Title: Changing Habits
Email address: email@example.com
Rating: Pgish (sorry, it's mostly off screen in this series)
Pairings: Derek/Philip, Willow/Oz, beginning of ėship between Xander/Oz
Status: new; complete
Archive: Sure, if you really want to.
Archive author: Voracity
Archive email address: firstname.lastname@example.org Or above
Other website: (being worked on)
Disclaimers: Not mine (sigh). I gain nothing but pleasure from writing. No copyright infringment intended. Yes, writing is therapy for me.
Summary: Part 2: Rupert comes back, Buffy goes hunting, Xander hears some news, and they have Christmas
Warnings: M/M (not that this should have to be a warning), some Xander angst
Changing Habits by Voracity
Philip frowned at his lover as he got ready to leave tonight with the Slayer. "You're no' a young man anymore," he reminded Derek. "You should le' them go, they're trained for it."
Derek shook his head, pulling the younger man to his body, hugging him tightly. "I'll be fine. It wasn't that long ago that I was out with Nick doing the same thing." He kissed the wrinkled brow. "I'm not old yet."
"Sure you're no'," Philip snorted, backing away. "I don' think that body armor will protec' ya." He adjusted a strap, making Derek hiss as he got it too tight. "See?"
"No, love, she's my responsibility until her Watcher can do it and you saw what he looked like when William brought him in." He gave Philip one last kiss. "I'll be home soon."
"No, ya won'." He sat down in a chair. "I come back and ya're rushin' off inta danger again." He shook his head. "Why can' we get it together?"
"In synch doesn't allow for all that fun stuff," Xander said, leaning against the door. "William sent me to tell you to take it off. She's already left with him, Willow, and Oz." He backed up slightly when he saw the frown. "Just a messenger," he said, holding up his hands. "I'm not even giving you the rest of it." He closed the door behind him.
Philip smiled. "I like him, he's decen'." He looked up at his lover, smiling lightly. "Why don' I help ya outta tha'?" He reached up, pulling a strap loose. "Much nicer."
Derek kneeled between his feet. "I'm not old."
"No, ya're not. William's missin' the fun too." He grinned. "ėSides, I wan'ed ta spend some time alone tonigh'."
Derek shook his head, laying it against the hard chest. "If I didn't know better, I'd think you planned this."
"Me?" Philip asked innocently.
Buffy smiled at the first man to emerge from the wreckage. The whole street was blocked off, none of the businesses were open, so she didn't worry about being seen. "Hi," she said cheerfully. "Wanna be toasted?" She waved the stake.
The vampire hurried back down, bringing a man the computer said was the owner back up. "Yes," he asked. "And you might be?"
"Please." She shook her head, walking closer. "These games are fun, but not really." She smiled. "We both know the other, although I do like the drama, Sunnydale didn't have much of that."
The vampire backed up. "The Slayer," he said, voice void of inflection. "What are you doing here?"
"Here now, permanently maybe." She smiled. "Listen, I know what Angel told me about you but I don't care." She rolled the stake in between her fingers. "How soon are you moving on?"
He backed up, hands up. "Whoa. We don't drink of your kind. Only animals served here. Any who do hunt aren't welcome." He looked over at William. "Just ask you Watcher."
William Sloan shook his head. "Not me, he's incapacitated." He shrugged. "I'd suggest moving on though."
The vampire sighed. "I don't want trouble and you don't want trouble." He smiled. "I can tell you who burnt the club though. All we want is to live in peace."
Buffy walked over, wanting to talk to her friends. "So?" she asked them.
"Let them go," William suggested. "It's good PR." He smiled. "At least they'll know you're here."
She nodded. "Yeah but that brings complicated things." She looked at Willow and Oz. "What say you trusty sidekicks?"
Willow smiled, looking over her shoulder. "We've met ones that didn't want to eat people." She appraised the people coming up now. "They all look sickly because they don't. Why don't we go get the bad guys this time and if we need to we can come back."
Oz nodded. "Sounds reasonable." He walked over. "Listen, she knows the difference between hunters and not hunters. She really doesn't want to hunt non hunters."
The lead vampire smiled. "I can help you with that. Some of the hunters were who burned it." He picked up a piece of wood. "You can even take it for stakes if you want." Oz shook his head, pulling aside his jacket to show his stash. "Sure, take all the fun out of it." He sighed. "We're going to set up in another club but none of us eat people. We promise not to, otherwise we make them leave." He shrugged. "I've only fed on a person in the most extreme circumstances in almost four years now."
Buffy walked back over slowly. "All right, we've agreed amongst ourselves to leave you alone as long as you do that." She smiled. "But I'm not going to tolerate the others."
He snapped his fingers and someone brought him a notebook. He handed it over to her. "This is the known addresses of all the communities. Those in red are hunters." He yawned. "Now, if you'll excuse us, we need to eat breakfast then move everything downstairs someplace else."
Buffy smiled. "I thank you. It's not been this easy since Angel was around."
The lead vampire turned, smiling. "No, not easy. We just don't associate and don't care if they die. But if you attack one of us, you'll have your hands full." He flashed her his feeding face then walked back down to the basement.
She shivered for effect. "Hmm, almost scary." She cleaned her nails with the stake as they all went back down then brought the notebook over to where William and Willow were. "So, where to start?"
Oz flipped the book up, letting it hit the hood. He pointed at the entry on that page. "There."
William smiled. "Not very scientific but reasonable." He waved them back into the car, getting in to drive.
Xander looked up as Derek and Philip walked down the stairs. "Alex went to a movie and that call was William. They're on the ferry back. Seems she's had quite a night introducing herself." He handed over the sandwich he was making, starting on another. "Same okay?"
Philip nodded, pulling him away. "Le' me. Go si'." He started to make another sandwich, piling it high with good stuff. He handed that one over then started on some more to feed the returning group, laying those on a plate in the middle of the table before sitting down with his. "Than's."
"Not a big," Xander said, mouth full. "My pleasure," he said again when he saw Derek frown. "It's American," he defended.
"But we speak the Queen's English," William said, walking in. "How was your night?" He sat down, taking a sandwich. "Buffy, come eat."
"Not." She grabbed a bottle of juice. "Too tired to eat. Bathing would be good though." She brushed at some of the dust. "Those guys were messy." She walked out, sipping her juice bottle on the way.
Willow and Oz both sat down, picking up sandwiches. "Nice night?" Willow asked before starting in on hers.
Derek nodded but frowned at William. "She's my responsibility."
"Yeah, but I wanted to go out in the field. Your house has all the fun. All I do is paperwork." He smiled. "As you should be doing."
Philip shook his head. "Sto' it. He does too much as is." He looked at Derek. "Even if he can slow down now." He smiled. "With four new members."
Derek shook his head. "They still need guiding in the field."
"Oh, I don't know about that," William said. "They all preformed admirably. These two were great backups for her." He looked at Xander. "I hear you are too. They missed you, wondering how you were doing in between communities." He wiped off his mouth. "We got five tonight."
"Vampires?" Derek asked, smirking slightly.
"Communities," Oz said. "Two big, three mostly little family groupings." He picked up the plate with the last sandwich. "I'm going up to check on Giles." He walked out, after grabbing a bottle of juice for the Watcher.
Xander waited until he was gone before saying anything. "Giles looks like hell, Will. Did he tell you what happened?"
"They tormented him before he got them." She shook her head. "Remember that thing with the nightmares coming true? He relived that and found a few new ones."
Xander nodded slowly. "I'll see if he wants to talk tomorrow then." He wiped his mouth. "Got the reports from the lab back, they're in on your workstation."
She nodded. "A hunting community did it. One of them knew magic and sent a big ball of energy that hit in the middle of the tables right before dawn. They were trying to drive them out. Buffy filled out the report on the way in." She reached over, patting his hand. "But we can include your stuff too."
He nodded. "Yeah, it probably needs to go." He sipped his milk. "So, where are they going? Or are they toasted too?"
"Moving to another section of town. They eat animal byproducts instead of hunting so aren't really a threat. It was decided unanimously that they could stay for a while. Until they posed a threat."
Derek frowned. "Was that wise?"
"Yeah," Willow said. "Very. We have this mutual non-aggression pact thingie going. They don't dine on peoples and we don't stake them."
Derek sighed. "Whatever you think is best." He looked at William. "I'm sure he said it was all right." William nodded happily. "I thought so."
Oz knocked gently on Giles' door, opening it when he heard the grunt. "Food?" he asked, walking in. He shut the door by bumping it with his hip. "Xander sandwich and juice."
Giles looked up at him from the desk, eyes still haunted. "Thank you." He went back to writing.
Oz set them down, pulling the papers away gently. "Hey, talking could help too." He sat down on the edge of the bed, not looking at the papers he set writing down. "I'm here if you want to."
Giles shook his head. "No, I think it's best if I don't." He smiled slightly. "I know you care, but this is something I have to deal with myself."
Oz shook his head. "No man's an island, G, not even you." He stood up. "I'm upstairs, last room on the right." He walked out. "I'll be up for a while longer," he threw over his shoulder.
Giles picked up the papers again, eating a bite of food while he started to write again.
Xander bounced into Giles' room, happy. "Hey," he said. "Breakfast is waiting." He smiled. "Besides, I want you to come watch Buffy. She's doing something wrong and I don't know what. And Nick won't be back for another three days." He sat down on the edge of the bed, patting the covered leg. "Come on, G-man, gotta get up."
Giles stared at the creature on the foot of his bed. "Begone, foul entity," he said softly. "You're evil."
Xander looked down at himself, even pulling out his shirt to look down at his chest. "Where do you see that?" he asked after his inspection.
Giles cracked a real smile then started to laugh. "Oh, Xander," he said. He started to shake, the laughs letting loose all the pain he'd been holding in.
The younger man got up, closing and locking the door, then he did something strange. He sat down beside the Watcher, putting an arm around him. "It's all right. They were scary, it's okay to be scared." He rubbed through the thinning hair. "Really it is. You said so."
Giles looked up from the shoulder he was laying on. "I was wise then."
"You still are, just a little more tormented now." He smiled sadly. "You comforted us when it was necessary, let us do the same now." He gave him a quick squeeze. "Unless you really want to go back to being alone."
Giles shook his head quickly. "No, I'd prefer this means of working through it." He wiped his eyes, sitting up. "Thank you. I believe I needed that."
"Anytime," Xander said. He stood up. "Come on, they fix a *huge* breakfast around here. Not even I can eat it all." He pulled Giles into a sitting position. "Come on, I gotta have someone to stare at while I eat." He pulled some more.
"Xander," Giles said with fond tolerance. "I need to shower and dress. I'll meet you down there."
"Then you'll miss all the sugary goodness." He grinned. "I'll have it all eaten by then."
"Heavens, please no," Giles moaned. "No sugar for you today." He looked over the abnormally happy teen. "Or no more anyway."
"Hey, I only had cocoa." He pouted. "Hurry so you can laugh when she falls on her butt again?" Giles nodded so he bounced out.
Giles watched the kinetic young man go, wondering how they stood that if he was like that everyday. He walked into the bathroom, flipping on the light to begin his day.
Xander bounced into the library, humming happily. "Morning," he called. "Gonna go do work."
Willow looked at Derek. "Want to cut off his sugar intake now?"
"I heard that," floated back through the hologram.
Derek shook his head. "Possibly. He does seem a little high strung right now." He pointed something out in a book. "That's what we're looking for. We need to identify that language."
She nodded, flipping forward a few pages where she'd seen stuff like that. "This?" She held up the book, showing him.
He nodded, taking it from her. "Yes, that." He smiled. "Maybe we can get you to learn some languages yet."
"I know some French but that's it. I'm not really good at it." She shrugged. "Not my field." She watched as Xander bounced out. "No coffee," she yelled after him. He stuck his head back in to make a face at her. "Yeah, right," she said, rolling her eyes. "No more sugar for you today."
The butler walked in smiling. "He's a breath of fresh air this morning." He handed Derek his tea and Willow a diet soda. "Anything else?"
She looked up at him, making puppy eyes. "Don't feed Xan anymore sugar? He'll only get worse."
He patted her on the shoulder. "I'm sure he'd go work it off in the pool." He walked back out, still smiling.
Derek looked at Willow. "What are you planning for Christmas?"
"Hanukkah?" She shook her head. "Nothing. If I was home, I'd be celebrating Solstice and suffering through the holidays. Mom said it'd be okay if I was home only for a few days though." She shifted some. "I don't think Xander had plans but Buffy's mom was insistent that she come home for the whole week long celebration between Christmas Eve and New Years." She smiled at Oz as he walked in. "What're you doing for Christmas?"
"Sleeping," he said, sitting down and stealing a drink of her soda. "The usual."
Derek shook his head. "We usually do a celebration here. Tree and all that." He looked at them. "I was wondering if you'd like that? Nick does the tree and I believe Xander would be helping him this year. Philip will probably say Mass in town on the holiday itself. We're usually not busy at that time."
Willow looked at Oz. "What do you think?"
"Hey, your family's the insistent one."
"No, that's Buffy's mom. She's wanted home for the whole thing." She rolled her head, cracking her neck, a recent bad habit she'd picked up from Xander.
"Ewwww," Oz said. He moved his chair away from hers.
Derek smiled. "A goot massage would help that."
"I got it from Xander. We've been spending too much time in front of the computer so he started doing it."
"Then you picked it up," Xander sang as he bounced back in, almost skipping into the control room with his cocoa.
Oz got up, walking in after him. There came upset sounds then Oz walked back out drinking the cocoa. "Didn't think he needed anymore. Scary." He shook his head, sitting back down.
Willow giggled. "Yeah, us too." She pulled it over, taking a sip. "Um, Derek, we'd love to participate in a holiday thing as long as it's not formal." She smiled at her boyfriend. "I'm looking forward to the Mistletoe."
"Ewww, kissing and all that," Buffy said, walking in. "Just rub it in that my last boyfriend was undead and dumped me to go live with Cordelia." She took the diet soda from Willow. "Want this? You appeared to be sharing cocoa." She leaned across the table, wiping off a spot of foam on the younger woman's nose. "Better."
Oz shook his head. "Love to." He handed her the cocoa, following Xander as he walked out. "Gotta go stop the sugar monster."
Derek laughed quietly as he watched Oz stalk the younger man. "Oh, Nick's going to love hearing about this." He shook his head. "I'll set a date later this week if that's okay. Nick won't be back for another day and he does the tree."
"Then we need to go get one?"Buffy asked, eyes lighting up. "We haven't had a tree for a while now." Derek looked upset. "Well, it's just been me and mom so a tree was a bit much." She shrugged. "No big."
He shook his head. "Yes, it is a big thing. You should enjoy your youth while you have it." He got up. "How about Saturday? Everyone will be here then." Both women nodded. "Then I believe I need to go cut paychecks so you can both shop." He walked out, going back down the hall toward his office.
"What do you want?" Willow asked. "I always have problems buying for you."
Buffy smiled. "Bath stuff. I've rediscovered the joys of laying in one for hours on end." She grinned. "We should get Xander a cookie monster."
"No, he's not that harmless. Elmo's a cute guy but he's the soft, gentle one. More like a little kid. Xander, the shooting king while Nick's gone, isn't."
Willow shook her head. "You'd be surprised." She smiled at the two men as they came back in. "Saturday, Christmas celebration."
Oz looked almost startled. "Really? Hmm, gotta shop then." He took Willow's hand but looked at Buffy. "What do you want? I can't find anything for you."
"Bath stuff." She grinned. "Love relaxing in one."
Xander's eyes got that twinkly look that said he was planning something. "Okay," he threw over his shoulder.
Willow and Oz looked at each other, groaning at what might be going through his sugar-high mind.
Giles ventured into the library, smiling as he saw all the books. "Familiar territory at least." He walked over to he shelves, looking over them.
Philip leaned over the second floor's railings. "How are ya feelin'?"
"Oh, fine, thank you, Father." He smiled, looking up. "A most prestigious collection." He picked up a book, fingering the time worn leather. "Very well kept."
Philip smiled. "Yeah, but we nee' it all." He waved a hand. "Come up an' help?"
Giles put back the book, hurrying up the stairs. "What do you need help with?" He looked at the stack of books. "Translations?" Philip nodded. "I'm afraid I'm not familiar with many outside of Latin." Philip silently handed him a book. "I see, of course I'd like to help." He went back down to the large table, picking up the pen and paper someone had left on it, then opened the book. He bent over it, smiling happily at being able to do something he'd always enjoyed.
Buffy started to walk into the library but she stopped when she saw Giles bent over the book, looking happy. She walked quietly away, going to do something else so he could have some more happy time.
Nick walked in the front door and was bombarded by a hyper Xander. "Hey, calm down. You're like a puppy." He waited until the younger man slowed down some. "Now, what's wrong?"
"Nothing! Giles is back and we're having Christmas on Saturday." He hugged the older man. "I'm glad you're back though. It's not been as much fun without you here." He stepped back, blushing. "Sorry."
Nick smiled. "Not a problem. I enjoy being welcomed back to good news." He heard William Sloan harassing Derek down the hall. "You left something out?"
"Yeah, he brought Giles back." He grinned. "He's not so bad. He leaves me alone at least."
Nick smiled. "Come on, let me go drop my stuff and check in then we'll go pick a tree."
Xander's smile got a little sadder. "Buffy wants to go."
"Hey, I'm not putting a tree on top of the Mustang. They'll be room enough for both of you." He shook his head. "Come on, lead me to Derek."
Xander grinned. "Follow the mental blue streak." He ducked the swat. "Sloan's been bugging him all day." He jogged up the stairs, turning to look at Nick when he hadn't followed. "Come on!"
Nick shook his head, walking up after the younger man. "Yup, just like a puppy."
Oz looked up. "Him? Too much cocoa. We've cut him off from both that and caffeine." He went back to his aimless strumming. "Nasty out in the garden."
Nick nodded. "Smelled the fertilizer. Everything okay? Or at least normal for us?"
Oz nodded. "Yup." He hit a wrong chord and frowned. "Gotta get that right." He ignored Nick, going back to his earlier concentration.
Nick walked into the library, smiling at the sight of Derek trying to deal with a hyper teen. He was tempted to stand there and watch but he was sure the younger man would be yelled at soon. "Hey," he said, dropping his stuff. "Xander said everything was normal."
William Sloan smiled. "Normal? In this house?" He held out a hand. "How was your trip?"
Nick shook his hand. "Oh, it went." He grimaced. "I'm not doing it next year. I'll send someone else." He grinned at Philip bent over his usual table. "Yeah, I'd say normal was about right. Philip!" he called loudly.
The slightly older man looked up. "Oh, you're back. Have a nice trip?" He walked down the stairs, giving him a hug. "Ya look tired."
"Yeah, a little."
Xander slowed down. "We can wait to go get the tree if you want."
Nick shook his head. "Nope, that's an energizing activity. Something fun." He slung an arm around Philip's neck. "So, how are you? You look better."
"Fine, goo' even. Got lotsa rest." He grinned at the almost vibrating teen. "I hear your protegee is going well too."
Nick nodded. "Yeah, actually. Want to go help us and Buffy pick out a tree?" Philip shook his head, sniffling some. "Sorry, forgot. We'll bring you back some sinus stuff." He looked around the room. "Where's the other student anyway?"
"Her room," Xander said. "I'll go get her." He jogged out of the room, not even caring that every adult in the room was staring at him.
Giles cleared his throat. "And you wondered why I made a solid rule about no sugar in my library." He sat back down, going back to his translation.
Nick shrugged. "Oh, well. He's young." He unwrapped himself from Philip. "Bring you back anything else?"
"Stout?" Philip asked wistfully.
"No," Derek said. "Doctor said no alcohol for another week." He walked over, hugging Nick and thumping him on the back. "How was your trip really?"
"Boring, same as it was last year." He stepped out of the embrace. "How's life been here?"
"He got most everything on your list done," Alex said, coming out of the control room. "He's done firing practice daily, along with swimming and helping Buffy work out." She smiled. "He missed you." She patted his shoulder. "Party's this Saturday, might want to shop while you're out."
"Yes, please, it'd give us time to discuss things about training and placement and things." He looked at Derek. "You now have enough staff to do the job, don't whine at me anymore." He went back to reading his journal.
"I don't," Derek said, smiling. "Besides, now you can remove Kristen to Boston again." He looked around. "She's back there any ways. I'd be happy to ship her things. And she won't get along very well with them."
Sloan shook his head. "No."
"Nope," Nick said. "One of us has to go."
Sloan smiled. "I was hoping you'd say that...."
Xander interrupted him. "Nope, I need him here to train me." He smiled. "Who else would put up with me?"
William looked him over. "I'm sure we could do that. You'd like London." He smiled. "And we have a number of interesting night spots to go visit too."
Buffy shook her head, walking in. "I'm not letting any of the Slayerettes go to a high vamp area without me." She wrapped an arm around Xander's waist. "Especially not him. Spike still has it in for him."
Derek frowned. "I don't think..."
"Very well thought out, Buffy," William said, "but that's our choice."
"Hey, we can all leave," she offered. She looked at Nick. "You sure you want us tagging along on your first free time?"
The ex-Seal nodded. "Not a problem. I enjoy the shopping stuff as long as you don't make me go into a mall." He pulled on a piece of her hair. "I'll drop you off there while we do lunch and then we'll go get a tree."
She smiled. "Okay."
Willow walked in. "Hey, Nick," she said. "Are we arranging for shopping trips?"
Oz walked in behind her. "We have the van running again," he reminded her. "We can go when we're free."
She turned, kissing him. "I forgot." She patted the side of his face. "Later?" He nodded. "Cool." She walked into the control room, happy still.
Oz sat down beside William. "What do you get a woman like her?"
William smiled. "A ring son, a very nice ring."
Derek smiled. "I'm sure." He tossed Nick his keys. "Don't scratch it this year."
"Me?" Nick said innocently. "Come on, heading out." The two teens hurried out to the Range Rover, arguing over who got to sit in front. "What did you do to him?" He turned, walking out.
Derek looked around at the adults. "We did something to *him*?"
Giles laughed. "Quite, we took away his sugar." He tossed a piece of lint over the railing. "He gets a little manic when he's coming down."
"A little," William said dryly. He craned his neck. "How would you like to come to London?"
"Not," Willow called out through the door. She walked back out. "He's staying." She looked at William. "We do best when he's here. We're more focused." She smiled, walking out toward the kitchen.
Oz watched her go, his concentration showing he was using his partially heightened senses to follow her. He turned to see everyone watching him. "What? I worry."
"That's natural," William said. "Love's like that."
Oz shook his head. "Scary adult thoughts." He moved his chair away. "Contagious?"
Derek smiled. "Only from him." He tossed over an assignment. "Moscow needs that looked up. It's an old case of ours but I believe you have one similar. Pull them up and save them as a file, writing it down in the log. I'll have Alex send it since she knows the address." He walked out, going to hide in his office.
Oz walked into the control room, followed by Willow when she came back in.
William looked up at Alex and Philip. "Quite an interesting lot you've inherited." He smiled. "What will you do when Derek comes to take over my job."
"He's no'," Philip said. "Council won' appoin' him." He smiled. "An' ya know tha'." He walked back up to his table, settling back down to work.
Alex leaned closer to William. "I wouldn't try. He might get mean." She walked back into the control room.
Giles smiled but went back to his translating too, leaving William looking around for another target.
Nick stopped in front of the bank, taking his paycheck from Xander's hand. "Thanks." He got out, going in to deposit it. He came back out a few minutes later, smiling. "Hey," he said as he got back in. "Want a lollipop?" He handed them over, withholding Xander's for a second. "Stay calm or I'm taking it back." He looked in the mirror, making sure the message was clear. The younger man nodded, so got the candy.
"I'll be good," he said quietly, unwrapping it. He looked up. "Can I help decorate the tree? Derek said to ask you since it's your fun."
Nick nodded. "Sure. We gotta go up to the attic to get the stuff though."
"Okay, I can get dusty." He happily sat back, sucking on his sugary treat.
Nick restarted the S.U.V., pulling back out into traffic. "Not in the castle. Even the attics are clean." He turned down a small street. "Buffy, we're going to go eat. We'll be back in an hour to pick you up." He glanced at her. "Here, take my watch." He started to undo it.
"I'm okay. They should have people in there I can ask." She hopped out when he stopped. "An hour." She waved and jogged inside.
Xander climbed up into the front. "Maybe three," he muttered as he buckled up. "She's got fluid timing."
Nick shook his head. "Not with me. She'll get left." He grinned as he pulled back out. "So, what did you do while I was gone?"
"Shot a box of ammo, swam many laps, got Giles to come downstairs and start to get ahead of the nightmares. We, well they, dusted a bunch of vamps, leaving me to tell Derek they'd left him behind. Of course, Philip comforted him for a few hours so all was okay."
Nick pulled over. "Xander, we don't talk about their relationship." He turned to look at him. "Never. Philip believes that if someone says the words then something bad will happen." The younger man looked upset. "Hey, it's all right. Just don't do it again. William or Alex should have told you." He ruffled the growing hair. "Your hair's getting longer."
"I was going to get it cut after the Christmas rush. After everyone's gotten stuff done for pictures and things." He looked down. "I didn't mean anything by it. I like how they act, all friends and stuff." He looked at Nick. "I can't even get that from my friends."
"We're all different, some people are just huggers and some aren't." He shrugged. "I'm not and you've been taught not to same as I was." He turned off the motor. "Want to talk?"
Xander shook his head. "Not really." He looked out the windshield. "Maybe over Christmas."
Nick gave him a sad look. "Not going home?"
"Why? They don't realize I'm gone." He shrugged. "Something I'm used to. I spent last Christmas in the movies." He smiled. "Not a big. Maybe I'll do some filing or stuff."
Nick pulled him close with an arm around the younger man's neck. "Derek and I are both staying and Philip will be too probably." He let him go after a second. "We'll all be around if you want to talk. Okay?" Xander nodded. "Okay, let's go eat then find a tree." He restarted the S.U.V., pulling back out.
Nick looked at his watch as Buffy walked up. "Not too late considering we were." Xander opened the door for her, and he watched her pile the bags in. "Get everything?"
"Or the whole store?" Xander joked.
"Funny. Maybe I should take yours back?" She buckled up, closing her door.
Xander picked up the sweater she'd dropped. "Here," he said as he got back in. "Snowy but still okay." He buckled back up. "What do you think of the tree?"
"Very tasty." She laid her head back against the seat. "You wouldn't believe what they called music."
Nick shook his head. "That's why I leave the shopping to you guys." He pulled back out. "Want us to pull through a burger place or did you spend all your check?"
Buffy smiled. "And part of the last one but I grabbed a pretzel. I'll eat a big dinner instead. Should please the diet nazi."
Nick smiled. "He doesn't want you to waste away."
"Nick, he made me eat asparagus!" She shuddered. "Not even any cheese on it."
"He's just trying to make sure you're healthy," Nick reasoned. "You can't blame Derek for that."
"What Derek? This was William!" She closed her eyes. "At least supper tonight's pizza or something like it."
"Calzone? Folded over pizza?" She nodded. "That's good, I like that." He looked briefly back at her. "Just eat a whole one." She nodded emphatically, bouncing her head off the headrest.
William watched with fondness as the tree was set up by the two guys, smiling as they fussed over it's straightness. He sat there, thinking about his own family and how they were going to not be happy that he wasn't going to be there. There was just too much stuff he had to get straightened out here before then. He didn't look up as Derek joined him. "We need to talk."
"You should be heading home. You don't want to disappoint your family." Derek sat down beside him, patting his arm. "You have children."
William looked at him, very sad. "Yes, I do, but this is more important." He waited until the two younger men had left. "I'm going into the hospital right after New Years. I need you in London while I'm down. It's already been decided on." He turned back to the three. "They found a tumor," he said quietly.
Derek's mouth hung open for a second then he pulled himself back together. "Is it cancerous?"
"No, but it's in an inconvenient spot. They're going to remove it but it's location is tricky. It's clamped around a major artery. I'll be down for over a month." He shuddered. "You're in charge while I'm down, and I've arranged for Philip to come with you under the pretense of a new collection that we don't know the contents of." He wrapped his jacket tighter around himself. "I need to get everything done before I go under the knife."
Derek laid a hand on his arm. "Let me do it. That's why you picked me." He stood. "I'll be there the day before New Years." He walked out, going to find Philip.
William smiled. "At least I can count on him." He watched the two younger men carry in decorations then decided to call home. He wanted to talk to his kids.
William cleared his throat. "Now, the reason I had Derek call this meeting is that I'm ill. I'm entering the hospital a few days into the New Year." He coughed a little. "It's nothing serious but they have to remove a non-cancerous growth. In the interim Derek has been appointed my successor and if something should happen, then the Council will make a decision." He looked at the San Francisco Precept. "Your house, your show." He sat back down.
Derek looked around his house members. "I'm going and there's the added complication of a new collection of books. Philip, I have a letter from their translator asking for your help." He handed it over. "In our absence, I'm splitting the duties. Alex, you handle the daily paperwork and Luna Foundation matters and Nick, you'll handle the caseload and assignments." He smiled. "Think of this as a test. If something should happen to him, then one of you will be chosen to do this full time." He sat back down.
Giles cleared his throat, leaning forward. "What about our group? Where do we fit in?"
William leaned forward. "The same as always. Your four kids are Associate members, as are all novitiates to the organization for two years. You are counted and listed as a full time member. You've known for a while now and have been doing the work for about as many years as we have." He smiled. "Nothing here will change except a few people leaving." He smiled at Nick. "Kristen's being installed as the second-in-command in Montreal."
Nick sighed. "Thank you." He looked down the table. "So, the Christmas party is your last day Derek?"
"No, we'll be leaving the day before New Years. We'll get everything to where you can run it easily by then, after Saturday really. We're taking the same precautions we would if I was retiring." Nick and Alex nodded. "All right, anything else?"
"Will our not being here not help this?" Willow asked. "We planned on leaving Saturday after the party or Sunday." Derek shook his head. "Okay."
"Actually, I'm staying," Xander said quietly. "There's no reason for me to go back. I brought most of my stuff already."
Oz looked at him. "All right, anything we can bring you back?"
"Only the box I left. It should be in a closet somewhere." He shrugged. "Everything else was pretty well packable in the three bags." He looked down the table. "If I won't be in the way that is."
"No," Derek hastily assured him. "You're not in the way." He smiled kindly. "You can provide Nick with a helper during this. I'm sure he'd like to have your help." He turned to Giles. "Are you going home?"
"No, I have no reason to." He shook his head. "I think I'll stay and work on some more of the translations."
Buffy cleared her throat. "Your stuff? It's all in Mom's basement, including the apartment stuff."
Giles rubbed the bridge of his nose. "Then maybe I will be traveling back with you. I would like those things. I had thought the Council had would come to get them." She shook her head. "I see, then if it's permissible, I'll travel back with you." He looked at his charge. "You're not driving."
Oz smiled. "Nope, not my van. She can't handle the non-power steering." He smiled. "Of course if you want to drive part of it, we'll talk."
Giles smiled for the first time in days. "I'll take you up on that offer. It's been a while since I drove."
Derek smiled. "Then it's set. Alex, you're going home. You already know the Luna Foundation end of everything." She nodded. "Goot, then we'll adjourn so you can make travel plans." He stood, walking out.
Philip and William started a quiet conversation while the three teens and Giles walked out together. Nick and Xander just looked at each other.
"So," Nick said. "You're volunteering?" He grinned. "Big mistake."
"No, I like doing things. You were right, this house is boring if you're not an avid reader and there's not a case."
Philip snorted. "Thi' house is never boring." He smiled at Xander. "Didn' he tell you his theory of survival? Never volunteer." He frowned at William. "You meddle worse'n Derek."
William smiled serenely. "I know but it's for a good cause." He stood. "Come, let's go walk, I'll miss the gardens while I'm down." Philip followed him out, taking up their quiet argument again.
Nick shook his head. "He's right never volunteer, especially not for some ėlittle errand' for Derek. The last time I did, I ended up in the hospital for three weeks recovering from a gunshot wound." He shook his head. "Are you sure you don't want to go home? See your parents, maybe catch up with a friend?"
Xander shook his head. "They don't know I'm gone and don't have any others." He shrugged. "Gonna go work." He walked into the control room, not really wanting to discuss this anymore.
Nick watched his back, frowning. "That sucks," he said quietly. "Everyone should have at least one person in their family that cares if they exist." He gathered up his stuff, heading for the office. "Derek," he said, walking through the sliding doors. "Want me to come back?"
The older man shook his head, sighing into the phone. "No," he said, sitting it back down, "my Mother's not home." He looked up at Nick. "Feel bad for him too?"
"Very." Nick took his usual seat. "Really upset at his parents."
Derek shook his head. "I don't know what to tell him. I even called his parents a few days ago but they didn't recognize his name right off. Their answer was, ėoh, okay' then they hung up. I could have told them he was in the hospital and they wouldn't have cared."
Nick shook his head. "I want to do something but I don't know what," he said quietly. "At least I had my mom and you had yours." He looked up, smiling. "Do you think his parents were here sometime?"
Derek shook his head, smiling also. "No, but they act like it." He leaned back. "We'll keep him busy over the holiday, make sure he doesn't have time to brood." He picked up a book, tossing it over. "That's my personal file of numbers. All the contacts I've made while here. You'll want them."
Nick flipped through it. "Who has to deal with the upcoming formal?"
"Good, ėcause I'm not touching a guest list." He shook his head. "That reminds me, you might want to tell them to bring home stuff for it."
Derek tapped a number into the phone, knowing where they were. "Buffy?" he asked, guessing at which female answered. He smiled. "No, no problem. Nick just reminded me that we have a formal event coming in a month. We thought it'd be best if we warned you to bring something back with you." He shook his head. "Formal. As in black tie. Some classy without glitter." He rolled his eyes. "Put Giles on." Pause. "There's a formal event here next month which all house members are required to attend. I think she needs some help with choosing something appropriate." Pause. "Of course not, I'm sure her mother would be excellent at it, just remind her that those prom gowns that have all those baubles on it aren't acceptable." He smiled. "Thank you." He hung up. "He'll fix it, but he said their prom gowns would be probably acceptable. Seems they didn't go in for those horrible things that those girls on the pageants wore." He shuddered. "I'll have a talk with Alex though, just in case."
Nick shook his head. "Guys have it so much easier." He wrote something down. "I'll take Xander out for a tux. I'm sure he rented his." He looked out the window. "At least it'll be lively."
"Oh, Got, I hope not," Derek said. He looked upwards. "Please?"
Nick laughed, holding onto his stomach. "Yeah, like that's gonna help this time." He got up, walking out and heading back to the control room. "Hey, kiddo." He sat down beside Xander. "Derek forgot to tell you that we have a formal coming up next month. Want me to go help you get a tux?"
Xander frowned. "A formal? As in standing around making small talk?" Nick nodded. "I'll pass."
"Nope, mandatory. This room'll be closed off and you can be part of the security force if you like but you have to mingle." He patted him on the back. "Offer stands."
"If I have to," he sighed. "My cousin's didn't fit that well."
"Then we'll rent you one." He patted him on the back again. "It'll be fine. You can even sit in a corner if you want."
Xander nodded his head strongly, making his hair whip around. "Oh, yeah, that's a real good idea." He looked at Nick. "I hate mingling. Not a people person."
Nick shrugged. "Have to cope sometimes. Think of it as a mission and it should be fine." He stood. "How about in that hectic week so that I get a break? Everyone else'll be gone then."
Xander nodded. "Sounds good to me." He smiled. "Thanks."
"Sure, just don't stand behind me all night, it looks bad to the ladies." He smiled as he walked out.
Xander shook his head. "Nope, like the hiding idea better." He looked up at what he'd been typing, frowning as he read the search string. He retyped it, getting it right, and hit the enter key, sitting back while it ran.
Philip zipped up his bag, looking around the room to see if he'd missed anything. Since the room was mostly empty now he was sure he didn't, but he made another circuit to check, touching each piece of furniture.
"We'll be back in a month," Derek assured him, wrapping strong arms around the younger man's waist. "He'll be fine."
Philip nodded. "So I wan' ta believe." He turned, facing his lover. "We have happy memories here."
"So, don't forget them and we'll celebrate when we get back?" Philip nodded in fond tolerance. "What?"
"I'm jus' worried. I like being here."
"And you really didn't like the London house. I know, I don't either but you'll be there so I'll be happy." He rested his head on the tense shoulder. "I'd like to think my presence would do the same for you."
"It will, bu' it's still no' home." He sighed, relaxing. "Thi' is home ta me now."
"To me too, Philip, but that's because you're here."
"Silver tongued imp," Philip accused. He pulled back to look at his lover. "You are, aren' ya?" Derek nodded, happy. "Goo', don' change."
"Me? Never. We've proven I'm irresistible to that force." Philip shook his head in disgust, quieting the tongue with his own.
Nick and Xander waved Derek and Philip away, standing beside each other on the front steps. They looked at each other once they were alone, mirrored mischievous looks in their eyes. They hurried back inside, turning up the music in the kitchen, making disgusting food for lunch. And since the staff was off for the rest of the week, they had the whole castle to themselves.
They sat down together, eating quietly. Finally, Nick couldn't hold it in any longer. "He's never left me home all alone before." He grinned. "What should we do first?"
Xander gave him a look, then looked at the phone. "I heard it ring." This one rang. "Must be offset." He picked it up. "Luna Foundation." He smiled. "Hi Buffy, yeah, they just left." Pause. "No, we're behaving. You don't have to send Giles back to watch us." He rolled his eyes, listening to her teasing. "Buffy!" He rolled his eyes. "Not going to happen." He shook his head, hanging up. "They'll be home in two days," he said as he sat down. "They threatened to send Giles back early to come watch us. Seems they were watching Risky Business and they thought we might do that."
Nick shook his head. "Not me." He looked over the younger man. "And don't you either. There's not anyone here to impress." He took another bite. "Besides, you wouldn't look as good as he did."
Xander mock-pouted. "I look okay." He looked down at himself. "Not too bad."
"Yeah, not too bad but still not him." He grinned. "Besides, you'd want to wait until you were home alone to do that."
Xander shook his head. "Nope, not me. I know how to buy toothbrushes." He took a bite, dodging the napkin. "Besides, I bet this house makes creepy noises when you're alone."
Nick nodded. "Oh, yeah. It settles and the pipes rattle." He grinned. "Now what?"
"Work on the car? We could take the cordless out with us if we did it under the portico."
Nick thought about it. "Sounds like a plan. I gotta change the oil anyway." He got up, grabbing a beer for himself, getting Xander another soda. "Don't even ask," he said as he sat back down.
"Wasn't going to. That stuff tastes gross." He smiled. "Drank a few of my father's." He looked at the empty bottle of Brandy sitting on the counter. "Now that stuff tasted good."
Nick turned his head. "You're too young to be drinking."
Xander smiled. "Of course I am." He took another bite of his sandwich. "But you're not my father either, you're not old enough." He grinned, wiggling his eyebrows, waiting for it.
"No," Nick said. "You're not drinking." He put down his beer. "You're not old enough and you don't need that stuff." He looked really serious. "I'm not explaining it any more. Just don't, all right?"
Xander sighed, getting serious. "Okay, I won't." He crossed his chest with a finger. "Promise. Better?" Nick nodded. "Thanks for the lecture, dad."
"Hey, that's Mister Dad to you." He smiled. "I just don't want you to make that mistake or get hooked." He reached over, ruffling the short hair. "Like the do though."
"Yeah, I noticed. You seem to spend a lot of time messing it up." He straightened it with a frown. "How's that?"
Nick smiled, reaching over to mess it up again. "Guys don't do that for others." He grabbed Xander, tickling him and messing up his hair. "We look manly, not manicured." He tickled him some more, hitting the spots he knew were just the right spots to make him beg to stop.
Xander shrieked, laughing.
Nick picked up the phone. "Luna Foundation." He frowned, stopping Xander from getting back under the Mustang. "Okay, send them up. I'm sure this can be worked out." He hung up. "Seems your parents finally noticed you were gone. They filed a missing person's report. One of the cops from the arson sight recognized you." He dropped the phone back down onto the steps. "Didn't you call them?"
"Yeah, I did. The same day we got here." He sat down beside him. "Now they notice?" He looked down at the date on Nick's watch. "Only been three weeks."
Nick shook his head. "Just tell them you're here by choice. I'm sure it's all right."
"Hey, I'm over eighteen. They can't pull me back." He looked up as the cop car stopped. "Hey guys."
The plainclothes officer walked over. "We heard you were here. Why didn't you tell them?"
"Did, they ignored it." Xander looked up at him. "It's only been three weeks since we've been there."
The officer sat down next to them. "They didn't notice you were gone until you didn't show up to get a present."
"Don't want anything from them." He stood up. "See, I'm not kidnapped. Want me to call them?" The officer shook his head. "Then why are you here?"
"Because they filed a report." He stood up. "We've got to bring you back down and let you call from the station." He pointed to the car. "Get in."
"Hold it, I'm not a runaway. I'm over eighteen."
"I'm sure you are."
Xander pulled out his driver's license. "Check it if you don't believe me." He held it out. The officer took it, going back to the car. He came back a second later, pulling Xander with him. "Hold it, you can't send me back."
"I'll be down to get you," Nick yelled. "Right behind you." He picked up the phone, dialing Willow's home. "Hey, it's Nick. The cops just picked up Xander, his parents filed him as a runaway." He snorted, hanging up. He pulled the Range Rover's keys out of his pocket, heading out to the garage.
Nick led the despondent young man back into the house. "It could be worse."
Xander shook his head. "How does a mother forget how old her child is? How do you not remember something like when you went into labor." He flopped down onto a couch. "Willow's mother remembers the *minute* she went into labor." He closed his eyes, leaning his head back. "I want to divorce myself from my family."
"Well, the Legacy is a good place for that." Nick sat down beside him. "It's fixed now. They can't and won't do it again."
"And they're being charged with filing a false report." He looked at Nick. "I know, that means I gotta go back and testify." He shook his head. "Why my life?"
"It means your special. You only get the tough stuff to outweigh the good stuff."
"Hell, then I'm fated to win the lottery." He closed his eyes, leaning back. "Wake me when I live in a normal world."
Nick watched him slowly fall asleep, wondering the same things himself. He covered the young man gently, then left for the office, wanting to go tell Derek before it got back to him. He picked up the phone as he walked into the office. "Luna Fou...." He smiled. "Just a sec Derek, let me turn on the screen." He sat down behind the desk, flipping on the teleconfrencer. "Okay." He waited then smiled at Derek when he showed up. "Hey, he's fine." He leaned back.
"What happened?" he asked tersely. "All we heard was that he was almost arrested."
"Well, not quite. His parents finally noticed he wasn't around." Derek's frown got worse. "And then thought he was underage, thereby making him a runaway." Derek's frown got deeper, more angry. "She thought he was seventeen still."
Derek started to swear in Dutch so Philip pulled him out of the way. "His own *mother* forgo' when he was born?" Nick nodded with a smile. "How's he doin'?"
"Napping right now. He's upset, wanting to forget he has a family right now. About normal I'd expect."
"Have Rachel talk to him," Derek said, coming back into the camera's view. "I don't want this to fester in him."
Nick shook his head. "Won't work any better than her trying to get me to talk. I'll have her ask him if he'd like to talk though. He might want to." Derek nodded. "Sorry, but I know it won't work. We're not built like that."
Derek shook his head. "You aren't the same. Similar but not twins."
"No, my mother knows when I was born." He waved, turning off the link and hanging up the phone. He leaned back, waiting for the next call. He knew one of them would be calling Rachel before he could even think of reaching for the phone. He turned it on speaker when it rang. "Luna Foundation."
"Nick?" Rachel asked. "What happened? I just got a mostly incoherent call from Derek and Philip."
"Xander's parents finally noticed he was gone, miscounted his age, and reported him as a runaway."
She drew in a deep hissing breath. "Yeah, I'll be out tomorrow."
"Just offer. You can't push him to talk any more than you could me."
"Then I'll do my mother act." He could hear the smile in her voice. "How is he?"
"Hurt, pissed more than anything." He turned to look out the window. "We've been talking, he'll be fine."
"Yeah, but... Nick, face the microphone, you sound like you're underwater."
Nick smiled as he turned back around. "Better?"
"Much. He's supposed to be pissed. I'd be pissed. Hell, I'd want to go up there and beat them. Derek started to swear over the line."
"Not me," Xander said, walking in. "Had the ears burning problem." He sat down on the other side of the desk, facing Nick. "I've gotten to the stage now where it doesn't shock me. I'm not that mad, just upset that she could forget how old I was." He relaxed into the comfortable leather. "No smiting images here."
Rachel laughed. "I'm sure but if you want to talk, just yell at me, okay?"
He nodded then remembered she couldn't see him. "Sure, if it makes you happy." He shook his head, rolling his eyes. "Night Rachel."
"Good night guys, stay out of trouble." She hung up.
"I'm thrilled now that everyone's concerned by this but I'm not going to go do the jumping off the roof thing. They're not worth it." He walked out.
Nick watched him go, turning when he heard the back door close. He watched the hurting young man disappear down the jogging trail, going to someplace more mentally happy for him, as he would say. When he was out of sight, Nick turned back to the desk, looking down at the stuff littering it. He picked up an envelope with his name on it, in Derek's handwriting.. He opened it slowly, not sure he really wanted to. Today had been a bad day for revelations. He pulled out the short note, reading it. He looked shocked, rereading it again and again. He turned to look out the window. "Yeah, that'll make his day." He stopped to think. "Actually, it might." He picked up the note, and a phone, going outside to find him. "Xander!" he yelled from the back porch.
The younger man eventually reappeared. "You know, your voice carries very well. Ever think of teaching little kids?" he said as he got closer.
Nick handed over the note. "Yeah, but I don't have the patience." He sat down, waiting on him to get it.
Xander fell to the grass, out cold.
Nick looked at him, shaking his head. "Brother, you gotta stop doing that. I'm not that mean." He picked him up, and the note, carrying them both back inside.
TO BE CONTINUED.