Title: Admitting it to Them
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 24: The group goes back to Sunnydale and ends up having to fight again.
Warnings: M/M (not that this should have to be a warning)
Admitting It To Them by Voracity
Xander looked up as someone knocked on his door. "Just a second, let me put on clothes!" He grabbed his sweat pants, starting to get into them.
"Don't bother," Willow said. She closed and locked the door behind her. "How you feeling?" She felt his forehead. "No fever. Any more sneezing or nosebleeds?" He shook his head, getting back onto the bed. "Good idea." She sat down beside him, curling up on his side. "How's the other problem?" He looked down at her then shook his head. "Still can't find them?" He shook his head again. "Want to let Oz go in and find them?"
"Not really," Xander admitted. "I'm not ready for that yet." He shifted to be curled up around her. "Come to talk or to mother?"
"Both but mainly to talk." She reached a hand up to play with his stubbled cheek. "You really should shave. Serena said that you weren't you." He grinned. "Trust me, she was scared, she thought you were a stranger."
He leaned over to kiss her collarbone. "Tell her I'm me for me." Willow nodded. "What did you need to talk about?"
"Why you can't find the soldier guy and the hyena." She looked into his eyes. "Want to do some guided imagery? Derek told me how." He shook his head. "Please?"
He shook his head. "Will, I want to be myself for a while, whoever that is now. I'm tired of being danger guy and soldier guy and having to go out to prowl."
"Then do it here," she suggested. "You and Oz did okay with it before. What did you do then?"
"We mainly snarled at each other those three nights." He laid his head on her shoulder, hugging her head with his. "Drop it for now. If it becomes a problem then I'll go in to find them or let Derek. ‘Kay?" She nodded. "Good, now I could use a cuddle and you do that very well."
She smiled, wrapping her arms around his back. "Let me cuddle you Xan, feel safe and secure in my arms."
He sniffed her a few times then felt himself falling asleep. "Want me to move," he asked quietly, "or you gonna stay for a while."
"I'm staying," she whispered, rubbing his back. "Sleep babe, you're safe."
"Know that," he said, letting himself fall over the edge, letting himself be comforted.
Willow smiled, holding him tightly. "I just wished you believed it more."
Xander woke up cuddled, same as he was when he fell asleep but it was by a different body. None of the softly rounded motherly curves were attached to this new body. He opened his eyes, trying to pull back some. "Oz?"
"Hm-uh. Just lay there." He pulled him back down, going back to humming a song in his ear.
"Tha's nice," he said, yawning. "New?"
"Very. About you and your problems." He pushed the head back down. "Lay there."
Xander relaxed into the strong arms, feeling the same comfort he did with Willow but in a different way. When it stopped he gave a head hug. "Liked it. Sounded nice."
"Is but it's really angry." He let him pull back some. "I wanted to leave you." He stared into the dark brown eyes. "Don't do it again, let us handle it, okay?" He got the nod he was looking for and the eyes said the same thing. "Good, now come cuddle."
Xander yawned again. "If I do that, I'm going to go back to my nap."
"You have to get up sometime."
"Will later. Nap on me." He pulled him back down, waiting until he was comfortable. "I missed this stuff."
"We do lots of it when you're furry." He felt the poke. "Sorry, couldn't resist." He grinned. "I can come back if we're all ready for it."
"I am but Willow's still feeling like you're trying to leave her." He held him still. "Don't even. You can talk to her later." He felt the body relax. "What happened to your other people?"
"They went away. Noticed it last month."
"Huh. Want me to bring them back?"
"Want to be me for a while without them. Plain old, nerdy and uncool me." He pulled his head back. "Does that bother you?" Oz shook his head. "You sure?"
"Very. Lay down." He waited until he was down again. "I might miss him though. Our predators got along well."
"Very but I don't think I can live up to his needs anymore."
Oz laughed a little. "You've done fine. It's not like he physically changes you three days a month."
"He was being high maintenance again so I kept pushing him back. Eventually he got the clue and left me alone."
Oz shook his head. "Close your eyes for me." He paused. "Now, in your head, I want you to travel to where they live. I want you to see yourself walking back that way." Longer pause. "Can you see their pens? The walls that hide them?" Xander nodded. "Good, what are they made out of?"
"Bricks with broken glass and razor wire," he muttered. "Don't want them back." He pulled back to look at Oz. "Do you not like me without them?" He sat up, needing to be apart for this.
Oz shook his head. "I'm just worried that they'll come out suddenly one day. Maybe when one of us is threatened or a time like that."
Xander laid back down on his chest. "Thanks." He closed his eyes. "Let's not talk to them, okay? Just give them a week?"
"Sure," Oz said, pulling him up to rest in his former place. "Now let's nap and cuddle. You could use it. You've only been home for three days." He ran a hand over the stubble. "Did you know you scared Serena? She thought you were a stranger that had stolen you."
Xander shook his head. "She ought to write." He closed his eyes. "Night, Oz."
"Night Xan, sleep well." He held him tightly, rubbing over his back.
Oz watched Xander pace around his room. "Twenty more minutes and you can be free. Just relax." He patted the bed but the younger man didn't sit down. "Sit."
"Not a dog."
"I know that but do it anyway." On the next pass he grabbed him, pulling him down beside him on the bed and laid on top of his chest. "You've refilled nicely." He ran a hand over the renewed body weight. "Pretty soon you'll be doing lots of laps again and be pretty tight."
"Not really," Xander said, taking a deep breath. "I'm laying off the laps for a while. Maybe I'll go do the gym or something."
"Nightmares about the water?"
"No, not that. I'm just feeling like I don't belong in there."
Oz sat up, shaking his head. "Close your eyes." He waited until it was followed, with a massive sigh. "I want you to tell me what you see."
Derek cleared his throat. "Maybe you should leave that to the better trained." He smiled at Xander. "You're clean, you can escape now." He handed over the keys to the Jag as he walked past. "You car could use an oil change this weekend, or so Nick said."
Xander nodded, looking at the keys. "Yeah, okay." He handed them back. "I'll take one of the sedans then."
Derek laid a hand on his shoulder. "Go down to my office, I want to talk to you." He nodded, rolling his eyes. "Think of it as a final exam before freedom." He waited until they were alone. "What were you trying to do?"
"He's lost all of his internal voices. No hyena, no soldier, not really himself. If I didn't know him better, I'd say that's not him."
Derek shut the door behind him. "I've noticed a change but I never realized it was that bad. Let me handle it. We don't need the hyena out again."
"That would be a matter of timing. Bring him out right before I change and it shouldn't be too big of an imposition."
"I wasn't thinking about it that way, more along the lines of him not coming back at all this time." He walked out, heading down the stairs. He grabbed the baby as she came running, cuddling her. "What's wrong Serena."
"No dada," she cried, burying her head in his shoulder.
"You mean it's not him, like he's not in there?" Oz asked her, taking her from Derek's arms. "Or like he said something mean?"
"No dada," she said, looking into her daddy's eyes. "No."
Oz shook his head. "It's not him."
Derek looked at him. "You want to make my life difficult don't you?" He took the baby back, walking her downstairs. "We'll go in and find him, I promise Serena." She nodded, clinging to his jacket. "Would you like to help me call him?" She shook her head. "Does he scare you?" She nodded. "Then we'll work on getting him back out." He smiled at Willow when he rounded the staircase. "So, who is he?"
"His father," she said, making a face. "A grumpy and miserable person." She tried to take back her daughter but her little hands were wrapped with the strength of steel in his jacket. "Why is it my family Derek?"
"Because you've not fully admitted it probably."
"Philip told us that," Oz said, "but we have."
Derek shook his head. "There's still a weakness there and it appears to be centered around him." He set the child down. "Come on, let's go slay the monster."
"Ask Philip," Willow said suddenly. "He'd know." She looked at Derek, silently begging.
"Here," Oz said. "I'm thinking he's the person that showed up earlier." He looked down at the child trying to hide under the bench. "Was it Uncle Philip that you let in?" He shook his head. "Okay, thank you. Why didn't you tell us."
"‘Prise!" Daniel yelled. He wiggled out from under it, bouncing over to Derek and taking his hand. "‘Prise! ‘Prise!" He tugged on the hand he held, getting him to follow.
"Yes, this is," he told the little boy. "Are you taking me to him?" He nodded, turning around to pull him toward the office.
Derek looked over his shoulder at the parents. "I'll send him back after he's gotten a hug." He smiled, heading down the hall. He walked into his office, clapping a hand over Daniel's mouth as he saw Xander laying on the couch and Philip bending over him. "Go get Daddy and Mommy for me and be quiet about it. Okay?" He nodded so he let the little guy go, then set Serena in a chair. "Hello love," he whispered in the man's ear. "Trying to exorcize him?"
Philip looked over and smiled. "I wan' ya ta picture the fores' again. In there somewhere is tha' other person. Le' the hyena loose ta fin' him but keep watch over him." He pulled Derek away some, watching as Serena sat next to his ear to babble. "He brough' someone home with him." He reached out to stop Willow and Oz from going over. "His extra person is no' helping any. Don' , he doesn' recognize ya." He looked at Oz. "Ya scared him."
Oz nodded. "Tend to do that," he said quietly. "You were telling us why it was us?" He walked over to the couch. "Xander, I need you to find all the people that don't belong and push them out. Only your normal and natural people should remain, the ones you've had for years."
Xander grunted and moved his head. "Sure, Oz," he mumbled, then turned his head the other way. "Go ‘way."
Philip shook his head. "Dominance."
"Xan, it's me again, I know you can hear me. You've got to regain control over all them. If somebody other than the hyena or the soldier or you take over, you're gonna lose them all and us. They don't like us or your babies." He watched the expressive face as the younger man warred with himself. He saw the sigh that he hoped meant something good and moved back to let Philip in.
"Roun' them up, Xander," the Priest said gently. "They all need ta be corralled then shu' up."
Derek shook his head. "Don't make him do that."
"Xander, they're bad," Oz said. "They've got to go." He pulled Serena onto his lap. "Your baby needs you and your normal people to come back."
Xander growled, then shook his head. "No," he said softly. "You'll hurt ‘em. No meanies." He turned his head and growled again.
"Those are your normal people," Oz said. "You can bring them back with you but only them." Xander sighed again, relaxing all at once. "I want you to create a doorway in your mind if one doesn't already exist, all right?" He saw the subtle shift back to predator. "We've got to lock those other people behind the door. Only the hyena, the soldier, and Xander can stay."
"Or anyone else tha's normal," Philip added.
"Or any other normal and usual guy that you keep in there with you." He saw the nod. "Got them? Good, now close a door in front of the others. Picture it locking with a big padlock like they used in the Wizard of Oz. You're locking them away until you need them so you have the key."
Xander shifted on the couch, waking up. He yawned as he looked around. "Sorry guys, didn't mean to take another nap. Hey Philip." He grinned at Oz and the baby. "Watching me nap?"
She grinned at him and jumped across the space to land on his chest, bumping her legs. "Ouchies dada?" She pulled herself up, pulling up her sweats to show him.
He kissed them then her head. "Hi," he said. "I've not seen you for days." She tipped her head to look at him. "What?"
"She was scared of your unshavenness," Willow said. She smiled and tried to pick up her daughter. "Come on, he's gonna have ice cream with you but only if you get off him." Her arms were full of child instantly. "Okay, we'll meet him in there and I'll look at your legs, okay?" She turned her to see Xander. "Say night night to dada ‘cause I think he's going to escape for a while."
"Dada?" She tipped her head and smiled. "Me dada." She wiggled down and hugged him again before walking out of the office, or trying to since the sensors were too high.
Willow walked up behind her, activating them. "We'll be in the kitchen." She gave Oz and Derek a look. "Come get us later."
All the men nodded. Oz looked at Xander. "How's your head?"
"Less stuffy," he said. He cracked his neck. "I feel more myself." He held up his arms. "Hug?"
"Sure." He gave him one, making him sit up so he could sit beside him instead of on a table. He looked up at Derek. "You needed to talk to us?"
"Yes, I do." He waved Philip to a chair while he sat at the other end of the couch. "Xander, your mother called while you were under, your father's in the hospital." He saw the small nod. "If you'd like to go to him, we could arrange a short leave."
"I'm not going back alone," he said, clutching Oz's hand. "Please don't let me go alone." He looked over his shoulder, almost panicking.
"We won't," Oz said, squeezing his hand. "What's got you so upset?" He felt the shrug more than saw it. "Tell you what. We could all go back for a short break. Do the family thing. Buffy's mom is back in town and so's Willows and she's not see the babies."
Xander took a deep breath. "You'd do that?"
"Sure." He gave him a hug. "Can we?" he asked their boss.
"I see no reason not to." He looked over them, nodding at Philip. "He's got to go back there soon also so he could travel with you."
"All o'ya in a car isn't practical," Philip said. He looked at Derek. "We need ta ge' them a van."
"I've got the old Range Rover and my van," Oz said. "Between the two, we should all fit."
"I could take my car," Xander said.
"No," Oz said. "I don't want you to be alone." He hugged him again then got up. "Come on, let's go eat snacks with the kids." He looked at Derek as he pulled him from the room.
"I'd hoped ta wai' till after Christmas," Philip said, "bu' if I have ta I can go sooner."
Derek smiled at him. "I'd love to have you stay longer but that was very telling."
"He's still attuned then?"
"Oh, very," Derek said. He got up, heading to his desk to grab the results of the tests while he was under. "Very much so." He handed over the folder as he sat beside the younger man. "Marcus is moving to a new practice also."
"He sen' me a card." He shook his head. "Tis telling." He handed it back. "All ba' though."
"Not if we can make him close the gateway." He frowned. "Why did he get something that usually only women get?"
"No' a clue," Philip said, leaning over for a kiss.
Derek smiled as he pulled back. "It's goot to have you back, Philip." He took his hand, tossing the folder back down. "Enough of this, let's go snack with the kids before they come looking for us." They walked out of the office, heading for the kitchen.
Xander looked at his house, the one he'd grown up in, and shook his head. Everything looked so different now. He walked up to the front door, knocking.
"What do you want," his mother asked, not letting him in. "Come to torture us?"
"No, just home on a visit." He shifted some. "I was heading to the hospital tonight to see him but I thought I'd stop by here first."
"Don't bother. We all know you aren't his." She started to close the door.
"Mom." She reopened it some. "I'm sorry if you're upset with who I am but I'm not changing for you. You're gonna have to accept it or not." He turned walking away, wincing as the door slammed. "Willow's at her house and Buffy's at her's but they're catching up." He walked to the end of the drive. "Wonder if Philip's busy." He started toward the Catholic school they'd dropped him off at earlier, not wanting to ruin anyone else's reunion with his whining.
"So," Xander said, looking around. "They make you live like this?"
Philip smiled, putting up the last of his clothes. "Too' a vow of poverty," he said. He turned to look him over. "Troubles at home?"
"Very, she didn't want to talk." He sat on the edge of the bed. "It's like I'm some monster now."
"No your no'." He sat down beside the younger man. "No more'n I am." He patted his shoulder. "Le's go eat. Ya shoul' be hungry by now."
Xander shook his head. "Not really but I'll buy you dinner." He looked at his watch. "Wonder how safe the town really is?" He looked out the window. "Two hours until dark."
"I know wha' ta do," Philip said. "Don' worry abou' me."
Xander grinned. "Hey, I know you know, I was wondering about Willow realizing." He pulled on his arm. "Come on, let's go see if the best hamburger place is still open."
"Only been two years," Philip pointed out.
"In this town? It could have been taken over by those little aliens."
"Green sludge monsters, huh?" He looked at Philip, who shrugged. "That's kinda a cool thing. Barney's still open?" His former classmate nodded. "Thanks." They walked away, Xander letting Philip set the pace. "Interesting at least."
Philip shook his head. "In thi' town?" He looked at him. "You ran outta tha' at some time?"
Xander shook his head, grinning. "Nah, never." He looked up then pulled on his arm. "Come on, we've got to go faster. Dark's falling faster than I thought."
Oz looked up as Xander walked into his house. "Long visit?"
"With Philip." He leaned his head back. "I feel so...so helpless here. Like I couldn't fight if I had to." He turned his head. "Did you know that the little burger stand on third was overrun with green sludge monsters?"
"No, but doesn't surprise me." He put down his child, after tying her shoe again. "Okay, don't fall this time." He watched her wander out. "Think she needs glasses?"
Xander watched her walk. "Last time I clutched at walls like that I had a head injury." He looked at Oz. "Probably."
He nodded, frowning. "Will will love that." He looked over his shoulder as the door opened but got up as he heard the crash that said Daniel was back in the pots. "Hey, Buffy's mom." He hurried into the kitchen.
"Hi Ms. Summers," Xander said, watching Oz talk to his son through the doorway. "Where's Buffy?"
"She told me to come and tell you she's doing a patrol for old times sake." She sat on the couch beside him. "How are you? I've heard your mother muttering about you in the stores."
"Oh, I'm fine. She just doesn't like my life." He looked down at himself, dressed conservatively today in jeans and a t-shirt. "She's just upset that I found a few good people and she's miserable."
Joyce nodded, brushing a blonde hair behind her ear. "As long as you're fine." She looked up as one of the girls wandered in naked. "Um, is she supposed to be doing that."
"Clothes," Xander said. She shook her head. "We have visitors and you need to be wearing clothes." She pouted but he stared so she went to do it. "She's wanting attention right now." He looked back at her to see the frown. "Bruises?"
"Yeah, I noticed them."
"She jumped across a span of about a foot to land on my chest while I was napping and caught her legs on the edge of the couch frame." He shrugged. "They're all marked right now due to rough and tumble playing with everyone." He looked at his baby as she came back in one of his shirts. Inside out of course and with no diaper, but hey, she was dressed. "Come here, let me put that on for you." He took the diaper she was holding, putting her up on the couch and fixing it for her quickly. "There, now go play nicely." He looked at Joyce, knowing Oz was tracking her again. "They're a handful at this age."
"I remember," she said. "Buffy was walking by her first birthday and we had everything up at least six feet off the ground but she always managed to grab them." She shook her head. "I guess I should have known something then." She watched Oz walk back in, covered in kids. "Want help?"
"Tranquilizers," he said. "Willow's mom fed them brownies."
"Choochoo," Serena said.
"Chocolate," Xander corrected. He looked at Oz. "Story tape?"
"‘Tory?" she asked, lifting her head up. "‘Tory?" she looked up at her father. "Read?"
"Yeah, later, but you guys can have a story tape now." He grabbed their travel bag, pulling out the cheap walkmans and putting them on them, turning them on. He tossed their pillows down, watching as they settled down for the next hour or so. "Magic man, thanks." He sat down on the other side of Joyce. "Buffy?"
"Patrolling for old times sake. No vampires recently but some monsters."
"Hellmouth," the two guys said together. They looked at the kids.
"Makes you wonder what they'll do?" Joyce asked Oz.
"Oh, very. But they've already seen a ghost and a demon. Not to mention a really scary furry monster." He caught the pillow Xander sent at him without looking. "Not me, you when you haven't shaved."
Xander groaned, getting up and looked down at Oz. "Keep it up, I could leave you alone with them and help Buffy patrol."
"No," Oz said quietly. "Not when you're this weirded out. We'll go with you to the hospital later."
"I can do it," Xander said, sitting back down. "I wasn't going to bring her to him, I don't want her exposed to him." Oz nodded. "Really don't."
"Then let me be your hand holder."
"Man, that'd out you to them all."
"So?" Oz shifted. "I'm not coming back here again really. I don't want the kids to even know this place exists until they're old enough to take care of themselves."
"Sixty," Joyce suggested.
Oz nodded. "Or around there, yeah." He looked very serious. "My mom's going to come see them and so's Will's. Ms. Summers, you're always welcome at the castle too. But I'm never forcing these guys to come back here again. Brandon's had a headache since we pulled into city limits. Serena's been psycho. Precious refused to leave her mother's side and Timothy Daniel's been trying to scare away the monsters with noise. I'm not having them here again."
"Amen," Buffy said, walking in. "Tapes?"
"Very," Xander said, tipping his head back. "Not good?"
"Very nice, some new places. Bronze is open again." She sat down beside Xander. "I agree. We shouldn't have brought them." She looked at Oz. "There's some power building in town but I don't know what."
"I'm leaving again tomorrow," Joyce said. "Willow's mother and I are going to a women's conference in L.A. Don't worry about us."
"My mother's in Idaho," Oz said, looking down at them. "I want them to be gone if something's going to happen." He looked at the door as Willow and her mother walked in. "Lose someone?"
Willow shook her head, turning around. "Still clingy." She let her down, watching as she went over to touch each one. "I'm wanting them home now."
Oz nodded. "Call home and see if Nick won't fly up to get them." Willow shuddered. "He's a safe flyer."
Willow shook her head. "No, we're driving back and we're taking Philip with us." She looked at Buffy. "Patrol already?"
"Just looking." She looked out the front window. "Oh, hell," she said, pointing. "Derek." She stood up, walking over to the door. "Password?"
Nick tickled her. "Visions." He walked past Willow, looking at the kids. "We're taking them back with us."
"Bring Philip," Willow said. Derek looked at her. "I want them protected and he's the best. Bring him with you. Someone can always drive him back." Buffy slammed the door. "What?"
"We need to get them out soon, I'm having that something's wrong feeling again." She looked at Oz. "Now."
He nodded, picking up their travel bag and the kids. "Come on, Nick you drive one and Derek the other. Take the parents with you." He handed them over, watching as they were all strapped into the cars. "Good, now be safe. Nick, speed limits are their friend, please." He waved as Derek and Nick drove away then he turned to look at Buffy. "Power?"
"Major, like ear popping." She looked at Willow. "Books?"
"Your house." She looked out the window. "Dark. We shouldn't go."
"Bet me," Xander said. "We've got to go do this." He looked at the blonde. "I'll meet you there." He kissed Willow's cheek. "Be safe." He looked at Oz as he walked out the door.
Oz looked at Buffy, who was confused. "His father's in the hospital. He's going to see him and we'll meet him at your house." He jingled the keys. "We still have our car."
Buffy looked around. "Let's go. Do we need to grab bags and stuff?"
Willow shook her head. "Never unpacked and all my stuff was in the Range Rover." She looked at Oz. "Our stuff. Where's your's?"
"My room." She opened the door, looking around before letting them leave. "Let's head out."
Xander took a deep breath then knocked on his father's door. He walked in at the grunt, looking over the man on the bed, seeing the yellow tinge of his skin that meant his liver was going. "Dad," he said.
"Boy." He pushed a button to raise the head of the bed. "Why you back?"
"To see you." He sat in the chair, moving aside the Playboy's. "How are you?"
"Better than you will be if your mother catches you." He looked at the door. "Where is she anyway?"
"I think she's staying away. I told her I'd be here tonight." He took another deep breath, calming himself. "I'm happy," he said.
"That's nice. I'd heard you turned into someone else." He looked over the clothes his son was wearing. "Don't look much different."
"I'm bi dad, not an alien." He winced slightly at the mention of that word. "I'm sorry if neither of you can accept that."
His father shrugged. "Doesn't matter to me anymore. I'm not leaving." He coughed some, wiping his mouth on a tissue. "How's your friend, the red haired one?"
"Willow? She, I, and Oz are all together, along with Buffy. I'm helping her and Oz raise our kids." He sat back, having gotten out the hard truth. "I have a beautiful daughter and four others that I consider to be mine."
"At least you have family," he said. "You know you're not mine now, right?" Xander nodded. "Thought so."
"My brother works there. Our boss told us." He smiled some. "You'd like Nick, he's a former Seal."
"A strong man then. That's nice." He looked over his boy. "Your mother said you were wearing fairy clothes. Didn't bring them?"
"I'm leaving the velvet and silk at home for a while. Thought this would go over better now. Beside's it's an overshirt, not an outfit." He watched the nurse come in to write down numbers. When they were alone again, he looked over him. "Do you need anything?"
"Don't have a spare, sorry." He shrugged. "Anything else?"
"No. Just make peace with her. She doesn't do well alone."
"Neither do I but I'm not going to hide or change because she doesn't like it. I hope she finds someone nice to lean on." He stood up. "You should probably be resting and I'm due at a friend's."
The man on the bed nodded. "Been nice seeing you again boy. Be safe in the city. Never know what sort of predators are down there."
"Yeah, I do. I've met them." He walked out, nodding at the nurse as he left. He had just walked out of the hospital when he was jumped but his training didn't kick in. He fought as best he could, but he ended up knocked out anyway.
"Such a shame," a shrouded female said. "If he only knew, maybe he could protect them." She nodded at the people around her to pick him up. "We're needed, come."
They disappeared into the shadows.
Buffy looked at her watch, then the clock on the wall. "Where is he?"
Willow looked up from her spell book. "Hospital." She looked at Oz, who shook his head. "He'll be here soon or we'll go looking for him." She turned a page. "Is this vampires trying to take over the world again or a different power?"
"Different. More evil and less undead." She chopped the carrot into small bits, sprinkling it over her salad. "I can't tell otherwise." She looked at the back door as someone knocked. "Who called for pizza?" Willow shook her head, turning back a few pages then nodding. Buffy opened the door, seeing a slightly familiar woman standing there. "Yeah?"
"Buffy Summers?" She shrugged. "We have a message for you." She handed over the box.
"Thanks Harmony," Willow said. "But is it you?"
The former queen teen shook her head. "Not us. We want them gone." She looked over Buffy. "You're old for the calling."
"Yeah, everyday. The problem with mortality." She looked over the box then back up but Harmony had disappeared. "I hate when they do that," she said as she closed the door. She tossed it to Oz. "Your turn for message from Hell."
He caught it, setting it on the table. He looked over the plain brown paper then undid the string. He made a face, knowing there was something blood covered in there now. He flipped open the lid, gagging at the sight of the small heart.
Willow looked at him in alarm as he ran out. She walked over to the box and sat down. "No," she said, tipping it up to look at it.
Buffy took it from her. "Will, calm down, it's not human." She set it on the counter. "Oz, it's not human," she called up the stairs. She could hear him retching on the stairs. "It's not yours and it's not a person at all." She walked back to the kitchen. "Too many chambers right?" Willow shook her head from where she was examining it. "Cow?"
"Calf, baby, maybe newborn." She picked it up, sliding it onto a plate. "See, wrong size for a person and shaped different." She looked up as Oz walked back in. "Baby calf."
"Newborn?" She shrugged but he was opening another book he'd pulled from the library. He tapped a page. "Here, unborn calf, sacrificed in it's mother's still living womb." He brought the book over. "Cover that please?" He set the book down after the heart had been moved out of his sight. He showed them it. "They're trying to start another rising demon."
Buffy shuddered. "Let's stop this one before it becomes an ascension, ‘kay?" She looked at them. "Xander?"
"Beloved who doesn't know," Oz read, frowning. "Yeah, tomorrow night." He closed the book. "Let's go out and find him now though, we really don't want them to prepare him."
"Philip?" Willow asked. "Same situation."
"Could have them both," he said. "The more the merrier, the higher the demon they summon to help." He looked at Buffy, who was blanching white. "What?"
"What are they going to do?"
"Let's not dwell. Call Derek on the car phone and make sure he's got him and let's go." He looked at his mate. "Go pack," he said. "We need all the help we can get." She nodded, heading for their bags. He looked at Buffy. "Buffy?"
She shook herself then nodded, reaching around him for the phone. She dialed quickly, pacing until someone answered. "Nick, two questions. Are you out of town yet and do you have Philip?" She frowned. "No, you're not staying. Whoever's doing this probably has him. Get those kids out of the town before they're made a sacrifice." She hung up, still frowning. "Stupid man." She turned back to Oz. "They're on the edge of town, they stopped to look for Philip but he wasn't there. Took him almost an hour to convince Derek to leave him in our care."
"Love isn't stupid," Oz said. "It's a pain sometimes but not stupid." He hung up the phone again. "You better apologize when you get back. He thinks you meant him."
"I did. He let Derek hunt for way too long." She looked at him. "What should I expect? And where would be good."
"We and usual hunting places." He looked up as Willow walked in. "Got everything?"
"But the last few stakes." She handed him the bag. "Let's go. We have to save them." She rubbed her forehead. "Now."
Buffy led the way to the car. "I'm driving."
"No," Willow and Oz said together.
Buffy brushed the sweat off her head as she reappeared. "Not there either. What sort of place are we looking for exactly?"
"Near to the Hellmouth and large. Dark and mostly sealed off. Defensible," Oz said. He looked around. "Not a crypt. Not in the sewers."
Willow jumped down off the headstone. "The high school," she said. "They didn't tear all of it down because of the budget," she said happily.
"Let's hope so," Buffy said, brushing herself off. "At least we know that place."
Oz looked at his watch. "Three."
"They've had their sacrifice tonight," Willow pointed out. "We can try tonight or start tomorrow during the day."
Buffy shook her head. "Now. We've got flashlights." She looked around, rubbing her stomach. "Who's there?"
Angel stepped out. "Thought you might come back for this." He looked at Willow and Oz. "You two screwed this up royally, didn't you?"
Willow frowned at him. "No. He's just unsure." She looked at Oz. "Let's go back to the car, let them talk."
"Wait," Buffy said. She turned to look at him. "What is this? We just got in tonight and all I know is that I was sent a baby cow's heart."
Angel leaned against the headstone he'd popped out from behind. "The start of another ascension. They have the annoying one and another guy."
"Light brown hair, toned, Irish?" Willow asked. Angel shrugged.
"It's Philip," Oz said. "Couldn't be anybody else."
"They're still gathering all that fit," he said, smirking. "Ready to fight another demon?"
She pulled her hair back. "Again." She looked over him. "Fighting or doing the thin air thing?"
"Not." He turned, walking away. "I'm leaving, like the rest of the smart people."
Willow tugged on Buffy's arm. "We've got to go find them. Xander's not well enough to fight."
The blonde turned to look at her. "Why not?"
"Because he's still in that post-sick nap stage." She pulled her toward Oz. "Come on. Let's go tonight." She took the keys. "You read, I drive, you rest." She got in and started the car, waiting for Oz to get in too.
Buffy tossed the piece of concrete she held, looking around. "I don't think there's another space big enough."
Oz looked around, the hair on the back of his neck rising. "Will, can someone create a special place to hide in, like a pocket of space?" She nodded. "Then they could be anywhere, but I think it's open." He turned around slowly, looking at all the possible directions. "That way," he said pointing.
Buffy shook her head, pointing in another direction. "No, that way."
Willow closed her eyes, calling upon her power. "You're both wrong, the power trail leads down to the pool." She opened them to look at the two others. "Makes sense." She picked up the books, putting them into a backpack, and put it on. "Come on, if he's right, it might not stay open for long." She headed in that direction, followed by Oz.
"Wish I had that sort of gift," Buffy muttered, walking behind them. They came to the first obstacle, a wall that had slipped, so had to go around it, but they knew where they were heading now so they took the detours with calm assurance.
Buffy reached into her bag, pulling out a large bottle of holy water that she'd had Philip bless for her on the way up, holding it in her hand as an assurance of her abilities. She looked around the pool area as they walked in. "Will?" she whispered. She squeaked as Oz pulled her against the wall. He pointed down, showing her what they were watching.
Willow chanted lightly, trying to protect them. When she nodded, they all headed down to the strange blue circle in the deep end. Buffy was the last one down the ladder so got stuck bringing up the rear. They passed through the circle, hissing as it burned their skin.
"What is this place," Buffy asked quietly, turning around.
"A labyrinth," Oz said. He pointed out the nearby turn. "Will, which way?" He turned to look at the circle, which was shrinking. "We're gonna be stuck if you can't keep it open," he warned.
Willow shrugged. "It'll open again before the sacrifice." She walked around what was left of the circle, smiling as she spotted the path. "Oz, here." She took his hand. "Buffy grab his belt." She looked at the bottle. "Doubt that will help here." She watched as it was put back up then they followed her since she was the one with the activated spell.
They ended up outside another large maze, but it was so small they couldn't fit inside it. "Gee," Buffy commented. "Nice touch." She pulled them aside when she heard some footsteps, having them all duck into a shallow recess of a turn. They watched as the robed one stood before the maze, saying something. She looked at where they were hiding and shrunk, smiling.
Willow started to follow but Oz stopped her. "Trap."
She shrugged. "The power trail goes through there and they probably know we're here anyway." She looked at Buffy for her opinion but she was facing the other way. "Um, Buffy?"
The blonde backed up into them. "Shrink us Will before that thing gets us." She pointed at the shadow of a very large creature.
Willow tried to recite the words she's heard but it didn't work. She stepped closer to the maze, pulling them both with her and tried it again, but nothing. She stomped her foot, trying again and this time they all shrunk down and ran into the new maze.
Buffy looked around where they were now, frowning. "Not as nice as the last one," she said. She looked at Willow. "Finding the trail again?"
She shook her head, turning around to look back the way they'd come.
"Escheresque," Oz said, turning Buffy around. "Going in all directions but you can walk on them right side up if you can get to them."
"Derek's gifts would be really handy right about now," Buffy muttered. "So, which hall, Will? And how do we get to the other ones?"
"We jump and it's the upside down one." She looked up, then at Oz. "Want to try to throw me?" He shook his head. "We've got to get up there somehow." He looked up then at a nearby one that ran perpendicular to that one. "Okay, good idea. I can cartwheel or something." She hopped up onto a closer one and used it to get over to the new one. "Hmm," she said, hopping over, only to be caught by Oz as she fell. "Not good."
"Where's it start?" Buffy asked. She followed it back to where it hit a wall. "Can we get up there?" Oz boosted her up. "Okay, you're the strong guy here." She laid down on the staircase, brushing her hair out of her face. "Will?" She pulled the younger woman up, then reached a hand down for Oz. "Wanna jump?"
He tossed up the backpacks, then jumped, catching her hand. "Thanks," he said once he was standing again. They followed Willow around the staircases, around and around the room.
"Enough," Buffy said, clutching at a wall that used to be the floor. "I'm dizzy. Have we missed something?"
Willow looked around then back behind them. "Unless that wall is an illusion, no." She walked over to it, feeling over the wall. She finally found the portal, by falling through it, so they followed her into another maze where she had to shrink them again.
"Wonderland much?" Buffy asked the air. She turned around, looking behind her. "New pattern, can actually see the hole here."
Willow pulled her back a step, watching as the hole disappeared. "You were standing on it's doorstep." She watched as Buffy tried to walk forward and ran into a wall. "Already?" She got down on her knees, feeling around the invisible wall. "I hope we can find a reversal spell or it's automatic." She said the shrinking spell again, and they all went through this next portal..
"I'd say it's not automatic," Buffy said, looking around the huge room. "Book anyone?"
Oz pulled it out, flipping through it. "Yeah, here." He handed Willow Derek's spell book, something he'd taken earlier. "That guy must have only the useful ones written down."
Willow looked around then pulled them back into a crack in the wall. "Chanting." She closed the book, handing it back. "Let's go look in this form so we don't get noticed."
"Won't they see like a sign or something that shows that you've been using?"
"Not in here," Willow said. "Way too much energy floating around." She looked around and they started along the walls toward where she had heard the chanting.
Buffy wiped her brow, then looked up. "Um, Will, do we look like food to bigger things?" The red head nodded. "Like lizard sort of things?" She pointed at the large green monster looking at them.
"It's an iguana, herbivore," Oz said. He patted it's leg as he went by. "Oh, yeah, this works for me." He stopped, looking up.
The two girls looked up too, seeing a rusted cage hanging over the open hole of a fire pit. They could see a few unconscious bodies, Xander among them, but they couldn't figure out how to deal with it.
"See, there was an easier way," Buffy said, pointing at a few robed people walking through a dark circle. "Must still be night."
The level of chants rose higher and the fire was lit.
"Or the next one," Willow said. She looked around but didn't see anybody. "Um, guys, this is a sacrificial pit. Anyone in here's gonna be eaten." Buffy gave her a disgusted look. "Just thought I'd mention it." She looked at Oz then at the cage. "Book?" He handed it over and she flipped through, reading quickly about the upcoming sacrifice. "Speak truly and freely?"
"He has to feel it when he says it," Oz said. He looked around then up, catching Philip's eye with his waving. He pointed at Xander. "Say it," he yelled.
Philip was looking around, still trying to find a way out, when he spotted the strangest thing. "Leprechauns," he muttered, "jus' wha' I need." He looked at them again then smiled. "Your mates are here," he whispered to Xander, who he was laying on top of. "If ya speak ta them truly, it migh' help."
"I love them," he said, still partially out of it from the drugs they'd given him.
"Now feel it when ya say it an' maybe we'll ge' ou' an' all live to hug the babies."
Xander blinked then looked down, seeing what he was. "Oh, god, no. They can't be in here." He tried to get up, the four people on top of him held him down. "No," he said, rattling the cage. "Let us out!" He looked at the robed figure he could barely see. "You can't hurt us, some of us have true love that can't be broken by you." She laughed, waving a hand and setting the cage rocking.
"Then say it," Philip said again, resting a hand on his back. "If ya don' say it, it can' be broken." When he didn't say anything, he slapped the younger man across the back of the head. "Say it!" he ordered.
"I love them," Xander said quietly, sitting down against the bars, "and because of me they're caught in here too." He looked at his friend. "Why can't love be enough to save us."
"It is if you say it an' feel it," Philip said, hoping he'd get it this time. "We're here because we can' say the wor's an' pu' feelin' ta the emotion." He shook his head. "I can' either though, so why do I blame you?"
Xander listened to the little voices inside him, the ones that hadn't really led him wrong, well except on few occasions, but they had always tried. He brought up the pictures of his lovers in his mind, thinking about what they meant to him, how they were always there, even when he didn't believe it or deserve it. "I love them," he said, whispering it. "Always have." He looked down at the floor. "Really do love them." He looked at Philip. "I was stupid."
"No, ya were taugh' wrong, same as I wa'." He smiled. "I love Derek too, even when I'm too stubborn to admi' it."
Xander laughed. "Think if we get out of this we should tell them?"
"Probably, yeah." They sat together, waiting for the show to start, at peace for now.
Willow looked up as the quiet words reached her and smiled. "We love you too, stubborn." She flipped open Derek's spell book, turning to the spell they'd need, saying the words. As they grew, she looked at Oz and quietly pledged herself. "I love you, forever."
He squeezed her hand then he turned to stop one of the robed figures.
Buffy took out her crossbow and stakes, or really Xander's crossbow and his stakes, and started in on the figures, knowing now that they weren't human, alive, or real. She'd made it down to the last three, one being the shadowed figure, when she started to feel dizzy again. "Will, magic? Now? Please?"
Willow raised her hands, tapping into her mostly unused stores of power, and formed a nice convex shield in front of them. She held it while Oz worked on the cage's lock, while Buffy got another robed figure, until Xander was there beside her. She took his hand, and Oz's, and concentrated on projecting all that she had ever felt for them.
Xander knew what she was doing, somehow, and joined in, sending his to her and Oz, but not generally outward. He added in all that he'd ever felt for the kids, all he'd ever felt for them in their entire relationship, watching as Willow started to glow.
Oz felt the surge of emotion and almost cried as it hit him, knowing he was part of that and a reason for it. He tapped into his own deep well of emotion, sending it to Willow so she could project it.
Philip and Buffy stood, staring openly, at the trio as they glowed brightly, their energy and love flowing out to two remaining figures. One of them disappeared, it's robe floating down, and the other screamed, holding her head. He took her vial of holy water to go splash the figure but the room started to shift and turn. "Out," he called. "Now!" He grabbed one of the bags, and Derek's book, he'd recognized it easily from the many times he'd had to get into it, and Xander's arm towing them to the shrinking portal.
Buffy grabbed Oz's arm, pushing him after Philip. She grabbed the other people as they passed, making them a chain. She turned to watch the last person make it out as the hole shrunk and ‘popped' out, sounding like a really good kernel of microwave popcorn. She turned to see the trio holding each other and looking at the others, saying all they'd ever wanted to. She looked across the old football field, smiling as she saw a familiar car and two very familiar men coming toward them. "Your turn Philip," she said, turning him around to see his lover walking toward him. "Go copy them and tell him for once." She took their things, watching as he walked slowly over and gave him a hug.
"Aw, love," William said from behind her. He caught Buffy's hand as she turned to hit him. "I wouldn't young lady. You wouldn't want to end up in India with Rupert. Very nasty conditions." He smiled as Nick walked over. "I believe this child is yours?" He put her hand into his.
"Stupid?" he asked, picking her up to spin around.
"You were given a task and you stayed to long to do something you knew we could do. You keep harping on me about distribution of skills and duties," she added when she saw the frown. "See, I do listen." She grinned and leaned down to kiss him. "Hi."
"Hi." He set her down, watching the couples as they merged and finally admitted what they'd known but had been afraid to say. "Want to drive?"
"No," the trio and Philip and Derek yelled. William just shook his head, grabbing his chest, begging quietly in his overly dramatic way.
Nick looked down at her. "I think I can handle your driving problem, want me too?"
"Hmm, you'd let me drive your car?" He shook his head. "Not even after I proved I was safe?" she asked, pouting. He hugged her to his chest but didn't answer. She looked over his shoulder, looking at Xander. "Can I drive your car when I get my license?"
Oz shook his head. "You are not to get *into* that car. Not while we're living together."
"Married?" Philip suggested with a smile. "It'd be abou' time."
Willow looked at Oz, who looked really hopeful but shook her head. "Not ready for that step yet. Marry them." She tickled Xander. "He could use a new collar and leash, even a figurative one."
He giggled but retaliated, bringing Oz into it when they rolled on top of him. Pretty soon everyone was watching them roll around on the grass, letting out their tension laughing at the sight of them.
Derek looked up as his office door opened, admitting Oz and Xander. "I hope that's my book," he said dryly. He took it back, looking over the slightly singed cover. "Next time ask Oz."
"Sure." He looked at the younger man, who nodded. "Derek, um, can we talk?"
He waved at the chairs and put down his pen. "What now?" he asked.
"We were wondering if we could do some remodeling upstairs," Xander said. "Willow takes forever in the bathroom and now she's a clothes monster." He looked at Oz, who pinched his arm. "Oh, and there was a small matter of a commitment ceremony between us. We'll include Willow in the next one but I need this."
Derek smiled. "No and of course I'll help. Do you need research, a knife, or sweet words written. For that, Philip might be better."
Oz shook his head. "But we really need the extra bathroom."
Derek rolled his eyes. "We'll see."
TO BE CONTINUED.