Title: Fully Healed
Email address: email@example.com
Pairings: Derek/Philip, Willow/Oz/Xander, Nick/Buffy
Fandom: P:TL/BTVS xover
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 22: more Willow/Oz/Xander ‘ship stuff here, working it out.
Warnings: M/M (not that this should have to be a warning)
Fully Healed by Voracity
Oz locked the bedroom door behind him. He walked over to the bed, sitting down beside his mate. "Hi," he said quietly. "You ready to talk now?" She shrugged. "You're punishing him for leaving to try and protect us still." He took her hand. "That's really unfair. He's punished himself so much he's sick now."
She bit her lip, rolling against his chest. "I know but I can't help it."
"Yeah, you can, you've just got to forgive him." He ran his free hand through her hair. "I did, you should." He kissed her temple. "He was trying to protect us."
She nodded. "I know, but he hurt us and me and them." She looked up, glancing at the cradle. "She's not moving."
"She's in with Jonathan. He's down in the library talking with his brother." He kissed her temple again. "You can't avoid this discussion. The more you try the worse it'll become. I won't let you hurt him again." She sniffled, rubbing her nose on his chest. "I know you don't mean it but you've got to stop before you really hurt him. I saw the bruise on his chest that night."
She looked up. "I didn't even know I hit him that hard. I didn't realize it until he said ‘ouch' and rubbed it." She looked down at herself. "I need help." He shook his head. "I'm becoming abusive, I need help."
"No, we need help. We'll start seeing a counselor together if you want." She shook her head. "Will, this isn't about you, this is about all of us. Yes, you're taking out your anger on him and yes, you could use someone outside to talk to. Even just Alex might be helpful or Derek." She nodded. "We could do that. He already knows the rest of it." She nodded. "Okay, so all three of us could talk to him." She shook her head. "Love, you won't get over this unless we all talk. You've got to talk to him to make it better and so do I."
She looked up at him. "You're feeling the same way?" He nodded. "Really?"
"Yeah, I am. I'm feeling put upon because we're having to help him again and I'm pissed that he left and all that other stuff too." He kissed the tip of her nose. "Now, dry your eyes and let's go down to supper. We can talk to Derek later." He got up, holding out a hand to help her up. "We'll get through this together."
She nodded but stopped him. "Maybe we shouldn't have forced him back with us."
Oz shook his head. "That's one thing that might have changed it but he needed us to be there for him." He drew her closer to his side. "He's still really fragile inside. He doesn't understand why we want him again. He's more screwed up over the split than we are."
"Let's put off talking with Derek. I need to talk to him first." She looked over at him. "But you have to leave us alone."
"If he's comfortable with that." He hugged her then let her go back to a comfortable walking distance. "Let's go eat. I know you're hungry."
Willow looked across the table at her oldest friend and her love. "We need to talk about this." She took his hand. "I'm still pissed over the split and hurt by it and I know I've been taking it out on you, which isn't healthy for us."
Xander nodded, trying hard not to tense. "I've noticed but I thought you were starting to feel better."
"I am but we still need to talk." She looked into his eyes. "I love you, no matter how stupid and insecure you become, but you hurt us both horribly when you left. Not to mention the kids." He nodded. "And I know I've been taking it out on you physically," she coughed, choking on the word, "and I know that isn't right. Oz and I have agreed to talk to somebody. We want you to come with us." He nodded slowly. "We were thinking Derek or Alex since we all trust them but we could go to an actual counselor or therapist if you'd be more comfortable."
"You guys need to work it out then bring me in, not include me from the beginning." He looked around the room. "I'll move out tonight to the spare room up here." She squeezed his hand. "Will, let go," he said calmly. She did. "I have been talking to Derek and he agreed with me on this. You two need to work it out and then come to me and work it out." He stood up. "I'm not leaving, just moving two doors down. I'll be beside the kids room." He leaned across to kiss her cheek. "I'm not leaving, just temporarily putting some distance between us."
She looked up at him. "How long have you known?"
"We've been talking since I came back from the doctors. It's helped me a lot to figure out why I did it and why I was punishing myself, but you've got to work on that yourself before we can." He looked around the room. "I'll get most of it tomorrow while you're at the doctors so you don't have to watch." She nodded, eyes leaking again. "I'm not leaving," he said again, reaching over to touch her cheek. "Just adding a little space." He walked out, going to what was going to be his room for a while.
Oz looked up from his spot surrounded by kids in the hall, raising an eyebrow as he caught sight of the room his lover had walked into. He stood up, smiling slightly at them when they groaned. "Be right back, got to go talk to Xan. Go kiss Mommy and then go climb into bed." He watched as all but Serena toddled off to do as he'd said. "You too."
"Me dada." She stomped her little foot. "No."
He turned her around and gave her a slight push in the right direction. "Go kiss Mommy, you can see him in a minute." He watched as she did it, still frowning. He took off his guitar, setting it down carefully before walking over and knocking at the door. "Hey," he said, walking in. "What's this?"
"I've been talking with Derek. You guys need to work out your own stuff before we can do it together." He waved around. "This was his suggestion as a temporary space measure."
Oz leaned against the door. "You're moving down here?" He looked around the room. "Or have you already?"
"Partially. I told her I was going to get the rest of my stuff tomorrow while you guys were gone." He bent to kiss his niece, then set her back down. "Night night, Serena. I'll be in later." She nodded, but didn't move. "What?"
He shook his head, sitting down in front of her. "No honey, I'm not leaving. I'm just going to sleep in here for a while." He looked up at Oz. "Daddy and Mommy have some things they need to talk about before I can nap with them again." He ran his fingers through her hair. "I'm not leaving, I promise." She hugged him then toddled out, patting her father's leg as she passed him.
"No, I'm not. I'm giving us some space to work this out." He looked up at him. "Close the door and come sit." He waited until the older man was on the floor in front to him then took his hand. "Oz, I love you, am in love with you I think, but I can't be in there and work this out in my own head. I'll end up hurting one of you." He looked around the room. "As you can see, I'm fine in here. I'm not that far away. I'm not leaving. Just a little space."
"So, you're working on why you punished yourself and why you felt you had to go save the world for us and why you left, right?" He nodded. "Okay, I can deal with this. Did you tell her?" He nodded again. "Do you think we could talk to Derek too?"
Xander grinned. "I think he expects it." He popped his shoulder. "I don't want to hurt either of you again, but I can't cuddle with you, it hurts." He sniffled some.
Oz reached over, pulling him into a hug. "I know, it does us too. I think this was a good move." He soothed him, running his hands down the strong back. "As long as we're welcome in here."
"Anytime but nights." He pulled back. "Even if I need it, I'm not going to allow it. I'm not ready for that yet."
"Then it won't happen." He wiped over the damp cheeks. "Okay, if you want to talk to us you know where we are same as we do you." He stood up, pulling the younger man with him. "Xan, doesn't mean we're gonna stop caring. You're still ours."
"Yeah," he said, grabbing a hug. "I am but not that way right now." He stepped back. "Go put the babies to bed, I'll be in here."
"Deal. We'll talk tomorrow." He looked around. "You need to finish covering all the light sources."
"Got it done, just have to pull the drapes." He pointed at the heavy ones. "Derek kept the stuff from my old room in the attic so I got them. All I have left in ... your room is clothes and stuff."
"It's *our* room," he said, stressing it, "we're just not participating in the full meaning." He walked back out, closing the door softly.
Xander sat down on his bed, looking around at the comforting furnishings. "Yeah, it is." He laid back down, snuggling up with his new throw. "Maybe soon though."
Oz walked into Derek's office, sitting down to wait until he was off the phone.
Derek smiled and shook his head. "Politics," he muttered, humming in interest. "Of course we'd like to participate. Just send us the information and we'll see what we can't work out." He hung up after a few more insincere assurances. "So, you ready to talk too?"
Oz nodded. "Yeah, I think it's best if we all go to the same person." He slouched some. "Lock the door?"
Derek did as he was asked. "I know he moved out last night, how did you all deal?"
"He had a few nightmares. I had to restrain myself from going to him." He shuddered. "Really bad ones. Woke all the kids a couple of times."
"I could have him moved downstairs."
"No, we need him to be close by."
Derek smiled gently. "It might also keep your escape artist from trying to go down the stairs by herself."
Oz nodded. "Definitely. Found her curled up beside him this morning. I'm expecting that to be a regular occurrence since he's not gonna lock the door." He looked at the older man. "This anger is normal right?"
Derek nodded. "Yes. It's perfectly understandable to be mad at him and at yourself over what occurred. I'd say you all are to some degree."
"Oh, Will's pissed. She's been taking it out on him physically." The older man frowned. "Saw the bruise too?"
"Three or four of them. She has this habit of hitting his arm right where I give him the shot." He leaned back some. "Why are you mad at him? For leaving, for not seeming to care? For taking you with him?"
Oz thought for a few minutes. "No, I agreed we had to go too. I'm not that pissed on that issue. For leaving? Yeah, mostly. And the not caring one, even though I know he kept watch over us from wherever he was."
"Through the pagans you had become part of," Derek said. "He told me. He went through Precious and Savanna to get to your old group to check on you weekly." He sat forward again. "Are you upset that you didn't know how he was."
Oz bit back a snarl. "He was just so selfish! He knew how we were but we were forced to worry about him every day. We didn't even know if he was living." He shook his head, calming back down. "That's telling." He looked at the floor. "I'm guessing but that's the cause of both our problems."
Derek shook his head. "Willow still has some abandonment issues. Her parents weren't a strong presence in her life so she was feeling left behind again. Something Xander knows and feels very deeply." He leaned back again. "I want you to keep a journal too. I've already started them on one. Write in it what you feel, the dreams you're having about him leaving. All of it. Once a week, I want you to look at the other's. In addition to talking. That is something you three need to do a great deal of." He looked at his desk calender. "At the formal, you'll be turned so I'll try to have them down with you instead."
Oz shook his head. "I wouldn't. We'll fight for dominance this time. He was gone too long."
Derek shook his head. "You didn't when he came for her delivery."
"I knew he was there to help then. This time he'll be hurt. I don't know how I know but I do." He shifted some uncomfortably. "It's been showing between us in life too."
Derek nodded. "I'd noticed the distance again. I'll make him attend then." He spread his hands. "Would you like Willow to be with you?"
"She's got a killer dress and I want her to have some fun. We had a few rough months in there when I was turned."
"So I had heard." He smiled gently. "All right. We'll deal with this." He tossed over the journal. "Start it today, with this, and work your way out. We'll talk again after the formal." He smiled. "Now, go save Buffy from Nick please. He's trying to teach her how to use a bow."
Oz shook his head. "She knows crossbows." He tipped his head to the side. "Are you locking the basement door?"
"Oh, yes," Derek said. "Many of the other Precepts would be more than happy to go down to harm you during that time. I'm actually thinking of having you moved out to the guest house with guards." He shrugged. "You will be sedated that night, just so you don't make noise and alert them to your presence."
Oz nodded standing up. "Thanks Derek." He walked out, leaving him alone.
Derek turned to watch the leaves blow outside. "With any luck, we'll have this fixed by the holidays." He shook his head, turning back to the paperwork on his desk, frowning at William. "Don't you announce yourself?"
"No trumpeter around," he said, taking a chair. "What is that about?"
"They're all dealing with the split they took. Everyone's feeling great anger and pain right now. I've offered myself as a sounding board for them to work it out against." He shrugged. "None of your business really."
"I know, I'm just concerned about Willow and the children. How is she dealing with the other one?"
"Alexandra is doing fine. All of them are." He looked up. "Go home."
"In a few days. I'll be announcing that I'm retiring at the end of the year, that will give you two months to deal with this Derek and get your house in order." The other man nodded. "Good, now hurry up with those reports, I'm sure they could use some good news."
"I was going to tell them tonight at supper," he said. "It's a celebration, two months back." He looked up. "Go away. I can't work with you staring at me."
"Of course not. Just know that separating them might not be the ideal here. They're all insecure about him leaving again."
"That's why he moved two doors down." He frowned. "Don't meddle in it, let them handle it. It's *their* lives, William, not ours. They're more than capable of handling this problem."
"All right, just watch out for them." He walked out, smiling broadly. "Otherwise I will," he tossed over his shoulder.
"I'm sure but if you try to separate them, one will die." He glanced at his door, then picked up the phone, dialing the library. "Willow?" He paused, waiting for her to answer. "You've got to be careful, William's going to try to separate you again." He grimaced as he hung up. "Forewarned is forearmed," he muttered, going back to his annoying paperwork.
Willow looked up from the desk, seeing Xander coming out of the control room. "Got a sec?" He nodded, sitting down next to her. "Derek just called down, he thinks William's gonna try to pull at least one of us to London with him to separate us."
He nodded, chewing on his straw. "I know. He's thinking we'd deal better apart and magically come back together once I was back." He patted her arm. "He won't separate you two. He can't and not risk the kids." He stood up. "Anything else?"
"Can I come down and talk later?"
"Will, you don't need an appointment. If I'm there, you can come talk." He continued out of the room.
Oz looked over the railing at her. "You sure you're ready for that?" She nodded. "Alone or together?"
"I'm not sure yet. But I've figured something out and I need to tell him." He nodded, going back to his book. "What about that night?"
"Sedated and hid from them all," Oz said. "Oh, and don't come down tonight. I'm not sure it'll be safe." He glanced down at her to see her nodding. "Thanks."
"Hey, I understand. Your two animals have to work it out."
"He's not either. He was gone to long and we'd fight."
Willow frowned. "You want to be alone tonight?"
"Yeah, I do." He looked at the person walking in. "Put Serena in her playpen and we should be fine. Watch her tonight." She nodded, picking up her report to finish reading it.
William looked up at the second floor. "What's wrong now?"
"You planned the reception for a night that I'm turned," Oz said. "Will and Xan will be there but I'll be somewhere else."
William shrugged. "Sorry, didn't know."
"Not a big. Already over it." He glanced down. "Nick's in there, Xan's in the kitchen eating, and Buffy's in the gym. Alex went to town on her case."
William sighed. "All right. Come down here." He waited for Oz to come down. "Would you like to talk?" Both of the younger people shook their heads. "I want one of you in London."
"No," Willow said. "I can't fly. O. B. said so. And he's got to be here for the others when I'm doing stuff." She took Oz's hand. "You aren't helping by doing this. We're working on it but the last thing we need is to be really separated."
"NO!" Serena screamed. She threw something at William. "No byebye." She scowled at him, walking over. "You bad." She hit his leg.
Oz picked her up. "No, he's trying to help but you're right, no one's leaving." He looked at William. "You need a better convincer?" The older man shook his head. "Good, then drop it." He kissed his daughter. "No one's leaving you." She sniffled, hiding her head in his shoulder. "I promise, no one's leaving." He looked up as Xander came in. "See, he's right here."
"Come here, sweetness," the younger man said, picking her up out of her father's arms. "Let's go talk." He looked over his shoulder at William. "That was cruel." He carried her over to the bench seat, hugging her and talking quietly.
"I agree," Derek said dryly. "I want you to never bring up this subject with them again. They've all been through enough without your meddling." He looked at Oz. "What's happening with that book? Moscow just called."
"Two-thirds done. Do they need something specific? If not, I could use Willow's help."
She smiled at him. "I've done most of my part, you just have to integrate it." She looked at Derek. "We'll have most of it done later today." He nodded, heading for the control room.
Oz headed back upstairs. "Bring it on, I could use the break from the code." She grabbed her notebook, heading up to help him.
William looked at the pair on the couch but a quiet, "talk to them and die painfully," stopped him. He turned to face Buffy down. "What was that?"
"They don't need to be hurt by you anymore than they've done to themselves. Drop it and leave them alone." She stared him down. "You're only harming right now." She headed up the stairs, grabbing a book. "Tell Derek the guy from the Netherlands called and it's not his but he gave me a place to look." She walked back down the staircase and out of the room, heading back to the lab.
"She's right," Xander said, walking up behind him. "Nothing you could do would help us. This is something we have to do ourselves, not let someone else take over."
William patted him on the shoulder. "You've become a wise young man but don't let it go to your head, Xander. Everyone needs someone sometimes. Even Derek and myself."
"But I've got the ones I need," the young man said quietly. "All of them after we work this glitch out so drop it. We've got it handled." He picked back up the baby, heading out to the kitchen. "Lunching," he called.
"Make sure she eats," Oz called, not looking up. He waited until they were the only ones in the room. "They were right, William. We've got it covered. We're not breaking up, just spacing for a while." He took Willow's hand before looking up. "All couples fight, even you and your wife hopefully. If not, *then* there's something wrong." He bent back down to his translation, trying to figure out the code again.
"If you say so," William said, walking out. "Just remember the world is larger than the three of you."
Oz snarled at Willow as she walked down the stairs.
"Just checking," she said softly. She stopped well away from the cage. "You okay in there?" He hit the bars, trying to get to her. "That's what I thought." She frowned but walked back up the stairs.
Xander stayed on the bottom step, watching the werewolf pace. "You remember me?" he asked softly. He saw the head turn, the snout sniffing the air, heard the quiet growl. "I'll take that as a yes." He stood up, dusting off his pants as he walked closer but still to a safe distance. "Hi," he said quietly. "We need to work this out too, huh?" He sat down on the floor, watching the arm come out to try to get him. He caught it on a pass, moving closer to rub over it. "Hi," he said again, staring into the yellow eyes.
The werewolf snarled, trying to get him again then rattled the cage door to get out when he couldn't.
"Calm down. I'm not here to hurt you," he kept his voice calm, his posture non-threatening. He ended up slouched in on himself, watching from where he was propping his arms on his hands, elbows to knees. "You know what? It's really easy to talk to you like this and you won't remember." He moved a little closer, hearing the growl. "I'm not going to fight you for dominance. They're your pack and always have been." He looked up the stairs, hearing someone on the stairs. "Go away," he yelled. Whoever it was left, closing the door. So he turned back to Oz, seeing the yellow eyes staring at him. "Yeah, we need to be alone for this." He rolled up his shirt then ended up taking it off when the cuff wouldn't go high enough. He held his arm out, watching as it was sniffed, the cub's scent on it. "We really have got to work out this dominance thing between us. I can't beta to you and I don't want to alpha. I want us to be equal, fully equal, but I can't do that." He went back to his slouched position, hearing the growl. "Oh, behave, I'm not threatening you." He looked up, seeing the snout poking through the bars so he reached over carefully, patting it with a finger. "Better? Have an itch?" He grinned as it was pulled back. "Thought so." He stood up, walking closer, very carefully and slowly. "I know you trust me and I do you, really, but I'm not ready to get in there with you again." He touched the bars, ready to pull back if those jaws came closer. "I do love you Oz, I'm just not sure if I'm ready for that or if you are." He grinned as his hand was licked over. "No, don't do that. You can do that tomorrow night." He reached through the bars, stroking over the soft fur, hearing the growl. "I'm not fighting with you. Ever." He withdrew his hand, stepping back. "We'll talk tomorrow, all right?" He didn't hear another sound so backed up and walked away. "See you in the morning," he called back.
The cage door started to rattle, being shaken by the inhumanly strong arms. Oz shook it harder as he felt it give way, eventually throwing it aside. He sniffed the air then the ground before starting up the stairs. He batted at the doorknob, growling at the flimsy piece of wood standing in his way. When it didn't give way to his majesty, he pounded on the door, beating it hard enough to break the hinges and shoving it aside. Once he was in the main hall, he stopped to listen, cocking his head to the side. He sniffed the air, following the strong scent up the stairs, passing by the other bodies he heard. He had to find that scent. He followed it up another set of stairs, stopping at the top to sniff. That scent was everywhere but it was stronger and fresher in one direction. He headed that way, growling at his cub when he saw her caged up too, squeaking. He batted the side down, watching as she crawled out of it. He sniffed her then the air, then followed his cub out to another room. He growled as his cub crawled up beside the other man, the one who had just come to see him, but he walked over to the bed anyway. He liked his smell, remembered it from somewhere. He could see his cub nuzzling him so watched her, tipping his head to do so. His cub liked this person, so he got onto the bed, sniffing him. She squeaked so he licked her to keep her quiet. He had to assess this threat, figure out where he'd smelled him before.
In the wolf's mind, he could see the man, a little different then, more forceful, his alpha. He snarled softly at that thought, he was no beta, but at some time he had been in a pack with him. He sniffed him again, seeing more pictures of them together as a pack, the cub in his arms, the woman that had come down with them. There was something he recognized in the man even though he wasn't like him, something he respected as an equal. He sniffed him again then laid down behind his cub to watch over her. Maybe he would figure it out while he waited. Maybe the man would tell him.
Derek and Nick met out in the hall, a sound waking them. Nick checked his watch, then the hall. He headed down the stairs, just to go do another round of the house, Derek right behind. He cocked his gun as he hit the last step, looking around. He frowned when he saw the battered door, racing down the stairs to check on the captive werewolf. "Derek, Oz is out."
The Precept muttered, running back up the stairs to the third floor. He stopped at the gate, so obviously torn out of it's normal position, stopping Nick. He looked at the opened doors, then at the younger man. "Cub or mate?" he asked.
"Cub." He bypassed the older man, walking into the nursery. He came back out, joining Derek at his brother's door. "He let her out," he whispered, looking into the room. He could hear the quiet growl, see the yellow eyes glowing in the black light. "Do we leave them?"
Derek shook his head but walked over to Willow's door, knocking lightly. She answered it almost immediately, frowning at him while doing up her nightgown. "Oz is loose, as is Serena. They're both in with Xander." She pulled him inside, shutting the door.
"He was down there to talk to him when I went down to check," she said quietly, looking over her shoulder at her infant. "Did he get out or did Xan let him out?"
"He broke the cage, the basement door, and the baby gate on the stairs." She frowned but only looked toward the door. "He's not recognizing you?"
She shook her head. "Not really. He growled and tried to grab me earlier."
The Precept nodded. "Do we leave him?"
"Xan's the expert here." She bit her lip but opened the door. "Yeah, leave them. He won't bite Serena and if he's not bit Xan so far he probably won't. Just close the nursery door."
Derek nodded. "I'll be in there with them. Lock your door." He closed the door behind him, going back to where Nick was waiting for him. "We leave him."
"He'll bite him. They've been dancing around for dominance again."
"We leave them," Derek said. "Willow said so. Besides, if he's not bit him yet, why would he later unless we scare him." He closed that room's door too, leaving it open just a bit. "I'm going to the nursery, you stay at the bottom of the stairs. I don't want him escaping the house or anyone coming up. We don't need William bit no matter how satisfying that thought might be at times." Nick nodded, heading back down. He waited until he was alone before going into Xander's room. "Oz," he said quietly. "Don't leave here, protect them." He walked back out, not turning his back, but he left the door open just slightly before heading into the nursery to sit guard. He made sure that door was locked behind him, then looked over the children to make sure they were all right.
Oz stopped growling as the other man walked out, turning to lick his cub's face. He took a taste of the man and another memory exploded. He hadn't been a beta, they'd agreed to share because of his mate. He looked around for her then howled. He did it again when he didn't get an answer, earning him a firm grasp around his middle.
"Shh," the man on the bed said. "You'll wake the baby."
Oz looked at the man, sensing he wasn't awake. He sniffed him again, then licked his face.
"Eww," he said, sitting up and wiping his face. He looked at the yellow eyes and his scent said fear but he got it under control. "Hi Oz," he said calmly. "Break out to come see us?" He reached over, scratching under the chin. He almost sighed in relief as his hand was licked before it could touch the gray fur. "Okay, so you're here and so am I." He looked down, feeling someone chewing on his finger. "And so's the cub." He removed his finger before her teething could break the skin. "Do you want to stay?" His bare chest was sniffed. "Sure, smell me. I'm okay." He laid back down on his back, not wanting to antagonize him. He never expected to be pushed by the cold nose or the paws to grip his hand and move him. "Hey," he said as he was turned. He landed on his stomach with a grunt and then the soft fur was covering his back. "Um, Oz, you can't have me," he said.
The wolf sniffed him some more but just laid on top of him, giving the occasional lick to the back of the sweaty neck.
Xander settled down for the night, sure he was safe from the big fuzzy creature on his back. Oz remembered him still.
Oz woke up, snorting, and looked down to see what he was laying on. He sat up when he realized it was a person. He looked for bite marks but didn't find anything beside a drool trail. He sighed in relief, looking down at the burying sensation against his leg. "Oh, hell," he said.
Xander had woken up when Oz had sat up, but had lain there to let him ease his mind. "You know," he said softly, "you scared the piss out of me last night when I woke up to you looking at me." He rolled over, showing the scratch marks. "Then you decided I was a pillow so we did okay." He reached up to play with some of the red hair. "Figured you remembered me."
Oz nodded. "I don't remember much, but I didn't think you were anything but a pack member." He leaned down, kissing the younger man's forehead. "Sorry."
"Not a big," he said, yawning. "But I'm not fighting you for dominance." He pulled over his journal, handing it to him. "You can read it if you like. It's got most of the stuff I said to your wolfishness last night." He yawned again then patted Serena's rear. "Go wake everyone up," he said.
She woke up and grunted at him, laying her head on his shoulder. "Nap," she said forcefully. She looked at her father. "Read?"
"No, honey. This isn't one of your books." He read the entries quickly then tossed the journal aside. "Go wake Mommy," he said, picking her up and setting her on the floor. "We need to talk."
She frowned, shaking her head. "No." He gave her a look so she toddled out, pouting the whole way.
Oz got up after her, closing and locking the door. He laid down on the bed, rolling onto his side to look at his lover. "Remember how we used to do it? Two alphas sharing a pack?" The younger man nodded. "Can we go back to that?"
"I don't want to be either," he said quietly. "I'm not strong enough to alpha all the time but I can't beta."
Oz took his hand, rubbing over it. "Xander, I understand that, that's how I feel most of the time." He looked up to see the surprised look. "Thought I enjoyed having to always be the strong one?" He nodded. "Nope, I like to be able to need a cuddle sometimes too." He let the hand go, rubbing over the stubbled cheek. "We do good there. I'm not going to change it. I know you need me to be strong now and I will be. When I need it, you will be. You always have been.." He saw the confusion and the hint of pain. "Worried that you won't be there for me when I need it?"
The younger man nodded. "Yeah, after what happened and all that time, I am. I don't know if I'm the man I was, if I can be that strong anymore."
Oz silenced the moving lips. "We're all insecure here, Xan. None of us is sure we can go back to what we had." He moved closer. "We okay so far?" He got a nod so moved just a little closer, taking the younger man in his arms. "I like being strong for you and Will. You're my life and my love."
"Kids," Xander said.
He pinched him lightly on the shoulderblade. "Them I'm the Dad for. That's a special case of strong and weak at the same time." He pushed back the other man's head. "You're ours, and I'm here when you need me. Okay?" He got another nod but the worry hadn't been eased in the dark eyes. "If we had been in trouble while we were apart, would you have come for us?"
"Nothing would have stopped me from being there as soon as humanly possible," Xander whispered, brushing some of the red hair around. "If I had heard that one of you was sick or injured or something, I would have left then and been there by that night."
"You weren't all that far away from us."
"About ten hours travel at the most," he admitted. "And then I got nervous."
"So you were always watching out for us, being strong even when we didn't know?" He felt the nod after the head had sunk back to his shoulder. "How is this different? How is what we're going through now any different than then?"
"I can see when you're in pain."
"Same as we can you," Oz said. He looked down the too thin body. "Matter of fact it's pretty obvious that you were being too strong for us and too weak for yourself. Otherwise you would have eaten more than cokes and granola bars." He grinned as he felt the small tickle attempt. "Yeah, you. Mr. Strong and Mighty Hunter Guy." He felt the tickle come again, just a little harder. "Why else did you fight other than to protect us? You loved us enough to be strong from a distance. Matter of fact, you were out slaying our natural enemies to protect the pack, a simple hunting mission of protection." He felt the tickle attempt again. "Do you really think that if we had known what you were doing that we wouldn't have traveled that ten hours to be beside you, to protect you?" He moved his head so the other could pull back. "Hon, if Willow had found out what you were doing, she'd have gotten off that bed and pulled my butt to the car to make me go find you and bring you back." He saw the shock. "She told me many times that if she only knew where you were and how to do it, she'd summon you back to us."
Xander swallowed. "Really?" Oz nodded. "Not trying to make me feel better?"
"Nope, not my job." He tipped his head at the sound of someone coming up the stairs. "Sounds like someone knew I got out." He leaned over to take a gentle kiss. "Trust me here, Xan, we would have come for you then and made you stay with us. Both of us." He pulled back at the knock.
"Go away, we're talking," Xander called.
"Downstairs, now," Derek called back.
"In a few," Oz called. "He's fine." He looked at the younger man. "We can do this later."
"But I don't want to stop. I'd like to work this out sooner rather than later."
"Now!" Derek yelled. "You have visitors, Xander."
The younger man groaned, taking one last hug before getting up. "Let me get dressed," he yelled. He looked at Oz. "Want to help me pick out an outfit?"
Oz nodded, choked up. "Sure," he said. He watched as the headed into the bathroom to get ready then stood up, going over to the closet. He opened the doors, looking at all the clothes, pulling out his favorite outfit of all of them. He turned when he heard the bathroom door open, handing it over. "I like you in this one. It makes your eyes look really deep." He stepped back but Xander pulled him closer. "We agreed."
"I know, but I could use a hug." He grinned. "Besides, who comes to see me?"
"My guess so I'd like some backup here. I don't think holy water soaked stakes will work on them." He dried off and quickly got dressed, not turning away to do so. When he was done, he looked at Oz. "Borrowing clothes?"
The older man pulled out a shirt he enjoyed borrowing, heading for his room. "Come with me?"
"Sure, if Will say's it's okay." He pulled on his shoes and grabbed his wallet. "Got to go into town today. Want a ride?" They walked into the couple's room, stopping to look at the sleeping woman. Xander picked up the fussing baby, holding her to his chest. "I'll wait outside," he said.
Oz stopped him. "Stay." He dressed quickly then leaned down to kiss her cheek. "Morning," he said. She patted his face. "We've got Xandra and we'll be downstairs." He walked away from the bed, stopping beside the younger man. "She worries." He waved a hand at the door. "Shall we?"
Xander took a deep breath and walked out, heading down to find out who his visitor was. He walked into the living room, frowning at Derek, who was talking to his parent. "You know," he said antidotally, sitting down on a separate couch with Oz, "I'm not much for mornings."
"Son," his mother said. "I'd like you to come home." She looked at the baby in his arms. "When did you get married?"
"She's Willow's." He looked down at her. "She was being fussy so we're letting Mom sleep." He kissed her head. "No."
"Xander, we need you at home. Your father's not well."
"That's nice." He looked at Derek. "Thanks for not pulling him out last night, we had a good talk this morning." He looked down at the baby then at the older man who was looking very hopeful. "Want to take her?" Derek nodded, smiling slightly. "Okay, she's probably hungry."
"Will pumps. There's got to be plenty of bottles," Oz pointed out. He watched Derek cuddle his daughter. "You're such a good Grandpa."
Derek smiled brightly. "Thank you." He stood up. "I'll leave you alone to talk." He looked at Oz but got a subtle head shake. "We'll be in the kitchen."
"I'll take my meds when I come in," Xander called after him. He turned to look at his mother.
She looked over him. "Are you ill? You look different." She looked at Oz but mentally dismissed him. "We need you at home. When can I expect you?"
"At his funeral." He looked at Oz, who nodded, so took his hand for support. "I've promised Willow I'd be here for her and him," he nodded his head at Oz, "to help with the kids. I'm not leaving them to come take care of a man that doesn't know I exist."
Oz bumped his shoulder. "You should at least go visit. Last chance and all." He looked at the woman. "What's wrong with him anyway?"
"His drinking got him finally," Xander said, looking over his mother. "Why would he want me? He doesn't like me."
She shook her head. "He does son, but he's never been one to show it." She looked at Oz. "I'm sure you understand."
"No, my children all know that I care and that I love them." He looked over at the door at his son, who was trying to sneak in. "Hey, Tim. This is Xander's Mommy." He waved him over, letting him climb into his lap. "Did you eat?"
"Eggies," he said, nodding. "Eat us?"
"Sure, we'll be in shortly." He kissed the top of the red hair. "He's promised to help us with them."
"I'm sure, but this is his family." She frowned at the child sucking his thumb. "You shouldn't do that, you'll ruin your teeth." He spit at her. "My, how rude," she said, looking at Oz.
Xander released his hand, picking up his nephew. "Mom, this kid is like my own and if he wants to suck his thumb or his toes, it's fine. And I'd spit too if Oz would let me." He looked at the older man, who again nodded slightly. "Mom, he's mine too. All of them are."
She gasped, leaning back. "No, my son is *not* gay!" She stood up. "What have they done to you?" She looked at Oz. "What sort of father are you?"
"A very good one," he said simply, taking his son back and standing up. "Why?" He looked her over. "At least I know how old my son is." He looked down at the younger man. "Breakfast Xan?"
"Gladly." Xander stood up. "I'll be home later this week to visit but I'm not staying," he said quietly. "He doesn't want me there, you want someone to blame when he doesn't get better." He patted the baby on the head. "I'm here Mom, because I'm needed here. I'm not leaving for someone that doesn't know or care that I exist." He walked out, followed by Oz. "Later this week," he called back.
"Now or not at all son."
"I'll see you at the funeral then," he said, popping back around the corner. "I'm not going to be intimidated either Mom. I'm stronger than that now. I found someone that taught me what love is." He disappeared again, heading down the hall after part of his family.
She left the castle, tears streaming. "We'll see," she said, getting into her car. "We'll just see whether or not you're coming home." She pulled away, heading back down the drive.
Xander and Oz walked into the kitchen, sitting down in their usual spots. "Always nice to be intimidated by your family," Xander said. He looked at Derek. "She's not real happy but I said I'd visit sometime." He sipped his milk. "Hey, Dominick, what are you feeding me today?"
"Same thing as the children, sir," he said, putting the plate down in front of him. "Soft but nutritious." He smiled at the little boy. "Would you like some more, Master Timothy?"
Oz nodded. "For both of us if it's not a problem." He looked at his lover. "How vindictive is she?" Xander shrugged. "Then she might call someone to tell them about a gay couple raising a kid or two?"
Xander choked. "Damn, hadn't even thought of that." He looked at Oz. "I'm sorry, I should have thought."
The older man patted his shoulder. "Not a problem. We're good parents and I'm sure everyone here can tell them that." He sat his son down in his seat, looking at Derek. "Hopefully?"
"Very." He looked at Xander. "What happened?"
"She tired to intimidate me into going home and being their darling again while she slowly killed him by giving in to him." He took another bite then sat back, looking at his boss and friend. "My mother wanted me to come home and care for him. I'm guessing but she didn't deny that it had to do with his drinking. I told her that I had promised Oz and Willow that I'd be here for and with them. She got upset so I pulled Tim over to my lap and claimed him as mine," he took Oz's hand, not realizing it, "and she jumped on him about what he was going to teach him." He shrugged. "By the end I was pissed enough to tell her that I had found someone that had taught me what love was and she left." He looked at Oz, then let go of his hand once he realized he was holding it. "I'm sorry for whatever crap she's gonna give us in advance. I should have controlled it better."
Derek cleared his throat. "At least you were nicer to her than I was when she tried to have you declared dead." He smiled at the younger man. "We don't mind if you hold hands either. I'm not that stodgy." He looked at Nick as he came in the back door. "You missed Xander's mother."
"Yeah, by choice." He looked at his brother. "Going back?"
"Maybe to visit but I'm not staying." He looked at Buffy when she came down. "I might have to go visit the original family, want to come?"
She shook her head. "Mom's out of town for the next month. She's in New York at some auctions." She looked at Derek. "Might I blame that on you?" He simply smiled. "Thought so." She shook her head. "So, what did I miss?"
"Xan outed himself to his mom and she threw a fit," Oz said. "We're expecting trouble to come later." She nodded, buttering her muffin. "Oh, and I'm sorry if I woke you all last night when I got out."
Buffy put down her knife and muffin. "‘Scuse me? You got out last night?"
He nodded. "Headed up after my cub and my fellow alpha." He looked at Xander. "We're both fine."
Derek pointed his fork at them. "We'll have to fix it today. We don't need you to roam the house at night."
"Especially with a reception tonight," Nick said. "I'll do the cage, you do the baby gate."
"I'll go buy a new one today," Oz said, nodding at Dominick as his plate was set in front of him. "Eat Xan," he reminded.
He took another bite but was still staring off into space. "You don't think she'd really call someone do you?" Derek nodded. "Really sorry man."
Oz tapped the side of his face, bringing him around. "Don't be. She's just the first." He rubbed over the smooth cheek. "Now eat, we both need our strength to deal with this." He took another bite but the younger man was looking at him. "What?"
"Nothing," Xander said, taking a bite quickly.
Derek looked down the length of the table. "I'd be wondering how to get rid of her," he said. He looked at Nick. "I know you'd be wondering who you could hire."
Nick nodded. "Would be trying to figure out which one. I know a few." He sat down beside Buffy. "I'm sure you don't understand."
She nodded. "Really. My mother would just say if that's you dear then I'm happy for you and drink some tea." She looked at Oz. "What about yours?"
"Don't know, haven't seen her recently." He ate another bite, following his lover's example on how to not answer questions.
Derek smiled as Alex led in one of her former colleagues. "Hello, please sit." He waited while both of them sat. "I know you've gotten a call about the children from a mother of one of my people, but I can assure you we all make sure that they are spoiled and never ignored." He looked over in the corner where the older four were presently napping. "They are well cared for, they just don't like being away from the people."
The other woman smiled. "I'm sure it's nothing Doctor Rayne. We all know you wouldn't let a child be abused here." She looked at Alex. "I've seen their play area and room but no one has told me why I was called." She patted her briefcase. "The woman that called was most specific about their care being mishandled."
Derek nodded, getting comfortable. "Unfortunately, one of my colleagues mother's was here this morning to make him come home. They had words and he ended up coming out to her. We believe that was what made her file false charges." He looked up and smiled as Willow and Xander walked in. "Ah, the mother and the man who's mother called you." He waited until she was seated. "May I introduce Ms. Willow Rosenberg and Xander Harris. It was his mother that was most upset."
He came over to shake her hand. "Hi." He looked at Derek. "They could use you in the library," he said quietly. "William's throwing a fit at Buffy."
Derek nodded, getting up but frowning. "We'll get your shot in a while," he said as he passed. "Excuse me, I've got to break that up before one of them get's hurt." He left the office, letting Xander have his seat.
"I'd hope emotionally."
"So do we," Willow said. "But Buffy may hit him if he keeps harping on her like that." She grinned at Alex. "He started in on her abilities this morning after watching her and Nick in practice." The older woman groaned. "Yeah, that's how we feel." She turned her head to check on the kids, two of which were looking around. "Daniel, Precious, come here." The two kids walked over, getting up onto the couch with her with a helping hand. "Tell the nice lady hello. She's here to make sure you're okay."
Precious tipped her head. "You ‘tay?"
Willow grimaced. "Yes, dear, she is." She looked embarrassed. "We've told them about strangers so they ask about everyone."
"Very sensible." The social worker smiled, waving at them. "Now, you have those four only?"
"And the baby. She's in her rocker in the kitchen. She likes to listen to Dominick cook." She grinned. "My babies are a bit on the different side."
The social worker smiled. "So I can see. What are those bracelets?"
"Id's," Xander said. "When they were born, we had trouble keeping track of who they were so we put them on. Now we just keep them to help with the morning confusion."
"Yeah, we have their drawers marked with glow in the dark shapes so we can tell which one's for which when we need to get up to change them in the night. Or Jonathan really." She looked at Xander. "Where's he anyway?"
"Yeah, he's somewhere."
Xander looked at the wall that faced the gym. "Pool. He's doing laps." He gave her a look.
The social worker made a note on her paper. "Then taking care of them isn't his primary duty?"
"Yeah," Xander said, "it is. We're just all very hands on with the kids." She nodded. "Serena, the other girl, tends to come to me before bed to get a story because I'm her favorite person. Derek has become a surrogate grandparent and the rest of the house just lives through them." He smiled at her. "He really only spends about four hours a day with them, taking them to various events over in the city and things." He looked at Willow, who was twiddling her fingers.
The social worked looked at them. "Okay, spill it. I'll find out eventually."
"Jonathan and I are both Wiccan and we weren't sure it would matter." She shook her head. "Or that he's somewhat of a nudist."
She raised an eyebrow, turning to look at Willow. "And you condone this?"
"My children will never be ashamed of who or what they are," she said in defense. "I'm not saying I am but for them to know that they have the right to be themselves and free is one of my goals as a mother. He's very good with them and is only nude upstairs as Derek has asked him not to be so down here." She rubbed over her son's head, pulling the other one up onto her lap when he laid down on it. "I'm very fortunate to have found him. The last one tried to hurt them and he's been a blessing of comfort and love for them."
She nodded, writing something else down. "That's not too unusual for this city." She smiled. "Relax. I'm not going to take them. From what I've seen so far they've been cared for excellently up to this point." She looked at Alex. "Although I expect they're very spoiled by now."
"Only some," she said, grinning, looking at Willow. "Mom's pretty harsh with us when we go overboard. She scowled at Nick when he tried to buy them a ten foot teddy bear."
"Teddy?" Daniel asked, looking around. "Me?"
Willow patted his hand. "We left it but we'll get you a new one today, okay?" He nodded, laying back down against her shoulder.
"This hasn't been where they've been all along?"
"Mostly," Willow said. "We took a long break from here, about six months, over a rather large difference of opinion." She looked at Xander. "My boyfriend and I lived in one spot while he traveled. I was expecting my last one and we felt it would be better for me to be in one place."
She nodded. "So, what was your other place like?"
"Two rooms. Not very big. We did as well as we could by ourselves. I was home and so was Oz most of the time."
"And what does you husband do?" she asked.
"My *boyfriend*," she stressed, "works here also. He was in the library the last we knew."
"Secret room," Serena said. She grinned, popping over the back of the couch. "Got you," she yelled, kissing Willow's cheek.
"So we can see," Alex said, getting up to get her. "But Derek's going to frown at you if he finds you climbing on that again. Then you won't get ice cream."
"Creamies," the boys yelled together, then looked at each other strangely.
The social worker stood, putting away her papers. "I really don't see a problem here. I know that when she called she said the kids were living in filth, with a gay couple, and were horribly underfed."
Xander cleared his throat. "That's me, the gay part." He blushed when she looked at him. "I claimed one in front of my mother this morning and she vowed to get me back." The woman nodded. "Is that a problem?"
"No," she said, sitting back down across from him. "Not at all. We don't discriminate against parents of gay children or even ones in Poly relationships." She smiled at him. "I didn't believe those reports in the papers, young man, I can see how you look at her. I believe that love just makes you care for those children more, as if they were your own."
"The youngest is," Willow said, "even if he won't believe it." She smiled at him when he groaned. "Oh, give it up. She's your's. We even named her after you." She looked at the social worker. "This isn't going to hurt us, right?"
"Dear do you know how many single mothers there are with children by different men that they can't name?" She smiled kindly. "I'm not seeing a problem with your family. None of it. Personally, I wish most of the children I see daily were as well loved and fussed over as these are." She turned to look at Derek as he came in, carrying the infant and feeding her. "I never would have pegged you for that duty, Doctor Rayne."
"This is like my own family." He frowned at Willow. "I want to do this. You can breast feed later." She grinned at him. "Thank you." He looked at the social worker. "So, you've made your assessment, and...."
"I don't see a problem. This woman was obviously acting out of animosity toward her son. She lied and we'll make a note of it." She stood up, walking over to shake Willow's hand. "Keep caring for them this way, dear, the world needs more people like they'll become." She looked at Alex. "Walk me out, Al?" The two women walked out of the office, talking quietly.
Derek looked at them. "That's goot at least." He looked at Xander, who stood up. "Thank you." He sat down in his chair, relaxing and letting the baby eat. "What else did she say?"
"That she wished more of the kids she saw daily were this well cared for." Willow smiled. "We came clean and she didn't say anything, not even about Jonathan really."
Derek laughed lightly. "This is San Francisco, Willow, a little nudity here is normal." He looked at Xander. "Go get your medicine and I'll give you your shot." He watched as he walked out. "You might not want to stay for this."
"No," Serena said, coming back in on Alex's shoulder. She smiled at him. "Baby?"
"Yes, dear, she's eating." He let her tip down some so her big sister could watch her eat. "Okay?" She nodded. "Goot, now why doesn't Auntie Alex take you into the library and bring you to your father." She squealed, kicking in delight.
Alex grunted, removing the offending feet. "Yeah, we could do that." She looked at Willow. "Want help up?"
She shook her head, standing, putting down all three of them. "Nope." She looked down at them. "Let's go find Daddy you guys." They all squealed, running out.
Xander held the door for them, getting out of their way. "Stampede?" he asked Willow, setting the bottle and syringe on the desk.
She shook her head, kissing his cheek. "Dad finding." She followed them out, followed by Alex.
Xander took the baby, putting her on the couch, propping her on the pillows, before kneeling before Derek.
Derek drew some of the liquid down, looking up as his door opened. "Forget something?" he asked the social worker.
"No, I just had a question." She winced as he injected the younger man. "What's that?"
"I'm on steroids to help me gain weight back," Xander said, pulling up his baggy shirt. "While we were apart, I was on a coke diet and food wasn't remembered very well."
She nodded, picking up the bottle, watching as Derek got rid of the needle. "Okay, but I will give you this warning. If something happens to one of them, we'd look at you first because of the side effects."
Derek took back the bottle. "He has another week on them. His doctor and I are both very well aware of the side effects possible but we also know he's not prone to violence toward anyone and that he'd never hurt them. He'd sooner lock himself away than harm any of them." He stared at her. "Do you have a problem with him being on medication?"
"As long as it's not psychiatric and is legal, no." She smiled at him. "I'm just concerned. That stuff has been known to create some raging monsters, some of which I've had to deal with."
Derek nodded. "I know the risks, as does he. He'll not be taking them outside of supervision and this isn't the same formula as those." He handed her back the bottle. "Nobody would even consider giving him anabolic ones. These are much different."
She read the label. "Just make sure he doesn't start abusing them." She put the bottle back down. "That is something I would have to insist one of them be removed for."
Derek nodded. "I'm sure it won't be a problem. He's not even with them right now." She nodded, walking back out. He looked over the younger man. "Are you all right?"
He nodded, going over to pick the baby back up. "She thinks I'd hurt them." He sat down, cuddling her to his chest. "I'm not like that," he said, looking up. "Stop me if it happens, but I'm not like that."
Derek nodded, coming over to sit beside him. "I know. She was thinking of those athletes that take them to bulk up." He patted the tense shoulder, then took the baby from his death grip on her. "Let me. She gets gas worse when you're upset while you feed her." He cradled the baby gently, watching him. "No one thinks you would do that," he reassured quietly. "None of us here could."
Xander nodded but didn't say anything. He watched his daughter eat, just thinking.
Derek couldn't take the scrutiny anymore. "What?" he asked softly.
"Just thinking." He looked into the older man's eyes. "Trying to imagine my father ever doing that."
"I don't think it's likely," Derek said. "Men of our generation and before were taught that doing this made them less manly and was for women to do." He handed her back, watching as she was cradled gently again, the younger man being so delicate with her. "I'm glad that your generation knows better than ours did. Had I ever had one of my own, I would have missed out on this."
"Like William did?"
"Yes, like he did. That's why he's retiring now. He's expecting his first grandchild and he'll try to make up for lost time with that one, same as I do with all five of yours." He patted the strong shoulder then stood up. "Sit there with her for a while, I've got to go talk to Buffy. She and William's argument left her crying in her room." He could see the frown. "He's callus sometimes but he's usually got a reason."
"Not this time," Xander said. He looked up. "Derek, is... would it be strange if I told you I knew when they were needing me?"
The older man looked him over. "No, not really. That could be your parental instincts coming out or it could be a genuine manifestation of empathy." He smiled at him. "We can talk about this later if you'd like." He nodded. "All right. Sit there and watch your daughter." He walked out, heading for the room where he'd put her.
Xander looked down at the baby. "I don't know which one scares me more," he told her. "It being a gift that's just suddenly happened or being a parent." He looked out the window, trying to figure it out.
Derek opened the door to the room where he'd had Buffy wait for him, not expecting her to come flying into his arms. "What's wrong?" he asked her, sitting them both down.
She sniffled for a few minutes. She got up and closed the door. "You remember that night I went out to go blow off some steam?" He nodded, his stomach balling up, just about knowing what was coming. "Well, I, um, well." She sat back down. "Well, I, um...."
"You fooled around," he suggested.
She nodded, blushing. Well, I just got this call from the person I did it with," her blush got brighter, "and, um, she's asked me back out."
Derek could have sighed in relief. "Thank Got, I thought you were going to tell me that you were pregnant."
She hit his arm. "You're awfully focused on that topic. Every time I have the flu, you ask me that." She frowned at him. "I've had that fixed. That's why I was in bed for a week with cramps."
He frowned at her. "You had surgery and didn't tell us?"
She pulled up her shirt, showing him the three little spots on her stomach. "Not too bad, considering. They looked like those little clips you put on the chip bag to keep them fresh."
He almost rolled his eyes. "You know that it may not be reversible?" She nodded. "Goot, we can discuss that later."
"Derek, I know. I talked to lots of people before deciding. Well, Alex and my Mom. I know that with the calling that I can't so now I'm sure it won't happen." He nodded. "See, forethought and all."
He smiled, patting her hand. "We still don't know that it's a permanent calling. Someday you might want some."
"Then I'll have it reversed or I'll adopt or something." She frowned at him. "What is with you and kids? You act like you expect all of us to procreate like bunnies."
He laughed lightly. "No, but I'm all too aware that your body is telling you that it should be." He patted her hand again. "Back to the problem. Why is this bothering you? Because of who or the gender?"
"The gender thing," she admitted. "I just never thought of it like that." He nodded. "I mean, I know you understand, you must have gone through this at least once."
He nodded. "Quite. I had to face up to it shortly after my father's death when I first became attracted to someone male." He leaned back, getting comfortable. "What did you tell her?"
"That I would call her back by tonight." She scrunched up into her corner of the couch. "I'm just not sure it's me, you know?" He nodded. "But I don't want to lead her on or anything so what do I do?"
"One goot way to figure this out would be to go out with her again. Being with her on a date doesn't automatically make you a lesbian, or even bisexual, it just means that you're exploring that facet of yourself. I would tell her that though."
Buffy nodded. "She knows. That's one of the first things she said to me after do you remember me." She grinned. "You're sure?" He nodded. "So cool. Can I have that night off?"
"As long as we don't have a case at that time and you've not made plans to patrol, then yes, of course you may." She picked up the phone, looking at the paper beside it and dialing.
Derek left her alone, going to find the other combatant. "You were too harsh on her," he said, finding William in the kitchen. "She'd done nothing to earn it." He watched as he made a sandwich calmly. "I know you're not deaf," he said.
"I know that also but I did what I felt was right to shock her into more appropriate behavior." He looked up briefly. "There was no reason to take a break from work to have a talk with Alex. That's what free time is for."
"Unlike your house, we take breaks so we don't kill the computer," Nick said from the table. He tapped his plate. "Derek, want one? I could make you one." The Precept shook his head. "Okay, but you're missing out." He looked at his brother. "Eat. She's fine. You don't need to stare at her."
Derek walked over, taking the child from him. "Eat, I'll hold her for a while."
"She's got a mother and a cradle," William pointed out, bringing his lunch to the table.
"Yeah," Xander said. "She does. And she also has two fathers and a house full of people that will probably not ever have children that are living through them." He looked back at Derek. "She's also probably ready for a change."
He checked her diaper. "No, she's fine." He sat down, watching his boss and two friends eat. "William, they are allowed to take rest breaks. Nothing we are working on right now is that important and even if it were, they're still allowed to rest before they go insane." He looked at Nick. "I'm not that mean, right?"
Nick shook his head. "No sign of a whip in months," he said with a grin. "Xander, eat."
Xander finished off his sandwich. "That was my second. Quit nagging." He looked at Derek. "I'm eating, right?" He noddded. "Then why is everyone nagging?"
"Because you're not really gaining any weight," Derek said. "I know it's only been a few days but we all worry about you."
"Yeah, you can't control Oz when you're so tiny," Nick said, catching the napkin thrown at him. "Sorry."
"Was that what that noise was?" He looked at Xander. "You let him out?"
"No," Derek said, "he broke his cage and the basement door to go find his cub and his mate." He smiled at Xander. "Drink another glass of milk please." The youngest man rolled his eyes but he got up to get one. "And have a cookie. Today's been trying." He smiled at the head shake.
William looked at Derek. "Are you a Precept or a father?"
"Both," he said, very sure of his answer. "We've already had that discussion." He looked at the younger man. "Didn't we?"
"Yup. I got the picture the first time." He ate his cookies in silence then looked at Derek. "Where did he send Giles anyway? We've not even had a phone call from him."
Derek shrugged. "All I know is that he got a summons to London."
"He's in India on the dig. Drop the subject."
Nick winced. "India?" He shuddered. "Poor man. Probably doesn't even know you're back yet." He stretched, leaning over the back of the chair then stopped to listen. "You done your laps?"
"Earlier to burn off stress." Xander looked at him. "Why? I thought you'd done yours too."
"Did, was wondering who was splashing around again."
Xander took a deep breath then got up, running for the pool. He knew who it was now. "That's what that was," he yelled back.
Nick looked at Derek, who had blanched, then followed. He made it in time to see Xander diving in to get two of the kids out. He did the same, reaching Daniel at about the same time as his brother did. They got them back to the side, looking around for the others.
"Where's the others," Xander asked Precious.
"Byebye," she said, pointing outside. "Pway?" She tried to get back into the water but he stopped her, earning a crying fit, which set off her brother.
Derek and William grabbed them, drying them off and holding them. "Wasn't the door closed," Derek asked.
Xander nodded. "Yeah, I had to do the keypad to get in." He looked at the open outside door. "They must be outside." He pulled himself up, heading to the door leading to the gardens. "Oz!"
Willow walked up a few minutes later. "We've been looking for them." She looked at him, then at the two towel bundles in the Precept's arms. "I'll be damned!" she yelled. She walked in, staring at them. "What do you think you were doing!"
"Pway?" Precious said softly, starting to cry again. She held her arms out for her mother.
Willow sat down, taking both her children and hugging them to make sure they were all right. "You guys know you're not supposed to be in here by yourselves. You could have been very badly hurt." She looked at Xander, who was shaking. "You need to sit then go change." She scooted over so he could sit next to her and hug them. "You will never be in this room again without someone," she said. The two children nodded, still sniffling. "Good, but I'm going to ground you anyway." She looked up as Jonathan walked in. "They snuck in here," she said.
He frowned down at them. "Not a good idea guys," he said, kneeling in front of them. "That was very bad. Don't do it again." He looked at each one, seeing the tears. "Did Mommy yell at you?" They nodded. "Good, just wait until your Dad hears. I'm sure he's gonna yell too. Did it feel good to be yelled at?" They snuggled up against her, hiding from him. "All right, let's go upstairs." He picked up Precious but Daniel wouldn't let go. "I mean it, let's go." He shook his head. "Now." He wiggled off her lap, toddling off out the door to the garden. He looked at Willow. "They okay?" She nodded. "How about you?"
"I was so scared when I saw Xan was wet," she said, hugging the wet body next to her. "We've got to put a lock on that door."
"How did they get in," William asked.
"Precious is a telekinetic," Derek said softly. He squatted down in front of Willow. "I'll start working with her this afternoon after her nap. I'll teach her not to do that." She nodded so he patted her hair. "Go upstairs with them dear, they need you right now." She got up, walking out the door, still almost ready to cry. He looked down at Xander. "Go change then meet me in the office." He nodded, heading out toward the kitchen.
Nick got out of the pool. "Okay, want to let me in?" He looked at his boss. "What's going on?"
"He seems to have some sort of empathic affinity," William said, "or so it looks like." He looked at Derek. "You could use a stiff drink my friend."
Nick shook the water out of his ears. "After I change, I'll get a keypad lock on that door too." Derek nodded, walking out, thinking. He turned to William. "Now you know why," he said, walking out.
William looked around the room. "Yeah, but that doesn't explain Derek's behavior changes." He walked out also, making sure the door was shut and locked.
Xander looked up from pulling on his shirt. "Hey, Will," he said, walking over and hugging her. "They're fine."
"How did you know?"
"Nick said he heard someone splashing." He stepped back. "And I just knew that something wasn't right." She nodded, sitting down on his bed. "Will?" he asked when she had been quiet for too long.
"How long?" She shook her head, looking up at him.
"How long have I noticed it or how long did I know today?" He sat down beside her. "About two minutes today. Just about long enough for them to make it out some." He took her hand. "In general? Since they were born. It's not real strong but I know when something's not right and I should go look at them." She nodded, biting her lip. "Will, say something," he said.
She turned to look at him, pulling a foot up under herself. "It's not anything but a general go check feeling?" He nodded. "Like that night?" He shook his head. "You didn't know?"
"I knew something but Savanna said that was all Precious." He ran a hand through her hair. "I knew I needed to talk to Oz but not that."
She bit her lip. "So, what about us?" He nodded. "You knew when we're in trouble?"
"It's more of an I know when I should check on you." He touched her hand. "I knew when you went into the hospital that night. I called Precious to have her check on you out of the blue." He looked into her eyes. "You're pissed, huh?"
She hugged him. "No, actually I'm glad. Oz, now he might be that you didn't tell him." She pushed him away. "Never mind, I am too." She frowned at him. "When were you going to tell me this?"
"When Derek told me what it was. I started to talk to him about it today but he had to go talk to Buffy so we were going to talk this afternoon." She smiled at him. "What?"
"Do you do that with a fuzzy Oz too?" He nodded, wry look showing. "Hmm, we'll just have to ask Derek to test you."
"Test what?" Oz asked, putting down the new gate. "You gave two of them baths without me?"
Xander shook his head, frowning. "Precious figured out how to open lever type handles and they decided to go play in the pool." He watched as the older man sank against the door so he bounded up, going to hold him. "Calm down, they're okay. I knew they were in trouble and Nick and I went in to get them."
Oz nodded then shook his head. "You knew? Knew how?"
"Like something was wrong and he had to check on them," Willow said. She got up, coming over to hold him. "He's apparently had this for a while and is just now figuring out what it was."
The older man looked at the younger. "You're showing an affinity?" Xander nodded. "Okay, that's cool. How long? Before that night?" He nodded. "But Savanna said that was Precious."
"I know but I felt the need to call you."
"Ah, that explains that." He pushed them inside, frowning down at his wet daughter. "In a minute." He closed the door behind him. "Right before you called, the Precept up there had another guy get into the computer to plug in a new board. I was supposed to do it but you called and she was being nice. He got electrocuted. Not dead, but enough to put him into the hospital with burns and major injuries." He looked at him. "You felt the need to call me?" He nodded. "Hmm, we've got to get Derek to test this. Tell us if it happens again." He patted his arm. "Listen harder," he said, opening the door.
Willow looked at him. "Okay, I can deal with that. It was a worse emergency." She looked out the door at where he was installing the new gate. "Why was there that much juice?"
"Guy who had come to fix it earlier had rewired it on purpose and left out that board. They still don't know who he was trying for." He slid the first bolt home. "This one is ten times stronger than the last so I shouldn't be breaking it out tonight." One of the boys barked. "Basically," he said, looking at him. "Daniel, bed, both you and Precious. I'm pissed at both of you." He stared until his son went to his room. "Bed," he called.
Jonathan walked out, grinning. "Harsh man. They've been yelled at." He looked at Willow. "You better now?" She nodded. "Good. Your voice did the whole echoing around the garden thing when you saw he was wet." He closed the nursery door behind him. "Night guys."
Oz looked up at Xander. "You all right? No tunnel vision or racing heart?" He shook his head. "Good, come hold this monster so I can slide in the last bolt." He reached around the thin arms. "Ha, got it," he said, sliding it in. He had to push but it went down all the way eventually. He stood up, rubbing against the younger man's body the whole way. "It's a squeeze close lock," he said, showing it off to them. "Really hard one too."
Willow nodded. "I'll climb over it if I can't get it undone or start yelling like a little girl." She grinned, heading back toward their room. "I'm gonna nap, I need it," she said, closing the door behind her.
Xander shook his head, looking over his friend. "Going with her or with me?"
"You. I want to find out about this too." He undid the gate and let him go first. "Did you eat?"
"Two sandwiches of ham." He stopped to look over his shoulder. "With many choruses of ‘eat Xander' from Nick and Derek." He grinned. "Come on, Derek's looking for us."
"For him too?"
"No, I just know how he thinks." He jogged down the stairs.
Oz followed more sedately. "Yeah, you two are alike," he muttered, watching the rear in front of him in interest. "Slow down, you're not wiggling," he called. He almost laughed when the rear was shaken instead. "Tease," he said.
Derek handed over the test results. "We told you that you were changing," he said.
Xander scrunched up his face but remembered. "Oh, yeah, I'm a mutant and the aliens caused it but they're good for me because they're catalysts." He read over them, frowning. "So, explanations would be to the good." He handed them back.
Derek smiled, looking over them to find a graph. "See this one?" He showed it to them. "That's your empathy rating now." He held up his old one which was a lot more flat. "You see the difference from your old one."
"Is it general?" Oz asked. "I noticed the spike."
"He's more overall empathic but not to the level of being an ability. That spike was for his family. All of you." He looked at Oz. "I just got off the phone with Montreal about that night. Did you feel it then?" Xander nodded, rubbing his forehead. "What's wrong?"
"Wondering how much longer that stuff will continue to change me." He looked at Oz. "Man, if I suddenly start reading your mind in the night, forgive me. I'm not trying to intrude."
Oz took his hand. "Hey, no more misunderstandings if you do." He looked at Derek, who was frowning at them for the levity. "Is he still changing?"
"I want to do some blood work."
"Marcus took some," Xander said. "He said something about checking for abnormalities because of them."
Derek picked up the phone, dialing Marcus. "Hello, I need ..." He smiled. "Marcus? I need to know if you sent in some blood for a real work up on Xander." He smiled and hung up. "Yes, he did. He'll be out later tonight since they're on his desk." He leaned back, crossing his arms behind his head. "He did say there was some change."
"Cool," Xander said dryly, "pretty soon I'll be a big silver lump too. I'll match my car." He looked at Oz. "Will you still talk to me then?"
Oz shook his head. "Joke later Xan, this is serious." He looked at Derek. "What if he is still changing, how do we stop or slow it down? Will it keep progressing to something different?"
"Nobody would be sure," Derek said. "Genetics is still a fairly new field." He looked at William as he came in. "Go do something useful like stare at milk until it curdles."
The London Precept shook his head, sitting on the edge of the desk. "Xander, your wrist."
"No," he said, not letting go of Oz's hand. "I'm not leaving."
"Not your choice."
Derek frowned, walking around the desk. "Stop it. We've known this was going on since he was infected with them. We're just not getting proof of what they're doing."
"I can't take that chance."
Derek snarled, pulling him up. "Get out of my office," he said, scowling at him. "You will not bother him because of something he cannot control. All he has is an affinity for his family, nothing more." He let William go. "You do not have the right to tell him to leave."
"I'm the London Precept and until I retire, yes, I do." He looked at Derek. "This is one fight you can't win. I'm still the head here."
Derek shook his head. "Get out. He's not giving in to your petty demands." William shook his head. "Get out or else," he warned.
"Or what? You'll shoot me?" He shook his head. "No, Derek, he can't stay."
Nick walked in, responding to the silent alarm Derek had pushed. "What?" he asked, feeling the tension. "What happened this time?"
"I'm still mutating," Xander said. He stood up, taking control of his hand back. "Why are you so scared that since I'm suddenly empathic that I'll do something bad?" He looked him over. "Derek and Alex both have the sight, are both precognitives. All this means is that I'll know when the kids, and they, are in trouble." He looked at the older man. "Or are you worried that it will somehow make me more vulnerable. Because if you are, there are a few things you ought to know. The only vulnerability I have are the people in this house, my *family* and I would do anything to protect them. All the crap you've made happen has only strengthened it and me, not weakened. Matter of fact, the only thing that would really weaken me is leaving. Derek was right when he said I belong here. And the more you try to separate me from my sources of strength, the more weak I become and the more vulnerable to people like we fight daily. Now get your ass the hell out of my face and leave me and my family alone before I take you as a threat and make sure you're neutralized." He looked at Derek. "I'm going to go calm down in the garden, yell when you want to reprimand me." He looked at Oz briefly as he walked out.
Nick clenched his fists at his side. "Leave William. He's not the only one able to do that."
Oz shook his head, standing up. "Why are you trying to destroy my family?" he asked, taking a swing and knocking him out. He looked at Derek. "I'm tired now, I'm going to go to bed. Xander wants left alone for a while to calm down. Personally come up and sedate me tonight, I'll be up in his room with him." He walked out, heading upstairs.
Nick looked at Derek. "Did you know he could do that?"
"I didn't know he held that much rage in check." He looked down at the man on the floor. "But I agree with him." He looked at Nick. "I'm going to call London and tell them he's become unstable, want to stay so I don't do it again?"
William groaned. "Damn that boy can hit." He sat up, rubbing his face. "It worked," he said.
Derek looked at Nick then led him out by his arm before either of them could follow the excellent example.
Derek shut the door to Xander's room, giving them one last look to make sure they were all right. He turned to see Willow in her new dress, his mouth falling open. "Willow, you look..." His usually charming tongue left him. "Perfect," he said finally. "Like you should have a small tiara in your hair."
She smiled, turning so he could see her outfit. "Are they okay?" He nodded. "Can I go see them?"
Derek held the door so she could go in, making sure Oz was still human at the same time. He heard both of the men gasp, could see the faint blush it brought to her face. He watched as she took kisses from each one, Oz also running a hand down her back, then stepped back.
"You play nice tonight," she told them, grinning. "I'll be dancing with Derek most of the night, and I'll steal Nick away occasionally too." She stepped back, turning to walk out of the room, her dress making a swishing sound.
Derek looked at them then closed the door. "Be goot tonight. Don't come downstairs until they're gone." He took her arm, walking her down the stairs, stopping to latch the gate. He let her go outside his room, smiling as both Buffy and Alex gasped at her. He walked into his room to get ready to the mutual admiration of the dresses all three women were wearing.
When he was done, he looked at the box on his bed, picking it up to weigh in his hands. He smiled, taking it with him as he leaving his room. He knocked on Alex's door, still smiling as she came to the door with curlers in her hair. "Not ready yet?"
"Buffy wanted to try something with my hair," she said, looking over him. "You look dapper." She pulled the door open more, letting him in. "Not at all like you're going to a funeral."
He patted the side of her face. "I know I should but I just found the perfect accompaniment to Willow's gown." He opened the velvet box, showing off the small gold/red pendant. "It was my Grandmother's." He took it out, putting it around her neck carefully. "Guard it well," he said, stepping back. "She'd be most displeased if you lost it tonight."
Willow touched it. "Are you sure Derek? I mean a family heirloom and all?" She looked in the mirror, seeing the small stone setting her dress on fire. "Wow." She looked at him then hugged him. "I'll do my best not to let it slip off." She stepped back, wiping her lipstick off his cheek from the brief kiss. She turned to let the other two women see. "Well?"
"Works well," Buffy said. She smiled at Derek. "I think you did her proud tonight."
He smiled, taking Willow's arm. "We'll be downstairs, hurry up." They walked out, closing the door behind them.
Buffy looked at the curls she was putting in and pinning up. "He's right, we're gonna be late." She attacked another one, getting it just right then pinning it up.
Nick smiled at the two women coming down the stairs. He looked over Alex's hair. "Cute if a bit fussy for you," he told her.
She hit him on the arm. "Buffy did it." She smiled at the younger woman. "And you thought he wouldn't like it." She took his arm, letting Buffy take the other side. "Come on, let's go greet the fussy people."
Buffy groaned. "You mean they're all like William? I should just go hide now."
Nick took the arm she was holding onto and wrapped it around her waist. "No, not all of them are like him. Matter of fact, only three that I know of. Watch out for Moscow's Precept though, he tends to try and cop a feel."
Buffy shook her head. "Just what I need." She latched tighter onto him. "Stop me if I get ready to beat him?"
"Certainly," Alex said. She grinned at Nick. "Have you told her about William?" He shook his head. "He tried to force Xander to give up his bracelet and Oz punched him. He's carrying quite the bruise from what I've heard."
"Makes this morning worthwhile," Buffy said. She looked around. "We should go help Derek and Willow greet." They all walked to the foyer together.
William tapped his glass, getting everyone's attention. "As some of you may know I'm getting ready to retire." He heard the groans. "Oh, don't be like that." He smiled, wincing slightly as the bruise was moved. "I've decided to name my successor so some problems could be worked out now." He held a hand out. "Derek."
Almost everyone clapped as he walked forward. "Thank you."
"Also," he said, waiting for the room to get quiet, "there's another piece of news. The lead house is switching to this one." There was a moment of silence and a gasp. "Yes, I know. A most unorthodox move but I believe Derek and his house have proven that they're doing most of the work anyway." Some small amount of laughter. "As of the New Year, I'll be gone and he'll have my ring."
The Montreal Precept stepped forward. "What about the rest of us? Derek's known to be more... liberal than some of our houses."
"On matters of Protocol," Derek said, "my senior house members have decided to hand it off to you. I know that you have a gift for setting up each house so it works best and leaving those that are working alone." He raised his glass of champagne. "Our new Head of House Protocol, Montreal's Precept." He drank some.
She smiled, drinking also, seeing the blackmail for what it was. "Of course I'll accept," she said. "What about the others?"
Derek motioned Willow forward. "This is the young woman that designed the new search software that will be at your houses soon, Willow Rosenberg. She's our top computer person right now in all but security clearance." He looked at Nick, nodding him forward. "You all know Nicholas Boyle, my Chief of Security, and most of you know that he has the top rating of all of them. I'll be looking over Head Researcher and Archivist candidates later, including those that hold the position. Head of Research and Development will be named as probably the same person as she has been doing a fantastic job." He raised his glass to her. "Any other concerns?"
"Why not Philip for Head Archivist? He seems to have all the qualifications, even if he is away most of the time," the Moscow Precept asked, in his heavily accented speech. "And wasn't Ms. Rosenberg aided by another member of your house?"
"He's not a full time member," William pointed out. "Otherwise he might already have it." He smiled at his Head Archivist. "I'm sure he'll look into it."
"As for that other member, we have two members right now that aren't feeling well so are hiding upstairs with Ms. Rosenberg's children and nanny." He smiled at that Precept. "Oz is most instrumental in helping her, having a high degree of hacking in his background also."
The Paris Precept choked. "She's a hacker? After all the problem's we've had? Derek, isn't that a little injudicious?"
Nick shook his head. "That hack we had a few years ago, our last one to the web, was her boyfriend, Oz. We found that out when he came here as an aid to one of our other house members." He looked at Derek, who nodded. "Not all of you know this, but the Watcher's Council was disbanded a little over two years ago." He smiled, holding out a hand to Buffy. "But we volunteered to train and work with the latest Slayer." He took her hand as she walked out. "Ladies and Gentlemen, the Slayer, Buffy Summers." He turned her so they could see her.
Most of them gasped, some smiling after running into her. The only one that didn't was the new head of the New York house. "Then who was the other that was roaming around a few months ago?"
Derek frowned. "That was the other member who's ill right now. He's aiding Oz in his moment of illness probably." He sipped his champagne, nodding at Buffy to say something.
"Xander went out while I was down with an injury." She smiled at the woman who had asked. "He did a great job in my absence but I'm back now and he's not fighting anymore." She looked at Derek. "At least until he's over his current illness. I may take him on patrol with me then."
There was the murmur of quiet conversation through the house. Finally Paris and Montreal stepped forward. "Are these the three that wrote those papers?" the Paris Precept wanted to know. "I'd heard they were offered a chance to train with the FBI."
"I'm two months postpartum," Willow said. "With a beautiful set of quads upstairs. We're delaying it until it's more feasible." She sipped her juice, looking at Derek.
"We've talked to the Academy and they understand the rational. Xander also needs some more background before going and Oz has a few unique problems that might cause them problems."
William coughed. "Any other concerns?"
"Yes, actually I have one," the new head of the New Delhi house said, stepping forward. "I've heard some nasty rumours about your house Derek. Werewolves, past vampire encounters with members, possessed people acting like the animals that had taken them over." He raised a brow. "Would you like to justify your being chosen over say, Montreal or Paris, both of who have the same level of seniority?" He stepped back into the crowd.
"It is *my* choice," William said, "and the case files of this house are as open as any other's. We all know what's happened here."
He smiled, pulling out a list. "Yes, and I did some searching before flying over. It seems that there are some entries that have not previously been in the system." He looked at Buffy. "Since you came possibly." He looked back at Derek. "Are they there for reference?"
Derek smiled sweetly, a clear sign he was going to tear this man apart soon. "As a matter of fact, yes, they are their cases. Buffy has been the Slayer since ninth grade and those cases are of her almost four years in Sunnydale, not three hours from here. She, Xander, Willow, and Oz have fought on more cases, in more varied situations, than some of the houses present tonight. I asked permission from William to integrate their past cases also. Willow, fortunately, came equipped with their files. If you had looked, you would know that these children, at the time, have stopped a Master vampire, stopped a few ritual sacrifices to open the Hellmouth, and have also stopped a few anniversaries that could have left the whole town dead. They have also stopped an ascension, fought almost nightly, and survived. I deemed their past work worthy." He tipped his head. "If you do not, then I'm very sorry."
"That doesn't answer a few of the questions he brought forward," Moscow said. "What about the vampire encounters? I know a member of your house had one, but did Ms. Summers also?"
"My history is none of your concern," she said coldly. "Neither is my personal life." She looked at Derek and nodded. "Excuse me please. I need some air before I do something brash." She put down her glass on the way out.
Derek looked at him. "One of her past helpers was a cursed vampire; he had been cursed with a soul. He aided her cause immensely when he was there. I believe he's in Los Angles now." He looked at Nick, who nodded.
"As for the werewolf mention," William said. "Yes, there were a few. None of that is your concern either." He looked at the head of the Moscow house. "Anything else?"
"If this person is a member then there is," Paris's Precept said. "We've long stood against allowing people with supernatural natures in." She looked at Derek. "I knew you were different Rayne but really."
Willow laid a hand on Derek's arm. "Why would you not accept a member that had been bitten by a relative he or she didn't know was infected?" She stared at the woman. "I know if you were bitten that you would not show so little compassion." She looked at Montreal's Precept. "And how's Kristen these days?" she asked. She turned to Derek. "I'm going to go join Buffy in her walk. I could use some air." She nodded at the people assembled.
William cleared his throat. "Be very sure that we have checked out this person thoroughly. They've been in some of your houses and you've never known." He looked at Derek. "I believe we're done here, don't you?"
"Very." He looked around. "There are refreshments in the library," he said, walking out after his members.
The larger group broke into smaller ones, talking among themselves. Derek found the two girls in the kitchen, sipping cool drinks. "I'm sorry about them. Some of us can be very hidebound." He smiled at Buffy. "Thank you for not tearing into him. I really didn't want to have to bury a body tonight or clean up the mess." Dominick snorted. "Or have him do it," he said, smile getting brighter.
Buffy smiled. "I thought it would be best if I didn't." She turned at the sound of a sniffle from the stairs. "Hey, Precious," she said, picking up the child. "What's wrong?"
She held her nose then held her arms out to her mother. "Mommy?" she whined.
Willow picked her up, feeling her forehead. "Yup, we've got a fever." She opened a cabinet, setting her on the counter, and pulled out the bottle of medicine.
"Let me," Dominick said. "I'll even put her back to bed." He poured out the red liquid into the measuring cup, watching as she drank it. "Go back to the party, I'll put her up."
Jonathan walked down the stairs, mercifully wearing sweats. "Nope, my job." He took her and looked over the assembled people, whistling. "Very hot you two," he said, then smiled at Derek. "You too sir, of course." He looked down at her. "Wave night night Precious." She did and they headed back up the stairs.
Willow walked to the bottom of the stairs, listening for a telltale growl that said Oz had noticed them. When none came she looked at Derek. "How much did you give him?"
"Tranquilizers?" She nodded. "Very little. Did you hear him?" She shook her head. "Then they must have worked." He took their arms, leading them back to the reception. "Back to the trial, shall we?" he asked as they walked down the hall.
Xander sat up, listening to the steps coming up the stairs. Oz didn't move but he was getting that feeling again. He got up, opening the door to see Jonathan carrying Precious back to bed. "I'll get the gate," he said, walking out to do it. He could hear voices on the next floor down, unfamiliar ones so stopped to listen.
//Werewolves, in this house?// some woman said. //This can't be allowed to go on.//
He'd heard enough so went over to the nursery. "We're leaving for our own safety," he told him. "Get them into someplace safe too." He looked around the room. "Oh, hell." He listened but didn't hear a single step on the stairs. "Take them down through the kitchen and let them rest in Derek's office. We're going out to the place where we were sick." He went back to his room, waking up Oz with a gentle nudge, closing his snout with a hand. "We've got to go, someone's coming up to hurt the cub." He let go at the quiet growl and went over to the window to open it and look down. His room was directly over the pool area, which was locked tonight, so he lowered the cable ladder he'd gotten. He turned to find Oz holding Serena. "Give me a second and I'll go down first," he said. He picked up the baby carrier he'd had for a while now, putting it on and slipping her inside. Then he strapped on the bag Willow had given him, listening the growing amount of voices. He walked over to the door, shutting it, then back over to the window. "Oz, follow me. It's a ladder so be careful." He swung out, catching the first rung. He climbed down, waiting until he'd hit the ground and looked around before calling up. "Oz," he said softly, knowing his ears were more sensitive. He almost smiled as he saw the furry body start down the ladder, still looking around. He caught the eye of a security guard and nodded, telling him to go on and tell Nick.
When the werewolf was down beside him, he shook the ladder, stepping out of the way as it fell. "Come on," he whispered, pulling the older man with him. They kept to the shadows, heading down to the guest house. He opened the back door, a precaution he'd made earlier with Derek, pushing Oz inside. He'd heard a voice, so looked around before walking in but locked the door and turned to see the yellow eyes glowing in the room. "Come on, let's go be safe." He pulled him into what had been their television and internet room, one without real windows.
Dominick frowned at the nanny and the children walking down the stairs but he saw the scared expression the young man held. "His office is open but I believe Mr. Sloan is holding an audience in there." He held up a hand. "Let me go check." He hurried out, tapping on the door before walking in. He smiled when it was only the London Precept. "The children need the room sir, can I convince you to go to the control room?" William raised an eyebrow but stood up. "Thank you, sir." He waited until he was gathering his things to go back to the kitchen, leading them back to the office. He smiled at William as they passed, letting them in and showing him where the lock to the door was. He stopped in the doorway. "I'll tell Doctor Rayne that you're in here," he said quietly. "Get them back to sleep." He went back to the kitchen, hearing the closing of the locks. He picked up his tray, heading out to the reception. He looked at Nick, who was dancing with Willow and nodded outside. The Security Chief nodded subtly and bent to say something to her. He made the rounds with the tray, heading to where he could see his boss. He stepped next to his ear as he passed. "The children are in your office and there appear to be fewer people here sir." He moved onto the next person.
Derek coughed and smiled apologetically at the Precept he was talking to. "Excuse me, I have a call I need to take." He headed toward his office, nodding at the people that looked at him. He knocked on the door then used his key to get in, making sure it closed behind him before picking up Precious as she walked over to hug her. "Did the people come up to scare you?"
Jonathan shook his head. "Xander said to come down. He said he and Oz were going where they had been sick." His brow wrinkled. "I don't know what it means but they headed out a window as far as I know." He got up, taking back his charge. "If it's what I think it is, I feel much safer down here."
Derek nodded. "Unfortunately, yes, it appears to be. By all means stay in here. Lock the door behind me. If you need something the gate house is 93 and they'll connect you with a security person." He walked out, heading back to the party. He met Nick at the bottom of the stairs with Buffy, patting Willow's arm as he passed, letting her know the kids were safe. They headed up to the living quarters, trying hard not to make it seem obvious. Once they were through the first door, Nick pulled out his tranq gun, cocking it. "Is that necessary," Derek asked him.
"You want me to kill them instead?" he asked.
"Yes," Derek said, "but I don't think that would look very goot." He opened the second door, seeing all their rooms open. "Hmm, seems like we have some lookers," he said. He looked in the rooms as they passed, hearing the soft sound of the gun going off a few times. They made it up to the third floor in time to see Moscow's and Paris' Precepts coming out of the nursery and New Delhi's coming out of Willow and Oz's room. "Are you lost?" he asked snidely.
The Indian Precept made the wrong move of trying to rush them. Buffy took him out with a few well placed kicks and a punch that resulted in the wet sounding snap of a broken bone. She looked at the Moscow Precept. "Next?" she said sweetly.
He shook his head, hiding behind the female Precept. She smiled at Derek. "Surely you're going to follow the rules," she said.
Derek shook his head. "He didn't choose this and I'm not inclined toward that rule." He watched as Buffy moved closer to her. "Only if she tries something," he told her. She nodded, frowning. "I suggest you leave now," he told them. "I'm not feeling very generous at the moment." He moved out of the way, letting them have the option.
She started down the stairs but the Moscow Precept tried to grab Buffy as a shield. He quickly found himself on the ground, head ringing.
Nick smiled at her. "Told you that would come in handy." He looked at the Paris Precept. "You don't deserve your ring. You're a bigoted bitch and a whore." He moved out of her way. "Madam," he said.
Derek shook his head. "Nick, that's not nice."
"Then she shouldn't have tried to climb into my bed and make it seem like I came onto her." He raised an eyebrow. "Or didn't you hear about that?"
"Oh, I heard, but I was trying to ignore it as a desperate plea for attention." He looked at Buffy. "Very efficiently done. Search the rooms." She nodded, heading into the closest. They watched as someone came flying out, landing on the soon to be pile on the carpet. "Go with her," Derek said. "She doesn't need to sweat in that gown." He watched in amusement as Nick went in to argue with her over doing some of the work. He walked down the stairs when he figured they'd worked it out, hearing the quiet discharge of the tranq gun. He ran into the Montreal Precept right as he got to his room. "I'd hope you weren't going to join them," he told her.
She shook her head. "Just to kick their rears." She smiled. "After that man had been in my house and having dealt with Kristen for the last few months? I wouldn't hurt Oz if I had to." She walked back down with him. "I take it you left the one in silver and Nick to do it?" He nodded. "Good, I'm sure she could use the workout." She stopped him most of the way down. "Her mother actually named her Buffy?"
Derek nodded, smiling slightly. "I couldn't say it for the first month." He let her precede him, watching as she stopped at the bottom. He cleared his throat from the top. "Which ever house those people upstairs belong to, I believe they either need medical attention or need to leave." He smiled at the Paris second in command. "I do believe you'll find your Precept to be one of them but she wisely decided to leave before I let Buffy have her." He looked around. "Also, the Moscow Precept is laying upstairs, as is New Delhi's. Both are in need of medical attention." He smiled at Buffy as she walked down. "How many?"
"Fifteen total. Only those three had rings." She handed them over. "Nick said to take those two's off and I caught her in Alex's room, so there's her's too." She smiled at the dark skinned researcher. "You might not want to use your perfume, Alex, I found her pouring something into the one with the feather top." She smiled, walking past him. "I'll gladly lead you to them if you want." A few of the security people headed up, followed by the house's own that Nick had called. She looked at Willow, who nodded. "Cool. We'll go get them in the morning." She grabbed a glass from a passing waiter. "Never a dull moment, Derek, thank you." She walked out of the room.
William cleared his throat. "Derek, I'd like to apologize for their stupidity and adherence to such an old and outdated rule. You have my assurance that it will be removed as soon as I can get the Council together." He looked around. "It looks like we're missing one." Buffy walked back out, handing him a pendant with the Legacy ‘L' on it. "Or maybe not. Female, brunette?" She nodded. "Then we can do it without her. May we use the office?"
"No, the children are in there," he said, walking down. "Use the control room." He looked around at the stunned faces. "I will not allow *any* members of my house to be harmed, no matter by who or what." He took Willow's arm. "Come on, they could use you for a few minutes." He led her down the office. He watched as she walked in, smiling at the pleased baby noises. He took Alexandra from Dominick, taking him back out to the reception. He sat down in a comfortable chair, feeding her, not caring who was leaving or in what condition as long as they weren't members of his family.
Montreal's Precept walked up to him, smiling. "She's cute. Willow and Oz's?" She looked at the dark hair. "Or have you been keeping a secret from us Derek."
"Willow's," he said. He looked up at the people around him. "This is one of the reasons the lead house has been moved. I've finally come to my senses and realized why we do this so refused to leave for London." He looked around. "As any of you with children already know." He looked back down, putting the bottle back into her mouth.
The Boston Precept touched the dark hair. "Maybe one day she'll have your job Rayne. Raised in the right traditions."
He shook his head. "I hope not. I want her to find something and someone that makes her happy and have a long and carefree life." He looked at her. "We missed out on this with our dedication to the cause, Jane. It took four very special young people and their problems and joys to make me see it." He handed her off to her mother, letting her take his seat. "I only want any of them to be happy and if the Legacy does it, then I'll gladly help them. If not, I'll happily send them on their way to a normal life without demons and monsters." He looked around. "Now, you can fuss." He walked away, heading for the control room.
Xander was pounced by a light weight, making him grunt and wake up. He looked up into the small yellow eyes, then looked around. "Where's you Dad?" She sniffed him then crawled off, going to play in her corner again.
He got up, looking around the room. "Oz?" When he didn't get an answer, he ran to both doors, checking them and sighed in relief when they were both still locked. "Hmm, Oz hunting." He looked around the downstairs, then picked up Serena to go upstairs, removing his finger from her mouth before she bit him. He smiled, knowing where Oz was, heading for his old room. "Wanted to be comforted again?" he asked from the doorway. He closed and locked it behind him, setting her down and hurrying to stop her from exploring the bathroom. He carried her back to the bed, laying down beside the almost vibrating furry body of her father, wrapping an arm around him. "We're okay, Derek got ‘em," he whispered. He smiled as both the furry bodies covered his, both wiggling to get comfortable. It only got bigger as Oz raised his head to look at him and lapped his face. "Thanks, Oz, I love you too." He ran his fingers through the dark gray pelt, watching as both of them fell asleep. "My pack," he said quietly. "Sleep, I'll protect you."
Xander smiled as he woke up to a pair of very familiar gray eyes. "I was a wolf pillow," he said. "You were just cuddly." He pulled Oz down, hugging him. "How you feel?"
"Confused. How'd we get here?"
"Ladder out my window." He looked up, smiling. "You climbed down after me, stumbling a little and we ran down through the garden." He reached up, playing with the red hair. "I laid down to nap beside you but Serena woke me up once you were gone so we came up to join you." He looked around. "Lots of good memories in here," he said, then looked back up in the deep eyes.
"Yeah, many nights of comfort and some of pain." He laid his head down. "Serena's playing with her blocks in another room, door shut so she can't get out."
"Mean, locking her up." He tickled him slightly. "What did you used to think when you came in every night? Was it just comfort?"
Oz nodded. "At the time." He leaned down, taking a kiss. "That changed about a week in when I woke up to you sucking on my neck."
Xander grinned. "I wondered why you wore that shirt." He pinched a firm chest muscle. "You're the strong one now," he said, looking down at his own body. "I look like a scarecrow."
"You're perfect," Oz said. He poked a tense muscle. "A little thin but I'm willing to deal with that for now." He tried to move but the younger man didn't let him. "Xan, we agreed."
"We seem to be able to talk this way," he said. He ran a hand over the red hair. "I could talk if you would."
Oz nodded. "Yeah, that would be nice." He laid his head back down. "When you left I was so pissed," he started.
Xander and Oz walked into Derek's office, hand in hand. He looked up, then at his watch. "I'd say you had a long talk and have worked most everything out." He saw the happy expression so waved them at the chairs in front of his desk. "I'm glad. You two need some happiness." He smiled as Willow came in, sitting on Oz's lap.
"Will, that milk weighs a ton," he complained. He looked up at her, with just a hint of a smile. "You, of course, are still very petite and adorable."
She sat down on the couch, smiling. "Did he tell you about the papers yet?"
Both men shook their heads and Derek looked at her. "I would have told all of you the other day but William dropped that on us and I forgot in all of the rush." He grimaced for a second then banished it. He looked back at the men, handing over their paper and the comments folder. "This is yours I believe." He watched them read it together, smiling with each glowing comment.
Xander looked up. "So, we aced it?"
"It was presented in your absence," he said, smiling fondly. "Alex was most eloquent on your behalf's." He looked at Willow. "Yours and Buffy's both were met with some skepticism but in the end they were both accepted readily." He looked at the two young men. "Your's was almost laughed out of the committee when they saw the title but then they read it. William's and my dissertations didn't get that high of praise." He tossed envelopes at all three of them. "In those you'll find your enrollment at college for next semester," he said proudly. "The Dean and President have both called to set up appointments for you to talk to them."
Oz coughed, closing the comment folder. "Wow." He looked at Derek. "Psychology?"
"Fine with them, for both of you if you want it." He leaned forward. "Oz, if you want to go to medical school, you might want to double major in biology also. It would help you out tremendously."
Oz nodded. "I know but I'm not sure I'm into that." He shifted, getting comfortable. "I like the counseling stuff."
Derek nodded. "Most of them are Psychiatrists though, most Psychology majors go into research." He smiled. "I'd go the full Doctor route myself but that's just me. You have to decide what's best for you." The younger man nodded. "Now, Xander, as for your major?"
He grinned. "You think they'd mind if I did undecided for another semester? I like this stuff but not enough to do it daily." Derek nodded. "I could do Zoology though. Work with animals."
"Veterinary," Willow said.
"Not on my grades," he pointed out. "Besides, lots of hard work and many classes that wouldn't interest me."
"Become Desmond Morris," Oz said. "Study human sexuality."
Xander grinned. "You can do that?"
"Xander," Derek said. "If you want, you can major in Parapsychology, and Doctor Morris is a Zoologist." He looked at Willow. "Computers?"
"Double major in Sociology." She smiled at Xander. "Many peoples studied."
He shook his head. "I like Oz's idea. Become the next Kinsey or Doctor Ruth." He grinned. "I could do that."
"I can see you doing that," Derek said. "Of course, you could always follow me into Anthropology." Xander shook his head. "No pressure, of course."
"Of course not." He grinned, taking Oz's hand. "I think I like being the next Doctor Ruth. She's pretty cool for her age."
Derek nodded. "Very." He smiled. "I'm adjourning this meeting." He watched as Willow walked out but the two guys stayed. "Need something else?"
Oz nodded. "You were right, we've worked everything else out. How's she doing?"
His smile fell. "She's much more insecure than you were." He looked over them. "Give her some time. She still has to sort through some feelings and a great deal of hormones." He looked at his watch. "Let's not forget your shot tonight, Xander."
"Packed some just in case so I took my morning one." He shifted some. "What other sort of side effects does it have."
"Lack of..." He paused, looking at him. "Ah, yes, that one. It is common, although it usually shows up in long term usage."
Oz shook his head. "There's got to be a better way."
"Stimulating his appetite can be hard. Unless you're going to go with the tried and true method, he'll only be on this part for another week." He shook his head at the pitiful look. "You've not gained anything yet, have you?"
"I'm thinking he fidgets it off," Oz said. He looked at his lover. "Want to go back there then?" He nodded, grinning a very silly and sappy grin. "Okay." He looked at Derek. "We're going to be going back out there a few times. That's where it started for us so we talk better out there." He yawned. "Come on, let's go nap." He stood up, pulling Xander with him. "Call us for supper."
"Most definitely," Derek said, watching them go.
Derek looked around his house members assembled for supper. "I'd like to announce that all of their papers have been met with the highest praise." He smiled at them and at Alex. "I've had the comments back for almost a week but William's impromptu visit postponed giving them out." Everyone was smiling now, except for Oz who had his happy look on. "The young men's was met with higher praise than my or Alex's dissertations, and both the women's were met with high praise also." He looked at the trio. "Your last paper on predatory behavior was also submitted and met with the highest of all honors, coming to the attention of someone in the government. The Academy has agreed to let you postpone your enrollment for that class but they are going to refuse to let it go too long or to not let you come at all." He sat back down.
Alex smiled at them. "Guys, I gotta say, their faces were priceless when I presented those for you. They didn't even ask where you were after hearing it." She looked at Derek. "Are they being pulled into the Academy for the whole thing or just that?"
"Just that class," Derek said. "They know we consult for the Police Department locally and they are willing to train people to do the Profiling duties in such cases." He looked over his family, seeing Xander scratching his shoulder. "Scar bothering you?"
Xander looked at him, giving him a questioning look, then he realized what he was doing. His face fell. "Oh, no." He pulled out his shirt to look down it then looked at Derek. "I... I think I'm pregnant."
TO BE CONTINUED.