Title: Life Changes
Email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Rating: Pgish (possibly R due to violence)
Pairings: Derek/Philip, Willow/Oz,
Fandom: P:TL/BTVS xover
Status: new; complete
Archive: Sure, if you really want to.
Archive author: Voracity
Archive email address: email@example.com 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 3: Willow gets curious about presents and everybody else hears about what Nick and Xander know.
Warnings: M/M (not that this should have to be a warning), VIOLENCE!, ANGST!
Life Changes by Voracity
Xander looked up as someone knocked on his door, then over at the time. "Yeah?" he yelled.
Oz stuck his head in, walking in and closing the door behind him. "Thought you might want moral support."
Nick waved him in, moving his feet so the older man could sit on the bed. "The more the merrier." He looked at Xander. "You want to tell him?"
"Bro," Xander said, pointing at Nick. When Oz got that 'just not catching the hint' look he handed over Derek's note. "Yeh, a family."
"Hey, I've been a good brother so far," Nick said, almost pouting. "Taught you to shoot and everything."
Oz sat on the edge of the bed, note dangling. "You are?" Both other men nodded. "Wow. Cool on a bad day." He handed it back. "Nice surprise."
"Mostly." Xander rubbed the back of his head. "Hit a rock when I fell over though." He looked around the room. "So, how was home?"
Oz shrugged. "Same old stuff, new day. Got in a few good days of long practice with the guys. Devon's trying to get gigs closer to here so less traveling over the week."
"Tired of the Bronze? Or just the crop of new girls?"
Oz nodded. "Just about." He pulled his feet up under him. "Want to talk?"
Xander shook his head. "Nope, been doing that. Nick and I had all afternoon to talk and then Rachel called to talk, again, so I'm doing okay in the talking department." He smiled. "It's nice to know my whole family's not like them."
Nick swatted his arm. "Not even close. And we have our share of shitheads in common. Remind me to tell you about dear old dad."
Xander bopped him with a pillow. "Trade?"
"Nope, not really." Nick looked at Oz. "Seems my father did play around. I thought he just drank."
Oz nodded. "Sounds like a family talk thing. I'll leave you guys alone."
"Not necessary," Nick said. He stopped Oz. "I don't hide it anymore." He looked at Xander. "Besides, I think he really could use a friend instead of just a brother."
Xander looked hurt. "You mean I can't have both in one person?" He bit his lip. "I'd rather have the friend."
Nick patted his leg. "You have them both." He stood up. "Night guys."
Oz waited until Nick was gone. "Wow, big day."
"Yeah, almost get arrested and sent back because my mother didn't know when she had me then find out I have a brother." He sighed. "I think big is an understatement."
Oz touched Xander's arm. "I know you want to think but you know where I am if you want to talk. I'll be up for a while yet. Will's been having nightmares." He patted the arm then got up, leaving him alone to think.
Xander stared at the door, thinking more and more. When his head started to hurt, he got up, going in for a shower. Maybe some steam would help him think.
Xander walked into the kitchen, smiling, until Rachel pulled out his chair for him. "I'm fine," he sighed. "Just a small knot. I've had worse." Alex shook her head. "Something else?" She nodded. "Okay, I'm not awake enough yet for guessing games. Spill."
Rachel sat down beside him, touching his arm. "We got a call from the Sunnydale Police a little while ago. Your father was bitten last night."
Xander looked concerned then eased back into his normal look. "He dead?" Rachel shook her head. "Then he can be cured. Not a big. Did Buff go back?" Alex nodded. "Cool. Anything else?"
"Xander," Rachel said, "maybe this is something we should talk about."
"Why? The man doesn't know I exist but you probably are waiting for me to try to go running back. Not going to happen." He picked up his glass of milk and a muffin. "I'm not happy that it happened but I'm not crying in the streets either." He took a bite.
Alex reached over, patting his hand. "We know your life's not been that happy but you should feel some concern for him. It's only natural for the person that raised you."
Xander shook his head. "Who said he raised me? He wasn't there. He was always either at work or drunk. I'm not even sure he knows what I look like." He shrugged. "I'll cry later, when it's necessary."
Nick walked in. "Being the big tough guy again?" Xander shook his head, looking up at him. "Then talk it over."
"Nothing to say. I don't think I could work up the energy needed to fake it even if he died." He stood. "Anything else?" The two women shook their heads. "Good, I got a report to deal with." He brought his milk and his muffin with him, eating it on the way.
Nick faced the two women at the table. "Can't blame him, I wouldn't be able to either."
"But he's not you, Nick," Rachel said. "He's had a whole separate set of circumstances."
"Yeah," Willow said, walking in, "he lived at my house a week out of every month for six years running. He used to wander around alone a lot. I agree, if he's not upset now, then he will be when he's ready to be." She looked at Rachel. "Maybe you should ask him what he's been through instead of making judgements. For those of us that were there, we know he's not going to be upset." She got another glass of milk and walked out. "I'll be in the control room with him," she said as she left.
Rachel waited until they were alone. "I still don't think it's healthy." She watched as Buffy walked in. "I thought you had left."
"Just about. Giles' is checking his car over." She pulled out a can of soda. "Lunch," she said, waving it in the air. "Can't forget that." She leaned against the counter. "Rachel, Willow just walked out muttering. Now, I know what you're thinking 'cause my mom said the same thing, but you're wrong. In my first week there, I saved them and had to stake their best friend that had just been turned. Xander dealt in his own way, never letting us know about it. He's not a talker, he's a doer." She shrugged. "End of story and sermon." She walked out, smiling at Nick.
Nick nodded. "I told ya so. He won't talk unless *he* wants to and is ready. I'm sure he's fine and he'll work it out." He walked out, leaving them alone to tell each other what a man he was.
Alex smiled at her friend. "I think they're right. He'll come if and when he needs it, not before." She looked down the hall to make sure they were alone. "They are a lot alike."
Rachel shook her head. "If he was mine, I'd be worried."
"Rach, if he was yours, he'd not be like that." She patted her hand, getting up to get some more coffee. "Think about it, you wouldn't have ignored him or made him grow up like that. Or even there."
Rachel sighed. "Okay, you're right." She held out her cup. "Want help with those invitations?"
Alex gave her puppy eyes. "Please. I don't know how he does that."
"Database to print out labels," Rachel suggested. "I have one for my patients." She took a sip. "Hmm, Nick made the coffee." She poured a lot of sugar into her cup then they left.
"Oz!" Alex yelled out the back door. "Phone!"
The young man, with lavender hair right now as the purple had faded, jogged in, setting his instrument down gently as he took the phone from her. "Yeah?" He listened for a minute. "Huh. Okay." He hung up. "Got a gig tonight." He gathered his stuff up, walking out of the kitchen to find Willow. He found her in the library, bending over the table. "Hey," he said, walking up behind her. "Gotta go. Dev forgot to tell me we have to play tonight." He kissed the back of her neck.
Willow turned to look at him. "Here or there?" He frowned. "There?" He nodded. "Just be safe." She hugged him tightly, leaning in for a real kiss. "Be safe and come back to me," she whispered against his lips.
"I will," he promised, walking out of the room.
Willow looked at Rachel. "It's tough, him playing both in town and back in Sunnydale." She leaned back over the book. "This one, it looks the best to me. Formal but still classy and regal."
Rachel looked down at the silver outlined invitation. "Okay, I like that one. It's fitting." She marked it, then closed the book. "Is he always like that?"
Willow sat down across from her. "As long as I've known him. Actually, as long as I can remember ever seeing him, he's never been one to talk in the halls." She sipped her soda. "Some people don't need to say the words."
Rachel patted her hand. "As long as you know he loves you, right?"
Willow nodded. "Never a doubt in my mind. Well, on a few occasions, but not mostly." She smiled. "He's more of an actions kinda guy. Not the sending flowers but the doing meaningful stuff kind." She stared dreamily into space. "He's been there for the most important stuff."
Buffy smiled as she walked in and saw the look on Willow's face. "I take it Oz was just here?" Both women nodded. "Ah, thought I saw the van leaving." She wiped the sweat off her forehead. "Need me for half an hour?"
Willow shook her head. "Not unless you have an opinion on invitations." Buffy shuddered, shaking her head. "Didn't think so." She grinned. "Go shower, you look like you smell."
"Gee thanks." Buffy smiled. "Be back in a few." She walked out, heading up the stairs.
Rachel looked at the redhead, trying to figure them out. "How did you stand living there," she asked quietly. "All the death around you."
"Because," she explained. When that wasn't enough she shook her head. "We were there because we needed to be. Buffy would have died without Xander and I, a few times over. He saved her when the Master killed her, he's been the anchor of the group. No matter how often things got strange, he never seemed to change. Well, except for when he was possessed." She grinned. "Then he changed big time."
Rachel smiled. "Who possessed him?"
"A hyena, the pack leader actually." She shivered. "He was all danger guy then."
"Ah, yes, that dark and mysterious type." Rachel nodded. "I know the type well." She patted Willow's hand. "Very well." She stood. "I had better get this back to Alex. She needs to put the order in by two." She walked out, heading for the office.
Xander looked down from the second floor, where he'd been hiding. "Really? You liked that guy?"
"Well, he had that sexy/dangerous thing going." She winked. "You're nicer this way but the danger guy stuff is a turn on for some women."
He leaned against the railing. "Then maybe I should go up to them and used that as my pick up line. Hi, I've been possessed by a hyena, wanna dance." He grinned. "Whadda ya think?"
"That you're silly," Buffy said, walking back in. She sat down, patting the pile of paperwork. "Want to see the report of fixing your father?" Xander shook his head. "Come on, it's been a week."
Xander walked down the stairs. "Who got him?"
"Dru. She was out playing tag with Spike but stopped to make him jealous." She passed over the paperwork. "She was touching him when Spike went ballistic and bit him to tear him away from her attention." She smiled sadly. "A lover's tiff it seems." She sat back, watching him read the report.
He handed it back, just sitting there. "Just a fluke?"
"Nope, sorry." She pushed over the transcript of his questioning. Xander read it then tossed it across the room. "Sorry man. Thought you should know."
Xander got up. "I know, he's been doing it now for years." He leaned over the table. "We're fine and so's this. He likes young teen looking ones. He's even brought a few home to share with me." He leaned closer. "You used to wonder why I spent half my sixth grade year at your house, Will, that's why." He stood back up. "Subject closed and dropped." He walked out of the room, sidestepping Nick. "Later."
"All right." He watched his brother walk down the hall. "What's up? He finally dealing with it?"
Buffy nodded, picking up the transcript pages to put them back in order. "Mostly." She handed them and the report to him. "I let him read it."
Nick sat down his papers then himself, reading both sets of papers. He flipped through it quietly then set it down. "He knew?"
Willow nodded. "He just told us he used to bring them home to share with his son, which is why my mom used to joke about adopting him." She rubbed her eyes. "Not a good."
Buffy stretched. "Not a bad. He's talking."
"He's in the room," Xander said, passing through on his way to the control room.
"Xan," Nick said, "come sit." He waited until the younger man sat. "Does this report bother you?" Xander shrugged. "I want you to write in your journal tonight. I'm not going to read it but it might help you work it over in your head." He nodded. "Thanks. I don't want you throwing a book next time, okay?" He patted the tense arm. "Did you want to talk?"
Xander took a deep breath then let it out slowly. "Yeah," he said finally. "This isn't new news. He's been picking up young girls for a while now. My mother never fought him over it, just made sure it wasn't done in her bed after the first one. Hell, he even used my room one night." He looked up at his brother. "I used to spend tons of time over at Willow's. He was paid once a month so went out that week."
"All those week long stays," Willow said softly. "I just thought he was drinking."
"Oh, he was. He could only go out to... express himself when he was drinking." He sipped his cocoa. "I'm not really surprised or upset about him being attacked. I figured he's had better than average luck considering where we lived." He shrugged. "End of the sorry tale."
Nick pulled him closer, hugging him. "Listen," he said once he let him go, "if you want to talk some more, come to me and we will. I've got some nasty skeletons in my family too. Okay?"
Xander nodded. "Sure. Thanks Nick." He stood up. "Want me to file that with London?"
Buffy shook her head. "Done." She looked at Nick. "Anything else?"
"College stuff." He tossed over the paperwork. "Entry forms. U.C. S. F." He smiled. "Just like at home only easier and more liberal."
Buffy picked up a packet. "Isn't this a little late? It's gotta start next week."
Nick nodded. "Registration is Friday, classes start Monday." He sipped his coffee. "I'd hurry."
Willow looked over hers. "Do we need to get transcripts and stuff?" He shook his head. "The incredible meddler?" Nick nodded, grinning. "Okay, so just fill it out?" He nodded, leaving them alone.
Xander picked up one of the last two. "Oz?"
"Gone. Has a gig that Devon forgot to tell him about." She smiled sadly. "I can start his but I want to wait and make sure he still wants to go."
Buffy frowned at the form. "I hate these." She skipped a lot of it, filling in the easy stuff. She flipped it over, then frowned. "Really hate this." She read it but didn't fill in a blank. "Why all these stupid questions?"
Willow shrugged. "Not a clue." She carefully wrote out each answer. "Want help?"
"Only if you want to do it for her." He lifted the page she'd just put down, showing it's mostly blankness. "Buff, you know most of this stuff, it's the same stuff U.C. Sunnydale asked." She shook her head so he started on his forms. "Why do they want to know if I'm a smoker? I'm not living there." He left it blank. "Hmm, music preference. Yes," he wrote in. "Dogs or cats?" He looked at Willow. "They expect you to answer this?"
"It helps them get a better idea about the student body." She looked at the pink box then frowned. "They don't need to know how often I have sex, I'm sorry." She skipped it then started to read through the rest. "Idiots," she said. "This stuff sucks."
Alex walked in. "Ah, the infamous U.C. S. F. forms." She chuckled briefly. "Derek showed me one of those. Those aren't the actual applications, that's the fact sheet that goes into your files."
Buffy looked down at hers. "Not." She tore it into little pieces. "I don't want people to have access to some of that stuff." She looked over the rest, tearing up a few more. "Not for me. They're way nosy."
Nick walked back in, smiling at the large pile of torn paper. "Yeah, I think the same thing." He looked at Willow. "Where's Oz?"
"Heading home. Gig tonight." She looked at the form she held, disgust evident. "I don't care if they do want to know, they don't need to know when and where I've had sex." She tore it up, adding it into Buffy's pile. "They can accept not getting it."
"Could cause problems," Nick said. He looked at his brother who was looking at him in disgust. "That bad?"
"And I quoteth, 'all students who refuse to fill out these forms that are kept on public record may and can be thrown out of U. C. S. F. for failure to comply'." He shook his head. "They can kick my skinny butt out." He balled his up. "They don't need to know."
Willow laid the rest of hers aside, in a nice neat little pile. "I agree."
Nick's smile got bigger. "I'll tell them that." He walked into the control room, going to call Derek and then the college. "Hey," he said once he got the boss on the phone. "How's the .. William?" He grinned. "Oh, and they had problems with the fact sheets too." He leaned back, getting relaxed.
Derek shook his head. "He's fussing." He looked over the top of the camera. "In a minute, it's my house." He looked back down at Nick. "What's wrong with the forms?"
"I don't care who wants to know when and where and how often Oz and I are together," Willow said, walking in. "I'm not telling them." She dumped the pile of papers into the trash. "Then it goes on public record for anyone to look at." She shuddered. "I believe in privacy." She crossed her arms. "They can kick me out."
Xander walked up behind her, putting an arm around her shoulders. "We pretty well all feel the same way. There are things on there that I wouldn't tell a wife." He shook his head. "Not for me."
"Me either," Buffy said as she walked in. "None of that stuff's real to the degree." She sat down. "Did you get my report?"
Derek nodded, waving it around. "Oh, yes." He smiled at her. "They can't kick you out for it, you'd sue and then they'd have to stop." He looked at Willow. "You're starting Monday?" She nodded. "Goot." He looked at Nick. "Make sure they have books and the things they need."
Nick nodded. "Yes sir." He saluted, making Derek growl. "Sorry." He grinned. "Maybe they should join the group to eradicate them."
Derek shook his head. "No, that would draw attention to them. Keeping a low profile is the best way to protect them." He looked up as someone approached, a sleeve interrupting the camera. "I've got to go, we're having a problem." He disconnected.
Nick looked at the late teens. "Okay, go pick classes and we'll get you registered. Call Oz tonight and talk to him so we can put your stuff in all at once." Willow nodded. "Okay, nothing else, go plan what you need for classes."
Willow bit her lip. "What's our budget?"
Giles looked up from his workstation. "About the whole Watcher's Council's budget over the next few years. You're going in under financial aid but you don't have to worry about books and things." He looked at Buffy. "I do hope you'll try this semester."
She frowned at him. "I tried last semester but things kept getting in the way." She put her hands on her hips. "It's hard to have time to write papers between Slaying and classes." She stared at him. "It's not like I work in a library anymore."
He nodded. "Quite but you live in one now." He turned back to his task. "I shall be most upset if your best effort isn't put forth."
Nick nodded. "Derek too. He's a teacher, and a tough one at that." He shook his head. "Don't envy the assignments you'll get if you don't at least try hard." He walked out, shaking his head.
Xander looked at her. "We'll buddy up as much as possible and do it together." She nodded, hugging him then leaving. He turned to Willow. "Are we doing the classes together thing?"
"At least one," she said. "I miss our together time." She patted his face. "Happy reporting."
Xander sat down at his regular work station, setting his cocoa beside him. "Yeah, you too." He pulled up his report, reading it over to see where else he needed to add.
Nick looked over Xander's first report by himself. "Okay," he said slowly, putting it back down. "Two things: In English, and in plain English. No need to embellish, no need to sweat over it. Just a straightforward account of what happened." He handed it back. "Remember, non-English speakers will be reading this as a reference so no slang. Just plain decent writing like you would for a paper." Xander nodded. "Okay, go try it again."
"I didn't file it at least." He looked down. "I suck at this stuff."
"Yeah, so does Buffy but hers are full of metaphors and things." He smiled. "It's not bad for a first effort so consider this a draft." He tapped the top of the computer monitor. "I can make sure you didn't save it to the database if you want." Xander looked up, nodding hesitantly so he ran a search for the report. He pulled it up, smiling. "Not this copy but an older version." He erased it then looked at the one behind it. "We've got to teach you how to do that, huh." He erased all the copies, shaking his head as he read each progressive copy. "Hey, at least it's getting better."
Xander leaned back, shaking his head. "Not funny."
"Not the first time." He leaned closer. "Derek did the same thing when we first started doing it this way." He erased the last copy. "He also erased the entire database when he tried to delete it." He tapped a key on the computer and frowned. "No, I didn't."
Xander smiled. "Did you?" Nick nodded his head, banging it on the desk a few times so he started to laugh. "Sorry, but this is funny."
Nick gave him a dirty look as he answered the phone. "Yeah, Derek." He just knew who was on the other end. "Go redo it," Nick said quietly, holding a hand over the handset. "Problems? No, why do you ask?"
Xander walked out, still laughing. He ran into Alex, holding onto her for support until he stopped. She set him back up on his feet, wiping off his cheeks. "Nick did it?"
He nodded, smiling still. "When I saved my report I saved it to the database accidentally, in multiples, so he was removing them and the last copy because it wasn't clear." He wiped his eyes. "He had just got done with the last copy when he looked at the screen and the whole thing was gone."
Alex smiled. "Derek I'd expect, but not Nick." She patted his back. "You better go rewrite, he'll be in a foul mood in a minute."
"No, that's not all. Just as soon as he said Derek had done it once, he figured out that he'd done it and the phone rang."
"And of course it was our esteemed Precept." She smiled. "You're right, that is funny. Now scoot before he comes out." Xander hurried down the hall while she walked into the office. "Is that Derek?"
Nick growled. "Don't say it." He handed her the phone while he went back to trying to call the information back.
Alex smiled as she sat down. "Hey, got the invitations all sent out to the printers and they're doing the engraving and sending." She smiled. "Because it was easier to print the list and have them do it. It looks snazzy too." She smiled. "Yes, I am picking up the lingo." She watched Nick scowl at the computer. "I'll have Willow come help him." Nick snapped his fingers, walking out. "It was so funny, Derek. Xander did the same thing you did and Nick was deleting them because he needed to add something else." She smiled. "Yeah, it was. Xander walked out laughing. He actually had to grab me to stop." She smiled and hung up. "Yup," she said, leaning back in the chair, "a fun time all around." She got up, leaving before Nick could come back with a gun to shoot the machine.
Willow tapped in the last command, smiling as the computer files came back. She deleted Xander's, like she supposed someone was trying to from the page it started up on, then sent it back to the main computer. She watched as the screens around her came back to life, a sense of accomplishment shining from her whole body.
Nick hurried into the control room, stopping when he saw the database menu up on the screen. "You did it?"
Willow looked up at him, smiling. "Yeah, not hard. There's an automatic back up built in. All I did was take advantage of it." She tapped in a command, watching as her search was rerun from earlier, coming up with the same results, plus one. "Hmm, new files." She opened that one, smiling. "Ah-ha, that's where those files went." She backed back out to the programmers section, tapping in the commands to integrate the new files. She ignored Nick as she did it, happily doing what she did best.
Nick sat down to watch the files proceed, wondering how she did it. He sighed in relief as the database came back up then rebooted itself to reinstate the data links. He ran a diagnostic on it after it was back up, making sure it was all right. "Thanks," he said quietly. "Would you like to do this all the time?"
Willow jumped at the sound of another person's voice. "Nick, sorry, I forgot you were still here." She turned to face him. "Why? Does this happen often?"
"No, I take care of the file maintenance stuff but I don't know half the stuff you do. Please?" He gave her his best begging look. "Really be a help to me."
She nodded. "Sure, as long as it doesn't interfere with school and stuff." She patted him on the shoulder. "Anytime. I like these sort of problems."
"Hey, the job's yours then." He stood up, hugging her. "Way to go. You deserve a cookie."
Willow smiled. "How about a raise?" He shook his head. "Then I'd gladly take a cookie."
Derek waited for Giles to call up the file, tapping impatiently on his end in London. Finally it came through so he smiled as Nick and Willow came in. "Goot, I see someone fixed their mistakes." He pushed a few buttons, retrieving the files. "Thank you Rupert."
"Boss," Nick said before he could hang up, "Willow fixed it, not me. I was thinking she could start to handle the file maintenance stuff since she's better at it."
Derek frowned. "You know that we wanted you to do it because you have the security clearance." Nick almost pouted. "I'm sure you can watch her do it, just in case." He sighed as he signed off, the big main screen going black.
Nick looked at Willow. "Forgot about that."
"Not a big. I'm happy enough to just help." She put a small paper down beside Giles. "Here, cheat sheet." She smiled. "I know how much you hate these things."
"Quite," Rupert said, rubbing his eyes. "I've never understood the allure of sitting in front of one for hours on end." He looked at the two unhappy faces. "I shall learn to dislike it less though." Willow hugged him. "Thank you. Now, isn't it time for you to be doing something?"
"Well, Xan's in town clubbing, Oz is playing right now. Buffy's soaking in a bath. What should I go do?" She looked around the control room. "I guess I could get to work on part of the long term project Alex has set up, she said I could help if I was truly bored."
Nick shook his head. "Go have fun, that's an order." He turned her around, pushing her toward the door. "Go do girl stuff or watch tv or something."
She shook her head. "There's no girl stuff that relaxes me. Maybe I'll go take a walk in the garden." She walked out, smiling at the butler as he walked in.
"Sir," the older man said. "There's a package for Master Xander."
Nick raised an eyebrow but followed him back to the door. He signed for it, hefting the light weight in his hands. "Hmm, not something heavy."
"Emotionally," Buffy said, walking down. "He's at the same club. Or at least that's where he said he was starting. He did say he might switch to another since he got such an early start tonight." She leaned over Nick's arm, looking at the return address. "Who does he know in England?"
Nick shrugged. "Not a clue." He looked up but the butler was gone. "Want to go put it in his room? And no peeking."
She smiled. "I don't snoop, that's Will." She walked back up the stairs with the box, carrying it carefully. She set it in the middle of his bed, smoothing the sheets around it, trying hard to resist the urge to open an end to look inside. She didn't hear Willow sneaking up behind her, all she saw was the very white arm that sneaked around her waist, taking it from the bed. "Hey, not ours. Nick said no peeking."
Willow smiled. "That's his Uncle. He must be on a business trip." She sat down, looking at the package. "Wonder how he knew where to send it?" She tapped the box gently, listening for shifting things. "One piece or well padded." She shook it gently. "Well padded," she decided. She put it back on the bed. "I wonder..."
Buffy shook her head, pulling her friend up. "No, it's not our present to open. We could be in here when he does though."
Willow smiled at the body she ended up against. "Don't you think you should be dressed by then?"
Buffy looked down, then blushed as she pulled her robe closed again. "Yeah, might be a good." She walked out, pulling Willow behind her. "But I'm not leaving you in there either." She opened her door. "I still gotta decide what to wear to the party."
"Ooh, I'm wearing my prom gown." She opened up the closet. "When did you get these?" She pouted. "My mom refused to buy me a new one."
Buffy pulled her out of the way, having slipped into a clean pair of bike shorts and a tank top. "Some I had from when my parents were together. Some are from all those dances I didn't get to go to." She pulled out the white one. "Mom didn't know, she made me bring it."
Willow looked at the striking dress. "Wasn't that...?" Buffy nodded. "Ah, well, you looked good in it." She turned, pulling her friend from the bad memories. "Up to you. I didn't like your prom gown as much as I liked that one but I know it has bad memories attached." She smiled. "We should get paid before then, maybe we ought to shop."
Buffy shook her head. "I've looked. Everything right now is a bridesmaid's dress with all that fluffy stuff on it." She shuddered. "Can we say not me?"
"But I'd look good in it."
Buffy looked Willow over. "Yeah, I did see a dress you'd look like a princess in. Do you think you could do velvet this time of year?" Willow nodded, bouncing on the bed. "Okay, I'll show you and you can get it. Just make sure Oz won't clash."
"Nope, he's going basic black all the way." She smiled. "It's more debonair than high school. Kinda along the same lines as our not wearing those sparkly dresses."
Alex knocked then walked in. "Made cookies," she said, holding out the plate. Buffy and Willow took it from her, snatching the still warm treats. "Hmm," the older woman said, walking over to the closet. "Quite an assortment." She pulled out the white dress. "I'd think this would be cute on you."
Buffy blanched so Willow explained. "It did but it's got bad memories built in now."
Buffy nodded, catching her breath. "Yeah, dying in an outfit kinda does that to it." She ate another cookie. "These are good."
Alex put the dress back. "Want to talk?" Buffy shook her head. "Still have nightmares?" Buffy nodded. "Don't blame you." She looked over the rest then closed the door. "I know the best place to get something, inexpensively at that." She smiled. "Let me offer myself as a native guide to a pleasant shopping experience."
Willow smiled. "Buffy found something I would look cute in but maybe we could get it there." She looked at her friend. "She said she only found those frilly bridesmaid's gowns for herself."
Alex smiled, a slow and gentle one. "Oh, I saw something that she would look really hot in." She sat down on the edge of the bed. "Say silver, tasteful but seductive."
Buffy swallowed quickly. "Really?" Alex nodded. "When's payday?"
Alex smiled. "When I say it is." She chuckled. "How about Saturday?" The girls nodded. "Okay, we'll leave in the morning, have lunch and the whole thing." She smiled at Willow. "If she means the same dress I think she does, yeah, it'll drop Oz in his tracks." She stood up. "Bring the plate back when you're finished."
Willow stole a few of the cookies, splitting them up. Buffy put her's in her lap, handing back the plate. "Who needs a plate?"
Alex smiled, taking it back. "You eat like those two guys." She shook her head, walking out. "Ten, Saturday."
"Yes," both girls shouted back.
Willow jumped up. "Xander's back." She bounced across the hall, landing on his back as he opened the door. "Hi, you got a present."
He got her off him, setting her back down. "So I can tell." He stole one of Buffy's cookies. "Come on, of course you can help me open it." He waved them in, watching as they headed toward the box on the bed. "Did it magically appear?"
"Nope," Buffy said, distracted. "Delivered. Will, let him open it, it's his."
Xander sat on the other side of the redhead. "No, go ahead." He watched as she tore the plain paper off, keeping the shipping label to read. None of them saw the small trail of smoke, not noticing it against the box's design. "Wow. That's nice of him. Wonder where he found it?" He took it from Willow's hands. "Will, what's up?"
"Oh, nothing, just watching the design." She wavered then fell backwards giggling. "It's so cute."
Buffy and Xander looked at each other, her running down the stairs to go find some help.
Xander set the box aside, moving a little away from Willow's prone form. "Will? What's cute?" he asked softly.
"The babies," she said. "All so cute." She closed her eyes.
"NO! Will, wake up and look at me." She did. "Which babies? Tell me what you're seeing." He took her hand. "Tell me, you can trust me."
"Doesn't mean I do," Oz growled. He walked in. "Gig got canceled, someone tried to torch the place a few hours before we were supposed to play." He sat on the bed beside his girlfriend. "What's up?"
She giggled, freeing her hand and laying in Oz's lap. "They're cute."
Oz nodded. "Okay, what are?"
"The babies." She looked up at him. "Some of them look just like you."
Oz looked at the younger man. "Xander, would you care to explain?"
He picked up the box. "This." He showed it off, letting the older man see the design. "Someone sent it to me and you know how she is about presents." Oz nodded. "Well, she opened it."
"And promptly fell under whatever it was?" Nick asked, walking in. "Hey, Oz, back already?"
"Firebug." He looked at the box. "Let me see it." It was handed to him so he could see the shifting patterns in the dim light. "It's moving."
"Yeah, isn't it pretty too?" Willow sighed, closing her eyes again.
Oz tossed it back to Xander, picking her up so he could look at her. "No, Will, stay with me." She smiled, eyes still closed. "Willow," he said gently, "come back to me," he whispered, moving to speak directly into her ear. "Come on Will, I need you here beside me."
She opened her eyes. "Promise?" He nodded. "Okay." She snuggled against his shoulder. "Oz?" she asked quietly, not even aware that they weren't alone. "Why are you back?"
"Someone tried to burn the Bronze, baby. I won't be going back for a few weeks." He kissed her temple. "I'll stay beside you if you stay with me."
She nodded. "Okay." She smiled slowly. "Want cuddles."
"Only if you don't fall asleep." He sat her on his lap, looking up at Nick. "I'd fix it fast. She's not holding on real well here."
Nick picked up the box, looking over it. "I don't have a clue. Did you see anything come out?" All the teens shook their heads. "Okay, then we may be able to rule out possession." He looked down at it. "Very unusual." He started to get lost in the shifting patterns but shook himself out of it. "I don't know how to defeat Magic, that's Derek's area." He looked at Giles, who Alex had brought back up. "Magic?"
"Once used some." He took the box then snarled. "Xander, who sent this?" He looked outwardly calm. "Come on, give them up."
Xander looked for and found the address label, handing it to the Watcher. "Here." He swallowed. "That's my Uncle."
"Is that his handwriting?" Buffy asked. The youngest man in the room shrugged. "Okay, so maybe he didn't send it but someone else that knew who he was did. You did say you didn't know how he knew where to send it."
Xander shook his head. "Not me. I know he doesn't know where I am. I figure Mom rerouted it." He looked at the very clingy Willow. "What was it?" he asked Giles.
"Seems to have had something trapped in it." He put it aside. "It shouldn't have been able to catch her unless she opened it."
Xander nodded. "She did. She was so happy about it that I let her open it." He swallowed, looking at Oz. "I'm sorry man, I didn't know."
"S'okay, let's just fix her and we can deal with this later." Xander nodded so he turned to look at the Watcher. "Now what?"
"Keeping her awake while we find out the type of entity might be for the best." He looked down at her. "It does seem to want to put her under very badly."
"Will," Buffy said. "Come on, you can't snuggle in front of us."
Willow sat up. "What?" She looked around. "What's going on?" She looked at Oz. "Hi, why are you back?"
Xander shook his head, pulling her head around. "Weren't your eyes a different color before?"
Oz made her look at him. "Yeah they were." He frowned. "Maybe letting her sleep would have been good."
Willow shook her head. "Why? I'm fine, I don't need a nap." She looked at Giles and Nick. "Really."
Nick took back the box, walking downstairs. "Keep her up here," he called over his shoulder. "I'm calling Derek. This is strange."
Giles looked at his friend and now co-worker. "Willow, do us all a favor, be less inquisitive about presents." He sat down in front of the bed. "Come join me, let's have a look at you." She sat down crossed-legged in front of him. "Now then, I want you to concentrate on your aura, making it very bright and shieldlike." She nodded, scrunching up her face as she concentrated. "Good, now look at it, what do you see?"
"Spots," she said. "Purply ones." She grinned. "That really pretty shade of royal purple."
Nick walked back in. "They were on their way back. The box was stolen from London a few days ago." He looked down at Willow then at Oz. "Hall." The musician followed him, shutting the door behind them. "She's possessed. The spirit is very strong. It's overriding her personality right now." He coughed for a second. "Listen, I don't want you to take this the wrong way, okay?" Oz nodded. "Here, read it." He handed over the papers Derek had faxed over earlier but no one had seen.
Oz read it, his heart sinking. "He has to cancel it how?"
"Drive her from her body." He looked embarrassed. "There's only one way."
Oz handed it back. "And it's only his family?"
"She swore vengeance on them, tied down for ripping their heart's desires from them. There's only one way." He touched the younger man's cheek. "He and Philip aren't any more pleased."
"Why her? Why couldn't it have been Xander or Buffy that opened it?"
"Because it called her. It knew it couldn't hurt Buffy so made it seem unappealing to her to wonder about it. Xander, I'm not sure even why it was sent to him but he might have gotten some of it too."
Oz nodded, taking a deep breath. "Now what?"
"Now, we lock her in a room, Derek's probably would be best, or a neutral room. We have to keep her away from anything she might be able to use against him." He flipped the pages, pointing at something. "She doesn't want to hurt Derek, she wants to destroy him from the inside out. You've got a few choices here though."
"Yeah, play along and lose her to her guilt or not and watch her stay possessed forever." He shook his head. "I need to talk to her." He walked back in, frowning. "Out, I want to talk to her."
Everyone did as he asked, giving them some time alone. "Hi," Willow said happily. "What can I do for you, Oz?" she purred. She crawled closer, sultry and sensuous in every movement. "Oz?"
He sat down in front of her. "I need to talk to my girlfriend, just for a second. You know I can't hurt you and won't her." He waited but the sex kitten in front of him didn't change. "Please," he said quietly.
Willow shook her head then looked down at herself. "Oz? What's going on?" She looked back up at him. "Why am I crawling for you?"
He pulled her close. "Willow, I love you, no matter what it makes you do." He looked into her eyes. "I'll be waiting. Just remember that. Nothing that happens because of her will change us." He kissed her gently, knowing that the spirit was back. "Thank you." He stood back up. "We're locking you in until he gets here to deal with you." He walked backwards, not taking his eyes off Willow's body. "Sleep, it's going to be a while." He could see them merging again, Willow becoming her, the spirit becoming Willow. He knew that he wouldn't get just her back, but he could always hope. He walked out the door, locking it behind him. "She's in, I talked to her briefly, told her in a vague way."
Xander pulled Oz into his room. "If I had known, I wouldn't have let her open it." Oz nodded, sitting down. "I want to wait with you." The older man shook his head, prompting Xander to kneel in front of him. "I care too, not like you do, but I do care for her. I want to stay."
Oz looked at him. "I know, it just hurts. Seeing you reminds me of what's going on." He rubbed over his face. "Why is it always us?"
"Someone told me that all the bad was to balance out all the good." He touched Oz's knee. "Maybe you guys are gonna end up deliriously happy." He smiled sadly. "She'll be back and you can work it out."
"They've merged," Oz said quietly. "I'll never get just her back."
"Wouldn't that depend on how good the cure is?" Oz shook his head. "Are you so sure of that?"
"Yeah, I am. I can see it in her eyes." He looked at Xander. "I know you're trying to help but this is making it worse. I can't see you and not have my mind show me what's going to happen to her." He closed his eyes. "If she doesn't come back all the way promise me to help me through this."
Xander leaned up, giving him a short hug. "Anything you need. She isn't Willow without you anymore." He stood up. "I'm gonna go sit in her room and read. You crash. Derek's due home in about three hours."
"Couldn't even if I tried." He leaned his head back. "This day has been a nightmare. I wish it never had happened."
Nick looked in. "Don't say that in this house, you never know who might be listening." He closed the door behind him. "I'm sorry man, I know this is tough." He laid a hand on Oz's shoulder. "I'm here if you need something." He wobbled. "What is that smell?"
Oz looked around. "What smell?" He sniffed then wrinkled his nose. "Okay, now I know. It's herbs." He stood, turning around, trying to locate it. "Where's it coming from?"
Xander blanched pure white. "Oh, hell, no." He ran out of the room, going down the hall to Giles'. He knocked on the door then opened it when he didn't get an answer. "Giles?" he called. Still nothing so he ran down the stairs, heading for the garden where Derek had told Willow to cast. He missed the three back steps completely, jogging down to the edge of the flower rows. "Giles," he yelled, seeing him about to toss a picture onto the flame. "Don't!" Buffy knocked him down. "No, let me stop him. Worse things happen when you mess with history."
"That was a story." She helped him up, not letting him go anywhere near the Watcher. "Let him. He has to. She won't be able to live with it."
"No! He can't. That's why Oz talked to her." He coughed as the smoke blew towards them. "What if it hurts him instead? He said the Bronze was almost burned right before they went in to practice."
Buffy shook her head. "No, not going to happen." She looked up at the scream. "I won't let it." She started towards where Giles was tossing herbs onto the small fire. "Curing or changing history? He's got a point."
Giles looked sad. "Neither I'm afraid." He tossed a handful of herbs on her. "Curing all of it," he said as she fell. He did the same to Xander before he could reach him. "No, none of this will happen." He threw the last handful of herbs onto the flames, baring his tattoo. "None shall be harmed in the quest for me." A shimmer started around the fire. "None shall suffer for my mistakes and my conceits." He moved some, getting out of Nick's line of fire. "No other shall be pursued by you until you have gotten your gains." He threw the last handful and the smoke shimmered again, forming into a misty form. "You are mine as I am yours but I will not allow you to harm an innocent as she is." He held his arms out. "Take what is yours only after you free them from this abomination."
The smoke laughed. "As you wish it. You are mine now." It moved across Giles' body, making him arch in pain. "A most noble sentiment but I will call your bluff." It tried to take him, trying to possess him, but a silver knife came out, slicing at the tender flesh it was trying to take as it's own. "Oh, you do mean business my pet. Well, I can give in gracefully. All this was done to bring you back." He threw down the knife and the smoke shimmered again, making him fall to his knees. "Yes, you are more than worth the price I paid for you tonight." It stroked over Giles flesh, starting the merging process. "You are mine now."
"Not," he gasped, "until I know they are free." The cloud condensed then lightened, laughing again. "I mean it. Not until they are free, then you can have me all you want."
"As you will it, so shall it be done, my consort." The smoky being seemed to wave and Willow's scream echoed through the window, making Oz run for the house. "She is free as is her mate, the spirit is back in the box." She touched Giles face, now being a definite woman. "You are mine now? You consent willingly?"
He nodded. "Yes, I consent with the stipulation that you forever more leave these people and their descendants alone. None of them are for you." She laughed lightly. "Thank you." He closed his eyes, waiting for the searing pain to come again. The pain that he'd felt only one time before. He just hoped to God that Nick would be man enough to not let him go free. His back arched as the merge happened, the pain burgeoning in every cell. He didn't even feel the shot as it entered his lower chest. His eyes opened to see Xander holding the gun and he smiled. "Thank you," he whispered, falling again.
Buffy ran to his side, falling down beside him. "Giles? Giles! Come on, you can't be dead."
Nick came over. "He's not. It was meant to incapacitate not kill. He'll be fine." He pulled out his cellphone. "We need an ambulance out here on Angel Island. No, someone started to threaten us and we shot him in self defense." He took the gun from Xander's hands, wiping it off while he listened. "No, he got past our security forces. It's not a lethal blow but he'll need surgery." He gripped the gun in his own hand. "Yeah, I shot him." He hung up. "Ambulance helicopter will be out in a few minutes, fifteen at the most." He fired off into the ground. "Go inside Xander, bring Oz with you. Go check on her." He waited while he did as he was told. "It was necessary, and what he wanted. He was trapping her in him." He moved closer to Buffy, dropping the gun when she looked at it. "It was necessary," he repeated, needing her to believe it right now. She had to make it through the next few hours. "He's a former member if they ask. He left when his girlfriend died but he blamed us. I had to do it." He tipped her head up. "Say it." She repeated the simple words. "Now, stay there." He looked up as a helicopter flew over head, landing in the clearing. "Up here!" he yelled, bringing them. "Trust in us," he said to her. He let the cops cuff him as the paramedics worked on the injured man. He smiled sadly at her. "We'll talk."
Buffy watched her friend be loaded in, hugging herself tightly to ward off the chill she was feeling. How could she have let this happen. Part of her job was to protect the Watcher and she hadn't. She looked down as they took off, Nick arrested for something Xander had done, Giles possibly dying. She walked back inside slowly, not wanting to be alone but knowing if she saw Oz or Xander, or even Willow, she'd hit them. She walked into the library, wanting to hide.
That's where Xander and Oz found her crying almost an hour later. "Hey," Oz said. He managed to just move out her way before she hit him. Unfortunately Xander wasn't that lucky. He tried to pull her off him but he couldn't stop her. "Buffy!" he yelled. "He had to."
"No, he didn't!" She hit Xander again, using her strength to take out her aggression on him. "He killed him! He's gone because of you!" She hit him again, knocking him across the table. "Why!" she screamed, beating on his chest repeatedly. "Why! Why, why?" Her sobs broke through, coming out with each hit and question now. "Why?" she whispered, falling into his battered arms to cry. "Why him?"
Xander held her tightly, needing her warmth just as much as she needed his right now.
Oz left them alone, going for the first aid kit. He didn't think they were going to be violent anymore, but they did need to be alone. "Don't," he told Alex when she went to investigate the screaming. "She worked it out on him." He handed her a box of supplies while he picked up the other stuff. "Let me handle it. Go help Will, she needs you."
Alex shook her head. "She's in there with them. I followed her." She smiled sadly. "Derek just called, he's at the airport. They'll be home in under an hour." She walked out to the back porch. "Yell if you need me."
Oz headed back to the library, not wanting to intrude on the grief but knowing Xander would need patching up, even if he didn't want it. He watched Willow fit in between them, crying as well, not able to step in and help.
She looked up at him, frowning. "Why did you let him?"
"Because Giles wanted stopped. He knew." He brought in the supplies. "I need to clean you up," he told the younger man. "Derek'll be home in about an hour."
Willow wiped her eyes. "Why did this happen?"
"He said that it was that God that showed up at Halloween." Buffy wiped her eyes. "Said she was trying to get him by hurting us." She looked down at Xander but didn't see him. "I'm going to go get dressed. Maybe I can catch a ride to the hospital." She walked out, still drying her eyes.
Willow looked at Oz. "I don't want to stay," she said." She looked down at Xander but didn't say anything to him. She walked out, following Buffy up the stairs.
Oz helped Xander to sit up. "You did what you had to," he said quietly. "You did what was needed." He wiped at the small flow of blood but Xander flinched away from him. "It needs bandaged."
"No, I deserved it." He got off the table, going in the opposite direction of the girls.
Oz leaned on the table, staring at the pattern of the wood grain, wondering why he was caught in the middle again. He looked up as Derek and Philip walked in. "Giles and Nick are in town. Buffy beat the crap out of Xander, who went to the firing range I think. Willow's upstairs trying to comfort her." He handed Derek the first aid kit. "He didn't want cleaned up," he said softly. "Giles wanted stopped but she couldn't see it. She didn't see the desperation when he looked at Nick." He wiped his eyes. "Xander did it," he whispered.
Philip made him sit down, holding him tightly like he was his own child. "We'll wor' it ou'," he promised. "Nobody'll die." He wiped the younger man's tears, looking for his lover. "I'm sure Derek wen' ta deal with it."
Oz shook his head. "It won't help. Xander thinks he deserved it and Buffy won't believe that he wanted to be stopped until Giles wakes up." He wiped his eyes. "I need to go upstairs. Will needs me." He stood up. "He's got her in him," he warned Philip, knowing it was his turn to deal with it. "Just make him come back." He walked up the stairs slowly, going up to where the girls were. He stopped in Buffy's room, nodding at Willow. "They're back. Philip's probably on the way to the hospital right now." He hugged Buffy as she tired to walk past him. "He'll be fine."
She shook her head, not saying anything as she walked down the stairs.
He walked over to where Willow was. "He did it to save us," he said quietly. "Both of them."
Willow shook her head violently. "I would have rather died." She stood up. "Why didn't you stop him?" she yelled. "You let one friend shoot another, not stopping them at all."
"I was held down. I don't know how Xander got free but I couldn't move," he said quietly. "I wanted to, I tried to talk him into giving Nick back the gun, but he didn't listen. Then you screamed so I ran back inside to help you." He looked up at his mate, not seeing the spirit in her eyes anymore. "He let himself be possessed to save you, having her take the thing out of you before she could take him over." He swallowed. "I'm sorry. I failed and this is a mess."
She snorted, looking down at him. "You didn't, Xander did." She walked over to the window. "I think we should ask to transfer."
"He'll go," Oz said. "He's probably asking right now." He stood, walking over to stand behind her. "Would you leave Buffy here alone?" She shook her head. "Then we can't transfer, she won't." He wrapped his arms around her waist. "I'm sorry I couldn't stop him, Will, but it was necessary. Giles wanted it this way." He kissed the back of her head. "I'll understand if you don't want to stay though."
She looked back at him, crying again. "I don't know." She buried her head in his shoulder, letting him be the strong one for now.
Derek walked into the firing range, plugging his ears at the rapid shots. "Xander," he said when they stopped for a second. "Put it down."
"No, I deserve to have this." He shot again and again, imagining himself as the target. He fired off the whole clip, letting it drop onto the floor and slamming home a new one. "I deserve to be the one in the hospital and I deserve this." He started to fire again but a warm hand pulled his arm down so he spun on his Precept. "What? Do you want it now?"
Derek backed up a step, not fully letting go of the younger man's arm. "No, you don't. You did what you had to, nothing more." He took the gun carefully, sliding on the safety with his thumb as he pulled him closer, hugging him. "You did what you had to," he soothed, remembering how once he'd felt the same thing. "He planned on Nick doing it but you did it out of the duty of friendship." He stroked over the firm back. "I need to check your injuries."
"I deserved them," he said quietly, breaking down now. "I deserve every ache, every cut, every bone in my body broken." He pulled back. "I'm going to my room."
"Don't leave," Derek said. He turned him around, wincing at the sight of the bruises just starting to show. "She'll understand once she calms down."
"No, she's not like that." He removed the hands. "Later," he said simply, walking out of the firing range and up to his room. He packed his bags quickly, not wanting to be caught or stopped by Willow or Oz. He dropped his keys on the bed and left, not looking back.
Derek sat in his office, waiting on word from the hospital. He knew the Watcher was out of danger, now all they had to do was cleanse him of the spirit. He didn't turn at his door opening. "What?"
"Where did he go," Buffy asked, sitting down. "I need to apologize. Giles told me he expected Nick to shoot him." She cleared her throat. "I didn't mean to hurt him that badly." She looked down at the carpet. "I couldn't help it. He'd hurt him and I was hurting and I reacted."
Derek turned around. "He's gone," he said quietly. "No one knows where. I have someone looking for him." He tapped the desk, making her look up. "He knows he just couldn't work through it while he was here." This was a good occasion for a lie, just to ease her mind. "He'll be found and will come back."
Buffy shook her head. "Not unless I tell him to, and they do." She frowned. "We need to tell him. He won't listen to anybody else."
Philip walked in. "I jus' called Nick, he had a lead bu' it's cold." He took the other chair. "I'm goin' ta meet him ta search." Derek nodded. "Thank ya." He smiled briefly then turned to the very young woman beside him. "Wha' do ya wan' me ta tell him?"
She shrugged. "I don't know. I know he won't listen to anyone else. I did this so I have to fix it." She looked at the Priest. "We both know he won't even listen to Nick right now." She leaned back. "He's like that when he's in pain."
Willow walked in. "Yeah, he is. We should be the ones searching, not Nick." She leaned on the back of the chair Buffy was sitting in. "Wasn't just your fault either. I have as much blame here as you do." She ran her fingers through the limp blonde hair. "Derek, tell us where so we can go talk to him."
The Precept shook his head. "Philip just said the only lead was cold. Nick's still searching but we're not even sure where." He leaned back a little, making his chair creak. "I want to talk to him too. Maybe he should be sedated and brought back."
Willow shook her head. "He'd just leave again as soon as he could. The humiliation alone would make him." She looked at the calendar on the desk. "And Oz needs to be fuzzy tonight."
Buffy tipped her head back. "Nick was building a cage in the basement." She looked back at her Precept. "We should be there, not him."
Philip smiled sadly. "Loyal is goo' but he needs calm righ' now. He's feelin' insteada thinkin' and tha's how Nick'll catch him." He patted her hand. "Giles'll be home tomorrow. Think positive thoughts." He stood, walking around Willow. "I've gotta eat and pack." He left the office heading for the kitchen.
Derek looked at the two young women. "We're sure he's fine, just hiding." He leaned forward, resting his arms on the desk. "You must be strong for when he comes back. You have to work it out as soon as he walks in the door, never hesitate on this. Life is too short to let these things hang over your lives." His sight went off, making him flinch. When he was back he looked at Willow. "Where's Oz?"
She pointed out to the garden. "Why?"
"Because someone's coming for him." He stood, walking out to the garden, hearing the voices escalating. "Please don't fight on the grounds," he said as he came upon them. "Derek Rayne," he said, holding out a hand.
"Yeah, nice to meet you." Devon shook his hand. "Oz, why didn't you tell us instead of letting us think this was something with your woman."
Oz looked up. "What do you think you know?" he asked quietly. He sat up straighter. "What exactly did you hear?"
"That you did the Teen Wolf thing every full moon." He sat down in front of his guitarist and friend. "Why didn't you tell us?" He looked miserable. "I thought we were friends."
"For the same reason that you're looking at me like this now." He moved down to the ground, nodding Derek away. "Dev, man, yeah, that's me. I admit fully that I was bitten and now turn really fuzzy and mean for three days a month." He tried to make the other man look at him but he flinched. "Now you know why I didn't tell you." He stood up. "If you want me out of the band, tell me before the next practice." He walked away, going toward the gazebo.
Devon looked around, seeing Willow. "How could you let him keep this from us?" He stood up, towering, or trying to, over her. "Why didn't you make him tell me?"
Willow shook her head. "He thought you'd react like this." She followed her boyfriend. "You know you can't tell anyone, right?" When he didn't answer, she walked back toward him. "Devon, if you tell, then they'll hunt him. He'll *die* if you tell." She touched his arm but he flinched away. "I'm not one of them but I'm not giving up hope of cure." She sat him down on the bench. "Listen to me. He's the same Oz he's always been, except for those three nights." She squatted down before the dynamic lead singer. "Nothing's changed since you first met him."
"Really?" he asked snidely. "Then would you like to tell me how this isn't a change?" He crossed his arms over his chest. "‘Cause I think it is."
Buffy shook her head. "Devon, how long do you think this has been going on?" He looked at her in shock. "Over a year now. Get it?"
He nodded. "Yeah, he's been lying now for a long time." He stood up. "Why didn't you let him rip me up?"
"‘Cause that's not Oz." Buffy sized him up. "Do you even know what it's like to be different? To have a secret that you wished to *hell* that you could tell but couldn't?" He shook his head. "Well, Oz does. We found out because we caught him one night trying to eat someone. We didn't know ‘til the next morning that it was him. We've been adult enough to be able to put it aside and still be friends." She shook her head. "Your choice."
"Why? Why isn't it his?" Devon looked over to where he could barely see Oz standing. "He's been the one making all the decisions. Why is it up to me?"
"‘Cause you're the one throwing the kiddiefit," Buffy said. She pulled Willow up. "We'll be over talking to him if you want to come with us."
"No, thanks." He waved them off, striding off toward the front gate.
Oz looked up as Buffy and Willow entered the shelter. "I screwed it up."
Willow shook her head. "He's an ass." She wrapped her arms around his waist, leaning against his chest. "He'll get over it."
Oz shook his head. "No he won't. He thinks I've betrayed him." He looked at his girlfriend. "And I did. I should have told him."
"Then he woulda mentioned it to a groupie and everyone in town woulda known," Buffy reasoned. "What's he going to do now? We might need to protect you."
Oz looked up at the sun. "He might go tell everyone he can find or the death part might have gotten through to him." He shrugged. "Not a clue. He's difficult to read."
Willow shuddered. "I'll go warn Derek to expect a mob maybe." She stepped back. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah, I'm fine. It hurts but I'll live. I can always find another band."
Buffy shook her head. "No, I think he'll let you back in." She walked away. "Will, I'm going up to the house, want anything for snuggling?"
Willow shook her head. "No, thanks." She watched Buffy go over Oz's shoulder. "Maybe we shouldn't have validated his guess."
"He knew. The drummer got bit a few weeks ago." He looked down at her. "He recognized the same weirdness in me and asked Devon if it was true. Dev, of course, freaked." He held her tighter. "Any word on Xander?"
"He's hiding. His trail's cold Nick said." She rubbed her nose against his neck. "Everything will work out. It has too."
"That night, while you were possessed, he told me that the bad has to equal the good in life." He shook his head. "I'm wondering when the good happens."
She looked at him. "Not me?"
He shook his head. "No, you make it all worth it." He kissed her gently. "I guess he was right."
Buffy stopped Devon before he could pull away from the gate. "Hey," she said, getting into his car. "Park, let's discuss." She waited for him to look at her. "He's not lying to you, he's protecting himself from the hunters." She pointed at the turn around. "Head there, we won't be in the way."
He did as she said, turning off the engine. "What's your part in this?"
She smiled. "You remember all those kids that disappeared?" He nodded, moving away from her. "I was there to stop it. I found Oz out." She turned to face him. "You've got to see it from his point of view. Some sleazy guy tried to hunt him right after he turned. He had to protect himself and you guys. That hunter wasn't the only one and he wouldn't have hesitated to use you to get Oz." She smiled. "I don't think you wanted to be bait."
He shook his head. "So, why not tell us later? Like Christmas when he was home for a while? Why not let us in on it?"
"Do you think they left just because it's been a year now?"
Devon looked upset. "No." He looked down. "How do I protect my drummer?" He looked at her. "You're the smart one here, tell me."
"Cage him. Really big, strong iron and steel cage. Keep a tranq gun handy and loaded in case he gets out. Use the strength of a really big dog, not an animal his size." She patted his arm. "But the best thing is to still be his friend. This has got to be killing him as much as it was Oz. He tried to get all of us to let him be alone with it. He even tried to dump Willow but she held onto him." She opened the door. "That's all you can do. There's no cure that we know of. That and guard the secret with your life because it may be." She got out, walking back up to the castle. She didn't turn when the car started, leaving the grounds. She met up with Derek at the door. "Told him to cage him, have a tranq gun handy." She closed the door behind her. "He's thinking but he won't tell." The Precept sighed in relief. "So that's what it was?"
"A very angry mob storming the house to get him."
"Shoot me if it happens," Oz said. "I won't let you be hurt because I do a transformer act." He looked Derek in the eyes. "I mean it. If it comes down to that, don't let them be hurt over me."
"No, Oz," Buffy and Willow said together.
"Friends aren't like that," Buffy said. "We don't abandon and we don't leave you to fate." She pinched his arm. "Now, go do something, even your hair looks flat."
He shook his head. "Trying to make me laugh won't work." He kissed her cheek. "Thanks." He walked up the stairs, hand-in-hand with Willow.
Derek looked at her. "I'd like to know what you said."
"I told him about having secrets that you couldn't tell." She shrugged. "I made him hear about the hunters and I think he's seeing reason." She walked away, going toward the lab and her present project scraping scum off a possible artifact.
Derek watched her go. "He'd be proud," he said quietly. "Both of them would." He smiled, heading up to his bedroom to see Philip.
TO BE CONTINUED.