. "I haven't slept that well in months," he admitted. "I guess the nightmares are afraid of priests." Philip nudged him, hard. "Hey! No fair playing before caffeine."

"Shower first," Philip noted as he stood up. "Meet ya downstairs for breakfast." He headed back to his room, examining his feelings for the boy. He could easily fall for the boy, they managed to fit together somehow. He shook himself as he walked into his bathroom, and made sure that his shower was a few degrees colder than normal.


Xander walked into the kitchen, and nearly shivered at the coldness coming from Victoria, Alex, and Derek. Fortunately, Dominick had some coffee for him, and a big plate of breakfast. "Thanks," he said quietly, giving him a soft grin. He sat down at the table and took his first bite, ignoring them. He had ignored all the assholes in school who had stared, he could do it here too.

Derek couldn't though. He cleared his throat. "Xander, did you have fun yesterday?"

"Definitely," Xander said between bites of egg. "Philip and I played tag in the park, after a deep discussion about being a young adult, and then we swung for a while." He looked up at the choking noise. "Eww. He *is* a priest and I don't make people break their promises. I meant on real swings, those things that move forward and backward due to body movements and physics?" He took another bite. "It's good to finally find a *real* person, especially one who gives enough of a damn about others to ask them what's on their minds and give them good advice." He scraped his plate and stood up. "I'm going to go work in the library." He walked past them, heading to help Philip. Who was already in there waiting on him. "They're dicks," Xander told him.

"Nah, just concerned that I'm breaking my vows," Philip told him solemnly. "Dick is the Bishop we're gonna go see." He laughed at the shocked look. "Bishop Richard Reynolds. His friends all call him Dick."

"Oh." Xander mimed wiping off his forehead. "I thought, for a minute, that we had come home to a really strange world. Derek didn't think that swinging was a good thing and your Bishop was a body part."

Philip chuckled. "Only some days," he said lightly. "Just ignore Derek. I'll keep between ya as much as I can." He stood up. "Eat enough?"

"Sure. For the next few hours. When do we have to go meet the Bishop? And why was I invited?"

"Because he wanted ta meet the boy who made me play tag," Philip told him, putting his arm back around Xander's shoulders. It was a good feeling to hold the boy. They headed out to go see the Bishop, who would probably say something to the boy which would get him pissed off. "Maybe we should take Nick, he scares Bishop Dick for some reason," Philip told him as they got into the car.

Xander snickered. "Maybe we should bring him a dolly so he could learn to play nicely," he countered. Philip burst out laughing. "I'm sorry, was that bad?" he asked innocently.

Philip put the car into gear and backed down to the turning circle. "Very bad. But it's a thought," he agreed as he turned the car around and headed down the drive.


Strife winced as he heard the screaming from the office, quickly hurrying on. "Oh, man," he sighed as he walked into the kitchen. "I tried ta warn him." He smiled at the butler. "Dominick, my man, what's for food?"

"Eggs," Dominick said with a smile. "Do you think Master Derek would like some tea?"

"Um, hate ta say this, but I think he'll be wantin' an ice pack for the teethmarks on his ass. Seems somethin's come back ta bite him on it." He sat down at the table and accepted his plate. "Thanks, man. Seen my love bunny?"

"I believe he went outside to play with his sword."

Strife grinned. "Cool. I always did like doin' it in public places."

"Pervert," Blair said fondly as he walked in from the back porch. "He's doing katas to try and calm down." His smile turned crueler. "It seems that he saw a visitor over breakfast."

"Hmm, thought I felt Joxie. But hey, it's all good. Joxie loves us. His brothers even like Methos and me. They think we're cute," he finished, eating again. "What's up with the kid?" he asked between bites.

Blair sat down across from him. "She's investigating some artifact that's been removed from a warehouse in London. We got woken up before dawn and she was *not* a happy camper."

"Yeah, she gets that from me," Strife agreed. He quickly finished his breakfast and created a mug of ambrosia. "So, what's on our plate for today?"

"I was going to sit down with the three books that they have that I can read and try to help," Blair said with a shrug. "I've already written all my midterms, and most of the finals for my classes."

"I was gonna suggest that we go home later today," Strife admitted. "We're not really needed here, yet." He mouth shut with a click as his teeth slammed together and his eyes rolled back into his head. Blair managed to catch him before he fell. "I wish she'd quit doin' that," he muttered as he came back. "Hera said we have ta wait for another two days, then we can leave. Once the next helper is here."

"Okay," Blair agreed, helping his father-in-law back into his chair. "I'll tell Rain when I see her."

"Hera did. She's probably got a headache too." He shrugged and sipped some of the coffee that was put in front of him by the butler. "So, who's this other helper?" he asked.

Blair shrugged. "Not a clue."

"Master Xander said something about scaly people," Dominick offered.

"Yeah, but it's too early for the dragon to get here," Strife pointed out. "They're kinda slow to move on this stuff." He finished off his coffee and held out the cup, smiling when it was refilled without the butler touching it. "Thanks, Unc," he called. He got another message, you could tell by his eyes crossing. "Oh, we're getting another knight. Xander's gonna be moved ta help Philip." He shuddered. "Whatever."

Blair smiled. "I never considered the kid a knight."

"Oh, yeah. The kid'll jump into any fight, even without a weapon or a clue, and try ta help. That's his way. But I guess we're getting a literal knight. Unc said one had been awakened and is being sent here." He sipped his ambrosia-laced coffee. "Guess it could be worse. At least Derek'll like him."

"If Aphrodite lets him live," Blair noted dryly. He stood up. "I'm gonna go tell Methos that you're up." He walked back out into the garden, heading to where the immortal was playing with his sword. "We've only got two more days," he said happily. "Then a knight will get here and take our place."

Methos grunted at him. "Which deity did this come from?"

"Hera and Ares."

Methos stopped moving and stared at him. "Really?" Blair nodded. "Well, that's definitely interesting, and much more this House's speed." He smiled. "What about the boy?"

"He and Philip are being sent somewhere," Blair said with a shrug. "Not a clue otherwise. Your man got the whole message, I just deliver the interesting parts." He smiled. "Rain'll probably be back soon, want to help us go over the potential courses later to pick what you want?"

"I'll do that after I shower," Methos agreed, gathering up his things and heading into the kitchen.

Blair grinned maniacally and went to go walk in the garden. His wife had just sent him a message about her being naked, covered in rose petals and oak leaves, and waiting.


Xander nervously rubbed his hands on his thighs while he waited for Philip to come back out. This church gave him the creeps. There was definitely something off in this building.

Philip walked out with a bright smile. "It's the ghost," he explained. "It likes ta watch over the priests and nuns ta make sure we're doin' right." He nodded at the secretary. "You up for a trip?"

"Sure, I'm always happy to travel. Where are we going?" Xander asked as he hopped up to follow his friend back to the car.

"We're gonna go home," Philip told him, patting him on the back.

"Then I think I need stuff. I don't have a passport or anything." Xander took the keys Philip held out and got in to drive. "Why are we going to Ireland anyway? Another big bad?"

"Nah, a good actually. There's been a tower that appeared near my family's old farms, full'a books and things. Since I'm one of the top linguists and researchers in the Church, the Pope specifically asked if I'd go." His grin got brighter. "And I managed ta bring you along as my helper. If you don't mind that is," he added as an afterthought.

"Gee, get out of Derek's uptight sphere of radiating pissedness or travel," Xander said thoughtfully. "How long do I have to pack?"

"We leave in about a week. Long enough for the London House ta help us with the paperwork for ya." He patted Xander's knee as they pulled out onto one of the main streets. "It'll mean bein' alone with me for a bit, Xander. Are ya sure you don't wanna stay here? At least here, you'll have a stable education."

Xander snorted. "Philip, I *hate* school. I hate being lectured, I hate being talked down to, and I hate Derek Rayne. I'd rather go play in Hell than have to stay with him much longer." He glanced over as they stopped at a red light. "I have a feeling that his uptightness is contagious and I'm going to catch it," he said with a comically horrified look on his face.

Philip snickered. "It might be. He's certainly calmed Nick down." He patted Xander's knee again. "I'll call London when we get back. William Sloan knows what's goin' on and he'll help ya. I'm sure of it. If only ta keep Derek from complainin' ta him." He removed his hand once he realized that he liked the feeling of where it was. "Home, Xander. We've got a lot of work ta do before we leave."

"Cool. Will I need more clothes?"

"We'll worry 'bout that later," Philip said wisely. "It's not the coldest of seasons."

Xander shrugged. "Okay. I guess you know what you're talking about. You're from there after all." He turned a corner, heading toward the bay. "Back to the castle?"

"Unless ya wanted ta pick somethin' up in town," Philip agreed.

"Yeah, I do," Xander said thoughtfully as he pulled into the parking lot to turn around. "I saw a shop yesterday that I think I want to visit, if only to make sure that the asshole isn't running it." He pulled back onto the street and headed downtown to a small herbal shop, Rayne's Emporium. He parked and turned off the engine, sliding out. "I'll be back."

"Like hell," Philip muttered, getting out to follow him. He walked in behind the boy, and managed to duck the small demon coming for them. Xander had grabbed it by the throat and was holding it up.

"Oh, Ethan," he called. "Your pet tried to bite." He headed for the back, where they could hear something that sounded like digging. "And I bet you taught it that trick, didn't you," he said mock-cheerfully as he walked through the back curtain. He grimaced at the demon which was holding Ethan to the floor. "Huh. You want saved?" he asked the sorcerer.

Ethan nodded, his face turning purple.

"What makes you think such a puny mortal could stop me," the bigger demon laughed.

Xander studied it for a second, then nodded and looked around. He picked up something and poked the demon with it, but it laughed. So he picked up something else and slammed it into the demon's side, dropping the smaller demon to fight it. "I couldn't remember if you were a silver or a pool stick kinda demon," he panted as he hit it again. "Doesn't bother me either way." The demon kicked him, sending him flying across the room. He got up again, ignoring Philip and the sorcerer, for now.

Philip had helped Ethan up and was looking him over. He grabbed his shoulder. "Stop it," he hissed.

"You stop it, it's more your duty that mine," Ethan said snidely, trying to get free.

"Guys, less arguing," Xander said as he hit another wall. "I hate feeling like the ball in the pinball machine." He picked up something else, a shiny dagger.

"Not that!" Ethan screamed. So did the demon as its form shifted.

They all watched as the demon became female, and bigger.

"Shit!" Xander swore, tossing away the dagger to pick up something else. The handy silver platter that had been holding herbs came to his hand. He heard Ethan scream and quickly dropped it before things became worse. "Well, give me a weapon," he demanded.

Ethan picked up something and tossed it over. "Here, try that." He looked at the priest, then at the demoness. He sighed and went to his favorite book and started the banishing spell, frowning when he saw Philip pull out a vial of water. The demon disappeared with a bloodcurdling scream, and Xander fell onto the floor. Ethan slammed the book shut. "Do you feel better now?" he demanded.

Xander rolled over and looked at him. "You could have been killed," he offered. "Wouldn't bother me a bit." He held out a hand and Philip helped him up. "Thanks, Philip." He grinned at Ethan, subtly holding his left side. "So, why are *you* in town."

"I was called to here," Ethan sniffed. "Where's Ripper?"

"Back in Sunnydale hiding in his apartment with his scotch probably," Xander said, his brow wrinkling. "I think this finally broke him." He shrugged. "Anyway, I doubt that you were called to here. Who would need a chaos sorcerer that can't even save his own butt?"

Philip coughed. "I think that he was called by the *other* side," he said delicately. "Their ways are often shrouded in mystery. Or stupidity, one of the two." He looked at Xander and frowned. "Car, now!" he ordered.

Xander sighed and headed that way. "Yes, Father."

Philip groaned but he stood there until Xander had left the shop. "Rayne, any relation to Derek?"

"Bloody great arsehole," Ethan muttered. "Good-for-nothing cousin."

"Owns the castle out in the bay," Philip told him. He could see the greed enter the sorcerer's eyes. "One of the good guys." He glanced around again. "I'm going to tell him that you're in town," he said quietly. "I'll leave it up ta him on how ta deal with ya." He turned and walked away, heading back to the car. He found Xander leaning against it, talking to someone on a cellphone. "When'd ya get that?"

"Last month," Xander told him. "Prepaid." He hummed. "Yeah, that's him, Alex. Yup. No, at that address. Full store. We just sent a major Earth demon back to somewhere else." He grinned. "Sure. You want us to wait until Nick and Derek get here?" His smile turned cold. "Oh, come on, I owe the asshole something. A lot of somethings actually." He sighed. "Yes, Alex." He handed over the phone. "She wants to talk to you."

"Alex?" Philip said, leaning against the car too. "Sure. No, he's got bruised ribs I think." He glanced at Xander. "Yeah, I just got told. Sure. You send the news ta William yet? Yeah, Xander needs a passport and we need passage." He smiled. "Thanks. Yeah. We'll stay here." He hung up and handed back the phone. "Go find a soda, we're standin' here for the next half- hour, until Derek can get here."

"Blast," was screamed from inside the shop.

Xander laughed, clutching his ribs. "Yay," he called back. He looked at Philip, who was looking worried. "I'm fine. Been here before, I heal." He tucked the phone into his pocket and headed for the corner deli. "Need anything?"

"Just a sandwich please. Corned beef, no dressin'." Philip smiled at his back. "That boy is gonna be in so much trouble," he told himself. "Nick'll make him learn how ta fight though." He planned on how to tell his other friend so that Xander would be sure to be taught as much as possible in the week they had.


Nick walked out of the shop, wiping off his forehead, and rested against the car beside Philip. "Bad fight?" he asked.

"Not really. The boy hit a few walls." Philip shrugged. "He said he does that a lot."

Nick frowned. "The sorcerer said that Xander destroyed most of a month's work."

"Yay," Philip reminded him. "He's a chaos sorcerer."

"Point," Nick agreed. He glanced at the backseat, where Xander was sleeping. "So, he can't fight?"

"Didn't say that," Philip amended. "I said he hit a few walls. The boy's got *talent*, just not practice." He turned as Derek walked out. "All done?"

"Yes, he's decided to leave," Derek told them. He nodded at the car. "The boy all right?"

"Nearly. Bruised ribs. He'll need some ice."

Nick straightened up. "I'm going to work on his hand-to-hand while he's still here," he told his boss. "He could use it." He grinned at Philip. "Someone's got to watch out for the priest."

Philip shoved him. "I don't attract trouble, it follows you to me." He smiled at his friend. "Don't criticize him too much, he'll stop listenin'." With that advice, he got into his cheap, used, nearly- broken down car and headed for the castle.

Derek looked at Nick. "Are you sure you want to teach him? You may end up fighting him some day."

Nick shook his head. "I won't. Not with Philip putting a collar and leash on him." He grinned. "Besides, we only have a week. It's not like I can give him intense SEAL training." He walked over to get in and drive. "Coming, Derek?" he called once his door was closed and the window down again.

Derek sighed as he walked over to climb in also. "Be careful of him," he said quietly. "We don't know what that boy will end up."

"He'll end up following Philip around like a puppy," Nick said as he started the engine. "Philip will make sure of it. Even if that vampiress comes after him, Xander won't want to leave Philip."

"How do you know?"

"Easy, I saw how he looked at Philip, like he was his own personal God." Nick pulled out into the light traffic, heading for home.


Aphrodite growled as she tossed the mirror. "I want him dead!" she shrieked. "Even with a warning, he can't stay out of it!" She panted as she spun around, looking for something else to throw. Her son handed her a crystal ball, which made her stop and stare at it. "A memory ball?"

Cupid nodded. "I found it in the chest in the corner. *You* answered a prayer and made Derek this way." He crossed his arms. "All your fault, Mom."

She weighed the ball thoughtfully. "I think that we can fix that now," she said finally. She looked at her son. "Go tell Strife we need to confine Derek for a few hours. I have to give him back something that he's been without for a *long* time." She smiled sweetly. "Then can you please find Hephie and ask him to make me a new mirror?"

Cupid snorted, but he left to go pass on the message. "Hey," he said as he appeared beside the couch where Methos and Strife were cuddled up reading. "Mom said to confine the old fart, she found something of his." He grinned. "You two are just so cute," he sighed, then he left before Strife could get him for it.

Methos looked at Strife. "Do I want to know?"

Strife shook his head. "Probably not." He stole a kiss and waved a hand, setting the trap on Derek's office. "Wonder what she took from him," he said as he turned a page. "And why didn't anyone tell me that you guys had mystery novels?"

"I did try," Methos sighed. "You refused to listen to me."

"Yeah, well, I get like that during sex." Strife patted him on the head like a dog. "We'll be home soon. You can even go torture the GA takin' over your classes for the day. Two more days."

Methos settled back down. Sometimes it was hard to be the lover of a God. Especially this one, who liked to read his mind.


Derek walked into his office and started to scream, but no one else heard him. The light coming from the crystal ball bathed him in a dark blue haze, and tore through his body at an alarming pace. As the memories and skills came back to him, he cursed his father and every God on the planet. They would pay for this, someday.