Notes: For Loyde H, because he made me a tape.
A Day In The Life
The boy in the leather chair at the head of the table gave the woman at the other end a cruel smile. "I know it takes three times as much energy to do things magically, but in this case it's the only way. Unless *you* want to go against them physically."
She glared at him. "They're not that tough."
He ticked his points off on his fingers. "They've got a professional security force which a former SEAL and Mr. Harris jointly head. They've got wards all over the grounds to tell them when something unnatural walks onto them. They've got everyone in that house trained to take on the role of security guards if necessary. They've even got the children trained to act in everyone's defense." He licked his lips, starting to smile again. "Magically is the only way. Their wards don't cover things appearing on the grounds."
"Are you sure it will work?" she asked. She wasn't going to argue the point. She had known a few people who had tried to go against the Legacy physically. Had being the operative word. She didn't relish the thought of going against that family, but she knew the boy wanted those children for himself. At least they were somewhat distracted right now.
"It will work," the boy said confidently.
Xander followed Nick into the resort, smiling at the obvious cops standing around doing nothing. "Excuse me," he said. One of the cops looked over at him. "We're Derek Rayne's bodyguards and we just got an emergency message from his son-in-law. Who's in charge?"
Nick looked at his half-brother. The boy was being smooth. He had worried that Xander would attack anyone who got between him and Oz.
"I am," a man in a suit said as he walked over. He shook their hands. "I'm Michael. I'm in charge of security for the resort. What sort of tracker do you have?"
Xander whipped out the tracker, the alert system, and his personal tracking system for the special piece of hardware he had put on his husband. "We've got a faint tracking signal, the monitor's good over a hundred miles, but some metals make it go on the fritz. We've got the panic button's beeper, which has GPS location on it." He put the last one away, he could track Oz as soon as they got close enough.
Michael waved a few of the cops over. "They've got the gadgets," he said happily.
Nick cleared his throat. "I hate to say this, but Dr. Rayne is most anxious to get his son-in-law back as soon as possible. What can we do to help?" One of the cops sneered at him. "This is where I mention I'm a former SEAL, trained and certified in wildlife tracking, and Xander's been certified by the Secret Service's security training people."
The cops started to look impressed. "Why does this Dr. Rayne need that sort of security?" one asked.
"Because my father is very wealthy and he runs a research group that studies very valuable artifacts," Xander told him. He took off his sunglasses. "We're going to do whatever it takes, but we're willing to take you with us," he said, giving them a pleasant smile. "But we'd like to do it sooner rather than later."
Michael smiled at them. "Let's go to the map and see where these toys lead us, shall we?" he suggested. He walked over to the large mural on the wall in the lounge area, holding up the monitor. "Let's see. A hundred miles?"
"But heavy mineral concentrations can make it fuzzy that way," Xander added.
"Then we should probably look around here," Michael said, circling a portion of the map. "But we've already looked there."
"They were moving earlier," Nick told him, taking off his own glasses. He moved to the map and pointed at a part further to the left. "It was there when we landed, and much clearer."
Michael ran a hand through his blond hair. "So, they're moving. Why?"
"Because the people who did this know us," Xander said quietly. "This is actually an internal matter. A coup attempt against Dr. Rayne." He smiled at the cops. "We found that out earlier, on the flight over. They were actually stupid enough to send a ransom demand to my father." He put back on his sunglasses. "What's the best way to those mineral deposits?"
"Horses," Michael said, looking at the cops. "Sound carries out there in the foothills." The cops shrugged. "Are you sure you want to do this?"
Nick grinned. "We've trained for this occurrence repeatedly. Besides, you guys probably have other things to do." He looked at the cops. "Any of you want to come with us?"
"Sure," one of the young ones said, smiling at Nick. "I want to see your methods."
Xander shrugged. "Okay. Where're the horses?"
Michael snapped his fingers and a young woman ran over. "Take them to the stables and get them mounted to go search out the missing guests." He handed back the toys. "We'll be here dealing with the rest of them."
Xander held up a finger. "Let me stick my head into the meeting room, it'll calm them down." He followed Michael into the meeting area, smiling at the Precepts gathered around. "Hey, all, we're here," he announced. The talking stopped and everyone looked at him. "What? You thought I *wouldn't* come after Oz personally?" He grinned. "Go back to the other stuff. Dad's online if you need him. Anything else we need to know?"
"James needs his medicine," one woman said, tossing over a pill bottle. "His blood pressure should be about ready to make his vessels explode."
Xander pocketed the bottle. "Okay. Anything else?" They shook their heads. "Good. Oh," he said, looking at one of the Precepts under him. "I still don't have that report. The last message was blank, except for the virus. You might want to call home." He waved and headed back out, jogging to catch up with Nick. "Did you know James had a blood pressure problem?" he asked as they walked out to the stables together.
"Nope." Nick looked over at him. "You got his meds?"
"Yeah, Helena was in there and she had it." He patted his pocket. "How long of a ride is this looking to be?"
"Maybe an hour," the girl said. "There's a great trail that way, but it turns about a quarter mile before the spot on your little monitor." She looked at him. "Why did they bring you? A SEAL I can understand, but you?"
Xander chuckled, but Nick answered her. "Oz is his husband. Those two *always* go after each other. This is their third kidnapping?"
"Second," Xander noted dryly. "That first one wasn't a kidnapping, it was stupidity." He smiled at the young girl. "Like Nick said earlier, we train for these moments." He nodded at the stables. "Are they really broken or are they sorta wild still?"
"Most of them are trail horses," the girl told him, leading him into a paddock. "Do you ride?"
"Every little once in a while," Xander admitted. "I'm more worried about them going on this if they're very placid."
A groom snorted as he walked up to them. "We've taken them on rescues before," he told Xander, looking him over. "When's the last time you rode?"
"About a year ago," Xander told him, looking around at the horses. "I *can* ride, but I don't *enjoy* it."
The groom nodded. "Good. You're honest." He looked Nick and the cops over, then nodded at the building. "Go get helmets. I'll start saddling the horses you'll need."
Nick and Xander headed into the barn to get the gear they'd need. They weren't that experienced and would follow directions for the care of the animals. Xander was the first one back, and he grabbed the reins of one of the horses. "Will we need extra?" he asked the groom. "Oz and I can ride double." The groom looked at him. "Oz only weighs about a hundred and thirty. We've done it before."
The groom pointed at a horse standing out in the sun. "Someone too heavy rode that one, sprained his back."
"Okay," Xander agreed. "We've got three hostages."
"Four," a cop interrupted.
"Three, one of them was working with them," Nick corrected. He snapped the strap on his helmet. "What can we do to help?"
The groom snorted and grabbed some tack for another horse. "Just stand there. And boy, yours is the tan one," he told Xander. He watched as Xander handed over the reins. "Good boy. Boy, you take that one," he told Nick. "He's used to hefty people, should do you well."
Nick took the reins and patted the horse on the nose. "Want a long ride, girl?" he asked.
Buffy walked into Flame's room, giving the other Slayer a smile. "I got good news and I got some bad news," she said as she sat beside the bed, looking over the traction equipment. Flame grunted impatiently. "What?" she asked innocently.
"Bad news first," Flame demanded, cranky because the pain medicine wasn't working well enough.
"Well, they kinda go together," Buffy admitted. She shifted, crossing her legs. "You were uncalled."
"Yup. You're no longer the second ...." She trailed off, you never knew who was listening. Flame nodded that she understood. "The bad is that the speed healing went with it." Buffy grinned. "But the other good news is that Derek said I can work on your physical therapy at home. We've got most of the equipment set up at home so you can come home as soon as the doctors say so." She patted the younger girl's hand. "It kinda sucks, but the newer girl is in China. She's staying over there."
Flame sighed. "Yeah, but it's better than it could be. I can't imagine having to work while I'm healing." She looked at the door as it opened. "Do you have my drugs?" she demanded. The nurse held out a little paper cup, which Flame snatched and swallowed dry. "Thanks."
"You're welcome." The nurse glanced at Buffy, then smiled at Flame. "Remember, the pain is a *good* thing, dear. Many people with your injuries won't get better." She headed back out.
Buffy nodded. "True. As I could tell you from the experience of many injuries, including a gunshot wound to the head." She shook herself. "But onto brighter subjects. Nick and Xander left this morning to go save Oz and everybody. We haven't heard anything bad yet, so they're probably kicking ass and loving it." She grinned. "Derek's online, bitching everyone out as he officially takes over in a limited capacity. Of course, Philip and Marcus are standing right behind him so his blood pressure won't skyrocket again." She leaned closer. "From the yelling I heard, Derek was *ripping* someone a new hole, in Dutch."
Flame snickered. "I always thought that Derek was more than capable of taking all comers." She shifted her upper half, all she was allowed to move. "How much longer do I have to stay here?" she whined.
"I was going to wait here until your doctor came and ask him that myself," Buffy told her cheerfully. She handed over a bag. "But I was nice and brought you stuff."
Flame opened the bag, smiling at the books, the magazines, and the chocolate bars. "Thanks, Buffy. You're the greatest." She tore into the first candy bar, taking the largest bite her mouth allowed.
Buffy settled in for a long visit. The doctor was due sometime in the next hour, but she knew how their schedules were.
The kids all got out of the pool and grabbed their towels. This was Adam's idea of PE. Serena looked over the other children, smiling when she saw the cat waiting patiently on the bench. "When did Strife get here?" she asked Junior, the youngest.
He looked at his cat and shrugged. "Probably when he got up." He turned and grimaced. "What is that thing on my shoulder?"
Serena touched the large bump on the dark skin gently, then chuckled. "I think you just got your first pimple, dear," she told him. She popped it for him. "There we go, wipe it down with alcohol when we get home." She patted him on the head. "Get dressed." She looked at Brandon, who was sitting down with his head hanging. "Problems?" she asked as she sat next to him.
"Head hurts," Brandon mumbled. He stood with a grunt. "I'm going to go take a nap."
"Not by yourself," Timmy said, giving him a glare. "You can barely stand, you're not walking back alone."
"I'll help him," Junior said quickly. "I don't have any more classes today." He pulled on a T- shirt and his sandals, then grabbed Brandon's shirt. "Come on, bro, we'll go put you in bed." He wrapped an arm around his big brother's waist and walked him toward the door. "What's the code?" he called when it wouldn't open.
"6-5-7-9-8," Xandra called. She finished drying off her hair and watched them leave. Then she looked at Serena. "Thanks."
"You're welcome." She tied back her hair and looked at their other sister, who was lying down on the bench. "You have one too?" Precious nodded. "Want to go to bed?" Precious nodded again and stood up, wandering out of the pool area and back to her bed. Serena looked at Timmy, who shrugged. "We should probably tell Alex about this," she suggested.
"We'll do it over dinner," Xandra agreed. She pulled on her towel as a waist wrap and pushed her wet braid back over her shoulder. "Home to change and then class," she ordered. Adam had left her in charge.
"No, I was gonna go like this," Timmy said dryly as he passed by her.
Xandra causally pushed him back into the pool. "Okay," she said with a smile, heading out to go shower and change. And the first one back would get their parent's bedroom. Once she was out in the garden, she broke into an easy run, heading for the preferred shower.
Serena stayed long enough to help her twin out of the pool. "You knew she was in a funny mood," she reminded him as she headed out too. Maybe she'd manage to get one of the good showers.
Timmy sighed and headed out, the Strife cat following him. "You're doing this to her, aren't you?" he asked the cat. The cat just looked up at him, giving him what could only be described as a bland look. "Whatever," he sighed, heading to their rooms to the shared bathroom. "We really have to get the dads to put in another bathroom," he sighed when he found the door locked. "One for each of the girls." He got a bright idea and headed for their nanny's room, he had his own shower. So what if he wasn't allowed in there. Jon wouldn't mind too much.
Derek was screaming "Shut up!" at several people as Alex walked into the office. "Problems?" she asked quietly.
"Cranky Precepts," Philip told her with a smile. "They're complainin' because Xander and Nick were the only ones who showed up."
"But Nick heard that the cops were on the case," Alex reminded him as she sat on the couch across from the desk. "Our security people pouncing on the resort would have caused at least some serious talking."
Derek smiled at her. "Indeed, that's what these others don't understand." He smiled at someone on the monitor. "It's also understandable that they would feel better with their own security people, but we can't get them there for at least a few more hours. We only have so many planes."
Alex relaxed. "With those two there, they shouldn't need a lot more security people," Alex pointed out. She smiled at Philip. "Do you know what call I just got?" He shook his head. "Someone at the Children's Shelters charity board heard that you were both here and demanded that I bring you with me tonight to the ball."
Philip choked and Derek groaned.
"I'm just the messenger," Alex said innocently. "They want you there for your clout. Sandra even said you could sit at a table all night, as long as you came." She picked up a pillow to straighten out the fringe. "Apparently, a lot of people weren't going to come tonight because you weren't. They're watching you as a social barometer, Derek, and they need you to at least show up for an hour."
"All right," Derek said, looking at the people on the teleprompter's screen. "I'll have to leave in an hour," he told the people on the other end of the connection.
"Is that *really* that important?" a shrill female voice said from the other side of the connection.
"If we don't show, three of the shelters for children will close," Philip told her. She backed down and moved away. "I'll have someone lay out our tuxes," he told Derek, after patting him on the shoulder. He followed Alex out of the office. "How'd they know he was here and sick?" he asked quietly.
"Marcus apparently let it slip that he had to come out tomorrow to look at Derek. Someone overheard." She smiled at him. "He was trying to make a date. I've already called him and made sure he was going to be there."
"I'm sure he's feelin' punished then," Philip agreed, following her up the stairs. "What're you wearin' this time?"
She grinned. "I'm going to borrow something of Buffy's. She's still got that great white dress from high school that I would look splendid in."
"Didn't she drown in that?" Philip asked, stopping her. "You're sure she's gonna allow it?"
"She said it was okay. She said someone who could enjoy it should wear it. I think she's finally getting past that incident." She walked into her room, shutting the door behind her.
Philip sighed and walked over to his and Derek's room. Their tuxes were still pressed in the dry cleaner's bags. Their shoes were another matter. He could find his, but Derek's were hidden somewhere.
Nick watched Xander silently search their surroundings. "Problems?" he asked quietly.
"There's someone over that way," Xander said, pointing off to the right. "Just one." He looked ahead again, smiling at the cop looking back at them. "Someone's over there," he told him.
"How'd you know?" the cop asked.
"He's got a really good nose," Nick joked. Xander shoved him, hard. "Hey!"
"No horseplay," the cop in the lead said firmly.
"We're not," Xander called back. He handed his last monitor, the one he had held back, to Nick and nudged his horse to move faster. "I'm going to go up to that ridge and look," Xander told the leader as he passed them. He ignored the grunts of annoyance as he rode ahead, stopping his horse and getting off as soon as he was well out of sight. He closed his eyes and concentrated on smelling, smiling when he caught his husband's scent. And, boy, was Oz pissed. He smiled as he got back up on his horse, riding up to the ridge he had said he was going to. As he waited, he mapped the valley, figuring out where the best trail would be. He pointed down at the small, not very worn trail. "That way?"
"That way," the lead cop agreed. He looked at Xander. "Really good nose?"
"And then some," Xander agreed.
"Like that show with the cop?"
Xander looked at the cop, giving him a smile. "Nope. Not quite. Just a very good nose. Oz is off on the left side of the valley, but there's lots of green stuff around him." He clicked and urged his horse down the narrow trail.
The lead cop waited for Nick, putting out a hand to stop him. "What's going on?" he asked quietly.
"Would you really like to know?" The cop nodded. "Xander's been taken over by an animal spirit before and it lent him certain...skills. His sense of smell was altered by the experience."
The cop swallowed. "What sort?"
"Hyena," Xander called back. Then he laughed.
Nick nodded. "Yup, that was him." He moved his horse down the slope. "Come on, before he has all the fun."
The cop looked at his coworkers, who all shrugged. "We'll watch," he told them. "They're the trained ones." He walked his horse down the slope, following the two strangers.
Alex walked down the stairs, smiling at the two men accompanying her to another boring charity early dinner and dance. She straightened Philip's tie for him, then patted down his lapels. "Are we ready?"
"Yes," Derek said, looking her over. "When did you get that?"
"Its Buffy's. She got it in high school." She twirled, letting them see it. "She's finally ready to move on from the incident so she said I could borrow it."
Derek raised an eyebrow, but he followed her out of the castle to the Mercedes. He took the opportunity to take a short nap on Philip's shoulder, the meeting earlier had worn him out.
Alex smiled at Philip. "Are you two going to dance tonight?" she asked quietly.
Philip shook his head. "He's still sick. We'll sit around and watch people." He patted Derek's hand, which was on his thigh. "He's not ready to dance yet." He grabbed the bar on the door as the car took a corner a little sharply. "What's goin' on?" he called out.
Their driver glanced back at them "There's someone following us, Father. Please put on your seatbelts." He took another corner on the road to the ferry as fast as he could.
Alex got herself buckled in and leaned over to help with Derek. She and Philip knocked heads as the car suddenly braked. "Ow," she complained. She looked out the window. "Are they gone?"
"No, there's a car in front of us," the driver told her. He reached over and hit a button on the dashboard, summoning help. Their tires were shot out by a machine gun, making everyone scream.
Xander slid up to the mouth of the small cave, growling at the back of his throat. Someone had scared his mate, the wolf was not happy. Someone was going to pay. He slid into the cave, taking on the gunman standing there, breaking his arm, his foot, and dislocating his shoulder, then he tossed him aside. He strode into the cave, his growl echoing off the walls. He grabbed the man stupid enough to point a gun at his mate and slammed into the walls, repeatedly. Then he turned as he heard Nick coming in. "Where is he?"
Oz cleared his throat. "He left a few minutes ago." He held up his rope-bound hands. "Maybe we could do this part now?"
Xander pulled out a knife and slit the ropes, pulling Oz up to hold and sniff. "You're fine," he murmured once his investigation was done. "He didn't hurt you."
"Nope, not hurt," Oz whispered. "Scared, pissed, but not hurt." He looked at Nick, then at the man lying on the floor next to where he had been sitting. "Does anyone have James' medicine? He wasn't feeling so well when he ran out of here."
"I do," Xander told him, patting him down again. "Come on, I want to have *words* with him." He led the way out to the horses and mounted his, taking a moment to sniff the air before riding off further down the valley, pushing his horse to go as fast as it wanted to.
Oz sighed as he climbed up into a saddle, but he headed off after his husband.
"Where are you going?" the lead cop yelled.
"To keep Xander from killing the person who kidnaped us," Oz called back, waving.
Nick stuck his head out of the cave. "We could probably use some help in here," he noted. "Both of the other hostages are unconscious and not waking up." He got out of the way of the swarm of cops. He watched the two backs retreating, shaking his head. "That's my horse, Oz." He walked in to go help, he had both men's medical records on his PDA.
The boy at the table looked up and smiled. "It's done," he announced to his partner. "They'll be mine soon enough."
The woman sipped her wine and smiled at him. "Good. I've arranged a little distraction of my own, it should keep everyone from noticing the start of the problems. How long before the serum starts to act?"
"Their greatest traits should start to come out as soon as they drink it," he said with a smile. "It's supposed to be fairly quick acting and they're all water people over there." He laughed. "As a matter of fact, if I didn't know better, I'd say that someone was already drinking the serum. Can you feel the power coming from the island?"
She shook her head. "That always was more your area than mine," she reminded him, finishing her wine. Then she stood up. "I'll leave you alone, let you bask in the energy." She walked out of the dining room, heading to her appointed bedroom. She leaned against the door, blinking a few times. "You've just signed your death warrant," she whispered.
Alex made sure the doors in the back of the car were locked, then pressed her own emergency button. Now she wished Xander and Nick hadn't left to go after Oz. She could really use some force, especially if the man wielding it would be pissed off enough to rip people up for them. She considered the men with her. Derek was still weak from the poisoning, Philip was the sweetest guy she knew. But Philip would fight, she'd seen that before. Maybe they had a small chance though, they weren't being ordered out of the car. She pushed her button again, hoping the signal was getting through.
Brandon and Xandra walked into the guard shack, already in their bulletproof vests. "I'm taking the gate," he told the guard. "Xandra's going with you. Adam's on his way down too. Go." He stepped into the guard's place, shoving him out with his sister and closing the door. He watched as his sister joined the main assault force, smiling at the shocked look on the guard commander's face. Did they really expect them to sit around and wait for their grandfather and Philip to come back? He laughed when someone said something to Xandra and she hurt him. His sister was just classic. He waved at Adam as he trotted past, opening the gate enough for him to get through. He watched as the guards took his sister and Adam and left, going to do some serious damage.
He could feel violent vicariously.
He flipped on the monitors for the road and watched the guards retreat, looking and waiting for someone stupid enough to try and get it during the crisis. Oh, were they going to be sorry. He pulled out his cellphone and called Nick, Grandfather would be pissed but his Uncle Nick needed to know these things. "Hey, it's Brandon. We got a sitch at the house, really bad one. Nope, gramps, Uncle Philip, and Auntie Alex are all being held hostage in their car on the way to a charity event." He pulled the phone away from his ear. "Easy!" he complained. "Some of us still have very sensitive hearing. No, the guards went out. Xandra and Adam went with them." He smiled. "I'm sure Xanny'll leave you something," he said fondly. He hung up suddenly and grabbed his gun, going out to *talk* to the man coming toward his position. "I shoot assholes," he announced. "You'd better not be one."
A little kid, about Junior's age, stepped into view. "Hi, Bran," he said with a grin. "I try, ya know."
"Hey, Benny. Head up to the house. Junior's in the main house with Buffy and Precious." He walked back into the guard shack and opened the gate so he could get in. The boy stopped in long enough to give him a hug, then he jogged up to the house. Brandon closed the gate and went back to his guarding.
Nick closed his phone with a snap and turned around, slamming his fist into the rock wall. "I'll kill 'em," he hissed.
"Um, okay," the lead cop said. "Who?"
"The people who just tried to take Derek, Alex, and Philip hostage." He turned to look at them. "I'm going to go help Xander," he said calmly. "He really needs to hear this." He walked out and grabbed a horse, heading off after his half-brother. "Bro?" he called once he had them in sight.
Xander's head popped up and he grinned at him. "What?" he called. "I'm hunting."
"I know." Nick trotted his horse over, whispering the message in Oz's ear. One eyebrow went up. "And it was your son that called."
Oz looked at his mate. "This was partially a diversion," he called.
Xander nodded. "I know. That's why I gave Xandra back her bulletproof vest. Did they try to invade or did Alex talk Derek into going with her to the Children's Shelters event?" He climbed back up on his horse. "Tracks go that way," he said, pointing ahead of them. "Scent goes to the right."
"I'll track the machine," Nick told him. "I'm up for a useless fight." He looked at Xander. "Did you raise the security level?"
"Why? You had it on the highest level," Xander pointed out reasonably. "But I did tell the commander that I was giving Xandra gear. He just smiled and patted me on the shoulder like I was some kid and told me he'd watch out for her."
Oz chuckled. "I think he'll be surprised when she takes over for him." He followed Xander off to the right, whistling as they rode. Even though this was a dangerous situation, it was kinda nice.
Xander leaned over and gave his husband a kiss. "We'll vacation here if you want," he offered. Then he took his mate's hand to hold while they rode.
Nick shook his head. Those two were just strange. He went to follow the four-wheeler.
Alex flinched as a gun went off, but it wasn't at the car. There wasn't any broken glass. No threatening noises from the cars around them, no smell of gunpowder. She looked out the window, smiling at what she saw. "The guards are here," she told them. Just a few minutes more and they'd be saved. Then she shook her head. "I just saw Xandra."
"Damn," Derek swore, forcing himself to sit up. "Where?" Alex pointed so he watched his granddaughter kick someone's ass.
"She's definitely improved since the last time I watched her practice," Philip said objectively. He nodded at the commander. "He's just watchin' her."
"I'd watch her too," Alex reminded him. "Would you want to be the one in trouble if she gets hurt?"
Derek chuckled weakly, and it wasn't a nice sound. "I think we'll be having a discussion anyway," he noted.
Philip patted him on the thigh. "I'm sure you will." He looked at Alex. "You still want to go?"
She nodded. "If I can." Derek smiled at her. "You?"
"Yes, it's a worthy charity. We'll still attend, call whomever and tell them we'll be late."
Alex pulled out the carphone and dialed the house. "Buffy, find my number for Sandra Everns and call her. We're still coming, we were just held up." She hung up, the other electronics in the car were on the same emergency line. Nick had wanted to change it, but Derek had balked. Now maybe Nick would get his wish. She settled in to wait, their security force was excellent and no group of idiots were going to get past them. Especially not Xandra and Adam. She laughed as Xandra pushed someone off, with a smart remark it looked like.
Derek groaned and shook his head. "That girl still thinks this is fun."
"Most likely, that man made a move on her," Philip said wisely. "She just showed him the error of his ways." He patted Derek's thigh again, but smiled at Alex, who would stick up for the girl with him.
Oz and Xander started to get into the tracking, letting each other go and leaving their horses behind. Together they stalked the man they were hunting, slowly corralling him in against a large wall. James was trying to find a way out of the small canyon when Xander pounced on him, holding him tightly. "Gotcha," he whispered, taking a deep sniff. "You make good prey."
Oz walked out of the bushes and smiled cruelly at the man his mate held. "Be thankful we're not furry, or you'd feed the pack." He walked closer, smelling the fear the man was putting out. "Oh, are you scared?" He laughed.
Xander grinned at his mate, Oz could be so wicked some days. "Should we do him here?"
"No, please!" James begged, trying to go limp in the restraining arms.
Xander looked at his mate. "I have this urge to howl," he complained, starting to frown.
"But the hunt was fun," Oz pointed out. "Makes up for the other urges." He came closer, pulling out Xander's handcuffs. "You know we knew it was you last week, right?" he asked as he cuffed the London Precept. James' mouth opened. "You let it slip while we were talking." He grabbed their prisoner, letting Xander get free and recuff him with his hands behind his back. "Okay, we ride?"
"Sure," Xander agreed, looking around. "Which way to the horses?"
James looked at him in derision, earning a hard shove. "You can track me but you can't track horses?"
"We try very hard not to think of horses as prey," Xander said in his most snide voice. "You on the other hand...."
James swallowed and allowed himself to be led off. These two men were dangerous, they had just proved it. He should say something to his board of inquiry.
Xandra opened the car door, helping Alex and her grandfather out so she could look them over while they walked to the other car. "You guys copacetic?" she asked.
Philip gave her a hug. "Just a might scared." He passed her to Derek, who also gave her a hug.
"We're fine, Xandra, but you should not be out here."
"I thought so too," the commander said, smiling at the young girl, "but she proved to be just as battle hardened as most of my men. Did better than some of them too." He turned his smile on Derek. "She's good. Needs a bit more training in the fine art of ambush though."
"I'll get started on that next week," Adam said as he walked over. "I'm very proud of how Xandra acted, Derek. With the exception of that one man she mouthed off to, she did very well."
Derek frowned at them both. "She's still a child."
Xandra smacked her grandfather on the rear, making him jump a little in surprise. "If this were earlier in history, I'd either be married or working by now. I may be a teenager," she said as she stepped away from him, "but I'm not a child, Derek." She smiled at Philip. "Brandon called Nick." Then she turned and ran off.
Philip and Alex groaned as they were helped into the second car. "We're in for it now," Philip said quietly.
"I'm sure you can blunt it somewhat," Alex suggested hopefully. "So I don't have to hear it?"
Derek laughed. "I'm sure we'll be fine. He won't yell that much."
"At you," Alex countered. "He's going to scream and throw things at us." She buckled up and smiled at the guard getting in to drive us. "Did Henry get home all right?"
"Yes, Miss Alex. He was shaking so we took him back to the castle and straight to his room." He started the engine. "Buckle up, please. We don't want any tickets." He pulled away from the scene, letting everyone else handle it. He felt really sorry for whichever cop had to come clean this up. They were going to have paperwork for days.
Xander and Oz met up with the cops and Nick before they found their horses, but that was fine because Nick was leading them. "Hey," Xander said, shoving James at a cop. He handed over the man's blood pressure medicine too. "He needs to take one of those." He climbed up onto his horse, then stole a kiss as soon as Oz was up next to him. "Home?"
"Yeah. We should probably go check on Derek."
"I've heard from there, they're all fine and still going to the charity dinner," Nick told them. "You guys get to deal with the Precepts meeting." He grinned. "Good luck."
"Ha ha," Xander said, giving him a cold smile. "What makes you think you're leaving?" Nick's face fell. "Yup, we go together."
"You know some of them have problems with Xander because he's so young," Oz reminded Nick as he turned his horse around to follow the cops. "I wonder if we're going to have to hold a board while he's in jail."
Nick shook his head. "It'll happen however it does. They've managed it before." He took up rear guard position gladly. He had some things going around in his head that needed to be worked out before they got back to the resort.
Alex smoothed down her dress as she walked into the charity event, smiling at the woman rushing over to meet them. "It was a small diversion," she told her. "Nothing major." She smiled as Derek and Philip walked past them.
"Nothing major? A news crew caught it!" the woman shrieked. "And you still came?"
"We said we would," Derek called back. He nodded and smiled at some of the people staring at them. "Philip, please get me a drink," Derek commanded.
"No," Marcus said from behind them. "No alcohol yet," he said cheerfully. "Not for another three weeks." He saluted them with his scotch. "Good to see that you managed to get out of that one too."
"Thanks to Xandra," Alex mentioned as she walked over. She smiled at her former lover, and the houses' physician. "How are you?"
"Much better," Marcus said, returning her smile. "Any injuries?"
"Jus' ta the nerves," Philip told him. "The driver's about ready ta scream." He looked at his hands, which had started to shake on the ferry. "Me too," he whispered.
Derek laid a hand over Philip's, calming him down. "It's all right, they didn't succeed."
"If all they wanted to do was scare us, they did," Alex argued as she sat down, dragging Marcus with her. "They didn't order us out of the car in the ten minutes they had us alone. If they had wanted something, you'd think that they'd have done so." Derek nodded numbly. "It was a diversion."
"Damn great one," Philip said, standing up and heading over to where the bar was. He needed a drink. He about jumped when someone touched him on the arm, but pasted a determined smile on his face as he turned to look at whomever it was. And whom it was shocked him. "Brandon?" he whispered.
"Thought you might need some moral support," he whispered back, pulling his mentor into a hug. "See, it's all good again. We're here and everything's fine." He smiled at the bartender. "He needs a brandy, warm." The bartender gave him a look. "It's not like I'm drinking it, but he was almost shot on the way over." The bartender quickly went to warm up some brandy for him. "See, we're here and handlin' it," Brandon declared with a bright grin. "Now get your drink and we'll go back and sit with Grandpa and Xanny." He grabbed the glass and handed it to the older man, carefully walking him back to the table. "I know we're a bit young," he told Derek, who was staring at him, "but we felt that you needed us." His grin got cheekier. "After all, we leave you alone for ten minutes and look what happens."
Derek burst out laughing, drawing attention. "Fine, grandson, come sit beside Philip. He motioned someone to bring more chairs. As the hostess came over with Xandra and Alex, he smiled at them. "Our grandchildren were concerned for our well being," he explained.
"The more the merrier," the hostess said lightly. "Are the other three showing up?"
"If Precious can ever stop primping," Brandon agreed. "Buffy was helping her get dressed. We got dressed faster and decided to come ahead." He saw the eyeroll and laughed. "No, she's keeping Precious from looking like a slut." He kicked a chair out for his sister. "Did the big, nasty metal detector get you?" he teased.
"Yes, it did," Alex said as she sat down. "Fortunately, she was wise enough to bring her permit with her." She smiled at Derek. "I took the opportunity to call the house, everyone else is on the 'copter over. Timmy's lessons are officially over." She sipped at the water someone put in front of her.
Xandra smoothed down the wide velvet skirt, smiling at their hostess. "Thank you for indulging us," she said sweetly.
The hostess' smile turned brilliant. "Such polite children," she cooed, hugging Xandra. "You've done an *excellent* job with them, Derek. They're just darling. Excuse me, must attend to that." She hurried off to go talk to the waiter waving at her.
Alex looked at the gown. "Nice fitting job," she commented. "Who did it?"
"Adam had the dress in his closet for me," Xandra told him. "He'll be here with the other three. Junior has decided he's going to stay at home and *never* come to a charity event."
"Well, he is a bit young," Philip reminded her. "As are you five." He looked her over. The dress showed off her burgeoning assets to their best, and made her look like quite the woman. "Adam does have good tastes though." He finished his brandy as he looked over Brandon's outfit, reaching over to straighten his bowtie for him. "There we are, perfect as usual."
"I wonder if they ever got Timmy into one," Brandon said, looking at the door.
"Button cover," Alex suggested. "Fashionable enough and correct enough for this event, without choking him."
"Wish I'd thought of that," Brandon said as he tugged on his collar.
Philip and Derek both laughed. "You'll get used to it," Derek told him fondly, reaching over to pat him on the back. "You'll be a veteran of these events by the time you're officially announced."
"We have to be official?" Xandra asked.
"Yes," Alex agreed. "You, as a female, have to be presented to society to be part of it. Brandon and the others can be presented at the same time as the girls, but you and the girls should all come out separately."
"They're twins, you could do it together," a woman said from the next table. She smiled at Xandra. "A very grown-up choice. I applaud you for it." She smiled at Derek. "Is there anything you want known about your lateness?"
"Just that it was an unexpected event and not something to worry about," Derek said, smiling at her. She nodded and wrote something down on her notepad. He leaned in closer to the children. "That is the local columnist for the society page. Remember her," he suggested, leaning back. "Marcus, can I at least have some champagne?" he asked.
"No." Marcus waved a waiter over. "Can you please get Dr. Rayne some of that sparkling juice? He's not able to have alcohol at the moment." The waiter nodded and moved off quickly. "You will not have alcohol until I'm sure that you're fully healed, Derek. I will not tell your son that I had to hospitalize you because you had a relapse, or because your blood pressure went up too quickly. Though I realize now where Xander gets his stubborn nature from."
The society columnist laughed and looked over at them. "Surely it's not from *Derek*," she teased. "No one would dare think the darling Dr. Rayne would ever be *stubborn*."
"You should see him at home," Brandon told her. "He's a right ogre about us cleaning our rooms and not slacking off in our studies."
The older woman laughed as Xandra hit him on the arm. "I don't get growled at," Xandra retorted, flipping some of her hair over her shoulder. "I get praised because I don't forget to clean my room."
"Enough," Derek said, starting to chuckle. "I am in no way an ogre. I never made you clean up the nursery when you were staying in the manor house. Nor do I hover over Adam's shoulder about your studies." He accepted his drink with a nod of thanks. "I'm quite gentle and generous with you six."
"Can you talk the dads into giving us a bigger allowance then?" Brandon asked. "Timmy's got a honey to buy presents for, and I seem to have acquired this book habit."
Derek laughed. "Yes, I'll talk with your fathers about supplementing your allowances. I think you all deserve a raise." He sipped his juice, smiling at Marcus. "Of course, Xander will probably want a raise of his own."
"He hasn't been given his yearly one," Alex pointed out. "He's still making what we made in our third year."
Derek stopped drinking and thought about it. "You're right, he hasn't had a raise in six years." He shrugged. "I'll cure that this next paycheck." He motioned the waiter over. "May I please have another glass, and some ice water?" The waiter nodded and went to get him some more to drink.
"So, where are your boys?" the columnist asked.
"At a group meeting," Alex told her. The other woman's mouth opened. "Oh, no, not a *group*, but some of our other researchers are having a meeting and they're there. There was a slight problem earlier today and Xander took off with Nick to go fix it."
"Oz was already attendin'," Philip put in. "I'm sure they're makin' out somewhere right now."
"They are the most physical couple I've seen in a while," the columnist agreed.
"You should live with them," Timmy said as he walked in. He handed Xandra a purse. "You forgot it in the living room." He pulled a chair over and sat on it the wrong way, earning a frown. "Relax, I've got to stretch my back. Nick's seat in the copter doesn't fit me very well and I ache."
Buffy walked up behind him and picked him up, then kicked the chair into the proper position and let him sit down again. "Thank you," she said as she grabbed her own chair. "Sorry we were late, we got a little held up with Precious and her desire to wear hot pink."
Alex shuddered. "What did you talk her into?"
"Mild pink." She pointed at where Precious was being photographed in one of her mother's outfits. A two-piece light pink ballgown with roses embroidered around the bottom.
"I remember when her Ma wore that," Philip said fondly. "Right after you came to the house."
Buffy nodded. "Yup. It was sitting in my closet too. Just like the one Alex is wearing was." She smiled at her sometimes girlfriend. "I gotta admit, you look tasty in it. Just as much as I did."
Derek smiled at her. "I know it was hard for you to let it go," he said quietly.
Buffy shrugged. "No big. I've been working through that trauma for a few years now." She smiled as Serena walked over in one of her own dresses. "Little did we know that someone had planned for just such an occurrence."
"And could do her own hair," Brandon said with a smile. "You did good, sis."
"Thank you," Serena said as she sat down. She reached over and stroked over Timmy's back. He sighed in relief. "Nick's seat really isn't fit for his back."
"He needs ta grow some more," Philip teased. "Pretty soon, he'll need a bigger one."
"Hopefully I'll still grow," Timmy teased back. "I'd hate to think about staying this geeky weight forever."
Precious laughed as she came over. "Don't worry, you'll finish growing up sometime in the future." She patted him on the head. "After all, your sisters are all goddesses, you'd have to at least get out of geekdom somewhat."
"Precious," Alex warned. The girl smiled at her. "Sit."
"Dr. Rayne, we could move you to a larger table," the hostess said as she walked over. "One where all of the children could sit between you."
"Please," Derek agreed, standing up and grabbing his glasses. He walked ahead, letting the women herd the children in the proper direction. "Thank you for accommodating this intrusion," he said quietly.
"We've had a few no-shows," she said lightly. "Besides, your children are delightful and it shows the reason that the others came. We are here for the children after all," she said as she waved at a table. "There we go. Would you like the back corner?"
"No, I would," Xandra said, moving past him. "Sorry, but I happen to be the security person tonight." She smiled as she sat down, patting the seat next to her. "Timmy?"
"Getting a killer backrub from Serena so I'll sit next to her."
"I'll sit next to you," Derek told her, taking the seat on her left, with Philip on his left, and Brandon next to him. Then Alex and Buffy, Timmy and Serena, and finally Precious. Marcus sat next to Precious and subtly adjusted one of her straps, which was falling down and bringing her top down with it. He took the safety pin Alex was holding out and fixed the looseness so the top wouldn't gap quite so badly. "Thank you," Derek told him. He smiled at Xandra. "We really don't need a security force tonight, dear."
"Yay," she said with her biggest smile. "Uncle Adam will be here in a few. He had to *talk* to someone." An extra chair was placed next to hers. "Thank you." She looked at her grandfather. "We figured that earlier was a diversion, and not because of the Precept's meeting," she said quietly. "That means that something else is going on and we'd best be prepared. As for security force, you're right, there's plenty here, but *you*, grandfather, need special security because daddy would kill someone if you got hurt."
Philip nodded. "Too true. Nick'd be right there with him too." He smiled at Derek. "Relax, it's a pleasant surprise." He looked over as someone else came in, nodding Adam over. "He does fit that tux very well."
Derek looked at his lover in shock. Was Philip looking at Adam?
Philip kissed Derek on the cheek. "It was jus' an observation," he whispered. "He's not my type."
Derek reached over and squeezed Philip's thigh. "Thank you, love." He shook Adam's hand. "Goot work earlier, thank you for the timely save."
"That's what you pay me for," Adam said as he took his seat. He smiled at the other children, nodding Alex to attend to Precious' dress again. "We shouldn't have any more problems. Jon and Junior are up at the house and the security teams are sweeping the grounds." He picked up his glass of water to sip. "Everything should be handled by the time we get back." He looked at Timmy. "Though I am flying us back if necessary."
Timmy grinned. "Sure, dude, I'll be the copilot. I'll probably be wasted by then anyway."
"You're not drinking," Alex, Philip, and Marcus said together.
"I meant tired, guys," Timmy told them with a classic eye roll. "You guys are such *parents*."
"Wait until Nick hears about that tree," Adam put in.
"Hey, the branch was already in flight, we just ran into it. And I did an amazing save there, thank you."
"Yes, you did," Adam agreed. "But I'm still flying us back."
Derek chuckled. "I'm sure everything will be fine." He picked up his water to sip at. It was going to be a while before dinner.
"Dance?" Philip asked, holding out a hand as he stood up. Derek looked up at him, then smiled and accepted the hand up, going out to dance with his love.
"That's so romantic," Serena sighed.
"Yes, it is," Adam agreed. He held a hand out, and Xandra took it, allowing him to lead her out to dance. "You do this very well," he applauded.
"I had to take lessons with the other girls," Xandra said with a grin. "Besides, it helps me when I'm fighting."
"Very true," Adam agreed, swinging her around. "We do need something more lively to show off your real skills though."
"It's fine," Xandra protested. "More lively after dinner, when we have to work off the meal." She stepped back as the music ended and bowed, but didn't let him move. A waltz started and she wrinkled her nose, but went with it. She loved dancing.
Alex smiled at Marcus, who was shaking his head. "Take Buffy," Marcus suggested. "I don't dance."
Buffy hopped up and dragged Alex onto the floor, getting into the movements.
The other kids watched their sister with envy, especially Precious. How dare her sister be better at this too! She nearly stomped her foot.
Brandon looked over at her. "Dancing is part of her fight training," he reminded her gently. "She's supposed to be better at that than you are."
"Of course, if you trained," Marcus put in, "you might be able to give her a run for her money." He smiled at her. "Adam's asked me to come out and help you train on my week off."
"Why?" Timmy asked.
"Adam and I share ...membership in an exclusive club," he explained. "It required learning how to use various archaic weapons."
"You're one of those SCA people?" Serena asked.
Marcus smiled. "Not quite, but close enough." He looked at Precious again. "Adam and Jon have decided that together we should get you into fighting form quicker than not."
"So I have to fight all next week?" Precious asked, fluffing out some of her curls.
"Week after next," Marcus corrected. "Next week, I have surgeries lined up all week long. The week after, I'm going to be out there to help you."
"What about Xandra?" Timmy asked.
"She's going to be tested," Marcus told them. "She knows already. Then she's going to be moving onto a more varied training routine." He saluted Precious. "One of these days, you'll *have* to fight," he reminded her, stopping the tantrum cold. "We'd like to see you live through that first year."
She nodded. "Agreeable." She straightened up, putting on her more regal air. "Then we'll spar in two weeks. You'll see I'm not that bad."
"No, not that bad," Adam said as he walked Xandra back to the table. "Just lacking in some of the more basic skills, while you have some of the more extreme ones. We'll be working on that." He held a hand out to Serena, who accepted and was led away to dance.
Xandra gulped some of her water. "Don't worry, Precious. I'm not going to be anywhere near there. You won't be sparring with me. I'll be doing some weights."
Marcus smiled at her. "Only to build up your arms further. I know what Adam has in mind for you, and you'll do fine, the same as your sister will."
Precious nodded. "That's fine. I'll do my best."
"Kowalski!" the Captain yelled. Ray jumped up and headed into his office. "Your friends were almost shot on their way to a charity event. They need someone out there to do the paperwork." He handed over a message. "Also, your son said he was with someone named Junior and wouldn't be home tonight."
"Hey, I can do the paperwork and go yell at him," Ray said with a shrug. "I'm gonna go handle that. Later." He grabbed his jacket on his way out the door, heading out to Angel Island. He wondered why someone at the house had been ambushed, but he guessed it had to do with a case. He shrugged off his worries as he pulled out into traffic. The ferry was going to be crowded this time of day.
Xander looked at the arguing Precepts and Seconds and cleared his throat. "Shut up!" he yelled. There was silence. "You guys sound like our kids when they're arguing over who gets the last french fry." He frowned at them all. "*Derek* put Oz in charge while he was sick, get over it. Nick's dealing with this little coup attempt and whatever happened on the way to the event tonight. For now, until Derek's back tonight, *WE* are in charge!" He held up their joined hands, showing off their wedding rings and their Precepts' rings. "Get over it. Now. Before we have to do something drastic like make half of you go take a nap." Oz snickered at that. "Now then," he started. "Yes, there was an attempted coup by some people in the London house. Yes, some of us figured that fact out earlier than this morning. Yes, some of us even had our other houses alerted so they couldn't get sucked in." He nodded at Martel. "You guys can go back to your other house whenever you're ready."
"As soon as it's finally clean," Martel told him. "We're still getting the slime out of the carpet." He smiled at the Precepts looking at him. "We've been at our backup house since the London Hellmouth nearly opened."
"And you worked with an enemy to fix it," a Precept yelled.
"Yeah, we did," Oz agreed quietly. "Did your house have someone who could come close it?" That shut the Precept up, and most everyone else too. "No, Willow's not allowed in any of the houses, but she volunteered to help fix that problem. She had to fix the one in Sunnydale a few times before it stayed closed. The fact that she was there doesn't mean that we were *working* with her, we were accepting help in what could have been a very desperate situation."
"And let's face it, even the houses with people who can use magic wouldn't be able to deal with this by themselves. Even Derek, Philip, and I working together would have had trouble closing it. So, yes, I made an executive decision to allow her to help. Especially after she started off the process and brought our house into it."
One woman raised her hand. "I know William Sloan directly bequeathed you his Precept's ring, but don't you feel you're a bit young for the job?"
He smiled at her, his coldest, meanest smile. "No. Do you feel you're too old to go out into the field and chase down manifestations and demons?" She frowned. "I may be young, but I've been doing this since tenth grade, Melissa. That means I've been doing this same job longer than you've been with the group. Oz joined us a little later, but then again, he doesn't have that much to deal with."
"Neither does Xander," Sister Mary Catherine, Precept of the Vatican City house, argued. "We're very autonomous and we only report to him once a month. He's not doing any more work than anyone else at the Lead house." She smiled at him. "How is Jesus doing?"
"He's fine. Jon's taken a shine to him," Oz told her. "Philip's been busy with Derek for the last few days so Jon's been pinch hitting with Junior."
She nodded. "Good. Do you expect that Philip will want to keep him?"
"Not a clue, you've got to ask him," Xander told her. "I know he's given it serious thought. I know that Juniors psyched because he wants someone younger than him to pick on sometimes." He grinned. "And his cat's really fond of the baby too."
Martel snorted. "That cat's possessed or something."
"That cat came to us when a little girl crossed dimensions and landed with us," Oz told him. "She said he reminded her a lot of her Strife horse." Martel's mouth opened. "There wasn't ever any doubt about his name."
"How old is the cat?" Xander asked.
"The vet thinks somewhere around twenty," Oz said with a shrug. "He thinks it's a miracle." He looked at the group again. "For now, we do have some things we need to discuss as a group, and if you're feeling like adults, we should probably do so." He glanced at Xander. "We can run it together or you guys can pick one of us to be the moderator. Do it now though. I'm hungry and dinner is after this."
The Precept for the Amsterdam Research house laughed. "We could all use some food. How about we adjourn for an hour?"
"I second!" a female called from the back of the room.
"Fine by us," Xander said, slapping the lectern. "Let's go eat." He and Oz walked out, letting everyone follow. "Can I have a steak?" he begged his mate.
"Hey, we'll have two," Oz told him, giving his hand a squeeze. "I feel the need to be carnivorous."
A Precept walking behind them frowned at the woman beside him. She punched him, knocking him down. "They're cute and mostly non-lethal," she hissed. "Unlike me." The Montreal Precept brushed some of her hair back into place and followed the boys to the dining room. She caught Oz's smile and winked at him. "I've wanted to do that for years," she confided as she sat with them. "Have a good hunt?"
"Very good. Forgot where the horses were though," Xander told her. He looked at the waiter, smiling at him. "We want steak."
"A real steak, steak fajitas, or steak kabobs, sir?" he asked.
"Kabobs for me," Oz told him. "Onions?"
"There are some in there, but they're not very big."
"Cool. Salad too."
"I want the fajitas," Xander told him. "Fries and a salad too."
"Yes, sir." The waiter looked at the woman, and the man coming to the table. "Would you like to order now?"
"I'd like what Xander's having, only in chicken," the Montreal Precept told him.
"I'd like the biggest steak you have and a potato," Martel said as he sat down. "Medium."
"Yes, sir. And to drink?"
"Beer," Xander said, and Oz pinched him. "Diet soda," he sighed.
Oz smiled. "Diet soda for me too, please."
"For me too," the Montreal Precept agreed.
"I'd like an ale if you've got a good one," Martel told him. The waiter smiled and hurried off to his next table. "So, Margaret, how's things up north?"
"Quiet," the Montreal Precept told him, unfolding her napkin over her lap. "Too quiet actually. Nothing has happened in weeks. All our cases are hold-overs from last month."
"Want ours?" Oz asked her.
She laughed. "No, thank you. Armed gunmen are just a little wild for our house." She smiled at Xander. "How are your children?"
"Just hitting puberty," Oz told her. She shuddered. "Oh, you missed it. Precious has her mother's cycle." That got a wince from Martel. "Yeah, but she decided Xandra had something to do with it so she changed her personality for part of a day."
"Needless to say, Xandra was not pleased," Xander added. "She's never been one to wear things like Serena does and go pick flowers."
"Or giggle," Xander agreed, smiling at his husband. "Other than that, it's been pretty good."
A nearby Precept coughed and looked at them. "Did you tan her hide?"
Oz grinned. "No, we left her to Alex, and later to Derek."
The Precepts laughed. "No doubt she's thoroughly chastised then. What's she going to do later on, when she's older?"
"She's chosen," Xander told him. The man's smile fell away. "Yeah, so she's kinda sorta not got a lot of choice. Xandra's thinking about becoming a Guardian, or fitting in somewhere under Nick."
"Serena wants to take over Alex's place someday," Oz commented. "Brandon just wants to figure out where he fits, and Timmy really wants his girlfriend closer. Other than that, we have no idea."
The male Precept smiled again, a gentle one. "At least you're good parents. Not many of us in the organization are that way, the life tends to jade you."
"Yeah, but we missed so much," Xander told him. "Having a nanny and dealing with our caseload just made sure that we weren't there for the really important stuff."
"At least we got Junior," Oz soothed, patting Xander's hand where it was on the table. "He's been with us most of his life."
"Point," Xander agreed. "But it doesn't make up for missing those first steps, or the first baby babble."
"I know," the male Precept said. "I missed about a year total of my youngest daughter's first five. The other three still occasionally look at me like I'm a stranger. Thankfully, they had their mother." He smiled at Margaret. "When are you going to have one, dear?"
"When I'm suddenly impregnated by aliens," she said dryly. "I chose not to have children, Philip."
Xander smiled at her. "Want to babysit for a summer internship? They're much better when you get them as teenagers."
She laughed. "We'll see." She looked at the new Moscow Precept. "How about his house?"
"We're considering that for Brandon," Oz admitted. "He needs to know about more of the religions of the world. I think a summer in Moscow or Greece would do him a lot of good."
"The quad would be miserable," Philip pointed out.
"They've been apart before," Oz told him. "Little amounts of time. They'll handle it."
"As long as they have some form of communication," Xander added. "I'd personally like to see Timmy head to Martel's for a summer, just to see if this girl is going to work for him. Brandon to Moscow. Serena to Montreal. Precious to New York, because most of the ballbustin' women seem to be there." He grimaced. "And Xandra to Kyoto to train under Hashani for a few months." He shook his head. "I'd like to see a summer camp sort of idea for our group." He nodded at a few of the other Precepts around to listen in. "Let's face it, half of the houses have children attached to them and most of the parents want their kids to follow in their footsteps."
"And most of the kids have romantic ideals about what we do," Oz added, supporting his mate, even though he didn't really like this idea.
"Yeah. Serena thinks that Alex sits around all day looking at art and saying 'that's pretty'." He smiled. "So why not give them a small taste of what it's really like. Set them at an out-of-the- way house and send people there in each field."
"Give them a taste of the life," Philip said, nodding. "I like it. We could even run different camps if we had to."
"We do all want our children to follow us," another male Precept agreed from the table on the other side of Philip's. "We could give them a taste of all the specialities."
"It'd make sure that the art people would be able to work with the computer people," a research house second agreed.
"Plus, if we gave them old cases, ones we've already solved and the like, we could start presorting those that might want to join," Xander added. Everyone stared at him. "When we first went to 'Frisco, Derek sat Willow and I down with an old case and asked us to solve it. Partially to see if we could, partially to see if he could fix the argument we were having at the time."
"We could also test incoming people that way," Margaret agreed. "I tend to do the same thing for my new people, that way I don't end up with a hysterical person in the field." She smiled at Oz. "You don't like it?"
"I'm not real fond of the idea," Oz told her. "I'd like to see it kept in-house, but I know that you can't be objective about your own children. My concerns are more about things like rivalries that could get started. Our Junior and one of the kids in New Delhi hate each other."
"We've watched them ignore each other for years now," Xander said. "But I, personally, think that the good outweigh the bad. I haven't broached it with dad yet, but I don't think he'd be too unhappy with it. He's all for the internships thing."
Margaret started to open her mouth, but instead smiled at the waiter as he walked over with their salads. "Thank you," she said as he backed off. She took a bite. "It does bear some thinking about," she suggested. The other Precepts listening in nodded and went back to their food.
Ray pulled out his phone as he sat on the ferry, bored already with the slow ride. He dialed the guys' house, hoping to get someone out there. He hung up with a sigh when there wasn't even an answering machine after five rings. He started to search around his car for his personal phone book, but it looked like he had finally taken it into the house. He gave up and dialed directory assistance. "Hey, I need the number for the Luna Foundation," he told the operator. He wrote it down on the cleaner side of a burger wrapper. "Yeah, please connect me." He listened to it ring. "Hey, it's Ray Kowalski. Is my son out there?" He laughed. "Yeah, thanks man. No, I'm comin' out ta do the paperwork." He snorted. "I think I'll still be at it when your boss gets back from that event." He smiled. "Son, why did you run out there?" he asked once he heard his son's voice. "And?" He blew out a long, hard breath. "Okay. You can stay for now, until I get the paperwork done on the ambush, then I'll come up and talk to the guys about you staying over." He shook his head. "Then I'll talk to Jon. I doubt he needs more stress right now." He smiled. "And ya still gotta go ta school tomorrow." He laughed. "Yes, I know that you don't have ta go if I say you don't, but I say you do. Yes, that's the end of it." He laughed again. "Yay. Yeah, I'll be up there in a few hours. Let me do the stuff for where they got Dr. Rayne earlier. Sure, put Jon on." He waited for a moment. "Hey, it's Ray. Can you watch my kid for a few hours?" He smiled. "Sure. I'll be up after I deal with the situation on your road. Yup, that one. Sure. Really? Cool. I'll be out there later. We'll discuss him staying over then. Later." He hung up. He and his son were going to have a discussion soon. This was getting weird.
Benny Junior looked over at his best friend and grinned. "See, I told ya dad wouldn't yell at me."
Junior punched him on the arm. "That's because we're not here alone. He'll probably pounce on you once he gets you in the car."
Benny Junior smiled and shook his head. "Not when I remind him why I really came out here." The guard who was watching them, Jon, and Junior all looked at him. "What? Like it's my fault the slutty looking woman in the purple fringy dress likes to follow me around!" he complained.
"You need to talk to Derek or Alex about that when they get back," the guard told him.
"Or more likely Philip," Jon said quietly. "Does she talk, sing, or gesture?"
"Hums. It's really pretty."
"Until something breaks your concentration and you stop going to her," Jon pointed out. "We'll talk to the family about it when they get back. Until then, go play, boys," he ordered. The boys ran out, heading to the room with all the games. Jon looked at the guard. "Give me a warning when they pull up?"
"Of course," the guard said, smiling at him. She laughed at the sour look. "We're used to this, Jon. Just because it doesn't happen so much anymore doesn't mean they've lost their reflexes." She put her finger to her radio earbud, listening to the gate report. "His father just arrived on the scene at the ambush. His first words were 'damn, glad it wasn't me'."
Jon chuckled. "Me too." He put his feet up. The boys were old enough to watch themselves for a bit and Jesus was finally asleep.
Ray called Xander's phone, smiling when he got a connection. "No, the blue tag goes on the other foot," he ordered as he heard a voice on the other end. "Hey, it's me. No, just an FYI. Nope, I'm in charge of the cleanup of the ambush. Yeah. I don't know." He looked at the guards around him. "Xander wants to know if anybody dead can be attributed to his daughter?" Everyone shook their heads. "I guess the answer is no, they all seemed to agree." He held out the phone. "Here, he wants one of you right now." He walked around to go look at the gear they had pulled off the dead bodies. "Russian guns. Spanish vests." He pushed one guy's head around to look at his face. "Looks Hispanic."
"Here, he's satisfied that he won't come home to a crying child," the guard said, frowning at him. "We were going to report."
"My kid's with their youngest," Ray told him. "I wanted ta talk to them about Benny." He put the phone back to his ear. "Yeah, it seems that the strange shit likes him. Don't know, she was wearin' purple, humming a lullaby, and got everyone in a fifty-foot radius hard. You tell me." He laughed. "Really? Can I shoot it?" He laughed harder. "Cool. Then we'll wait on you guys, or Derek, ta get home. Thanks." He hung up. "A siren, huh?" A few of the guards walked away, shaking their heads. "Dealt with one before?"
"No, banshee," a guard called. "We hope she's still at the bottom of the bay." He looked around at the glares. "What? She jumped in!" He went over to look at the jeeps the bad guys had been using.
Ray smiled at the guard nearest him. "Seen these guys before?"
"No, but they're not new at this. The tires were shot out very precisely. The car was stopped, but their formation was very neat and precise." He toed one of the bodies. "I'd say we'll find them in some military database somewhere."
"Good, that gives me a place ta start," Ray said with a grin. He pulled out his camera and pointed it at the dead body. "Say cheese, schmuck." He snapped a picture of that one, then went to get one of all the gear.
Xander hung up and put his phone back in his pocket. "Well, Xandra didn't have to kill anyone," he announced. All the Precepts around his table looked at him. "Derek, Alex, and Philip were ambushed on the way to that charity event. Xandra and Adam went out as part of the security forces. She didn't kill anyone."
"That's good," Philip said, smiling in relief. "Do you think she'll make security team at your house?"
"I think she's already well trained to do that," Oz noted dryly.
"Xandra's always been the family enforcer," Xander agreed, rolling up his last fajita. "She's had to take on an attempted rapist at school, some chaos people, and various other bullies that happen in school."
"But she enjoys it?" Martel asked.
"Usually," Oz told him. "She's decided it's her job as leader."
"I thought she was younger," Margaret put in.
"She is, but she's still the leader. She beat Precious up when they were about four."
"She makes a much better alpha," Oz added. "Precious can get power hungry. Xandra seems to rule with a velvet coated fist. The other kids respect her for it." He shrugged and dug back into his kabobs. "She's very highly liked by her teachers too, she seems to keep trouble away from a lot of kids at school."
"We probably should have warned her that Xandra was an enforcer," Xander said lightly. "There's no more bullies though."
"Very true," Oz agreed, smiling at his husband. "The headmistress said a few of them about crapped when she walked in wearing her favorite black jeans and Buffy's leather jacket." He nibbled on a green pepper. "When did Buffy get a leather jacket?"
"Um, back with that absolute butt that we were about ready to hunt and kill. It was his. I think she stole it off him before she kicked him out that last time."
"Oh. Okay." Oz nodded, going back to his grazing.
"It's never boring for you, is it?" Philip asked.
Xander and Oz shook their heads in unison. "Never," they agreed.
Xandra hopped up as soon as she was done with her food and dragged Timmy onto the dance floor with her. He may have sighed, but he liked to dance and they looked good together. "So, tell me about her," she requested.
Timmy grinned at her. "Couldn't wait, huh?" She shook her head. "Okay. Well, she's our age, or maybe yours, but we're really close in age. She's pretty, I've seen her picture. She kinda looks like mom in some ways, the whole longish red hair part, but I think that's dyed. She's really smart about science and math. She's coming over on a math scholarship. Oh, and she's got the *greatest* voice."
She smiled at him. "She sounds nice. When does she come?"
"Three weeks," he sighed. "I have to wait three weeks to do more than chat or phone her." He gave his sister a squeeze. "Brandon's giving us dirty looks."
"Yay. It's not like we're the only ones out here." She smiled at their grandfather and Philip, who were dancing *very* closely. "I never thought they were into public displays."
"That's not a public display. That's just cuddling." Timmy dipped his sister then pulled her back up quickly, making her giggle. "Have I mentioned yet that your dress is killer? You look much better than Precious does."
"Thanks." She blushed. "Um, can I ask you for a favor?" He nodded. "I kinda want you to check out a guy for me," she whispered. His mouth fell open. "And I know I'm not old enough to date, but he's really nice. I don't want to date him though, ya know?" Timmy nodded. He had felt that way before. "So can you?"
"I need to know his name." She leaned closer and he grinned as he heard the whispered name. "Really? That's cool. He's a cool guy." He gave her another squeeze and spun them around, taking the other side of Derek and Philip. "I guess that you didn't want Brandon to know?"
"No! I think he's going to give the guy a lecture and that'll kill any chance I have with him." She smiled when she noticed Philip was watching them. "What?" she asked innocently. She was switched off, getting Philip, while Timmy got Derek. "Hi," she said sweetly.
"What're ya plannin' now?" Philip asked.
"I just wanted him to look over a guy for me," she complained. "He's really nice."
"Good. Why not Brandon?"
"Because he *lectures*," she reminded him. Brandon had learned it from him, he should remember that bad habit. "I wanted Timmy to kinda look him over, maybe ask him a few questions. That sorta thing."
Philip smiled at her. "Good idea. I'm sure we'd all like to meet this boy."
She rolled her eyes. "I promise, if it's something serious, then I'll gladly bring him home and let you guys torture him, but I'm not that sure yet." Philip nodded. "You won't tell Grandpa, right? Or the dads?"
Philip just smiled and twirled her out, then brought her back, dancing her back to the table to rejoin everyone else. He helped her into her seat then went to his own, waiting for the announcer to come on and start the bidding.
Xander sighed as the argument started again. "People!" he called. "No one can hear anything, it sounds like you're speaking in tongues." That got a few laughs. "A *constructive* argument has one person stating a point, then someone else countering it, but it has to be done one at a time!" He sat down again. "Meredith, I believe you started off this argument. Please give a full viewpoint with reasons."
Meredith, who was second in the Madrid house, glared at him. "I was about to. And I'm not your child."
"Then don't scream like it," Oz told her. "Give it now or regret it later."
She stood up. "I believe, and my Precept agrees, that we should start limiting membership to those of us who have families. We feel that the organization has gotten too large to effectively be handled." She pointed at the pair in the front of the room. "All the houses are being handled by a few of us instead of what it was before when just one of us handled it all."
Oz raised his hand. "We only handle two or three houses each, and that's only the paperwork and reports part."
Xander raised his hand. "Did your Precept suggest that it be both sides of the organization? Because I've had to agree to three special short-term houses being created in the last six months to go on digs."
Meredith shook her head. "I think it was the usual part of the organization. As for yours, he's never really seen the need for it." She smiled and shrugged. "Sorry."
Martel snorted. "That's because your house doesn't do much that takes research." He stood up. "Unfortunately, as most of the other houses can tell you, we do the majority of your special research for you. We find the specialty creatures. We deal with the really special artifacts. Your house only deals with the local problems, and most of them have been around forever."
"Point," Meredith agreed, "but what about London?"
"We could use another good ten people," the security officer from London put in from her position in the back of the room. She had flown over to try and stop James, so she was admitted in his place. "We've got a semi-active Hellmouth, a common-class demon uprising in parts of the city, and a thief who managed to get into the crown jewels recently without registering on any security device or to the people standing in front of the case he stole from. We've got Scotland Yard's cases to help them with, plus dealing with anything that the Dublin Research house doesn't. We don't need less, we need more."
"But the point was that she and her Precept think that there should be some restructuring," Xander pointed out. "Which you just seconded. Meredith, how many people work in your house?"
"Five, with one of them being a part-time because he's a priest. Why?"
"Could you do it with less?"
She shook her head. "No. But my Precept doesn't want us to hire any more when someone retires."
"Then that's on his head," Martel noted.
Xander nodded. "True. Each Precept does have control of how many people are in their house. Derek's managed to find a way to prorate the budget for each house so that should be okay." She nodded. "As for why he thinks that no other house has more problems, has he visited any other one?"
"He visited London during our one week off in the last year."
"Thank you, Elizabeth," Oz called. "Okay. So he doesn't think that there's enough problems to go around. Would he be willing to spend a week in another house? We've obviously got some very stressed Precepts and I bet they'd like to spend a week in yours."
Meredith stood up straighter. "I think he might agree that it would be a good start to looking at the problem."
Xander nodded. "Okay, so tell him to pick someone and send them to another house for two weeks. Do a house swap. Since you guys have so little going on, we can probably find some people who need a short vacation easily." She nodded. "Good. Tell him to pick a few types of houses. I'll let them into one of the research houses. Get them to go to at least three other houses." She nodded again. "Then he can submit a proposal to Derek and have it put onto the next meeting if his concerns are warranted." She sat down. "Good. Next problem?"
Martel stood up. "Unfortunately, mine's the opposite. We need people. Especially translators. We've got Greek, Latin, and Russian pretty well sewn up, but we've got books in some really funny languages."
"Are any of them things that you don't want to get out?" Oz asked. Martel nodded. "Are you sure?"
"One of them is some sort of sexual manual for a demon ta tempt a woman," he noted dryly.
"Those can be considered to have been put out by the Church," a bearded man on the right side of the room pointed out. "You could do that."
Xander shrugged. "True. But tell me something, do you *have* to have this book in *your* house?"
"It was donated to us," Martel said grimly. "With the stipulation that we decode it."
"What language is it in?" the bearded man asked.
"Not a clue. I was hoping to get the other Research Precepts together and see if someone recognized it." He looked at Xander. "I'd like permission to get a few ancient civs people in to help us part-time." He saw the wince and nodded. "That's why I'm asking now. I'm sure I'm not the only house that has this problem."
Sister Mary Catherine stood up. "I know that in the Vatican City house that we have things *no* one can translate, not even Philip. No one's sure what language they're in or what's in them, they've been with us forever though."
Xander made a decision. "I want to meet with the Research Precepts later in the conference. We'll go over this problem then."
"Get someone to fax over a copy of a page of each book you can't translate," Oz suggested. "That way you can at least figure out which language they're in." He looked around the room. "Anyone else who has some language experience could also join in on that board." Xander nodded. "Cool. As to the extra people, how would you do that and not expose the organization?"
"I was thinking about offering a small stipend if they'd do a book," Martel admitted. "Maybe a five hundred pound prize if they get it and it looks right?"
Xander leaned back in his chair. "I want to think about that. It seems like it might work, but with what's in some of the books in our own library, I'd hate to say yes right now. I know that some of them can be explained away as something that a monk somewhere in the mediaeval Church wrote as an esoteric text, but we've got books that can only be explained as paranormal stuff."
"I can limit it that way, I guess," Martel conceded.
"How would you know if you can't read it?" Oz pointed out.
Martel frowned at him. "I know, but I can't find another way."
"Maybe there is another way," Xander told him. "We'll go over that during our board. We may have the answer already sitting inside us somewhere."
"I'd like permission to bring up a few of the books we've recently excavated under the Vatican," Sister Mary Catherine suggested. "I know a few of them aren't in any language we've ever seen."
"Deal," Xander agreed.
"Next issue," Oz called out.
The bearded man stood up. "I think we should talk about Martel's suggestion more."
"I don't think that'll impact the other houses," Meredith pointed out.
"It would if it got out," Oz reminded her. "Okay, you've got your ten minutes too."
He bowed to Oz. "Thank you. We do know that there's been some texts written in some very obscure languages. We also know that some of them are precursors of the languages we speak now. How many of these books are in the regular houses?"
"Most of ours are in French and Latin," Xander told him. "Philip's working on translating all of them for common use."
"It's a Computer Services project, to get all our books online," Oz added. "We'd like to get all the books in the translated and original forms onto the organization's network."
The bearded man smiled. "That would be excellent. But what about hackers?"
"I was one," Oz told him. "The network has been hacked before, and it will again, but we've minimized the exposure of most of it. No one's gotten into the case files yet. We were thinking about a referencing system similar to what we use for cases. Where you have to go to the section of the network for the other house to get their cases."
The bearded man nodded. "And Philip is going to be working on this?"
"We're hoping to get our books up in the next five years," Oz told him. "Why?"
"Because doing so will help us all greatly. That was part of the problem I was going to have." He nodded at Martel. "If we do that, would we need the research houses?"
Xander smiled. "Do you really want your house to work on some of the research they've got going? Or some of the artifacts that get sent to them? We know many of the spirit tomes that have hit the research houses have been sent by the other houses to be looked at for them." He looked the man over. "Which one do you belong to?"
"Vancouver and occasionally Toronto," he said with a smile. "I'm Mark. Father Mark, Orthodox priest."
Xander nodded back. "I've heard of you. You're always bringing up a plan to condense the houses."
"Yes, I am. I feel that we're too spread out."
"But being this spread out leaves the main houses free to do their work," Meredith pointed out. "I certainly wouldn't want to do what Vatican City does, and we're the closest house."
"Athens is closer," Xander reminded her. "It's a special term house." She shrugged. "Still, she has a point. The research houses were set up so that the regular houses didn't have to deal with a lot of the research on top of cases. Are you trying to put them together?"
"There are some houses where it's worked," Father Mark reminded him. "Kyoto and your own house are perfect examples."
"Before we came, Derek wasn't doing any research," Oz commented. "He didn't have the people or the space to do it. They were overloaded with cases because of the way the energy flows around there. It's only been since we got made Lead house that we've turned back to our research imperative."
The Kyoto second cleared his throat and stood up. "We function mostly as a research house. We have one person who does case work. For the most part, we only deal with certain types of research, as does New Delhi, but we don't get much else done." He looked at Xander and Oz. "I'd also like to hand you a proposal to get a grant."
"Sure, after this," Oz agreed. "Ready to remodel again?"
The Kyoto Precept smiled and shook his head. "No, to put in a safe room so we wouldn't have to redecorate ever again. We've decided that six times in the last four months was more than enough."
Father Mark looked at him. "Why have you had so much damage? We only get hit like that once every few years."
"They've had sixteen spirit tomes sent to them," Xander told him. "All but three of which have went active. That's another reason why the research houses have the sort of budget they do. Martel's cleaning is going to cost him nearly a million dollars to get rid of the slime."
Father Mark looked thoughtful as he nodded. "I see. Yes, that would be better to have those houses farther away from the ones working cases, but our case load has gone down."
Xander grinned. "Hey, if it goes down that much, then I'm all for shutting down a few of the main houses or changing their focus and making them specialty-focusing houses."
"Like Dublin and their Irish demons and folklore specialty?" Nick asked as he walked in.
"Definitely," Xander agreed. "London has a great deal of experience in certain types of cases and research, if they suddenly go caseless, then we should turn them to that focus instead of casework."
"Then would my Precept's plan be looked at?" Meredith asked.
Oz nodded. "Definitely. We'd have to. Until then though, we'd like a more comprehensive study done in a few of the houses." She nodded. "Thanks." He looked at Father Mark. "What side are you arguing, Father?"
"I'm more arguing for some consolidation. I know my two houses are far apart, but Montreal and Toronto could be combined."
Margaret shook her head. "Not a chance. Unless they want to come deal with cases. I left my house with three open ones, and only one that can be solved in the books. I don't have time to handhold a bunch of new guys that've never had a case." She got frowned at by Oz for it. "I'm sorry, but I don't. If I did, I'd be recruiting right now. Most of the research guys don't do well in the field, that's why they were put into the research house. I need field-capable people and a lot of them."
"Some of them weren't given a chance to see if they do well in the field," Sister Mary Catherine pointed out. "Most of my people came to us because they needed us and stayed." Martel nodded. "How many more do you need?"
"I'd be happy with three more field agents," Margaret suggested.
Nick coughed. "Father Mark, do you have anyone in your houses that would like a field stint, just to get Montreal over this problem?"
"We have one," Father Mark admitted. "I'll call him tonight and ask him if he'd switch over for a few weeks."
"We could probably send you one of the kids early," Xander suggested, not looking happy. "That might help."
"No thanks," Margaret said dryly. "I don't need an enforcer, I need someone who can go out and depossess people, or someone who can figure out why a room keeps disappearing in a house."
Father Mark smiled. "I'll be over after this conference. Those are my areas." He smiled at Xander. "In the future, if you need a Hellmouth closed, feel free to call on me also. I got here late, but I did hear about the prior argument."
Xander nodded. "Cool. We'll get Giles to forward you a copy of his spell." He looked at Oz, then at his watch. "Anything else for tonight?"
A woman in the back held up her hand. "About your idea for the summer camp?"
"Xander," Nick sighed.
"No, some of us were talking about it and we'd like to put it on the agenda for the next full Precept's meeting."
"I second," Father Mark said, sitting back down.
"Okay, I'll write up a proposal. We'll put it forward during the miscellaneous board tomorrow." She nodded and sat back down. "Anything else? It's nearly ten."
"I suggest we adjourn and recommence tomorrow after lunch," the London security person said.
"I second," Meredith said quickly. "I'd like to call my Precept before too much longer."
Oz slapped his hand on the lectern. "Adjourned until tomorrow after lunch, with the exception of the dawn board that was already planned." A few people groaned and he shrugged, but he was grinning. "You guys planned it." He stood up, heaving Xander to his feet behind him. "Come on, I want to call the kids."
Xander obediently followed along behind his mate. "Since I've been good, can I have cuddles?" he asked as he was led out of the room.
"Sure. You might even get sex if I'm feeling up to it," Oz quipped. He knew his mate was grinning, everyone was smiling at them.
The Precepts and Seconds all smiled at each other as they left the meeting room, talking in small groups. Even the group that wanted to have Xander and Oz kicked out for being weres were holding a conversation, unanimously agreeing that they had done very well filling in no matter how unnatural they were.
Derek braced himself as he walked through the door, the sound of running feet was loud in the quiet house and he knew they were headed for him. He smiled as a young boy launched himself at him, hugging him tightly. Then he pulled back some and looked down at the boy. "Benny?"
"Yup," Benny said with a grin. "It's me. Dad's on his way up as soon as he's done and we need to talk to you about the ho in the purple dress."
Junior jogged up to them and tore Benny from his grandfather's embrace, hugging him himself. "Hi. How was the dinner, dance, and auction?"
"As most events are, boring," Philip told him, reaching over to pat him on the head. "What's goin' on, Benny?" He took the boy into the living room, letting everyone else follow him.
"See, there's this woman in a purple dress. She kinda hums and motions me over," Benny started. Alex, Buffy, and the kids all headed for their rooms to go change. Marcus stood in the doorway, but Derek motioned him and Junior in.
"Go on," Philip said. "Describe her."
"She's got kinda blonde, kinda red hair, that funky in-between shade. Her dress is purple, it's got fringies and that odd hem that looks like it's been ripped a few times. She hums, makes *everyone* hard within fifty feet, and she keeps following me," Benny got out in one breath.
Philip looked at Derek. "Siren?"
"Probably." He smiled at the boys. "Would you like to stay over tonight, Benny? I know that your father probably expects it because he waved at us as we went past."
"Sure. He said he'd come up and talk to you guys once he got done with the scene of the ambush." Benny bounced a little bit. "You're sure it won't be a problem? 'Cause dad can be a total bear about school and stuff."
Derek chuckled. "I'm sure we can talk him into it." He checked his watch. "Why don't you both go back to the house and get settled in for the night? We'll wait up and talk to your father."
"Okay!" Benny launched himself at them for another hug, then turned and punched Junior on the arm. "You're it!" he yelled, taking off at his fastest run.
Junior laughed and followed him, after kissing everyone on the cheek.
Philip looked at Derek. "Oh, for the energy of youth," he said quietly.
Derek cracked up. "While I would love that sort of energy, I wouldn't go through puberty again for anything." He stood up. "Let's go change before Ray arrives. I'm sure we'll be at this for a while and our tuxedos aren't that comfortable."
"Amen," Philip whispered, following him up to their room to change. And maybe get in some cuddling.
Marcus looked around, then sighed. The butler walked in and handed him a key. "I've taken the liberty of putting you in the children's wing," he said formally. "Your emergency bag is already up there, sir."
Marcus smiled at him. "Thanks, man. Can you make sure I get up sometime closer to dawn than not? I've got to go pre-approve people for surgery tomorrow." He stood up and headed up to the boys' former wing, knowing which room they put guests into. He had to check another one, finding Ray's things in it already. He started to relax as he pulled off his bowtie and headed for the shower.
Ray knocked politely, he was tired but he liked these guys so he wouldn't pound. The butler opened the door and waved him in. "Where's my kid?" he asked.
"Asleep, Master Ray," the butler said quietly.
Ray checked his watch and swore. "Damn, I thought it was still a decent hour. Stupid assholes hiding in the bushes just had to make extra work." He glanced around. "Is everyone else in bed too?" The butler nodded. "I guess that's cool."
"We've taken the liberty of preparing a room for you," the butler told him, leading him, well pulling him, up to the prepared room. "I've set a dinner tray in there for you and left a note for the morning shift to get you up around seven. I hope that's all right."
Ray chuckled. "Thanks, man. You're good." He looked into his room. "When did I leave clothes here?"
"They were in your son's bag," the butler told him. He backed away. "Call 62 if you need anything else." He headed back down the stairs, letting Ray settle himself in.
Ray walked in and shut the door, taking off his T-shirt as he headed for the shower, only making a quick stop for one of the three beers cooling in the champagne bucket. "Yeah, this is classy," he said in appreciation. He walked into the bathroom and sighed in pleasure. Everything was set up for him but the water. He ran a bath and went back to get his dinner, then climbed in and relaxed.
Nick lay on his bed and stared up at his ceiling. It had been a long time since he had slept alone. The bed was too large without Philip taking up all the space and Derek using him as a bed pillow. He flipped onto his side, ignoring the giggling coming from the next room. At least it wasn't the boys. He hated listening to them.
He glared at the other wall as it started to move. "Oh, man!" he complained. "Can't you wait until you get home!" He picked up a pillow and covered his head with it, hoping to block out enthusiastic sex from Precepts.
TO BE CONTINUED...