Trial and Error

"While there are some inconsistencies that bother me," the Judge said once everyone was paying attention to her, "nothing in the file handed to me by the Federal Attorneys justifies this case. Do you have any *relevant* proof?" He nodded. "More like this or real proof?"

Mr. Arsters, the Federal Attorney stood up. "Your Honor, that was legitimate information."

She smiled. "Young man, there is nothing in those files to prove child abuse. All I saw were small pieces of left out information." She leaned back, shifting so her slate-gray bun didn't get pressed into the back of the chair. "Having read that file, I find no actual proof to warrant an investigation by the Federal Attorney's office." Mr. Arsters opened his mouth. "Sit!" she ordered and he did. "I do feel that something is going on out there and I would like to see an investigation done to prove that nothing criminal is going on, but I cannot enforce that decision."

Derek stood up. "As I said, I would welcome any investigator that *you* chose to send out. I have no trouble explaining our work to someone."

"Very well, since you've offered so nicely, I will appoint an investigator to come look over your files. If the investigator finds nothing, then the Federal Agents involved will go bother someone else."

Derek nodded and sat down. "Thank you, Your Honor."

"Good, now that we have that settled, I believe we don't need to waste any more of the taxpayers money. I'll send the investigator to you tomorrow, Doctor Rayne. Dismissed." She stood up and walked out.

Derek and his family walked out together, heading directly to their cars so they wouldn't do anything rash, like beating the crap out of one of those irritating men.

"We'll get you yet," Agent Morris called.

Xander turned and looked at him. "Listen, you little obsessed man, I will get a restraining order to keep you away from my family. If you come near us again, I'm more than willing to prove what a good shot I am." Oz grabbed his arm and pulled him away. "Sorry, but I couldn't keep it in anymore."

"I know," Oz said quietly, "next time be more subtle." He got them both into the back of Derek's Range Rover, leaning over after buckling up. "Xander just threatened to shoot one of them should they come out again."

"Goot," Derek said coldly. "I was going to inform the security guards to do the same thing." He started the car and backed out. "Well, this has had one effect so far. No one's answered the invitations for the next formal event."

"Gee, wonder why," Xander said snidely. "Can we counter this, dad?"

"Yes, son, I'm working on it right now. We've got personal interviews planned for tomorrow to react to these horrid allegations. Even my mother's coming over to help us with all this." He changed lanes, checking behind them. "My, they aren't subtle at all," he said, turning a corner. "Nick, can you tell who they are?"

"Um, one's an officer we all know," Nick said. "It looks like Ray."

"Really?" Xander asked, looking behind him. He saw the smile and nodded as Ray pointed. "Ray wants us to pull over."

Derek did so, waiting while the young detective hopped out and walked up to the windows. "Hey, guys," Ray said, giving them all smiles. "I'm supposed to tell ya that my new bosses don't like these guys and they know the truth. We aren't helpin' them any." He pulled out a picture and handed it over. "Benny Junior's still great too." He waved and walked away.

Derek looked down at the picture and smiled, handing it off to Xander. "I think we have more powerful people on our side than we think." He pulled out into the street, heading for home.


Nick banged into the door of the control room, glaring at it. "It's official," he called.

Derek walked in and looked at the map that was the doorway to the computer area. "Locked?"

"Tight. How about your office?"

"The teleprompter system is gone," Derek admitted. "William must have this well in hand by now. We won't have to worry about it." He smiled at Oz as he walked in. "Hello," he called when he didn't get an acknowledgment.

Oz handed over the paper he was reading. "They named our investigator."

"Detective Knight? Didn't he tell the Judge he knew us?"

"Which is why he was chosen. He knows us but he's not involved with us. That and he's know to be very fair and honest." Oz shrugged and hopped up to sit on the edge of the table. "Now what?"

"Now, we wait and figure out what files he's going to want to see."

"Hey, at least he'll understand some of the stranger stuff," Nick said. "We won't have to hide some things from him so he doesn't find out about things like the ghost cases."

"Good point," Oz said, nodding. "Did you recognize the Judge?" Nick and Derek shook their heads. "She's been out here before. Xander looked it up, she's a new appointee to the Federal Bench, she used to be one of the local city Judges."

"Hmm," Derek said, sitting down and looking around the room. "Do you think she understood anything of what's went on?"

"Probably," Oz said. "She knows Nick. She may even know more than that." He hopped down. "I'm going to help Xander order the promised set of Disney characters." He walked out, leaving them alone.

Derek looked over his shoulder at Nick. "What are you thinking? You're being too quiet."

"Yeah, but it's nothing to do with this." Nick sat down next to Derek, leaning close to him. "What if Willow was right and they want to know what *we* do."

Derek smiled. "I doubt they'll find anything, Nick. Even if they do, they can't prove that we've done anything wrong. It's not like demons are in charge of the American Judicial system." He patted him lovingly and got up, heading back to his office and the small amount of paperwork waiting on him.

Nick shook himself, getting up to pull his book out. He left to go find a comfortable spot to read and relax in.


Willow looked across the table at Buffy, grimacing. "Okay, it's been half an hour and you called me. What's up?"

"I cracked a tray the other day," Buffy said quietly, looking directly at her friend. "One of the lunch trays in the school cafeteria."


Buffy picked up the fast food tray her lunch was sitting on, grabbing it like she had the other and putting a small crack in it. "So?"

Willow examined the tray and shook her head. "It's not conclusive, Buffy, I'd keep it under wraps. There's no telling what other prophecy might come out to bite you if someone found out." She took a bite of her burger.

"Yeah, but Flame's got the job now," Buffy pointed out, taking a bite of her salad. "What's going on?"

"I'm not sure but we'll figure it out." She smiled at her friend, calming her down. "Eat, you look like a crack whore."

Buffy snorted. "Not. I may be thin, but I have style." She dug into her lunch, going back to the trivialities that friends talked about.


Xander opened the front door, waving the detective inside. "We never respelled the door," he said quietly and the vampire detective walked inside. "So, Derek's in the office, the rest of us are in the library or humoring our children. Where would you like to start?"

"With Derek please," he said, giving Xander a slight smile. "Relax. I know you're not doing what they said that you are. Same as I know that I'm going to find some odd things."

Xander nodded. "Oh, yeah." He led the way to the office, tapping on the door before they walked in. "He's here."

Derek looked up and smiled at their investigator. "Hello, Detective Knight, welcome to our house." He stood up and shook the cool hand. "I never got the chance to thank you for your timely assistance the last time we saw you."

"It was nothing," Nick said. "I've been instructed that I'm to look for evidence of criminal activities, and if I should find it, evidence for the," he cleared his throat, "agents."

"Yes, that's what we expected," Derek said gently. "We won't get in your way, anything you may need, simply ask." He stood up, waving a hand at the desk. "You could work here if you'd like, or in the library, and we've made arrangements to give you a room if you find the need to stay over. We've even gotten together with the boys to figure out how to sustain you should that occur."

"Thanks. That may make things a little simpler in the long run." Nick stood up. "I think I'd like to work in the library. I was instructed to start with the case files that those odious little men brought to the Judge's attention if it would be fine."

Derek nodded, leading him out. "With one consideration," he said once they were in the hallway. "There are things in those that are very private and..."

"Doctor Rayne, I know about the Legacy. I wouldn't worry so much." Nick smiled at him as they walked up the stairs to the library, nodding at the gathered people. "Good, you're all here. I'd like to get this done as soon as possible, I have a homicide on my desk that will take my unique brand of expertise."

"Give it to Ray," Xander suggested. "Kowalkski, just transferred in from Chicago. He's a great guy, we helped him get his son."

Nick raised an eyebrow but nodded. "I've met him." He took the open seat next to Derek, getting up once everyone glared at him. "I'm sorry, is someone missing?"

"Yeah," Nick sighed, scratching the side of his head, "but he's in Hell guarding a portal right now."

"Oh, Philip. I've met him, we've had a number of unusual discussions in the past." He smiled at Nick. "Relax, I know more than you think and I'm one of the good guys."

Xander stared his brother down. "He's saved us, Nick. And he does understand. He's a lot like Buffy's ex, Angel."

Nick shook his head, looking down at the table. "Only you could find a vampire detective, Xander."

"I found them actually," Nick Knight said as he sat down at the end of the table. "What the Judge wanted to know about was in relation to something like an organized crime family. Since I know you aren't like that, I need to have organizational structures to verify it and I'll need proof that you've never muscled anyone."

Xander snorted but looked at Derek, who nodded; they had discussed this possibility this morning and he knew he should mention it. "We think, including Willow, that someone is over those two idiots and is trying to find out what we *really* do," he said quietly. He glanced at Buffy's empty seat. "We have vulnerable members right now so we're really worried too, but we have a concern over you being forced to give out information that you know you shouldn't."

Nick nodded. "That's very sensible. It's also the only reason I could think of for you to be picked on. Oh, and your interviews were met with suppressed excitement. Everyone in the city knows that you didn't do what they're accusing you of, but they had to wait for you to say something."

"I noticed that the responses for our next formal event have picked up," Derek said dryly.

"They needed someone to tell them it was okay," Xander said quietly. "Same as any pack, humans need a leader to show them what to do. You've been one of those in this city, Derek."

"Everyone knew but they were waiting for you to formally acknowledge the fact that they knew and to calm their fears, the way any good alpha would," Oz added.

"Which is really sweet when you think about it, dad," Xander finished.

"I hadn't considered that," Derek said, looking at them. "When did you two get so smart?"

"When you forced them to get up and go to class," Nick said, grinning at his brother. "Wouldn't have happened otherwise."

"Shut up," Xander tossed back with a grin of his own. "He who skipped college to go into the Navy has no room to talk."

"Which reminds me," Nick said, sitting up straighter. "Remember those people who helped us find the trio way back when?" Derek nodded. "I got a note from one of them yesterday. Willow's right and their boss is getting desperate to figure us out."

"They?" the detective asked.

"The government guys who want to know what you know," Xander told him.

"Oh, them." Nick shook his head. "Have you told anyone else in your organization about this?"

"No, but these people do have a clue." Derek glared at him. "Bossman, these guys got some major research and backing behind them, but they're not part of this part of the government. They're in our corner. And they told me what we did, not the other way around."

"That's fine then," Derek said. "We'll be more careful about being somewhere vulnerable to a kidnapping attempt." He caught Xander's pointed look towards Buffy's seat. "I'll have a talk with her myself," he said quietly. "Detective Knight, would you like case files, personal accounts, or would you like the organizational information first?"

"I'd like to start at the top and work down, organizational information first. That may satisfy her."

"Could one of us talking to her do that?" Alex asked, breaking in for the first time. "I could have a talk with her, answer some questions."

"That would be inappropriate, she's not supposed to have personal contact with the parties in any case," Nick told her. "That's why she needed a go-between. I can ask her if she has any questions and agree to tape an interview for her, if you wouldn't mind." Alex nodded. "I'll ask her when I check in tomorrow then." He stood up, nodding at the hallway. "I suppose all that is in your office."

"Nope, we lugged it all up here," Xander said, pointing at some boxes sitting out of the way besides the stairs up to the mezzanine around the library. "Have fun. We've got to check the new toys for extra electronics." He and Oz stood up, walking out holding hands.

"That alone is reason enough for me to keep the secret," Nick Knight said quietly, looking at Derek. "They and the children deserve it." Derek nodded. "Oh, the Judge wanted to know about your personal finances. She knows that you have an inheritance, but she wasn't sure how you were funding the Luna Foundation so well."

"I can get you that information," Derek agreed. He patted the detective on the shoulder as he walked past him. "Push the blue button on the phone if you need any help. I'll be in my office."

Nick helped their inquisitor bring the boxes over, then left to go work out.

Derek sat down behind his desk and dialed the number to his mother's house. "Mother, bad news. Our suspicions have been confirmed about why all this was started." He snorted, relaxing once he heard William swearing in the background. "No, Detective Knight is known to be fair and just. He's trying very hard not to make this an intrusive process so we should be fine." He smiled. "Really? I hadn't thought that Kristen would let the child out of her sight. Oh, you're in New York. That explains most everything. How are you?" He leaned back in his chair, getting comfortable.


Willow looked up from her bench in the park, smiling at the man walking toward her. "Peter," she sighed, holding out a hand. "What have you been told?"

"Everything," he said in a pleasant but not clipped British accent, sitting next to her. "How are you holding up?"

"Not too well. I've woken up twice to things sitting on my kitchen counters, including some fairly disgusting but obviously manipulated pictures." She put her book away and turned to look at him, leaning a little closer. "Peter, I'm worried that I'm right and that those agents are going to try something stupid. You have no idea how fierce my former lovers can be in protecting their family."

He nodded. "Yes, we do. We have a friend that knows them rather well." She grinned. "What were you thinking?"

"I was thinking that I'm not the only one that could be in danger of being held hostage right now. I was thinking of backup plans," she admitted, "but I haven't totally figured one out yet."

He nodded. "Sensible. Your boss wants you to stay out of this as much as possible." He opened the small bag he carried and handed her a letter. "Here are your instructions, I'm not that far away from you, ever, and if you need it call for me." He stood up and walked away, leaving her to read the letter.

She tore it open and looked at the long dead language written down. Once she had it memorized, she tore it up and tossed it into her purse. She could finish by burning it later. She picked back up her book and got back into the story, feeling much better now.


Buffy almost had time to yell as the men grabbed her and forced her into the car. She kicked and hit as best she could but there were too many of them and one of them had some foul smelling stuff on a rag, which was forced over her face. The next thing she knew, she was sitting in a bare little room tied to a chair, and one of the agents from the court case was pacing in front of her. "Gee, I always thought kidnapping was a Federal offense. You'd think that a Federal Agent would know that," she quipped, trying to loosen the bonds.

"They have silver woven into them, you won't get free," he told her, still not looking at her. "I will know what's going on out there," he ordered. She snorted and gave him a 'get real' look. "Oh, I will, or you'll be in so much trouble that no one can save you." He stopped pacing to look at her. "We could get you on performing medical procedures without a license."

She started to laugh, the tears running down her cheeks after a few minutes. "All I did was die," she gasped. "It was time." She calmed herself and looked up at him. "You can't do anything to me that is any worse than what I've been through all ready. Even prison would be cheery right about now. At least there, I wouldn't be bothered by you." She spat on his shirt. "Now, let me go and no one has to get hurt."

He shook his head and was reaching for something on the wall when she finally broke the rope. She hopped up and back spin-kicked him, knocking him down. She sat on his chest, her knees pinning his arms. "Listen to me really well," she hissed. "There is *nothing* that you can do to me to hurt me more than my last years have. There is nothing that you want more than I want my life back, and there is *nothing* that you will ever know about those people. Your little plan has already failed and if you're too stupid to know that, then that's your problem." She stood up and backed away from him. "Now then, I'd like to go home now. I have homework I need to do and healing techniques I need to reaquaint myself with."

He shook his head. "Ms. Summers, I don't think that you realize the trouble that you're in."

She smiled cruelly at him. "Oh, really? Are you worse than a Hummer demon? 'Cause unless you are, you're in deeper than I am." She touched the pendant around her neck, the one that Giles had given to her to keep safe so that no one could release the demon trapped inside it. "I have no qualms at all about releasing this and letting it kill everyone here. It can be killed or captured again later, very easily probably, Flame's a lot stronger than I ever was." Her thumb nail caressed the release to the spell. "Well?"

"No, I'm sorry." He didn't even get a chance to scream before the creature leapt out at him.

Buffy backed herself into a corner and waited the feeding out. She would walk out the holes it made to get free, this demon didn't like female flesh to eat and she'd be fine.


Willow answered the phone and hung up, dialing the island immediately. "Put Giles on, Oz. It's important. No, Buffy's released the demon in her necklace. Just put Giles on the like the good little beta wolf that you are!" she said, tired of his protesting. "Giles, me, Buffy's in majorly deep right now. She released the Hummer demon to save herself from the guys kidnapping her. Yeah, it was them from what I heard. No, she's on a bus back to the ferry docks. The demon's somewhere though." She smiled and sighed. "Of course I remember that spell. I'll start it and you help her." She hung up and lunged for her book before the demon could get any farther out of reach.


Oz glared at Xander as he walked into the living room alone. "I hate her," he said quietly. "She just called me a beta wolf."

Xander patted him on the arm. "It's okay. She misinterpreted it, she doesn't have as much experience and she doesn't understand the differences in werewolf packs." He leaned into Oz's arm. "If she knew it was much more like the vampire sire/childe relationship she'd crap bricks."

"Good point," Oz agreed, letting himself be used as a pillow. "What are we doing for the rest of the day?"

"Not a thing that I know of. Unless you want to go out and look at the new house's site."

"Nope. I want to be surprised." Oz wrapped Xander in his arms and took comfort from the warm body. "Have I told you today that I'm very thankful that you exist?"

"Nope, but then again, I haven't told you that either." Xander looked up with a grin and they shared a kiss. "Love you. No matter how stupid our government is."

"Ditto," Oz whispered, shifting so they could cuddle easier.


Nick Knight sat down in front of the Judge he was working for, handing over a folder. "This is all I've found. There are inconsistencies, but when I looked at the original files, that's due to things like spirit activity. Mostly it's what you'd expect from someplace like the Luna Foundation." He knew how to keep secrets, even from those who probably already knew. She nodded, thumbing through it. "Can you stop this charade now?"

"Of course. How does he afford it though?" She stopped at one page and smiled. "Oh, that's how. I had no idea the Rayne family fortune was that massive."

"Yes, it is. Even he doesn't know how far back it goes though, Derek admitted to me that he was surprised when his mother told him about one of the entitlements. To get those figures, I asked his mother, she was most helpful. "

"Oh, my," she sighed, putting the folder down. "Now what?"

"Now, we stop the case and let them live in peace." Nick stood up, bowing to her. "Always a pleasure to work for your people, ma'am."

She waved a hand at him. "I hope we don't need your special talents for a very long time, Nicholas." She sat up. "Is there any word on retaliation on the other side's part?"

"Apparently Ms. Summers was taken hostage and set something loose on Agent Tyler. There wasn't much left of him from what I've heard." He smiled. "Oh, there's another detective in town that may be able to help you."

"Yes, I've met with Detective Kowalski, such an interesting man. His son's very adorable also." She waved. "Go be safe, let them handle the rest of the agents. From what I've heard, they're making their final gambit right about now."

Nick blanched, he knew what weres were capable of. "They'll kill them."

"No, there's a team in place. It's all going to be all right." Nick nodded and left the office, closing the door gently behind him. "I hope they don't hurt that family," she amended.


Xander hopped up as the alarm went off, running for the gun/game room and his weapons. It was only him, Oz, the kids, and Adam in the house right now, everyone else was going after the demon Buffy had released to save herself. He had just slapped a clip into the gun when he heard the front door break. He jogged back into the hall and started shooting at the black forms walking through the door. He mentally wished for Oz to have the kids with him, but he didn't know where they were. He fell to one knee as he felt fire race across his left arm.

"Daddy!" Precious yelled from the top of the stairs. One of the wall sconces was ripped off and started to hit the men in the foyer on the head.

The yell was one of the worst sounds in his life. Xander looked up and saw one of the men going for his daughter and he reacted the only way he could.

He changed.

Derek and Oz had both warned him that it was possible at extreme moments of emotional stress, and now he knew. He had no control of the wolf as it leapt toward the screaming men. He was glad he wouldn't remember what the wolf had done, or the fact that his daughter had seen him do it.


Adam jumped off his bed as he heard the alarm start to go off, grabbing his sword to put on and the gun he was never without anymore. He started for the kitchen, but was stopped by the kids running screaming towards him. He got them all into his room and locked the doors, heading out into the hall to guard them. He had no idea why the men outside were screaming but whatever it was, he didn't want it near them.


Oz ran down the stairs after Precious, trying to stop her. He put on some extra speed when he heard her outraged scream, coming through the stained glass door as he saw her rip one of the wall sconces off and start hitting the black-clad men with it. "Oh, fuck," he said as he saw a furry form bowl into the bodies. He resisted the urge to change, grabbing his daughter and taking her back to Derek's room to lock inside. "Stay in here until one of us comes for you," he told her. "Protect yourself but don't come outside." He locked her in and ran back to where the screams were now too quiet. He made it in time to see someone aiming a gun at his mate and he couldn't resist it anymore. He changed as he jumped over the stairs, landing on the woman who dared to hurt his mate. When she was down and no longer moving, he hopped over to nose his mate's still body, pulling the dart out of his neck. He whimpered as he nudged, trying to get Xander to wake up, but he was down for the count. He turned as someone else walked in, growling, his fur spiking up as he took up a protective position in front of his mate's body.

"Shh," the man said, pulling off his hood, "we're not here to hurt you. We're here to get the ones who hurt you." He held out his hands and got down to his knees, grabbing the tranq rifle to toss back outside. He checked the young woman, nodding when he found a pulse. "Let us take the bodies, we'll make sure that they'll never hurt your pack again."

Adam walked out as soon as he heard the screaming stop and groaned. He shot Oz in the easiest healed spot on the hind leg, glaring at the men. "He won't understand you. He's well past human understanding. You harmed his pack." He turned the gun on the man. "Explain yourself before I'm forced to do the same."

"We're here to stop the Federal idiots," the man said, standing up with his arms held away from his body. "We don't care what you guys do. Actually, we do care, but we like it when you guys take the stress off us so it's all good." He nodded down at the woman at his feet, the one who had shot the tranq rifle. "Tell them Faith's good with us and that we like you guys being you. No harm, no foul, no interference." He tugged Faith's body with him, backing out of the door. "If you can move the wolves, we'd like to have the bodies," he called once they were outside.

"Of course." Adam looked down at the still forms, giving them a smile. "They're the good guys." He moved closer to Oz, putting his gun away, and yelled as he was bitten. He smacked the furry muzzle, then wrapped an arm around Oz's throat to choke him until he passed out. "All clear," he called, "but do it fast. They won't stay out for long."

Six agents streamed in and grabbed the bodies, pulling them out to the van that was backed up to the doorway. "Thank you," one said, bowing at him. "We welcome your help when you're ready to leave here, Methos." He closed the door behind himself.

"You forgot one," Adam called. One of the agents ran in and grabbed the last body, the one on the stairs, and left with him. Adam took a long look around the living room and foyer, shaking his head. "I am not cleaning this up," he muttered as he went for a phone. "Derek," he said as someone answered. "I think it's best you get back here now. No, I'm the only adult presently not changed and awake. And I'm not cleaning up the mess." He hung up and turned to watch the wolves sleep. The kids were fine where they were so he would make sure the couple didn't cause any more trouble while he thought about this new wrinkle.


Derek walked into the house and groaned at the spilled blood littering the floor. He walked through the open door to the living room, smiling at the couple curled up on the floor together. "How are they?" he asked, staring in fascination as they slowly shifted back, each one shifting in reaction to the other so it looked like a wave.

"Fine. I shot Oz in the ankle. Xander was tranquilized. The people who did this to them were very nice though. They cleaned up the first group of agents so you wouldn't have to." Adam stood up and walked out. "I'll go call someone to come help. Maybe the new butler."

Derek shook his head, looking over his shoulder as Rupert ran in. "This was not a goot day," he noted. "But I think we proved our point. Watch them while I call William, before we have a Legacy team here."

"That may have been who the second group was," Adam called. "If not, they're doing the same job and they like you."

Derek walked into the kitchen, one eyebrow raised. "What did you say?"

"The second group, the one that took the bodies with them, said that you both do the same job but that they like us because we take the stress off them and they wanted to remain non- interfering. Oh, who did you tell about me?"

"No one." Derek frowned. "Anything else?"

"Just that someone named Faith was good with them."

"Faith?" Buffy said loudly as she walked in to join them. "She did this?"

"She was part of the second group, dear, calm down. Apparently they've helped her. They said she was good with them."

Buffy nodded. "Whatever." She looked at Derek. "Where's the kids?"

"Mostly in my room, Precious was somewhere else." Adam handed Derek the phone. "William. He has our new butler at the moment."

Derek took the phone and walked out onto the porch. He came back a few minutes later and smiled at their butler. "You're to do a report for him. The boys also when they wake up."

"That's fine. It won't be the first," Adam sighed. "I'm going to remove the children from my room and finish my nap. Wake me up when you order supper."

Derek smirked at his back then turned to look at Buffy. "I'm sure Faith's turned over a new leaf, Buffy. She couldn't be as bad as she used to be and work for anyone who seems to do the same job we do." He patted her on the shoulder. "What should we order for supper?"

"Something soothing. Those two will want to cuddle up and hide all night." She followed him back to the living room, tapping Giles on the shoulder. "Faith works for the second group."

"Really?" he asked, looking interested. "Good, I'm pleased that someone was able to rehabilitate her." He gave her a hug. "This group was probably formed because of the Initiative's findings. She's in a good position to do the work."

"Um, she's got about four months until her special birthday."

Giles nodded. "They'll figure it out. We have no way of contacting them to tell them."

Brandon ran into the room and hugged Giles. "We have card. Angelie say she a good girl now and needs to know what's going on with Auntie Buffy." He hugged her. "Oh, and he tell me to tell daddies that they were good boys too. And to give them many hugs." He let go of Buffy and flopped down next to his daddy Oz, wrapping his arms around his father's waist and pushing his face into the limp chest. "Anglie said you very good and that you need to not be sad," he told them.

Derek and Giles shared a look and Derek walked back to the kitchen. "Did you get a message from Brandon's angel too?" he asked Adam.

"No. He was gone by the time I got back there." The butler chugged his beer and turned to look at Derek. "I know that angel and I really don't want to talk about it."

"Whatever you want, as long as you pass on any information you receive. Remember, though, that when you're ready to talk about it, we are here."

Adam nodded and walked out of the kitchen, heading back to his bedroom.

Derek grabbed the water pitcher and some glasses, bringing them back to the living room. He found Xander curled up around Oz whispering over and over that he was sorry. He set down the tray and poured out a glass, handing it off to his son. "Don't be sorry, you saved your family. Brandon's angel said so." He poured himself a glass and sat down next to the couple, making sure he was as close to them as he could be and not be on the floor with them. "We need you to make a report, Xander. Both of you if possible." He took a sip, watching his son's reaction.

"I bit someone," Xander said, staring at the glass he had put down beside Oz's head. "I can taste them."

"You bit a few people," Brandon said, giving him a smile. "The angelie said that you did good though. They were bad and you were the big protector."

Oz grunted and pushed back into Xander's body as he woke up. "What happened?" He sat up and looked around, ending up on Brandon. "Go get Precious out of Derek's room."

Brandon got up and gave him a hug around his head. "Richie said that you guys did good and you shouldn't be sad. He told me to tell you." He ran out, going to free his sister.

"What happened?" Oz asked Derek, taking the water glass his mate had picked up and handed to him. "All I remember is some sort of danger...." He trailed off, looking at Xander. "You turned."

"Yeah. I got shot. Precious was on the stairs and someone was headed for her. That's all I remember, trying to protect her." He looked at Derek. "Film from the security cameras?"

"We'll get them later," Derek said gently. "Oz, I have to agree with the angel. You did what you had to to protect your family. You shouldn't feel sorry for those you bit."

"If I don't, then I wouldn't be me," Oz reminded him.

"Daddies," Brandon cried, running into the room holding his head. "Sissy hit me." He crawled into Oz's lap and snuggled in. "She's mean."

Giles stood up, giving the boys a smile. "I'll go get her. She's in Derek's room?" Oz nodded. He walked out, leaving the family alone.

Derek leaned over, kissing his son on the temple. "I'm very proud of the way you managed to save your family," he said quietly. "Don't worry about the method, I'm sure we'd be more than upset if the children or either of you had been taken."

Oz nodded. "That's putting it mildly." He gave Brandon a squeeze and let him go. "Why don't you go up to the nursery and we'll come up later, okay?" He watched his son leave then turned to look at his boss. "You know more than you're saying, give."

"All we know right now is that there were two groups of people. The second came to take away the first, and they said they do the same thing that we do. Oh, and that they had Faith with them and she was doing fine."

Xander shuddered. "Whatever, on that last point. Do we have a clue who the second group was?"

"No, but I'm glad to have had their help," Derek said gently, reaching over to smooth down some of Xander's errant hair. "They took away the people that were trying to harm you and I have no doubt that they're going to do something incredibly harsh to them. Maybe even give them the knowledge that they crave by forcing the idiots to work for them." He smiled at the couple. "Why don't you two go upstairs and rest together. I'm sure you will recover your balance quicker that way. Come back down later and help me order supper."

Xander nodded and stood up, pulling Oz with him. "Yell if you need us."

Derek waited until he was alone to pick up the phone and update William. "No, they both changed to protect the children," he said quietly. "Yes, both of them. I don't know, why don't you ask them?" He snorted and hung up. "I'll ask them eventually, they don't like to talk about the hunting instincts."


William walked into the San Francisco house and caught Timmy as he ran past. "Hi," he said, smiling at the little boy.

"Unclie Willie," he cried, hugging him. "Me be late, got to go. We talk later." He wiggled until he got down and then finished running up the stairs to their room.

Derek walked out a few minutes later, smiling at his step-father. "William. How's mother?"

"Fine. She stopped in town to do a little shopping." They shook hands and William glanced up the stairs. "Late for what?"

"Their first day of school." Derek pulled them both out of the way as he heard the stomping sounds starting to get closer. He managed to kick the suitcase out of the way at the last second, barely getting out of the stampeding herd's way. "As you can see, they're excited," he said dryly.

William chuckled. "That's a good thing though, Derek. Being excited to go to school means that you'll do well later in life." He looked up as he heard another set of running feet. "Who's that?"

"Xander." Derek held out the bag he had been carrying as his son passed them by, smiling at the young man as he waved. "He has a meeting before class today. Nick was even nice enough to lend him his beloved car." He stepped away from the older man. "He hasn't had an easy few days, William, go easy on them."

"I'm not here to question them, I'm here because your mother decided we should take a vacation and unlock your control room door. Oh, and the other houses liked your idea on the single person getting their reports. They think it might give them more warning if something strange starts to happen."

"Goot," Derek said, clapping his hands together. "Have you had breakfast? Adam left something for us. The new butler hasn't quite gotten used to cooking for all of us yet."

William shook his head. "Okay. Let's go eat. I could use some coffee." He followed the local Precept into the kitchen, taking a seat across from him and grabbing the pot in the middle of the table. "How's your house?"

"Grateful for the last few days free of worries," Nick said as he walked down the stairs. "All we've had to do was to catch a demon Buffy let loose so she could save herself."

William nodded as he poured himself a cup of coffee. "I heard about that. Was it hard to catch?"

"No. It was a learning experience for Flame though. She had thought the job was a walk in the park until she had to face that one down."

"Fortunately, it didn't like to eat women," Nick quipped as he smiled at the pair of them. "It might have been worse if it had tried to eat her instead of trying to kick her butt."

"True, but I can be thankful for the little things," Derek told him with a smile. "It was nice of you to lend Xander your car."

"Hey, even I can appreciate the luxury of your Range Rover. I'll steal it over the next few days, until they get a new one."

"Any word on their insurance check?" William asked.

"Not a one," Nick sighed, heading for the refrigerator. "Are you going to gently prod the new butler again, Derek? Or do I have to start helping to cook meals?"

"No, I'll have a discussion with her later today, when she gets back from shopping," Derek told him. "By all means, make yourself breakfast, Nick. I'm sure you're hungry."

"Yeah, starving." Nick came out of the refrigerator with an armful of ingredients and walked over to the counter next to the stove to chop them up. "Anyone want anything since I'm over here?"

"No thank you," William said. "Could you make some biscuits for Barbara though? She's been needing a mid-morning snack most days." Derek gave him a hard look. "What? She's been wearing herself out over those idiots that were bothering you. She was almost insistent on coming over here to thrash them herself." He sipped his coffee, grimacing. "Who made this?"

"She did," Nick said quietly. "Almost as bad as Alex's."

William looked at Derek, giving him one of his infamous looks. "What criteria was she chosen on?"

"She's from the Legacy's employment agency," Derek told him. "She recently retired from the Vatican City house."

"Ah." William nodded. "You know she's sick, right? That she has less than ten months to live? The Vatican City house let her go as an act of mercy so she could spend her last year doing what she's always wanted to do."

"I'll talk to her this afternoon," Derek agreed, giving Nick a look. "I'm sure we can handle this on our own for a few days."

"Derek, let your mother get us the next one," Nick said as he chopped vegetables. "She did good finding us Adam, let her interview them." He looked up as the back door opened. "Ah, Mari. How was shopping?"

"You should have told me you'd want an omelet, I'd have left you one in the oven," she chided gently. She carted the bags into the kitchen and stopped, glaring at William. "You told him, didn't you?"

"I had to, dear. It's nothing against you being sick, it's more about you needing time to do what you want to."

"I want to work." She turned her glare on Derek. "Are you going to give me compassionate leave too?"

"Not until we find another butler," Derek said, giving her a reassuring smile, "which might take my mother the next few years to find someone that lives up to her standards."

She nodded. "Good. Thank you." She looked down at the groceries. "I have enough to last us through dinner tomorrow night, as long as we don't get many more guests."

"Not that I know of," William said, giving her a smile. "How are you doing with the children?"

"Fine. They're little darlings. A bit demanding, but Adam told me all about their preferences and how they'll tell me what I'm doing wrong." She relaxed. "Are you sure?"

"Dear, if you want to spend your last year working, then by all means, we'll let you work. We will have to find someone to take over for you if you start to get more ill as the time draws closer, and to eventually take over for you, but for right now, you're doing fine," Derek assured her. "Remember though, there are six children and eight adults in the house."

"Yeah, like I could forget. I could cook for an army tonight." She walked around Nick, handing him a pan. "Here, use this one, it's been oiled already." He nodded and set it down on the warming burner, checking it by dropping a bit of egg in. "Now then, what do we want for dinner tonight?"

"Something soothing," Nick said as he poured in his egg mixture. "We're still all flustered about the other day." He added some of his vegetables and oysters, smiling as the top flipped perfectly. "Ah, another good day."

"For some of us," Buffy said as she walked down the stairs. "Hey, Mari. What's for breakfast?"

"What would you like?"

"Um, fruit?" The newly filled bowl was placed on the table. "Thanks. Do you have any strong coffee? I have to go over to the college today."

"I can make some more."

"Use an extra scoop," Nick suggested. "We all prefer sludge, except Alex." He gave the butler a grin. "Don't worry about her, she's a tea totaler."

"I'll keep that in mind," she said with a smile. "Need help? It looks like you're burning the bottom."

"Nope, that's how it's best, it cooks the oysters just right." He flipped his omelet out of the pan and brought it over to the table, sitting down at the head. "What else is on the agenda today, besides getting Xander and Oz away from the house so the builders can have their three days to put the parts together?"

William gaped at Derek. "Already?"

"We took a hint from the New York house's rebuild and went with a sectional design. All the pieces are together, but the boys wanted it to be a surprise. All we have to do is to get them out of the house so that they can be surprised."

"Oh, what about their vacation?" Nick asked, pointing at Derek with his fork. "You could send them somewhere civilized for a few days. A spa maybe so that they can unstress."

"Goot idea," Derek said, reaching over to pat Nick's arm. "Finish eating. I won't have you passing out either."

"Yeah, yeah," Nick said, trying to sound tolerant but holding in his smile, "treat me like I'm the bro." He took another bite of his omelet. "Are you hiring him a housekeeper?"

"I thought I had told you no already," Derek said, frowning mildly at him. "They make enough to get one of their own." Mari cleared her throat. "Yes?" Derek asked, turning to look at her.

"They're moving already?" Derek nodded. "Does Jon know? He was thinking he had a few more weeks to pack all the kids' stuff."

"I was going to have everyone help them with that," Derek said gently. "Don't worry about it, dear, you won't have to help unless you want to."

"I'm perfectly capable..." she started to protest.

"Yes, but think about the kids taking snacks upstairs," William said with a smile of his own. "There's probably sandwiches under the bed that are as old as they are."

Derek smiled at him. "And a bowl of oatmeal that seems to have disappeared sometime last year."

"Eww, some of us are *trying* to eat," Nick protested.

"Cast iron stomach failing you finally?" William smirked.

"Yes. I just had the picture of an oatmeal monster crawling out from under the beds with old, dry crusts smeared with peanut butter for weapons."

Derek shuddered. "If we see one of those, you have my permission to shoot it, Nick." He stood up. "Come, William, tell me how you managed in my absence."

"It was remarkably easy," William said as he followed Derek from the room. Once they were in the office, he looked at the supposed Ruling Precept. "You going to give her to the boys?"

"Only if they ask for her," Derek chided. "They really do make enough to hire their own housekeeper. I promise, I'm not making them starve." He sat down in his chair and leaned back. "Besides, their house-pride will last them for a goot while. They won't want one for a few months at least." He waved a hand at the couch. "Sit, gloat. Get it out of your system now, before mother gets back."

"That's why she's shopping right now." William settled himself then tossed over a small wand. "Stick that in the lock and you'll be able to get in again. I forgot you didn't have one of those here." He pulled a foot up to cross across his knee. "Let's see, the other Precepts liked your suggestion, I wasn't sure if I had told you or not." Derek nodded. "The incident with the two groups has been noted and the second one is being searched for on the theory of knowing your friends who might be your enemies. Buffy's comment about the Initiative gave us a thoughtful direction to look in and I have one of the archival houses working on that. Oh, and the other incident, with the court case, there are a few people who would readily believe that but the rest of us nearly killed them during the Precepts' conference. If they're still of the opinion that any of you could hurt those children, then they'll keep it to themselves. I made it very clear that I won't have any more backstabbing among the Precepts, we've lost six of them to that factor alone."

"We do hurt the ones closest to us when we're under stress," Derek reminded him. "What about Kristen and her child? Did you get some resolution with the veterinarian?"

"Mostly. He's agreed to keep quiet, but he wanted to know what we knew about the virus that causes lycanthropy. He's not going to publish anything but he thinks he may know of another one. It seems," William coughed, "that some of the vets nearer to the woods up in Canada have been treating weres and other shape changers for some time now. There's a large preserve up there, a safe haven of sorts. We put our problem veterinarian together with them."

"Oz and Xander wanted to start one of those," Derek said quietly, thinking about it. "On the land that I gave them, the acreage that my father left me."

"That would certainly burn Winston even more than the flames of hell," William said wryly. "He would have had Oz shot as soon as he knew what he was."

"I know," Derek said sadly. "My father was such a hide-bound ass."

"True, but then again, he's not your father, Derek." Derek looked up at him in shock. "Your mother told me that you may not be Winston's child either. It seems that Winston used to have a constant...companion that went everywhere with him. Including on his honeymoon - he justified it as Lucien was his assistant in the Legacy so he needed him. Barbara admitted that there were a few times when Winston had some odd requests, including one that she not see him certain nights."

"So I may be a bastard also?"

"We've known you were one of *those* for years," William said dryly, smirking at his step-son. "It may now be official though."

Derek considered throwing something at William, but everything in his reach was precious to him and he wouldn't risk it on the hard head. "As the children keep saying, it takes one to know one."

William burst out laughing. "Oh, Derek, that's rich." He slowly calmed down, going back to his normal state. "Thank you, I needed that laugh." He wiped his cheeks off. "Oh, it's going to be such fun tormenting you for a long time."

"Did you get bitten too?" Derek asked, lifting his head to look his oldest friend and sparring partner over.

"No, but I'm not leaving this plane anytime soon. We'll have a long time to irritate each other." He noticed the quiet and his eyes narrowed. "You're thinking," he accused.

"Yes, I do that often, but I was trying to figure out if I should be happy about that or take it as a threat."

"Both." William stood up, smirking once again. "Just wait, Derek, you'll get your day in the limelight of my humor again."

"Please, not that. Pickling my dissertation was bad enough."

"That was a nice touch," William said thoughtfully as he walked over to the bar. "Want a drink?"

"Will I need one?"

"Not particularly. I'm dealing with the time change and I wanted to take a nap soon."

"Then by all means, drink yourself into a stupor where Xander can't see you. He still has problems with people drinking heavily around him."

"As well he should," William reminded him. "You would have too if you had had to live with his father." He finished his drink off by dropping an ice cube into it. "There, should be enough to put me to sleep." He walked back to the couch and sat down. "How's the new school going?"

"Fine. The building was finished two days ago and Adam said last night that it was acceptable. Jon's out there helping him, with Junior tagging along, and everything should be fine for another long while."

"As long as it is, then we'll all be in good shape," William said. "What's going to happen if someone leaks something to the press?"

"About what? The Legacy?"

"No, all those reports that went to the Judge and what those agents had done. Those could seriously damage you from what I've heard. A lot of them were very biased."

"Yes, but there's always a counter report. We made sure of that." Derek picked up the paper that William pointed at. "Ah, someone leaked the Social Services interview." He read it and nodded. "That's true enough, but I will be having a discussion with someone." He made a mental note of the name on the story and tossed the paper away. "It could have been worse. Those two fabricated a report and that could have made it into the news."

"Good point," William said with a yawn. "I think I'm ready for bed. Wake me when the kids get back." He left the office, going up to his room.

Mari knocked and walked in just as Derek was relaxing. "I'd like them to not know if that's okay," she said. "I mean, Nick's bad enough, but I really don't want those two sons of yours looking at me all pitifully."

Derek nodded. "As you wish. When you feel it's time for you to quit working, you'll come tell us and we'll deal with it." She nodded and left him alone.

Derek looked at the key to the Control Room door, tapping it a few times on the desk before getting up and letting everyone back into their work areas.


Derek steered Xander into one of the sitting rooms when he saw him in the hall, closing the door behind him so he could sit next to his son on the couch. "I want you to think about finishing your vacation," he said quietly, giving him a hopeful look. There was only one way to surprise the boys with a finished house, that was getting them out of this one for a few days. He saw the young man's face fall and mentally reviewed his words. "What did I say?"

"I'll go tell Oz," Xander said dejectedly, standing up, but he was pulled back down and into a hug.

"I only meant that you didn't get the rest that you deserve and that you should be able to take that now since that horrid case if done with." Derek caught a clue and sighed, pulling Xander in closer. "This has nothing to do with your save of the children the other day," he whispered. "This is entirely so that you can have some fun alone with your mate. I'm very thankful that you changed last time, it saved you and the children." He pulled back, seeing the hope budding in the dark brown eyes. "Really, son, all this is about is you going to take some time off. It has nothing at all to do with your recent protection." He reached up to brush some of the dark hair out of Xander's eyes. "And get a haircut while you're out."

Xander shook his head. "I shouldn't be allowed near the kids. What if it happens again because I'm upset with them?"

"Has it yet?" Derek asked, starting to stroke down the tense back. He wondered why Oz hadn't already picked this up, then he remembered that Oz probably was having a few problems dealing with his recent change also. "There probably isn't a circumstance that would make you change and attack your children, Xander. Changing to protect them maybe, but not to harm them. You could never do that, it's not in your nature to harm an innocent." He tipped the sunken chin back up again. "You know that, why are you doubting it?"

"Because I feel like it," Xander said, starting to pout. "I have no idea why these thoughts come into my head, but that one got me this morning."

"Maybe it's time to look for alternative reasons for these thoughts then," Derek said calmly.

"No, it's probably one of the days that I need my meds." He reached over to the intercom and depressed the button. "Oz? Can I see you for a sec?"


Derek frowned at his son. "Medicine? Since when? You're not sick, are you?" He grabbed Xander and shook him lightly. "What are you sick with? Tell me and let me help you."

"Gee," Oz said as he walked in, "it looks like someone else could use the anti-anxiety medicine." He handed Xander a glass of iced tea and the pill bottle, watching as one was taken. He shrugged at Derek. "Some days he worries for no reason."

"About some of the worst things," Xander added. "That's why I'm on these," he showed the pill bottle off.

"Yeah, the others made him paranoid," Oz noted, taking the bottle back. "What's up?" He sat behind Xander, stealing the glass of tea to sip.

"Dad wants us to finish our vacation." Xander leaned back into the comforting body. "I thought he was mad at us for our furry moment."

"Oh." Oz looked up at Derek, who shook his head. "We're both still disturbed by how easy it was to go back to being furry but I know that you're not sending us away."

"I would *never* send either of you away," Derek said firmly. He pulled Xander back into his arms. "I had hopes that you knew that, son; I will never willingly send you away from this house."

"If the House..." Xander started.

"Not even if it endangers the House," Derek countered. "The Legacy is much less important to me than you are, son. Never doubt that." He kissed him on the forehead. "Now, go play somewhere sunny with your mate and be happy. No more worrying about things like how much I care. I do and always will, no matter what you do."

"Even if I became bad?" Xander asked, looking up at his father, looking very much like a scared five year old.

"Yes, son, even if you became the world's worst serial killer, I could not send you away. You are my weakness." He handed Xander back to Oz. "Now that I've reminded you of that fact, I think we should make plans for decorating your house."

Oz gave Xander a squeeze. "He knew, he has these moments that he needs reassurances, Derek. He's been like this since before we got here."

"I'm sorry, but sometimes I need to hear it," Xander said, looking down at his hands.

"Xander, son," Derek said gently, giving him a smile, "you never have to doubt it, even if you don't hear it directly. Even if you never hear me say I love you like my son you'll never have to doubt it, all right?"

Xander nodded. "Thank you for humoring me."

"That's another thing I'm more than tempted to do," Derek said, playfully pinching the end of Xander's nose. "Now then, let's get back to the real business at hand. Decorating for six children and three adults."

"We've decided that we're going to do a blue/green thing," Oz said. "A lot like our room, only more subtle. The kids have all picked out their own colors, after a few vetos from Jon about orange and other such colors. All we need is a house to fix up."

Xander tipped his head back to rest it on his mate's shoulder. "All we need is the house and some paint," he corrected. "And a lot of time to paint Serena's room."

"I found those sticky stencils that Jon was talking about. All we need is the paint."

"Okay." Xander turned his attention back to his father. "All we need is the house."

Derek smiled. "We're working on the final plans right now, boys. Give it a few months." He saw the patient nod and his smile got brighter. Wouldn't they be surprised when they came home to their new house already up and decorated for them. "Were there any special features that you wanted but you forgot to include in the plans?"

"I thought I had the whole house wired for 'net access," Oz said, closing his eyes. "Um, maybe a bigger refrigerator and a smaller one, and a walk-in freezer and pantry, like we have now." He opened them to see Derek nodding and started to suspect something. He sniffed the older man then relaxed. If Derek wanted to surprise them, he'd play along with it. Xander would be thrilled when he found out. "Other than a fridge in the playroom? Not a thing I can think of."

"Oh, you never told us about our bedroom stuff," Xander said, smiling at his father. "We like our bed."

"Needs a new mattress," Oz noted, "but otherwise, that bed has stood through all of our lives here so far. Special things happened in there."

Derek nodded and made a mental note. "Would you like to keep that furniture or start anew with a clean slate?"

"I *want* that wardrobe," Xander said. "There's great things about walk-in closets, but those old wardrobes are something special."

"We wouldn't mind the bedframe," Oz said. "We've put some scratches on it over the years." He poked Xander in the side. "Or do you want to pick out a big, nice, new bed?"

"Um, not sure," Xander admitted after a few second's thought. "I like our bedroom, but I kinda feel like since this is a new start, we should have a new bed. And if we really can't stand having a new bed, we'll switch it out with the old one, okay?" He looked up at his mate, who nodded, then they both looked at Derek, who shrugged. "Okay. I think that's the only two pieces of furniture that we really wanted. We don't want the desk, or the dressers, or even the table."

"We could get you a bed similar to the one in the bedroom," Derek suggested. "That way, if we have to switch back, we can do so easily."

"We'll have to get two sets of mattresses too," Oz reminded him. "I've been getting poked by a spring every night for the last year."

"Why don't you ever mention these things?" Nick said as he opened the door. "Have you seen Mari?"

"Not recently," Oz said. "Have you checked the walk-in freezer?"

"Yeah, and I can't find her anywhere," Nick sighed. "Want me to start dinner?"

"I think we were going to have stew tonight," Derek said. "Try looking for her again, I'm sure you'll find her somewhere near the kitchen."

"Yeah, hopefully, or we're having pizza," Nick muttered as he left them alone.

"What's up with her anyway?" Xander asked. "I noticed that she had an odd odor but I couldn't identify it."

"Boys, drop the subject unless she wants to talk to you about it," Derek advised. "This is something she'll have to tell you about."

"Yes, sir," the said together.

Oz nipped Xander's ear. "What about that special room I asked you for?"

"It's all in there, Oz. All the specifications you had planned are in the final drawing, including a few modifications Rupert and I made to what is to become Xander's working area." Both of them looked confused. "What? You didn't expect Xander to learn magic outside, did you?" He smiled and stood up. "I'll see you after supper about anything else that you may want."

Oz waited until they were alone. "I thought you hated that wardrobe."

"Do, but I dropped some stuff into the secret compartment and I can't figure out how to open it again."

"Oh." Oz gave him a squeeze then pushed him up. "Come on. We should go pick out a place to finish our vacation."

"Oh, how about a spoilin' spot? Like a spa?"

"Sure," Oz said. "If we could find one that'd take us on such short notice." He grabbed Xander's hand and pulled him up to the bedroom, cuddling as they looked at the bed. "I first held you here as my lover," he said softly. "It's been here every special time except our honeymoon."

"And some bad ones too," Xander said.

"That's life, babe."

"Yeah," Xander said, relaxing into his mate, knocking him down onto the floor. "Do you want to keep it?"

"Not real sure. I used to picture myself having one of those outrageously heavy four-poster beds. The ones with the secret compartments and everything." His lover grinned and nodded. "Now, I could go for a simpler style."

"Then why does our house look kinda goth?" Xander asked.

"Because some of me is still a little kid and wanted it that way," Oz told him, giving him a poke. "I balanced it so that we could make it more simple if we wanted to, or go really ornate and heavily goth if we wanted to sometime in the future."

"Oh. Okay." Xander shrugged. "That's why I leave these things up to you." He snuggled in. "Why did you keep sniffing Derek?"

"Because he's hiding something," Oz said.

Xander sat up suddenly, making Oz go 'oomph' as he pushed on his chest. "He's not hurt, right? Not sick or something?"

"No," Oz groaned as he removed the hand planted on his lung, "not sick. Very healthy, just a secret." He took a deep breath. "I'm getting you warning lights. First you backed into me this morning and now this."

"You liked it when I backed into you this morning," Xander said, starting to pout. "We had great cuddles."

Oz nodded. "Definitely liked it, I just want some warning." He tickled Xander, making him shriek and thrash around. "Get off, babe, let's move this to the bed." He looked down Xander's body, staring at one important, not moving spot. "Can't?" he asked sadly.

"Not recently for some reason," Xander agreed, looking down there himself.

"We're switching your medications," Oz declared, hopping up and heading for the phone.

"It's after hours," Xander protested, grabbing him. He tossed Oz onto the bed and snuggled down onto his stomach, knowing that his breath was tormenting his mate.

"We'll call first thing in the morning. As soon as Marcus walks in the door, he'll see us."

"Okay." Xander lifted his head. "Wouldn't that mean that we have to be there at six?"

"Maybe," Oz agreed. "I'll set the alarm."

"Okay," Xander sighed and put his head back down. It was good that Oz loved him.


Nick looked down at the new house plans, shaking his head. "It's real ornate. Who picked that out?"

"Oz probably. I think he did a nice job of balancing, but I do have some doubts about the paint choices that they made. This light green goes with nothing," he noted.

Nick made a face. "Who wants to put light lime in their foyer?"

"Oz did apparently." Derek looked up at the knock to his door. "Yes?" Mari walked in, grimacing at Nick's back. "Nick, give us a minute please," he said quietly.

Nick looked over his shoulder and nodded. "Okay." He left the room, giving the butler a pat on the shoulder as he walked past her.

"I figured out what they meant," she said quietly. "I want to keep working but I don't think I can. I'm getting weaker." She looked at her clenched hands. "I had to have help getting down the stew pot for supper. You're going to have to find my replacement sooner than you thought."

Derek stood up and walked over to her, taking her over to the couch so he could sit next to her. "Mari, I figured this was going to happen sooner or later and I've talked with my mother about finding a replacement for you to train." She nodded but didn't look at him. "There's a wonderful guest house on the property that you're welcome to once you've started training the new butler. The boys will also be getting their own house soon and we'll want you to train the new person for their house also."

"I thought that was going to be months from now." She glanced up to see the pleasant smile and head shake. "No?"

"Not as long as that. Maybe a week. I thought we talked about this earlier."

"We probably did, I've been having problems with my memory." She unclenched her hands to touch a finger to the left side of her head. "It's right here and it's not a nice creature." Her hand fell back into her lap. "So, I'll have to train someone?"

"Or maybe two someones. Xander and Oz may well want a housekeeper of their own once they figure out how nice having one is. It's nice to be so spoiled as to not have to do any housework." She smiled. "As for the guest house, I have the keys in the drawer and they're yours as soon as we can find a replacement. You can hike up here every day to train them, it's a nice five minute walk through the gardens."

She sighed and stood up. "Thank you, Doctor Rayne. You've made this tolerable." She bowed to him and left.

Derek stayed where he was for a moment more then got up to get his phone, dialing one of the rooms upstairs. "Alex? Why are you in my mother's room?" He snorted. "Put her on please." He sat down and folded up the house plans, turning to look out the window. "Mother, we need to find a replacement sooner than we thought. No, the tumor has finally caught up with her. I'm giving her the guest house for however long she has left." He smiled. "That would be nice. I liked Dominic as much as the children did. Actually, I liked him more than I do having Adam as the butler, he never argued with me." He chuckled. "Goot. I'll meet with your suggestions as soon as you can gather them. No, mother, they can hire their own butler. They do have a paycheck. I don't know, ask them if they'd like your help." He laughed again and hung up. "First anniversary present? I'm sure I can think of a much better one than a housekeeper." He looked at his calendar, mentally counting backwards. The house would be about finished in time for their first anniversary. Maybe the boys would host a party.


Xander looked over at Oz as they waited in Marcus' office, giving him a slight grin. "We're really this upset about that side effect?"

"Yes, why aren't you?"

"I thought it would eventually come back."

"Nope. Not until after you quit taking it."

"Oh." Xander leaned his head on Oz's shoulder. "Oz, why did we get up at five?"

"To get here on time." Oz wrapped an arm around Xander's chest, pulling him closer. "You nap if you want to."

"Thanks," he said with a yawn.

Marcus walked in an hour later and found both men asleep in his waiting room. He started to smile at the cute picture they made but thought better of it. What brought those two to him at such an early hour? He walked quickly back to his office and dialed the house. "Oh, good, you're still standing. I had a doubt there for a minute." He dropped his briefcase as he sat down, putting his feet up on the desk. "Yeah, they're here, Alex. Any idea why?" He snorted. "No, they're taking a nap in the waiting room chairs. Yeah, I knew you'd be flattered. I'll send them home in a while, tell Derek to quit angsting over it." He hung up as he stood, walking out to wake up his favorite patients. "Guys," he said quietly, shaking Oz on the shoulder. "What's going on? Did Derek kick you out for making too much noise?" he asked Xander when he saw his eyes open first.

"You smell like Adam," Xander mumbled.

Oz sat upright, looking from his husband to their doctor and back. "You do." He stood up, looking up at Marcus' eyes. "You are like him, right?"

"Yes," Marcus sighed. "Why is this important and how did he know?"

"He can feel a zing from magic or from you guys." Oz shrugged. "No big, part of the furry gift, I have to concentrate to do it. We need different drugs. He can't."

"Can't what?" Oz gave him a 'you know' look. "Oh, he's impotent. Okay, I can figure out a different brand to give you. Go back to my office." He watched as Oz pulled a mostly asleep Xander up and walked them down the hall. Then he let out his breath. "Man, I've got to remember that. I don't want everyone to know." He followed them, grabbing the drug index from behind the receptionist's desk.