Ethan Rayne ran into the metal gates and clung to them as he panted. He knew the only safe place for him was inside; no matter how well that memory erase spell worked usually, it hadn't worked on him. He managed to get through the gates and run up the long driveway, collapsing against the door as he pounded on it. "Rupert!" he yelled, continuing to hit the door as hard as he could. He looked up as the door opened, seeing one of members of the house he didn't know. "Help?" he asked. "They're after me too." He passed out into the young man's arms.
Derek walked down the stairs, smiling at their butler. "Well, I do believe that worked rather well." He looked at the Chaos sorcerer, shaking his head. "Such a waste of talent. Put him in the safe room. It's monitored and we'll watch him until we get the other one." He walked down the hall, leaving Adam to bring the limp man inside.
Xander walked out a few minutes later, silently grabbing the taut legs and helping carry one of his worst enemies up to his new prison.
Ethan woke up in a little room, on a nice cot, and sat up, staring at the man that was watching him. "Am I safe here?" he asked, his accent clipped.
"Ethan Rayne," Derek said quietly, flipping open the folder sitting on his lap. "Chaos sorcerer, repeatedly tried to harm members of this house. Multiple attempts to corrupt innocents to the dark." He looked up as he let the folder close. "You are as safe here as you could be elsewhere, though your skills won't help you in this house. No magic may be performed in the house, it will backlash on you if you try." He gave the man a bland look over his body. "Why did you come to us for shelter? Surely you have ... people you could go to."
"They're the ones who're after me," Ethan pointed out, shifting so he was sitting on the edge of the bed. "Am I safe here?"
"For as long as you behave and follow our rules, yes. Or at least until we can hand you off to others for them to deal with." Derek stood up. "You'll be fed later. The levorotary is through the door," he pointed to the only door in the room. "You will be confined to this room until we hand you off." He waved his hand across a wall and another door appeared, the one he walked out of.
Ethan sighed and leaned back on the bed. "At least I'm mostly safe," he told himself. "I can put up with all this." He got up and went to the bathroom, eager to clean himself up.
Xander met Derek on the stairs, giving him a smile. "Good work. He's still arrogant, but he'll get over it soon enough." He hugged the man who might as well be his father and kept on going. "I dropped that surveillance report on your desk. I'm going to spend time with my Oz." He disappeared through the door leading to the living quarters.
Derek smiled to himself as he headed for his office. "And to think I worried when Oz got back from Tibet," he said, walking down the hall. He walked into his office, smiling at the man sitting on his couch. "Did you watch also?"
"Yes," William Sloan said, giving him a smile. "And Arkadi?"
"Will do the same I do believe." Derek took his seat behind the desk, looking at the former London Precept and his step-father. "How long do we have to hold him?"
"Not long. We've arranged transport tomorrow night. If we have to, we can come back for Arkadi, Kat, and Rachel." He stood up. "Derek, I'll give you this, this was a brilliant plan."
"All Oz's idea," Derek said with a sigh. "I think you picked well in my replacement."
"Oh, a compliment, how nice of you," William said as he left the office. "I'll write it in my journal."
"Insufferable bastard," Derek muttered, picking up the surveillance report to read. "Ah, just as Oz planned." He mentally rehearsed his part in the next part of this theatrical production.
Oz stepped out in front of Kat and Victor Arkadi, nodding at the young woman who used to be the little darling of the house. "Derek would like to see you," he told her. He growled at Victor as he took a step closer. "And I would like to talk with you," he said, grabbing him and pulling the sorcerer into the nearest alley. He took a swing, knocking the unprepared man out. He turned at the quiet chanting, shaking his head at Kat. "Won't work. A lot of your spells won't work on me."
She glared at him as she finished and he was still standing. "What are you!" she shrieked.
"Alpha were." He stepped closer. "Like I said, Derek wants to talk to you." He waved a hand at the van Nick was driving up to them. "Get in, please." He grabbed Arkadi and dragged him into the back. He nodded at Nick to go, bracing himself against the back of the van.
Derek met Kat at the door, nodding at Nick to take the not-struggling Victor upstairs and put him next to Ethan. "We'll be in the living room," he told the younger men as he led Kat away.
"Leave him alone," she protested, trying to get away, but Derek's grip on her arm was firm. She was towed into the living room and the door shut. "What?" she asked petulantly.
William cleared his throat. "Katherine, Derek and I are most concerned about your recent acquaintances." He poured her a cup of tea, and one for Derek. "Sit, dear, I think we might be able to help each other out of a difficult spot."
"I'm not in one," she said, doing as she was told but not taking the tea. "Why did you kidnap us?"
"Dear, you're free to go anytime you wish, but I think you'd want to hear us out first," William said calmly. "We want to corral Rachel as much as you want to punish her for turning you. To that end, we're willing to use you as bait and give you ten minutes in a room alone with her once we have her."
"And if I do it on my own?"
Derek sighed, leaning back. "Kat, there is no earthly way that you can harm her. Your mother's sold her soul to a higher being than the man you shared with her." He gave her a grim little smile. "Which had Nick most disgusted with Victor by the way." He took a sip of his tea then reached over to the sugar bowl, putting a lump into the cup and stirring it around. "There, better. You made the tea a bit strong again, William."
"Not my fault your taste buds have gotten dull since you've been stranded over here, Derek," William countered. He gave Kat a reassuring smile, looking her over. He noted the dyed red hair and the bleached white streak, the unconfident carriage, and the blazing anger dripping from her eyes. It only made him sad now; he used to have such high hopes for this young woman. "Katherine, we need to discuss this reasonably. There is no way you can take on your mother and win."
"I'm powerful enough in my own right," she sniffed, sitting back and trying to appear relaxed. "I'll take help, but the woman is *mine*." Her voice frosted over. "She's the one who gave me to Arkadi in the first place. I owe her."
"And we don't disagree on that point," William reminded her. "Just on the execution of how to catch her."
"Nope, she's mine. *Don't* interfere." She stood up. "I'll have my husband now," she ordered coldly.
"Kat, sit down," Derek said, staying calm. "You're not getting him back, and even if you did, I'm sure he'd be worthless to you now." He gave her a gentle smile. "Both of your magics were suppressed as soon as you walked through the doors." He waved at the chair. "Really, dear, do you think we'd let an enemy go free?"
She shrieked and stormed out.
Derek looked over at William. "I let Oz talk me into this how?"
"Easy, you liked the idea of not having your house's mortal enemies running around." He smiled. "Think about how easy it was. Just a small suggestion that turned into a rumor, courtesy of Ethan, and now you have all of them."
"Yes, but I really didn't want to think of Kat as an enemy." He finished his tea. "You put a bit too much whiskey in this by the way."
"I thought you could use the strength." William finished his own cup. "I'd best go help load those two into the helicopter so we can be on our way."
"And Rachel?" Derek asked, not moving.
"Call and we'll come for her," William said as he stood up and walked out. "Be safe, Derek."
"You too. Remember, those two are considered dangerous for a reason." He sighed, relaxing for now. He smiled as his son-in-law walked in and curled up next to him. "It's a goot plan," he praised, "but all these theatrics are tiring."
"Tell me about it," Oz mumbled through his yawn. "We'll get Rachel later tonight. After Kat leads us to her." He yawned again then looked up. "You're very comfy. You must have taught Xander how to be so comfy."
"No, I believe his is a natural gift of being comfortable," Derek said, wrapping his arm around the young man. "You rest, Oz. I'll stay here until your mate finds us."
"Okay. Thanks." He closed his eyes, resting for the upcoming battle.
Derek smiled down at his associate, content to stay where he was.
Xander tossed the beanbag at the woman walking past him, patting himself quickly on the back as she fell over. He walked on, following her intended path, going to meet the woman he wished was dead. "Rachel," he said, staying polite. "I believe we need to have a discussion."
"Where's my daughter?"
"Safe." He looked her over, seeing how she had bloomed under the control and maintenance of her chosen demon. "You look well. Your soul make you immortal or just younger?"
She spit at him. "You have no right to come between me and my daughter."
"Oh, but I do," he said, holding up a finger. "Not only do I have that right, I have a few bones to pick with you myself. Including one about Alcatraz." She went pale. "Ah, I see you remember. Good." He stepped closer. "You know, I almost died that night. It's a good thing I have friends that are willing to brave nights like that for me." He gave her a small smile. "But then again, maybe it had to happen that way. Oz and I are happy together, by the way. Very happy." He held up his ring. "Wouldn't have happened without that night, mostly because it started a major fight later." He shrugged. "Oh, well, enough of the pleasantries. The Council wants to talk to you." He nodded behind him. "We'll get you safely there, no tricks. And your daughter's coming too. A real family reunion you might say."
She spat at his feet. "Ha. I'm not going anywhere *near* those people. I know what they want to do to me." She turned and started to walk off but a small flying projectile stopped her. She pulled the dart from her shoulder and looked at it, staring at him in shock. "Who did that?"
"Nick." He waved down the trail again. "Shall we?" He watched as her face went slack and she started to walk. "Thank you." He followed her, helping her into the back of the van, right next to her daughter. "Airport," he ordered. "I'll call William." He pulled out his cellphone and dialed the plane. "Hey, me, got room for two more?" He grinned at Nick. "Okay, we're heading out now." He nodded. "They were doing preflight checks. We've got an hour to get them there."
The whole house gathered around the screen in the control room, watching the hearings progress, ready to put in their answers if asked for. Because so many houses had wanted these four people brought up before the Legacy Council, the normal rules had been bent. All houses participating in the inquiry were joining the session by viewscreen, and all the defendants were together. Which in itself had caused a few problems from the looks of them.
The Precept in charge of the meeting, Cairo's, cleared his throat and banged his gavel. "We will bring this judicial session to order."
"I object, I'm not a member," Ethan cried out.
"No, but you have given one of the houses trouble and they have asked that you be dealt with accordingly," the lone female member of the board, the Vatican City archival house's Precept, said coldly. "They have asked that you be judged on the basis of your actions. Do you wish to remove yourself from the other defendants?"
"By what right do they charge any of us?" Rachel asked, pushing her hair away from her black eye. "I'm no longer a member, none of the others here are members. You have no right to judge us."
"What happens to our houses becomes our business, Rachel Corrigan," the last member said. He was Moscow's newest Precept, barely having held his ring for six weeks when he was called to man the board. "Your involvement with the San Francisco house will be brought up as there are charges stemming from your time there."
Cairo's Precept, an old man of about eighty, ran a hand over his bald head to wipe away the sweat. "It was unwise of your last judicial board to have let you off the hook for some of the charges, and it was especially unwise of them to ignore others. We are going to fix that. We do not care if you are no longer a formal member, you are still a member of the Legacy and will be treated as such."
"I'm not," Kat pointed out. "Nor have I ever been."
"You were raised in the house, child," Russia's Precept said. "You were treated as a member of the family and now you will continue to be treated as such by this board."
"But I never was," Victor said with a smirk. Ethan sighed and moved away from him. "You have no right to charge me."
"Victor Arkadi, you have earned the right to trial by the Legacy Council. You have taken down two houses and almost destroyed a third. This alone makes you eligible. The only one of you that we may have doubts about charging is Ethan Rayne, and that is only because he had tried to hurt a single house."
"Not true," William piped up from his screen. "He tried to marry into Derek's family to get to their power. That would have harmed my house also since she's a frequent member."
"It's not time for you to speak yet," Cairo's Precept said, glaring at him. "Shut up."
Derek hid his snicker behind Alex's back.
"You too, Rayne," Russia's Precept said. "You'll have your turn." Giles raises his hand. "Yes, Rupert?"
"I wish to speak with Ethan. I think we could solve the moral dilemma of trying him." He was given permission and Ethan was removed. "I'll go to the office," he said as he stood up, leaving the rest of the group.
Derek looked at the three people standing around waiting for things to really get started. "How many members of my house do you need here?" he asked. "I have research to look over."
"Ah," Xander moaned. "Not now."
"Go do what you must. When it's your time, we'll call for you." The Vatican City Precept waiting until he and Xander had gone. "Osbourne," she called. "Give witness to the events leading up to their capture."
He nodded. "We had planned this operation out so we could get the two sorcerers singly, using one to lure in the other with a rumor. We had Ethan brought to us, and we told him that we would let him leave town if he offered Victor Arkadi to a more powerful demon than the one he presently served. Then we tried to erase his memory, not really sure if it would work."
"Under whose authority did you do this?" the Russian Precept asked. "Our own. We were solving a major house problem for Derek. But, and this we knew ahead of time, there was no way for Ethan to offer Victor to anyone. All he could do was piss off those to whom he was indebted, which would make him run back to us."
"For protection?" the Vatican City Precept asked.
"Yes. It was a calculated risk, but we know much about Ethan's ways. He's into magic for the power and the prestige it can give him. Before we joined the Legacy, our group ran into him a few times, always defeating him because the risks for him started to outweigh the gain. That's usually when he ran away."
"Do you have records of such accounts?" the Cairo Precept asked.
"In the files. We uploaded everything we had from Sunnydale when we first got here. We have a whole file on each person, including Ethan from before our tenure here."
"Good enough. Have you sent it to us?"
"Derek had us send it to the Protocol Officer. He said she would pass it on, that it was her duty to do so."
The female Precept nodded. "Good enough. We have it then." She glanced at another screen then back at him. "Did Derek know of your plans?"
"Not until afterward. Then he shared the news with William, neither of which made a big deal about it besides telling us we were riding a very fine line."
"Indeed you were," Cairo's Precept said, nodding. "That was a very fine line. But as long as you knew that the demon could not be given Arkadi by that other sorcerer, then it was fine."
"Unless Victor suddenly deaged, there was no way for him to be given against his will," Alex pointed out. "At least as far as we can tell."
"All right then." The female Precept made a note on the pad in front of her. "Your house needs to be careful of it's ethical stance on this, Ms. Moreau. That could have been a charge against your house."
"It would have been against myself and Xander," Oz pointed out. "It was us that did it, we brought Giles into it later, and then told the others about it."
"Ah. I'll leave your discipline up to Derek then." She made another note and looked up at the people sitting in the defendant chairs. "Would you like to add to your account of how these three were captured?"
"Kat brought Victor to the house to complain to Derek," Oz told him. "Not of her own free will, but they were brought here. Victor walked through the door of his own power and the binding spell took hold. Kat was faced with a possible out from William and Derek, she threw a fit and walked away from it. My mate was on hand for her's and her husband's capture, you'd have to get the rest from him."
"Very well. Where is he?"
"You excused him to go have his research looked over," Buffy reminded them. "I can go get them."
"Use the intercom," Alex told her, tapping the button. "Xander, need you in here."
"Coming," he called back.
"We will move on until he is available," Cairo's Precept decided. "Victor Arkadi, you stand accused of destroying two houses, including my own, and trying to destroy another. Do you have anything to say in your defense before we call witnesses?"
"No," he sneered. "You have no right to judge me."
"Very well then. Do you deny that you did plot to destroy the Cairo and Lebanon house by insinuating a demon into their midst?"
"No, I don't. I had fun watching them beg for his attention." He patted Rachel's hand. "Much as I did from you, dear."
Rachel pulled her hand away, moving her chair away from him. "I want to be separated from his trial."
"Your cases merge after a while, but we can remove you from this room for now." Russia's Precept waved a hand at the dark suited men standing against the fabric covered walls. "Take her to her room."
"Yes, sir," the Legacy Guardian said, pulling her up and leading her out.
Giles looked at the man on the screen in front of him. "Ethan, be reasonable," he said quietly. "They can do rather nasty things to you. They know many more tricks than you do. If you'd give yourself up, they might be lenient and only lock your powers away for good."
Ethan snorted. "Ripper, I can't live without my magic, you know that."
"Yes, but you could always live to fight another day," he reminded his old friend. He felt some sympathy for Ethan, after all, it was this irritating man that had shown him that he could use magic. It was this man that had shown him that he actually liked men also. And it was this man that had made sure he went back to the Watchers eventually by being such an ass. He did owe the man something, so he was trying to get him to give evidence to save his life. "Ethan, listen to me. They will destroy you. You will go to whatever demon you've promised yourself to much sooner than you had planned. And I bet if you could give them a lot of information, you might be allowed some small bit of magic if you couldn't use it against the house."
Derek walked in and smiled at him. "That would be a very rare happening, but it might work if he begged enough." He sat down with Xander on the couch, pulling over the light folder. "Son, this is inexcusable for a paper on such a weighty topic. It's much too short and brief. You didn't go into your research findings much at all."
Giles sighed. "Ethan, you must. If you do, you can work out some sort of deal. It really is to you best interests."
Ethan looked around, then nodded. "If you think it's best."
Derek smiled at Giles. "He can work out a deal and save himself a lot of agony in the long run, but as to specifics, he's dealing with two board members that don't believe in magic."
"How do they function in the Legacy?" Xander asked. He winked at Giles. "So much of what's saved us all has been magic based."
"True, but they think it's more a matter of your will working than it is some force that is measurable."
"It's measurable?" Ethan said. "You can do that?" He craned his neck to try and see Derek. "Who said that?"
Derek stood up and walked over to look at him. "I did, and yes we can - to some degree. We can measure the effects of magic on anything and we can measure the strength of the person wielding it. It's not a precise thing, but it is doable to some degree of accuracy."
Ethan looked at Ripper, then at Derek. "All right, I will make a deal in return for my testimony." He looked at the Guardian behind him. "Can you please relay that information, and that I'd like to discuss what I would like in return?" The Guardian nodded and left him, locking the door behind himself. Ethan sighed and slumped. "Ripper, this is most unkind of you. I had no idea you had such a mean streak in you. The act of turning me over must have churned your pure little stomach."
"Xander," Alex's voice came over the intercom, "need you in here."
"Coming," he called back. He stood up. "I'll work on making it longer," he said, nodding at the older men before he walked out.
"You have quite a family," Ethan told Derek. "I have never met such a strong person as that boy."
Derek smiled. "I know. That's what I love about him."
"Ah, the familial bond," Giles sighed, getting out of the desk chair. "Ethan, I'll leave you to this. I'm going to go back to testify." He left the office, leaving Derek to turn off the prompter.
"Rayne, I will tell you this once," Derek said quietly. "Even if you retain your magic, I'd not come after my family again. There are more than enough people protecting them to make this trial look pleasant and nice." He turned off the screen, taking his seat to relax. He picked up Xander's folder, looking over the short paper again. "Why couldn't he have expanded this more," he muttered, picking up a pencil to make a note in the margin.
Xander looked at the board members, giving them a semi-interested look. "What can I tell you that the others didn't?"
"Let us start with the capture of both Corrigan women," the Cairo Precept said.
"I followed Kat, with Nick's help, and ended up being there for the meeting. I hit Kat on the head with a thrown bean bag and went on to meet Rachel. She was shot by a tranquilizer dart and they were both brought to the plane."
"Ah." The Russian Precept looking down at the papers in front of him. "Why not capture Katherine when you had her in the house?"
"She was raised in the house, almost the same as our kids are now. Derek, Nick, and Alex all feel like she's their child so they wanted to give her the benefit of the doubt. I guess they thought she'd take their suggestion after all and do it their way." He shrugged. "I wasn't in on that part, I was to capture her if she didn't take their way out."
"I see," the Cairo Precept said, making a note. "Why was this so theatrical?"
"Not real sure, that was all part of Oz's planning. Maybe it wouldn't have worked any other way." He shrugged again. "No one can be sure, but it worked this way." He got comfortable in his chair. "As long as it worked, I'm not really going to go into the 'why's' of the situation."
The Vatican City Precept smiled kindly at him. "How has this affected your time at the house, young man?"
"Besides wondering if Willow's going to be next? Not at all really. Oz and I are deep into the planning of another matter so we dropped the plan on Derek and let him execute it, playing out our small parts in the whole thing. Our children and lives here are secure and there's been no threat to us from any of this so far."
"All right then. And for the record, no one has asked this board to take in the matter of Ms. Rosenburg."
"Thank you." Xander sighed and stretched. "Is there anything else I can help you with?"
"Yes, we have to go over the episode of Rachel and Victor harming your house."
Xander blanched. "Can we not do this with me alone? I'm still having nightmares about that time."
"If you would like, you could call your mate in to sit with you," the Cairo Precept said gently.
"Mate?" the Moscow Precept asked, his tanned brow wrinkling.
"He and Mr. Osbourne are mated and married. They are also in possession of Ms. Rosenburg's children, with full custody if I remember correctly?" Xander nodded. "Do you have a problem with their relationship?"
"Well, it's unusual where I'm from but as long as they keep their touches respectable during this tribunal, I have no problem with the subject."
"Were you two mated when this episode happened?" the female Precept asked.
"No, that happened afterward. As did one of the worst times of my life." Xander hit the intercom button. "Oz, can I please have you come in here?" He heard a quiet snicker and groaned. "I need a hug, Buffy, they're asking about the nap time you all took."
"Sorry," Buffy called.
"S'okay." Oz walked in through the hologram, nodding at the board members. "Turn it off, babe, I'm here now." He pulled a chair over, wrapping his arms around his husband's waist. "Tell them, it's all good now."
Xander relaxed into the warm body and took a deep breath. "All I knew at first was that almost everyone fell asleep suddenly. All but Jon, our nanny, a few guards, and me. Buffy fell asleep shortly after getting home...."
Xander lay down in his mate's arms, snuggling in to gain all the comfort he could before they were called back downstairs to testify again. "I hate this," he said quietly.
"You and me both," Oz assured him, starting a slow stroke down the tense back. "They can't get much more in depth though. They should be leaving you alone soon."
"I hope so," he sighed, closing his eyes. "We still have to make the last plans for Buffy."
"I've got the hotel all picked out and booked. Angel has his notice like she wanted. Derek's managed to get the equipment we'll need to restart her. How much more planning do we need?"
"She should have a good birthday party before," Xander said, looking up. "Not that night, but the one before it. A good dinner, lots of happy times and stuff."
"Then we'll work on that plan next." Oz pulled Xander up to give him a gentle kiss. "No more worrying, you're getting wrinkles." He smiled at the frown. "Kidding, you're ageless, as always."
"That's something..." Xander was stopped by a deep and thorough kiss. "Okay, never mind."
"Whatever happens, will," Oz reminded him. "We've planned for every eventuality we might have to. We'll be fine with the future." He looked into the dark eyes, stilling seeing the worry in them. "Don't do it," he warned. "The more you worry, the more things turn out that way. For us, it's a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts."
"Maybe," Xander agreed, putting his head down on Oz's shoulder, "but it's a natural part of me."
"Keep it up and I'll have Derek put you on anti-anxiety drugs."
"I don't need them, I just need some stability for the future."
"Xan, babe," Oz sighed, tapping him on the back of the head. "We have all the security we can get. We have the money all sorted out, for both us and the kids in case something happens to us. We have all these plans of things that we can do if the time comes that we have to leave the Legacy. We have everything we could ever need right now for the two of us. Even if we got kicked out tomorrow, we'll still be fine."
"But that's a bad thought," Xander reminded him, almost whispering it. He looked up, staring into his husband's eyes. "If we had to leave again, I don't think I could."
"Then it's a good thing Derek loves you too, huh?" Xander nodded and put his head back down, going back to his resting. "It's just the stress of the inquiry," Oz whispered. "As soon as that and Buffy's birthday is all done, everything will be fine again."
"I hope so."
Oz gave him a tight squeeze. "I know so. Quit worrying." He looked over at the door, nodding at whomever was standing there with it cracked open to come in.
Nick walked in, giving them a small smile. "Ethan's decided to turn against the other three." He looked at Oz, then glanced at Xander, but Oz shook his head. "And you're both free for the rest of the day. They're grilling Alex right now about Rachel."
"I don't have to testify?" Xander asked, looking up at his brother.
"Not really. You're on hold in case something comes up and they need to bring you back, but otherwise, you're done with all your stuff. You and Oz both from what they were saying." He tossed over a note. "Derek said to take tonight off, that's the official orders right there." He left the room, leaving them alone.
"Gee, Dad knows too," Xander quipped, picking up the note to read it. He handed it to Oz with a faint smile. "He really does."
"Hey, he's your father, of course he understands." Oz read the note and nodded. "Okay. Go get dressed, we'll do the whole dinner thing. I'll tell Jon while you shower and then I'll shower while you get them ready for bed."
"'Kay," Xander said, sliding out of the bed and heading for the bathroom.
Oz put aside the note, leaving it open enough so you could read that Derek said they still needed to reconnect some, and to take the night off. "Yeah, he understands, everything." He got up, heading for the nursery and their children.
The couple was on the way home, still in the city, when they turned up the street that held the club Xander used to go wear himself out at. Xander was staring out the window. "Hey, they rebuilt it," he noted, pointing out the window.
Oz started to look, but headlights pulled his attention back to the one way street. He swerved to avoid the car coming toward them, using every trick Nick had taught him to avoid hitting the parked cars, but the oncoming car swerved toward them at just the wrong time. It ground the Jaguar between the parked cars and itself, speeding off into the night.
Xander came too, shaking his head, and looked over at his mate. "Oz!" he screamed, reaching for him, trying to stop the bleeding he could see coming out of his husband's leg. He dialed his phone one handed, sticking it between his shoulder and his ear, both hands pressing on the fracture he could feel in Oz's thigh. "Hi, I've been in a car wreck." He sighed as he saw a cop car stopping up the street. "A cop's here, but we need an ambulance. No, he's got a compound fracture of his right thigh. Yes, my husband." He hung up, leaning over to pound on the window. "Ambulance," he called. "Fracture's bleeding." The cop ran back to his car, coming back with a big box.
Derek was roused from his reading by Buffy screaming. "What?" he called, just standing up as she ran into the room. "What happened?"
"They got hit by a hit-and-run. Oz is in the hospital. We've got to go, Xander's unconscious now too."
Derek ran after her, getting in to drive them.
Xander woke up, looking around his room, blinking hard. "Why am I in this bed?" he groaned, pushing himself up. He stopped when he felt the searing pain in his ribs. "Oh, right, car crash." He sat up suddenly, ignoring the pain as he looked around for Oz. He grabbed the button, pushing it frantically.
"Calm down," the nurse called over the intercom. "Your husband's down in surgery to repair the fracture. He'll be in your room as soon as he's out." A few seconds later she walked in, handing him over a few pills. "You've got broken ribs and a slight problem with your shoulder, but we've fixed it."
"How is he? He was bleeding."
"He's fine," she soothed, patting him on the head. "Your friends are down there waiting on him. You can't go," she said firmly, pushing him back down when he tried to get up. "Your father said for you to lay there and he'd be up in a few minutes. Just relax," she said, covering him back up. "You did the right thing calling the ambulance and your man's gonna be fine."
Xander nodded, staring into her eyes. "You're not lying?"
"Honey, I'm not gonna do that to you. He's fine. He's got a bad break in his leg, he's got some damage to his left side from the crash. He's even got a small cut to his temple from where he hit the steering wheel, but he's *fine*. You, on the other hand, have a lot more to worry about. You're gonna have a hard time takin' care of him with broken ribs."
He nodded. "Okay. As long as he's going to be fine."
"He'll be fine. You need to rest and he'll be up in a few hours, once they pin his leg back together." Xander opened his mouth. "No, you rest. I'll try to get your father up here for you, but for right now, I need you to get better."
Xander blinked. "What were those pills?"
"Pain killers." She smiled, waiting there as he fell asleep. She walked back to her station, picking up the phone and dialing down to the surgery desk. "Hi, he's awake and out again. Tell the guys down there?" She smiled. "Of course. And he panicked. Gave him some painkillers, he's back out." She hung up, smiling at the other nurse at her station. "He'll be fine once his man is up here again."
"If you say so," she said with a shrug.
Derek followed Oz into the hospital room, smiling at his son, who was trying hard to reach over. "No, you rest," he admonished, sitting on the side of Xander's bed. "You can touch him later, once he's awake." He ran his hand through the dark hair, trying to soothe his son. "Rest, Xander, we'll be here when he gets up."
"Wake me up?"
"Of course we will." Derek continued to soothe him, watching as the young man fell asleep. He looked up as the nurse walked in, giving her a faint smile. "Can we move the beds closer? He'll get out of his bed to lay with Oz otherwise."
"We figured that, we'll be doing it before they come to hook up the traction." She smiled at him. "We have seen other couples that were this close before, Doctor Rayne, don't worry yourself too much about it. A man your age and in your position probably doesn't need more stress."
"You have no idea," Nick said as he walked into the room. "Got your call, told William, let him tell the board in the morning. Want help moving that?" he asked when he saw the nurse nudging the between-bed table toward Xander's bed. "I'm good with furniture."
"Sure. I'm *always* happy to let the muscle bound guys do it for me." She smiled at him. "Move the table as close as you can to the dark haired one for now, and then we'll move the bed closer."
"He won't be able to touch him," Nick noted as he did so, pulling on the bed until it was as tightly against the table as he could get it. "If the bro gives you too much trouble, just yell for us, we can make him stop."
"I'm sure," she said dryly. She looked from Nick to Derek and back.
"I'm his half brother and the boss there is his acknowledged father. He asked him to be that." Nick sat on the side of Xander's bed, tapping him on the chin. "Hey, your mate's up here."
"We want him to rest," the nurse told him firmly.
"Oz?" Xander asked, waking up. He looked around Derek's body, smiling at his lover's still form. "He's still asleep?"
"We thought it'd be best. He's going to be in a lot of pain."
"Oh, I remember. I was shot about there." Xander slipped out of the bed and padded around to lay on Oz's uninjured side, giving him a hug. "Love you. Gonna thank God that you're okay, every one I can remember and I'll look up more of them to say thanks to."
Oz grunted and pushed at Xander.
"Hon, he has bruises there," the nurse said, helping Xander out of the bed. "Lay on the injured leg side and keep away from the traction equipment once he's got it on." She helped him back on the other side, lifting Oz a little so he could hold him better. "There, okay?"
Xander gave her a smile. "Do we really need two beds?"
"Yes," she sighed, walking out of the room. "The traction will be up in a few minutes."
Xander looked over at his brother. "Did they catch the guy?"
"Hit and run," Nick said gently. "They don't know who did it. The police are wanting to talk to you still." He gave the boys a grimace. "And the car is *totaled*, Xan. There is no hope of revival for that one."
"Then we'll get a new one," Xander said quietly. "A car is less important than my baby." He laid his head down, resting on Oz's unhurt shoulder.
Derek nodded at Nick to go, giving him a silent command to get them the things they would need. He settled himself for a long stay, intending to be there when Oz woke up.
Oz woke up in pain. That was all that he really realized as soon as he started to wake up, he was in pain and it was bright. Then he smelled his mate, and blood, and tried to sit up.
"Whoa," Nick said calmly, pushing down on Oz's chest. He pointed at the other bed, where the nurse had removed Xander to when he had started to cling a little too hard. "You're fine, he's got broken ribs. The car's trash."
Oz blinked. "What happened?"
"Hit and run." Nick sat on the side of the bed, giving him a long look. "You have a pinned leg. You can't move. He'll be over in a few minutes though, we've had to move him twice already since you got out of surgery." Oz nodded. "You have to lay still though." He stood up as the nurse walked in.
"Would you like some more pain medication?" she asked with a smile. Oz nodded harder. "I thought you might." She smiled at Nick. "They don't give them enough to last longer than waking up." She injected the needle into his leg, and Oz sighed. "All right, did he tell you about not moving?"
"Yeah," Oz croaked. Nick held up some water and he gratefully took a sip. "How bad am I hurt?"
"About as bad as Xander was the last time he was shot," Nick told him. "But you get traction."
"Yay," Oz said listlessly. He reached over, but he couldn't connect with Xander's hand. "Can you wake him up? I'd like a hug."
Nick nodded, walking over to tap on Xander's head. He grinned at the groan. "Your mate's awake and wanting you."
Xander hopped up, grabbing his aching side, and immediately crawled in beside Oz, clinging to him. "Hi," he whispered. "You'll be fine. I'll baby you and everything."
Oz nodded Nick out of the room. "So, how bad is he?"
"He had a partially dislocated shoulder," she said quietly, "and has a few broken ribs. You have a pinned femur, a slight head injury, and your whole left side is bruised. You are *not* to move. If you want cuddles, he can come over and give them, but we'd like it if he stayed in bed too."
"Tough," Xander whined. "Mine."
"Of course he is." She rolled her eyes, getting a smile from Oz for it. "You both be good patients and he'll be out in no time, maybe even tomorrow. You'll be home in a few weeks." She patted Oz's stiffened leg and stood up, leaving the room.
Nick came back in a few minutes later. "I brought jammies and cards from the kids. Derek went home a few hours ago." He smiled down at the couple staring up at him. "Marcus has been here and left, leaving long instructions with the nurses. Oz, you've been out since last night and it's the middle of the afternoon, before you ask."
Oz gave him a single nod and pulled Xander's head up. "Did you see the car?"
"No, and I told the cops that when they asked. You?"
"Only the headlights, but he was weaving."
"Yeah, well, it seems you weren't the only people he hit," Nick told them, dragging a chair over to sit next to the bed. "Derek called me a few minutes ago to tell me that the cops called. They have a suspect in custody. Seems he got caught on a few surveillance cameras in a few of the monitored parking lots." He tipped his head to look at his brother's face. "You do bruise pretty, Xander."
"Don't care." He clung harder to Oz.
"Shh," Oz soothed, patting Xander on the back of the head. "I'm more fine than you are. Do you need medication too?"
"Please?" he begged, rubbing the bruised side of his face against Oz's neck. "But don't let them put me to sleep again."
"Okay, I won't," Oz promised. He made a grab for the call button but Nick got there first, pressing it.
"I know," she said as she walked back in. "I figured he'd be needing painkillers soon too." She handed Xander another two pills, watching as he dry swallowed them. "Water too," she suggested with a smile. "It will help them break down faster."
Nick handed over the glass of water, watching as Xander drank it all. "Do you think you'll need anything? Derek's going to be leaving soon and you can get him to bring whatever."
"Nope, I have all I want," Xander said with a yawn. "I don't want to nap."
"Tough," she said, leaning down to cover him up with Oz's blanket. "I'll even let you sleep there until your mate wants his bed to himself." She tucked them both in and winked at Nick, leaving them alone.
Nick watched as they both fell asleep, smiling to himself as Xander finally eased up on Oz's chest.
Derek was sitting there when they woke up, and he laughed when Xander's first act was to crawl back in with Oz. "You know," he said, still smiling, "you shouldn't be moving that much." Xander growled at him. "Ah, I see." He reached over to touch his son's leg. "I know, he makes the pain so much better, doesn't he?"
Xander nodded. "Tons better."
Oz grunted, pushing Xander away. "Need to breathe," he complained, glaring at his mate. "Go take a shower, I won't move."
Xander looked hurt but he got up and walked into the bathroom, leaving them alone.
"Just think how much he'll do this when you get home," Derek noted.
"Not. I can't go home for at least a week probably." Oz looked at the bathroom door then at his father-in-law. "Help?" he begged softly.
"Of course. But it will slow down on it's own. As soon as he's feeling better he'll stop wanting to be so clingy." He waved his hand around. "You have to admit, hospitals haven't been goot things for you two."
"Yeah, and this is probably bringing up memories of the last time he was in too," Oz put in, "but I can't be clung to all the time, Derek. I need to rest too."
"He'll be coming home with me tomorrow," Derek said, trying to soothe him. "He'll only be allowed back at visiting times. You'll start to look forward to having him here after a few days of being alone."
Oz nodded. "I hope so."
Xander opened the bathroom door. "Is this something about the alpha being down?" he asked, looking at his mate. "Because I'm not going to take over your spot. You don't have to worry about it."
Oz sighed. "I don't know." He patted the side of his bed. "All I know is that it's really bad when you cling so much." He noticed how his lover was walking and wiggled a finger to bring him closer. "Where else are you hurting?"
"Just a small stomachache. I'm hungry." He sat on the side of Oz's bed. "I'm sorry it bothers you, but I feel like I should cling right now. You're badly hurt. I'm badly hurt." That got a small smile. "I want to cling, get over it already."
"Cling less and I will," Oz agreed. "Maybe a few hours a day instead of all the time, okay?" Xander nodded, giving him a smile. "Then we're fine."
"Sorry. I'm one of those people who like to cling when I get sick. I had no idea you were that bad about it."
"I'm pretty muchly a hide and be sick alone guy," Oz told him, picking up his husband's hand to squeeze. "We'll work on it, same as we have everything else."
Xander nodded and got back into his own bed, looking at his father. "Can I have something to do since I can't cuddle up to Oz?"
"Of course. I have your paper, which could still use some revision." He stood up, walking over to pat his son on the head. "You'll be home tomorrow. Relax." He noticed the pain in the young man's eyes and looked at his watch. "It's not time for your medication, what's wrong?"
"Just hunger pains," Xander groaned, shaking his head. "Can you talk the nurse into giving me a sandwich?"
"I'll ask." Derek walked out to the nurse's station, giving the two women and one man on duty a smile. "Xander wanted to know when he could eat. His stomach hurts."
One of the nurses looked at him then nodded. "Let me go check him for you." She walked into the boy's room, coming back a few minutes later. "We need his doctor up here now," she said quietly. She turned to look at Derek. "Did he go to the bathroom at all?"
"Just now." He watched as she left again, looking at the other two. "What's wrong?"
"The emergency workers thought he may have had an abdominal bruise too but they weren't sure, we're just going to check on it." She put down the phone. "Do you know your doctor's pager number? He hasn't given us the newest one."
Derek reached over and dialed the number quickly, handing her back the phone. He paced the halls until Marcus showed up, giving him a pained look.
"Relax," Marcus said as he walked past the worried man. "We've got it. Go get coffee." He walked into the boy's room, coming back after a few minutes. "We're going to take him down for an ultrasound," he announced. "Please call down there and tell them?" He made a note on Xander's chart, ignoring Derek's increasingly insistent silent cue for attention. "He has an abdominal bruise," he said finally, mostly to ease the tension around him. "We're going to make sure nothing was injured too much and he'll be back up. Go get Oz a soda, Derek." He handed the chart back to the nurse. "They'll be here how soon?"
"A few minutes, Doctor," he said. "The ultrasound is already waiting on him." He glanced at Derek, who was still standing there and Marcus nodded. "Sir, maybe you should go be with your son-in-law. I'm sure he could use your support right now."
Derek nodded and walked back to the boys' room. He picked Oz up, giving him as hard of a hug as he dared, letting himself worry now.
"So that's where he gets it from," Oz quipped, putting his head back down to wait.
Xander walked into the Control Room, glaring at the men and women standing on the screen. "What?" he snarled.
"Nick, I believe someone needs his painkillers," William noted.
Nick, the only other person in the room, left to go get them for his brother.
"Sit," William ordered gently. Xander did so, but continued to scowl at him. "Well, at least you look like your father when you do that."
The Vatican City Precept cleared her throat. "Enough, Sloan, the boy's in enough pain without you baiting him for no reason." She smiled gently at Xander, bowing to him. "We concur that your actions during all this were the most prudent use of your skills. We are ruling that the official commendation in your record for the incident with Rachel Corrigan and Victor Arkadi be joined with one for your past heroics. It has been noted that you fought for many years in a capacity that could not be expected of you or anyone."
Xander shrugged. "I do what I have to do to protect my family."
"Good," she said, her smile growing. "That's what we want to hear. As for your semi-ethical behavior in the capture of the two sorcerers that we have recently judged, we believe that you and your mate acted with the utmost confidence and to the best of your abilities. We find no reason to punish you or your mate." Xander nodded. "And as for Ms. Rosenburg, we have decided to not take her to task unless she does something else. Most of what she has done has not endangered the house to the level where we can intervene and charge her. If she does, be assured we will act quickly and decisively."
Moscow's Precept nodded. "Indeed. We are putting a watch note into her file in case she comes to the attention of any other house, but we feel that there is not enough evidence yet to charge her formally. Your actions in regard to your relationship with her have also been noted in your personal record and have been given the highest remarks."
Xander shook his head. "Someone made note of my relationship with Willow?"
"Yes, it's important for all future Precepts to have a solid background. After what happened in New York a few years back, we cannot allow an unstable person to lead a house."
Xander held up a hand. "Whoa. That's going to Oz. I'm going to be his second in command. That's how Derek set it up."
She smiled. "Of course. Actually, we have another note for you. What do you know about the archival houses, Xander?"
"Not much. Only that they exist but Derek doesn't rule over them."
"No, he does not. Actually, William has recently been named as Lead Precept over us." She smiled at him. "It is fitting that, in the future, the Lead Precept is helped by the Lead Precept for the rest of the Legacy."
William smirked at him. "Guess what you get to do."
"Ah, man," he complained. "I don't want power."
"Which is why you're getting it, kid. Trust me, it's not that hard of a task." He waved. "I'm going to leave, I'll tell your grandmother you're fine again." He walked away, leaving the camera's range.
Xander grimaced. "I don't want it."
"Don't worry, you and your mate can work together on the ordeals you'll face," the Cairo Precept said quietly. "We have no intention of separating you two." He chuckled. "As a matter of fact, we have been told that it was vaguely suicidal to try." Xander nodded. "Good, then you won't mind if we do that. Especially since your house technically is an Archival House most of the time. This will give you greater freedom in your other...problem area."
"That's been cured. Oz found out that the spell can be done when you're at an emotional peak."
"Spell?" the Cairo Precept asked.
"Never mind." Xander waved and broke the connection. "Oops."
"Don't worry about it," Derek said from the doorway. "Two of the board know and Cairo will fall in line about this." He handed over the bottle of water and the single pill. "Take it while I call them back."
Xander did as he was told, vegging in the seat while Derek reestablished the link. "Hello," he said quietly. "Does the board have any messages for the rest of my house?"
Cairo's Precept glared at him. "How could you not mention that the boy was bitten?"
"Because Oz was bitten before he came, by a two-year-old," Xander told him, holding up his hand. "My changing is because we bound ourselves together. But none of us change except when we're really pissed anymore. That's what the spell was for."
"And Kristen?" Moscow asked.
"Right after the birth of her child," Derek assured him. "Do we have a notion of Philip's case?"
"Just that bringing him back would be the best of all ideas," the Vatican City Precept said dryly, giving him a smile. "I'm sure you can do so in the same manner that you did for William. Make sure he's not been tainted and everything will be fine. Oh, and Mr. Harris, tell your father later about what we said please." She waved and the link was broken again.
"Tell me what?" Derek sighed, looking at his son.
"Just that they want me to head the Archival Division, out of this house. They said Oz and I could support each other that way." He finished off his water, tossing the bottle in the nearest trashcan. "What do I have to do today?" Derek shook his head. "I'm bored!"
"Of course you are, son, but you need to rest to get better. If you don't rest, then you won't be able to take care of Oz when he gets back next week. Now go rest and read or something." He stood up, leaving his son alone in the room.
"But I don't wanna read," Xander complained. "I'm all read out." He logged onto his internet account, going up to check his mail. One of them made him burst out laughing, bringing Derek back with a tap to the intercom.
Derek ran in and read the message over his shoulder, starting to laugh himself. "Oh, dear," he said finally. "I'll have to break that news to her." He walked out after giving his son a quick hug. "Do something constructive at least."
"Of course. Not going for porn sites. I'm not that much like my brother." Xander switched messages, marking that one for print. Buffy would never believe what Willow had done now.
Oz was led into the house, grumbling as he went. He accepted the bodies of his children into his arms, sitting down in a comfortable chair so he could hold them, letting them get their version of clinging out of their system. Fortunately, Derek and Nick rescued them before he could lose what little of his temper remained and gave him his painkillers. He nodded his thanks, looking around for the other person who should be there. "Xander?" he asked.
"Is a little on the pissed side," Nick told him, sitting on the footstool. "He's upstairs getting your room ready." He looked over at Derek, who left them alone and closed the door. "Oz, he's really hurt by your rejection of his attention. He needs to do this to make himself feel better."
"He needs attention himself," Oz pointed out.
"Which he gets by spoiling you." He reached over to tap the necklaces Oz was wearing. "He's done it before and you were fine with it." He stood up. "I'll go tell him that you're here and let him put you into bed." He walked out of the living room, leaving the door open.
Xandra snuck in, grinning at her father as she climbed into his lap. "Hi," she said happily, giving him a hug.
Oz gave her a brief smile as he moved her farther away from his cast. "Hi. How are you?"
"Me okay," she said, looking around. "Where Daddy?"
"He's upstairs. Why?"
"Me expect him to be here with you." She patted him on the chest. "You sure you okay?"
"I'm supposed to be resting with my leg up but I'm okay." He kissed the side of her head. "Why don't you go play?"
"Me want to help you nap, Daddy," she sighed, rolling her eyes. "I won."
"Won what?" Xander asked as he walked into the room.
"We play and I won." She grinned at him. "So me help him nap."
"Okay. Run on ahead. It's going to take him a while to get up the stairs." He lifted his daughter down, watching as she ran up the stairs. "Need help up?"
"Yeah, please." Oz accepted the hand, letting himself be pulled up. He leaned on his crutches, letting Xander walk beside him. "Do we have a pillow for my leg?"
"Yup. Very nicely covered in a soft case." Xander went on ahead to clear the way of children, toys, and other things. He watched his mate hop up to the level he was on, letting him go on ahead now.
Oz stopped before going through the door to the living quarters, turning to stare at his mate. "Am I ignoring what you need?"
"Why would you ask that?"
"Because you're being quiet," Oz noted. "You're stiff and uptight right now. You're acting hurt and I'm not understanding it here."
"It's time for my medication," Xander said simply. He opened the door, letting Oz go through first.
Derek tapped on the boy's room door before walking in with the dinner tray. He gave Oz a smile before looking around. "Where's Xander?"
"Sulking." Oz pushed more pillows behind himself, looking down at the tray. "Gee, not hospital food," he said, giving Derek a grateful look. "Thank you. You're making my stomach very happy." He picked up the fork and dug into the casserole, blowing on it before shoving it into his mouth. "Oh, good," he moaned.
"I'll tell Adam you said so." He patted Oz's arm. "What's happened now?" he asked gently. "Why are you two fighting?"
"I have no clue," Oz said in between bites. "It started the day I protested him clinging and it's gotten worse." He wiped his mouth off and took a sip of the soda that had been brought up for him. "I don't know what to do anymore."
"Ah, I see." Derek gave him another pat to the arm. "Let me handle my son. I think I may be able to fix this sooner than you could." He stood up, walking out to find his son in his usual spot. Upstairs in the Library. He walked up behind the young man, enfolding him in his arms. "Son, we need to talk. You're confusing your mate."
"It's his deal, I'm leaving him to it until he asks." Xander leaned back into the warm body. "Thanks, dad." He turned the page of the book he was working his way through.
"And what about your needs, Xander?" Derek asked gently, letting him go so he could sit across from him. "I know you need to discuss with your mate what the board told you. Same as I know that you need to hold onto someone right now because you're still not fully healed." He reached out, touching the shaking hand. "What's really wrong, son? Tell me and let me help."
"It's a lot of things," Xander sighed, putting down his book. "Not only the stress of the injuries, but also school, and Buffy's birthday. And a lot of other things too. But I'm doing okay under it. I'm clinging to the kids this time and we'll be fine."
"You're clinging to your children until Oz has healed enough to want you close again?" Xander nodded and Derek shook his head. "Son, you can't follow them around all the time."
"I don't." He frowned at his father. "I only cling when they're home. And they like it. They get stories and a lot of time with me right now, something they haven't been getting recently." He picked his book back up. "We're fine. It's going to be all right, just as soon as Oz is better." He went back to his reading.
Derek got up and went to his office, leaving his son alone.
Xander opened the bedroom door to find Buffy on the other side. He let her in, giving her a hug before she could ask. "It'll be fine," he whispered. She nodded, clinging to him. "Want to sleep in here tonight?" She nodded again so he led her to the bed, putting her in on his side so she couldn't disturb Oz. He wrapped her in his arms, letting her find a safe haven to let her fears out in.
Oz turned his head to look at them, frowning at the way his husband was curled around their friend. "She could sleep between us," he noted quietly.
"She'll run into your leg," Xander reminded him. "The cast and pillows won't protect you when she starts having nightmares."
"She doesn't have nightmares when she's in here with us," Oz reminded him, tapping Xander on the shoulder. "You could cling to her and me both. I wouldn't mind."
"Yes you will." Xander shifted back some, letting his butt rest against Oz's side. "Better?"
"Not really." Oz shifted closer and reached over to tug on Xander's arm. "Put her between us, I'd like to actually look at something besides the back of your head."
Buffy shifted over, laying on Oz's uninjured side. "How's this?" she asked, wrapping her arms around his waist. "Thank you for letting me do this," she whispered.
"Hey, we're friends," Oz reminded her. "We're going to be here for this whole ordeal." He gave her a squeeze before turning to his mate, giving him a look. "Well, can't I have a cuddle too?"
"You sure you're ready for one?" Xander had tried to keep the bitterness out of his voice, but he knew he hadn't succeeded when he saw the hurt look. "Sorry, Oz. I didn't mean to say that." He rolled over, going back to his solitary sleeping.
Oz growled as Buffy tried to move. "No, stay." He swatted his husband. "Turn over, let's do this."
"I can go," Buffy offered.
"No, you need us," Xander said, waving a hand in the air. "Go to sleep, Buffy, this isn't anything."
Oz rolled his eyes. "I'm offering you cuddles, why are you being fussy?"
"Because I hate being humored." Xander stood up and walked into the bathroom, shutting the door.
Oz waited until the water started to look down at Buffy. "Do you have any idea what this is about?" She shrugged. "Okay. You rest, he'll come back to bed eventually. We'll figure this out in the morning." She nodded and snuggled in, going to sleep quickly. Oz stared at the bathroom door until he fell asleep, trying to figure the complicated mind of his husband out.
Oz hobbled into Derek's office, glaring at Giles until he got up and left them alone. "I want him on psychiatric drugs," he said as he sat down.
"I doubt his insecurities will be solved by that expedient," Derek reminded him. "You know that none of the drugs available today will help him any."
"Actually, the anti-anxiety drugs might," Oz countered. "And they would calm him down too, give him some extra time to think before he blurted things out."
"Oz," Derek said as he leaned back in his chair, "this isn't about him blurting things out, or even his anxiety problem, which I might consider having him seen for if it gets worse. This is all about his need for comfort."
"Which I'm not meeting?"
"Let me ask you something, Oz. Has he told you anything about what the board said to him?" Oz shook his head. "Or about the doubts he's been having about graduation? Or even the stress he's under because of Buffy's upcoming ordeal?"
"Not really," Oz admitted. "But he's not been talking to me recently either, except to say something stupid last night."
"Stupid to you, or important to him that you didn't get?" Derek asked gently.
"Maybe both. I've had it though. He won't talk to me."
"Oz, how does Xander get the most reassurance? What clues you in to the fact that he's having a problem and you need to ask him about it? What single act does he *always* do when he's upset?"
Derek groaned. "He starts to cling, Oz. He always has. Either to an ideal or to you. Most recently to your children." He sat back up, looking at his son-in-law. "He needs the tactile reassurance that you're refusing him to feel better and to deal with the stresses in his life."
"But I hate being clung to when I'm sick. I want to hide, not be held."
"Yes, but he's not like that and he was injured too." He sighed. "There has to be some sort of medium for you two on this." He looked down at the things on his desk. "What if I sent you two out for a night alone? We could handle Buffy for a night."
Oz held up his crutches. "That won't solve anything. He won't talk to me, going away won't solve that." He shifted the leg he had put up, getting more comfortable. "I offered him a cuddle last night and he said he hated being humored."
"Well, he does," Derek reminded him. "It must have set him off again."
"Hence my wanting him drugged up until he's sane."
"Oz, that's not an option, nor would it do a thing for him. The only medicine he needs is his mate to get him over this time."
Oz shook his head. "We can't do that this time. He won't talk to me."
"Sometimes the best words aren't said, they're felt," Derek reminded him. "Go give him a hug."
"I don't know where he is."
"He's in the upper level of the library, same as usual." He smiled at his son-in-law. "You're going to have to give in a little on this, Oz, he needs the attention that you're not willing to give. Nothing will be right until you give it to him." Something hit the window, making both of them jump. "Unless he just heard us," Derek amended.
Oz shook his head and stood up, getting the crutches under him so he could limp back out. He found Xander in the kitchen and walked over to him, enfolding him in his arms. His husband got free and glared at him. "Hey, I'm trying."
"No, you're humoring me again." Xander finished his sandwich and walked away. "I'm going to go read some more. The kids wanted some time today with you to read to them."
Oz hung his head, not sure what to do now.
Xander walked into his bedroom, directly into the ambush. He tried to get free from Buffy and Oz, but they held on. "Let go!" he said, pushing Buffy away. "That wasn't nice. I don't need mobbed."
"No, but you do need comfort and you've not been taking it." Oz looked at his mate, seeing the anger and frustration built up. "Buffy, let us argue this out please," he ordered quietly. He waited until the door was shut to sit down at the table. "What's been going on that you haven't told me, Xander?"
"Nothing." Xander walked over to the closet and pulled out an outfit. "I'm going to take a shower. Did you need the bathroom?"
"Water's off," Oz told him. "And it'll stay off until you talk to me." He looked over his shoulder. "I hate this, babe. You're supposed to talk to me when I screw up."
"This isn't a fault thing, this is an incompatibility issue." Xander walked into the bathroom and slammed the door. He came out a few minutes later, scowling at his mate. "The water's off?"
"I had Nick turn it off for a little while since you seem to want to hide in there." He crossed his hands in his lap. "Want to talk about it now or later? The door's locked by the way, I had Buffy do that."
Xander stomped over and sat down, staring at his mate. "What?"
"That's what I was wondering," Oz said quietly. "I've tried to cuddle you and you've been refusing. That's not like you. Especially not when you're injured."
"Yeah, but you don't really want to." Xander got up to pace. "Consider this an incompatibility. We're not meeting each other's needs here." He turned to look at his husband. "I can do without them for right now and when you're better you can make it up to me."
"Xander, I'm not going to be better for months. This can't go on." He patted his lap but his mate shook his head. "Yes, come here. I could use a hug even if you're being stubborn."
"Oz, you're trying to humor me again. I hate when you do that."
"Gee, and here I thought I was feeling abandoned," he said, trying to keep it light, but Xander's glare got hotter. "What? You're not here for me now, you're angry and frustrated and taking it out on me." He patted his lap again. "Please, I could use the connection again."
Xander walked over, standing behind him to give him a hug. "I can't sit in your lap, I'll hurt you leg," he reminded his lover quietly. He felt his arm be patted so looked down. "Feeling better yet?"
"Nope. Need more of this. Can we lie down and do this now?"
"No." Xander backed away from him, going to try the door. "You forgot to give Buffy the key," he said when it opened. He walked out, leaving it open. He walked down to the kitchen, grabbing a set of keys off the board, then walked out to the garage. He needed to go do something else, somewhere far away.
Oz tipped his head back and shut his eyes, shaking his head when he heard an engine start. "I need telekinesis," he decided, reaching over to tap the intercom. "Derek, wanna stop him?" he called.
"No, Oz, let him be for now." The connection went dead.
He stood up, bracing on the table, and hopped over to the bed. He would follow doctor's orders. After all, he had to get better soon, before his marriage was destroyed.
Xander found himself outside his advisor's office, and he decided he needed to do what he had been thinking about before he lost more of his nerve. He tapped on the door, walking in at the grunt. "I need to talk to you," he said quietly. A chair was waved to so he sat down. "I want to withdraw from school."
His advisor looked at him, trying to read him. "Why? You're a credit to your program, and to your family. Why would you want to throw away your future that way, Harris?"
"Because I finally figured out what I wanted. I want to be a stay at home dad. I don't like school. I never did, and I really hate college."
"It's taken you this long to figure that out?" the older man said, giving him a smile. "Are you going to finish the semester?"
"I don't know. My grades are falling, I'm not happy. Actually, I'm miserable, but that's not all school." He slouched down in the chair. "School's just too much for me to deal with and I don't want to be here anyway."
"Something wrong in the happy marriage?" his advisor asked, looking shocked. "You guys are always together."
"Yeah, well, not now. But that's not why I don't want to stay in school. I only started to make Derek happy, and then I stayed in to make him proud. I know he's proud of me now, no matter what I do, so I want to stop pretending."
"A three point seven was pretending?"
"No, that was Oz's influence. Though, I'm about at a one point eight this semester so far."
"Yes, I've heard that you've been having some problems." His advisor leaned forward, looking at the young man before him. "Is it your relationship that's making your grades fall, or is it because you don't want to be here?"
"Both, but mostly I don't want to be here. I mean, it was fun and all at the beginning, all the new stuff and everything, but I'm feeling bored and tired. I can't do it anymore."
"You know that if you drop out you can't participate in your internship?" Xander nodded. "You still haven't answered me. Are you dropping out now or after this semester ends?"
Xander took a deep breath. "How much trouble would I be in if I said now?"
"Some, I won't lie to you. Mostly from your teachers, who are all hoping that you'll go onto grad school." Xander shuddered. "Ah. You don't want to go on?"
"I can't even see a purpose for me going on now, much less going on to get another degree." He shrugged at the surprised look. "Like I said, I was never in this for me and I think it's time I quit lying about it."
"Are you thinking about taking some time off and coming back?"
"Maybe," Xander admitted. "Maybe when the kids are older and I'm more settled. Or even when I'm more bored and school seems exciting again. I'm not sure about anything right now."
"All right. I'll help you fill out your paperwork, but I'm going to keep it for you for two weeks. You're going to still have time to put it in, but this will give you time to think about it and tell your mate." Xander nodded so he pulled a few papers out of a drawer.
Derek met Xander at the door, shaking his head at the depressed-looking man in front of him. "Where did you go? You worried Oz sick."
"No I didn't, don't lie for him." He handed over the papers he was carrying and walked up the stairs. "I'm going to bed. Yell tomorrow."
Derek looked down and his mouth fell open. "Xander!" he called. "Get back here."
"Tomorrow, Derek," Xander called down. "When I'm ready to announce it." The door to the living quarters slammed.
Derek sat down on the stairs, reading over the reason his son gave for such a brash decision. "I had no idea that was this serious of a doubt," he told himself.
Xander walked into his room, slamming the door. "Sorry," he said when Oz glared at him.
"Where were you? I was worried!" Oz sat up, looking his husband over. "Why did you run away?"
"I went to see my advisor and drop out of school," Xander said, opening his side of the closet to get pajamas out. "And now I'm going to take a shower and go to bed." He walked into the bathroom and slammed that door too.
Oz pushed himself up, hopping over to open the door. "You did what?" he asked calmly.
"I dropped out of school. I don't like school. I don't want to stay in school. So I fixed that problem." He turned to look at his husband, giving him a bored look. "Why? We both know that I'm not cut out for higher education."
"I thought we were going to go to grad school together."
"I thought so too, but then I realized why I hated to get up and go to school every morning. And I realized why I hated thinking about reading. And then I realized that I had to make myself happy before I brought everyone else down with me." He opened the shower curtain and climbed in. "You shouldn't be in here, you can't get your leg wet."
"Damn my leg," Oz said hotly, walking in and shutting the door. He eased himself down to sit on the toilet, watching the shadow move behind the curtain. "Why are you doing this? We had all these plans and now you're messing with them."
"Oz, I can't even manage to get through a simple class anymore. Grad school is harder and I'm not exactly cut out for the whole education thing right now. We'll figure out all that stuff soon, but I will be there for you when you go." Xander turned the other way, his shadow showing a side view. "I'm sorry if this bothers you, Oz, but this isn't about you or us. This is about my not being happy forcing myself to go do something that I'm not good at."
"Uh-huh. Can we talk about this?"
"My advisor said he's keeping my papers for a few weeks so I have time to reconsider." He stuck his head out of the shower. "If we can find another way to do this, then I'll do that instead. I just can't take school anymore. This isn't about our plans." He withdrew, going to rinse off. The water stopped and he got out, reaching around his husband for his towel. "You shouldn't be in here, you're not supposed to be getting your leg wet."
Oz stood up, bracing on the edge of the sink. "Let me worry about my leg for now, okay? I want to worry about us, not the damn pins."
"If they get wet, you'll never get better."
"Stop it!" Oz ordered. "You can't do this." He grabbed his husband by the arms, looking up into his face. "You can't destroy everything we have planned because you're mad at me."
"This isn't about you, it's about *me* and my contentment level," Xander argued. "This has nothing to do with us." He helped his lover out to the bed, tucking him back in it. "There, now you can yell."
"I don't want to yell, I want to understand," Oz countered. "I don't understand why you did this."
"I did it because I'm not happy in school." Xander sat on the end of the bed and pulled on his pajamas, his back to Oz. "I'm not doing well this semester and it's because of all this stuff in my head. None of which is us, but I can't do this anymore." He pulled on a pair of socks, resting in the bent over position as his ribs started to hurt again.
Oz sat up and kicked Xander lightly. "Need help?"
"No, I've been feeling so good that I forgot about my ribs." Xander flopped backward, looking up at his husband. "This isn't about us, Oz, this is about why I was going to school in the first place. I'll have the option of going back some day. I can't take it anymore though."
"Okay," Oz said, nodding. "We'll look into other options." He kissed his fingers and reached down to pat it on Xander's fingers. "I wish you had told me about this first. I want to know about these important things."
"Yeah, well, I did, but I wasn't sure that I wanted to drop out then." Xander sat up, shifting until he was looking at his husband. "I'm sorry if screwed with the future you had planned, but I couldn't take the stress of lying anymore."
"Hey, no need to lie. I do understand about being tired of school." Oz gave him a hesitant smile. "I'm ready to drop out too, but I only have three more classes I have to take."
"Yeah, I only have five, but I can't do it again."
"Maybe you're eligible for a different degree," Oz suggested lightly. "Something that you have enough credits for."
"Maybe," Xander agreed. He got his side of the bed ready and put himself under the covers, blowing a kiss. "I'll talk about it in the morning," he said, turning off the lamp beside him.
"Sure," Oz said, shifting down until he could touch his husband. "Can I hold you?" he asked quietly. Xander shook his head. "Why not? I could use the comfort. I hate us fighting."
"You don't want cuddled," Xander said as he pulled the covers up higher around his shoulders. "You can have cuddles when you're better and you're ready to give them for real."
"I am," Oz protested. "I could use the comfort." He shifted over until he was curled around his husband's back. "Just for a few minutes?"
Xander flipped over, running into him. "I'm sorry," he said quickly, rubbing down Oz's arms while he worked through the new pain in his legs. "So sorry. Didn't want to hurt you."
"No big," Oz said finally, letting out his last deep breath. He pulled Xander close, giving him a hug. "I need this. No matter how much my leg gets in the way." He shifted so his injured leg was out of Xander's way and pulled the younger man closer. "Thank you."
"You sure you're okay?"
"Fine. Relax and let me cuddle."
Oz waited until Xander fell asleep to get out of bed, going into the bathroom to let the pain out.
Derek looked up as Xander walked into the kitchen, putting aside his paper. "Xander, come sit, I'd like to talk to you about those papers you handed me last night."
"Dad, drop it. I'm doing what's going to make me happy. I hate school." He picked up his usual muffin and glass of milk, bringing them over to sit across from his Precept. "I'm not doing well, I'm burnt out, and I've figured out why I was miserable going to class every day. And, being honest, I only went because it was making you happy." He tore off a piece of his muffin and stuffed it in his mouth. "I'm looking at other options, but I can't take school anymore." He swallowed some milk. "I can always go back."
"True, but what about your plans for graduate studies. Or for your internship this summer?"
"I can't do my internship once my papers are put in and we were considering putting off grad school for a few years anyway." He shrugged. "I'm sorry if this upsets you, Derek, but I have never liked school. I was going to make you proud of me."
"And that's something that I will always be, but I want you to think about this before making such a rash decision."
"My advisor said the same thing," Xander said, dropping the crumbs of his muffin. "He's holding my papers for two weeks. I have until then to figure out if this is what I really want, but I'm pretty sure I don't want to keep going."
"There's a general degree," Derek said quietly. "You should have enough credits to get that. That way you'll have something to build on in the future, but all you have to do is finish this semester."
"I'm going to check into that today. My advisor is going to call and give me some more options." He gave him a faint smile. "Don't stress over this, dad, I'm not. I'm happier now. School was dragging for me." His grin got bigger. "Just think, I'll be on hand to do the dig this summer."
"Very true," Derek sighed, but he smiled at the younger man. "I'll support you in whatever decisions you make, son, never doubt that. I'm simply a little surprised about this one."
"I know. You and Oz both."
"What did he say?"
"He was hurt that I had screwed with some of our future plans." Xander drained his glass and got up to get some more. "Dad, I want to be a stay at home father. I want to work here all day and play with the kids. I don't want to have to make myself sick trying to get good grades, or trying to study for a test while things are going bad. I want my challenges to come in low numbers, not six at a time. I don't want to have another cram session while someone's got the flu. And I never want to have to write another paper for a grade again." He looked at his father, giving him a confident smile. "Ones for things other than grades are good for me, but I don't want to compete with everyone else for the ever-elusive perfect score."
"I can understand that, Xander, I had the same feeling when I was in my Doctorate program. This was a little abrupt of a decision and I wanted to make sure that you knew what you were doing."
"Yup." Xander walked back over and sat back down. "I know what I'm doing. I know I can go back when everything's different and easier. But I can't do it now, not anymore."
"Then I'll support you as long as you've looked for another option, such as a general degree."
"Okay." Xander shrugged. "Anything else?"
"No, that was the end of the lecture. Are you going in today?"
"I need to see my advisor later today, his office hours are in the afternoon though. What did you need me to do?"
"I thought you might like to go to Oz's doctors appointment with him."
"I will if he wants me to."
"I'm sure he does," Derek said calmly. "And you need to schedule your follow-up also."
"My ribs are fine, dad," Xander sighed and rolled his eyes. "I don't need to have a check-up."
"I'd feel better if you did."
"I know. I'll call Marcus today and set up something. Feel better now that you've done your fatherly duty for the day?"
Derek smiled at him. "I've not even begun to parent you, son. Deal with it."
Oz hopped out to the waiting area, grimacing at his husband. "Not going well," he said as he sat down. "They're sending me for xrays."
"Okay. I can wait down there." He checked his watch. "Actually, I should be going to my advisor's. How long is it going to be?"
"Ten minutes. They need to look at the pins, they think one's shifted." He saw the guilty look. "Not from where you bumped them, from where I've been doing so much moving."
"Oh. Okay. Come on, we'll go down and do that and then you can wait for me." He helped Oz up, walking behind him to the elevator.
Xander tapped on his advisor's door, walking in at the wave. "Hey. Sorry I'm late, Oz needed more xrays, one of his pins moved."
"That's fine, Harris. Sit." Xander did. "I checked into our general degree. If you stay in school this semester and pass one class, you can get that degree with an emphasis in psychology. Can you do that much?"
"It's only two months, right?" His advisor nodded. "Can I drop a few classes?"
"As long as the one you're taking is a senior level, then you can drop up to three." He gave the young man a small smile. "I told you twenty-one hours was too much for you."
"I was doing okay on that schedule until this semester," Xander reminded him. He looked at the form in front of his advisor then grinned. "Cut me down to nine?"
"You could get in trouble with financial aid if you do that," he warned.
"And? I'm not going to be here next semester."
"Point." His advisor chuckled. "Which ones did you want to drop? You have a good crop of choices."
"First of all, I need to know if I have to switch advisors." He got a nod. "Do I do this through you or not?"
"Up to you. But I can drop everything but your paper this semester, that will give you the best chance and if you do decide to head to graduate school, that would look the best with your transcripts."
"I can do that. I'd like to keep my two electives though. That's why I said nine."
"Hmm, we can do that if you keep another one. Maybe do the profiling class?"
"Okay. I'm doing okay in there. It's mostly review from what I've been doing at work anyway." Xander got comfortable. "Can we do the forms?"
"Sure, kid." He handed over a piece of paper, already filled out. "Fill out a drop slip and I'll sign it." He handed over one and a pen, watching as it was filled out also. "Okay, now go to Merk Hall and find room 649. Your advisor's waiting on you."
Xander stood up and shook the older man's hand. "Thanks, man, I'm gonna miss you. You were always great to me."
"We'll miss you. What about your mate?"
"He needs to go home and go to bed. He's waiting in the Student Center for me." He jogged out, going to do this as fast as he could.
Derek met Xander and Oz at the door, accepting the papers he was handed. "This is a possible solution then?"
"No, that's the actual solution. I changed today and everything's set. I'm finishing this semester and graduating, with honors maybe, with a general degree."
"I'm very proud of you, son." Derek hugged him then hugged Oz. "How was your exam?"
"Xrays showed that a pin moved. I've got to quit moving so much. The doctor yelled because we have stairs." Oz shrugged and headed for the living room. "I'm going to veg. Xander?"
"Got a report to work on. If I can get it done quickly, I won't have to go to class again this semester." He walked down the hall toward the control room.
Derek looked at Oz, who shook his head. "Is it being worked out?" he asked quietly.
"I'm trying but he's still upset and I don't know why." Oz snuggled down into the comfortable chair. "We'll work it out eventually. Don't worry so much."
"As long as it's fixed soon," Derek warned. He left Oz alone, going back to his office.
"Yeah, no one wants it fixed more than me though."
Buffy looked across the hotel room the guys had picked out for her, then at the people surrounding her. She smiled gratefully at Xander as he walked over to give her a hug. "You okay?"
"I've been okay," he reminded her. "How are you holding up?" He checked her outfit, the same dress she had died in high school in. She had said that it had been lucky the last time and it would be again.
"Good," she lied, bouncing around. She smiled at Angel as he walked over. "Thank you," she said, letting go of Xander to give him a hug. Her arm went back around Xander's waist as soon as she let him go. "We'll be weeding out the crowd in a few minutes."
"Okay, I'll be here," he and Angel said together.
Buffy shot them both a smile then jumped as Derek touched her shoulder. "Oh, hey, boss. Time?"
"Almost." He gave her a hug. "Your mother would like to talk to you for a moment. Gentlemen, may I?" he asked, peeling Buffy's hand from around Xander's waist. He led her over to her mother's side, handing her over to her care. He walked back over to where Xander was standing, giving him a slight head shake. "Where's your husband?"
"Sleeping off his latest dosage of medicine next door. He'll probably be over after it's all done."
Angel slipped away from them, going to the bathroom.
Xander looked up at Derek. "Everything set?" He got a nod. "Right where I can find it and get to it fast, right?"
"As you planned," Derek assured him. "I'll do the actual stoppage, and I'll start the resuscitation. You'll take over when you feel it's time or when I give up. Everything's going according to plans, Xander, relax." He gave the young man a small squeeze. "We'll bring her back. I promise." They both watched as Buffy's mother was led from the room, along with Cordelia Chase, a former Slayerette that now worked with Angel, and Wesley, a former Watcher who was also helping Angel, and they all looked like they were crying. Xander took a deep breath as she closed the door, giving her an encouraging look.
She jumped as someone tapped on the door, opening it to find Oz on the other side. "I thought you were going to sleep through it," she sighed, pulling him inside and giving him a long, hard hug. "Thank you," she whispered.
"Hey, I promised. I'm here for you." Oz nodded at his husband, and Buffy whapped him on the shoulder. "Hey!"
"Get over it, whatever it is, guys. I can't handle you two fighting." Her breath caught and she tried to breathe out. "I won't come back if you're fighting with him. Xander, come give your man a hug. Now!" she ordered when he didn't move.
Xander walked over and gave Oz a hug. "Thank you for getting up."
"Hey, you needed me too, maybe even more. I'm here for you too," Oz whispered, squeezing him. "Always here for you," he reminded his mate. "Even when we're not working right." He pulled back, kissing his lover gently. "Now, let's do this right. We owe it to her."
Angel walked out of the bathroom and everyone stared at him. He checked his clothes but they were all done up correctly. Buffy gave him a weak smile. "Time?" he asked quietly.
"Yeah, it's time," she said, walking toward him.
He pulled her into a deep, hard kiss, taking her mind in a very different direction. When he pulled back, she moaned against his lips, and he moved lower, playing with her neck. "Mine," he whispered as he sunk his teeth in, squeezing her when she started to struggle. He let her go slowly, backing away as Nick caught her. Angel walked back into the bathroom and locked himself in, curling up in a ball behind the door in grief.
Nick laid Buffy on the bed and put the special pads on her chest. He stepped out of Derek's way, but she grabbed his hand. He knelt beside her, clutching her hand to his chest. He made her look at him as Derek brought the paddles down and shocked her.
Derek checked for a pulse and shook his head. "It's done," he announced. He stepped back, still holding the paddles.
TO BE CONTINUED...