Fights and Repercussions by Voracity

Nick leaned back in the chair, watching the monitors. He let his mind think for him, trying to figure out his life now. //I remember what happened but why? He stopped me before, told me it wasn't me and now he's offering?// He took a deep breath. //Never mind his motives, I've got to deal with my own, what I want. And I do want him.// He shifted in his seat, getting comfortable for a long shift of watching. He'd promised the couple that he'd stay so they could go sleep and he didn't want Xander to wake up alone either. //I've done that a few times, not the most pleasant thing in the world. But that's not the issue, I need to quit wandering. Why do I want Derek? Is this actually a real thing or is it just him? Am I really gay or bi or whatever?//

The still form on the bed moved, shifting a little to one side. Nick stilled, waiting to see if this was really him waking up or just another attempt to get comfortable. When the young man stilled again he went back to his thoughts. //Okay, back to the subject at hand. Am I gay or is it Derek?// He smiled. "And maybe Philip too, just a little," he said quietly. The smile fell away. //But why not anyone else? I've not really been more than curious before and Derek stopped that. Is this that coming back out? Just an idle curiosity? Do I really want to follow through with this?// He paused to gather his thoughts. //I can't do that to him, he deserves better from me. I can't just go try it once to make sure, not with him or Philip. But maybe I should do that, try it once. It might help me clear this up. But can I do that? And with who?// He watched the nurse come in to check the younger man's vitals and make notations on his chart, staying silent as she did. //If I go out and try it, he'll kill me. Derek would rip me a new one if I did that.// He frowned. //I can't do that either. So what can I do?// He stilled as the body on the bed shifted again, trying to find a comfortable spot to lay in, the thick bandages around his thigh making it difficult. //Xander, I'm sorry this happened to you. No one your age should have to face this. No one should have to look at death so many times before they turn twenty-five. Or even my age.// He snorted. //But you're a true member of the family, bro. Only one of us could get into the trouble you do.// He shifted back to his comfortable position, going back into his thoughts. //I need to see if it's me or not but I can't ask Derek because I can't just do the one night stand thing with him. Not that I'm usually into that but its what I need right now. And he's busy with his Mom so he might not even notice.// He snorted. //Yeah, right. And Philip's the next Pope. Well, okay, he might be someday but Derek would still know. He has this ‘Nick's getting into trouble radar', or so he says, and he'd know and Barbara would agree with him coming to get me. So how do I do this?// He grunted, putting his cup on the floor. He looked up to the see very unfocused brown eyes looking at him. "Hey, bro, how's it hangin'?" He got up, sitting on the side of the bed to run a hand over his forehead. "How's your leg feel?" he asked softly.

"Like hell. Hurts." Xander took the hand off his face, holding it in his. "Where's Will and Oz?"

"Sleeping. You've been under a few days and they couldn't stay awake anymore." He grinned. "Derek had to tranq them both and drag them home." That got a small smile. "And the kids are drawing you cards, nice modern art looking ones with glitter." That got a bigger smile. "You sleep, I'll be here until they get back." The dark brown eyes closed and his hand was dropped so he went back to his chair. "I'm so sorry I couldn't save you from this," he whispered. "You shouldn't have had to face that alone." He slouched down, watching him. //I should have fought the sleep harder, warned him. He *shouldn't* have had to run the house by himself. And someone in the Legacy should have come out to help him. Even if he didn't call them for two days. Well, except for Giles but he could have called someone and told them that the bro was being stubborn and overrun.// He grimaced. //I'm am *not* going to blame the man for that. He did what he could to come back and help. Its not his fault that he was shot by a traitor.// He snorted. //I'm *so* glad I'm not sitting on Marisa's board. She'd be drowned in rubbing alcohol if it were me. To help them like that. And Rachel. We can't do anything to her, she's not a member now, but they can't let her go so what do they do? They commit her as being schizophrenic, not a big help. She knows all the dodges and she'll be out in a few months. Not nearly enough punishment for what she did to us. And where is Kat?// He shifted again, uncomfortable with his thoughts. //I hope she didn't hurt her. The kid's like a sister to me. But if she did, I'll make sure Rachel is thoroughly punished for her crimes; nobody hurts the kids and gets away with it, not when I'm around. But this isn't what I'm supposed to be thinking about. I'm supposed to be thinking about me and Derek.// He shivered in the warm room. //Hmm, me and Derek and a fireplace? Or me and Derek and that *big* bed of his with the silk sheets. Or maybe me and Derek and his desk chair?// He grinned. "That could work," he told himself. "All of the above maybe?" He snorted, trying hard to not laugh out loud and wake Xander up again. //Yeah, that could work. But does it with another?// He brought up a mental picture of Giles, shuddering at it. //Nope, only my two friends. Oh, hell, I didn't want to think about that part. This could ruin our friendship, mine and Philip's especially. He won't be too fond of me stealing Derek from him. At least he won't *kill* me, he's too gentle and nice, but I want him as a brother. I like the way we have things working now, its good for us.// He scrunched up his face. //Okay, this line of thought sucks.// He stood up, picking up his cup and heading out for more coffee.

When he got back, Xander was on his uninjured side, snoring softly, clutching the pillow like it was a teddy bear. He grinned at the sight, wishing for a camera, but sat down to watch him again. //My bro, what a little kid some days.// His smile fell away. //He is though. He didn't have a chance to be one. Not living in Hell, not with his family. Not that I had it any different but I used to refuse to think about another kid growing up like I did and he got it just as bad. If not worse. He still won't talk about his family, not to me anyway, and that tells me it was worse and I really don't want to know so I don't go kill his mother.// He shifted, turning his thoughts away from that subject. //I need to let that one drop. When he's ready, he'll come tell me and I'll help him work through it, same as Derek and Philip did for me. Oh, hell, this isn't gratitude, is it? I can't be feeling these things for them because they helped me, right? Not some sick love with the therapist that saved me thing?// He shuddered. //That is *not* what I want. I want things between us, if anything happens of course, to be more pure. Love type stuff, not gratitude for not letting me self destruct. I'll talk to him about that later. Or maybe I'll talk to Oz, he seems to be a pretty good counselor, or will be when he graduates. We could use one of those around the house most of the time. Too many strange things happen that we don't want to deal with.// He shuddered. //Like uninterrupted naps that knock us down for days. I'd still like to know how she did that. Or really how he did it, Rachel doesn't have abilities but Arkadi had tons. Never mind, Derek will figure it out and make sure it doesn't happen again, right after he comes back from London.// He shrugged. //Oh, well, we knew this crap was going to happen the first time the house fell apart during a case. He had to have figured that much out and he should have put emergency procedures in place to handle it. Maybe now he'll do that and Xander will never again have to deal with a house full of unconscious people all by himself. And why didn't he call Marcus? Because he's too much like me to admit he needs help.// He grinned, putting his head down. //Definitely a Boyle trait, pesky DNA crap pushed aside. He's one of mine, no matter what the thing says.// Nick looked at his briefcase, not picking it up to look at the folder inside it on the project that had sired him. //I don't need to know that much right now and it won't solve the brother/not brother dilemma. Not that I'm going to have one. He's a Boyle, he acts like us, he hurts like us. He even does stupid stuff like us. And he drives like me so therefore he's my brother.// He grinned. //Yup, a true Boyle man is Xander, heart, mind, and soul. Let's hope his isn't so easily corrupted by the dark side.//

Nick shook his head. //And *who* came up with that? We sound like an episode of Star Wars every time someone says that. Seems like there should be a better name for it. And we've proven not all that's dark is bad so why not find another name for it. Good challenged? Very pc-ish. Emotionally challenged? Well, most of the bad guys we've seen do have a problem having emotions beside greed and lust so maybe but that still doesn't fit. Like dark doesn't, night isn't evil just because its night. Its just a state of dark and that is not inherently evil. It's the creatures that roam the night that are bad. But there are as many good things at night too, most of the kids in the world are born at night from what Alex says about her friends that have been pregnant. All of them delivered in the middle of the night.// He snorted. //This is pointless. Good is good and evil is bad and we're caught fighting in the middle.// He sat up straighter. //Maybe that's the answer, a balance of some sort. For every bad there's an equal good. That's what keeps the fight going so we keep going.// He shrugged. //Philosophy is not my strength and its usually an indication that I've been up too long if I'm actually thinking about this. I need to get back to the subject I need to figure out. Am I gay? Do I love Derek?//

He shivered. //That's a scary but nice thought. Love, true heartwarming, singing it out to the world, I don't care who knows love. I wonder if I could have that with them? It'd be hard to keep Philip in it, because I know those two have it, but it could be done if we fight to hold onto it. He's only in town a few months out of the year right now anyway. We can be a trio then and a duo the rest of the time.// He snorted. //But I'm getting ahead of myself. I still have to figure out if that's what I want out of life or if this is all some strange dream figment brought from the wisps that I kept seeing while I was under.// He shook his head. //No, it's been going on longer than that. A *lot* longer than that, but it's not always been what I would call love. Not couplely love anyway. Father/son love between me and Derek, then friends with the whole mentor and student thing.// He snorted. //Okay, now we're back to Star Wars and I'm not at all like that guy that played the student, even if Derek would look cute in the costume. Maybe I can get him to wear one for Halloween if we're not out saving the world again.// He shook his head, picking up his briefcase. "Derek said to get something done so I will," he muttered to himself as he opened the clasp. He looked at the book and shook his head. "Gee, this looks familiar," he whispered as he pulled it out. "Yup, I saw Derek reading this."

"So did I," Xander told him. "I gave it to him." He raised the head of the bed up, frowning. "You make too much noise." He grinned. "When can I go home again?"

"Few more days, bro." He saw the light frown. "Not even, you're my brother no matter what that test says." He patted the leather. "Which is in here I might add." A hand was held up so Nick handed the briefcase over to him, watching as the results were read with a frown. "What?" he asked.

"You're the product of an experiment and I'm not but this is strange. Marcus included my original DNA and its shifting from yours to Derek's. Right now, according to the note he wrote for us," he waved it in the air, "I'm halfway between a Rayne and a Boyle and Derek's DNA shows traces of the alien too but it's really old and small."

Nick grabbed it, reading over the small lines. "Okay, so how did he get this?" He took the folder back, looking over the contents. "Well, this explains me," he said finally, looking back up, "but not your birth. The guy was dead before you were born and all the eggs were supposedly destroyed."

"Not a clue," Xander said with a yawn. "Can I have a drink? My mouth tastes funny." He made a face, licking over his cheeks. "Really gross."

"They didn't brush your teeth while you were under." Nick poured him a cup of water from the pitcher and handed it over, leaning back to watch him drink. He glanced at his watch then grinned. "Your family should be in sometime soon."

"Yay!" he said, cheering quietly. "No offense, bro, but I need an Oz hug." He grinned, handing back the cup. "Thanks."

"Sure, just try to nap some more and I'll be here."

"I woke up earlier and you weren't."

"I was getting coffee," Nick said, patting the blanket's edge. "Now sleep, otherwise you'll never get better and you'll have to stay here." That brought a small shudder. "Oh, and the nurse from your last stay is working on this floor now." That brought an even bigger shudder. "But she agreed to be nice this time since it wasn't self-inflicted."

"Nope," Xander said through a yawn, "Slayer inflicted. Possessed Slayer inflicted." His eyes fluttered closed even as he tried to fight it and he fell asleep.

Nick scooted his chair back, shaking his head. "You'll be home soon," he told him quietly. "Don't worry, they love you." He picked back up the folder, looking over it and the handwritten notes that accompanied it.


Nick popped his neck and stood up, stretching. He checked his watch and grimaced, then pulled out his phone as he walked out into the hall. He dialed home, grinning a little as Derek answered. "Hey, its me. He's been awake and asking for them." The answer he got made him lean against a wall and scowl. "Why? Did they say?" He shook his head. "How could they do this to him?" He slammed the phone shut, walking back to the room, stopping at the coffeepot on the way. He put away the folder, and the book, and watched the man on the bed sleep and heal. //That is so cruel,// he thought. //It's not like he *asked* to be shot. He didn't do anything to deserve to be in here. And that's not what being in love is supposed to mean. It's not supposed to mean that you can drop your lover when he gets inconvenient. After all, he takes care of them as much as they do him, well except for that last little bout of aliens but he was trying to protect them.// He frowned at the wall. //I'm not going to tell him. If Derek wants him to know, he can show up and tell him. I'm not devastating him with this. And if I get my hands on those two, they're going to hear about my feelings on the subject.// He sipped his coffee, grunting as Giles walked in. "Come to tell him?" he asked quietly.

"No, I came to sit with him for a while." He pulled up the extra chair, sitting down with a grunt, arranging his sling to let his arm be more comfortable. "I tried to talk to them but there was no reasoning with them." He frowned. "How they can blame him for this, I don't know. They've all changed so much in the last few years."

"Yeah, and this is not a good one." Nick stood up, picking up his briefcase. "I told him they were sleeping when he was awake earlier. Tell him I'll be back in time for his physical therapy tomorrow." He walked out, looking at his brother on the way.

Xander waited until the room was silent to turn over. "You know, you guys talk awfully loud when someone's trying to sleep." He sat the bed back up, supporting his back. "What did they do this time? Besides sounding like they blame me for getting shot."

"They do, for whatever reason." Giles frowned. "They've moved your things back to the room you were ill in last time."

"I'll go downstairs when I get home." The younger man looked out the window at the dark sky and the lights. "Did they say why?" He saw the head shake from the corner of his eye. "Oh, well, I'll be upset later." He raised the back of the bed some more. "How's the house?"

"We're fine. Derek just got back earlier and he was most astonished at them also." He cleared his throat. "There's a room near mine if you'd want to move there. I'd watch over you while you heal." The younger man shook his head. "No?"

"I'll be self-sufficient when they release me. Crutches but otherwise okay." He lowered the back of the bed. "I'm going to nap. Later." He closed his eyes, becoming quiet.

Giles watched the night, looking back at the still form often.


Nick walked into the house, picking up the crying child. "Hey, what's wrong?" he asked Precious. He hugged her tightly, walking back to where he could hear voices. He pulled out his chair at the large dining room table, sitting down and patting her back. "She was by the door."

"She's picked up Serena's problem," Derek told him. He held out his arms but the child clung tighter to Nick. "You seem to have it well in hand." He frowned down the table. "How was he?"

"He was awake when I left. He's been in and out of sleep because he can't get comfortable. I talked to Marcus earlier and he said a few days. He'll come back with crutches and a regimen of exercises but he'll be okay. It missed all the important stuff." He looked at Buffy. "How are you doing?"

"Fine," she said listlessly. "I'm having nightmares though. It's like I could see myself do it but I couldn't control what I was doing." She looked up at Derek. "He said its normal for a possession but I still feel rotten." She went back to pushing the food around on her plate.

Willow stood up, taking Precious from Nick. "Time for you to go back upstairs," she said, walking out.

Oz looked around, clearing his throat. "I don't even know, don't ask." He looked down at his full plate. "But I feel the same."

"It's the same for all people who care for sick people," Derek assured him, "but I don't want you to hurt him any more than this is going to. I think he'll be fine if you at least continue to talk to him." The younger man nodded, putting down his napkin and following his girlfriend out of the room.

Nick looked at Derek. "He knows. I'm pretty sure of it." He weathered the frown. "I didn't tell him but he may have been waking up when Giles walked in and we talked a little. If not, he'll break it to him gently." He looked at Buffy, who got up, walking out, food still uneaten. "What are they basing this on? That he didn't call them back? That he didn't call London sooner? I checked the logs, he took care of everyone himself from that next morning on. He moved them all, kept them comfortable. He called William right after he found out."

"I'm not sure," Derek said. "I'm getting the feeling of having had to care for him too often but other than that, I'm as much in the dark as you are." He pushed his own food around. "Did you read that file?"

"Yeah, but it doesn't make a whole lot of sense from Xander's point of view, who looked at it by the way." He picked up a piece of meat, eating it slowly to give himself time to think. "It was noted in there that there's alien residue in your genes so that explains why his pattern's moving closer to yours but not how he came to be. The guy that sired me was dead by then."

"I know," Derek said, putting down his fork, giving up on the pretense of eating. "I don't know how to explain it either. Not unless Robert was both your fathers after all and the project was faulty." He pushed back his plate, crossing his hands on the table. "What are we going to do now?"

"You're going to put emergency measures into place so no one is faced with that situation again." He grimaced. "Why didn't William tell anyone?"

"Because he thought Xander was overreacting." The older man grimaced. "Which he and I had a long discussion about."

"At the top of your lungs?" That brought a small smile. "Good, I hope you gave him enough for me too."

"Oh, I did. And for the rest of this house." Derek leaned back, frowning. "Alex has taken a short vacation to the crash site. She'll send the remnants of their things back then go on to Florida for a few weeks. Buffy is leaving for a few days at home in the morning and the unhappy couple is staying. Did you want some time off?"

"No," Nick said slowly, "but Xander might and I'd go with him if he wanted." He pushed back his empty plate, stealing a roll to nibble on. "Why is she not going home?"

"Alex?" He got a nod. "She said she wants to go somewhere neutral and think but she'll probably end up there for a few days too. Rose said to but she's resisting." He smiled a little. "I think the idea of putting Xander on vacation to sort his thoughts out might be a wise one and I'll allow you to go with him since you've not taken one in years." He pushed his chair back, getting up. "Just tell me where and I'll arrange it."

"I don't know, I'll ask when I go back in the morning." He saw the light frown. "Don't even, Derek. I told him I'd be there for his first therapy session and I will." He slapped the table. "Too many people have let him down, I'm not going to become one of them. Not again." He stood up, facing his friend and boss. "You can't make me stay here, not for any reason."

Derek nodded. "I was going to visit him in the morning also. Take the children in with me." He shrugged. "Willow's already vetoed that idea though."

"Yay," Nick said coldly. "I'm not going to say anything if one of them crawls into the car with me." He grinned, taking another roll and walking out. "Later," he called, heading up to his room.


Nick smiled as he pulled onto the ferry, getting out and going around to the back to hitch the sniffling little person in. He was surprised to find the ones he did and not Serena but Precious and Brandon were duly strapped into their carseats and he got back into his seat. "Did Mom watch Serena too hard?" Precious nodded. "Okay, we'll have him call her, how's that guys?" There was a small and listless cheer. "Hey, he's gonna be fine. It missed all the important stuff and he'll be home in a few days." That got him happier looks so he turned on the radio, slipping in a story tape that the male parts of the trio had recorded for them.

It was half an hour before he needed to be there when he pulled into the parking lot, grinning as he got out to get the kids. He let them lead the way inside, following close enough behind to stop Brandon from running across the parking lot or Precious from trying to steal a cookie from the Coffee Lady. He herded them upstairs and into the room, still grinning at the happy baby squeals that preceded him. "Hey," he said, leaning down to help them up onto the bed before he sat down. "How are you feeling?"

"Much better," Xander said, grunting as he hugged the kids hard to his chest. "Where's the others?"

"Home, Mom's being fussy." That got a small frown. "I'm sure she'll come to her senses soon enough, don't worry."

"I'm not. But I'm not going to be there for a while. I need a vacation."

"And you'll get one but not right away. Give yourself a day to relax into non-hospitalization and I'll take you anywhere you want to go." The younger man shook his head. "You don't want me to go?"

"I'm not sure but I don't know where I want to go so it's about...." He stopped as the door opened, admitting Willow and Oz. "They snuck away."

"So I can see," she said, patting their heads. "Why do we have to keep taking care of you?"

"Oh, how about because you weren't there to help me and I did okay until Rachel showed up then saved everyone again?" he asked hotly. He looked at the kids then at Nick. "Could you take them for a walk? I don't want them to hear this." He handed the fussing babies off, watching as they disappeared. "What the hell is your problem now? I get shot taking care of things and you have snits?" He raised an eyebrow.

"We're tired of having to be the caretakers. It's tiring being the strong one."

"So who asked you to?" Xander yelled. "I'll be able to do for myself quite well once I'm home. But yeah, you're right, being the strong one sucks as I've already found out." He glanced at Oz. "I thought we'd already gone over this?"

"We have," the older man said. "But that doesn't make this hurt less. You didn't tell us, you didn't report it, and you tried to take on too much by yourself without considering others. You haven't changed since we had that talk after the last time you were here."

"Oh, I have," Xander said, getting up and limping out of the bed and over to the window so he could look down at the street. "Very muchly. And I did report it, William and Giles both knew within an hour of it happening." He turned to look at them, arms crossed over his chest. "What else crawled up you and died this time?"

"Nothing," Willow said, sitting in the chair, after turning it to face him. "We just feel you haven't changed in the least so we're going to make you."

"Yeah, well, that's not your concern anymore is it," Xander asked bitterly. "I'm going on vacation when I get out, alone, and you won't have to worry." He turned back to the window.

"I don't think running is the answer here, Xan," Oz told him. "Nor is Willow's course of action." He frowned at her for a second. "I think we need to talk again."

"You talk, I'll think about you while I heal. On my own." He didn't look over as the door opened. "Time for me to go down?"

"Yes, and why are you out of bed?" the nurse asked. She looked at the couple. "Do keep your voices down, *some* people are trying to heal." She patted the wheelchair. "Come on, get in and let's go down to hurt you more."

He shook his head, limping over to sit down. "If you want, I'll be back in an hour. If not, I'll see you when I get out before I leave." He leaned back, closing his eyes. "Okay, let's go hurt me more so I can get more better." He was wheeled out of the room.

Oz turned to look at his girlfriend. "Happy now? ‘Cause I'm not." He walked out, slamming the door into the wall and hurrying after the wheelchair. He stopped the nurse by grabbing her arm, squatting down beside the younger man. "Hey, can I come?"

"No, you said you wanted time alone. Now you have it." Xander didn't open his eyes. "You belong to her, something I've always known, so go back to her." He took control of the wheels, rolling down the hall. "Later," he called.

"Mr. Harris," the nurse called. She looked at Oz. "Mental pain and suffering makes healing take longer. Why do this now?" She hurried after her patient, getting in behind him in the elevator. "Don't do that again, I could lose my job," she muttered, pushing the floor.

"Sorry, had to get away before I said something bad." The doors closed, cutting off his view of the hurting older man, his lover. He touched the tattoo on the side of his neck, rubbing it lightly. "It'll be gone soon," he told himself. "Just a few more months." She looked at him funny. "Semi-permanent ink," he told her. "It has about a year's life and it's about to run out." He looked forward again as the doors opened to show his brother. "Hey," he said, grinning even though everywhere on him hurt. "Still coming?"

Nick nodded. "Yeah, I promised." He looked at the kids. "Mom still upstairs?" The younger man shrugged. "Okay, then they'll come watch. We've had this talk about sitting quietly and not coming over to help." He waved at the hall. "Let's go."

Xander was wheeled down the hall, getting two more little followers as he went past the benches, and into the gym area. He was handed off to a kinda scrawny looking man not much older than him then the nurse left. "I brought my cheering section, that okay?"

"Yup," the guy said. "More than fine. Put the kids over on the couch against the wall and we'll be close enough for them to see." He wheeled the chair over to a pile of mats, helping Xander sit on them. "Okay, lay back, time for torture one oh one." He looked at Nick. "Are you doing this at home?"

"For as long as he's there, yeah."

"I'm taking a vacation to heal on my own in a few days so I'll do them," Xander said.

"You need resistance and a helper."

"I need to get better so I can go back to work, other people aren't involved in that." The younger man raised an eyebrow. "Okay?"

"Fine," the therapist said. "But it might take you longer." He got a shrug. "Okay, let's go to work. Lift the leg for me please." He grabbed the ankle when it rose, holding it firmly. "Remember these movements, you need to do them every other day." He started on a simple stretch backwards.

Xander wiped his brow as he wheeled himself into his room, parking beside his bed and bracing himself to get up. Strong arms held his arms as he moved, making him look at Derek as he sat down. "Hey, boss, what's up?" he asked, panting slightly. "I'm not that weak."

"You were shaking. You can do it yourself later." He pulled the chair closer. "Where's Nick and the kids?"

"Willow came down and repossessed them during therapy and he drove Oz back home. You might have passed them on the way in, it's only been ten minutes."

Derek nodded. "I thought I saw his car." He leaned back. "And how are you?"

"Fine, doing better. Marcus said I can come home tomorrow and ...," he took a deep breath, "I'm going on vacation for a while. To heal and think and the like."

"I can understand that. Do you have a destination? I'll make arrangements for you if you do." The younger man shook his head. "The Legacy has a few cabins in various places or I could send you somewhere else, another house perhaps? Or near to one in case you have problems." He smiled, just a little. "A commendation has been put into your file for dealing with this so well. I think you've about put the rest of us to shame by dealing under those circumstances." He cleared his throat. "I do understand the need for a break, though, it's something Nick and I were talking about last night when he got back. Do you want him to go with you?"

"No." Xander shifted, pulling the pillow under his thigh more evenly under it. "I want to be alone. I can handle the exercising stuff okay and I'll be fine. I don't need to go near another house. Just somewhere else for a while."

"I'd still like to have you somewhere accessible to us if we need you. Say one of the kids gets sick or something." He saw the deep scowl. "Giles told you?"

"I overheard them talking before Nick left and figured it out. I'm a pretty smart guy when I have nothing else to do." He looked up. "They said they're tired of always being the strong ones." He snorted. "Yay. Like I'm not." He looked out the window. "I don't even know what they're talking about now. I mean, who dealt with all this while they were on a beach? Who dealt with them going down, the stress of those hours when no one knew where they were or how they were? Who held the kids together when they woke up and Mommy and Daddy weren't there and no one else was awake and they couldn't be found?." Xander let out a little sniffle then shook his head. "Sorry, you don't need to hear this."

"No, but you needed to get it out." Derek moved closer, taking his hand. "Xander, I'm sorry for what happened while we were under. If I could have, I wouldn't have made you do it alone. That would have been hard for any of us to deal with. Take as long as you want to think things through, we'll be here and the house will survive without you, for a while." He smiled slightly. "Nick's already taken over your grumpiness chores. He snarled at Buffy this morning when she started to cry during a work out."

The younger man shook his head. "She doesn't deserve that. The spell made her do it." He looked down. "Not that I don't want to yell at her but I'm not going to. She doesn't deserve it." He glanced at the door. "Oz is here."

"Then maybe Nick is close by." Derek leaned back. "Come in?" he called.

Oz walked in, nodding. "Thought you might be here." He handed over the small bag. "Brought you clothes to come home in." He sat on the end of the bed, facing him. "You sure you want to run instead of fighting this one out?"

"Would it matter if I stayed?" Xander asked. He got a small head shake. "Then I'm going to go think and heal on my own." He shifted, lifting the head of the bed up so he was sitting a little more upright. "I'm not doing this to hurt you guys, it's what needs to be." He glanced at Derek. "Didn't you and Nick used to have this fight?"

The Precept smiled. "All the time. Nick was the only member that has ever rivaled your skill at getting hurt." He looked at Oz. "Nick has systematically given me all my gray hairs, the ones that you didn't anyway, from all the times he did stupid things. Playing Russian roulette with a ghost to save a battered ghost. Doing ninety down a stretch of closed roads with his lights off to blow off stress. Putting himself in harm's way again and again to save Philip and myself. It runs in the family, I guess." He patted the still hand on the bed and stood up. "I'm going for a walk to let you have some private time. I'll be back in a while." He patted Oz's cheek as he passed. "Work it out, neither of you need this stress," he said as he closed the door.

Oz looked at his lover, sighing. "He's right, you don't."

"And *who* was in a plane crash the other day?" He shifted over, patting his former spot. "Come sit, we can talk." It was shaken off. "Oh, okay then, don't." He looked down, playing with the edge of the blanket. "How could you even think I wanted to be taken care of again? I'd refuse the thought from even happening." He looked up. "I'm not the kids, Oz, I don't need a mommy."

"No, you need a keeper." The older man pulled his feet up under him. "She has a point, we're always taking care of you." That brought a snort. "We do."

"How about some instant replay here, man. I take care of myself. The last time you did was Thanksgiving. I've been hurt since then and I still took care of myself. I've taken care of myself every day since I got home from the hospital and was declared healthy enough to get out of bed. I don't see the problem here." He looked up, frowning. "I'm not seeing the logic train at all and I've been waiting for it."

Oz nodded. "But we don't see it that way. We worry about you constantly."

"Could have fooled me," Xander interrupted. "When did you start that? ‘Cause I've never noticed it."

"We have since we all came back." He touched the bouncy leg. "Every time you're away from us, we worry. We worry about you eating or not, we worry about a lot of other things too." He frowned at himself. "That sounds lame."

"It is." Xander shrugged. "I'm not seeing where you're going to have that problem anymore though. You've both made your positions very clear, that's why I'm taking the vacation. To allow myself time to think and react in private." He looked up as the door was opened. "Ten more, Derek, please."

"Of course," the Precept said, walking back out.

"I'm not seeing the problem here. You guys want me to butt out and I will. I'll even move downstairs if you want me to so it hurts you both less, but I'm not giving up on my other father role or father for Xandra. You can tell Willow she can deal or not but I'm not leaving them alone again."

"Thank you, but what about us?"

"Oz, at the moment, you don't want that answer." He frowned at the moving body. "Sit!" He waited until the older man settled back down. "I'm not your emotional whipping post. You can't tell me to go because you worry too much about nothing then ask why I'm not going to love you. It doesn't work that way with me. Yeah, I might still love you in six months but I'll be damned if I'm going to be hurt again by you two." He raised an eyebrow. "You can't tell me to leave and tell me to stay at the same time. Life doesn't work like that." He took a deep breath and went on before he could be interrupted. "I'll be civil. I'll be nice. I'll keep my hurt and pain inside so I don't poison the rest of the house with it but I'm not going to do this again. You make your decision and you tell me which way it's going after I get back. That's the way it works now for me." He let his arms fall to his lap, playing with the blanket again.

Oz just nodded, standing up and walking out. Derek walked back in, handing over a cold bottle of soda and a candy bar. "I thought you might want one after that." He sat back down in the chair. "You were a bit harsh," he said softly, "they're just as confused as you are."

"Yup, but now they're dumping it on me and I can't do that. I'm not the dartboard of our relationship." He finished off the candy, sipping at the drink. "I want to go far, far away. A cabin maybe. Somewhere out of the way but I still will have access to cable and the net but that space for me to walk and think without running into people." The older man nodded. "You can find me somewhere like that?"

"Of course. We have a few cabins that would fit that need. I have one that might but I don't think it's wired for phones." He scratched his head. "It has a generator but nothing else." He shrugged. "I'll look at the Legacy cabins and find you one where that is available." He patted the still leg. "What you said made sense to me, I don't think they're very aware of what they're thinking at the moment." He leaned back. "And we'll all leave you alone when you get back to fight it out."

"If I have to, can I move to the mainland?" He saw the frown. "Hey, it's going to get uncomfortable, I know that, but if its going to tear the house apart, I'll leave for the mainland and let them stay. They need the house more than I do to stay in." He shrugged, sipping some more of his drink. Until he choked as he was hugged. "Derek?"

"I think that you would do very well on your own but I'm selfish enough not to want you to go. I'll let them have the guesthouse if they want but you're not leaving." The older man sat back down, smoothing down his vest. "You've grown up so much since you came to us. Gone is the mostly happy teen that bounced his way through life and the house. And the man in front of me continues to astound me with his strength every day." He smiled, wiping at his cheek. "I'll allow you to move out only as the last resort and only if you three are about to tear the house apart with your coldness." He stood up. "I'm going to go back, can I get you anything?"

"No," Xander shook his head. "Oz brought me clothes. Just leave my car downstairs with gas and I'll get myself home." He got scowled at. "What?"

"I don't let Nick do that when he's only been bruised and I'm not letting you get that independent either. You're not escaping us that easily." He smiled, bending down to kiss the top of the younger man's head. "Rest, you get to come home tomorrow if all goes well." He left, leaving the younger man to his thoughts.

"Derek," Xander sighed, "why do this to me? I want to give them time alone to think, not force the fight now." He capped the soda and set it on the table, snuggling back down to sleep some more. It was something he was good at right then.


Nick looked up from his seat in the garden, frowning at the man coming up to him. "Unless you're ready to apologize to him for doing that, I don't want to hear it." Oz sat down next to him anyway. "What?"

"I thought you might want to talk to someone else instead of yourself and I could use the change of thoughts myself." He shrugged, assuming a very slumped in on himself position. "So, want to?"

"Not really. Not while you're having faulty logic with my brother." He saw the wince. "Oz, why hurt him again, now? I mean, he's been through enough over the last week."

"And we didn't?"

"You didn't see him break down in front of the head of the London House. I went back to the tapes, watching what went on for strange things that he didn't catch, looking for more evidence against Rachel. He held the house together, doing Derek's job, my job, and taking care of us." He laid a hand on the younger man's arm. "When he found out you two went down, he called London to tell them and broke down in Derek's office in front of them. It was almost an hour later when he started to come out of it and called everyone else to give them status reports. If you want, I'll show you the tapes, but I won't let you use it against him. He did something very spectacular that *I* or *Derek* couldn't do under the same circumstances." He took his hand away. "Not to mention not calling in the cops when his leg started to bleed that night on the island." He took a deep breath, ready to lay the guilt trip on. "I talked to that Detective his second night in the hospital and he told me if Xander hadn't gotten attention, he wouldn't be around right now for you two to get pissy at, but Xander said he wouldn't have called because then you would have been shot." Nick stood up, walking back toward the house. "You need to think about that, not worry about my other thoughts."

Oz scooted over under the tree, leaning against it. "I didn't know that," he told himself, thinking about this new information. "And of course he didn't tell me, us." He shook his head. "But he wouldn't, he's not like that. He won't ask for thanks or even appreciation." He closed his eyes, patting the small warm body that came to cuddle with him so he could think. "Hey, Serena."

Nick walked back inside the house, stealing a cookie off the rack and getting his hand hit with a spoon for it. "Hey," he said, rubbing it, glaring at the little kid. "Making Xan cookies? Both boys nodded. "Okay, I'll take them to him tonight when I go see him." They pouted. "Ask your mom first guys, she got mad the last time you snuck into the car." He nibbled his cookie as he walked out, heading for the office, where he could hear quiet talking. He knocked as he walked in, not surprised at all to see William Sloan sitting there. "How's the grandkid?" he asked as he sat down. "I gave Oz some facts and he's thinking. The boys want to go visit though, they're making cookies while Dominick makes out recipes for when he gets home tomorrow night." He ate the last little piece of his cookie, grinning. "Not too bad. Little on the chocolatey side." He licked off his fingers. "So, what's up?"

"Nothing much," Derek said. "Just a little more fall out from the last week or so. They're pulling William back to London again but he'll be delegating more. The present Precept is going to Bombay to fix that house and/or reset it up. We're still the lead house, unfortunately." He frowned. "What did you tell Oz?"

"The truth," Nick said. "That he did call London and break down. That he did care and that he did everything here by himself most of the time. He didn't see the strength that it took, just the worry they had and maybe now that'll be better." He shrugged. "I'm not getting in between them any farther."

Derek nodded, still frowning. "Xander said he's willing to move to the mainland to let us have peace if it comes down to it." He saw the answering frowns. "I know, that's what I told him. The boy is determined to be rid of us it seems." He leaned back, turning around to look out his windows, watching Precious pick weeds with her mother. "Why does this happen to them?"

"Not a clue," Nick said.

"Because bad things always seem to happen when you get everything settled," William reminded them. "We all have seen it happen before. We just have to be thankful that the two vampires did show up to rescue them. Otherwise we'd be saying these things out by the pond." He stood up, walking over to the bar. "Want a drink anyone?"

"Please," Derek said. He turned to watch him pour two stiff and large drinks, carrying them back over. "Thank you." He took a sip, relaxing. "How do we fix it?"

"*We* don't," William said. "We let them do it this time. We've all stepped in too many times as is." He sat back down, sipping his own drink. "How's Rupert? They could use him back in India."

Derek shook his head. "No, they focus better when he's here. Send some other person there."

Nick grinned, shaking his head. "I think the man deserves a break. He survived a siren's attack only to come back to a bad Precept and turned members so he could be shot and almost killed while he was a hostage. I think he could use a vacation of his own." He looked at William. "But this house is much slower than what he's used to so we'll keep him for a while."

"Indeed," the former and now again present London Precept smiled. "I think that would suit him well. He does seem to see this place as a refuge."

"He and Philip both," Derek said. He snapped his fingers but the other two men shook their heads. "He asked me to find him somewhere to stay, and there is a cabin nearby." He frowned at Nick. "I'd think you'd not want him left totally alone."

"No," Nick admitted, "I don't, but I also don't see those two getting chummy over their shared misery." He got that sad look on his face. "Maybe I should talk to him though."

"I have his number whenever you want it," Derek assured him. "His last letter did ask about you."

"What about your mother? I heard she was in town to check up on you," William asked, changing the subject from the obviously personal talk that he wasn't part of. "How is Barbara?"

"She brought her new man to town to let me meet him." The Precept smiled, sitting back. "Most charming. He and Rupert had a nice talk while she was in." His smile fell a bit. "She looked in on Xander when she came for me and was most upset that any of this had happened, especially to a man so young." He glanced at Nick. "Did you talk to him about school?"

"Nope. Forgot." The youngest man stood up. "I'm going to go to my room unless you have make-work for me?" He got a small head shake so he left them alone to go think.

"What's bothering him?" William asked when they were alone.

"Nothing that concerns you," Derek said. He turned to look back out the window. "I'll talk to Xander myself tonight about going back to school full time for a while. It would do him good to get out of the house more." He drank some more of his drink, watching the kids run around outside.

"Didn't you say you weren't going to interfere Derek?"

"No, you did." He finished his drink, getting up to get another one.


Xander looked up as his door opened, frowning at the woman standing there. Buffy pulled out a gun, pointing it at him, but letting him try to get away. His leg gave out just as he stood, putting him onto the floor.

He winced as the shot went off.

Xander sat straight up in his bed, gasping and panting for breath. When he was calm again, he pulled over his water pitcher, trying to drink some but it was empty. He slid to the edge of the bed, standing gently and carrying it to the bathroom. He stood over the sink, looking at himself as he drank, taking deep breaths to calm down the rest of the way in between sips. When he'd had enough, he limped back out to his bed, frowning at the silent man now taking up residence in his bedside chair. "What?" he snapped. "Didn't do enough damage earlier?" Oz got up, trying to help him, but was swatted and pushed away. "I can do this, you don't need to *help*," he muttered, spitting the last word.

"No, I do. You're still weak and you shouldn't be walking much." He sat back down, watching as the younger man got himself settled. "What's up?" he asked quietly then handed over the box. "Boys made you cookies but they weren't allowed up here. The nurses threw a fit about the kids coming up earlier."

Xander nodded, opening the box to share them. "I heard. Tough crap." He looked at the door. "Nobody to shield you from the needy kid?" He looked back at his lover, seeing the pain of his words. "Why are you really here, Oz?" he sighed.

"Because we need to talk. I found out a few things I didn't know." The younger man shook his head. "That I didn't even stop to think about. Nobody told me that you were called when we went down or that the kids woke up while we were missing." He shifted, leaning closer. "Why didn't you tell us?"

"Because that would have just made you feel sorry for me and that's something I don't need. Of course, you seem to feel that way anyway...." A hand was placed over his mouth to stop the words.

"I don't feel sorry for you, I just needed to be weak for a while." Oz removed his hand, sitting back to get comfortable. "You coming back?"

"For a night, then I'm going to leave for a few weeks of rehab and quiet."

"I would have thought you'd have had enough of quiet."

"I do but I need the time to think." He set the box down on the table, making sure it was closed tightly. "I'm going to try to convince Derek to let me move to the mainland. It's obvious that we'll tear the house apart with our fighting." He didn't see the pain his words caused, not looking at his lover. "I don't want to cause any more stress than we already have so I'll put myself on part time duty and go back to school full time."

"You can't," Oz choked. He started to cough, then ran into the bathroom, slamming the door shut.

Xander looked up, confused, at the first sound of retching. He slid back out of the bed, going over to the door and knocking on it. "Oz?" he called softly. He heard the older man still getting sick so tried the door, walking in to sit beside him, holding him up while he was sick. When it was all done, he handed over a paper towel, watching his lover clean the last traces off his chin. "You okay?"

"No, I'm not." He leaned against the warm body, snuggling down into it. "I'm sorry though. I didn't want you to see that."

"Hey, you did that for me when I was going through some shock stuff too," he whispered, running a gentle hand through the red hair. "I'm sorry I'm upsetting you like this." He pressed the trembling head to his chest, rubbing over the tense back. "I didn't mean to hurt you again."

"It's not you," Oz said. "It's all this." He closed his eyes. "It's just the stress of the crash and coming back to find you like that...."

"I was fine until Rachel showed up, just a little tired." He leaned his head down, letting it rest against the older man's to comfort himself more. "I was fine until that night."

"No you weren't. You were exhausted and your back was hurt."

"It's just a pulled muscle, already better and everything," Xander assured him. "Nothing unusual when you consider how big Nick and Derek are." He continued to rub over the newly tense back. "I was fine and still am, just need a little time to be one hundred percent."

"No, you're not fine. Neither of us is fine and neither of us will be fine for a while." Oz took a deep breath. "Don't go on that vacation. Stay and talk with us. I told her what really happened and she went to hide in the bedroom and cry." He stopped the soothing hands, holding them instead. "And I'm still sorry I was an ass."

"Yeah, you were, but I still need some time off. Just to think." He pulled back from the stiff body. "What? You think that these last two days didn't hurt me?" He got to his feet, taking his hand back, and limped back to his bed. He was almost to it when he slipped and fell, grunting as his weight hit his bad leg and his arm that had tried to cushion the fall.

"Xan!" Oz ran out, falling beside him. He made him lay down, looking over his pressure bearing arm and leg to make sure they were all right, seeing the most unwelcome thing - blood on the bandage. He got up, hitting the nurse's call button, then sat back down under the pained head, stroking over the tense forehead. "Look at me, you'll be okay, I promise. I'm sorry, I shouldn't have laid that on you."

"Shut up, Oz," Xander groaned, bringing his non-hurting arm up to hold his other shoulder. "Damn." He tried to sit up but was held down by stronger hands. "Oz, let me get up. I'm not laying here on the floor." He tried again but the hands didn't move. "Oz! Let go!" He pushed his way up as the nurse walked in, grimacing at her. "Can I please have some more Tylenol? I just fell."

She pushed him onto the bed, looking at Oz. "What happened?" She looked over her patient while she waited.

"Not sure," Oz told her. "All I saw was him slip and fall. His shoulder, left one, he grabbed it when he tried to get up." He stood up, taking a clenched hand in his. "I think you need more than painkillers." He brushed some of the hair back then looked down at the bandage. "Um, he's bleeding."

"I know. I'll call his doctor to come check it. It's always best to keep pressure on it." She glanced at him. "Now, what really happened? You two fight again?"

"Yeah," Xander moaned. "Drugs are good," he told her, opening his eyes. "Please?" She nodded, walking out, so he turned to look at Oz. "Let. Go." His hand was dropped.. "This had nothing to do with you. This was my leg giving out, not your bad." He pulled himself up with his good arm, almost blacking out as his shoulder was moved. "Nothing to do with you," he said again when he could see. But he was alone then.

Oz ran out into the hall, stopping her. "He's gonna pass out. Did you call Marcus?" She nodded patiently. "Okay, I'll be right back, I'm calling home." He jogged down the hall to the pay phone in the waiting area.

She walked back into the room, seeing him frowning at his leg. "Not even the heat of your hate will seal that thing back up," she told him, pulling out a needle and injecting his bad arm. "I know, it hurt," she said when he yelled, "but it'll feel better when Doctor Marcus has to relocate it in a little while." She looked at his bandage, touching the edge gently. "We okay down there?"

"Fine," he ground out, closing his eyes. "Just perfect." She slapped the railing. "Oh, quit. He made his choice."

"Yes, to go call all those people that sat with you." He opened his eyes, looking at her. "That's right, I said he's down at the phone, not leaving you again. Whatever you two are fighting over, you need to work it out before your heads kill one of you." She looked up as the door opened, admitting a tall, darkly handsome man. "Hey, Doc, he fell." She grimaced. "On thin air and emotions."

Marcus nodded, bending down to check him. "I noticed Oz in the hall." He looked up into the dark eyes from where he was untying the bandage. "Why can't you two get along more often?"

"Because he blames me for something I didn't do and he's *so*," hiss, "wrong it's not funny." He took a deep breath, grabbing onto the railings for support as the bandage was removed. "That stings," he said, slapping the hand away. "No, don't."

The nurse slapped him lightly on the side of the face, making him look at her. "Stop it, child. He's not here to hurt you. None of us are." She frowned at him. "What else?" She looked toward the bathroom. "I see he came out of there."

"It's making him sick." He squeezed his eyes shut as the now open wound was touched. "Do you have to do that?"

"If you want to die from an infection, then no." Marcus stood up. "Go get me a pen light and I'll look inside. I'm not sure if I need to take him back down." She nodded, walking out. He leaned over the still and tense body. "What really happened, Xander?"

"They told me I was too weak for them and they were tired of taking care of me so they kicked me out. He came over tonight to talk but I yelled and he got sick so I comforted and then I fell." He shrugged, moaning as his shoulder was moved. "Can you do something about that," he whined. "It kinda hurts."

"I'm sure it does," Marcus said. "Not as much as your leg will in the morning."

"I'm going home tomorrow. I don't care if there's another earthquake." He looked up into the green eyes. "Then I'm leaving on vacation. Don't even try to keep me." That got him another touch to his leg, which made him scream in pain.

"Okay, if you say so, but I think you're just being stubborn." He looked over his shoulder at the quiet man standing there. "I want your side of this."

"He gave it. We were fighting, it made me sick, he comforted me and we fought again. He stomped back out here and fell." Oz walked over to the bed, prying a hand off the railing and entwining their fingers. "How bad is it?"

"His shoulder's dislocated and his wound's reopened. You tell me." He frowned at Oz. "I meant it when I said no stress. Not physical and not mental." He gentled his tone at the nauseous look. "Listen, Oz, he's not the strongest individual right now, we both know that, but you can't drop him now. You know what he'll do if you try." He saw the nod. "Now, what was the fight about?"

"I wanted him to stay and talk to us instead of taking a vacation." He took a deep breath, wiping his face off with their joined hands. "I don't want to hurt him, it just seems like we're doing all the caring and tending. It's like he's an infant some days and we have to take care of him."

Marcus sighed, sitting on the edge of the bed. "You know that's not right. He takes care of you guys first and always. Everything he does is about or for you." He nodded at the nurse, standing up to take the light and look down into the wound. He made an unhappy sound before standing up. "The bleeding was just where the stitches tore but I'm going to have to take him down to surgery to reclose it." He looked at Oz. "You can come sit beside him, I'm not going to put him fully under." He handed back the light, looking at her. "Nightmares?"

"About being shot again. Some creature named Buffy walking and shooting him as he lays helpless on the floor." She picked up the chart. "I alerted surgery that you might be on the way, they've called in one of the plastic reconstruction guys to come do it and someone for his shoulder." She nodded at Oz. "You taking him?"

"Yeah, Xander's much calmer when he's around, even now." He looked down into the deep brown eyes. "Did you hear what he said?" A small nod. "And what I said?" Another small nod. "Good, then you'll work it out before you take a break, which I wholeheartedly endorse by the way, and I'll get to sleep in my own bed beside my man who's very tired of hearing any of your names." He looked at the orderlies as they walked in. "Take him down to surgery, they're expecting him. Go easy on his shoulder and thigh and he," he pointed at Oz, "is going with him." He looked back down. "I'm going to go scrub in to assist so I'll be down there. Just relax, Xander, and we'll get it all worked out." He turned, walking out of the room.

The orderlies moved the bed, nodding at Oz to grab onto the side but the nurse held him back. "Hon," she told him, "I'd fix it before you both end up back here. His nightmares weren't just about her. I was in here to wake him out of one when your names were mentioned, yours and that woman that came with you, Willow. Apparently you were standing over him, refusing to help him as he died." She let his arm go. "Fix it or let him be had by someone else because you'll destroy him if you don't." She waved at the door. "Now, go catch up and don't make me tell Marcus about that."

He nodded, jogging out, catching up to the bed at the elevators. He took Xander's hand in his again, entwining their fingers and squeezing. "Hey," he said softly, leaning down. "You still here?" A small nod. "I know it hurts but I'll be there for the whole thing. ‘Kay?"

"Oz, why?" Xander asked, licking his lips, his eyes glazed. "Why you coming?"

"Because I have to. I need to be there." He kissed the wrinkled forehead. "Don't worry about it, we still love you and we'll figure this out as soon as you're better." He got a small nod again so stood back up, watching the face as they walked down the hall.


Derek answered the phone and swore, tossing it at Nick. "Come on, we have to go to the hospital." The other people in the room got very quiet, even Xandra, who had been babbling. "He fell and reopened his leg and hurt his shoulder." He stood up, heading for the front door, Nick and Willow behind him. He turned to look at her, frowning. "I don't think he needs you to yell at him again, he's in enough pain as it is." She teared up, running up the stairs so he looked at Buffy. "Deal with her. We'll go and call later." He started out but he was stopped by a hand on his leg. He looked down to see Serena, frowning at her. "No. You can't go." She squinted at him, making sure he knew she was pissed. "No, Serena, you may not go."

She hauled off and hit his leg, the slap resounding through the open space. "Me go," she said quietly, very angry. "You no tell me no." She looked at Nick. "Jacket?" He handed it over, picking her up. "Fank you."

Derek rubbed his leg as they walked out. "I didn't know she could do that," he muttered. He took her from Nick, buckling her in. "You will never do that to me again, Serena, do you understand?" She got that look again. "If you hit me again, I will spank you." The look got deeper. "I mean it. You do not hit adults." She hauled off and hit him again. "No," he said, removing her hand.

"Get in or we'll have to wait for the next ferry, you can argue with her on the way," Nick said. He started the car, waiting until the door was closed before taking off. "She's that strong?"

"Definitely. Her hand has just the right shape to make it sting." Derek rubbed his face. "That was very bad, Serena, and you will not hit anyone again."

She spit at him. "Dada," she said, nodding. "Me go see dada, you twiet." She looked at Nick. "Faster?"

"Are we sure she's Oz's?" Nick asked.

"Werewolf strength," Derek reminded him. "That's how she hit so hard." He rubbed over the side of his face. "But she'd do her mother proud."

"Derek, lay off Willow. She feels rotten now that she knows that he didn't not care about them crashing." Nick pulled onto the ferry, parking the Range Rover. "They're all at their breaking points from all this." He looked in the mirror at the baby, seeing her watching them. "We'll be there soon, Serena, why don't you nap?" She shook her head. "Okay, watch the water then." He turned to look at his friend and boss. "All of us are there but its harder for them because they're so entwined. Their lives are so integrated that just a little something could start to fray them."

"And this wasn't little," Derek added, earning him a nod and a grin. "I know but I couldn't stop myself from saying it." He slumped in his seat. "Bring the helicopter back tonight when you come. I'll drive back."

"Sure bossman, whatever you say." Nick nodded. "Just apologize. I know that's a foreign subject to you but she's gonna need it."

"I will try," Derek said. He looked ahead as the ferry docked. "Let's go."

Nick started the Range Rover as the ramp was lowered, pulling out as soon as he could.

They made it to the surgical waiting room in time to see Oz coming out, taking off his shirt. "What happened," Derek asked, frightened for the first time in a long time. He pulled the younger man down beside him, looking him over for signs of blood. "Is he all right"

"Xan'll be okay. His shoulder's been relocated and I helped as they restitched his leg." He slumped down, looking at the small body invading his lap. "Why are you here?" She hit his arm and he did it back. "Don't do it again." Serena nodded, tearing up. "I'm sorry, but you know better." He hugged her tightly, looking at his boss. "You can't let him go on vacation alone. Or just not let him go might be nice. We need to work things out."

"You'll have time," Marcus said, walking over to them. He sat down beside Nick, putting a hand on his shoulder. "Not too bad, considering. He'll need some more bedrest before he's ready to get up and run around again." He looked over at Serena, holding out his hands. "Want to go see him?" She nodded, sliding down the slick green material to take his hand. "He'll be up in his room in about twenty minutes, go up there and wait. I'll bring her up with me." They walked away, talking quietly.

Derek looked at Oz. "What happened?"

"We were starting to talk again and I asked him to stay around for a while. He got pissed and stormed out of the bathroom. That's when he fell." Oz looked down at the floor, slumping forward to lean on his legs. "I'm sorry, and I told him that, but he won't believe me."

"Would you?" Nick asked tiredly. He stood up. "Actions, Oz, that's all he understands at the moment." He headed for the elevator. "I'm going upstairs," he called.

Derek helped Oz up. "I think a small break might be helpful but I will tell you this much. If you hurt him like this again, I will separate you three. You and Willow will be assigned on a long term assignment somewhere else and he'll stay." He frowned down at the younger man as they walked. "I love those kids but Xander needs more care than they do. I just wish you would recognize that."

Nick shook his head. "Didn't we just have a talk about gentleness?" he quipped. He looked at Oz. "Not that I don't agree with him but I'm going to be nicer about this. Willow's already crying over something he said and you've been getting sick over your emotions again. Personally, I'd like to see all three of you healthy for a change so I'm going to intervene. When we get upstairs, we'll give you five minutes to apologize." Derek made a sound of protest. "No, they need it so we'll give it to them. We'll take Serena with us and talk to her about her hitting people." He frowned. "And you will not do that to her again."

"It's all that works. We've tried the talking, the time outs, that was our last resort." Oz looked at Derek. "Please. I could use the five." He turned the older man's face, looking at the little red mark. "Got you too?"

The Precept nodded. "She insisted that she come and when I didn't readily agree she slapped me, twice." He looked at Nick. "Are you sure you want to do this? I do not want Xander hurt anymore than he already is."

"That's the point," Nick reminded him. "Enough time to apologize." He walked off the elevator, taking the familiar walk easily.

Derek looked at Oz. "I meant every word I said. Do you understand me?" The younger man nodded. "Very goot, now let's go see him then you can have your time." He walked down the hall after Nick, Oz following. He made it into the room, smiling at the body on the bed. "I see she found you?" The head moved a little, nodding. "Ah, drugs again?"

"Yeah," Xander sighed. "But not the good kind. I can still think." He looked away from Oz as he walked in. "Take her down to get a snack, Nick," he said, handing off the baby. "He and I need to talk." He pushed the button to sit the bed up but it was turned off. "Shoot, I'll yell at her later." He turned his head, getting a kiss on the cheek from Derek. "Thanks bossman, come back soon." He waited until they were alone. "What?" he asked tiredly.

"I want to apologize for dumping my problems on you." Oz sat down on the side of the bed, against the good leg, and ran his hand along it. "I shouldn't have asked you to stay if you didn't want to. You're right to want time to deal with our hurtfulness if you need it, but we're both sorry." He stood up when nothing was said. "I'll go tell them they can quit hiding at the door."

"Oz, don't even. You're still guilt tripping me over this and it's mean and wrong." He sat himself up, frowning as he tried to get comfortable.

"Hey, you're not supposed to be doing that," the older man told him, helping him lay back down. He waited until the body was still again. "I don't mean to, I just want us to work this out."

"Then quit thinking I'm one of the kids. I'm not. I'm a grown man, same as you are, and I have the same feelings and needs as you." He frowned at the door. "They can see that but maybe you're too close to the situation. Yeah, I've had some times when I needed to be taken care of but I won't again because I won't let it happen, ever." He grabbed the hand going to touch his arm, squeezing it painfully. "No, don't. I don't need gentle, healing touches from you if you can't see I'm not some needy little whiney person that needs a babysitter." He let the hand go, looking into the deeper eyes, seeing the pain. "Put yourself here, in the bed, and figure out what I'm feeling here. That's something that you're usually good at, do it now." He yawned. "I'm going on vacation, just as soon as I get out of this bed, and you'll think. When I come back, we'll talk if you're ready. If not, I'll stay gone. End of discussion." He let his eyes roam again. "And I mean that."

"I know that now," Oz said. He sat back down on the bed. "I don't know why we do it. You've just always been the protected one. We used to yell at you in high school for trying to help, if you remember."

"Oh, I do and I didn't like it then. Just because I'm the normal guy doesn't mean all I can contribute is doughnuts." He grimaced. "I'd hope that I've proved that by now."

"Yeah, you did," Oz said, stroking over the side of the younger man's face. "I do love you, Xan, and I want to work this out." He took a deep breath. "I'll try, okay? I can't promise to change all the time or to say the same for Willow, but I'll try to treat you as an equal when we're both people like I do when we're being animals." He leaned down, kissing the soft cheek. "Good enough?"

"For now." The younger man sighed, shifting to get a little more comfortable. "But can I have a hug? The drugs are making me feel funny."

"Just don't puke on me," Oz said. He shifted the body upwards, getting under it part of the way and letting it rest on his chest. "Rest now, babe, let me be the strong one again."

"I hate that term."

"I know but it fits right now. Later, I'll get emotional and you'll be the strong one while I get sick and cry again." He ran his fingers through the dark hair. "How's that?"

"Put the spiky things back down and I can handle that. Just so long as I don't have to move." Xander lifted his head up, looking at his lover. "If you can."

"I'll do my best. Now rest and sleep. I'll watch over you for a while." The dark head laid back down, closing his eyes. Oz continued to soothe him, making him feel safe and loved again. He looked up as Derek walked in, nodding at the frown. "We talked," he said quietly. "He's gonna go on vacation and I'll deal with my shortcomings and we'll come back together again." He looked back down, running his fingers through the dark hair, shifting the head aside so the baby could snuggle down with them.

"We'll be okay again," Oz promised softly. "All of us.


Nick looked up from his reading, glancing at the bed to check on the two men. //Right back where I started and I'm still confused. But it was a wild ride there for a few days.// He put down the book, linking his hands on his stomach. //Two more days and the bro gets out for a nice long, well deserved, vacation and they'll work it out afterwards. Oz figured out that he has emotional stability to cling to and that it's strong enough to help him through anything, and that Xander has as many emotions as he does and they're just as deep and strong.// He snorted. //I guess he's good for him but I wonder how long this peace will last.// He sighed, slouching a little more. //Now if only I was as secure as they are in their love.//