Title: Changing Times
Email addy: to list or email@example.com
Pairings: derek/philip, Oz/willow (for now, but maybe not later)
Rating: PG (only a few kisses and some snugglin')
Notes: Set in break between fall and spring semesters in college, this season in the future. Also set in Sloan time because he's the only London Precept I know and like <G>. Let's say this has an element of AU, shall we? Thanks to the beta Goddess, Mary, who spends much of her free time dealing with my comma addiction.
Changing Times by Voracity
Buffy walked into the new Library's office, frowning at the neatness left by her Watcher, except for the one corner. Giles had been gone now for the over a week, no one knew where, why, or when he would be coming back. She sat down at his desk, opening the middle drawer, taking out the envelope with her name on it. He'd told her it was there in case something happened to him. It was his instructions to her, possibly his last. She opened the cream-colored heavy paper, reading out the few last things he wanted her to do.
I know this may be a difficult time for you to do this, but you must do some things for me. You must gather all my weapons, hiding them at your Mother's house. Do the same for all the books but six: the Chronicles, my diary, Willow's spell books - both of them-, and a book each of the men know about. You must take them to my friend, bring this letter as an introduction. Call the number on the back today and leave by dawn tomorrow. The map is in my diary, and for Heaven's sake let Oz drive you, follow it carefully.
You can trust them with your life, they already know about you and the gang. Take them all to protect them and be careful. Please be careful. I'll miss you, wherever I end up.
She smoothed out the paper on his desk, looking up at the Principle. "His requests for his things. I and my friends need to move them."
He, being much more toward the attitude of the first one she'd had here instead of Snyder, just nodded. He left her alone, letting her do what she'd been instructed to do.
She flipped the paper over, smoothing the paper as she dialed the lightly written number. "Hi, this is Buffy Summers. Rupert Giles told me to call if something happened. He's been gone now for a week." She let the phone drop from her fingers, letting her grief out now.
Oz stopped his van outside the stone castle, looking up at the ivy covered walls. He whistled, impressed. "Impressive friends." He looked at his friends. "We're here."
Everyone got out, Buffy leading of course. Her nerves were on edge as she waited for someone to answer the doorbell, wondering who and what this was all about.
An older man opened the door. "May I help you?"
Buffy smiled bravely. "I'm Buffy Summers."
"Ah, yes, come in," a deeper voice came from the inside. They all walked in, looking around then at the man walking down the grand staircase. "I'm Derek Rayne. Welcome to the Luna Foundation and my home."
Buffy shook his hand. "I'm Buffy. This is Willow, Oz, and Xander. They help me." She looked down at the book she was clutching then slowly handed it over. "He told us to bring you some things."
Derek looked it over then led them up to the library. He smiled at the quiet gasp from the redhead as he took his seat. "Sit, please." He looked at the late teens, wondering what called such.... unique people together. He smiled at the butler and especially his co-worker coming in behind him. "Nick, you were almost late." He took the papers the younger man had handed him. "London?"
Nick nodded. "Yup. Clear orders for once." He looked at the four young people. "Nick Boyle."
Buffy smiled, at ease. She had seen how he walked, his every movement and control saying he was a trained fighter. "I'm Buffy. The couple's Willow and Oz, the dark haired one's Xander." She patted the later's hand, knowing he was still nervous.
"Buffy," Derek said, not wincing at the name as he said it, "do you know what happened to him?"
She shook her head. "He just disappeared one night." She shrugged, her eyes betraying her body's calm facade. "He said to call if he was gone more than three days, but I waited almost a week ‘cause I didn't want to panic."
Derek nodded, mostly in sympathy. "I'm sure this has caused you great pain." He shifted, leaning back. "What did he tell you about us?" She shook her head. "That's fine, he asked me when he first attained you to help you when it became necessary. It seems," he paused to shift again, "that he was taken. While he is gone, you four are to be here. We will continue your training, guiding you in your mission." He looked at the redhead. "I'm sure some of you will be able to help us also." He smiled. "Your magical practices are fine, just please don't use it in the house. It's beenspecially shielded to prevent anything working and we wouldn't want you hurt from a backlash." His smile got a little warmer and fuzzier. "There's a beautiful spot outside that we've used forthat purpose." She nodded, taking Oz's hand. Derek turned his attention back to the Slayer, his newest responsibility. "I know he told you to bring some things here, but this is the only one Ineed except for his diary. Both will help us find him we hope. I'll have someone show you to your rooms soon, then we'll work out where and what we'll do." He smiled kindly, fatherly almost. "Don't worry, we'll find him." He looked at Nick. "He'll be taking over your training duties as he has the experience I don't."
Willow raised a hand. "Oz, Xander, and I are researchers. Well, I do computers stuff too but we're the main researchers, I guess the only ones now."
Nick smiled, pushing over their fact files. "We know. Your room has an internet connection. We'll be figuring out where you fit in later."
She looked down, reading quickly. "How...?" She looked at Derek. "How did you find all this out?"
She looked upset so Oz took it from her to read. He grunted, tossing it back. "Very thorough." He wrapped his arm around his girlfriend's shoulder. "But it's incomplete."
Derek nodded. "We know. I was going to talk to each of you privately later."
Buffy looked down the table at Oz. "Giles said to trust them," she said softly.
"Werewolf," Oz said.
Derek drew in a sharp breath. "I see." He paused then smiled serenely. "We can deal with that." He looked at Nick. "I'll leave that to you also." He stood. "You must be ready to rest, we'll talk later." He patted Oz's shoulder as he passed. "We've dealt with much worse," he said as he left the room.
Nick looked at them. "Okay, run this slower for me. Derek didn't give me much info."
Buffy raised a hand. "Slayer and they're the Slayerettes, what's left. Our two part-time members are in LA now." She looked at Willow, who nodded. "Witch, werewolf, and normal back-up guy."
Xander grinned. "Yup, that's me, normal guy. Also known as doughnut and munchie guy and ‘let him be the diversion' guy."
Nick grinned, liking this kid. "Okay. You're the ‘In every generation' one, right?" She nodded so he turned to Xander. "Much braver than me. I'd be tempted to be the rear line of defense."
Xander nodded. "Yeah, but I'm more of a ‘jump in' kinda guy. Not brave, no brains."
"Know that feeling." He took a sip of his coffee, grimacing. "Cold." He shook his head. "A clear sign that it's time to move on. Okay, my turn? I'm a former Seal."
Xander got his hero-worship look. "Tell me it's not the ball-balancing on the nose kind."
Nick shook his head, grin back. "Handy trick to have but no." He looked at Buffy. "Tonight you acclimate, tomorrow morning we evaluate." She nodded so he turned to the couple. "The rest of you, we want reports on what you've dealt with so far to evaluate what skills you need." He looked at Oz. "Last night?"
"Was my last night. I'm safe for another cycle."
"Thought so but I don't pay much attention to that stuff." He looked at Xander. "In addition to your reports, you can help me set stuff up, okay? It's pretty boring here if you don't have something to do and you aren't an avid reader." The teen nodded. "Okay, let's head to your rooms. You have a wing to yourselves but sound carries." The group started out to the van but he stopped Oz. "You and she, we don't mind or care, but you're in separate rooms. There's a nice, quiet spot out in the garden to play also."
Oz nodded. "Thanks. We're not that together anyway." They walked out side by side, Oz tossing the keys to Willow as they got closer. They stepped out of the way of the pack mule known as Xander as he wobbled toward them.
Buffy took her stuff from the younger man's hands. "Relax," she said softly. "Hero worship later."
Willow set her's and Oz's stuff on the steps, handing him back the keys. "I've got it," she told him.
"Where can I park? I don't think it goes with the whole ivy covered thing."
Nick looked up, seeing the colors the ivy was still showing. "Neither does my Mustang." He pointed at a building just barely seen around the corner. "There's the garage." Oz nodded, getting in and pulling away. Nick picked up a few of the bags. "I'll take you up and you guys can do your own room assignments."
They followed him upstairs, through a few doors and up another flight of stairs. Once he dropped the bags, Willow took charge, doing the practical stuff. "Okay, I want the room on the end. It's also got the meeting table. "Oz'll," she smiled as he walked up, "want the room next to mine." She blushed slightly when he nodded. "So, Xan, take the left side, Oz the right. Buffy, garden's on the right, bay's on the left."
The blonde looked at both rooms, eventually picking the one beside Xander's because she liked the furniture.
Willow looked at Nick. "Are we supposed to dress for dinner?"
"Clothes, always a good idea," Xander said as he disappeared into his room.
Nick waited until Willow rolled her eyes. "Nope, he's got the right idea. We're not formal here unless it's a formal event." She blanched. "Not another for two months."
She wiped her brow. "Good, I left everything like that at home."
"Kitchen and dining rooms are where?" Oz asked.
"First floor. We'll do the guided tour later." He waved and went back toward the working areas.
Willow went to her room, laying down. "Yeah, this is different." She sighed, turning her head to look out the window. "Way different." She smiled at Buffy, who had walked in. "Hey, unpacked?"
"Later." She sat on the bed. "What's up? You're being snappy to Xan again."
Willow shrugged. "Not a clue. Maybe it was how unserious he was. This place just screams ‘serious' to me." She looked Buffy in the eyes. "Didn't you get the hallowed hall feelings?"
"No, I got the protective/protecting one. Like they're the guardians of all that knowledge in the library. But I got the same feeling from Giles too." She sniffled then pulled herself together again.
Willow, being the friend she was, pulled the older woman's head to her chest, hugging and holding her. "We'll find him," she reassured.
Derek read their instructions from the Ruling House Council again. London had decreed them Associate members with full access. He was to put them on both staff's rolls, get them into college, and treat them as his own children. He frowned as he sat back, thinking about this most unorthodox ruling from the Legacy, which guarded it's secrets until the point of death of rouge members. Why had their secret society gone to this length to protect these four untried and uninitiated individuals? His thoughts were broken into as Nick walked in.
"That boy's got a real problem with his self-esteem," he said in greeting. "Reminds me of me back at that age."
Derek raised an eyebrow, with a hint of a smile. "When did it change?" He pushed across the papers. "Most unusual."
Nick nodded. "Read it when it came across." He pushed them back. "Any idea on assignments?"
"Willow and," he paused, trying to remember the other young man's name, "Oz are both goot with computers. Buffy," he grimaced at the sound of the name on his tongue, "needs to train. I'll leave Xander's assignments up to you as you seem to be getting close." He leaned back. "Have them start reports and journals tonight, get their transcripts so we can follow orders, and we'll initiate them after dinner." He dialed the phone with one hand, putting it on speaker phone. "William?"
"Yes, Derek!" The London Precept actually sounded happy to hear from him for once. "Are they there yet?"
"Getting settled in," Nick said. "I put them up in the far guest wing to give them some privacy."
Derek nodded. "A safe place." He turned to look out the window. "A most unusual bunch."
"But necessary." They could hear the creak of a leather chair on the other end. "Mr. Giles has trained them most efficiently. They have more skills and knowledge now than we had when we joined."
Derek smiled fondly. "Some of us had plenty."
"But no clue what to do with them." A short laugh. "Seriously though, with the Watcher's Council turned they need us. I've gotten their list of potentials and sent people to them. Still no word on their Watcher. The last we knew he boarded a plane in New York."
Buffy knocked hesitantly, standing just inside the door. "Where was he headed?"
Derek waved her to a chair. "We think to the Council."
She nodded then thought for a second. "He has some magic of his own," she said quietly. "He hates to use it but will to protect us."
Derek opened his mouth to say something but William's Sloan's voice overrode whatever he'd bene about to say. "Buffy, the whole Council appears to have turned toward the dark. We believe he and a few other members have gone to cure it."
Derek grunted, adjusting his vest. "Some of this we were going to tell you tonight but he sent you to us not only to help you in the interim but to be made into one of us. It's the only way you can be protected now. If he comes back, he'll be joining you here."
She swallowed past the lump in her throat. "Okay." She walked out, seemingly calm.
Derek watched her go, sad that someone her age had to deal with this. "There's a very strong bond there."
William grunted. "Wait until you hear about what they've done over the last few years. We've had a person watching them from inside the school and she's a strong girl. The redhead's the bright one, but never underestimate her own abilities. She's the most adaptable one they've had yet." He cleared his throat. "Did the musician come with them? Oz, I think his name is."
"Yeah," Nick said. "Interesting hair. Spiky and flourescent purple right now."
"That's a switch. He tends to go from his natural color to blonde to another shade, but not purple before now." They could hear the smile in his voice. "What did you think of him?"
"Taciturn," Nick said. "He didn't make an expression the whole time we were talking. Not even when I gave them our fact file."
William laughed. "Yes, that's him. Derek, I want him to have your job one day." He hung up.
Derek frowned at his security chief. "Don't encourage him. He wants me to take his place." He steepled his fingers, propping his chin on them as he leaned back in his chair. "A most unusual group and a most unusual set of circumstances that brought them." He looked at Nick. "I want your opinion on them."
"Mostly okay. Some major work that needs to be done to Buffy." He scratched his tongue. "That does sound funny the first few times, doesn't it?" He grinned. "That one's like me, then there's the couple. She's his world and he's overly protective. I wouldn't try any of that stuff that you used to do to Alex on her, he'll get you." His grin got bigger. "I think Oz is the strong one emotionally but Xander's got a strength to him that comes from having to hide for too long. I think the city and the Legacy will be good for him." He looked over as the young man in question came in. "Hey, come on in. We were just talking about you."
Xander took the seat Buffy had vacated. "What was Buffy talking about?"
"We were going to discuss that over dinner," Derek said. He looked at the young man. "Would you like a condensed version to go explain to them?" The young man nodded. "We're members of an organization called the Legacy. We've been around since the beginning of time, we actually predate the Watcher's council. Rupert sent you to us to become members so we could continue to protect you four and allow her to do her job. I've been ordered to treat you as my own children, getting you into school and making sure you fit into this house here." He leaned forward. "Everything around here deals with the paranormal. While your group may have cornered the duties dealing with Vampires, we deal with the average demon, ghost, and other odd occurrences. Our whole job is protective." He smiled. "Where have you seen yourself, what career path did you have laid out?" It was time he tried to figure this problem out and here was a good place to start.
Xander drew in a deep breath then let it out before answering. "I was thinking about the military or the Police." He looked down, playing with the carpet with his foot. "I'm the extra, do everything person in the group."
Nick patted his shoulder. "I understand. I was that guy for a long time too." He ruffled the short, dark hair gently. "I'll teach you what I can. We also deal with serial killers and the like too. Maybe you'd be good at that."
Xander smiled. "You used to be like me?"
"Yup, that was part of the reason I joined the Navy. While you're here, consider me a big brother and we'll be okay, all right?" Xander nodded, happy. "Good. Now then, I gotta go get some stuff to bring up to you guys, and we'll talk about those reports." He ruffled the hair one last time, then left.
Xander watched him go. "Wow." He turned to Derek. "Thanks for putting up with us."
"Not a problem. We were actually expecting Rupert to show up in London with all of you in tow." He smiled. "Seems the Hellmouth has closed again, fully this time." He pointed at the phone. "Want to call your parents?"
"I probably should." He picked it up, dialing quickly. "Mom, it's me." Pause. "Xander mom. Yeah, I've made it here and we're all right. We'll be here for a while." He hung up. "I'll tell Willow if she's not already e-mailed her mom, okay?" Derek nodded. "Thanks." He left the office, still happy, not even let down by his parents not caring.
Derek shook his head. "I see now what Nick meant." He picked back up the detailed instructions, reading them again.
Xander bounced into Willow's room. "Office downstairs. Called mom." He sat down next to Buffy. "We're getting the stuff to do the reports in a minute."
Buffy smiled. "I'm glad." She looked out the window. "Killer view."
"Definitely." Oz looked at Xander then at the hall. They went out there, closing the door to get some privacy. "Spill."
"We're wanted here as members. Giles sent us for that reason. Seems this organization's older than the Watchers." He bounced slightly. "Everything they do is paranormal. The old guy, Derek, mentioned other demons and ghosts and stuff." He grinned. "Sounds cool, huh."
"Sounds like more of the same." Oz got that frowning look in his eyes. "What about the band?"
"Not a clue man, maybe they could come down." Xander looked hesitantly at them. "Derek said we could use his phone to call home. Maybe you should call Devon and your mom both."
Oz nodded. "Sounds right." He opened the door, hearing Nick coming up. "Hero's coming."
Xander frowned. "He's an amazing man. He's treated me like a brother so far and even said he'd help me learn new stuff." He looked over as the older man came into view. "Hey," he said.
Nick smiled. "Hi. Ready?"
"Yeah," Oz said. He let Xander walk in but stopped Nick. "Don't hurt him. He's too fragile to do that to."
Nick shook his head. "I used to be him." He walked in, followed by Oz. "Okay, got some stuff for you." He looked at the diskettes Willow handed him. "What's this?"
"Reports. Over last summer I got bored so Giles suggested that I make a database of our cases so far. That's the contents up to when we left." She shrugged. "Not a big, I can print them if you want a hard copy."
Nick shook his head, sitting down. "No, this'll be fine. What format?"
"Lotus. I like the programing stuff." She grinned. "If you want, I can collate our research too. Our most common research that is."
Nick shook his head. "Not really necessary, we have most of it downstairs in books." He looked around. "None of you is fluent in Latin, are you?" Everyone shook their heads. "Didn't think so. We've been looking for someone to translate recently since ours is on a *long* missionary trek through the jungle." He shook his head. "How Philip got that assignment, no one's sure." He handed out the journals. "As you've heard, this is also the West Coast center of the Legacy, and the second House in command at the moment. We all do journals to help us deal with the stress of our cases. We'd like you to start one tonight. Nobody looks at these unless there's a questionable event in the house then an independent board reads them." He waited as they looked through them. "Okay, now then, questions?"
"Legacy?" Oz said. "Like that place I stumbled into on the net a few months back?"
Nick frowned, remembering very vividly spending three weeks trying to find him. "That was you?" Oz nodded. "Yeah, it is." The younger man nodded. "We're a secret organization that's been around since Man could think. We fight the dark side, same as you guys did, but on a broader basis." He sipped his water slowly. "We were going to give you the lecture tonight then let you loose in our database tomorrow and the next day but some people jumped the gun." Buffy grinned. "About Giles. We know he was headed for England but it looks like he's never gotten there. He boarded the plane but didn't get off it."
"Shielding spell," Willow said. "Sort of like the ‘don't see me' thing in the last Dracula movie, the good one. More than I can do." She looked at Xander. "He said we can call home, make sure everyone's okay?" Nick nodded. "How long are we here for? We have to start classes in another few weeks."
Nick grimaced. "Your Hellmouth's closed. There are a grand total of eleven vampires in town and we're dealing with them. He sent you here to become one of us, to protect you as our own." He took another drink, trying to figure out how to put this. "You're staying for a while. We'll get you transferred down here, maybe even into Berkeley if possible."
Oz nodded. "So I figured but I'm a musician. Do I bring my band down here?" He looked at the book. "I like playing in Dingoes."
"And we liked the music we heard," Derek said, walking in. He took a seat beside the younger man. "I have many contacts. I believe if you call your friends, you'll find you have an audition down here at a small club. More of teen nightspot than not. I can't guarantee you'll get it but it's worth a try."
Willow frowned. "You've got it all planned out?" She looked really upset. "Why?"
"Because Rupert asked us to," Derek said softly. "Back when he was first called to come to Sunnydale, he and I had been friends. He knew who and what I was through an incident that doesn't bear repeating right now. He asked me to arrange things so you would come here if something happened. We all thought he'd pull you to London and the new high spot in Vampire activity but instead he went alone. It seems," he cleared his throat, "that the Council has turned toward evil." He looked down at the journal in front of him momentarily. "He's gone to fix it."
"That would explain an illusion spell when he got off the plane," Buffy said. "He wouldn't want anyone to know he was there."
Willow nodded, still upset. "Okay," she said softly.
Derek looked at her, gauging her by what he could read in her eyes. "Did you ever think of becoming a Watcher?" She nodded. "We do the same thing only on a much broader scale. Our organization has taken over the Council's duties to the girls who might be called. We do research and chronicle. We fight on a daily basis."
"Only in this house," Nick muttered.
Derek shot him a dirty look. "You really want to go to Moscow for six months don't you?" The younger man shook his head emphatically. "I didn't think so." He turned his attention back to Willow. "This house sits on a low point in the energy field. Think of the Hellmouth as a hill. San Francisco is the valley the runoff washes down into." He spread his hands. "You are as needed for the same reasons here as you were there."
Willow was silent for a second, lost in thought then nodded. "Okay, I can accept that rationale but no more meddling. Some of us can't get into Berkeley and we want to stay together."
Xander shook his head. "Yeah, me."
Buffy slapped his arm. "And me." She frowned at him. "I didn't think you wanted to go to college."
"I should. It'll help me with other stuff."
Willow smiled. "Oh, what're you going to take?"
Xander shrugged. "Not a clue. I'll look over whatever they offer and see." He smiled at her. "Probably not the same classes as you though."
She shook her head. "There are plenty of freshman mandatories that we can do together."
"That way some of us actually do things like homework," Oz said, looking at Buffy. "Otherwise I'm going to start charging for tutoring." She had the grace to look embarrassed.
Derek frowned. "I'm sure we can find a school that will fit all of your needs." He looked at Buffy. "Of course we expect you to do your best at all times."
She nodded. "I'll try."
"I'm glad." Derek looked at his watch then at Nick. "I'm going down to check on supper." He got up, leaving them alone.
Nick leaned over to the blonde, talking softly. "He teaches at Berkeley as an adjunct. Just try and he'll be satisfied. Some of us aren't the scholars he is." She nodded. "Good." He sat back up. "Why don't you start on your beginning journal entries. There are only two rules. Don't tear out a page and don't mark anything out or erase anything. This is your private spot to work out things that the cases make you realize and the stresses it causes." He stood. "Any questions?"
Xander raised a hand. "Tour?"
"After supper." He grinned. "We planned to have you guys all go tear around the city tomorrow too." He left them alone.
Willow got up to get her purse. She came back with pens, handing them out. She started on hers, bending over to write down her initial thoughts.
The other three sat there, staring at the blank page.
Willow bounced out of the hidden control room, psyched about what she'd read in the Legacy database. "They do *tons* of stuff I've never even thought of." She sat down next to Xander, looking at Oz. "I think I like it here so far."
Oz looked up from his not-reading. "That's good." Willow looked concerned so he expanded. "I still have to think."
She nodded, taking his hand. "I know Dingoes is important, you and Devon have been friends forever." She thought for a second. "How often would you guys be down here?" He shrugged. "I could stand it if I could see you kinda often."
He patted the hand holding his. "That's only one solution but I'm not sure if it's the right one." He took his hand back, leaving the room.
Xander, wanting to reassure, patted her back. "He'll do what's best for both of you."
She shook her head, shrugging his hand off. "No, he'll do what's best for him." She went back into the control room.
Nick stood in the doorway, watching the teen drama unfold. He shook his head at her callous feelings, vowing to be a support when she finally destroyed him in her own pain. "Hey," he said, walking in. "I'm going out to the firing range, wanna come?"
Xander looked up at him, eyes showing his pain and happiness both. "Yeah," he said quietly. He put down his book. "It's just a big change and she's feeling torn." He stood, putting on his happy expression and stance. "You'd teach me to shoot?"
Nick looked him over. "How many memories do you hold still?" He led the younger man out, going to the armory/game room.
"Truth?" He took a handgun from the cabinet, stripping it and rebuilding it. "How's that?"
Nick held up the trigger lock the younger man had forgotten. "Impressive but a little slow. Fifty- five seconds each way."
Xander grinned. "I've never touched one of these before."
Nick's grin matched his. "That's gonna change." He grabbed his own spare gun. "But that just makes it more impressive." He relocked the cabinet, grabbing two boxes of ammo. "Come on, firing range is this way."
Nick looked at the younger man's target, huge smile showing. "Very nice." He handed it over. "You should keep it. Perfect on the second try." He shook his head. "Took me a week but I still have my first perfect target."
Xander bounced in happiness as he carefully folded it. "That was fun."
Nick pulled him over to the walk through course, a shorter version than the standard one used in Police or Military training. "Try this." He activated it, stepping on the start button.
Xander walked through, hitting the targets easily. He heard the buzzer go off so stopped.
Nick looked at the automated stats then at the younger man then back down at the stats. "Wow." he sent them to the newly created personnel file. "How much of that was you and how much was from those memories?"
Xander shrugged. "It's all one and the same now. I can't distinguish between myself and Private Harris anymore." He looked down at his scores, a slow smile stealing over his face. "Was I off center?"
"Yeah. The center circle's a little smaller. It looks like you missed one and hit the rim on most of the ones you did get." He pushed a few more buttons, showing his last scores. "An inch doesn't usually matter in life."
Xander looked them over. "Hey, I did really good then. Right?" He looked at the older man for confirmation.
Nick wrapped an arm around his shoulder. "You did good for a seasoned veteran in the Military." He led him back to the game room.
Xander walked into Willow's room, unfolding and laying out his target. "Perfect, second try."
Buffy smiled. "Congrats. Is that good?" He nodded, sitting down. "Well, I'm happy for you then." She pushed it back to him. "I got told I did sucky." His brow wrinkled. "Seems I have advanced skills but not the basics."
Xander nodded, folding the paper back up. "Sounds like playing catch-up. Want to spar with me?" She shook her head. "Okay." He smiled as Oz and Willow walked in. "Want to see my target?"
Willow grimaced but Oz nodded. "Sure." The younger man unfolded it again, handing it over. Oz looked at the close grouping then handed it back. "Very good."
"Then I'm impressed." He sat down beside the younger man. "Is that where you guys went to hide?"
"Yeah, Nick took me. He even let me go through that course, that one with all the targets and you gotta pick out the bad guys." His smile got bigger. "Got eighty-five percent."
"Well, it seems like you've found something you're good at," Willow said.
Xander looked hurt. It took him a second but he walked out, fed up. "Yeah, I know when I'm not needed too," he threw over his shoulder.
Willow didn't watch him go, she looked at Buffy instead. "What are you doing this afternoon?"
The blonde looked in her friend's face and peered into her eyes. "Trying to figure out what's wrong with you." The younger woman frowned. "He just did something special and you put him down."
Oz tapped the table, breaking the staring war. "It's the stress of all this." He looked at Buffy. "Some of us don't have as clear a role here."
The blonde nodded. "Maybe, but there still is one." She stood. "I'm gonna shower. Nick wants me in the gym in an hour." She left them alone.
Oz looked at his girlfriend. "You can't take this out on them. They don't deserve it."
Willow sighed. "So I'm not thrilled about a shooting thing. Big deal."
"It's a big deal to him. He's never *excelled* at anything before, not like some people." He took her hand. "He's as insecure as you are and you slammed him. Again."
She shook her head. "No, I didn't."
"Yeah, you did." He stood up, giving her aloneness.
Willow closed her door then laid down on her bed. "So I don't want to be here. Shoot me."
Xander rummaged in the refrigerator, trying to find something to munch on.
"Excuse me," the butler said softly, not wanting to startle him. "If you'd tell me what you're looking for, maybe I could help."
Xander turned, guiltily blushing. "Just stuff."
The butler opened a cabinet, handing over a bag after studying the young man for a second. "Comfort food, as Nick calls it."
Xander took it, nodding. "Yeah, that's what I needed. Thanks." He patted the elderly man on the shoulder as he passed.
"Sir, the tv room is next to the game room or there are a few nice spots to sit outside."
Xander nodded, small grin coming out. "Xander," he said. "Thanks again." He headed for the tv.
The butler shook his head. "I hope he get's it sorted out," he told the pot he pulled out. "I'd hate to see this continue. This house is very lonely when you're alone." He filled the pot, setting it on a burner, then wrote some things on his grocery list. "Best to be prepared though."
Derek heard the sound of cartoons as he walked down the hall looking for Nick so he headed that way. He found the dark haired young man, Xander if he remembered right, huddled down on the leather sofa, eating greasy handfuls of chips as he watched some sort of Japanese cartoon. "May I join you?" It was time for him to start to get to know the new members of his house.
"Sure, Pokemon's about sharing." He moved his feet. "Hope you didn't mind."
"No, that's what it's here for." He studied the young man. "Would you like to talk?" He guessed but even he could read body language.
"Nope, thanks though." He smiled briefly. "I'll be okay."
Derek relaxed back into the soft leather. "As soon as she is?" he guessed, not even sure which female this was about.
Xander nodded slowly. "She's confused and hurt so she took it out on me." He shrugged. "Not the first time I've been the outcast." He looked at the tv, not facing the older man. "We've been friends forever but she's upset and I'm an easy target." He ate another chip. "Happened before, will again."
Derek looked sad. "If you don't want to stay, I could arrange to have you transferred. We have some very nice houses in some nice locations." He cleared his throat, looking at the blonde standing in the door. "I'll leave you with that thought." He walked past her, frowning at her.
"Not me," she said. She waited until he was gone. "Bringing him in?" She sat down beside him, stealing a chip.
He handed her the bag. "He asked why I was upset. I told him. Nothing more." He stood. "All yours. You probably want to watch soaps anyway." He walked out of the room, heading for the outside. He walked in the opposite direction of the soft guitar music he could hear, wandering among the manicured bushes and flowers. He noticed a small path going off into the woods so started down it, not even looking back.
Oz watched him walk away, wondering what he was thinking, wondering if he should step in some more.
Nick looked around the table, wondering where Xander was. "Where's he at?" he asked Buffy. She tended to know where everyone was at any given time.
"Walking," Oz said. "He went down this small path into the woods."
Nick nodded. "That's my jogging trail. He'll be fine." He looked at Derek before dishing up some rice. "So, we've done some evaluating. Buffy has superior skills but not the basics. She's got the strength gifts and all too." He rubbed a sore spot on his shoulder in jest. "Willow seems to have integrated herself into the computer really well this morning. I found her happily surfing our past cases." He looked at the redhead. "Any questions, he's the guy to ask. I only shoot at things." He grinned, handing Buffy the mixed vegetables without her having asked for them. "Eat."
She dished some out, not quite sighing at the parental attitude. She put the bowl back down. "When do you usually work out?"
"Oh, around dawn." He saw her look of disgust. "I know, you became a night person because of the job. I'll deal with your training in the afternoons." He looked at Oz. "Audition tomorrow?" The younger man nodded. "I have a key to the gym door if you want to lock yourself in."
Oz nodded, dishing up some ham for himself. "Thanks but I can play upstairs and not disturb by not plugging in." He looked up as Xander walked in. "Nice walk?"
"Very. I'd forgotten what looking up at the stars was like." He dished up some food, starting in on it.
Nick smiled at his new found protégée. "He scored a perfect on his targets on his second try and eighty-five on the walk through."
Derek smiled, putting down his fork. "Very impressive. You're right up there in Nick's range already." He patted the young man on the shoulder. "You'll be quite an asset when he has to leave in three weeks for a conference."
Xander looked up. "He's leaving?"
"For a few days, maybe a week." Nick watched at him. "I'll teach you everything you need to know about the security systems before I go. You'll be filling in for me while I'm gone. Okay?" The younger man nodded. "Didn't think that'd be a problem." He looked at Willow. "We want you to work on the research angle for now. Pull all your research notes and collate it with what we have on file. We've only had one occurrence of vampires and we solved it by blowing them up."
Derek shook his head. "Don't let Alex hear you say that. She's still having nightmares about that." He took a bite of ham. "There's plenty, Xander, eat." He watched as the younger man took seconds before everyone else had half-finished their firsts. "We never worry about having enough to eat."
"Growing boy stomachs," Buffy said. "He's had one, at least, for as long as I've known him."
Derek looked at her plate. "I'd suggest you follow his example. I'm sure you can't get along on that." He handed her the rolls. "Here, eat."
Nick grinned. "European women aren't Americans, Derek," he reminded his boss. "Most girls her age don't eat that much."
"They should, especially when they do as much as she does." He looked at Willow. "I grew up splitting my time between this house and schools in Europe with my mother." He smiled kindly. "It was quite an experience."
"I bet," she said. "I got the chance to go to Oxford but I turned it down to stay." She looked at Buffy.
Buffy grimaced. "Maybe that's an option now." She ate some more, mostly to make Derek happy.
"It's a great school." Derek smiled his fond/remembering smile. "I went there for a while. Met many people that helped me immensely." He looked at Nick. "And some that have vexed me my entire adult life."
Nick pointed with his fork. "I could lock you two in a room. I'm sure you and William would work it out eventually."
Derek shook his head. "One of us would die and then arguments would be over." He went back to eating.
Oz looked at everyone. "I gotta go practice," he said, pushing back. He left the room, picking up his guitar from where he'd laid it earlier.
Buffy watched him go. "This is hard for him." Willow slammed down her fork, following him. "And for her."
Nick turned his head to look out the doorway. "I imagine it is. He's faced with going back or giving up everything. She's not sure if she wants to follow him or not." He looked at the Slayer. "They have to work it out on their own. They're both welcome here when they've decided."
She nodded. "I'll tell them later." She looked at Xander. "I heard, are you leaving too?"
He shook his head. "I want to stay here. I can learn stuff here." He looked at her. "Beside's I'll be closer if you need me." He went back to eating, quiet now in his thoughts.
Buffy looked down at her plate then pushed back, leaving the dining room.
Derek watched her go, frowning. "I'm sure it will all work out." He smiled, having a useful thought that was also a very simple solution that would let him off the hook. "I could sic William on them."
Nick shook his head, dishing up some more rice. "Cruel man, very mean." He handed over the bowl. "Want some?" Xander took it with a small smile in thanks.
Buffy put down the phone, hanging up. "Mom's okay. She said it's been quiet. No unexplained deaths by blood loss, no bodies rising up to kill." She turned her head to look at Willow. "Want to talk?"
"Okay, when you're ready, I'm here. Or actually, I'll be in my room. I've got to finish unpacking."
"If he goes, so am I."
Buffy sat back down. "Will, we don't know that Sunnydale's safe yet. Others can still come back." She took the book from the younger woman. "Think about what you're saying. I don't want to see you in a box."
Willow nodded. "We'll be careful." She took her book back. "'Night."
Buffy stood back up, closing the door behind her. She tapped on Oz's door, waiting until he opened it. "Talk?" she said softly, not wanting Willow to hear. He nodded so she walked in. "Got info from Mom. No new deaths. No vamp rampages. No word on new ones though." She sat down in his chair, looking up at him. "She's gonna follow you."
He sat down on his bed. "I know. I'd rather have her safe but she feels not welcome here." He touched his sheets of music. "I tried but she didn't listen."
Buffy nodded. "I'll understand if you aren't there in the morning." She walked out, closing the door behind herself, going back to her room.
Oz shook his head. "That'll only make it worse," he told the door. He picked up the music, staring at it for a minute, then he decided to deal with it later. Right now, he had to practice, it was the only way he could stay here.
Willow walked out, heading down to the kitchen. She was hungry, now, and needed something to chew on before she fell asleep. She saw the light on in the kitchen and frowned but went in, not wanting to disturb but needing the food.
Nick looked up at her. "Leftovers are over here," he said softly. He watched her pull down a plate and grab a fork. She sat down across from him. "If you talk, it might help."
She frowned, dishing out some food for herself. "Nothing to say. I'm leaving if he goes." She took a bite, then sprinkled some salt on it.
"Love can be like that but he'll be back."
"I don't have a place here," she said. She looked hard at him. "I'm not one of you."
"You research with the best of us." He put down his sandwich. "This house does more research on more varied cases each year than most of the organization combined. We could use someone with your knowledge base." He took another bite. "But we won't push. You have a spot here when you're ready to take it." He ate the last bite, brushing his crumbs back onto his plate. "Don't leave a mess, the night butler's off tonight." He put his plate in the sink, leaving her alone.
Willow thought about what he'd said, weighing it with what was right for her. She looked up as Oz walked in. "Leaving?" He shook his head, sitting down to steal a bite of food from her plate. "I heard her."
"I know. Doesn't matter, she's right. Sunnydale's still not safe." He kissed her cheek. "I wanted to go see the stars again." He walked out, sitting on the back steps.
She looked down at her plate, wondering how selfish she seemed to everyone else.
Xander walked in, hair still damp from his early morning swim. "Morning," he said, sitting down and dishing out a plate. He noticed the two new people. "Xander," he said, holding out a hand. "I came with Buffy."
"Alex," the dark skinned woman said. She smiled at him. "Another swimmer?"
"Rachel," the older blonde said. "Psychiatrist and mother." She handed him the plate of muffins. "Orange one still left. Buffy said to save it for you."
He took it with a smile. "Thanks. And yeah, I swim. I'm decent. Was on the high school team for a few meets." He took a bite, smiling. "This is great," he said, mouth full.
Alex handed him a napkin. "Yeah, there's a good bakery near the docks. We happened to pass it as it opened so we stopped." She looked around the mostly empty table. "I'm assuming Buffy is the blonde that's working out with Nick?" He and Willow both nodded. "Okay, and the other guy?"
"Oz," Willow said. "He'll be gone later for an audition but he should be back tonight." She looked at Xander. "Good morning."
"Hi." He took another bite. "So, I'm wondering what I should be doing today." He looked at Alex. "Nick's been testing me to see my skill levels but he never said what he wanted me to do today."
Alex handed over a list. "Oh, yeah, he did. A very detailed list." She watched him read it. "I can help with the computer stuff. He said you haven't even been near it yet."
Xander smiled in relief. "Thanks, I'm not real proficient with them." He nodded his head toward Willow. "That's her area."
Rachel patted his shoulder as she passed. "I'm sure you'll be acclimated soon, running searches like a pro." She walked out then put her head back in. "Willow, you're with me today." She waited for the young woman to follow her.
Alex waited until they were alone. "Cold front between you two?"
"Not. She was mean yesterday and I don't feel like a repeat." He finished off his muffin and his glass of milk. "Want to start now or soon?" He eyed the last little bit of scrambled egg in the bowl.
"Eat, you're a growing boy." She handed it over. "Truth be told, we've just gotten back from a case. Leave the computer stuff until I catch a nap and a shower. We'll work on it this afternoon."
Nick walked in. "Tired? From a haunting?" He smiled at them. "You must be getting old Alex."
She tossed her napkin at him. "Hey, you didn't volunteer. Someone had to go do the man's work that you ignored." She looked at Xander. "He's a staunch nonsupporter of women's lib."
"Hey, I resent that. I think women are just as qualified. I just wouldn't give up my job for one." He smiled at Xander. "Don't listen to her, she's been having this problem since we met." He tapped the younger man on the head as he passed by. "Swim already?"
"Yeah, did a few laps." He scraped his plate. "I should go get started. I'll go do the research stuff first and when you're ready, just come get me." He walked out, sliding past Buffy without touching her sweaty body.
Buffy looked at Alex. "Hi," she said softly. She sat down in his place. "Did they have another fight?"
"No, he refused to talk to her." She shrugged. "I'm Alex." She held out her hand. "I've heard much about you. Derek called to tell me."
Buffy smiled. "Yeah, he's been real fatherly since we got here." She picked up a poppy seed muffin. "How do we cure them of that?"
"Time," Alex said. "It's the only way. Or make them work it out." She put her dishes in the sink, sitting back down. "So, let's get acquainted."
Buffy looked up from her weights, smiling at Oz. "Go okay?"
"Yeah, we'll be there three days a week." He sat down on the machine next to hers. "How do we fix it?"
"Alex, the dark skinned one, she suggested getting them to talk. I'm not sure if they will."
Oz shook his head. "Won't work. She's made up her mind and nothing short of a tragedy will change it right now."
Buffy looked up at the old man in the doorway. "Then let's make one. Derek," she called. She sat up, wiping off her hands. "We have an idea."
Derek looked at Willow. "I asked Buffy who best to give this to and she said you both. Seems she thinks you work well together." He handed over the files, a copy for each. "It's a simple case. Find out who the spirit was and find out what it needs to move on." He relaxed a little. "I'm sure you'll do fine."
Willow opened it, looking over her information. "Do we have a place to start?"
"How about with the building? Don't they have to stay where they died?" Derek shook his head. "No?"
"No, occasionally they can go back to significant places in their lives." He smiled at the young man. "But your idea was a goot one. The place is usually specific as a clue, as are any actions." He reached for the phone as it rang. "I'll leave you to it." He picked it up. "Yes?"
Willow led the way back to the control room, going through the holographic door first. She called up the area on a map, searching for the building in old news stories. "Nothing." She sat down, rereading the file.
Xander leaned over, punching in a search command like Alex had taught him. He smiled as something started to come up but his query was too general, he got over a hundred answers. "Hmm, needs narrowing." He tried a few more times, coming up with something useful on the fifth try. "Look at this." He pointed at the entry, calling it up so she could read it. "Area, female, tragic."
Willow looked at the entry then at her file. "What if she wants to relive something happy?" She started her own search, coming up with nothing then sat back, frustrated. "I'm no good at this."
He turned to face her. "We must have different files, I don't get how you see that." He handed his over, getting up to take hers when she didn't offer it. He read it quickly then called up something that was in each. "A similarity." He looked over the three entries. "Which one?"
"Bottom," Willow said. "Something I would come back for." She read the death report, saddened by the loss of love. "That could be me."
He turned to look at her. "Only if you let it." He came over to sit beside her. "He's not leaving you full time. He'll be back in Sunnydale a few days a week and here the rest." He smiled, patting her shoulder. "Derek said they had someone there, maybe you could ask to travel with him?" He went back to his seat, calling up another option. "How's that one?"
Willow read it. "Sounds like her but that's strange."
Xander shook his head. "For some people it's the little things in life that matter." He called up the other one. "But if she's here to relive happies, a birth there might be an option."
Willow called back up the second choice. "I think that one may be it." She looked over at her oldest friend. "I'm sorry."
"You were stressed." He looked at her again. "But just because we're friends doesn't mean you can do that to me. It hurt." He called up the associated articles and a mention in the database. "I think that's it. There's an old case that looks just like this one."
Willow shook her head. "I'd want to test us too." She printed out the file, gathering their files up. "Want to go talk to him?"
"Nope, you need to though." He walked past her. "I'm going to go play in the gym or the pool."
Willow watched his back, trying hard not to be upset that he was still mad at her. After all, it had been her fault. She carried the stuff back to Derek's office, knocking as she walked in. She sat in the chair, waiting for him to acknowledge her.
"Problems?" he said, looking up. He put down his pen, crossing his wrists. "Or did you figure it out already?"
She handed it over. "I would have tested us too." She swallowed. "I'm sorry. I've been worried and stressed and I've been taking it out on everyone around me." She looked down. "I didn't mean to, it just felt like I hurt less when I did."
He came around the desk, sitting next to her and making her look at him. "I understand that. The Legacy has ruled and overshadowed my whole life since before I was born. My father was Precept here back in the sixties and I've had to dig my way out from under his shadow." He smiled kindly. "His leaving part time isn't the disaster you think it is. He'll still be here."
She nodded. "But I hate to be alone."
"Ah, but you're creating a solitary life for yourself by your actions and words." He left her alone, not listening as she picked up the phone to call home.
"Mom?" Willow said. "Got a sec?"
Willow hit the last key, integrating their cases with that of the Legacy's. She leaned back, watching in interest as the computer made links for cross-referencing automatically, building new connections to assimilate the new data. She smiled as her mate walked in. "Hi. Got it done."
He sat down beside her. "I gotta leave tonight. We have to play at the Bronze tomorrow." She nodded, biting her lip. "I'll be back the next night." He kissed her gently, standing back up. "Hug?"
She stood, moving into his arms, holding him tightly. "I should go back the next time, I left some stuff there that I might need."
He nodded. "Next time is Saturday. We could come back by Monday morning." He brushed some of her hair aside. "Be safe." He kissed her again. "Love you."
She clutched his hand. "You be safe. Nobody's sure if Sunnydale's safe or not yet." She pulled him into another hug. "Come back to me," she whispered as she stepped back.
"Always." He tweaked the end of her nose then left the room and the castle.
Willow sat back down to watch the computer work it's magic. She didn't look up as she was joined by Alex and Rachel. "Done," she said.
"He'll be back soon," Alex said, patting her shoulder. "He'll be fine. We have someone in town and they know to watch for him."
Willow looked at her. "Really?"
Rachel hugged her. "The Legacy takes care of it's own." She stood up. "Speaking of which, I believe my daughter would like to know I still exist." She left them alone, knowing that she wasn't needed. Alex was a good enough mom.
The older woman shook her head. "Her daughter's got the sight. She's very talented too." She leaned back, watching the computer work. "You guys have done a lot."
"Necessity." She cleared her throat, wiping at her damp cheeks. "Weird things happen there and someone had to deal with them. Buffy's second night or so, she saved us. Then the next day, she had to slay our best friend that had been turned." She looked at Alex. "Want to switch?"
"No, dear, I think I liked having a normal life." She smiled sadly at the young woman. "Make up for it now before the job wears you down." She called up a search she'd been running earlier, printing the results. "I'm done for the day." She looked at Willow. "I think today's payday. Want to go shop?"
The redhead shook her head. "That's a Buffy thing. I only really go when I need something." She smiled. "Thanks though. I'll be fine."
Buffy walked in, handing over the envelopes she was carrying. "Payday," she said cheerfully. "Derek said I could ask to hitch a ride with you? Please Alex?" She nodded and they left.
Willow looked down at hers and then sighed. She set it aside, checking the links to make sure everything was in there.
The night shift Butler walked into the control room to shut off the lights. He stopped to shake his head at the young woman asleep on top of the workstation but didn't move her. He was sure he would be treated to many such sights in the near future but maybe her discomfort in the morning would be enough to keep the incidences down to a minium. He shut off the overhead and work lights, walking back out easily from much familiarity.
Xander hopped down the stairs, looking around to see if anyone was responding to the knocking at the door. When no one was, he pulled it open. He smiled at the youngish looking man standing there, recognizing him as a priest. "Hi."
"Is Derek no' in?" he asked softly.
Nick walked out, pulling the door open. "We have butlers for that," he reminded Xander. "Of course he is, Philip. Why were you knocking?" He waved him inside, not saying the words.
Father Philip Callahan walked in, gathering Nick into his arms. "Goo' to be home," he said, then passed out.
Nick swore as he caught him, nodding at Xander to go get someone. "Yeah, just like old times." He kicked the door closed, cradling his friend's head to his stomach.
Derek came down the stairs, followed by Buffy and Xander. "What happened this time?" He looked over his former house member. "Fever or injury?"
Nick shrugged but Buffy decided to take control. She picked him up easily, carrying him in and putting him down on a sofa. "Fever," she said, feeling his head. "High one." She looked at Xander. "Go move his stuff out of the way of the door, then get a thermometer and a wet cloth for his head." She looked at Derek. "Let me guess, he's the language guy that Nick told us about?"
Derek nodded, standing there in shock.
Oz walked in, carrying the other man's bag. "Gave him a lift on the ferry." He set it down near Buffy. "He okay?" She nodded. "Okay, what do you still need?"
She unbuttoned his top button, handing over his collar. "Um, coverings, wet cloth but Xander's gotten that. Nice place to put him and we need someone to see if he needs to be hospitalized."
"Rachel's gone home for the day," Xander said, handing her a bowl with a wet cloth and a ear- type thermometer. "Good gig?" he asked Oz. The older man nodded. "Okay, so how bad?"
"102," she read. "Hospital or not," she asked Derek.
The Precept shook himself, coming over to look at his friend. He opened his eyes, looking at them and his skin tone. "I'd say he goes. If he's not that sick, they'll send him back." He nodded at Nick to call. "There's a paramedic on the ferry usually. Shouldn't be too long." He looked at his newest charge. "Very goot work. I had no idea you were this calm in an emergency."
"Every night is an emergency in Sunnydale," Xander said. "This is her area." He rewet the cloth, putting it back down on the Priest's forehead. "He should be okay, he feels cooler now." He watched as the man Nick had called Philip started to shake. "Or not." He took the throw from Oz's hands, covering him gently. "Now what?"
"Now we wait," Nick said, pulling him away. "I've got it. Sit." He checked the cloth then used it to wipe down his friend's face. "Philip's our semi-member. He shows up and stays then leaves to go back to his calling. Most of the time he only get's bruised." He shrugged. "Some cases, shot at or possessed." He looked down at his friend. "I wonder which jungle fever he got."
The butler let the paramedic in, waving him toward them. Everyone was pushed aside but Nick, who was asked to go start the helicopter. They got Philip loaded and started toward the hospital, everyone worried now.
Nick and Buffy carried Philip back inside the castle, much to his protest. "I can walk," he said vehemently, but quietly. "I'm no' feeble."
"Of course not," Buffy said. "You just took a header a while ago and broke a high fever." She set him back on the couch. "Now be a good man, sit and whine like the rest." She walked out, going to tell everyone that they were back.
Nick looked at his friend. "It's an interesting story. I'll tell you later." The Irishman nodded. "Let's just say she's a chosen one and leave it there."
"She's ona them?" Nick looked confused. "I was stayin' with a Watcher for a while." He shook his head. "No wonder." He raised his eyes heavenward. "You hadda call me back here now?"
"Yes," Derek said dryly, "he did. We could always use your help. Especially with four new Associates members." He hugged the younger man tightly to him. "How are you?"
"Jus' a fever. Broke so I'm okay." He looked at the blonde, smiling as she handed him a glass of tea. "Thanks muchly." She smiled at him. "Are ya Faith or Buffy?"
She snarled. "I'm not that traitorous...." Willow clamped a hand over her mouth.
"She's Buffy. Faith turned right before we had to fight off an Ascension." She let the older woman go. "Relax. Don't scare him, he's sick." She sat down next to Derek. "I'm Willow by the way."
Buffy looked confused. "Does everyone know we're here?"
Nick shook his head. "Philip was staying with a Watcher for a while." He pulled her to sit on the coffee table. "I agree with Willow. Chill. We like it when Philip stays. It's never boring."
The man in question snorted. "This house, boring? No' a chance." He sipped his tea. "Thank ya."
"Not a big." She stood back up. "I've still got to lift so I'm going." She looked at Willow. "Oz was headed that way too."
The younger woman nodded. "Oh, okay. Don't let him get hurt." She watched her friend walk out. "He must be looking for Xander."
"Who's on the firing range," Nick said. He looked at the butler. "Could you go get him?"
"Ah, leave him. He'll mee' me soon enough." He patted the side of Nick's face. "We gotta talk anyway."
"That's my cue to leave." Willow stood, walking out of the sitting room.
Philip watched her go. "Interestin' problems?" Derek smiled, nodding. "So William tol' me when he called my Bishop to free me. Which I didn' min' by the way." He grinned. "No' my calling. I prefer ta let them live in peace." He drank some more of his tea. "Go' a new one for ya. Nice case too." He put down the glass, pulling aside his shirt to show a new set of black markings. "Wa' taken and used. Gotta remove it."
Derek leaned closer, looking at them, then touching them with his fingertips. Everyone in the room saw him jerk as his sight went off. "Actually their watcher needs to," he said after shaking it off.
Nick frowned. "But that discussion can wait until you're in bed." He stood, holding out a hand. "Come on, I'm not carrying you."
Philip smiled. "Oh, why no'?" He stood, grabbing Nick's arm to steady himself. "I thin' she was right, I need a nap."
Derek watched them go before picking up the phone on the end table, dialing London to find out the status of finding the missing Watcher.
Buffy looked critically at the marks on Philip's chest. "Giles has one of those on his arm." She looked up at him. "Had one myself. Tattoo removal guy got mine."
He smiled sadly. "If one's touched it'll summon them." He looked at Willow as she came in. "Mornin'."
"Hi." She laid the tray across his lap then bent over to look at them. "Easy enough to get a negation put on." She traced one with her fingers. "It'll cancel but won't allow them to be summoned." She stood back up, taking a step back. "You just have to find someone with the right skill mix."
Philip looked up at Derek, who was looking up to silently ask for patience. "No offense, bu' I'd rather wai' for someone with more exp'rence." He patted her hand.
Derek touched Willow's shoulder. "That may be the solution but he prefers less intrusive means." She nodded, not upset. "Goot. I don't know if I know anyone like that anyway."
"Oz might," Willow said, happy. "He knows lots of people."
Buffy stood, smoothing down her shorts. "Gotta go thump Nick. Wanna watch Will?" She shook her head. "Okay." She left the room, humming softly as she hopped down the stairs.
Willow shook her head. "At least she's feeling better." She smiled at Derek. "It's good she's happy." She walked out. "Nick said to go organize reports for him."
Derek closed the door behind her, relaxing against the solid wood.
"Bi' energetic are they?" Philip smiled at his old friend.
"*I* never used to have that much energy." He shook his head, walking back over to the bed. "She may be right. It may be the only way."
"I'd rather le' their Watcher do it." He shifted up some, setting the tray aside. "He'd know more as he used ta wear one with pride." He touched the mark of Eyghon.
Derek removed his fingers, holding them with his own. "How are you really?"
"Fever aside?" He looked down at the quilt covering his legs. "I was bored. Tha's why I asked ta go somewhere else."
"But it backfired and you ended up in the rainforest doing something you think is wrong." He brushed a light kiss over the younger man's forehead. "You're not leaving for a while." He got his mischievous look, centered in his eyes again, making his friend groan in anticipation. "I'm putting you in charge of Willow and her," he cleared his throat, "boyfriend. Who you've met."
Philip smiled. "A very interestin' young man. Very good taste in music if I remember right."
Derek shrugged. "Wouldn't know. I've been told his band is goot by our person there but he's not gifted us by playing."
Oz knocked then walked in. "You never asked." He handed Philip a book. "Will sent it." he turned, walking back out to give them some privacy.
Derek looked at the title. "Goot choice."
Philip nodded. "Very." He put it aside. "Now ou', I gotta eat." He pushed playfully at his friend.
Derek stood. "If you want." He brushed another kiss across the cool forehead. "Rest, I'll be up later." He walked out, closing the door gently behind him.
Philip picked up his spoon, tasting his soup. "Hmm, Nick cooked." He took another bite then opened his book.
Derek and Philip walked through the garden, quietly comfortable with each other. The younger man heard the gentle notes so he pulled the Precept over to listen with him.
"Want privacy," Oz asked, not looking up.
"No, please, play some more." Philip sat on the grass beside the younger man. "I liked wha' I heard."
Derek sat down beside him. "Please, continue."
Oz started the piece again, a hard-moving love song Devon had given him the last time he'd been home. He watched his fingers, the piece still not very familiar to him.
At the end, Philip clapped. "Very talented." He touched the younger man's shoulder then stood. "Thank ya."
Derek stood also, gathering Philip to him. "I agree, very nice. See you at supper." They continued on their stroll.
"Huh," Oz said, watching them go. He bent back over his guitar, starting the song over, not concerned with what other people did.
Xander looked down the row of clubs, trying to decide which to go into. He chose one without a guy guarding the door, walking inside and closing the door behind him. He paused, letting his eyes adjust, then walked farther in. A guy in a black cape stopped him, making him pay the cover.
Xander pulled out some money, handing it over. "What is this place?"
The other man, who looked younger than he did, smiled. "Don't worry. You're safe here." He stamped his hand. "Bar's on the left, dance floor's in the back. *Conversation* areas are in there." He smiled at the person behind the young man. "Have a nice night."
Xander walked in, hearing a haunting melody coming from the direction the bouncer, at least that's who he assumed he was, had said the dance floor was. He walked back that way, wanting to explore this new place. He moved out of the doorway, watching all the people dancing. Groups and singles and couples, all male, danced together, lost in the music. The setting didn't make him uncomfortable or nervous, even if he didn't think he was like that, so he walked in, heading for the edge of the floor.
Pretty soon, he was lost in the music too, happy that he'd found a spot where he fit in and that he wasn't being bothered. He was sweaty by the time the band stopped so headed back to the bar. He smiled at the man pouring drinks, not minding when he was handed a juice bottle. "Thanks."
"Not a problem." He nodded at someone behind him. "Lots of kids here tonight just like you." He went back to pouring beers for the band.
Xander turned, looking around the room. He didn't know what the man meant but he was sure it was okay. Nothing could break his good mood now. He looked down at his watch then frowned. Except for missing the last ferry. He paid for his juice, walking out. He stopped at the bouncer, tapping his shoulder to get his attention. "When are you guys open?"
"Oh, almost everyday, especially holidays." He patted Xander's face. "I'm sure you'll figure out where you fit in." He turned to talk to another guy, dressed just like him.
Xander walked out, inhaling the slightly salty air. "Maybe, but I'm not sure if I belong there." He headed back down toward the ferry dock, not really hurrying. He had almost an hour left. He stopped to grab a slice of pizza, needing to eat after over an hour of dancing, eating as he walked. "Do I belong there? They all looked happy." He sat down on the fence, waiting for the ferry to unload. "Maybe. I was comfortable there. No one hit on me. What would I do if they did though?" His almost silent discussion was interrupted by a warm body sitting down next to him. "Hey Oz. Thought you were driving."
"No, van broke before I left." He stole a piece of pepperoni, eating it quickly. "Find a good spot?"
"Actually I found a great little club. Nice band tonight, lots of sweaty guys."
Oz pulled his head around, making him look at him. "Are you? Or are you wondering?"
"Don't know, was having that discussion with myself when you sat down." He handed over the rest of his slice of pizza. "Here, you look like you need to eat."
Oz took it. "Thanks. Just be really careful. Some of these guys play really rough here."
"Not where I was. Most everyone there looked like us. Dressed decently, sweaty, dancing in pairs and groups." He shrugged. "I didn't even get hit on."
Oz nodded, eating the last piece. "Okay, just be careful." He patted the strong arm. "Be really careful."
"I will." He smiled. "And if I think that's me, I'll even come tell you first, how's that?"
Oz almost grinned. "We all thought it was set." He stood up, stretching. "Those rumors have been going around about you since I was in the sixth grade." He shrugged, sitting back down. "I've got druggie rumors and you got those."
Xander shook his head. "I thought my dating Cordy woulda put those to rest."
"Camouflage." He nudged the younger man. "Let's board now." He stood, waiting on Xander.
Xander stood, walking beside him as they boarded together, using their passes. They stood at the rail, watching the water in silence, each thinking their own thoughts.
Oz sneaked into his bed, not wanting to wake Willow. "Morning," he said softly, kissing the top of her head. She snuffled, snuggling into his chest. He listened to the castle's noises for a few minutes, not ready to sleep yet.
Xander opened his book, settling down to read. Unfortunately, someone knocked on his door, making him get up to answer it. "Hey, Nick." He let the older man in. "What's up?"
"Wanted to come check in. I'm going in the morning." He shifted some then handed over a list. "Here, work on this while I'm gone but don't ignore your caseload."
Xander read it over, nodding. "Okay." He grinned, pulling his mentor over to a chair. "When are you leaving?"
"Flight's at six, so four probably." He rubbed over his brow. "Xander, the gate guard said something to me about how you came home."
"Met Oz at the docks but his van was broken. It was a nice night for a walk though." Nick gave him a ‘get real' look. "I found a nice club, went dancing." He shrugged, "No big."
"Actually, yeah it is. There are tons of predators in the city, ones that would try for you because of your age and inexperience." He took a deep breath. "Both male, female, and demon versions."
Xander nodded, getting it. "I'll be careful." He touched Nick's hand. "I'm not a ‘just met you, let's go' person."
Nick sighed in relief. "Thank you." He handed over a card. "This is my cell number. It's toll free. If you need me, call."
Xander looked very embarrassed. "Thanks. I'm just idly wondering right now." He grinned suddenly. "Just like at home, nobody hit on me for the whole hour I was on the dance floor."
Nick shook his head. "Use your background. They were casing you for weaknesses." He patted the younger man's hand. "Just be careful."
"Unlike others, I can learn from some people's mistakes."
Nick smiled, at ease now. "Yeah, I'm sure you can." He left the room.
Xander went back to his bed and book, setting the card on his bedside table.
Oz handed Xander his towel, watching as he climbed out of the pool. "How many choruses of ‘just be careful' does that make?"
Xander grinned as he dried off. "Just your two." He wrapped his robe around him. "See you at breakfast?"
"Sure, go shower." He walked out, heading for the kitchen.
Xander walked slowly up the back stairs, trying to figure out why everyone thought he was naive.
By the time he was ready for breakfast, Derek was the only one still at the table, sipping his coffee and reading the paper. "Morning," Xander said happily.
"Eat quickly, meeting in half an hour." He looked up. "Did Nick find you when you came in?" Xander nodded around his glass of milk. "Goot." He laid down his paper. "We have a new case."
Xander put down his bagel, serious now. "What do you need me to do?"
Derek smiled gently. "Eat, we'll discuss that at the meeting." He stood, pushing over the basket of muffins. "Eight sharp in the library." He walked out of the kitchen, going to prepare what he would need.
Xander ate quickly, giving himself gas. He burped as he stood, taking the antacid the butler handed him without question. "Thanks. Great as usual." He checked his watch as he walked out then ran to get the stuff Nick said he should bring to meetings. He walked in beside Derek, taking what was becoming his seat.
"Goot morning," Derek said as he sat. "As you've heard, we have a new case." He spread out some pictures of a burned out building and one of a street which Xander picked up.
"I was down near there last night." He set it back down. "About three doors away."
Derek looked at him, strangely for a second of it. "Where?" The door was pointed to. "All right." He cleared his throat. "Anyway, nobody was in the club and no one can find a preliminary cause."
"Ooh, pyrokinesis?" Willow asked, excited at something new.
Derek shrugged. "It's possible. Philip, take Xander and Buffy down there with you. The Fire Chief has actually asked for our help this time." He tossed the Priest the keys to his beloved Range Rover. "He's been down there and she needs to learn the city."
Buffy nodded. "What do we look for?"
"We'll be getting samples to examine but mostly look for facts that don't fit. Willow, you search the building and district, Alex the owners. Oz, how are your lab skills?" Derek turned to the solemn musician.
"Right behind Willow's. I've had chem, got a B."
"Then you run searches and she can help Philip in the lab. Xander, think back and see if you can't remember hearing or seeing something that might help." Everyone nodded. "Goot, go to it." He watched as his house left to go to their tasks, relaxed and confident that they could handle it. He could even wait to talk to Xander.
Philip let Buffy lead them, holding Xander back with him. "Jus' be careful," he said quietly, looking meaningfully at Xander.
The young man shook his head. "A third chorus?" He stopped Philip. "I'm not as innocent as I seem. I've been possessed by a hyena, almost died a few times too. I know better than to not be." He grinned. "It's nice to know you care though."
Philip smiled. "Jus' makin' sure." He started walking then stopped. "Hyena?"
"It's in the database now. Nick and Derek wanted to make sure." He caught up with Buffy, seeing her concerned look and knowing what it meant from much practice. "Cramps," he asked quietly, putting a hand on her back.
She nodded. "Yeah, a lot of them." She looked at Philip, motioning him over as she bent down to supposedly look closer at a board. "Lots of vampires. Probably some sort of safe basement."
He nodded. "Okay, we can look." He looked at the fireman approaching them. "Hello."
"Luna Foundation?" They all nodded. "Okay, just be careful. The floor's pretty weak in that area."
Xander watched him walking away. "Speaking of predators..." He looked at Buffy. "He's one."
She nodded. "Yeah, but not our kind and maybe not our concern right now." She picked up a board, smiling at the mark. "I was right, it was a safe house." She showed Philip the mark. "Giles taught it to me." She stood up, bagging the piece of wood to show Derek later. "Why is the burn pattern like that?" She pointed out the massively charred lines that spiraled around the center. "Isn't that unusual?"
Philip looked where she was pointing, seeing the pattern after looking for it. "‘Tis abnormal." He motioned over the fireman that had come over to check on them. "Why tha spiral burn?" He pointed it out.
The fireman shrugged. "Don't know, I'll call the Chief over, tell him." He motioned a man in jeans and a flak jacket over. "They found something," he yelled.
The older man walked over smiling at Philip. "Couldn't stay away Father?" They shook hands. "I don't believe I know your colleagues."
"Buffy Summers and Xander Harris," she said, doing it for both of them. "What's the meaning of the spiral burn pattern?" She pointed it out to him. "It caught my attention and Philip didn't know."
He looked where she was pointing. "Well, it could mean that there was a burn along some wiring if there was some there in that pattern, a common plan for lighting over dance floors in this area, or that could be significant. I'll have someone check that area for wiring."
Xander looked at the debris. "I don't think that was a dance floor. This is all rubble from tables. It might not have had one."
The Chief looked at him. "Been in here before?"
"No, I was down the street last night, exploring the city." He smiled a little. "I just don't see the layout for a big open area."
Philip nodded. "The wood un'er it loo's like tables and stuff." He walked over, moving aside some of the edge boards to check it. "Table and chairs," he called back.
Buffy heard a crack. "Philip," she called. "Come back this way slowly. I heard the floor start to give." She and Xander walked to someplace she felt was more stable.
"Hmm," the Fire Chief said, looking at her. "Very good instincts." He smiled. "Want to join us instead? We could use someone like you."
She shook her head. "No thanks. I look bad in uniforms." She grinned. "Be a discredit to it."
He laughed. "Oh, Philip, keep this one, I like her." He walked away, going over to say something to his men and women, waving toward the section. He came back with a few bags of wood, including some from the spiral burn pattern. "Here, samples. And I see you found some of your own."
She blushed. "Yeah, this mark intrigued me." She showed it to him. "Might be graffiti but I thought I'd check it out."
He nodded. "Okay, your show. Tell me if you find anything." He walked away, going to his truck.
Buffy led the others back to the Range Rover, popping the back and setting the wood inside. "Now where? Castle?"
"Home," Philip said, definite. "We need ta tell Derek wha' ya found and get these into tha lab." He got into the passenger seat. "Ona ya can drive. I'm still tired."
Xander smiled, beating her to the door. "I'm more careful," he said, pushing her out of the way. "Besides, I've been driving longer." He climbed in, waiting for her to get in behind him. "Door, Buff?" She got back out, shutting the rear door then got back in. "Thanks." He started the car, waiting for her to buckle up. "Home is behind us, I know, but is there a street going that way?"
"Two blocks up," Philip said. "And don' bruise her, it's Derek's baby."
Xander smiled. "Not me." He checked carefully then pulled away from the parking spot, heading down the street so they could turn around and go home.
Buffy walked into the office, carrying her piece of wood. "Probs, boss," she said, setting it down in front of him. "Lots of vamps there. Major hidey hole for daylight. Maybe a few dozen or so, all napping soundly right now."
Derek frowned. "English?" He would cure her of that problem yet.
She blushed. "Sorry, forget you aren't used to it like Giles was." She swallowed and started again. "This mark," she pointed it out, "is something that marks a safe basement or place. My Slayersense went off while we were there. There's a large group of them sleeping under the ruins right now." She smiled. "Better?"
He nodded. "Very goot work." He looked over it. "I believe you're right and this mark next to it is a clan marking, the parental unit that sponsors it." He showed it to her. "Very nice work. You and I will go down later to check that out."
She shook her head. "No offense, but you're not going to be able to be much help." She shifted some. "This is mostly fighting and stuff."
He shook his head, pulling out his crossbow. "Only if you let them get that close." He smiled. "We'll be there when they wake up."
She nodded, turning around to go, but she stopped. "Oh, Xander said he thought one of the firemen was a predator of some kind."
Derek looked thoughtful. "Would he know?" She nodded. "The possession thing?"
She shrugged. "He has convenient amnesia about the incident." She walked out, heading back to the control room. "We're going staking later," she told Willow and Alex. She sat down, looking at the large screen. "Will, run vamp hidey holes for that place too. Found a mark of safety."
Willow smiled, pulling it up. "Yeah, the owner is one." She turned to look at her friend. "He was one that Angel told Giles about, one of the other repentant ones." She printed it out. "Seems he used to do the cop thing too."
"Better than a food finder of a fireman," Xander said, walking in. "Hey, got anything?"
Willow smiled at him. "How alliterative." She pointed at the screen and handed him the printout. "That's for Derek."
Xander read it over then handed it back to her. "Okay." He took the seat next to her, looking at the security cameras. "Whoa. Big bucks car coming up the drive." He called Derek's office. "Large money car coming up the drive, Derek." He smiled. "Gotta go do the security stuff." He walked out calmly.
Buffy looked at Willow. "He fits here."
The redhead nodded. "Yeah, we do." She smiled. "Thanks for putting up with me."
Buffy hugged her briefly. "Hey, what else are friends for?" She looked down at the camera Xander had set. "He's letting us peek." She watched as two men walked in the front door, one very familiar. "Giles," she said, hopping up and running out.
Willow looked down then followed her, calling over her shoulder. "Can you find Oz? He'll want to know."
Alex dialed the kitchen. "Hi, can you find Oz? Seems their Watcher just showed up." She smiled and hung up. "I've got to find out what's up with him." She shook her head, running the report up in an orderly fashion for the London Precept who had brought Rupert Giles to them.
TO BE CONTINUED.