The Inevitable Marching of Time.
Derek looked up from his plate and cleared his throat. "Xandra, this is something that should be discussed in private, which we will do later." She nodded. "Thank you." He looked at his legal wife, the one he had married to get custody of Junior for his sons, and shrugged. "I'm not going to discuss this with the house," he told her.
"That's fine," she agreed. She went back to her dinner.
Nick continued to stare at Derek, and eventually got up and went to get some more water for them both. "So, um, Derek, were there other things you wanted to not talk about?" he joked lightly.
"How about what Mom's doing?" Junior asked. "I heard one of the kids backed off when she was mentioned."
Alex and Buffy both choked. "They did?" Buffy asked.
"We've got recent reports on Willow," Oz said quietly. "She is now officially a Chaos witch. She's put out word that if anyone touched any of her family then they'd be dead faster than they could think was possible, her exact message, and that she's teaching now." He took a bite of his meat, staring over at Junior. "I think you saw her recently."
"Yup, at the mall." He looked at Precious, who was staring at her plate. "She was looking at the big gooberhead over there."
"Junior," Xander warned gently.
"Sorry," he sighed, rolling his eyes. He looked at the other two boys, who were glaring at each other. "What?"
"Timmy saw her and never told me," Brandon said, dropping his fork. "How did she look?"
"We can run you off a picture from the report," Oz told him. Brandon stared at him. "Really. We'll get you a recent picture."
"Thanks, Dad," Xandra said, glancing at Serena, who looked calm. "What else did she say about us?"
"Just that she was protecting you and that no one had better come after you," Xander told her. "She was just setting up shop then. She's still usually in London, seems their Hellmouth suits her more these days."
"Oh." Precious pushed some food around on her plate. "Why was she watching me?"
"Because you're a lot like Mom," Serena told her. Precious looked at her in shock. "You are. You're the one who got her magical nature. You're the one who looks most like her. And besides, you're the one she has to worry about. You're the one with the destiny."
"Point," Xander agreed. "And you do look a lot like your mother."
Buffy nodded, swallowing her gulp of water. "Very, except for your hair. Wills never had curly hair. We even tried to curl it for her once and it never worked." She blinked a few times then looked at Alex. "Didn't Willow leave some of the stuff from Sunnydale here?"
Alex wiped off her mouth and put her napkin back across her lap. "It's in the attic," she agreed, looking at Precious. "I think her old yearbook's in there. Probably so is some of the stuff from High School."
"Didn't you guys go to a public school?" Timmy asked.
"Yup," Oz told him between bites.
Brandon shook his head. "I'm sorry."
Xander snorted. "That was before all the violence started in high schools. But we had enough of our own. Our graduating class actually had the lowest mortality rate ever."
"Which is all because of me," Buffy said with a grin. She saw Oz's stare and her smile got bigger. "Okay, so I had a *little* help."
"Yeah, Buff, taking out bad things for you while you over-concentrated on one was just a little help," Xander said, trying to appear like he was still joking, but he knew Oz had picked up on it. Even after all this time, he still wasn't being given credit for all he had done to help her.
"Actually," Derek said, breaking into the fight, "your fathers had many times when they fought without your mother or Buffy," he told the children. "Including here at the house. It was Xander and Oz that saved your Uncle Rupert from being killed by a vampire named Spike. Philip shot him from the balcony but both of your fathers went after him physically." He looked at Xander, giving his adopted son a dry look. "And both of them spent a great deal of time in hospitals because of such incidents."
"Yup, and we have the scars to prove it," Xander agreed, smiling at him. He looked at Oz. "How about you? Was there something from High School that you wanted the kids to know about?"
"Yeah, never go back to Sunnydale," Oz told them. "We vowed you wouldn't until you were old enough to drive into that town on your own, but we'd really like it if you just didn't go."
"Sunnydale the last time wasn't *horrible*," Xander pointed out.
"You weren't lost in that maze," Buffy sighed. "That was nauseating."
"But we really got together and realized a few things because of it," Derek pointed out. "If it weren't for that bout of travel, Philip never would have admitted that he loved us. Or Xander admitted it to Oz and Willow."
"Point," Oz agreed, "but I still don't want the kids going there." He and Derek stared at each other for a second then Derek nodded. "Thanks."
"Children, we can't forbid you from going, but we would ask that you tell us first so someone can accompany you," Derek said gently. "That town is still dangerous. The monitor that we have on the Hellmouth does still fluctuate and its emanations are still fairly high for an inactive spot."
Precious shrugged. "I doubt I'll be going there anyway."
"One never knows where they're going to be sent," Buffy said wisely. "After all, I would have been very happy to have stayed in LA before I was forced to Sunnydale."
"Wow," Xander said. "You would have let us handle it all by ourselves?"
"It might not have happened that way," Oz reminded him. "Well, besides the Master and all that stuff."
Buffy blushed lightly. "Sorry. It wasn't that I didn't want to be there, it's more like I left my whole life to go to Sunnydale when I got kicked out." She shrugged. "I didn't mean that I hadn't wanted to be sent there." She looked at Precious. "Has anyone heard anything about the girls before you? I know Flame's on her way to stop something."
"She's on her way to London actually," Derek said. "She should be back in a few days."
The conversation around the table died down as everyone went back to eating, staring at their food. Except Xander, who kept glancing across the table at his daughter, whom he was going to have a *long* talk with later about public thoughts and private thoughts.
Derek had just sank down in his desk chair when his office door opened and Xandra walked in. He gave her a smile and pointed at the couch, putting his feet up to reduce some of the swelling they had been doing recently. "So, you wanted to know if I was your father?" he asked after she started to fidget.
She nodded, staring at him. She swallowed a few times, then relaxed. "It came up the other day, Grandpa. The kid that jumped us called me a bastard and Daddy Oz said he was right, then Daddy told me it was you."
"How does he know this?" Derek asked gently.
"He did blood work," she said helpfully. "He wanted to know too."
"Oh." Derek sighed and put his feet back down. "Yes, Xandra, I did sleep with your mother. Once. She was very drunk and I wasn't able to fight her off that time. For some reason, I felt I had to have her, and I couldn't fight the attraction."
"And I was born after that?"
"Yes, dear, you were." He gave her a smile. "I'd like this to not change things between us, Xandra, but I know that you'll have questions that you'll want to ask me."
She shook her head and stood up. "As long as you're okay with me being Daddy's then I'm okay with this," she told him. "I just needed to know."
"Are you all right with the knowledge?"
"No, but I knew Mom had slept around before. After all, we do have Junior." She shrugged. "Is the quad Daddy Oz's?"
"Yes, love, the quad is his." He got up and gave her a hug, making her relax. "I'm sorry you had to find out that way, sweetling, but we could never be sure before. Your father didn't tell me either."
"I guess he didn't want to weird out either of us," she said lightly, smiling up at him. "I won't cling and stuff, I promise. I won't even go on Sally."
Derek laughed and let her go. "Thank you, Xandra. Now go back to your house. I believe your father wanted to talk to you about proper table etiquette."
She blushed. "It just slipped out, Grandpa, honest." She ran out of the office and through the garden, heading for home. She ran into her Daddy Oz in the kitchen and was caught by him for a hug, then released. "Am I in for it?"
"Not yet. Your father's trying to figure out how to yell at you without looking like he's yelling."
"It really just slipped out," she explained. "I was going to stalk him into his office after dinner and ask, but it slipped out, Daddy Oz, I promise."
He pulled her in again, kissing the top of her head and giving her another hug. "He understands that. Go soak." He let her go, watching as she jogged down the hallways, wondering when she had gotten so big. Oz went back to making popcorn for Xander, then took it upstairs to his mate. "Hey. She said it just slipped out."
"Thanks." Xander grinned at him. "You have tact in places where I never wanted to have it." He pulled his husband down onto his lap, continuing to type around him. "So, now what?"
"Now, we get Derek to the doctors tomorrow to check on his blood pressure. He's swelling again."
"Okay," Xander said, saving the message he was working on. "Will you read that for me?"
"Of course." Oz turned the computer so he could see it easier, proofreading his husband's message to his houses. "We're going on vacation?"
Xander pointed at the small gold envelope next to the computer. "It showed up."
Oz picked it up and looked inside, then smiled. "It says for four and it's in Derek's name."
"Huh, imagine that," Xander said cheekily, winking at his husband. "Does that mean I don't have to send out the message?"
"Maybe not yet," Oz sighed, pushing himself back into Xander's firm body. "But I'd like to go on vacation soon with you. We haven't had one together in a long time." Xander opened his mouth. "And I'm not considering the dig one. That was work. I want us to go be us somewhere."
"Okay," Xander said with a shrug. "Want to go on a tour of the houses? Derek's been hinting that we probably should, just to introduce me to everyone."
"We'll see," Oz sighed. "But I wanted to not do work."
"Well, no one said that we had to spend all that time with the houses," Xander said with a grin. "After all, most of them are in big touristy sort of cities. We can spend one day with the houses and sightsee the rest of the time. Maybe do a house every few months?"
"I like that idea," Oz admitted. "But we both get to go."
"Deal," Xander agreed, picking up his cellphone, which was ringing. "Harris-Osbourne." His smile fell away. "Patrick, calm down. Give me details, okay?" He made writing motions to Oz, who got up and got him a pad and paper, watching as he made notes. "Okay, Patrick. Do you know where they are? Have you called the other London House? Because they're closer and it's going to take me a good few hours to get over there. Yeah, I'm on my way right now, but call James and tell him. Or better yet, I'll call James. You just stay there and awake. I don't know, we'll worry about that in a minute. Yeah, I'll be there by tomorrow. It's about a sixteen hour flight from this coast. I promise. I'll have Oz call James while I grab my bag and call for the plane, okay?" He nodded. "Good. Calm down, help will be there within a few minutes. Just stay calm for me and I'll be right there." He hung up and tore off the paper, speedialing the regular house's phone to get the plane service. "Hi, this is Xander Harris-Osbourne and I've got an emergency happening in London. I need a plane in San Francisco ASAP. When?" He checked his watch. "I can be there by then. Thanks." He hung up and turned to Oz, who was holding the letter up to James on the teleprompter. So he called Nick. "Bro, I need to get to the airport right now, the Archival house in London just went interdimensional and there's a plane waiting on me." He hung up and grabbed the bag he always had packed these days, stopping only to kiss Oz on the head on his way out to go solve the problem.
Oz put the note down. "He told me to tell you," he said with a shrug at the amused look. "He's on his way over, but that guy Patrick was the one who called. So apparently he's still there. Xander wanted you to go do the preliminaries but he's on his way now."
James, the London Precept, sighed and nodded. "We've not been bored recently but I think I can go help him. Oh, and that girl Flame. Should we send her back?"
"Why? Is she in trouble already?" Oz asked, sounding confused.
"No, she's had a spot of trouble. Someone crushed her lower half with part of a building last night."
Oz winced. "Yeah, send her home, we'll get her care over here. Thanks, James, I'm going to tell Derek right now." He signed off and dialed the house, knowing Derek was always in his office this time of day. "Hi, me," he said in greeting, earning a smile. "Xander's on his way to London, the Archival house went interdimensional with one person on the outside." Derek winced. "And Flame's on her way back, her lower half's been crushed by a building."
Derek blinked a few times. "Did James tell you that?" Oz nodded. "Oh, dear. All right, I'll arrange for her care once she gets back here. Did James say how busy they'd been?"
"Just that they hadn't been bored so he was going to help Xander personally. My baby asked him to go watch this Patrick person until he could get there."
"Good," Derek said, smiling at him. "Oz, what's that?" he asked, pointing at the gold envelope he could just see the flap of.
"That's something Xander and I won, but it's in the wrong name. I'll be right up." He signed off that screen too and picked up the envelope, carrying it up to the house. He walked into the office, smiling when he saw Philip sleeping on the couch. "This might be of help to him too," he noted, handing it over. "I don't know why they got you and Xander confused again. Oh, and we're going to start taking trips to all the houses, and vacations at the same time. We're figuring one day at the house and three of sightseeing every few months."
Derek chuckled, waving the tickets at Philip since he was waking up. "The boys have done it again," he told him.
Oz reached down to brush back some of Philip's hair so he could look at the stitches on his forehead. "And you get to go somewhere and laze around," he said quietly, smiling at him.
Philip smiled back. "Where is the boy?"
"On his way to London. The Archival house went interdimensional," Oz told him. "Those tickets are for a ship leaving in three days, right Derek?"
Derek checked then nodded. "But why are there four?"
"That I'm not sure of. Is one for a different room?"
"Yes, actually, it's adjoining suites."
"Hey, then invite someone to come along. Giles maybe, he could use a vacation."
"He'll want to be here for Flame," Derek pointed out.
"Yay. She'll still be here and be in the hospital when you guys get back in three weeks. Take him or take someone else. Just go and have fun. Philip's looking a little vamp pale and you could use some sun too." Oz looked at him, then nodded. "And while he's there, Philip, have the ship's doctor look at the swelling he's been doing again." He waved and walked out, going to find his last child, who was probably pouting because he didn't get to fly in the helicopter this time. "Junior," he called, bringing his son running. "Home. Bed. Now."
"But Dad," Junior complained, "Aunty Buffy's telling stories."
"Yay. Bed, now. It's time." He patted his son on the head as he walked past him, going to find Buffy and tell her about Flame. "Ah-ha," he said in greeting. "I remember that time, there were only *two* demons." Buffy rolled her eyes. "Flame's on her way back for medical attention." Buffy turned serious. "Building got her lower half. It'll probably be a few days." She nodded. "Good. Have fun. Xander's off to London."
"What happened this time," Alex asked, rolling her eyes. "Did they get another ghost?"
"No, breached dimensions inside the house." He walked away, letting the two women work it out between themselves again.
Precious woke and grimaced. She didn't feel right. She felt sticky and nasty. She climbed out of her bed and looked down at it, wondering what she had spilled this time and stopped when she saw blood. Blood? Why was there blood on her sheets? She ran into the bathroom and stripped down, looking down at the clothes covered in drying blood and started to cry. "Jon!" she shrieked, over and over, huddling in a corner. This had to be some sort of curse. People didn't bleed like that, not for no reason. Her nanny came in the door and Precious launched herself at him, squeezing him as tightly as she could. "Someone cursed me," she cried.
Jon caught sight of the bloody clothes and caught a clue quickly, shutting the door behind him before anyone else could get in there with them. He calmed his charge down and ran her a bath, getting her into it while he sat beside her. "Precious, honey, this isn't some sort of curse. This is just your period. Your first sign of puberty." She shook her head. "Yeah, it is. I'm gonna have Alex come down and talk to you, okay?" She shook her head again. "I promise, it'll all make sense soon enough." He brushed some of her curls out of the way before standing up and walking out of the bathroom, making sure that the door locked so she wouldn't be disturbed. He saw Brandon and Xandra waiting on him and gave them a smile. "She's okay, it's just something scary." He walked over to the phone and dialed the main house, right into Alex's room. "Hey, I need the other one," he sighed, rolling his eyes. Buffy was not the best actress, especially not first thing in the morning. "Hey, Alex, it's me. Precious just started and it scared her badly. Can you come down?" He smiled and hung up, turning to find Serena listening at the door. "She okay?"
"She's crying," Serena said, looking at Brandon. "Leave. This is a female issue."
Brandon looked at Xandra, who nodded, then he went back to his room. "Fine, but if she's staying home so am I. I could use the meditation time."
"Hey, I don't care if you all stay home today," Jon called out. He smiled at the other two girls. "Have you two felt any strange stirings?"
Serena nodded. "And I did some research on the 'net. Is that what this is?"
"Huh?" Xandra asked.
"Precious started her period this morning," Serena told her gently. Sometimes it was easy to forget that Xandra was a year younger, but this was one time where it was going to show. "Why don't you go back to bed, dear? Jon's said we can stay home."
"I didn't," Oz said from the doorway. "What's up?" He walked in and Jon stopped him, telling him what was going on in a whisper. "Oh. Um, is Alex...." Jon nodded. "Decent. Okay, as long as there's no tests and they spend the day talking with Alex and/or another adult, then they can stay home." He shrugged. "The new Headmistress is coming today anyway."
"And I'm supposed to be there," Serena said. "May I still go?"
"Have fun," Jon said, nodding. "Need a ride?"
"No, just cash," she said with a smile. "And a call to the school that I'm going to be late. Cabs take forever to get to the ferry dock."
"Okay," Oz said, pulling out his wallet and handing her a few bills. "Enough?"
"For that and lunch," she said with a smile. "Have fun. I've got to go get ready." She walked back into her room and came out carrying a uniform still hanging up. "I'm going to use the upstairs guest room."
"Use ours," Oz told her, patting her on the cheek as she walked past. "Is Precious okay?" he asked Jon.
"She freaked majorly, but otherwise, she's calm." He sighed when Alex walked in, giving her a hug. "She's in the bathroom in hot water."
"Good. That should ease some of the discomfort." She walked over to the bathroom door and tapped on it, and it opened for her. "Later, guys," she called.
Jon smiled at Oz as he walked over to Timmy's room and stuck his head in. "When you finally decide to get up, you can stay home as long as you don't have any tests. And use one of the other bathrooms." He ducked the thrown pillow as he backed back out and closed the door again. "He's still not ready to wake up yet."
Oz shook his head and went back to the kitchen, going to finish breakfast for his horde.
Alex kicked the bloody clothes out of her way and sat down next to the tub, smiling at the scared looking girl. "It's okay, Precious, I promise. It's just your period."
"No, it's a curse!" she said firmly. "Someone cursed me yesterday and now I'm doing this crap!" She splashed in the water a little, not looking up at her mentor. "I don't like it, Alex, it hurts."
"I know. It can kinda feel nasty."
Precious shook her head and rubbed across her stomach. "No, it hurts," she complained.
"Ah. You're going to be the one who gets your mother's periods. She got bad cramps too." Alex looked around the bathroom. "Got a heating pad?"
"Yeah," Precious said hesitantly. "Why?"
"Because they can help. That and a miracle drug called Midol." She smiled again. "Don't worry, we'll talk about all that after you finish your bath."
"Do I have to get out?"
"Yup. You have to get out sometime today. But Jon has said that you guys don't have to go to school unless you have a test."
"I have one," she pouted.
"We'll excuse you for that," Alex said with a wink. "Don't worry about it. Now, clean yourself up as best you can, using a washcloth," she said, handing one over from the pile on the back of the toilet, "and I'll be in my room when you're ready."
"How do I keep..."
"Ah." Alex pulled something out of her pocket and put it on the back of the tub. "Let's try that, okay? Do you know how to use one?"
"The Health teacher told us something about them, but she said not everyone could use one."
"We'll try it for now and if not, then we'll find you a pad. Buffy has a few for when she sleeps."
"So this really is my period?"
"It really is," Alex agreed, patting her on the head. "Hurry up, I'll be waiting. We'll have a long girl's day out." She got up and walked out of the bathroom, making sure it locked behind her.
Precious looked at the washcloth, then at the little pink-wrapped device on the back of the tub. "I still think it was a curse," she muttered, dunking the washcloth into the water so she could start to clean herself up. Then she'd take her normal shower. She looked at the washcloth after the first pass and made a sickened face. "Eww. So gross. Maybe she knows a way to stop it." She continued trying to get all the blood off.
Xander looked around the building he was here to help save and shook his head, walking up to the front door. He stopped when he heard his name, looking around for someone to have said it. No one. He started to touch the door again, but a tingly feeling brushed across his hand and made him withdraw it. He frowned and walked down two of the steps and the eerie blowing sound of his name stopped. He tapped his fingers on his hips a few times, then shook himself, walking back up one of the steps and reaching out. The voice started calling for him again and the tingly feeling brushed him again. Xander decided to retreat to the sidewalk so he could consider this some more. Obviously something didn't want him to try and walk in. He smiled at a woman walking down the house next door's steps. "Did something happen up there last night?" he asked her.
"Just some loud pounding," she said, her accent perfect and very crisp. "Are you there to talk to them?"
"Yeah, I mean yes, ma'am," he said, smiling at her frown. "They're my friends and something feels off in there."
"Well, one of your *friends* was pounding something terrible last night," she complained, joining him on the sidewalk to stare up at the house. "I almost called the cops but it stopped after a few moments." She pulled her sweater tighter around her shoulders. "Are you going to yell at them?"
"It's a distinct possibility," he said dryly, smiling down at her. "Thank you for your help," he said as she walked away. He pulled out his phone and called the other London House. "Hey, it's Xander. Did James ever come back last night?" He snorted. "No, I'm standing in front of the house and it's got a bad feeling to it. Every time I walk up the stairs, I get a cold tingle and my name being blown about in horrified terror." He hung up and waited. The second in command at the Legacy House said he was coming to help.
Precious looked out the bathroom door and glared at Timmy, who was looking at her. "What?" she snapped, hurrying into her bedroom. She slammed the door and looked at the mess her bed was, shaking her head. She dropped her towel and started to pull the sheets off, but stopped at the knock. "What?" she called.
"Sis," Brandon called, tapping again.
She grabbed her towel and opened it a little bit. "What, Bran?"
"Two things. First, I put your dirty clothes into the hamper, under a towel." She smiled at him. "And second, you forgot this," he said, holding out the little pink-wrapped package. "You're dripping," he said quietly, pointing at the floor.
"And you're cleaning the tub," Timmy called.
"Tell him I'll do it later," she sighed, taking the little package and closing the door. "Thanks, Brandon." She leaned against the door, looking down at it. "How am I supposed to use you again?" She looked at her desk and saw a brown paper bag on it, so she walked over to see what was in it. It was one of the packets they had received in Health class. She smiled. Her sister Serena deserved a treat for this. Maybe she would help her sister find fashion. She pulled out the little instruction booklet and read it quickly, then unwrapped the pink paper and did what it said to do.
By the time she was done with that, her hands were a mess. She grabbed some of the baby wipes off her vanity and cleaned herself up again, making sure she had everywhere clean. Then she went back to the task of stripping her bed of everything and flipping the mattress. She decided to leave putting anything back onto it for a little bit, using the pink towel to blot some of the earlier blood out of the mattress while she got dressed, weighing it down with a shoe. She found some comfortable, loose clothes to put on and got dressed for the day, not sure she really wanted to walk back out into the common area between the pie-shaped rooms all the kids had. Eventually, she did walk out there, and straight out of the house as fast as she could, running up to Alex's room. She tapped and it opened, and she fell into Alex's arms for a hug. "This is hard," she complained.
"Very," Alex agreed. "Especially the first few times." She tipped Precious' head up to look at her. "And there's other things that you've got to know about now too. Things like your magic's going to change now, and that there's even more people who want you right now then there ever will be in your life."
Precious blinked. "Why?"
"Because," Alex said as she pulled her inside and shut the door, "you're at the perfect age to corrupt. You're still innocent, but you're officially a woman now. You're powerful, but for the next year and a half, your control's going to be nonexistent. This makes you a very ripe target for certain types of people. Including the darker forces in the world, Precious."
"Can't you just ward me or something?" she whined.
"Nope, sorry, it doesn't work that way. This is all part of the path into adulthood. Also, you're at the age where you could be called anytime now. That means that your training schedule will have to pick up."
"Isn't there *any* way to stop part of this?"
"Once you're a bit older, there's actually a birth control method that can stop your periods." She looked the girl over and frowned. "Didn't you put one of those tampons in?"
"I did," Precious complained, shifting awkwardly. "I don't think I did it right though."
"There really isn't a wrong way," Alex said, pointing at her bathroom. "Go use mine. They're under the sink." She watched as the girl walked away, shaking her head. She remembered very well Willow lying in a tub for a few days, just so her bleeding would slow down. Maybe she should call her OB if Precious' bleeding kept up at this rate.
Xander looked over as a car pulled up against the curb, waving at the men getting out. "Hi, I'm waiting on a few friends of mine to meet me here," he told the police officers.
"Do you have any ID, sir?" the one that hadn't been driving said.
"Yeah, sure." Xander pulled out his license and his passport, handing them over. "I got a call from a few friends that live here to meet them here."
"They didn't want you to wait inside?" the officer asked, examining the documents. He handed them back.
"No, they didn't. They didn't give me a key. I tried the door, but I couldn't open it. Was someone alarmed that I was standing here?" he asked innocently. "I'm really sorry if I freaked anyone."
The second officer smiled at his use of American slang. "No, but we're watching out for this house. Someone seems to have disappeared around here last night."
"Really?" Xander asked. "Another cop?" They both glared at him. "Hey, it made sense," he said, holding up his hands while he gave them his best boyish grin. He looked over their shoulder as another car pulled up, waving at the guys from the other London House. "There they are." He jogged over to them, leaning down next to the window. "They said someone disappeared here last night."
"Oh, dear," the driver said, pushing Xander back. "Let me park, boy."
Xander waited until he was out of the car to give him his best polite smile. "What? Not enough tea this morning?" he asked calmly, subtly holding up his ring. "This is *my* house," he reminded the men. "I don't want your forced respect, but I will not be insulted."
"Agreeable," the other man said, walking up toward the stairs, jingling a set of keys. "Officers, was there a problem?"
"No, sir," they said, backing away, watching as that man entered the house. The door slammed shut and a pale purplish light flickered under the door.
"Huh, a gateway," Xander said dryly. "Who woulda thought." He looked at the officers, who were looking scared. "He's into special effects," he told them. "It's okay. He's just like that." He watched as they got back into their car and left as quickly as they could. Xander turned to look at the other man. "Was he your magic user?"
"No," the second in command scoffed. "Will we need one?"
"Probably. Most gateways don't close by themselves and spit the people back out." He walked up to the door again, listening to the voices whispering his name. "Do you hear that?" he asked when he was joined.
"I hear my name. How about this, do you feel the tingle?"
"No." He reached a hand out and couldn't pull it back. "It's pulling," he said in panic.
Xander reached in and took his hand, removing it from the knob. "Gee, and I haven't gotten to this lesson yet." He frowned at the doorway, then shrugged and knocked.
"What are you doing?" the other man said, backing down the stairs.
"Figuring this out. You might want to call your House's magic user. I may end up solving this from the inside out, but it's best to be prepared." He walked in when the door opened, smiling at the man sitting on a throne-like chair where the stairs should be. "Who are you and why are you in this house?" he asked, not flinching when the door slammed. The man on the throne started to laugh. "Yeah, yuck it up, but you're in *my* house."
"Are you challenging me?" the man asked as he stood up, showing that he was much taller than Xander.
Xander shrugged. "If I have to do it that way, then yeah, I'm challenging you for the house and all the people that you've taken from this plane." The man laughed. "You know, it's not really funny. You kidnapped people from their work, and you're scaring the people who live around this house. That's not real nice of you."
"How do you have claim on this house? I was summoned here."
"I own it you might say," Xander said dryly, showing off his ring. "I oversee the people who work and live here. This house is mine because I get to say what goes on in here and who lives here." He crossed his arms over his chest and looked this being over. "I don't know who you are, but being called to a place doesn't make it yours. Not in any rulebook I'm familiar with."
"I play by my rules, *mortal*," he sneered, walking over to look down at Xander. "Which ones do you play by?"
"Better ones apparently," Xander said dryly. "Do you want to challenge me or not, demon? You're no match for me and my skills." Outside he could hear someone saying something, and it sounded repetitive. Maybe the magical help would be of help after all. If he could just get the demon back through his own portal....
The demon laughed. "I'm sure I'm not." He waved a hand around. "Why would you want this house and all the people I have taken from this plane? What use are they to you?"
"This house is a research house, and as such is more powerful than most people think. The people are mine to command and I want them back. And, for your edification, I work with the Slayers."
The demon lost a little of his sneer, but he got it back quickly. "She's injured. She can't help you."
"Who said there was only one?" Xander said calmly. "There's been *two* for years now. The other's on her way here, as we speak, to help me. It's up to you, do you want to face me or her?"
"You," the demon said, lunging at him. Xander didn't move and the demon passed through him, making the demon scream in frustration. "How dare you thwart me!" he yelled. "You are no mage, how dare you touch me with magic!"
"Yay." The demon tried to rush him again, but Xander still didn't move. He didn't even flinch when the cold spot that was the demon ran through him. "Thanks, it was hot waiting out there." The demon screamed and tried again, but this time Xander got out of it's way and watched as the demon ran through the doorway and a gong sounded throughout the house. "You know," he called, "if you were just a little smarter, you'd know not to mess with an American. We're all smart asses and we manage to piss off every country that we visit." He looked up as the stairway reappeared, and with it a few hundred people. "Hey, more work for the other London House," he said happily, smiling at the Precept, who had just appeared beside him. "Want to let whiny in?"
The Precept opened the door and looked outside, then smiled at the men standing there. "It wasn't immune to smart asses," he said happily.
Xander shrugged at the dirty looks he was receiving from the people on the stairs. "Oh, by the way, for those of you that don't know, I'm Xander, the Lead." He waved at the people who looked stunned. "How many of you belong in a house like this?" Most of the people who looked stunned raised their hands. "Cool. We'll get you sorted out in a few minutes." He looked at the local Precept James, and then down at himself. "Gee, and I'm not even fit to meet royalty," he joked when the man frowned at him.
"Xander, how did you do that?"
"Easy, I pissed him off. People, and demons, hate that." He looked smug. "Oh, and he said he was summoned here so whatever you guys were doing, go find it now and put it away." The Precept of his house, Martel, nodded and ran off, heading for their library. "Anyone else?" Someone in back raised their hand. "Yeah?"
She said something in French.
"Oh, crap. James? I'm leaving this in *your* hands," Xander said with a grin. "But I'll be nice enough to let you borrow some of my people if you want."
James patted him on the shoulder. "That's very decent of you, Xander. Where's your father?"
"Hopefully packing for a three week cruise," Xander told him, his eyes twinkling. "But you can try and call if you'd like. I actually want to hear this report."
James walked toward where the office should be, allowing Xander to follow him. He turned on the teleprompter, ignoring the slime coating it.
"Eww," Xander said, looking around the office. "No wonder we haven't gotten a call recently. Martel?" The Precept came running. "Do you need a housekeeper? We'll send you one from the Legacy's pool of them."
The Precept smiled. "Please. I have no idea how to get that out of the chairs and things." He leaned against the doorway. "You could have used the one in the Control Room."
"There are people who aren't members in the house," James reminded him.
"Yes, including one that spoke French," Xander pointed out. "Hi, Dad," he waved when Derek's face came up on the screen underneath the ooze. "Maybe you should clean that off, James. I really want to see Dad's face when you tell him what I did."
James glared at him but did so, then turned his glare on Derek. "Do you know what your son did this time?"
Alex picked up her phone and dialed her doctor's number. "Hi, I need to ask a question. I'm a patient and one of my nieces just started her first cycle today. Is it normal for her to go through six tampons in about as many hours?" She listened. "All right. And just give her Midol? No, she's thirteen." Alex nodded. "How long before we figure out if this is a problem? No, more like when can she start on some sort of birth control to help stop this problem?" She sighed. "No, it's really that serious. Yes, she's bleeding that badly." She looked down at Precious again, watching her nap around the heating pad. "All right. Please. Mine or hers? Hers is Precious Harris- Osbourne. Mine is Alex Moreau." She wrote down the date and time. "Thanks." She hung up and nudged her niece awake. "Hey. Would you like to go see someone about this next week?" Precious nodded, giving her a pained look. "Okay, we're going to see my doctor next week. She's really nice." Precious nodded again. "Good. Now go change yourself again and we'll go to the mainland and get you some supplies." She watched as Precious got up and walked into the bathroom, wondering why this one girl was so much like her mother.
Precious frowned at the large box of tampons that had just landed in their cart. "Do I really need that?" she whined. "It's *embarrassing*."
"Not as much as a bleed-through during class would be," Alex pointed out as she tossed in a box of pads too. "I think you should probably use both for now, at least until this slows down a bit." She looked her niece over. "Have you thought about what I said yet?"
"Yup," Precious said glumly, leaning over to rest on the handlebar of the cart. "Eww," she said, straightening up. "I think I need to go somewhere more private again," she said quietly.
"Bathrooms are up by the entrance," Alex said, pointing behind them. "Go for it. Take one of these," she said, opening the box and handing a pad over too. "Do you need another...?"
Precious shook her head and ran off before Alex could finish the sentence.
"First time?" an older woman said from down the row, nodding at the cart.
"My niece's," Alex agreed with a smile. "She's one of the unlucky ones."
"Poor girl. I didn't have that bad of one. No cramps or anything." She pulled something down off the shelf and tossed it over. "I took that for the year after I gave birth and it always helped the readjustment pains."
Alex looked at the natural supplement, then smiled at her. "Thanks. I've heard this works pretty well." She put the female-adjusted herbal pills into the cart too and headed off to find baby wipes. Precious was going to be needing a few probably. And some new sheets, or at least a mattress cover.
Precious stomped into the common area between the kids' rooms and glared at her sister. "You cursed me yesterday, didn't you?" she hissed. Xandra looked up from her book, giving her a confused look. "This isn't normal. Even Alex said that what I'm going through isn't normal. And it's all *your* fault."
"It's my fault that your hormones went funky?" Xandra asked. She put aside her book and stood up. "Trust me, if I were into magic and I wanted to curse you, I could think of better things than making your period a living hell," she said snidely. "There's all *sorts* of tortures for girls your age, Precious, and I could figure out *much* better ones than what you're going through."
"You're a bitch," Precious hissed, raising her hand. In it was a lock of Xandra's hair. "If I'm going to suffer, so are you," she said, running into her room before her sister could catch her.
"Damn it, Precious!" Xandra yelled, pounding on the locked door. "If you cast something on me, I'm going to kick your ass into next year!"
"Quiet," Jon yelled from his room.
"Precious is going to cast on me," Xandra called.
"I bet," Jon said as he walked into the common area. "Why?"
"Because she thinks I did something to make her bleed so heavily. She's gone psycho!" Xandra shouted, turning to kick at the heavy wooden door.
"Calm down," Jon said, pulling Xandra away. "I'm sure she wouldn't *actually* cast anything on you. She's been trained better than that." He smiled at Adam, who was walking in. "She's not comin' down today, Adam, she's not in any shape to go fight you."
"Uncle Adam, Precious is going to cast on me and no one believes me."
"Why would she do that?" Adam asked calmly.
"Precious got her period this morning and she's *very* not happy with the level of bleeding." Adam grimaced. "Like a river, dude," Jon sighed.
"Ah, then I will gladly excuse her from her practice today, but maybe you should get her to stop doing anything against Xandra. Young girls are not always the most rational at this time in their lives."
"Point," Jon said, tapping on the door. "Let me in, Precious, or I'm gonna use the key."
The door opened and incense smoke wafted out. "What?" she snarled. "Snitch."
"Cunt," Xandra shot back. "You will not cast on me if you know what's good for you."
"Would I do that?" Precious asked, looking her most innocent.
"Yes," Adam said firmly. "You would. You would be wrong, but at your age, rationality is not often a feature of your life." He looked between the two girls. "You will appear before me for training as soon as this is done," he ordered his student. "Xandra, maybe it would be good for you to go wear out some energy doing something more violent."
"Yes, Uncle Adam," Xandra said, shooting Precious one last heated glare. "But if I suddenly turn into a rabbit, I want you to kill her for me."
"That's fine, dear," Adam agreed, smiling at Jon as he walked Xandra out of the room. "Precious, maybe you should go lie in the bathtub. It could ease these urges you've been having."
Jon nodded. "Truly, your mother used to do it all the time. It helped her lots." He looked around the empty room. "Brandon's up at the main house and Timmy's probably on his computer with that girl."
"Fine," Precious said, slamming her door. She could get back to this later. Xandra would wake up...different if she had her say about it.
Jon, thinking that this was over, went back to his reading. It was his day off too.
Oz looked up and frowned, pointing at their youngest daughter, who was wearing one of Serena's flowered, floor-length dresses and picking flowers in the garden. "Do you see something odd in that behavior?" he asked his husband, who had only gotten back a few hours earlier.
"Precious!" Xander yelled, getting up to go beat his daughter.
Oz watched as Xander stormed down the hall, then nodded and went out to grab Xandra before she picked the garden bare. "Hey," he said when he had caught up with her. "You're usually much more dark. What's with the flowers?"
"Oh, Daddy," she cooed, "they're just so *pretty* and nice. I think I'm going to redecorate my *whole* room. And I'm going to need to change my whole wardrobe. This dress is just so me!" she said happily.
"Uh-huh," Oz said, taking her arm to lead her inside. "Maybe you should go lie down, Xandra, before you do something you'll regret." He passed Brandon on the way in, handing off his sister. "Here, go put her down, not in her room."
Brandon looked over the very un-Xandra like outfit, one eyebrow going up. "Precious?"
"She said I cursed her to having a horrible curse," Xandra said with a giggle. "I made a funny."
"Dad, if this doesn't go away, can I have mind-altering drugs for a few months, until I forget this?"
"Sure," Oz agreed. "We'll all take some, it'll be a bonding moment."
"Daddy!" Precious screamed.
"I think you should go handle that," Brandon said as he led Xandra out of the house and over to the main house. Auntie Alex was into magic too, she could fix this. Hopefully.
Oz walked into the kids' room, heading for the bathroom and his husband, who was pounding on the door. "I gave Xandra to Brandon. He's headed for Alex."
"Good," Xander ground out.
Oz patted him on the arm as he pulled him away from the door. "Going furry on the daughter will not cure this," he said calmly. "Turning her into a were and teaching her the meaning of control won't either. Go sit down, Xander, let me handle this."
Xander shrugged off the calming hand. "I'm going to beat her."
"Shut up!" Timmy yelled, slamming his door.
"Grounded!" Xander yelled back.
"But daddy," Timmy said, walking out. He stopped when he saw the condition of his father, how hair was sprouting on the back of Xander's neck. "Whoa, not going to argue. I like being grounded. Grounded is good. I'll go log off my computer for a day and everything," he babbled as he backed into his bedroom, closing and locking the door behind him.
"You're scaring the children," Oz said, pulling Xander away from the door. He got a steady, low growl so lowered his eyes. "I'm just trying to protect the cubs," he said softly.
"Don't ever do that to me," Xander hissed as he pulled Oz in for a hug and a kiss. "Never be submissive to me."
"I won't," Oz agreed, looking up, "if you leave this to me. Going furry on Precious will not solve anything."
Xander nodded and stormed out through the nearest set of doors, heading off to take a walk in the woods.
Oz pulled out his ring of keys and unlocked the bathroom door, going in and slamming it. "Get your ass out here," he hissed, tapping on the frosted glass door.
"Daddy!" Precious squeaked.
"You selfish brat, get out here, now!" Oz ordered. Her head appeared. "Now, Precious."
"I'll appear outside in a minute," she protested. "I'm naked!"
"Yay. I saw it when I changed your diapers." He tossed her the bathrobe on the back of the door. "You've got *a* minute, young lady." He walked out, leaving the door open.
She snuck out and closed the door farther, going to use the bathroom first. She did appear, a few seconds before the deadline was up, and gave her father a helpless look. "What?"
"What did you do to your sister?" Oz asked quietly, leaning on the back of a chair.
"Um, I'm going to run now," Timmy said from his doorway. "I'm not going to be here for this, not a chance I want caught in the middle." Oz nodded so he ran out, heading up to the main house. Maybe someone up there would have some sanity, or Aunt Buffy would let him into the Control Room again so he could go back to chatting.
Oz walked over and closed the main door, turning to glare at his daughter. "I asked you a question, Precious, and I expect an answer."
"I didn't do anything to her, Daddy, she did it to *me*. She cursed me somehow."
"No, you just inherited something else from your mother," Oz said calmly. "She used to bleed very heavily and not be able to make it out of the bathtub for a few days at a time." He rubbed his eyebrow. "You are *so* grounded," he told her. "You've just taken your first step down the dark path and made yourself a legal target." She went a little more pale. "By acting against your sister, you disappointed me very greatly." He walked back over to lean on the back of the chair again. "You will take the spell off your sister before your other father gets back. You will apologize to her because she didn't have a hand in this at all. And you will go see Alex to have a long talk about atonement rituals and how to stick to your path. I'll be damned if I'm going to have one of my children go to the wrong side."
Precious nodded. "I will, Daddy."
"And you will do it now, daughter, or I will personally beat you until you wish it had been your other father, who was so pissed he started to change." He walked out of the area and headed to go check on Xandra. He was sure Xander had already run up there, but he wanted to give her a hug too, and to be there when she came back to herself so she wouldn't go shiv her sister.
Precious walked into her room and looked down at the area she used to practice her magic, shaking her head. She slammed the door mentally and locked it, then laid out what she would need to take the curse off her younger sister. As she knelt in the circle, she started to cry, realizing what she had really done.
She had removed herself from the pack's protection by acting against them. Her parents didn't love her anymore.
Xandra woke up on Alex's bed, looking up at the ceiling. "Who did it?" she asked calmly.
"It's fixed," Oz said from beside her, reaching over to touch her on the shoulder. He had lain down beside her to watch over her, Alex had to go check on Precious when she didn't come up. "It's fixed and you will not retaliate."
She rolled her head to the side, shaking it on the way. "I'm going to get her."
"No, you won't. She didn't realize what she was doing."
"She started it yesterday, Dad, and Jon never stopped her. Uncle Adam advised her to not do it, but she continued." She looked down at herself, grimacing at the dress she wore. "I want my leather pants," she huffed. "I need leather after this."
"I thought you might feel that way," Xander said from the chair pulled over to the foot of the bed. "You've got clothes in the bathroom. I had Junior grab you some."
She sat up, smiling at him. "Thanks, Daddy. Is she punished?"
"Very," Oz told her. "And you don't need to do anything. You or the pack. I'll have a talk with the boys in a few minutes."
Xandra thought for a second then nodded. "Fine, but I'm not sticking up for her. Unless she comes to me, I'm not going to stick my neck out for her again."
"She's going to atone," Oz told her. "She had no idea what she did."
"She knew she was going to curse me unfairly," Xandra countered. "Even *I* know that makes her a target now for people like you guys."
Xander nodded. "True, and so does she. That's why Alex is going to help her get back on the straight and narrow. And she is still your sister, young lady."
"Yes, Daddy," Xandra sighed. She got up and headed into the bathroom to change. "Eww!" she yelled a few minutes later. "She started me off," she complained, coming out and showing off her soiled underwear.
"Then we'll get you some supplies tonight," Xander told her calmly. "It was going to happen sometime." He gave her a hug and patted her on the back. "Go get dressed and we'll go shopping."
"Thanks, Daddy," she said, going back into the bathroom. She *really* wanted her butchest clothes now.
Xander looked at Oz. "Thanks."
"Hey, I live to protect you," Oz said with a faint smile. "You just externalized what I was feeling." He got up and walked over, giving his husband a kiss. "I love you, and I know you wouldn't really have hurt her, no matter how pissed you were." He stroked over the damp lips. "Relax about it, it's all good now. You didn't go furry on her and neither did I, no matter how strong the feeling to punish her was."
"I think she needs to understand this at a closer angle," Xander said calmly. "I want her to start corresponding with her mother."
Oz sat on the end of the bed, thinking about that. "We know where she is," he said slowly, staying calm. "Do you think it'll help or hurt her?"
"I think she'll need to know exactly what sort of problems she's about to experience."
"Willow wasn't a witch when she hit puberty."
"No, but she became a legal target at fifteen. She had to fight off a few other sorcerers who wanted her powers. Alex only had the one, Willow had a few more."
"So you want her to talk to Willow so she'll realize how much of a stress this is going to become?"
"And how thin the line is," Xander agreed. "I can send a letter to her tonight, ask her to call Precious."
"That would also tell us if there's stuff that Precious has been doing that she hasn't told us about."
"She's gotten into some of Mom's stuff that's in the attic," Xandra said as she walked out, fluffing out her hair. "I know she's found a spell book at the least."
Xander nodded. "We knew it was up there. Ready?"
"With one stipulation," she requested. Oz nodded. "I don't want to have to monitor her."
"Good, that's not your job," Oz told her, giving her a smile. He got up and gave her a hug. "Did you manage to...."
"It went in fine, Dad. I'm not bleeding like her."
"No, probably more like Alex does," Oz suggested, walking out but keeping an arm around her shoulders. "I know you take your position very seriously, but you are not the monitor of the other children, Xandra. You never have been, except for Junior. We don't want you to have to become the defacto mother to any of them. Got it?"
"Sure," she agreed lightly. "I'll even stop bugging Timmy to get off the computer at four in the morning."
"We're fixing that later," Xander said as he walked behind them. He patted down his pockets. "Let me go grab the keys and my wallet, and we'll go buy you some supplies."
"Can I have a new dagger too?" she pleaded. "My old one needs sharpened and Uncle Adam said he won't teach me that until I'm *way* older."
"I'll talk to him about that tonight," Oz promised. "He and I are going to have to discuss how to train Precious now." He gave her a squeeze and released her to Xander. "Have fun. Don't break the bank." He grabbed a kiss then went down to the kitchen, hoping for a snack.
Xander walked his daughter out of the doors to the garden, giving her a light push toward the garage. "Go find your daddy's car and give me a few." He shook his head as she jogged off, but headed into the house. He hoped he could avoid Alex and Precious. He was still too close to going off on his daughter. He didn't believe in spanking children, but there were some occasions where it was necessary, and he felt like this would be a good one. He managed to avoid them since his wallet and keys were right where they were supposed to be, inside the kitchen door, and headed off to join his daughter in the garage. On the way, he ran into Adam. "Oz wants to talk to you," he said in greeting.
"I know, he called." Adam stopped Xander, looking at the garage. "Did she?"
"Yup, Precious cast a curse on Xandra, turned her into this little flower picking, nice, sweet, happy little girl."
"Oh, dear," he sighed. "Did you punish her?"
"No, I nearly wolfed out and beat her," Xander said honestly. "Oz punished her. She's uncast it and Alex is presently working with her. But Oz wants to talk to you about her training and about teaching Xandra how to sharpen her daggers so she doesn't end up with a room full of blunt ones." He patted their former teacher on the arm and walked away.
Adam sighed as he walked up to the house. He would have to have a discussion with Precious also. He doubted that Alex would show her how wrong it was for a future Slayer to do something like that.
Xander looked at the jacket his daughter wanted and shook his head. "Not a chance. You had your two hundred dollars for your school clothes," he reminded her.
"But I need a present," she begged, giving it her best shot. "My old one is about worn out."
"Maybe when you're older," he told her, steering her away from the leather coat. "You wear enough leather as is," he told her, trying to sound gentle and reasonable. "A leather jacket would send the wrong signals."
"What about school?" she asked.
"Do you like the new Headmaster?"
"He's an ass, but he was a fair ass the only day I saw him," she noted. "I'm not happy there, but I'll live."
"Would you rather go to another school on the list? Or a public one?"
"No," she snorted. "Not unless he cuts down the library like he was threatening to do," she amended when he looked down at her. "Daddy, he's not nice. He thinks all learning is done in the classroom. He's blatantly said no more field trips to the museum or anything."
"I'm sure it'll balance out soon enough," he told her, patting her on the head. "If not, there's an old school that Derek's heard of but we've never seen the inside of. He suggested we go look at it with you guys."
"That'd be cool. Is it a day school?"
"Nope, but I'm sure they'll make allowances since you live so close."
"Sometimes we'll even get to helicopter to class," she said, grinning up at him. "So, what did Uncle Adam want?"
"Oz called him and he wanted to know why." She nodded wisely. "And I suggested that he teach you how to sharpen your own daggers so you won't have a room full of blunt ones."
"Cool," she agreed. She waved at a girl from one of her classes, forcing her father to go over with her. "Hey, Melody," she said.
"Wow, your fathers let you wear leather?" she said, pouting at her mother. "Why can't I?"
"Because I'm not paying a hundred dollars for a pair of pants you'll only wear once," her mother said dryly. She smiled at Xander. "Mr. Harris-Osbourne, how're your children?"
"Mostly okay. Precious isn't feeling good. It's *that* time," he told her.
The other mother nodded. "Yes, I'm not looking forward to that myself." She smiled at Xandra, who had pulled her daughter aside so they could gossip. "Does she actually wear those?"
"Every chance she gets," Xander agreed, smiling. "We give each kid a shopping allowance at the beginning of each school year and whatever they buy has to last them the whole year, unless they outgrow them." He looked his daughter over. "Those are starting to get a little thin actually. She's had them for over two years now."
"My, that's one way of making sure your children don't follow fashion," another mother said as she walked up to them, letting her daughter go over to her friends so she didn't have to hear that squeal again. "How much do you give them?"
"Two hundred," Xander told her. "Plus their uniforms."
"Ah, a wise man. Not too much but enough to get them enough clothes to last."
"Yeah," Xander agreed, smiling at the other mother. "Isn't one of yours one of Precious' friends?"
"Oh, yes," the other mother said. "I've got many phone bills with your number on it. How is she?"
"Not good. It's *that* time," Melody's mother said. "And she's not having a good one."
"No, she's got gross problems," Xander said, sitting down.
"I used to have those," Melody's mother sighed. "Then they started giving me medicines to counteract that."
"Hadn't thought about that," Xander said thoughtfully.
"Auntie Alex did," Xandra called. "Precious has a doctor's appointment next week. She told Jon."
"She and I are going to have a talk when we get home," Xander said dryly. "Anyway, it seems to work for them. Timmy dresses like a bad hacker parody. Brandon only wears jeans and cable knit sweaters. Serena gets her long, flowing clothes, and this one," he pointed his thumb at Xandra, "has to beg her little brother for some of his usually."
"Oh, yes, you have another one, don't you," the other mother said, sitting down at the table. "How old is he?"
"Eight," Xander said, shaking his head. "The height of clothes for him is a pair of jeans and a t- shirt."
"I remember those days," Melody's mother said, giving her daughter's back a fond look. "Have you heard about the new Headmaster?"
"Just that he's canceled all field trips for the rest of the year and that he's hinted that he's going to start taking books out of the library," Xander said. "Is he that bad?" he asked when both mothers winced.
"Yup," the other mother said, nodding. "Very bad. Today he pulled all the girls out of class and had them on their knees to measure their skirts. He got one girl because hers was too long."
"Damn," Xander whispered. He shook his head. "We're looking at alternative schools anyway. Timmy needs more of a computer-based education while Brandon and Junior are both more artistic. Xandra's got it in her to be very artistic or not, and sometimes too smart for her own good," he said as he daughter wrapped her arms around his neck. "You still can't have the leather jacket."
"Not even if I save up my allowance for it?" she asked.
"In that case, then you may buy it. It's about three hundred dollars, but yes, you may." He heard her hiss. "Besides, it's much too old for you, Xandra. It's not a style for a young girl. Maybe as a coming of age present, okay?"
"I'll wait," she said, grinning at the mothers. "What pronouncement did he make today?"
"He got all the girls out to measure their skirts," the other mother said. "He wrote a girl up who had one that was too long."
"Ouch," Xandra complained. "Too long isn't a bad thing."
"Apparently he's using a military book," Xander told her. "They have little tolerance for anything outside of regulation."
"So, if a skirt is supposed to be knee-length, it'd better be knee-length?" Melody asked.
"Basically." He looked at the other mothers. "We drew up a list of schools we thought might suit all five of them when they first stopped home schooling," he offered. "We found a few we liked, but none of them had diverse enough curriculums for our needs."
Melody's mother smiled. "I think we all did the same thing. It might be time to dust off the old list though." She patted her daughter on the arm. "Would you like to change schools?"
"Yeah," Melody said, giving her mother a smile. "We walked in today and the bookshelves were *empty*."
"What?" Xandra asked. "He emptied out the library? Isn't reading a good thing?"
"Not to his point of view," Melody said. "At his morning announcement and order session he told us that all the ones he had taken out were going to give us 'ideas'."
"Gee, then maybe he should take the humanities textbooks too."
"Oh, he's thinking about it according to some teachers," the other girl said. "Sister Amanda was *not* happy when he decided to sit in on her sex-ed class today."
"Shoot, I missed the test," Xandra muttered.
"No you didn't. He postponed the test and had her go onto the next section, STD's. Then he took over the lecture and told us that only bad and dirty people get them. Repeatedly."
"Over my dead body," Xander said simply. "You five are changing schools. Even if we do have to force Adam to take over your lessons for a few weeks."
"Cool," Xandra agreed. "I'd like that. He's not going to be able to help Timmy much, but hey, he's got a good grasp of everything else."
"We'll discuss this as a family tonight," Xander promised, patting her on the back. "Come on, we've got to get you home." He stood up. "Thanks for the info, ladies. If you need us, yell our way." He smiled at the other mother. "By the way, Precious is very grounded for a month or so."
"Ah," the other mother said, nodding. "I can understand that. I'll warn my daughter tonight."
"Thanks. I didn't want to get her in trouble. Precious is in enough without dragging anyone else down with her." He waved at the two girls then walked his daughter off, with a brief pause so she could go grab her bag of supplies from the table.
Melody's mother looked at the other one. "Wonder what she did to get in that much trouble. Those two are very permissive."
"It had to be something bad," the other girl said, nodding at Melody. "Precious has gotten in trouble before but never for a *month*. She must have tried to beat up someone."
"Again," Melody put in.
"Again?" Melody's mother asked.
"Yeah, she and the rapist boy got into it. She beat his ass good and her sister took on the other kid, who had gotten them all down to the basement and chained up. That was the fight a few weeks back."
"Hmm," the other mother said. "At least it's a good reason. Protecting your family is always a good reason to get into a brawl."
"Strange thing is, the boy Xandra beat up needed stitches," Melody said. "She didn't even use her knife."
"She brings a knife to school?"
"She's the enforcer of the family," the other girl said. "She's the tough one. She's getting to take martial arts and everything. When the other two girls have a problem, they go to Xandra to take care of it."
"I see," Melody's mother said. "I wonder why Precious and the boys don't fight. I can understand Serena not fighting, she's one of those sweet and nice girls, but not the other ones. Brandon for instance, he was such a nice boy, and he seemed more than able to take care of any potential threat to his sisters."
"I hear," the other girl said, sitting down beside her mother, "that he's actively being recruited to become a priest. He wasn't there while everyone else was being picked on, he had to go to the Vatican for something."
"The family had a friend in the explosion," Melody said, waving a hand. "He had to go for that reason, it was his favorite uncle."
"Did he die?"
"No, just majorly banged up." Melody looked at her friend. "I've heard Xandra's brothers calling her 'Dark and Deadly'. But she's always so nice."
"Yes, dear, but a few years ago Xandra and Timmy were kidnaped," the other mother told her. "They brought down their attacker before their fathers could find them. And their fathers do *not* wait for the police to handle it. They do it all, whatever's needed."
"Are they, like, mafia or something?" Melody asked. "For mild-mannered researchers, they're awfully tough."
"Maybe they're like Superman," the other girl suggested. The mothers both snorted. "Hey, you never know. And I've seen Precious do some really odd things, like squint at the window and it swings open a few minutes later in a strong breeze. It used to irritate the nuns that it always happened in this one room and only during her class."
The mothers looked at each other and shook their heads. "I'm sure it's just a coincidence," Melody's mother said gently. "She's such a popular girl, much too normal to be that strange. And besides, you only see people like that in the headlines of those horrible tabloids."
Both girls shrugged, but it was something to keep an eye on.
Xander finished off the letter to the Headmaster of the kids' school and printed it off, going to let Oz proofread it before he sent the nasty thing. His husband grunted as he read, then looked up at him. "He wrote a girl up for having too *long* of a skirt, Oz. Not to mention that he emptied the library."
"We should go see this for ourselves," Oz pointed out, getting more comfortable in his hot bath.
"Maybe," Xander agreed, sitting on the edge of the tub, "but if I go, I'll want to say something."
"Point," Oz agreed. "I'll go look. You can check out the school Dad suggested. We'll keep the kids home another day anyway because of Precious' condition."
"Oh, I can just hear that one," Xander said dryly. "Did you know that Alex made her a doctor's appointment?" Oz nodded. "When did she tell you?"
"I'm the one who put it on the calendar," Oz told him. He reached up to move an annoying hair off his husband's cheek. "There's drugs to slow down her period and to stop the cramping. I thought it might be a good idea. She made the appointment first, but she told me about it later that afternoon. Did you mind?"
"No," Xander lied. Oz gave him a look. "Okay, I do mind. It's like suddenly she's the mom and I'm an outsider."
"No, they're girls. Something we will never understand." Oz grinned at him. "Join me?"
"Sure." Xander put the letter aside and stripped down, quickly getting into the warm, bubble filled water. "We need to do this more often," he said, snuggling into the firm body.
"Any time we have some free time," Oz agreed, reaching for the ringing phone. "You're interrupting," he said in greeting. "Tough." He grunted and handed the phone to Xander. "Revolt in Paris."
"Screw me," Xander sighed, putting the phone to his ear. "What happened now?" He stared at the frosted window. "Really? How many hurt? Yes, call a tribunal. I want to know why he snapped. No, I don't care that he snapped, most of the people hurt deserved it, I want to know what pushed him to that point. Blaming the victims when they need to be blamed is a good thing for me," he said, then he hung up. He put his head on Oz's shoulder. "Someone in the Paris House snapped and went psycho. Left the kids alone."
"Including the one psi kid?"
"Yup." Xander picked up the phone and dialed London. "Hey, me," he said in greeting. "Yeah, I just heard. Can you send someone over? Because they've got a psi kid stashed there. I did, they didn't listen," he noted. "Yes, I did. I want to know *why* the guy snapped." He laughed. "Yes, James, I know it's wrong to blame the victims, but I have a feeling that they brought this on themselves by their mistreatment of their people. Yup, I'll call Dad. No, a tribunal. I want *all* the facts." He listened then laughed again and hung up. "Do you remember the little girl that we rescued while in Florida?"
Oz thought back then nodded. "Why?"
"She's the one that's been chatting with Timmy all hours of the night."
"Wow. Strangeness. Is he in a Legacy chatroom?"
"Nope. Small private chat center." He shrugged and got out of the tub, padding into their room so he could look up the number for the ship. "Hi, I need to get in touch with Derek Rayne? He's a passenger. Yes, or Nick Boyle if he's more handy. That would be fine." He hummed while he waited.
"Why didn't you use the cells?" Oz called.
"Because Philip has them," Xander called back, smiling at the grumpy voice that came on. "Yes, he does. Nope, business. Large business. Like all of the Paris operation got stomped by a member. Yup, that's what I said. A member. No, I called for a tribunal and clean up by the London operation." He snorted. "I know. Oh, tell Derek that the girl we rescued in Florida is the same one that's got Timmy's scent online." He laughed. "Yeah, her. She was a sweetie." He looked toward the bathroom. "Nothing else that can't wait. Want me to call when the tribunal's called?" Long pause. "Okay, later, bro." He hung up. "I got Nick," he said as he walked back in. "I wanted to lounge some more," he protested when he found Oz draining the tub.
"Okay," Oz said, turning to stop the water and starting to refill. "Get in. Are they coming home?"
"No. I told Nick I'd call when the tribunal is called and keep him updated by their cells." He groaned as the phone rang, but he let Oz get it for him. "Who is it?" he called.
"Dad." Oz walked back in, handing over the phone. "Nick told him Philip had the cellphones, so he went and tickled them out of Philip."
"Wonderful," Xander sighed, putting the phone to his ear. "Hey, dad, how's your swelling?"
Oz looked across the table at his children, giving them all a confident look. "I visited your school today, and I must say I was very unimpressed by the new Headmaster."
"Did he really empty the library?" Xandra asked. Serena growled lightly.
"And he was doing a locker search," Oz told her. "By the way, I had yours packed for you." He looked at Xander.
"I took the time to look at the school your grandfather put forward for our consideration if something else happened at your old school. I have to say, I liked it, but I'll leave that up to you."
"When do we visit?" Brandon asked. "I have a trip planned next week."
"Not until next month. They've just had a fire and they're renovating."
"So, until then," Oz said, "you'll be back under Adam. Trip?" he asked Brandon.
"Uncle Philip's taking me to meet his family as soon as they get back next week," Brandon reminded him.
"That's not for another two weeks," Xander told him. "It's a three week cruise, not a two week."
"He's coming back early," Timmy told him. "He emailed me and asked me to make him some reservations."
"Okay," Xander said, nodding. "I can accept that. Have fun, Brandon, and I know I don't have to tell you to be good?" Brandon shook his head. "Good."
"There is one other thing," Oz said, looking around the table. "This school does not have uniforms." Serena smiled. "It is also a school with a lot of psi kids."
"Oh, dirt," Junior said. "I have to go too?"
"Not until next year," Xander told him, giving him a smile.
"But we have decided to take you all clothes shopping for *school* clothes," he said, looking over Timmy's old bowling shirt. "Half of what you usually get since you've recently gotten a lot of clothes."
"But, dad," Xandra sighed. "Half of what we all bought wasn't school clothes. I doubt my teachers will want me to wear my leathers to class."
"I checked. Their dress code says that any nipples and full butts have to be covered."
"Huh?" Serena asked.
"Basically, it said that anything that would normally be covered by a bikini, and not a thong," he told Precious, "is acceptable," Oz explained. "The Headmistress of this one has an odd sense of humor."
"The literal saying of the dress code is that all breasts, from the halfway mark down, including nipples, must be covered. As will all butts and all attendant parts," Xander read. "It goes on to say that she doesn't want to see anyone's underwear. That she's sure it's very nice, but it doesn't belong hanging out." Xander handed over the paper he had copied. "There is a weapons policy. It says it may be brought in, but it will be kept in the lockers all day," he told Xandra.
"What did this woman do before this?" Oz asked. He hadn't gotten there in time to be in on the discussion part of the tour.
"She ran a gang school," Xander told him. "A neutral spot for all gang kids to come learn. She's branched out to this one."
"A *gang* school," Brandon said, sounding like he was doubting his father's sanity.
"Not at this site," Xander told him, giving him a smile. "She's turned them over to someone else and settled down to teach kids who would be easier."
"So she chose *rich* kids?" Timmy asked. "Is she on drugs?"
"It's debatable," Oz said lightly, "but it's an excellent school. Xander called me to join him on the tour. It does have a very large art program. One of the teachers is there part time, he does tattooing at night."
"So, he'll be able to judge free form stuff," Serena said thoughtfully. "What sort of activities do they have?"
"Many," Oz said, passing over the handbook they had been given. "That's the rule book. Look it over and come see us by tomorrow evening. We'll set up the actual appointment to tour then." He stood up. "Meeting adjourned."
"Not quite, I have a question," Timmy said, looking at Xandra. "Some of us are very aware of what went on the other day."
"It's not your concern," Xander told him quietly. "It's been handled."
"I think he was more worried from the pack prospective," Brandon explained. "Is she?"
"She's your sister, same as she always has been," Oz told him. "You're still not her behavior monitor, but you will protect your sister."
"What we figured out was that, if Precious needs us, then she'll come to us," Xandra told him. She looked at Precious, who was looking a little relieved. "I won't let the pack take it out on you, but I won't do anything unless you *ask*." She stood up. "Does that mean I can have a new jacket?" she asked her fathers. "My fleece one's about fragged."
"Sure," Xander said, giving her a smile. "Just not the leather one."
"Nope," Oz agreed. "Leather jackets, other than the usual style, are meant for older people. Or for you to save up your allowance to buy and hang in your closet until you're old enough to wear it." He looked around the table. "Anything else?" When no one answered, he took Xander's hand and started to walk towards their bedroom upstairs.
"Dad, the girl I talk to says you know her," Timmy said, chasing after them.
"We do," Xander agreed, letting him into their room. "We saved her when she was a little girl. Back when you were about three or four."
"In Florida?" Timmy asked, counting back that far. His fathers had never left the house before then, it was never allowed or something, and afterwards only left to go to work at another house, and his friend hadn't mentioned any other house besides London.
"Yup," Oz agreed, lying down on the bed. "Tell her we said hi, and that we thought it was neat of you guys to be together."
"Thanks, I think," he said, then shrugged and left them alone.
Xander closed and locked the door, giving his husband a grin. "I know what you want," he said as he took off his shirt.
"Hmm, yeah, I could use some of that," Oz agreed, sitting up to take off his own shirt.
It was time for some alone time.
TO BE CONTINUED...