Reconstruction (NC-17, ANGST)
Xander looked up from burping Junior, smiling at his mate. "No spit-up yet."
Oz wiped the tiny mouth with the edge of the towel the baby was resting on. "Good. Wasn't one of ours."
"Apparently he had been missing from a boating accident during the storm," Derek said as he came back in. He smiled at the family. "Do you want me to take him?" The man he considered his son shook his head. "Please?"
"Nope, he gets worse bad bellies when whoever's holding him is stressed and you've just been down with the cops so I'm guessing that you're the poster boy for stress right now."
"But holding him would lessen my stress level," Derek said, taking the baby from the younger man and sitting down with him. "Yes, all of you children at this age made me feel better." He wiped the spit-up off his neck, still smiling. "I still love you," he cooed, cradling his namesake against his chest.
Oz watched his husband chew on his lip while watching their son be rocked to sleep as he got himself a drink, eventually coming over to lean over the younger man's shoulder. "You're going to get wrinkles," he stage-whispered.
"Na-uh, Dad hardly has any. And he's had to deal with Nick for *years*." He grinned at the small pinch to his arm.
"Yes, I even knew him as an angry teen." He shook his head sadly. "I promised his father I'd look after him before he died."
"Wow. A teenaged Nick? Very hard to picture," Oz said, walking around the end of the couch to sit down.
"Probably a lot like Ripper was," Xander commented. "Angry, tough shell but a gentle heart protected inside of it." Derek nodded. "Gee, the counseling classes are paying off finally."
"I'm surprised you weren't the same way."
"Nope, I was 'fused," Xander told his father. "Very, very confused."
"With an M&M shell," Oz added. "He was really good at keeping people away." Xander shook his head. "Yes, you were. All that 'fun guy' stuff was an act to keep all but the chosen few out. Only those you let see a small flash and understood what it meant were let close enough to hurt you."
Xander shook his head again. "No, I was pretty shallow back then, or as you once put it, id-living."
"Ah, the Rayne hedonist tradition passes on," Martin said as he walked into the house. "It's good to know it wasn't all mine, William's, and Ripper's influence that turned you into the kitten you were, Derek." He laughed at the glare. "Ah, but you were, my friend. There was a reason our hall was the most monitored in the history of Oxford." He patted one of Derek's tense arms. "No one blames you for finding respectability, Derek, we all knew it would happen some day."
Derek handed Junior back to his son. "Don't listen to him, boys. I was no worse than any other student back then."
Oz snorted. "Derek, that was the seventies, we've heard what it was like." He picked the baby up out of his husband's lap. "Come on you, let's get you into the bassinet so you can nap."
Xander leaned closer to his father. "So if I asked Giles, would he tell me stories of hall orgies and drunken excess?"
"Not if he doesn't want to end up back in India," he said darkly. He patted his son's shoulder. "It was a very different time. Condoms were actually birth control and rarely used, seen, or sold; not at all like the necessity they are today." He stood up. "I'm going to look over the log books."
"Want help?" His father shook his head. "Okay, I'm going to go do a few laps in the pool, ocean's too choppy." He hopped up, heading for his and his mate's bedroom.
Derek looked at his old friend. "I wouldn't try anything, Martin, they're very possessive." He saw the sweet, innocent look forming in the bright green eyes. "I'm serious," he walked around the other man, "and I will help them hide the body." He headed for the workroom.
"That's no fun," Martin said, pouting at the empty living room. He stretched, heading for his office, which had an excellent view of the pool as it happened.
Xander turned to Oz on their nightly stroll, looking deep into his mate's eyes. "If he looks at your ass again, I'm hurting him," he promised quietly. That got a small, pleased smile in response. "No, I mean it. I don't want people trying to take what's mine."
Oz sighed, relaxing into the strong arms to give the younger man some comfort. "It doesn't hurt if they look but I'm not letting anyone else touch, Xan. No one will ever touch me again except you." He looked up into the deep brown eyes, seeing the insecurity in them, so pulled them over to a bench, pushing him down. "I will never *willingly* touch another person, Xander, you know that." He got a small nod, the younger man looking at the ground now. "So why do you worry?"
"Because that's all I know," he admitted in a whisper.
"Ah, but you have to do the relativity thing here. We aren't your parents, nor will I ever be an abusive drunk." That got another small nod from the younger man so he joined their rings when he took his hand. "Hon, I'm..." He stopped to consider his words. "Do you see any spaces in these rings?" Xander looked up at him, shaking his head. "Then there's no room for anyone else in my life." He did a brave thing, taking off the ring his husband had given to him and handing it to him. "Even without it I know we're not splitting, but without it, I'm as empty as my hand is." He tipped his husband's face up to look at his eyes again. "Nobody will ever fulfill me like you do and there will never be anybody who will match the life you brought into my plain existence."
Xander sighed. "I know, but I *have* to worry." He slid the ring back down the waiting finger. "I feel so...inferior next to a man like him." He barely had time to close his mouth before the lips descended.
"You are *so* not inferior to him or to any man. I couldn't love a man that was worthless and I love you so much I'd follow you to Hell." Xander grinned at that. "Okay?"
"Yeah. I guess I forgot that you love me as much as I love you for a second."
"Oh, yeah. 'Cause I will kill the next man that tries to touch what's mine."
"Good," Xander said with a pleased grin.
And they sealed it with a kiss.
Derek looked at the man he considered one of his oldest friends. "Now do you see it?" Martin nodded. "Goot. I value your life too much to let you continue any plan that may get you eaten."
Martin sighed. "I've just been lonely, Derek. William's married, Ripper never visits anymore, I hardly ever see you." He looked over his friend's body. "There isn't even anyone I like on the mainland. You have Philip and now Alex, and even Ripper probably." His friend shook his head. "No?" he asked with a small smile.
"No, I don't have Ripper, but I will admit to having Philip and trying to capture Nick..." His voice trailed off with a happy smile.
"I envy you, Rayne, I really do," Martin said, patting his arm before he left the room.
Derek continued to contemplate his life and how lucky he really was.
Xander rolled out of the bed to go to the bassinet, dragging his feet. "Hey," he said, reaching down to get the baby. He blinked at the empty space then looked around. "Junior?" he called softly.
"Sorry." He wandered out of the bedroom, rubbing his eyes, and stole the baby back from whoever was holding him, wandering back to their room and slamming the door. He flinched at the one-eyed glare from his husband. "Sorry," he muttered. He checked his son over, and seeing nothing wrong, crawled them both into the bed next to his mate. "Nap, babe."
"Was trying to," Oz muttered, stealing the baby and rolling onto his other side. "Sleepy time, Junior," he whispered. He snuggled back into the body curling around him. "Night."
"Shh." Xander licked the back of his mate's neck, wrapping them tighter in his arms.
Derek's smile was very bright as he looked at his friend and closed the boys' door. "We'll take a water taxi," he whispered.
Derek smiled at Xander as he walked out with their son. "What's wrong with him?" he asked as he stole the baby to cuddle.
"She said to try goat's milk or a more easily digestible formula, like the new Gerber one." He smiled at his son. "Dad, gotta warn you, she's not for us having him," he whispered.
"We'll handle it," he told him, lifting his arm to let his son get a hug. "Is your husband in there arguing with her?"
"No," Oz said as he walked out, "just explaining things better." He sat on his husband's lap, looking at their son. "We're fine. Got the formula sample?" Xander nodded. "Gonna try that first or the goat's milk?"
"Both 'spensive, you pick."
Oz leaned down, putting his face close to his mate's. "She understands, we're okay." Xander simply nodded. "So why are you upset?" He had a sudden flash of understanding. "She just thought I was the biological 'rent." That got another nod. "Hey, I explained *everything* to her and we're okay." He stole a kiss as he got up, stealing his son. "Come on, want to talk to you. Pay them, dad." He pulled Xander outside, leaning him against the side of the car, the Spyder they had rented for their three days in Miami and had kept because they liked it so much after the Range Rover wrecked. "What?" he asked gently.
"She thought I was bad."
"No, she thought we had something strange and she was trying to simplify. She told me that she thought you were a good mommy." The slightly younger man rolled his eyes. "Get it now?"
"We're not what she's used to so she's simplifying to what she understands." His husband nodded. "So I'm not bad?"
"No, but you got placed in the femme role." The younger man shuddered. "I told her I was but she didn't believe me." He grinned slightly. "She even said you were pretty." Xander raised an eyebrow at that, an expression he had learned from his mate. "Of course I agreed with her." His husband kissed him, hard, turning them around.
"Boys," Derek said sharply, looking around.
Xander looked at his father, giving him a bland look. "We're doing normal stuff, quit fussing." He let his mate go, stealing his son back. "Okay, so store?"
"Formula and goat's milk both, we'll test." Oz opened the door, getting in and taking their child to strap him in.
Derek waited until they had pulled out onto the street to protest their actions. "Boys, you need to be more discreet."
Xander turned to look more directly at the older man, very serious. "Derek, we understand the sacrifices your generation made to give us the freedom we have, but it's our turn to fight for respect now and the only way our generation can get it is through exposure." The older man shook his head. "It is. The only way we'll get to be 'normal' is to prove to people that we are normal by exposing them to our lives and lifestyle."
"He's right, dad, the time to hide is past. If we continue to hide, we'll backslide." Oz pulled up in front of the store. "Be more open, Derek, help us break the stigma."
"I don't think I'm ready for that," Derek admitted but he was smiling. "Let's go get him something to help his stomach." He smiled at his family. "I just worry that people will try to harm you."
"Thought it was genetic," Oz muttered, getting out, mumbling about worriers as he took his son and went inside.
Xander walked in, grinning at the woman behind the counter that got them good formula usually. "We need to get a specific brand of formula because of his bad tummy." He pulled the sample packet out of his pocket. "Can you get us this kind?" She nodded, looking behind him. That's when he felt the gun barrel between his shoulder blades. "It's not like we carry cash," he said, turning around. He looked deeply into the man's eyes, seeing the fear there. "You don't want to do this," he told him quietly.
"No, but I'm sorry though." He shifted his weight, looking for an opening. Which Oz gave him by throwing a can of veggies at the freezer across the room. He grabbed the gun, pointing it at the floor with one hand as he punched him with the other. The man stared at him in shock until he was kneed in the stomach then hit on the back of his head so his face hit his hostage's knee. Xander let him drop, turning back to the store's owner. "So, how long before we can get some
She passed out.
Derek waited until both of his sons were in the car later to protest. "Xander," he said quietly, "don't do that again. You don't know what he might have done."
"Dad, shut up." At the shocked look he went on. "I saw his eyes, I *do* know what he was going to do and Nick was going to go insane with grief." He stared the older man down in the mirror. "Yes, it was risky, but necessary. I'd like to see our children grow up." He looked at Oz for support.
"Was risky, I'd like to see you grow old too," he followed it up with a kiss for the man driving. "You're too noble for your own good, babe. I don't like seeing you hurt."
"And I wasn't."
They shared an intense look at a stop sign and finally the younger man nodded. "Not unless it's necessary," he conceded.
"And I'll be with you," Oz promised. He looked back at his son, drinking happily in his car seat. "I think he likes goat."
"We'll keep the formula for times when we can't get any then," Xander told him, switching places with his father quickly during a stop light. "Yes we will, won't we?" he cooed as he buckled up beside the car seat, brushing a finger down the dark cheek.
Oz walked out onto the porch, touching Derek's shoulder gently to let him know he was there. "Was necessary," he noted.
"I don't want to lose him due to his heroics." He turned to look at the younger man. "I know he can handle himself but that doesn't stop the worry."
"Mine either." Oz looked down at his ring, twisting it back and forth, a bad habit he had picked up from his husband. "Was right though, we all coulda been killed." He looked back up at the older man. "He's protective of his pack, dad, and we're both in that group. We protect him just as much." The older man sighed and nodded. "Face it, we can't change his nature and we
wouldn't if we could because it would fundamentally change Xander." He patted his father-in-law's
shoulder, going back to where his husband was napping.
"That doesn't ease the ache of potentially losing him," Derek whispered, finishing off his drink.
Oz leaned over the still body, looking into the open eyes. "I don't want to lose you either," he whispered, watching the warm chocolate depths focus on him. "Promise?"
"I won't do it again unless I have to, Oz, I promise," Xander whispered, pulling his mate down to his chest. "I scared myself," he admitted quietly. "I don't know how I did it, or how I knew that you were tossing the diversion, or anything." He looked toward the cradle as his husband's body settled firmly on top of him. "It's like I was taken over again, this time by the soldier." He felt a kiss so turned back to his love's understanding eyes. "I need to work on my merge."
"Then we'll meditate together or something." He joined their hands. "It can only bring us closer."
"We have to find more hours in the day then." Xander wrapped his husband in his arms, squeezing him hard. "Between the kids, and work, and sex, well, we don't have any time left to sleep." He grinned at the tickle. "Or we're going to have to stop working." He smiled at the nip to his shoulder. "We need to go back to Vegas," he said, rolling them over to look down at his mate. "Not to tempt fate but to do that alone thing and have long strolls without someone kicking me each time I kiss you."
"We can do that at home and we can steal the guest house if we need to be by ourselves."
"Could move down there."
"Derek would kill us if we took the kids that far away from him." He looked up. "You really want to move all the way across the garden?"
"No, not always. It'd be nice to have the privacy, I guess anyway, but otherwise no."
"We could ask for that unfinished wing. I'm sure dad wouldn't mind us not waking him up all the time." They shared a soft, gentle kiss. "We'll have to plan for the kids splitting up anyway. Three kids in a room will be too much when they're older. And there are only two open rooms on our floor."
"Do you think the quad likes him?"
"Junior?" A small nod was given in the expanding dark. "Yes, or at least I hope they do." He looked up into the shadowed eyes. "Why? Did you see an acceptance problem?"
"From the quad." Xander lay down on the comforting and welcoming body, snuggling into it. "They were slow to accept Xandra too, though."
"Being together since before birth would make them elitists I guess." He kissed the top of his mate's head. "Xandra loves him."
"Oh, yeah. Got to get her to quit calling him the cocoa baby soon though."
"She only does it when no one's looking," Oz pointed out. "She's creating a template in her head for him."
"But it could easily hurt his self-stuff." He smiled at the small kiss. "I'll explain it to her when get back for the anniversary party."
"Yup, we will." Oz rolled them over, pouncing his husband. "But let's forget we have children, shall we?"
Junior started to do his pre-cry sniffle, forcing both dads to get up and look down at him. He accepted his pacifier back, quieting down immediately. He blinked as a third person leaned over him, bending down to pick him up.
"Spend some time alone, boys," Derek said, taking the baby out of the bedroom.
The young men walked back to the bed, laying down to nap and cuddle, a sorely missed treat in the last month.
Derek frowned at his sons as they wandered out for breakfast a week after the hostage incident. "Go back to bed," he said gently. Oz flipped him off, heading for the coffeepot. He took the pot from him, turning the young man around and giving him a gentle push. "Back to bed and take your mate." He looked around. "Xander?"
"Pool." Oz walked out, frowning at the man floating with the baby carrier on. "His head above water?" he called.
Xander looked down and frowned in confusion, pulling the top of the carrier out to look down at his son, then nodded. He stroked over, letting his husband take the carrier from him.
Oz looked down at his son as he started to cry. "No, you need to swim in a bath, not the pool, not old enough for that treat yet." He glared at Derek as he tried to take the child from him. "What!"
"Go to bed," he said gently, stealing his grandson. "Now." He looked at his son, swimming harder now. "You too. Bed."
"Just got up," Xander whined, getting out to hug his father and son. "Not...," he yawned, "sleepy, daddy."
"I'm sure you're not but Junior's kept you up the past three nights straight. Take your husband and go nap."
Xander shook his head, snuggling harder. "Not sleepy." He grinned as his husband joined him. "Nice huggies."
Derek rolled his eyes, inching toward a lounger in the shade, smiling as the boys followed, both snoring gently, their nude bodies clinging to each other and him, their heads on either side of the small body of their son as they all laid down together.
Derek woke up as a shadow moved across them. He grimaced at Nick and Rupert, but let Nick take the baby from him. Then he watched Xander blindly get up to follow his brother, smiling as he stole the baby back with a grunt, getting out of his way so they could all nap together on the lounger. He took the sheet from Rupert with a small smile, covering them from the sun that was beginning to intrude on the shadows around the chair. He followed the two men back inside, gratefully taking the juice from Nick and draining it while Rupert closed the sliding doors. "What's wrong?" he asked finally.
"You remember how Willow disappeared for a few hours after she delivered?" Nick asked, pulling Derek to the couch and sitting next to him. He got a silent nod so finished. "She's done it again. The Feds have her this time too." He saw the beginning frown so talked faster to ease it. "Derek, they're getting her to work for them."
"It also appears," Giles said quietly, "that whatever personality problem she'd been having was truly cured. William made note of it, asked Philip to evaluate her."
Derek leaned against the back of the couch, shaking his head, eyes closed. "Which Federal people, Nick?"
"Britain's. Her journal said she had been offered a position in their technical department because of her programming skills." He took the clenched fist in his, forcing it open to entwine their fingers. "She left the Legacy, Derek, her journal made that clear. It also contained a letter for the boys and another with her personal wishes in it."
Giles cleared his throat. "One of the statements was that she would keep her vow of secrecy. It also said that she would be happier there, doing what she loved, paying penance for what she'd done to the house and her family." He patted a tense arm carefully. "I thought the news might best come from me."
"Buffy wanted her there," Derek said quietly.
"She said she'd call." Rupert handed over the journal. "William said to give it to them for the children when they're older." He stood up. "I'll wait until they wake up since it looked like they were exhausted."
Xander cleared his throat from the doorway. "Us?" Giles nodded, holding out his arms and getting a hug. "What's up? Nick hurt my car?"
"No, bro, I said I wouldn't touch it and I haven't. Giles has." He grinned, accepting his hug, then looked down the bare body. "Oz tear all your clothes off you too often, none left?"
"Nope, we run around naked down here." He saw the book in his father's hands and sat down, hard, on the floor. "Who died?" he whispered.
"No one," Giles told him, pulling the younger man up and onto the couch beside him. "Willow was seduced from... us by the British government." He took the journal, handing it to his former student. "She stated she wanted you to have this, for when the children were older and to answer both of your questions."
Oz walked in, taking the book and silently sitting down in a chair to read it.
"Guys, where's the baby?" Nick asked. They looked at him in confusion so he got up with a nod to Derek, heading out to where they'd been napping, coming back with Junior, sitting next to Derek, as close as he could.
Xander got up to sit in his husband's lap and read with him but got a frown so stood up again. "I need to read it too," he pointed out.
"Later," Derek soothed. "Go make yourself decent." He saw the embarrassed flush as his son walked down the hall. "He was right, Oz, he needs to read it also, if only to get closure." The younger man glared at him, getting up and walking out onto the porch to get some privacy.
Giles silently got up, heading after him. He closed the sliding doors behind himself, sitting on the other end of the porch swing. "The last three entries are truly pertinent," he said quietly when he saw him starting at the beginning. "She managed to become herself again also." Oz just looked at him. "When she was rushed to the hospital that night while she was carrying Xandra, one of the nurses tried to heal her using magic, starting a small imbalance. When we all fell victim to Rachel's spell, her journal states that she felt herself being possessed and tried to stop it with her abilities. That would have been right before the crash. It says she recently figured out that she was carrying a kernel of a demon in her. It left a contamination in her, very much like the Hyena and soldier did to Xander, but it was enough to alter her dramatically." The younger man nodded. "All our prayers before Junior's birth freed her from it." He touched the book with a single finger. "Her behavior before was what put the wedge between all of you, but she did claim responsibility, she said she knew what she was doing and gave into the contamination instead of fighting it."
"So it was all her?"
Giles nodded. He took the journal from the moving hand before it could go flying. "You both need to read it, to gain closure from this tragedy at least." He got up, going inside again, heading to where Xander was feeding the baby. "I'll keep it until you're ready." The young man glared at him. "Would you like to read it now?"
"No, I want to burn it." He followed his mate's retreat to their bedroom with his eyes. "She had to hurt us more?" he asked quietly, getting up to put the baby to bed. Oz rolled away from him when he walked in, and his shoulders slumped. "I'm going to go think on the beach. He's fed and clean." Xander walked out, heading for their special spot. The one where they had been married.
Derek finished reading the journal, letting it fall onto the couch beside him before he could throw it. He took the tea Rupert fixed him, drinking it slowly to calm himself.
"I wanted to curse her," Giles admitted.
Derek chuckled weakly. "I think between us it would be most effective. Did either of them actually read it?"
"Oz started at the beginning and Xander's not been able to pull himself out of his shock yet." Derek glanced at the window. "Yes, he's still down on the beach. In the waves the last time I checked." He watched as Oz walked out to get a drink, following his short, quick movements carefully. "Would you like to talk about it?" The younger man shook his head, going back to his bedroom, staying silent.
"This was probably the only thing that could tear them apart," Derek noted. He stood up, putting down the cup. "I'll start with Oz." He walked back to the couple's bedroom, knocking lightly as he walked in. "It might help if you talked about it," he said gently.
"You or me?" the younger man asked, not rolling over to face him.
"You and Xander both." He sat on the empty side of the bed, not forcing Oz to look at him. "He's just as upset."
"For different reasons." He flipped over. "Where is he anyway?"
"The beach still. Rupert said he was sitting in the surf." He patted a tense arm. "If you need us, we're here. Giles and Nick will be around for another week." His son-in-law nodded so he stood up, walking out. He headed down to where his son sat in the waves, wincing as a wave crested against the bare chest, walking the last few yards quickly. "Xander?"
"Not here. Go 'way."
Derek shook his head, sitting down on some nearby rocks. "Come back from the water, son, before you drown."
"Tide's going out, not in." He curled up on himself, pulling his knees up to rest his chin on them. "Why'd she do it?"
"A contamination. Your wish cured her of it." That got a small nod from the otherwise still body. "Come inside and get warm," Derek said. "Talk to your mate."
"He doesn't want to." Xander sighed and lay back in the surf. "I'll be up soon."
"No, I need you up there now," Derek told him, "before you drown." The younger man simply blinked at him. "Please, son, come up and get warm at least." His son shook his head, flipping over to draw in the sand with a finger.
Rupert touched Derek's shoulder as he walked past him. "Xander," he said softly. "Do come up to the house. Your son and your husband need you."
"Junior hates me and Oz will find me when he's ready," he mumbled, drawing another stick finger in the sand. "Go 'way."
Derek and Rupert shared a look, walking back up the house together.
Nick grimaced as he walked out to find his brother sleeping on the couch for the fourth morning in a row, and now he was sniffling. He walked over to look down at the younger man. "Having problems?"
"Don't want to make the baby sick," Xander mumbled, flipping onto his side and sitting up. He quickly unmade his bed, heading to his bedroom to store the bedding, showering and changing while he was in there. By the time he made it back out, Derek was up. He sat at the table, careful to keep the miniature orange tree between them. "Are we getting more stuff to work on today?" He saw the older man shrug since his mouth was full.
"Not that I'm aware of but we've just started on the wider sections." Derek looked around the tree at his son. "Why don't you and Oz take a day off? Head to Miami? I can handle the baby."
"No thanks." Xander nodded at his brother as he put a plate of food in front of him, picking at it. He glanced up as Oz walked in but quickly went back to tearing the fatty parts out of the bacon.
Derek cleared his throat. "Oz, why don't you and Xander go the Miami for the day? Give yourselves a break from your thoughts."
"No." Oz looked at his husband. "Eat," he said quietly.
"No thanks," Xander said, pushing the plate away as he stood up. "I'm going into town. I'll eat later." He grabbed the rental car's keys from the board by the door and his wallet and phone from the basket underneath it, slamming the door after him. He was waiting on the ferry when Oz tapped him on the shoulder, silently handing him his watch then walking away. "I'd listen," he reminded his husband.
"Yeah, I know. Not ready yet." Oz stopped to look at his husband. "I'm just feeling a little drifty." Xander nodded. "You okay?"
"No." Oz nodded, going back to his walking toward the house. "But I wish you'd listen too," Xander whispered, sitting down on the end of the dock to wait on the ferry.
Derek cornered Oz in the workroom, taking the logbook from his fingers and putting it down. "Talk to me, Oz, let me help."
"Deep down I thought she'd come back," he said quietly. "It was a stupid hope but it was there, ya know?" He looked at the older man, seeing the understanding in his eyes. "I don't know about us anymore because she built us, and now she's knocked the foundation out from under us because of what she did and said." He stepped into the open arms. "I can't even begin to deal with his pain yet."
"Then let us deal with both of yours."
Xander looked at the cellphone in his hands, blinking at it. He didn't remember pulling it out of its sheath or dialing but it was ringing. He put it up to his ear, listening to see who answered. "Philip?" he asked quietly. "No, we're fine, just a small mental crisis." He curled up on the bench, putting his head down on his raised knee. "Yeah, her. No, he can't see past his." He laughed cheerlessly. "Oh, I know, but if I hear that chorus one more time I'm going to scream." He nodded, pounding his forehead on his kneecap because it felt good. "Yeah, she was like my sister. Now I've lost two of my anchors and I'm more than drifting." Short pause. "No, I think coming back might be the worst thing. I don't think..." He snorted. "Maybe." He nodded, sitting up and bracing his forehead on the palm of his hand, his elbow on his knee. "I think I just needed someone who understood. Thanks." He hung up, putting his head back down and covering it with his arm.
Derek watched his son retreat to the couch again that night and followed him, sitting him down before he could make the couch into a bed. "Talk to me son," he said quietly.
"I'm just feeling lost," he whispered, leaning against the offered chest, needing the hug he was getting.
"Oz feels the same."
"Yeah, but I have more built-in problems here." Derek looked confused. "I've known her since I was four, she's like my sister." Derek simply nodded so he patted his hand. "Don't worry about it, dad, go back to bed." Derek got up, wandering back to his bed while his son made his own.
Oz looked down at the ocean from the top of the small bluff, watching the waves in their eternal struggle to break free of the mass.
Xander cleared his throat. "That part's unstable, you need to scoot back," he reminded. The tense body moved back a few feet, so he continued on his way down to the beach to sit alone.
Oz tracked him as he came back into his line of vision, silently watching as Xander sat in the surf to think. He let his thoughts drift out of his own pain to the pain they shared. He knew that the younger man was feeling the same pain he was, even for the same reason, but he didn't want to share it. And Xander wasn't a sharer by nature. He cleared his throat. "Wanna talk?" he called just loud enough to be heard. The younger man shook his head after a second. So he stood up, walking to down to be closer to him. "I do."
"I can listen," Xander said, not turning around.
"Yeah, but I don't know what to say."
"Yeah, she hurt me. I'm still hurting over sending her away." Oz looked down at his rings, running his fingers across the stones. "I know there was something in her, changing her into that hard and bitter person, but I kept seeing her as the same woman I started dating six years ago." He cleared his throat again to let the words flow pas the pain. "I realize that's why I ignored what she became."
"It's hard to see changes in those you love."
"Yeah, but I was willfully ignorant. And now all I see was that was fear. I was so scared that she was pulling away from me and that I'd lose her."
"Not recently." Oz looked up at his husband's tense back. "Want to put this off?" The younger man shook his head, still watching the waves. "How are you getting rid of the anger?"
"Haven't yet." Xander shifted so he was curled up, chin on knees again. "You?"
"Me either. Well, I'm trying to let it bleed off into the air but it's not working real well." He stopped at the grunt. "You sure you don't want to talk?"
"Would you actually understand?"
"I could try but maybe not." The older man shifted to get more comfortable on his rock. "Anger is a great, comfy blanket right now. I don't think I could give it up yet." Xander nodded. "It just feels better to be angry at her. I don't think that I *could* give it up if I had to, actually. I mean, she *left* us, me *and* the kids both, like she didn't care if we ever existed, like she didn't know we were still here waiting for her." He took a deep shuddering breath. "I just can't make the two Willow's jive with her running like that." He saw the small nod from his husband and went on. "I'm not sure if I'm angry with her or me though. Her for just dropping us, or me for not calling her on it when this all started." He chuckled without feeling. "But I used to have these same feelings about you."
"No, I'm over the leaving thing."
"But you still blame me for this."
"Do not! I *know* this isn't your fault!" Xander shook his head. "Yes, I know... Oh, the 'you started the split' part." The younger man nodded. "But that was protective." He took a deep breath before going on. "I'm not going to blame you for wanting her gone, I agreed then and I do now that it was right to send her away."
"So why are you angry about that?"
Oz thought for a few minutes. "Because I didn't see sooner that she needed it," he admitted. "Not because we did it but because I failed to take action maybe." He shrugged. "I'm still not mad at you."
"Lying is bad, Oz," Xander reminded him quietly.
"I'm not mad at you."
"If you weren't, you wouldn't push me away," Xander said, getting up and walking away, still not able to look at his mate.
Oz sighed, going back to watching the waves as he thought about what his husband had said.
Xander walked into the grotto created in the trees, trying to find a new comfortable spot to think, but he felt cut off, that numbing feeling that meant he was alone again. He headed back toward the house, sitting and watching the pool. He tried to fight the call of the water, not wanting to go back to the old ways of coping, but the water glittered and called out to him with a silent promise of letting him release all the pain and anger and not getting mad at him for it. Before he knew it, he was sliding naked into the cool water, shivering slightly at the difference between the sun on his shoulders and the temperature of the water around his hips. He fought off the urge to dive down and start a lap, instead rolling onto his back to watch the clouds as he floated.
"Get out of the pool!" Derek yelled from a window. "In the office. NOW!"
He climbed out of the pool, looking around for his clothes. He slid back into his shorts and hooded fleece jacket, walking slowly toward his summoner. "You yelled?" he asked quietly, not looking at the older man.
"We agreed that..." Derek started.
"Hold it right there," Xander said coldly, looking up. "Yes, we agreed if you *found* me doing something *harmful* you would intervene. I was successfully fighting off the urge when you yelled." Derek's mouth started to open. "Oh, don't *even*. You have to trust me to know myself *sometime*." He turned around, walking out of the room. "I'm going to go do *ten* laps then take a shower before supper." He nodded at Giles as he walked past him.
Giles cleared his throat. "It doesn't start as injurious, Derek, it builds and snaps. We simply need to be more aware." He smiled sadly. "Of both of them."
Oz walked to the edge of the pool. "What number is that?"
"Six," Xander said as he flipped, "going on seven." He stopped at the edge of the pool, looking up at him. "Why?"
"Because I heard Derek's yell." The younger man rolled his eyes, back-stroking away. "You sure it's not?"
"I'm not having this conversation."
"Yes, we are," Oz told him, sitting on the lip of the pool.
"No, we're not. I'm not hurting myself by doing this." Xander flipped over, front-stroking back. "Trust, it's a good thing," he said, coming up in front of his husband. "We clear?"
"I do trust you, just not your subconscious mind." He patted the dark, wet hair. "Can I talk?"
"Sure, let me finish my ten, but I'll listen." He backstroked away again.
"You were right, there is some anger in there for you." Xander nodded, flipping over. "But it's irrational."
"Most of it is," Xander noted.
"Oh, I know, that's why I'm weeding it out." Oz reached down to tap a shoulder. "I'm sorry."
"For being pissed that I wasn't man enough to stand up to her?" There was no emotion in his voice.
"For needing to be saved," Oz agreed with a small wince, "but that also. I realize that's why I've been pushing you away. You and Junior both." He blinked, not sure if he saw the pain flow across the expressive eyes or not. "I'm trying hard not to hold his or Xandra's conception against them, but every time I see them it's apparent. More so when I look at Junior." His husband nodded. "Can you handle that for a while?"
"Yeah, I can do that," Xander said quietly. He started a slow lap, sill looking at the slightly older man. "Nick's been dealing with him since he got here." Oz nodded, glancing toward the house. "I'll bring the bassinet with me tonight."
"No, stay with me tonight," Oz whispered, catching his mate's head to look into his eyes. "I need you tonight."
"Then I'll be there."
Xander rolled away from the back turned against him, looking at the cradle. Junior must have been wiggling again because it was rocking, so he got up, walking over to look down at the only innocent in their fight. He smiled gently, catching a hand to let it grip his finger. "Do you want attention?" he whispered. Junior grunted so he picked him up, carrying him back to the bed. He tucked the baby against his bare chest, stroking the soft arm and face, soothing both of them to sleep.
Oz rolled onto his back, looking at his husband's back, which was facing him. He flipped onto his side, curling around the still body, putting his head on the welcoming shoulder to look down at the younger man's body. What he saw took his breath away.
Junior was cuddled up next to Xander, suckling gently on a bare nipple. He blinked up at his father, pulling back to grunt at him.
"Wow," Oz whispered, catching a waving hand. "Morning, Junior. Was he nummy?"
Xander grunted, shifting back against his husband's body. "Hey."
"How long have you been doing that?" Oz asked, touching the not-used nipple.
"Started when I was taking care of Serena," Xander admitted. "Just a little then."
"More with Xandra?" He got a small nod. "How often do you feed him?" He brushed over the nursing baby's head.
"Serena used to latch on when I wasn't careful so I started to produce more and more. He only gets it once a day, usually for lunch."
"Wondered why you disappeared with him," Oz whispered, letting him go. "Flip over, let him finish."
"If I do, I'll start to produce more."
"Did you ask?"
"Yeah, I called Marcus while you were in the shower in South Beach." He pulled the baby off with a small grunt from both of them. "Do that later, son."
"However you want," Oz told him, taking the baby. "Can't be more than a snack."
"Just a few ounces, almost a meal for him right now." Xander rolled over, watching his husband burp the baby. "Can I do the talking thing?"
"Sure, I guess it's mostly the same stuff."
"Not quite. There's a lot more clouding me."
"Forgot about the prior friendship," Oz admitted.
"Yeah, but there's still more. She was *so* much more than my best friend." Xander cuddled closer, kissing the side of the baby's head. "She was my protector, my defender when people got mean. She was the one that cleaned the cuts and scrapes, that iced the bruises, the one that let me get the anger out by yelling at her without saying a word back." He accepted the baby back. "And yeah, I had those pesky lust feelings but I backed off of both of you because I didn't want to lose the only real family I had." He looked into his husband's eyes, seeing the pain and confusion still there. "Never mind, we can deal with this when you're ready." He looked down at his son. "Two days of this and suddenly you have no more bad tummies? We'll just have to remember this, huh, Junior."
Oz went with the topic change, for now. "Only two days?"
"I noticed it when we escaped last week and I thought for a few days because I knew I'd get caught eventually." He straightened the few pieces of hair on the baby's scalp. "We tried three days ago but he thought it was a pacifier because nothing came out at first. He got this big, wide-eyed look when he first tasted the milk, got kinda scared, but I convinced him I was as nummy as any goat."
"Did you love her?" Oz asked quietly.
"No, I was more worried about losing her. I didn't want to screw *you* up too..." He stopped as the hand covered his mouth.
"Yes or no?" He removed the hand, looking into the dark eyes for the truth.
"Her, no. You, yes." Xander took a deep breath. "You for a long time."
"Then we're okay?" His husband nodded. "I *need* the words, Xan."
The younger man rolled to face him. "I love you, Oz, and we're fine as long as you still are." He saw the small nod and smile. "Want to expand that maybe?"
"We're fine and I love you both." They kissed gently, then he kissed the sleeping baby's head. "We'll all be fine soon."
Derek watched his son cuddle Junior while he made notes, shaking his head. "Are you sure you don't want the carrier?"
"No, we're about to break for lunch." Xander stood up, stretching his back with a small groan. "Later, Derek." He walked out of the workroom, heading out to the shaded area around the pool where Oz had agreed to meet him today. Planning to be observed, he pulled a big lounger into the shade, setting his son down while he pulled off his shirt, using it to support his lower back as they cuddled together. He positioned the baby, letting him latch on as his husband walked over to watch them both.
Derek went for a glass of juice, opening the refrigerator door and pulling out the pitcher but stopped when he saw the prepared bottle on the door shelf. He quickly poured his juice, heading into the office - which had a full view of the pool area - looking around for his family as he drank. What he saw made him choke and spit his juice all over the opened window. His son? Nursing? He looked at the glass he held, sniffing it to make sure it wasn't tainted or spoiled, then went back to watching Xander nurse Junior as naturally as Willow used to. He set down his glass, not wanting it in his hand when he confronted them, and headed out to where they sat. He cleared his throat so he wouldn't startle them. "Was there something you wanted to tell me?" he asked pointedly as he sat on the end of his son's chair.
"Why? Didn't tell you with Serena or Xandra," Xander asked, shrugging. He grinned at the shocked look. "Serena started it off, she used to latch onto me like I was her pacifier. Apparently she did it so much I started to lactate." He pulled Junior off with a small grunt of pain. "Here, you burp, I'll soothe panic," he said as he handed the baby off to Oz. He turned back to his father. "Don't have much and it's all okay, Marcus said." Derek nodded mutely. "Okay, I think we topped his strange meter," he told Oz.
"Probably not." He handed Junior back. "Ready for more and no bad bellies." He watched them for a second then turned to his father-in-law. "Weird but I can blindly accept."
"As can I accept this miracle," Derek said gently, "but I'd like to have a reason for my logical side." He shook his head, standing up. "There are shots..." he started until his son glared.
"No!" he said slowly and clearly, "I'm not giving this up." Derek nodded, walking away. "I'm not," he told Oz defensively.
"Then we won't look for reasons until he's weaned," Oz told him. "I'll go calm the panic, let him finish lunch." He found Derek pacing in front of the camera in the workroom, talking with Philip. "Bye," he said, waving as he shut the link off. "Drop it until he's ready to give it up."
"Xander won't and we both know that."
Derek stopped pacing, looking at the younger man in shock. "You want to wait a *year*?"
"He did Serena and Xandra," Oz reminded him. "And hey, I agree it's freaky, but not harmful. We'll deal." He hit the code to reestablish the link, walking back out. "Secrets, Derek, very good things in families." He waved at Philip as his image reappeared.
Derek sat down, shaking his head. "All three of them?" he asked quietly, holding his throbbing head.
Philip laughed lightly. "He's your son, anything's possible with you Rayne's." He laughed harder at the glare.
Derek kept glancing across the table at his son, eating slowly while he thought. Finally, Xander had had enough. "What?" he asked, dropping his fork.
"I'm just thinking," Derek retorted quietly.
Nick looked from one man to the other. "Want to clue the rest of us in here, since we were all out on the dig earlier?"
"No," Oz said, looking over at his son then going back to his supper.
"It's a Xander/Oz problem," Xander explained. "Derek just got in the middle of it."
Giles wiped his mouth then put down his napkin. "It distresses us all that you two are fighting still." He picked up the younger husband's hand to look at the ring on the third finger. "I had hoped that the vows, yours and ours, made that day were meant for more than two months." He let the hand drop.
"Not the Willow problem, though we're still in the middle of it." He glanced at his husband.
Xander looked at his brother, the only one in the house besides Buffy who had ever caught him. "I'm lactating again."
Nick nodded. "Okay. If you want to borrow my t-shirts again to hide it, or your man-breasts, just yell." He looked at the two older men, grinning at their shocked expressions. "I caught him with Serena in the garden."
"Buffy caught me with her too," Xander noted. "Took me a very long time to convince her not to turn me in." He shrugged. "Serena latched on when I wasn't careful. After two months of that four or five times a day she was snacking on me." He took a bite of his supper. "I started producing for Xandra when I got off the steroids, and yes, I checked with Marcus." Derek nodded for him to go on. "I noticed real production the day we escaped the storm so it's probably been going on since Vegas."
"Wonder if it would apply a child not born to Willow," Nick said.
"No," Oz said calmly. "We have six."
"I was thinkin' more like an Alex or a Buffy pregnancy." Derek shuddered. "It's possible," Nick justified.
"Buffy's fixed," Xander said, "but she was talking about reversing it after..." He let it trail off, they all knew what was coming up in just under eight month's time.
"I'll get her a goot referral," Derek told him, "but that is an interesting thought. You claimed Xandra and Junior so that may be the dependent variable."
"No," Oz said, a little more firmly.
"Relax, hypotheticals here," Xander soothed. "I agree, we have enough. Even Jonathan said so."
Derek shook his head. "That man would gladly take on ten more and be just as happy."
"Not on this plane of existence," Oz argued, starting to send heated looks at his father-in-law.
"Oz, we wouldn't dream of adding to your family," Giles told him. "We believe six is more than enough also."
Nick looked at his brother with a big, wicked grin. "Just warn us if *you* get the urge to get pregnant, bro." Then he ducked Oz's thrown steak knife, looking at where it embedded itself in the miniature orange tree in the center of the table. "Joke!"
"Stop it! I'm not a girl. This is why I didn't tell you," Xander said, getting up and heading for his room, slamming and locking the door.
Oz knocked on his door again, rolling his eyes at the muffled noises on the other side of the wood. "Let me in, I want to sleep too," he called. The door was unlocked so he walked in, putting the baby into the bassinet with a stroke down his dark skin, then turned to look at the man on the bed. "Talk?" he offered.
"Sure, I'll listen," Xander said listlessly.
"I meant you talking," Oz said as he pulled off his outer clothes, crawling in behind him. "It was a joke."
"But there's something to it. I'm gender-bending majorly here. Maybe I should take the stopping-it shot."
"You'll miss the closeness you're building with Junior." He stroked over the bare chest, circling a distended nipple. "Are they much bigger?"
"You think I'm a freak too," Xander said, sliding out of the bed and heading out onto the back porch, going to hide in one of the loungers in the deepest shadow he could find. He snuggled down, curling into a miserable little human ball.
"Come on, Xander," Oz called from the back porch, looking around but not seeing him. "Come back to bed, Xan, before your son wakes up."
"Junior is both of yours," Derek said as he walked out to join him. "Xander, it's supposed to rain tonight."
"Yay," he called softly. "Take Junior tonight."
"No, get in here," Oz called. "You promised to help me with this." There was no answer. "Xander?"
"Oz, go sit in the living room, I'll be in to talk to you in a moment." Derek waited until he was alone with the sliding door shut. "Xander?"
"Don't *ever* joke about that!" Derek said hotly. He looked toward where the voice was coming from. "Come inside, son. We need you to."
"Son, we'd like to talk to you."
"Yay." There was a sigh from the shadows. "I'll be in later."
Derek walked back inside, looking at where his son-in-law and Nick were talking. "Are you happier?" he asked snidely.
"Leave them alone, Father," floated in through the open doors.
"Derek stay out of this one," Nick said. "I need to apologize, and Oz needs to too."
Giles walked out, rubbing his eyes. "What happened this time?"
Oz stood up, walking outside, closing the door behind him. He headed for the deepest shadow, knowing his prey liked to hide himself, moving carefully to sit on the end of the lounger. "You're not female. Even if you grew breasts and an extra hole. None of us see you as remotely femme. You should just accept this as curiosity from us."
"I can't do that," Xander said quietly. "All I hear are 'freak' comments."
"Did *she* tell you that when she found out?" He saw the small nod, his eyes adjusted to the darkness around them now. "She was wrong. This is just a quirk of nature. You're not a freak, never have been." His breath caught as his mate piled into him, clutching him tightly. "Hey, this is nothing. I'm considering this a gift, no matter how it happened," he whispered, squeezing back.
"After Willow got her powers," Xander explained quietly, "she did this ceremony thing where she proclaimed me to be her brother before the Goddess. It was really intense, gave us a real connection to the other. I started to feel that way again when she was pregnant."
Giles cleared his throat. "That spell wouldn't have caused this, Xander, though it may have primed the pump as it were. In all cases known of male lactation, most in the animal kingdom, the male is the primary or only caregiver. Or he feels that way."
"So he knew even back then that she needed help or wasn't doing good enough?"
"Yes, Oz. The quad was given as much attention as possible, especially when they started supplementing them with bottles as her milk production became too little to support them." He patted his former student's arm. "With each one it simply got easier as you became more experienced and your body became more used to its new role, and accepted the situation as a necessary reality."
"So I'm not a freak?"
"No, Xan, this was just an act of love for the kids." Oz kissed his temple. "Now, let's go inside and talk alone." He stood up, holding out a hand. "I won't make you talk to Derek or Nick," he offered when it wasn't taken.
Xander took the hand, letting himself be pulled up and led back to their room, ignoring the men in the living room. He checked the baby before lying down stiffly, looking up at the ceiling.
"Relax," Oz sighed, letting himself down gently on top of the tense shoulder and chest. "I'm not going to make you talk."
"Why didn't you understand?" Xander finally whispered into the silent room.
"Because I wasn't there and I'm not you. I can only approximate and guess." He forced his fingers in between his mate's to link their hands. "Same as you can't understand all that I felt for her."
"So how do we cure this?"
"We talk to the others."
"They don't understand. All I get is 'but Oz loved her and you need to concentrate on his pain'." He relaxed slightly. "No one gets it. Philip tried but he couldn't understand either."
"She was your sister, your best friend, and someone who influenced your life that you were willing to do anything she wanted and overlook everything she did wrong," Oz whispered. "She was your anchor to sanity for your entire life and now it's gone."
"And I'm drifting. You've let me go, Derek did when he couldn't understand, Nick and everyone did too. My only anchor is the kids."
"And you're scared."
"Yeah," Xander admitted. "Terrified that they'll reject me because I'm not Willow, then I'll really be alone."
"You know I'm not leaving you." Xander shook his head. "You don't?" Oz asked, pulling himself up to look down at his husband's too-calm face. "I'm not leaving. Not ever. There is almost nothing you could do to make me leave you."
"Unless you decided to go. And you have." Xander got his hand loose, rolling onto his side.
"Excuse me? Am I not here?" Xander shook his head so he looked down at himself. "I'm not?"
"No," he mumbled.
"Huh." Oz watched his husband play with his ring then looked down at his own. He did the bravest, and the most stupid, thing in his life, taking it off and putting it in his husband's hand. "If I left then you'll need this," he whispered.
Xander stilled in shock, looking at the intricate design of the stones. When he could breathe again, he got up, wandering out of their bedroom, heading out to where he could hear Derek's voice. "I..." he cleared his throat, the ring clutched tightly in his fist. "I need a sabbatical," he said quietly.
Derek looked up in alarm. "NO!" He jumped up, grabbing his son's arms to keep him from moving. "You are *not* leaving again."
"I just need some time alone."
Oz walked out, looking at them. "What?" he asked calmly.
"Are you going to allow your mate to leave you?"
"If that's what he needs to figure all this out, yes." He walked around to look at his husband's face. "And if he wants to give me my ring back when he figures out I'm still here for him, I'll take it." He walked back toward his bedroom.
Derek frowned at the man he considered his son. "I will *not* allow this to happen. Go talk to him."
"You can't leave."
Xander looked up, eyes blazing. "You can't stop me, all you can do is kick me out."
Derek did something he had promised himself and his son that he would never do. He hit his child, knocking him out. "You're not leaving," he promised quietly. "I won't allow you to screw up your family again."
"He'll hate you for that," Nick said from the kitchen.
"Until he realizes I'm right." Derek looked around. "Take him into their room and lock them in there so they have to work this out."
Nick put down his glass, coming over to pick his brother up off the floor, carrying him back to his room, kicking open the door and silently placing the body on the bed.
Derek stood in the doorway. "Work this out, Oz, I won't allow you two to ruin my family." He waited until Nick was out to close the door, chanting quietly to lock it.
Giles clapped from the doorway of his bedroom. When both of the other men glared at him, he shrugged. "You know this will only make it worse, correct? Xander can't see past his own pain. Oz can't understand what his husband lost, possibly even if he wasn't in pain himself. This may just backfire on you again." He walked back into his room, closing the door solidly.
Nick patted Derek's arm. "He's right but I'll stand beside you again." He headed for the room he'd been sharing with Derek, ignoring the quiet words his friend was saying.
Derek undid the magical lock, walking into the room and shutting the door. "They just made me see that it was wrong to leave you two alone," he explained. He turned as he felt the door relocked with magic. "Rupert," he growled.
"Go to hell," Xander said quietly from his seat in the corner. "I don't want you here."
"No, you don't want to be here. Where's my ring?" Oz asked. The younger man shrugged. "Derek?"
"I didn't see it fall, where was he hiding it?"
"His hand." Oz got up, walking over to where his husband was trying to back away from him. "I'm not going to hurt you, but I realize I screwed us up worse when I did that." He held out his hand. "Put it back on me." Xander shook his head and for the first time, Oz felt his world crumble around him. "No?" he whispered, sitting down hard on the floor.
"You *gave* it back to me, Oz, why should I accept that you won't do it again?" Xander asked coldly. "You made yourself clear, you don't want me." He looked at the older man as he approached. "You, go away, and stay away from my son." He backed away from the hand trying to touch him. "NO!"
"Shh," Oz said, pulling himself back together. "Neither of us will harm you." He reached out, touching a tense calf, wincing as he felt the muscles turn into the steel-like substance that meant he was so hurt that he couldn't do anything else. "Relax," he whispered. "No one in here will hurt you." He hopped up, walking over to the cradle and picking up Junior, bringing him back. "I'm sorry," he said, handing him over. "He's yours." He sat down, watching his husband check the baby over. "Derek, I messed this up worse," he said, leaning against the body behind him. "I tried to snap him out of it and I destroyed everything we've ever had."
"It's still there," Derek reminded him, "it's just buried a little deeper." He watched his son, cuddling his son's mate, ignoring the tears they were both shedding.
Xander glanced up under his lashes, seeing his husband and father crying over his harshness. He looked back down at his son, seeing the absolute love in the dark blue eyes, the safety they held for him, and he felt something inside him break. "I hate you both," he muttered, "even if I do love you."
Oz inched closer, feeling Derek move with him. "I know you do, this was all my bad," he said, trying to reach out to his mate again, wanting, needing, to touch him, get some comfort from him. "I promised not to turn into her and I've done worse over the last week than she could ever do." He looked from the baby up to his husband's eyes, seeing the pain in there, and knew he had to do something drastic now. He moved quickly, grabbing Derek's pocketknife before he knew what he was doing. He opened it, holding it out. "Here," Oz said, holding out a bare wrist when the blade was taken. "I deserve it."
Xander tossed the knife away, not watching it fly into the bathroom. "I'm not her," he told him, eyes blazing with anger. "First you push me away then you want me to hurt you, make you leave me? Are you that anxious to get rid of me?"
"No," Oz whispered, scooting closer. "I want to stay, need you to stay with me, but I thought it might help if you did something to hurt me back. More than what you've done so far." He managed to hug the younger man's side. "I hurt you, and us, more than my life is worth and I needed to make it up to you somehow."
Xander shoved him off. "Get off me," he snarled. "You don't have the right to leave anymore. You pushed *me* away, not the other way around. Both of you." He met Derek's eyes, the icy fire of grief in his own. "This is still all about you. Well, what about me? You're leaving me. You're pushing me away." He backed away from his husband's soothing body. "Go away. You don't want me and you didn't before. You were with me because Willow talked you into it." He saw Oz collapse from his knees into Derek's lap. "Happier now?"
"No," Oz whispered. "Never without you."
Xander looked back down at his son's still form, checking him over again. "Yeah, we'll be fine together, won't we, Junior?" he asked softly, rubbing the child's stomach and chest. "Just you and me and my car."
"Son," Derek started but he had to dodge the kick.
"You don't have that right anymore," Xander told him, not looking up.
Oz swallowed, picking his ring up off their child's stomach and handing it back to his mate. "I want this back," he whispered, "and I promise to try to see your side of the pain." Xander looked deeply into his eyes then tossed the ring back at him. "You know I can't put it on myself," he reminded him. "That's your job."
"I'm not ready for that yet," Xander said honestly. "And I won't be until you see what you've done." He went back to mumbling to his son.
Derek gave Oz a hug then moved far enough away so Xander couldn't focus on him totally. "Would you let me hold Junior for a few minutes? Just this one last time?" Xander shook his head. "I deserve that much, son, no matter what I've done." He saw the hesitation. "I'm not taking him, nor will I turn him against you, I just want to hold him while you two talk for a few minutes. I don't think that he needs to be in the middle," he said honestly. He made a sour face as he felt the essence and energies of magic floating around them. "I'll hurt Rupert for this," he muttered, looking at his son again. "Giles just put a truth spell on this room. You know I won't hurt him, never would hurt him. Just let me take him to the bed so he's not between the two of you." Xander shook his head. "You'll be able to see him, I'll put him across the bottom of the bed so he's never out of your sight," he offered.
Oz held out his arms. "He doesn't need to witness this," he said quietly. "Let me give him to Derek for a while."
Xander's whole body slumped and he handed the baby over, crawling into the bathroom to be truly alone now. He shut the door just as Oz got to it, leaning his drained body against the wood. "Why me?" he asked quietly.
Oz laid his head against the door, closing his eyes. "Xander, I'm not leaving you," he called. "I'm still here and I'm staying." He listened to the man inside, hearing the quiet sounds of his breaking down. "Damn." He stood up, forcing his way inside, closing the door so he could sit in his husband's lap and hold him. "I'm so sorry," he whispered, letting his own pain out. "I didn't want to make you think I was leaving you, just wanted to give you the option to go think without pressure." He brushed back the now damp hair he'd been resting against. "Xan, I didn't want to kill either of us, but it will if we can't work it out. I know that, in here," he touched the younger man's chest. "Neither of us will survive this split."
"I'm already alone," Xander whispered, pulling away but not looking up.
"You're never alone, never again. I will be here. Beside you, always," Oz promised, putting the ring back in his mate's limp hand. "I want to take her place in your life, let you take the chosen spot in my heart." The younger man looked up at him in shock. "I *love* you, more than I ever could her. And I realize that now that I lost you. I can see now how lost and alone you felt, how drifty and let loose. I never meant it that way though." He kissed the warm forehead. "I just want to love you, to cling to you as a source of love and joy and happiness." He pulled back to look into the well of pain that used to be his favorite set of eyes to stare into. "Yours is the heart I want to beat with mine. I never wanted to let you go, I just thought you wanted the space."
"I wanted an anchor," Xander whispered. "Not to be set fully adrift."
"Hey, never letting you go again." He hugged his husband hard, clinging to him, feeling the rightness of the action. "This is where I belong. You're the only family I need, well besides the kids, but the only family that matters to me is the one we have together." Xander nodded, and he felt his ring being slipped back on his finger. "You sure you're ready for that again?" he whispered into the dark hair.
"I want you, Oz. You're the family I need. Just never leave me alone again." He finally looked up into his husband's eyes, seeing the pain and love in them. "'m sorry," he mumbled, burying his head in the older man's chest.
"No, I am. I wasn't there when you needed me, didn't pay any attention at all to what this was doing to you." He rubbed down the solid back. "I won't do that again. My pain is your pain and yours is mine." A glint of metal caught his eyes so he picked up the knife, weighing it in his hands. "Xander, I want to bind myself to you," he whispered, pulling back. "I want to do this the right way. You and me forever." He looked down at his hands then at his husbands, then up at his eyes as he cut their left palms, dropping the knife and grabbing the other cut hand to hold them together. "Xander, I am *yours* and only yours, for eternity. I will not leave you nor let myself be pushed away again. I will try to see what my actions will do to you before I do them and I will share my pain with you so you can know."
Xander looked down at his hands. "Really?" His eyes when he looked back up had the first glint of hope and life in them in a week.
Oz nodded. "A blood oath, according to some cultures, is as binding to your soul as our rings were to us before this happened."
"Then I promise not to shove you away, to let you share my pain when I need it." He looked into his mate's eyes, his breath catching. "I do love you, always have, and I won't let myself be shoved away. I will become pushy when you try and I will not let you leave me. For any reason." Oz nodded, leaning closer to kiss him. "But I also promise myself to you as not only husband and mate but as family," he said against the dry lips. "You're the only family I really need. You and the kids."
"I still have a lot to deal with there," Xander said with a small frown at their hands. "It's not stopping."
Oz nodded, looking at the blood pouring out from between their palms. "It'll stop soon." He kissed his mate's lips again. "Family?"
"Family. My chosen heart and soul." Xander gave him a weak smile. "And brain sometimes too."
"Cool. 'Cause I feel the same about you." He kissed him for the last time, laying his head down to watch their hands bleed. "Think we should have Derek wrap them?"
"No, it'll stop," Xander said quietly, holding the older man to his chest, watching the blood as it formed a small puddle.
Derek silently rubbed the baby's stomach to sooth him, watching the door and listening for any of the conversation he could hear. When the baby started to cry again, he looked down at him. "What's wrong?" he asked. "Are they fighting again?" Junior sniffled some then cried harder. He got up off the bed, walking over to the door, putting his ear against it to listen. "Boys?" he asked softly, tapping lightly on the wood. "Junior needs you."
"Go 'way," Oz yelled.
His nose wrinkled up as he smelled a familiar odor. "Bloot?" he whispered, pounding on the door. "Let me in," he yelled. "Boys!" He didn't get an answer so pushed his way inside, making the two bodies flop over onto the floor. "Damn! NICK!" he screamed. "We need you!" When there was no answer, he walked over to the door, concentrating on the energy blocking it. "When did he get so strong?" he muttered, concentrating harder on undoing it.
"Stop it," Rupert called from the other side.
"We could use some help in here, the boys have cut each other." He slammed his fist into the wood at the laughter on the other side. "I'm serious! They're already passed out." He stepped back as the door flew open, getting out of Nick's way as he rushed into the bathroom. He frowned at his old friend, going to help Nick get the boys out of the bathroom and laying them down on the main room's floor. "Can you get their hands apart?" he asked.
Nick shook his head. "They've dried together." He looked at his boss. "How long were they in there?"
"Almost thirty minutes. Ten of it spent in quiet sobbing and lamenting." He shrugged. "Junior and I were sitting on the bed so he wouldn't be in the middle." He looked up to see Giles bending over the child. "We really could use your help here, Rupert."
Giles nodded, walking the baby over and setting him between them. "There," he said, stepping back, pulling Derek up with him. "Nick, move away please." He looked down at the child, staring at his eyes. "Please, help them," he pleaded. "I know you can and they do deserve it."
The child laughed, a deep, baritone, sinister sound even as it aroused all that heard it. "Why should I?" he asked. Everyone's eyes went wide, recognizing the demonic voice, and knowing what they had really been down here to find was now sitting in front of them.
"Because without them your body will die," Giles told the demon. "I will try to remove you later, back to your imprisonment, but you cannot allow either of them to be harmed, not like this. You've done enough already."
"I did nothing," the demon inhabiting Junior said, laughing again. "This was not my doing, this was our mother's doing. And theirs. They didn't need me to unbalance their blessed existence." He looked at Derek, eyes blazing. "You let it happen," he accused. "Why should I heal either of them."
"Because I will let the child go with them," he promised. "I swore to protect them and I wasn't goot enough to do it this time, but you must help them." The demon/baby shrugged. "Please. They can do you no harm. I'm the one that can, I and Rupert." He clutched his friend's hand.
"Andres," Xander muttered, and the baby shuddered. "Leave the baby alone." He opened his eyes, looking at the little inhabited form. "I will not allow you to harm my son." He pulled something out of his pocket, sliding it around the squirming baby's neck. "Leave him." His head and hand fell back down, and he fell back into unconsciousness.
Giles looked at his student in alarm. "When did he learn about that?" He looked at the baby again. "Heal them, Andres," he pleaded again. "They deserve it, as does this child. He deserves a loving family and their deaths would tear any possible family apart."
The demon sighed. "So be it," he muttered. "It's not like I can do anything else now." He flipped his borrowed body over, looking at his two fathers. "Heal," he muttered, "let your love bond you as you were wishing to do." He touched their hands and shrieked, the baby's body convulsing. "No!" he screamed, then the baby started to babble.
Derek picked Junior up, taking him back to the bed to look him over while Giles looked at the two boys. Giles pried their hands apart, looking at the scars that now graced them. He gently moved Oz's fingers, smiling slightly when he didn't feel any resistance then used the last few drops of fluid blood mark both their foreheads in protection before he and Derek took the child from the room to make sure he was all right.
Nick sat and watched his family while they rested together for what was probably the first time in a week, noticing how they clutched at the other like they would vanish.
Derek laid Junior on the table in the work room, pulling out the vial of holy water he always carried with him now, sprinkling some on the child's forehead. The baby just waved his arms, smiling. "What happened in there?" he asked his friend and colleague softly.
"He was possessed, he healed the boys, now he's gone but not exorcized. He's still in there somewhere, we only have to ward the child. Though where Xander learned that much about demons I'm not sure." He looked at his boss and shrugged. "He bound them, Derek, what else do you want?"
"You do know that if they break the vows they made this time, they'll become deathly ill?" Giles nodded, his expression becoming very sad. "I want you to tell them in the morning, right after they clean up the bathroom." He picked Junior up, handing him off. "I'll let you watch, I need to talk to Philip."
"Andres is an upper demon in the hierarchy, an angel fallen by choice. He was the one that used to snatch petitioners to turn them into minor demons. He was purported to be the one that brought down Babylon and Rome." Derek shuddered. "If he's gone fully into hiding then we'll be lucky."
"That's who was trapped in the box," Derek told him. "Before it left the island I'd guess now." He looked at the table where it had sat. "We'll just have to fix this again."
TO BE CONTINUED...