Happy Knots That Only Bind
Xander squealed as Oz swung him around in the driveway, leaning down to give him a kiss before anyone in the house could stop them. He heard the screams of the children and planted himself on the ground, pulling Oz into his body to wait for their herd to overtake them.
"Stop running," Nick yelled from inside. He shook his head at the couple, going back inside to find Derek.
"Daddies!" Precious called. "No more kissies." She tugged on Xander's arm, glaring up at them. "No more kissies each other, hug us!" she demanded, stomping her little foot.
Oz looked down at her. "Apparently someone forgot to teach you patience."
"I'm special, I don't need any," she said.
"Yeah, uh-huh," Xander said, shaking his head. "That means that you need more than most people." He patted her on the top of the head. "Who wants a hug and a t-shirt?" All the kids cheered. "Then let's go inside and give them to you."
"I have a better idea," Derek said. "I want to show you your anniversary present from the whole house." He waved a hand at the pathway around the house. "Come, let's show them," he told the kids, who ran screaming for the garden.
Xander and Oz looked at each other but followed their kids, walking around the house to find...
Xander squealed and turned, grabbing his father to hug as hard as he could.
Buffy looked down at the grip machine, checking the area around her before inserting a quarter. She squeezed the handle as hard as she could, wincing and easing off as she heard the plastic crack. "Oh, no," she whispered, glancing around again as she picked up her backpack and ran out of the college's bookstore.
She headed for the sedan Derek had said she could use, getting in and driving for somewhere she could cry by herself before she headed for her confidant.
Xander danced around the rooms, coming to rest in the kitchen, where he landed on his mate's lap. "I love it. The paint's just right!"
"Except the foyer," Oz corrected, looking at Derek. "I liked that light lime color."
"It would have clashed, son," Derek said, giving him a tolerant smile. "Live with it for a few weeks before you make any decisions about redecorating." He patted both of their heads. "There's food in the refrigerator so you don't have to come back to the main house tonight. The children will be moving over tomorrow night so you'll have time to christen the house." He leaned into the hug Xander was giving him, squeezing him back. "You're welcome. We'll set rules for lack of cuddling at the table in the main house now that you have your own."
"Okay," Xander said. "That would be fine." He looked at Oz, then gave him a kiss. "Love you both. Especially my daddy, who got us a house."
Oz looked up at Derek. "I'll make sure he quits bouncing before we come up to get the kids tomorrow."
"That would be nice," Nick said as he dropped the basket he was carrying on the counter. "Food, sheets, champagne, dishes. Oh, and lube," he said, holding up a tube. "Everything you should need for tonight." He tossed the keys down. "You can cuddle all you want out here and not make the rest of us gag now."
"Nick!" Derek said sharply.
"It's okay. It's hard to see love when you're ignoring your own," Oz said, staring at Nick. "Some people are afraid to do most anything involving changing their personal lives." He smoothed down Xander's back. "Xander's best friend is inertia."
"But I have you as the moving object," Xander said, putting his head down on Oz's shoulder. "Love you all."
"I'm very glad to hear you say that, son," Derek said. He grabbed Nick's arm. "We'll leave you alone now. The children are running back up to the house as we speak."
"What about Junior?" Oz asked.
"He'll stay tonight in my room to fight his nightmares. We all know that he's not able to sleep alone right now and I'm a light sleeper. He's become used to waking me up anyway." Derek nodded at them and pulled Nick through the french doors to the garden. "Goot night," he called over his shoulder as he closed the door.
"Night," they called together.
Oz looked at Xander and leered. "Is the drug out of your system?" His hand was placed on the hard cock his mate was sprouting. "Good," he purred. "Let's go investigate the bathroom more in depth." He forced Xander to stand up and led him up to their room, the only bedroom on the second floor. Next to their room was the library, a sitting room, a sun porch, and a sinfully large bathroom - just like they had planned. They walked into the large bathroom, staring at the light green marble counters, the chrome-edged mirrors, the bathtub that was large enough for five people. Xander headed for the shower, turning it on to look at the multiple spray jets, giving a lighter squeal. "I'm glad you like it," Oz whispered, walking up behind him to cuddle into his back. "I designed it for you, babe. I know how much you like your bathroom time."
Xander turned in the loose arms and got a kiss. "I love you enough to share my bathroom with you." He gave his lover an impish grin.
"Good, that means I won't have to lock you out of it." Oz stripped Xander's shirt off him and turned him back to the shower. "Go play. I'll run us a bubble bath."
Xander stripped as fast as he could and hopped under the three sprays, giving a yell of delight when the one hit his back at just the right spot. Then he found the hand-held shower attachment.
Oz shook his head and headed for the special bathtub to start the promised bubble bath.
Buffy ran crying into the house and up to Alex's room, pounding on her door. She was let in and fell crying into the strong arms. "It came back," she whispered.
"I suspected as such," Barbara said quietly, pulling her inside. She kicked the door shut and led her over to Alex's bed, putting her beside the new house cat. "Buffy, how long have you suspected as much?" she asked.
"Where's Alex?" she asked, looking around, her eyes very big and scared-looking.
"She knew you were going to get it back and asked me to handle this," Barbara said with a smile. "She knew that I would be strong enough to get you over this shock where she might not be." She stroked some of the blonde hair back. "How long have you known?"
"I cracked a tray a few days ago," Buffy cried, clinging to her. "Please don't kill me again."
"Shh, little one, there's no way anyone's going to do that." She sat down beside the young woman, pulling her back into her arms. "Have you told anyone else?"
"Willow, I asked her opinion when we went to lunch last week. I...I cracked one of those cheesy strength machines in the bookstore."
"That's fine. We'll figure it out." She made Buffy sit up. "I want you to come back to London with us for a few weeks, just until we're sure what's going on. I know this will deprive you of your support, but this way you won't have to worry about your Watcher's or my son's reaction." She got a shallow nod. "Good, I'll tell my son in a few moments while you gather yourself together and pack a small bag of work-out clothes." She stood up. "We'll be leaving tonight anyway, after we interrupt the boys, so go get ready. Find your passport, dear." She left the room, going down to her son's office. "Are the boys back?"
"Yes. We left them alone with a gift basket and a lot of hot water," Derek said, looking up at her. "How's Buffy? Nick said she ran inside but not why. Was the book correct?"
"Yes, or so it seems at the moment. She'll be coming back with us for a few weeks to train with Willy. How did they like the new color in the foyer?"
"Oz didn't, but I suggested that they live with it for a few weeks before they made such a rash decision." Derek handed her a slip of paper. "That's her next check so she can go shopping while she's over there. Call if you need anything. Do you need the spare keys?"
"No, Willy has his Precepts' set with him. I'll follow him out to say goodbye." She walked around to give him a hug and a peck on the cheek. "You be good, Derek, I don't want to have to come back here except to visit you." She left him alone, going to say goodbye to the couple.
Oz looked up as the bathroom door opened, giving William and Barbara a bland look. He nudged Xander, who was investigating the jets under the water.
Xander popped up and smiled at the older couple. "Hi!" he said cheerfully. "We have a house."
"Yes, we noticed," William said. He smiled at them both. "I'm sure you'll keep it immaculate and have many good memories in it."
Barbara nudged him to stop him before he got more formal. "I'm glad you're happy with it, boys. When we come back next time, you'll have to let us stay the night downstairs with the children so we can see all the changes you've made to create a home." She walked in and gave them both kisses on the cheek. "You be good and we'll have Buffy call you tomorrow."
Xander nodded, looking sad. "I'm glad you've decided to adopt her problem. She needs a mother's touch." He looked around her at William. "If you hurt her, I'm going to come over there. You know that, right?"
"Of course I do, Xander," William said, rolling his eyes. "I'm sure Buffy knows and will miss her best protectors." He coughed to break his wife's staring at the young men. "Barbara, we have to say goodbye to the children."
"Of course," she said, shaking herself. "Be good, boys, and we'll talk to you tomorrow." She blew a kiss at them and walked back to her husband's side, leaving the house with him.
"Your grandma stared," Oz said.
"Yeah, but you're pretty so I'll forgive her for it," Xander said, kissing Oz as hard as he could, forcing him back into the padded backrest. "You're not getting out of here without some Xander- lovin'," he whispered against the swollen lips.
"Feelings mutual," Oz reminded him as he grabbed one of the tubes of waterproof lube Derek had thoughtfully provided for them in the medicine cabinet and strewn around the room.
Derek looked out his window at the house now gracing the other side of the stream, letting his sadness come out now, where no one could see it. He hadn't wanted to let his family move so far away. He liked having them right there in the house with him, able for him to reach out and touch whenever he needed them.
Nick cleared his throat from the doorway. "Philip must be really bored. He showed up to remind me that you needed a hug tonight." He closed and locked the door behind him, walking over to wrap himself around Derek's back. "I miss them too," he said quietly. "I would have put up with the stomach-churning cuddling if they would have stayed, but it was time for them to have their own house."
Derek nodded. "I know. Why do they have to be so far away though?"
"Far away?" Nick snorted. "Derek, you could toss spitballs at their windows. They're so close their house might as well be an addition to ours." He gave his friend a tight squeeze. "Come away from the windows before you're forced to watch them have sex because they forgot to close the curtains."
Derek turned, giving Nick a weak smile. "We closed those." He turned back to look outside again, resisting the urging of Nick's arms. "Let me do this, Nick, please." His breath caught and he put his hand on the window as he leaned closer. "Xander's looking over here."
"Of course he is. He's never been this far away from you unless he was in trouble." Nick let go to turn out the overhead light, leaving the one beside the bed on. "There, now you can see his puppy eyes from all the way over there."
Derek smiled and waved, shutting the drapes. "Thank you, Nick," he said, turning to find the younger man sitting on the bed. "It means a lot that you know how I feel."
"Hey, having a family that I like is something that I've only had since I found him. I didn't want him to move either." He patted the bed. "Philip suggested I give you a killer backrub and then let you go to sleep."
"Nick, a backrub from Philip never put me to sleep."
"I know. You guys got loud too," Nick told him with a grin. "Don't push me and we'll be fine, okay?" He stood up and unbuttoned Derek's shirt, pushing it off his arms. "I do love you, but I'm still a little messed up in the thinking department. Want to help me clear that up?"
Nick put a hand over his mouth. "No 'if's, 'but's, or 'otherwise's, Derek. I'm finally ready for this and I'm not going to let you take this moment away from me unless you really don't want me anymore." Derek shook his head so Nick removed his hand. "Good. 'Cause I want to give you a backrub, I'm a very tactile person."
"Does that mean that you like to cuddle too?" Derek asked, sitting next to him.
"Yeah, but not as much as they do." Nick leaned over slowly, giving Derek the option to back out before he kissed him. "See, I can do this now. I've got my head mostly straight now, no pun intended before you laugh," he added with a grin.
Derek smiled back and leaned in, kissing him. "Would you allow me to curl up around you? The house feels so empty tonight."
"Sure, and tomorrow night too. I'm pretty sure the house is going to be way too quiet with the kids gone."
"Yes, no more little feet sneaking down the stairs in the middle of the night."
"No more shouting matches at four because Timmy sleepwalked and stole Brandon's blanket and Xandra's stuffed mouse."
"No more messes left in their wake down the hallway," Derek said with a smile. Junior started to sniffle and he hopped up, going to take care of this most sacred duty. "I will miss our nightly discussions though. Yes, Junior, I will miss you."
"Derek, he's going to come play in your office every day. It's not like you're never going to see him again." Nick got up to stand behind him, rubbing down the firm back. "He's only moving a thousand yards away. I'm sure there are some nights when you're still going to be woken up by him."
"I do hope that the boys will let us sit with the children some nights," Derek agreed, covering Junior back up with a loving pat. "Come, I need my rest," Derek said quietly, leading Nick back to the bed and tucking him in. He dropped himself on the side away from the baby so he could snuggle into Nick's best side and got comfortable, letting his friend get the light. "Gootnight, Nick," he whispered as he laid his head on the younger man's shoulder.
"Night," Nick said, flipping off the lights and rolling so he could hold the older man. "There, how's that?"
"Goot," Derek admitted. "I feel safe."
"Hmm, not the best choice of words for my ego."
Derek chuckled. "After some of my past lovers, safe is a blessing, Nick. Accept it as a compliment." He wrapped him tighter in his arms. "Go to sleep."
"No bedtime story?" Nick asked, his grin evident in his voice.
"I'll give you one tomorrow night," Derek said, a smile in his voice too. "Go to sleep, Nick, before I'm forced to do something drastic."
"Like tickling you." Derek managed to get in a few good pokes before his hands were captured. "No fair."
"Who said I was supposed to play fair? That's your game, not mine."
"Go to sleep, Nick, we'll discuss this in the morning," Derek said again, getting comfortable.
"This isn't a game to me," Nick said after a few minutes of quiet. "I can't play with you, not about something so important." He picked up a hand and kissed the back of it. "You can tickle me if you think I am, but I won't."
Derek lay there and thought about it, considering all his options.
Oz walked up behind Xander, who was peeking through a crack in the curtains. "They're fine," he reminded his mate. "Jon has the kids and Derek has Junior."
"Yeah, but who has Derek?" Xander asked, turning to look at his lover. "It's got to have hit dad by now that we're not up there anymore, and that the kids are going to be moving tomorrow."
"Maybe." Oz moved the curtain some more, letting Xander look out it.
"See, he looks sad," Xander said, putting a hand on the glass. "He misses us."
"We're close enough to send smoke signals, Xander. Let it go." Oz looked out and sighed. "See, Nick has him. He's not lonely tonight."
"But Nick won't...."
"He will tonight," Oz told him gently, giving him a little squeeze. "Let it go, Xan. He loved you enough to let you move out, let him have the space to grieve for the end of what the house was like."
Xander let the curtain go, nodding slightly as he leaned back into the warm, damp arms. "Can we do that too?" he whispered. "I'll miss having him down the stairs from us."
"Me too," Oz told him, leading Xander over to the bed neither of them had seen yet. "Wow," he said, nudging the slightly younger man so that he would look. "We have our old wardrobe and a new bed that's just like the old one." He looked around their bedroom, smiling at all the familiar furniture. "He wanted us to have a link to the old room."
Xander nodded and led the way to the bed, lying down and pulling Oz with him. "Hmm, firm mattress. Very firm," he said after giving it a test bounce.
"That's good though," Oz said, leaning down for a kiss. "It's better for our backs."
"I only get backaches when I don't sleep on you," Xander reminded him before rolling on top of him. "See, much better for my back."
Oz grunted but didn't force Xander to move. "Yeah, I know the feeling." He poked the soft side. "Ready to sleep or are you still feeling frisky?"
"Oz, I'm *sore*," Xander complained. "I'm not some tender newlywed anymore that can go all night." He yawned to prove it. "I'll give you more in the morning, babe. Okay?" He gave Oz a hopeful look.
"Hey, sounds good to me. We should have plenty of time before the kids leave for school."
"You mean we have to get up *early*?" Xander asked in mock-surprise.
"I don't think we'll have a choice, Xander. The kids will probably wake us up before they leave for school, and then someone has a test and a meeting tomorrow." He pinched the soft side. "You've started to gain weight again," Oz said in appreciation.
"I can't stop eating when I take my meds," Xander admitted with a wry smile. "Will you love me if I get fat?"
"Babe, you're not getting fat. You're filling out, back to the weight you were when we came to the house. I like you like this, don't worry about it."
"You won't let me get fat?"
"Nope. If you get fat, you're going to be doing a lot more exercise in this room."
"Really?" Xander asked, his impish grin coming back.
"Yup, I promise to make you work all those extra calories off in here." He patted the bed then his husband's rear. "You sure you're too sore?"
"Yeah." Xander snuck in a kiss. "What about you though?"
"Oh, you want to go *that* way, huh?" Oz teased, wiggling his hips. "Think you could take me?"
"Yup. Every time."
"Hmm, I'd like to see that, but my alphaness over you might prevent me from doing it." Oz gulped as Xander got to his knees and forced him onto his stomach, his mate laying on top of him. "Never mind."
"See, I figure that we work this way," Xander whispered in his ear. "You're my alpha because you turned me, but I'm the alpha because I'm the stronger willed one. So we're back to sharing the pack together." Oz nodded. "Make sense to you?"
"Yeah, much," Oz said quietly. "Actually, it sounds perfect." He looked over his shoulder. "Does that mean that I get to be like this more often?"
"Only if you're comfy with it," Xander reminded him. "I never want to make you uncomfy with me." He wrapped himself around the stretched out body, sighing when it relaxed under him. "Okay?"
"Very," Oz agreed, "but you promised me Xander lovin'."
"Yeah, I did, didn't I," Xander said, grabbing the tube of lubricant so he could spread some out. He looked down at the bare back, deciding to put the stuff on Oz's back so it would be handy and he wouldn't have to deal with the tube.
"That doesn't go there," Oz noted. "It's been a long time, hasn't it?"
"Yeah, it has since I took you." Xander scooped some up and smoothed it down the tight crack. One long finger dipped inside his mate's body, starting the long stretching process. "I don't intend to let it go this long again. You need to smell like me." He leaned down and sniffed the wiggling back. "You smell like that man who was working on you," he growled.
"Calm down, it was only a backrub," Oz reminded him, not sure if he should be scared or not. Xander in a possessive mood was a sight to be wary of. "You were there while he did it."
"Yeah, well, you shouldn't smell like him," Xander said as he sped up the stretching, moving up to his thumb and forefinger so he could move them apart and stretch his mate faster. "You shouldn't smell like anyone except me." He abandoned the stretching after another minute and slicked himself up, sliding inside with one smooth stroke. "Mine," he declared.
"Yours," Oz agreed, bracing himself against the headboard. "Only yours."
"Only mine," Xander agreed, pulling out to pound his lover. He worked Oz as hard as he could, rubbing his body against the back beneath him to mark him with his scent. He looked down at the sweating neck and an idea came to him. "Say it," Xander whispered, speeding up.
"Say what?" Oz panted, moving one of his hands so he'd have a better grip.
"Who you belong to," Xander reminded. "Say it." He wrapped a hand around the dripping cock, pulling it just as hard as he was working his hole. "Say it."
"Yours," Oz screamed, coming hard.
Xander sank his teeth into the pale flesh, shaking it slightly.
"No biting!" Oz yelled, pulling away. Xander growled and pushed Oz back down, getting a grip on the back of his neck again. "Xander, no biting. Let go!" He got shaken some more and went limp, he knew that he wasn't going to get out of that, he'd seen too many dogs doing that to their mates. "Yours," he said, stopping all movement.
"Mine!" Xander howled as he let go, feeling free to come now.
Oz waited until he came down, giving his mate a bland look when he was allowed to roll over. "What was that?"
"I'm sorry," Xander said, hugging him. "I had to."
"I realize that, but what was that?" Oz lifted the head off his chest to look into the dark eyes. "No biting."
"I'm already changed.
"Yay, no biting."
"I'm sorry." Xander hid his head again, rubbing his face against Oz's chest. "I won't do it again."
"Good, then we don't have any problems," Oz said, reaching down to smooth down the rumpled hair. "We all better?" he asked after a few minutes.
"Yeah," Xander said, licking some of the sweat off. "Are you okay?" He looked up but didn't move his head. "I didn't hurt you?"
Oz ran a hand across the back of his neck, coming back with a little bit of blood, which he showed off. "Not too bad." He tapped Xander's head. "As long as this is the last, we're fine."
"I'll try," Xander agreed, going back to his snuggling. "Any other damage?"
"Nope, we had enough lube and you were fast but I got stretched okay." Oz wrapped his arms around his mate, holding onto him. "We need to try out your shower," Oz reminded him. "You made me sticky."
"Sure." Xander got free and stood up, pulling Oz with him. "Come on, those jets are killer." Oz followed along, playing at being docile for now, waiting until they were both wet and soapy to do anything. He flipped Xander into the wall, sliding into his already prepared hole. "Um, Oz?" Xander asked.
"Giving back as good as I got. You may smell like me, but not enough now." He spread his mate out against the wall, spreading himself to hold him in place while he ground them into the wall.
"Ouch," Xander muttered, shifting away from the edge of the tiles, or trying to. "Oz, grout," he suggested.
"Yay. Just a few more minutes," Oz whispered, letting go of one of Xander's hands to reach around and stroke down the hard cock. "Never going to do that again, right?"
"Never," Xander agreed, leaning back into Oz's body. "Yours," he said, tipping his head to the side.
"Hmm." Oz licked over the offered flesh, never biting as he came. He spun Xander around, plastering himself to his front to kiss him as he worked him off. "Never again," he said as Xander came.
"Never again," Xander agreed, panting, leaning down into the comforting body. "I'm sorry."
"No big, but I don't like claiming stuff." Oz pulled off the handheld shower head and sat them both down on the tiled bench, hosing the both off. He let Xander lean into his side, smiling as he heard the first snore. He let Xander down gently, getting up to take a real shower, making sure that the water never hit his husband.
Xander walked into his former advisor's office, giving him a slight grin. "You yelled?" he asked, sitting in the waved at seat.
"Yeah, I did. We talked over your record in the department and as a whole went to the chair. We think you have it in you to make a good counselor when you get over whatever's wrong right now." He leaned closer. "Personally, I realize it's something like being scared of having someone's life in your hands, but that's a really normal thing for people at your age." He leaned back as far as he could. "I'm supposed to ask you a few questions, Harris. Are you ready?"
"Is this is a test or just general stuff? 'Cause I gotta admit I don't remember much from my classes."
"General stuff, but that's also a usual problem for graduating students. Have you counseled anyone in the past? We know that Oz has, and that it was with you, but have you turned it around for him or anyone else in your house?"
"Um, I did some small listening stuff with one of the girls. She was coming up on a critical event in her life and I helped her through it, made sure she came out the other side. We talked a lot, or she did and I listened and comforted."
"Good. That's an excellent start." He made a note on a piece of paper laying on his desk. "Can I ask what it was about? In the strictest confidence?"
Xander shook his head. "I don't think that you'd understand. This person's real special and we had to help her over a major problem."
"Ah. A minute ago you said critical and now a problem. Was she ill?"
"No, but..." Xander shook his head and got up to shut the door. "What do you know about the stranger things in the world?"
His advisor chuckled lightly. "Besides the fact that some of us have caught your mate spouting a little extra hair when someone started to pick on him the other day?" Xander blanched. "Is this person like that?"
"No, she had to die to pass on something and then be brought back. We knew about a year before her birthday though, so we had some time to discuss this." His advisor stared at him in shock. "You asked."
"Yeah, I did," he said, licking his lips. "Did Oz know about this?"
"Yeah, he was there. We both supported this person. She's an old friend."
"And how is she now?"
"Having problems of another sort." Xander sat back down. "You're not going to tell, right?" His advisor shook his head. "Thanks. I know it sounds strange and harmful, but it was necessary. I can prove it if you really want, but then that'll let you in on a major secret passed down through the ages."
"Is this some sort of cult?"
"Nope." Xander leaned back and looked him over. "Have you met anything stranger than Oz and I? Students that could only take night classes?" His advisor nodded. "For no apparent reason?"
"Yeah, we've had a few of those." His advisor swallowed. "I know Nick Knight too. Is she like him?"
"No, she hunts down the bad ones of people like him."
"Oh." His advisor tapped his pen a few times. "Is she okay?"
"Yeah. She's in London with Derek's mom right now." Xander gave him a sheepish grin. "You did ask."
"Yeah, I did." He made another note. "Um, have you ever had to ..." He shook his head. "That won't even apply. You have kids. Of course you've had to talk about things with them."
"Including divorce, me and Oz being together, and about Precious' problem with moving things mentally."
"I don't want to know, Harris. Let's keep this on the normal level, okay?"
Xander nodded, he could see the panicked look in the older man's eyes, he didn't mean to scare him but he had asked. "She's the only special person out there. Derek had no idea about her when we first moved out here to work for him," he said quietly. "This isn't a Luna Foundation thing."
His advisor looked up. "Don't lie to me, Harris, I've seen some of their cases in counseling when I took over for Corrigan." He finished his note. "Have you ever had to work your way through any severe personal problems?"
"Yeah, one or two. My father's a drunken bastard who's not my father. My mother tried to blackmail me to come home and take care of him and his liver problem, and when it didn't work, she called Social Services on us to make a false report. I also had to work through the whole bi thing, and then a threesome thing with an abusive lover. Not Oz," he finished quickly.
"Okay." His advisor made another note. "How do you feel that you did with these problems? Do you think that you were effective in helping these people deal with their issues?"
"Mostly. We still have some issues for the kids to work out as they grow older without their mother. Oz and I have recently grown one together to work on. My father's still living, unfortunately, so that means that I have to deal with that part of him still." He shrugged. "I've done the best I could."
"Good." His advisor smiled. "Harris, I think that you have the best chance out of all the undergrads right now of becoming a decent counselor some day, and I'm not alone in that opinion. Most of the teachers think that you'll make a better one than Oz because he never seems to have personal problems. I'm going to have a meeting with the chair this afternoon and I want to see you back here later today, all right?"
Xander stood up and nodded. "Yes, sir. Thank you, for whatever you're trying to do for me." He opened the door and walked out.
His advisor groaned and rubbed over his face. "Now all I have to do is pick and choose what to share. Doctor Everns will *never* deal with some of these things." He pulled out a clean sheet of paper and revised his notes so he could present them to a normal person.
Oz walked into his advisor's office, after stealing a quick kiss from Xander in the halls. He smiled at the woman, a fierce warrior for the status quo who really didn't like him because he had Xander, and sat down. "You yelled?" he asked.
"Yeah." She tossed over a bag as she stood up to give him a hug. "Congratulations, Daniel. You've got honors. Third highest in the program." His mouth fell open. "Yes, we didn't think that you'd realize how you were doing in the standings, but you are definitely the one who deserves those." She sat back down behind her desk, still smiling. "How's your ... husband doing?"
"Okay. We just got a house and we've both been busy getting the kids settled in." He looked up from staring at his cords. "Where would Xander have been?"
"It's a moot point now," she sighed. "He would have been in the top ten percent but not as high. Why?"
"Because his old advisor wanted to talk to him today too." Oz stood up and nodded at her. "Thanks." He left, going to find Xander in the student center. He found his husband sitting at a corner table and dropped the cords in front of him.
"Honors!" Xander shouted, jumping up to give Oz a hug, spinning him around a little. "I'm *so* proud of you, Oz," he said, sitting him back down, smiling at the applause they were getting. "He got *Honors*, guys!" he announced.
Oz nodded at the crowd and sat down. "You would have too," Oz told him.
"Me? I had a horrible semester in there."
"Top ten percent but still high enough for honors," Oz told him quietly. "I'm proud of *you*, Xan. For someone who thought that they weren't college material, you've proven that you're more than able to handle the load and stress." He reached over, patting his lover's hand. "How did your meeting go?"
"Fine. I think the department's up to something, but it was just questions." Oz gave him a hard look. "He knew some stuff and I had to explain Buffy to him, but otherwise, he knew Nick," Xander defended at the frown. "Oh, and someone caught you the day that you almost attacked that kid a few weeks back." Xander ate a potato chip, pushing the plate over. "Share with me, babe. I'm not that hungry." He tapped the bag. "You going to tell Derek?"
"I want it to be a surprise." Oz picked up half of the burger and took a bite. "Good." He swiped the glass of water to take a sip. "You think that they want you back?" he asked when his mouth was free.
"Why? I left the department."
"Xander," Oz sighed then shook his head. "Never mind. Eat." He took another bite of burger.
Xander walked into Derek's office and handed him the sealed manila envelope, sitting down in one of the chairs facing the desk, curling up on himself. "Open that for me please?" he asked. "That's from my old advisor."
Derek tore open the envelope and pulled out the paper, reading it. Then he whooped and hopped up, coming over to give Xander a hug. "I am so proud of you," Derek said quietly, giving him another squeeze. Xander gave him a confused look. "They decided to take into account some of your personal experiences instead of your capstone requirement and they know that you've done extracurricular work, they're letting you graduate in the program."
Xander took the letter and read it, his mouth falling open. "Gee, I lucked out, huh," he said, still in shock. He looked up at his father, who was beaming at him. "And my advisor was kinda cool, but you might expect him to call, even though I told him it was a personal thing and not the house."
Derek shook his head. "I've already gotten that one, son. You didn't reveal much of anything that he didn't know. We're not mad at you, you covered it up very well for the rest of the house." He ruffled Xander's hair and went back to the envelope, taking out the little bag of black cords, his mouth hanging open again. "With Honors?" he asked, looking a little in shock himself. "Oh, Xander," he said, handing them over reverently. "I could be no prouder of you at the moment, son." He pressed the intercom button. "We're having a dinner out tonight, everyone, to celebrate. Go get ready."
"Why?" Nick called from the hallway before he walked in.
"Your brother's been granted leave to graduate with the program, with Honors."
Nick's mouth fell open. "Wow." He hugged his brother, giving him a noogie. "No swollen heads," he warned. "We don't want you to go around for weeks on end in your robe."
"Damn, I need to order one," Xander muttered. "I thought I had a semester left."
Derek chuckled. "I have one upstairs that should work, as does Alex. And William if you'd ask him."
"No thanks. But can Grandma come and watch me trip over it?"
Derek nodded. "Of course, son. Whomever you want. We'll all be there if possible."
Oz stood in the doorway, danging his white cords.
"You too?" Nick asked.
Derek walked over and hugged him. "I'm proud of you both then. Did he show you the letter?"
"No, but I suspected. Did he get the house in trouble by talking about Buffy?"
"What?" Nick asked.
"No," Derek said, giving Nick a smile, "he covered and said that it was just you two, telling his advisor that we weren't in on that particular loop. Though, his advisor called and congratulated me. It seems he knows Detective Knight."
Xander leaned his head back and nodded. "He does. He told me so." He held up his bag so Oz could see. "You were right."
"Yeah, the fierce warrior for the status quo told me." He walked in and patted his lover on the head. "I'm still proud of you, Xander. You can be happy later."
"I am, I'm still in shock."
Oz nodded. "I can understand that. Go change clothes so we can go eat."
Xander hopped up, handing Oz the cords as he walked past him. "Give me ten, I need to rinse off some sweat."
Oz waited until Xander was out in the garden to correct that. "Give him half-an-hour, he's really in love with the shower. Can I call Buffy?"
"I would have thought that you'd want to do that together," Derek said.
"He'll call her when he's over there." Derek nodded so he sat down behind the desk, dialing London the teleprompter. "Hey, put the annoying meddler on, got good news." He held up both bags of cords to Barbara as she walked in, making her squeal like a little girl. "He gets to graduate in the program too," he told her.
She smiled at him. "I'm very proud of you both. We'll be there, correct?"
"Of course. That was his first question." Oz nodded at William as he walked into the camera's view, holding up the bags. "Both of us."
William smiled at him. "Good work, Oz. Both of you. Did they decide to count his personal experience?"
"Did you do that?" Derek asked.
"No," William sighed, "I had a call from his advisor while you were machinating the new house asking if I thought Xander would mind. Did you know that his advisor was aware of what the Luna Foundation has done?"
"Yeah," Oz said, "he had to count Buffy as counseling experience." He put the bags down. "Is she there? I'd like to tell her."
"She's on the phone," Barbara said with a smile. "Apparently your mate decided to tell her first. How has he been?"
"Fine. We've suddenly grown possessive but otherwise we're all good." Oz got out of the chair so Derek could quit leaning over his shoulder. "I'll let the meddlers get you here for graduation." He walked out, heading to the kitchen. He found Xander in there getting a glass of milk. "Are we out?"
"Yeah, I finished it while I was on the phone with Buffy. How's grandma?"
"Fine. She's coming in for graduation." Oz wrapped his arms around Xander's waist, leaning against his back. "Are you happy that the department meddled?" he asked quietly.
"Yeah," Xander said after a few minute's thought. "I am. I want to be able to counsel people and help them." He sipped his milk, putting the glass down after a few seconds. He turned in Oz's arms, sniffing him. "Who was she?" His face was a mask of hurt and anger.
"My advisor," Oz protested as he was spun against one of the higher counters in the kitchen and his pants were lowered. "Xander, Derek's going to kill you."
"Mine," Xander reminded him, checking him to make sure he was still stretched from their earlier bout before they left for school. He slid in and leaned over, pressing Oz into the counter top. "Mine. All mine," he growled. "No one else's."
"Oh, God," Nick said as he walked in and covered his eyes. "Not in the kitchen!" He left as fast as he could, going to get Derek.
Derek walked in a few moments later, giving them an expectant look. "It's a claiming thing," Oz explained as best he could. "He's gotten possessive of the smells on me." He tried to get up but Xander was bigger than he was and he was thoroughly pinned. "You want to figure this one out?"
"Shh," Xander said, nipping him on the neck.
"No biting!" Oz ordered.
Xander bit him again, harder this time, making Oz come. Xander threw his head back and howled as he came, the sound suspiciously sounding like 'mine'.
Derek ran some water over the dishtowel and poured some of the antibacterial dishwashing detergent on it, handing it off to Xander. "Just because you have a new lair doesn't mean that he's leaving you for the old one," Derek noted, leaving them alone to clean up their mess.
Xander leaned on Oz's back. "Is that what this is?"
"Maybe. We're in a transition period," Oz reminded him. "I'm still not leaving, unless you don't stop doing this." He took the cloth and cleaned off the counter, then himself. By the time he was ready to redress, Xander had fallen out of him and was lying on the floor. He got him cleaned up and redressed too, leaving his mate alone for a minute to throw the cloth in the washer. He turned to find Xander right behind him so gave him a hug. "It's okay," he reminded him. "I'm not leaving and the new house doesn't mean that you're losing the pack." He soothed his lover, mentally checking the sentiment against his own fears. "I think we're both screwed up right now," he suggested quietly, "but it should even out soon. We'll feel settled in the new house and the pack will all be there."
"Is that what this is?" Derek asked, leaning in the doorway. "We could make the children move over sooner, tonight even, to give you some balance."
"No, I think it'd be best if they went slower," Oz said, looking into Xander's eyes. "We need to feel settled in the new place before we bring the pack in. This is some primal response to not being sure that everything's safe and the same."
"Ah." Derek nodded. "Get it fixed soon, boys, I don't want to see that sort of display again, especially not in the kitchen." He left them alone, shutting the folding door.
Oz smiled at Xander. "We okay now? Do you need to hunt and spread the bones across the house to mark it?"
"Maybe arranging some furniture," Xander suggested sheepishly. "I'm sorry," he said, touching the reddened area. "I didn't want to do that, but you smelled like someone else."
"Hey, we're solving it and it'll be fine now. We'll move furniture tonight until we feel like it's home and everything should be fine." He took his mate's hand and walked them out into the rest of the house. "No more biting," he reminded, giving the hand a squeeze.
"Yes, Oz," Xander said meekly.
Adam came out of his hiding place, groaning as he walked into the freezer. Cold always worked for him in matters of his libido, that's why he chose to become a monk in Tibet many times over the years instead of Paris or London.
Oz looked around at the sun porch, the room they had chosen to start with, noticing how the furniture, though moved six times, had ended up back in it's original spot. "Okay, how do you feel?" he asked, flopping down into one of the chairs that faced the woods. Xander was lying down on one of the loungers, one arm flung over his eyes, and he shrugged. "If I went and hugged Nick right now, would you throw a fit?" he asked. Xander shrugged again so Oz took the handkerchief Derek had given him after supper and forced himself to get up and walk over to flop down beside his mate in the second lounger. "If you smelled this on me," he said, holding it out, "would we embarrass the house?"
Xander sniffed at the hand that was in his face, and sighed. "No." He lifted his arm to look over at his mate. "I'm sorry I have this problem, Oz."
"Hey, you're not the only one. I smelled Derek and Nick on you and almost lunged, you just got there first." He leaned closer, lifting the arm off so he could look at the tired face. "You okay now? Is it safe to bring the kids over tomorrow?"
"Yeah, let's do that. The lair is safe." He covered his mouth. "Um, Oz? Did I say what I thought I said?"
"Yeah, but I was thinking it." He leaned back in his own chair, thinking about it. "So this is a primal response. We've established that the lair is safe and that nothing will hurt the cubs."
Xander sat up suddenly. "That's what this has been about!" He looked at Oz. "This is about the cubs!"
"Yeah, I realized that too," Oz said quietly. "They're safe and loved, we'll bring them home tomorrow night." He reached over to touch his mate's arm. "You okay?"
"Yeah. This was like some bizarre stomping ritual to make sure that we didn't have rats."
"That's what my mother did whenever she thought we had rats. We'd leave for a few days and come back and she would stomp around the house to see if she could hear scurrying mouse feet."
"Oh. Strange, but equivalent," Oz agreed. "Are we satisfied that there's no dangers or do we need to do another room tomorrow morning?"
"No, I think I'm fine now," Xander said, getting out of his seat to curl up on Oz's lap. "We're okay, right?"
"Fine." Oz tipped the head up so he could look into the dark eyes. "You bite me again and I'm getting you a mouth guard."
"Yes, Oz," Xander said quietly. "Can I be forgiven?" His head was released so he put it down over his mate's heart.
"Sure. Already are." Oz looked down at the front of his t-shirt, which was soaked. "Want to take a bath?" Xander nodded but didn't move. "That means that we have to get up." He heard the first snore and sighed, getting comfortable. These chairs were good for napping, so he fell asleep after a few moments too.
Derek looked up as the couple walked into his office, giving them a smile. "How are we doing this morning?"
"Better," Oz corrected. "We figured it out. It was about making sure the lair was safe for the cubs."
"Ah." Derek frowned. "You two are talking like you're the wolf again."
"For some things, we are," Xander reminded him. "Issues like safety of the kids and each other will bring out the wolf, always. It's just the way werewolves are. We can't help that."
"As long as you can keep it under control," Derek said gently. "How did you fix this?"
"We moved the sun porch around until it ended up the way it was," Oz said, squeezing Xander's hand. "We knew the house was safe before, but we needed to do something physical to make sure."
"So it's done?"
"Very done," Oz said. "We can move the kids out tonight."
"No," Derek said quickly. "Not tonight. We're having a party tonight with the children. You can have them tomorrow."
"You're feeling like the pack is leaving you?" Oz asked.
Derek's face fell. "I'm trying to ignore it, but it's very hard."
"We know," Xander soothed. "We deal with it all the time too." He smiled as his father looked up at him. "The kids will be back almost every day so you can stay with the pack."
"There should be a way to designate the island as the pack's land. We could live in separate caves as long as the pack was all together in one area. Most caves wouldn't be large enough for the whole pack." Oz looked out the window. "I wish there was some way I could talk to the pack leader I know."
"We know of a refuge," Derek offered.
"We do?" Xander asked. "Since when?"
"It's in Canada. It came to our attention during Kristen's personal crisis." Derek tapped the monitor next to him. "I could email William and have him ask someone up there."
"Yeah, please," Oz said. "I want to know." Xander nodded. "Okay, you called, what's up - besides our problem?"
"We need you to start doing your house management soon, boys. I know that finals will be stressful, but both of your houses are slow right now."
Xander nodded. "Okay. Have you set up some way for us to separate out the different reports?"
"Alex and Nick have set up special email accounts for you on the Legacy server which those houses will email directly." He searched for a minute then picked up a piece of paper to hand over. "This is your address and password." He handed it to Oz. "I'll expect you to check it daily, Kyoto has been having some unusual problems and they may need you to look up things for them."
"Okay," Xander said, peeking at the paper. "Is the house wired?"
"I had it so, but I don't think that the computers have been moved out there yet," Derek said, frowning at his son. "I had expected you two to continue to work over here."
"We will, but it'd be nice to be able to check late at night without having to wake up the house," Oz said.
"Or early in the morning," Xander added. "What do we do with the reports?"
"You classify them, make sure that they're in the computer system correctly, and make any notes or ask any questions that you need to to make the report make sense. The protocols are in a message for you." Derek smiled at them. "I'll expect you to not have too much trouble, the system was set up so that Precepts like myself - who don't like computers - can do so."
"Okay," Xander agreed, nodding. "Anything else?"
"Just to note that if you graduate with a psychology degree that you'll have to do your internship this summer."
Xander shook his head. "I talked with them while I was making all these decisions and they agreed that I shouldn't do it if I had doubts, that these kids had enough problems already and they didn't need mine too."
Derek smiled. "That would be fine. Does that mean that you'll be able to come back down to the dig with me?"
"Sure," Oz said. "Are we staying in the house again?"
"Yes. Our gracious host has agreed that he really wanted a vacation somewhere with fog, he's going to bother William." Derek checked his desk calender. "We leave on the sixth of May."
"Um, *big* problem," Oz said, holding up a hand. "Graduation is the next day. Something we promised to attend, and that you did too."
"Oh, dear," Derek said, frowning at the innocent piece of paper. "I scheduled a meeting with the crew on the eight, that's when they all get in." He tapped the desk a few times. "I'll have to leave right after graduation, possibly after the celebration that night, but I can do that." He gave Oz a sorry look. "I didn't realize, I wouldn't have planned it like this if I had."
"That's okay," Xander said. "As long as you can come."
"Come hell or high water," Derek assured him. "I will be there as you two get your diplomas." He sighed at the nods. "Thank you for understanding, boys."
"Welcome." Oz looked at Xander. "I got asked how we wanted our names on our diplomas." Xander looked confused. "Hyphenated or not was mentioned."
"Oh." Xander sat up straighter. "Oh." He looked at his mate. "They would allow that?"
"Yes, or at least they should," Oz agreed. "Do you want that?" He saw the glance down at their rings. "I'll accept your decision."
Derek smiled at them. "To do so should depend on whether or not you're willing to change it in your everyday life. Do you want to change your name to reflect your union?"
Xander stared at Oz, who shrugged. "How soon do we have to tell them?" Xander asked.
"Oh." Xander looked down at his ring. "This is hard," he declared.
"I'll follow your decision," Oz told him. He looked at Derek. "Wouldn't we have to go through the courts to make it legal?"
"Yes, and that may be a bit of a problem, but otherwise, I see no problem with you two hyphenating your last names. Harris-Osbourne?"
"Sounds best that way," Oz agreed. He turned his attention back to Xander, who was still staring at their rings. "Up to you, babe."
"I don't want to make this decision," Xander decided, looking up. "This isn't just about me. Do you want to, Oz?"
"Maybe. It has it's advantages and disadvantages. Do we want to go through the courts to do this?"
"That's going to be the final test, huh," Xander said sullenly. "I want to, I want to dance around and sing about it, but I don't like judges."
"Me either," Oz said quietly, leaning over to give him a hug.
"Awww," Nick said as he walked in. "What's this cuddle session about?"
"They wanted to know if we wanted to hyphenate our names on our diplomas," Oz told him as he let Xander go. "It's one of those tough decisions. To do it right, we'll have to go through a judge."
Nick shrugged. "I'd do it. What would a judge have to complain about? It's your name."
Derek smiled at him. "Not all judges are that liberal. They could throw their petition out because gay marriages aren't legal. Or simply for personal biases against the boys."
"Then you'd press the issue, become heros in the gay community, and everything would be fine in another three years or so," Nick said. "We'd support you with it."
"Of course we would," Derek said, shooting Nick a glare. "This sort of case isn't easy on those people pushing the envelope or even for those around them. We would all be hounded by members of the press. Again."
Nick shuddered. "I'd still say go for it. Show the world that you have real, true love and that no little minded individual will ever separate you." He looked at Derek. "All the new inboxes are checked and they work, including theirs." He patted Oz on the head. "Everyone has the new protocols that we set up for how to do the reports. It's all ready for it's test run."
"What about our house?" Oz asked, removing the hand from the top of his head. "We're wired but not hooked up."
"Going to do that this afternoon, when the new computer equipment is installed. It's in your basement, in the locked room, but we have to hook everything into the system and make sure that it works."
"Okay. Need help? I have a skippable class this afternoon."
"This from an Honor student?" Nick asked with a grin.
"Yes, from an Honor student, the one who helped design the trial system."
"Okay, you can help. That means that you get to make lunch."
Xander snorted. "Then I have to go shopping. All the fruit's gone."
"All of it?" Oz asked. "Since when?"
"Since I got hungry last night and you refused to go make me a snack," Xander told him with a grin. "Because you wouldn't make me a sandwich, I stole all your fruit."
"Fine. You go shopping." Oz pulled out his wallet and tossed it over. "Take your phone in case we need something from town."
"Get solder, in case. I'm out of it anyway," Nick said, writing something down and handing it over. "There. Get that, any hardware store or Radio Shack should have it."
"'Kay," Xander said. "Oz, anything special?"
"Ready to eat food," Oz said. "Hot pockets and the like. We've both got tests next week."
"Okay." Xander wrote something down on the list, showing it to Oz, who wrote a few more things down. "We need more of that already?"
"It's always best to stock up. Especially with kids."
"Yeah, point." Xander stood up, patting down his pockets. "Um, keys to Nick's car?"
"Take the Range Rover," Derek said, tossing over his keys. "I doubt you could fit much into Nick's car. Do you want the house's Sam's Club card?"
"Sam's Club?" Oz asked. "We shop in bulk?"
"Yes, your brother-in-law eats in bulk so we have to shop that way," Derek said, with a smile for Nick.
"Funny," Nick said, shaking his head. "Come on, Oz. Let's go do some real work while your mate shops."
"When are you two going to start looking at cars?" Derek asked.
"Um, graduation?" Oz suggested. "We'll be busy until then."
"Uh-huh. I'll want my car back sooner than a month from now," Nick protested. "You have the old Range Rover."
"Willow took that with her. All we have is our old, broken down van." Xander gave Oz a slight smile. "Which is special to both of us, it's what's left of Sunnydale and High School for us."
Oz grunted. "And of Willow."
"I wasn't going to mention that," Xander told him. "I know what sort of memories that van has for you and I'm mature enough to realize that you need those. You have Devon memories and band memories, and probably even groupie memories in there besides Willow memories."
"True," Oz agreed, giving him a pat on the wrist. "That van's in storage anyway, I only go wax it every month or so, make sure that it runs and that stuff."
"Hey, it works for you, I'm not going to mess that up," Xander reassured him, pulling his husband in for a hug. "We'll start doing research tonight for a new car, dad."
"Yes, maybe something with good safety features?"
"We have the van for that."
"Point, son," Derek said, leaning back in his chair, "but sometimes you need to have goot safety features in your car, especially with what you two tend to drive."
"And we're going to get something durable," Xander added. "Something that we can wrap around a tree and it'll still run."
"We're getting another Range Rover in the family?" Nick asked Derek.
"That would be durable," Derek agreed. "That's why I buy them."
"We'll figure that out tonight," Xander told them, leading Oz to the door. "Do we need anything else? Painkillers, toothpaste, anything?"
Oz walked his mate into the kitchen and pulled down a sheet of paper for grocery lists, writing down what he thought they needed. "Here," he said as he handed it over. "Go get us lots of stuff and I'll help you unload it." He gave Xander a quick kiss. "Be good while you're gone. No getting kidnapped."
"Me?" Xander asked innocently as he headed out the door. "Would I do that?"
"Yes," Oz groaned, leaning against the counter so he could watch the younger man for as long as possible. He looked up at the cleared throat. "He just left the garage."
Nick shrugged. "Come on, everything should be out there. Does he have his phone?"
"Range Rover has a car phone," Oz reminded him, following him out the door.
Oz looked up as he heard the front door slam open. "I've got to go unload groceries."
"Give me a sec to get this connection together," Nick mumbled as he forced two groups of wires together. "There. Okay, let's go unload." He crawled out of the cover, getting a hand up from his helper. "This is a great system, Oz, I think it will be good for us."
"Let's hope so. I hate installing this stuff." They walked up to the kitchen, Oz catching the bag Xander was going to drop because he had stopped for the door. "Hey." He looked at the counter. "Did you remember the fruit and the toilet paper?"
Nick groaned as he saw the trunk sitting next to the door. "Did you buy the whole store?"
"Nope." Xander went out for more bags, followed closely by Oz. "We're stocking."
"Pantry stuff or freezer stuff?" Oz asked.
"Both." Xander hefted a box of cans to walk it back in the house. "I figured that whatever we couldn't fit, we could put in a box in the big freezer up at the house."
Nick looked at Oz, who nodded as he walked past. "Stocking up is good I guess." He grabbed a few of the bags and walked them inside. "So, have you thought about getting the little people an animal?"
"We still have the Strife cat," Oz reminded him. "It seems to like Timmy and Xandra."
"Pets build responsibility," Nick told him as they passed. "Every kid deserves a pet."
"Sometime in the future," Oz told him. "When Junior can appreciate it too."
"Letting him grow up with the animal will make it more normal for him," Xander said as they walked into the kitchen. "I admit it, I horribly overspent."
"Yeah, but we won't need groceries for months," Oz said, picking up a can. "Salmon in a can?"
"Um, impulse buy," Xander said, snatching the can and putting it away in the pantry. "There's a few of those. I'll make something with them."
"Okay," Nick sighed, going back for one of the last bags. "Xander, what's with the backseat?" he called once he caught sight of the tarp.
"I....um, I stopped at the butchers?" Xander looked at Oz, who patted him on the back and nodded. "I couldn't help it, Oz," he said quietly, giving him a hug, "it was like the claiming stuff."
"It's okay. You're stocking the lair for the cubs. It'll be fine." Oz walked out to look at the beef and chicken laying on the ice packs in boxes. He looked at Nick, who then looked up at the house. "Yeah," Oz agreed. "Take some of each inside and I'll start carting stuff up to the main freezer."
"Oh, I want that big chicken, the one wrapped in the tan paper." It was tossed at him. "And bring some of each type into the house, it's marked on the seal." He smiled at Oz. "I'll grill the chicken tonight."
"Deal," Oz agreed, grabbing an empty box from Nick's hand to separate out some of the meat. When he was done, there was still a backseat full of meat. "Do we need to bring anything else up to the house?" Oz asked as he hefted the first box.
"Yeah, a few," Nick said, handing over a dolly. "Here, the path's smooth enough. Have fun." He walked back inside. "I'll help Xander while you cart your supplies."
"Fine," Oz sighed, loading the dolly so he could cart it all up to the house.
Nick watched from the doorway as Oz started on the first of what was probably three trips. He looked over at his brother as he walked out to get the rest of the bags. "Stocking up?" he asked quietly.
"Yeah, sorta like our possessive problem recently. It's all about setting up the lair for the cubs." Xander took all but the last bag in. "Grab that and get the trunk please," he called.
Nick grabbed the last bag and carried it inside, after closing the trunk, going to help Xander stock their house.
Derek and Adam looked up as Oz walked in pushing the dolly. "He stocked up?" Adam said dryly.
"And then some. I've got another trip, at least." He walked into the freezer, lifting the boxes onto one of the shelves. He took the marker someone handed him, writing their names on it. "Thanks," he told Derek, who was standing behind him. "He stopped at the butchers and we're stocked up for at least a month."
Derek smiled and nodded. "I should have expected that. Did he get everything on your list?"
"And canned salmon." Oz lifted the last box and wrote on it, dragging the dolly out behind him. "Hey, Adam, want to help?"
"Not particularly," Adam said, sipping his cup of tea. "Though, if I have to, I probably could." He put his cup back down when Derek nodded and stood up. "Very well then." He followed Oz down to the Range Rover, smiling at all the meat laying on the back seat. "Ah, yes, the stocking the lair problem. I've seen that before, every time my old friend moved it looked like he was stocking for the end of the world." He lifted one of the boxes, helping load it onto the dolly. "This should be the last time, unless one of you has a sudden moment of 'I'm starving and there's no food'."
"Let's hope not. The main house doesn't have that much space." Oz tested the dolly, shaking his head. "You carry those last two, it's too heavy."
"That would be fine," Adam said. "Have you figured out how to declare the whole island pack land?"
"We emailed William to ask a pack leader he knows." Oz followed the teacher up to the house, going into the freezer to unload everything.
"It's all a state of mind," Adam told him gently. "If you've convinced yourself that the pack has claimed the island, then it has and there won't be a problem with the adjustment."
"Cool," Oz said after a second. "Want to help with that?"
"We could. Marking the territory as yours would be the easiest way. Maybe dropping a plaque into the Bay might help," Adam said thoughtfully.
"We could do that," Oz agreed. "It's worth a try. I think Xander spent all our savings on groceries."
"Just wait until you see the amount of toilet paper he bought," Adam said, following him out of the freezer. "Another trip?"
"Yeah, but a small one." They walked back down to the Range Rover, one of them coming back after a few minutes. "Only one box," Adam said as he loaded it into the freezer, coming back out after a second. "Oz went in to check on the non-perishable situation."
"Stocking the lair for the slow times?" Derek suggested.
"Yes." Adam sat back down at the table, looking at the curriculum he had built. "This should do nicely for the children. They're very advanced for their age already."
"We've been diligent about their reading levels," Derek reminded him. "All of the children were reading before they were five."
"Very true," Adam agreed, "that makes all this easier."
"Goot. I'll expect progress reports every few weeks." Derek stood up and went for the door. "I think I'll go check on the boys."
Derek walked into the new house just as he heard Oz scream. He hurried to where he heard the awful noise, stopping when he saw Oz buried under a pile of economy packs of toilet paper. He tried to stop himself from laughing, but it was a losing battle. He tossed the toilet paper off the young man so Oz could get up. "Are you all right?" he asked between chuckles.
"Fine," Oz grumped, glaring at the wall. "Where's my mate?"
"I don't know. Hiding?"
"Yeah, probably." Oz walked out of the spare bathroom, going up to find his mate and give him a hug.
Derek started to clean up the mess and thought better of it. It was their house, not his, let them do it. He walked out to the kitchen, getting himself a can of gingerale out of the refrigerator while he waited.
Xander came down the stairs a few minutes later, walking in and giving him a hug. "We still need to figure out a minor problem," he said as he sat down.
"Minor?" Oz asked as he walked in. "I got buried under toilet paper. That's not a minor problem, Xan."
"Yes it is," Derek said. "It's easily cured so therefore minor. William said he forwarded on your request and he'll have an answer for you in a few days."
"Good," Xander and Oz said together.
Xander looked around the kitchen, sighing when he saw the stack of bags. "I must have spent three hundred dollars on food."
"Before going to the butcher," Oz corrected. "I checked the balance on our card, you spent way more than you think."
"It should be fine, boys," Derek said wisely. "You're still getting paid, I'm sure he didn't spend more than one check's worth."
"Maybe," Oz agreed, sitting beside Xander so he could put his head on his mate's shoulder. "Are you done with the buying or are you having another impulse?"
"I want to go clothes shopping," Xander admitted. "I've got a lot of stained t-shirts and ripped jeans right now."
"Okay, we'll do that tonight or tomorrow after class."
"Do it tonight," Derek suggested. "That way you can have it all set up before the children come in tomorrow night."
"Yeah, we could," Oz agreed. "We're going to have to stop at the bank first. I found the receipts in one of the bags."
"I paid in cash at the butcher's," Xander sighed, leaning into Oz's side. "We won't have to shop for a while though."
"True," Oz agreed. "Except for pizzas."
"They're in the freezer down here," Xander said, pointing at the built-in chest freezer in the island. "That was a really good idea you had, Oz. It's easy to get into."
"Good." Oz looked over at Derek. "The computer stuff is getting done, slowly but it's going. We'll have it done by tomorrow."
"I was checking our new mailbox upstairs, we have a report already, and a welcome to the family message," Xander told him. "Simple haunting with an injury from their newest house member. The ghost scared him and he fell down the stairs."
"Ouch." Derek smiled at them. "As long as it gets done reasonably soon, I can forgive you for going shopping."
"I think we'll have to do something soon," Oz said, looking at Xander. "Our checks aren't ending up in our normal account."
"What?" Derek asked, sitting up. "Where are they going?"
"The bank couldn't find them," Xander told him with a wry grin. "They think that you forgot."
Derek stood up. "I'll go check on that now, boys. I'll call when I figure out where it's going." He left the house, going back to his office.
"You think he forgot?" Oz asked quietly.
"Probably. Since he's not cutting our checks manually, he probably did forget to tell the bank to transfer the funds." Xander leaned into Oz's side, giving him a cuddle. "That's okay, I stopped in this morning and cashed out one of our mature CD's. We have money."
"You didn't spend it all?"
"Nope, it was a three thousand dollar CD and I spent six hundred of it at the butcher's. I may have bankrupted our checking account at the grocery store, but we should be fine still. I put most of the CD into the checking account."
"How much ready cash do we have?"
"About three hundred." Xander looked up at his mate's chin. "Are you pissed?"
"Nope. We haven't gotten a check since we were in Florida the last time."
"Yeah," Xander sighed, relaxing. "As long as you're not mad."
"Nope. It's a primal instinct to stock a new lair. Adam told me about the toilet paper before we came down to get the meat. Everyone understands, even your brother."
"Okay, as long as we won't get heckled for it," Xander said, his voice getting weaker.
"Nope, no joking allowed. I'll beat them up for you." Oz waited until Xander was asleep before getting up, lifting his mate to take him into the living room to put him on the couch. He went back to the kitchen, putting up the last few items and cleaning up the mess all the groceries had left.
Derek looked up as Oz walked into his office, catching his keys. "Won't you need the car to go shopping tonight?"
"We'll go tomorrow after class. There's a mall two bus stops away." He sat down in the chair, looking at his father. "So," he asked finally.
"I haven't found it yet, Oz, I'm sorry."
"Hmm, have you checked your account summary instead of the bookkeeping program? Xander thinks that you may not have fully initiated the direct deposit procedures."
Derek frowned and clicked on another screen, groaning when he saw it. "It never left the Luna Foundation account," he agreed. He looked up. "Do you want me to cut a check for this now or would you like me to call the bank and have them do an automatic withdrawal?"
"Either would be fine. We cashed out a small CD yesterday from Xander's personal fortune. Do you want him to call his bookkeeper to come help you with the fixing thing?"
"No, I'll do the correction myself," Derek said, going back to his original screen, typing in an entry. "There, all fixed. I'll call the bank in a moment to get them to transfer it and hold it as cash so that you two can pick it up after class."
"Thanks, dad," Oz said as he stood up. "We're going to class today, Nick should be able to finish the computer stuff by himself, if not, I'll do it tonight. Oh, and you might want to run a check on the system before he boots it up, he's been connecting a few links wrong and having to correct it." He walked out, going to meet his mate in front of Nick's car. "We'll be able to pick it up at the bank after class. You were right." He slid in behind the wheel and buckled up.
Xander slid in beside him and did the same, cushioning their backpacks between his feet as they took off. "What sort of car should we get?"
"Not real sure. We have a three car garage though."
Xander shook his head. "We don't need three cars. We have the van and we need a car for us." He looked down at his hands. "Do you know, that with my paycheck, that I've been investing most of it for almost six years now? I have almost a hundred and thirty thousand dollars in the bank right now. And I'm due for a raise."
"You were due for a raise when you became a full time member instead of an associate."
"Yeah, but I wasn't going to push that," Xander mumbled. "I earn too much already."
Oz shook his head. "I'm not going to argue with you about it. How's the investment strategy going?"
"Good. I'm taking a low-risk track. Almost no stocks but lots of low interest investments that have almost no risk."
"What about the stuff Derek gave us?" Oz asked as he parked at the ferry dock. He turned to look at his mate. "Have we touched that?"
"A little. Of the three-quarters of a million in cash, we've touched about six grand, which I've been planning on replacing. I added our Vegas winnings in but after our spending spree, we didn't have that much left." He shrugged at the smile. "It worked."
"It still does. Why are you telling me this?"
"Because it shocked me this morning when I looked at it. We're really well off."
"We are," Oz agreed. "My checks are going straight into the bank for the most part too. But what was the point?"
"We still need to buy some stuff for the house," Xander said quietly, looking down at his hands. "I miss having a TV."
"Ah." Oz nodded. "Okay, we'll go shopping for electronics tonight." He patted Xander's arm. "We're doing fine and we're getting a huge chunk of check today. What would you like, besides a home theater system?"
"Um, CD player upstairs?"
"Okay, easy enough to do. Anything else?"
"I want one of those phones that you program every number you might ever need in the office space," Xander said, looking over at his mate, "the one with the headset attachment for when I'm working."
"Coolness. We'll find one soon enough." Oz pulled out his pass as the ferry pulled up to the dock. "How much did our recent vacation drain us?"
"Not a lot," Xander said, relaxing. Oz hadn't laughed at him. "We were sent on the second half by Grandma and William. We paid for Disney and Montreal, but we got part of that back. Oh, and it's back on the card now, I noticed that yesterday when I checked the balance before I went mad at the store."
"Cool. Took them long enough." Oz carefully drove onto the ferry and parked, waving at the guard that was getting off. "How much are we getting today?"
"About a year's worth."
"Oh, big amount of cash," Oz sighed. "We have to do something about that."
"We will. We'll cart some of it around and we'll put the rest in the checking account." Xander patted him on the arm. "Do you realize that we're living off one account now? Jon's got the kids' account and we're living off one."
"We have four," Oz reminded him.
"Yeah, and checking accounts don't earn interest."
"Leave them, Xander. Micromanage our return some other day."
"Okay, just checking." Xander got comfortable as the ship pulled out. "We're really going to have to do something about our checks today."
"Which one?" Oz asked.
"Our paychecks. We're getting a raise this year."
"Want me to check on it?"
"Nope, I got it, Oz." Xander leaned over, kissing him on the cheek. "I want to hyphenate."
Oz nodded slowly. "Me too, but I'm scared."
"It'll be okay, I won't let anyone say something mean to you." Xander took his husband's hand off the steering wheel to hold. "I'll leave it up to you."
"I want it," Oz said, looking at him. "I'm just scared that we'll be bothered about it."
"Not. No one will bother us."
"Xander, there's lots of people in the world who will bother us about it. Not everyone's as happy about our love as we are." Xander's face fell. "Those are the ones that scare me."
"Yeah, me too, but we'll survive all those people. We've survived everything else and we'll survive that. We may even outlive the prejudice."
"Yeah, I can only hope," Oz sighed, leaning into his side. "Let's leave our names for now. Agreed?"
"Agreed," Xander said, squeezing his hand. "The kids are already hyphenated and we'll do that for a later anniversary." Xander sat up. "What did you want for it?"
"Huh? You switched tracks on me again."
"Anniversary presents," Xander said. "It's in a week and a half."
"Hmm. I have everything I've wanted recently. The House gave us a house for an anniversary present?"
"Yeah, but it was sweet of them. We'll have to throw a party in the yard."
"Cool. We have enough food." Oz coughed suddenly. "Everyone keeps asking Derek if he's giving us a butler."
Xander shrugged. "I'm not sure I don't want one, otherwise, I wouldn't mind his help in choosing one if we go that way."
"He said we have a paycheck, we can hire our own."
"Cool. Do you want one?"
"Not real sure. Cleaning is a pain," Oz noted, "but a housekeeper would break into our routine."
"We could get one once a week. Come in and clean and do some cooking."
"True, but I think Derek's expecting us to come up to the main house and eat often."
"Yeah, he still misses us," Xander said with a grin. "So, is that a yes or not?"
"That's a maybe," Oz corrected. "Are we willing to pay for a housekeeper?"
"Yup. I'm willing to pay a lot to not to do laundry or dishes."
"Cool. We'll call Grandma tonight and have her find us one."
"So cool!" Xander said, giving him a hug. "We're not going to have to cook for a while."
"Whoa, once a week? Remember?"
"Yup, but still," Xander said. "A good housekeeper would cook some things ahead of time for us." He grinned. "We even have a room for a housekeeper, Derek added one on the back of the house."
"I wondered what that room was for," Oz muttered as he started the engine. "We're in the city."
Xander got back into his own seat, grinning at his mate. "I'm so going to be happy all day."
"Good. Meet me for lunch?"
"Of course. Which restaurant?"
"The chicken place. I want a sandwich, without the pickle."
"Okay. I'll order you one." Xander reached over and gave his mate's thigh a squeeze. "Love you."
"Love you too. Be good today and don't float too much."
"Nope, but I get to gloat about the house today. We're doing an informative speech in speech class and I'm doing it on how lucky I am."
Oz snickered. "Good for you, babe. Ignore the people who aren't happy for us." He drove off the ferry, heading for the college.
Xander looked around the electronic's store, grinning at Oz. "Are we wired for speakers?"
"Not as far as I know," Oz admitted, "I'd doubt it though."
"Okay, so a complete system would be best?" the salesman asked as he walked closer. "Are we talking home theater or stereo?"
"Both," they said together, then looked at each other and stuck out their tongues.
Xander grinned at the salesman. "We have a new house and I miss having a TV. He's a musician so we need a good sounding system too."
"Ah, any other requirements?"
"It's going to have to play videos and DVD's," Oz said. "We have children."
"Oh, my, congratulations."
Oz shook his hand. "Six of them. Our ex let us adopt them all." He motioned Xander over. "We have a comfortably small TV room, five speakers would do it but they don't have to be that powerful."
Xander wrapped his arm around his husband's waist. "We'll need a CD-changer too."
"Ten would be good," Oz noted.
"They have up to five *hundred*, Oz," Xander said, pointing excitedly.
"We only have a hundred between us, babe. Calm down."
The salesman smiled at them. "You two are infectious, you know that, right?" Oz nodded. "Good. Let's go do your whole home system."
"Oh, can we have one of those whole-house remotes?"
"We don't need one," Oz reminded him. "We have security, we'll need a smaller system for the bedroom, and a box for the bathroom, but we don't need a whole-house remote."
"We can get you a remote that would work for the theater system and your stereo," the salesman offered. "A very nice one with a touch screen."
"Can peanut butter be cleaned off it?" Oz asked.
"Usually. We've sold these to parents before, it comes with a blocking function."
"That's a good idea," Xander said, looking down at his mate. "We're going to have to start worrying about that soon. Jon said he found Brandon surfing a porn website the other day."
"Did he stop him?"
"Yeah, he had just tried to log on and he got warning music, that's how he found out."
"What was he looking for?" the salesman asked.
"He found a woman on there with his mother's name, he wanted to see if it was her."
"Oh." He shook his head. "They aren't blocked?"
"This one was, but those don't get all the sites blocked," Oz told him. "They were in school at the time. The only computers in the house are our laptops."
"The kids should have one," Xander suggested. "Without net access."
"We'll see," Oz told him, pinching him. "They have them at school to do work with. It's not like Jon's going to be giving them papers at their ages."
"How old are they?" the salesman asked, stopping in front of a complete system.
"Four that are almost six, by about three months, one that's a year younger, and one that's almost a year," Oz told him, pulling out his wallet to show off a picture. "Junior tags along to class with them because we're in school too."
"Ah. Is price a consideration?"
Xander pulled out his wallet and showed off the cash, same as Oz was. "We just got paid," he said quietly. "That's why we're doing this now."
"Okay." He pointed at the two systems side by side. "These are your best bets. One's a smaller system, the other's got more channels. They average each other out."
Oz looked at the specifications and pointed at the silver system. "That one." He looked at Xander, who shrugged. "Not going to have a say?"
"I know nothing about electronics, you're the computer person."
"Point," Oz said with a faint smile. "We like that one. Is it easy to install?" He looked at Xander, who had his face scrunched up. "We need a TV for the downstairs, right?" He got a nod. "Okay, we'll get that at Sears. It's easy to hook up and links to any TV system, right?" he asked the salesman.
"Very. It's got a four-step set up, and very good instructions. This brand also has a very competent help line if you need it." He waved one of the stockboys over and handed him one of the product cards. "Go get this for them, we'll be in stereos." He led them a few aisles over. "This one," he said, pointing at one, "can be hooked into your theater system. That would probably be the best bet for you."
Oz nodded, looking at the one beside it. "I like those functions though."
The salesman smiled. "We can have that one hooked in, but it will take a little bit of professional intervention."
Oz looked at Xander, who nodded. "Deal," Xander said. "What about one for our room?"
"We only need a regular stereo upstairs, Xander," Oz told him. "It doesn't need to attach itself."
Xander looked around and walked over to a smaller system that he thought looked nice, pointing to it. "Six CD changer?"
"Sounds good," Oz agreed. He looked at the system they had picked out. "Does this come with a CD section?"
"No, but we can get you a changer hooked into it. How many disks would you like to have at once?"
"Ten would be the highest I could stand," Oz told him. "Five to ten." The salesman nodded and pointed behind him at one of the CD players. "Oh, a recorder too," Oz said, grabbing the product card. He handed over that one and one for a CD player he liked, watching as the salesman grabbed one for the stereo. He walked over to where Xander was looking over bookcase systems. "Where are we putting this?"
"In the entertainment center with the TV from our old room." Xander pointed out one. "I still like this one."
Oz nodded. "Looks good enough. Pick out a boombox for the bathroom."
"We have special ones for wet environments now," the salesman offered, pointing at an endcap. "Those are good for bathrooms or kitchens."
"We'll have a housekeeper part time," Oz said, grabbing a small box off the endcap and handing it to Xander. "Three disks?"
"Sounds good for a long bath," Xander agreed. He picked up one specifically for the kitchen. "One disk and it's sealed for greasy places."
"Decent," Oz said, nodding the stockboy over to them. "That's all we need?"
"Unless you wanted to look at computers for the kids," Xander said, putting their radios into the cart with the big box, watching as the other product cards were handed over. "We only have Nick's car, you remember that, right?"
"Oh," Oz said, shaking his head. "Can we get this delivered?" he asked. "We have my brother-in- law's classic Mustang and he's got the fax machine in the trunk right now."
"He rigged it to have a fax machine?" the salesman asked. "How?"
"Not real sure," Xander said, pointing at Oz. "He's the electronic's guy."
Oz shrugged. "Not a clue, he had a friend from the Navy do it."
"Where do you guys work?" the salesman asked.
Oz looked at Xander, who nodded. "Luna Foundation."
"Oh." The salesman thought for a second. "You're the ones that they filed that false case against?" Oz nodded. "Good job at getting them to go away."
"Thanks. That's what's really behind our buying spree," Xander told him quietly. "We really want to be able to let all this die down before we reemerge into life full time."
"I can understand that," the salesman said with a smile. "How are your children?"
"Spoiled," they said together.
The salesman laughed. "I have no doubt of that. They would almost have to be." He nodded at the computer section, taking control of the cart. "Let's go look at computers."
Derek looked out the kitchen windows at the boy's house, frowning when he saw the truck. "What are they doing now?" he muttered.
"Home theater system," Nick said. "They want to let some of the hype from the court case die down." He walked a sandwich over to his boss, handing it off to look out at the truck. "I would have helped them install it if they had asked."
"More than likely, they got a system that was special and relative to Oz's musical needs." He smiled at Nick. "How is the computer project going?"
"Oz finished it," Nick said with a shrug. "He called down to tell me to run a test."
"Did it work?"
"Yeah, on the second time." Nick looked out as someone walked out to the truck. "What else did they get?"
"We're invited down for a barbeque tomorrow night, I'm sure they'll be ready to show off all their new things." Derek took a bite and handed the sandwich back. "You put peanut butter on tunafish, Nick."
"Huh?" Nick looked at it and shook his head. "Okay, so I'm missing having lunch with the bro." He took a hesitant bite. "Got to admit, Xander was right about doing it this way. Cuts the fishy aftertaste. The peanuts are great texture too."
Derek shuddered and stepped away from him. "Please brush your teeth after you eat that, Nick."
"Sure, bossman, whatever you want." He grinned at Derek, going back to his watching while he ate.
Xander wandered through his house, smiling at the new improvements, ending up sitting on Oz's lap in the kitchen. "I'm happy," he decided.
"Me too," Oz agreed, patting him on the back. "We ready for the barbeque tonight?"
"Got everything all set up, all we need is Nick to show me how to start the grill."
Oz nodded, finishing his sandwich. "Have you eaten yet? It's going to be hours before we get to eat tonight."
"Yup, had an apple on the tour for Alex." He smiled as the rest of Oz's lunch was handed to him. "Yes, dear." He slid over into his own chair, finishing off the cheese sticks and stuffed mushrooms. "Mushy," he said after the first one.
"They were frozen," Oz reminded him. "Maybe baking them instead of nuking them would work better."
"Maybe," Xander agreed, stuffing his mouth so he could put the plate in the dishwasher, turning it on after adding soap. "There, all done for tonight."
"Except for picking up the mess in our room," Oz corrected, getting up to walk upstairs. "Come on," he called when he wasn't followed.
Xander trudged up the stairs. "I want our housekeeper," he told his husband when he got to where he was waiting.
"Okay. We'll call grandma tonight and ask her." Oz waved at the mess of laundry laying on the floor. "Go put a load in and get it ready for when the dishwasher's done."
Xander sat down and started sorting his laundry out into loads.
Derek watched Nick start the grill, clapping when it flamed up. "Boys, you've done very well with the house." He clapped Oz on the back. "I'm very impressed with the new systems."
"Yeah, they're good," Oz agreed, smiling up at his father-in-law. "And the movies will be here tomorrow, as long as Fed Ex can find us."
"I'm sure they should be able to. Where did you order them from?"
"From one of the movie places online. They had a really good selection and we found a lot of movies that we've been wanting to see but never got around to getting out to the theater." He smiled as Brandon ran past, chasing the cat. "Of course, the kids got their's too."
"How many boxes are we expecting?" Nick asked as he joined their groups.
"Maybe two? Big ones, but maybe two. We ordered about sixty movies for us and about twelve for the kids. Some are DVD, some were only on VHS."
"All right." Nick nodded. "You're settling in really well, aren't you?"
"Yup, we're happy here," Xander said as he walked over. He punched his brother on the arm. "How long before we can put the meat on?"
"Give it a few more minutes to get hot and burn off anything left over from the packing material." Nick looked over his shoulder at the grill. "The gate around it was inspired, Derek."
"That was Jon's idea," Xander told him. "He knew that Junior was going to be walking soon and that he'd like to play with the shiny grill."
Oz nodded. "Actually, he's been pulling himself up on furniture for the last few days. He's going to walk this week."
Derek looked around. "Where is he?"
"With Jon getting some cereal. He'll be out in a minute." Oz watched as Precious walked up to the gate in front of the grill, getting free to walk up behind her. "You may not play with the grill," he told her. "Same as you can't play with the stove, the grill is off-limits for you guys."
She looked up at him. "It's an outside stove?" He nodded. "Okay. When do we eat?"
"You guys have hotdogs inside when you're ready, the meat won't be done for an hour or so out here." She nodded and walked away, going inside.
Nick tapped him on the shoulder. "She's behaving much better since Miri left."
"Yeah, I'm hoping it's permanent." Oz looked around, one eyebrow going up as he caught sight of William walking down the garden path. "Incoming," he said quietly, going to find Xander and tell him.
Derek turned in time to see William walking up the steps to the porch, going over to talk to him. "Where's mother?"
"She's fine, Derek, this is business." He waved Oz and Xander over, taking them down onto the grass. "Have you heard from Kyoto today?"
"I checked the mail before we came down," Xander said, his brow wrinkling. "There hasn't been anything since their last report a week ago."
William nodded, handing over a folder he carried. "We pulled this from their security cameras when they didn't check in."
Xander looked at the pictures, his frown getting deeper. "What happened, do we know?" Oz asked, taking the pictures to look at. "Who's that?"
"That's a former member. They came back to avenge their firing."
Oz handed the folder back. "We never got word of anything. Did anyone survive?"
"They're all living but in a coma. He released some sort of gas in the house."
Xander shuddered. "Will they be okay?"
"As far as we know, maybe. No one's sure what gas was used right now. This happened this morning, boys, and we needed to know if you've gotten anything."
"Not unless the Legacy server ate the message," Oz told him quietly. "We've been good about checking for messages a few times a day."
William nodded. "Okay. We'll need to steal someone to go clean up the house, think you can spare Nick?"
"Sure." Oz nodded. "I'm able to do most of the computer stuff."
"Thanks." William walked up onto the porch, pulling Nick and Derek aside.
"So much for a happy party," Oz said, wrapping an arm around Xander's waist as they walked back up onto the porch.
"No, this is still a happy day, Nick's going to be the upset one. Derek didn't know anyone in Kyoto, he didn't recognize their Precept at the last conference. I don't think that Alex did either."
"Thanks," Oz said, licking his mate's cheek. "Go cook."
Xander got free and went to grab the meat and stuff from the refrigerator.
Derek looked up as Oz walked into his office, holding up his keys. Oz shook his head. "You don't need it?"
"No, we're going car looking and wondered if you wanted to come with us. We're taking one of the sedans so that they won't gouge us on the price."
Derek looked at his paperwork then nodded, holding up a finger. "Let me call Nick and make sure that he's all right, then I can come with you." He dialed Nick's cellphone, smiling at the cheery greeting. "It's me, I'm leaving the office for a few hours and wanted to know if you had an update." He chuckled. "I'm glad to hear that. No, I'm helping the boys go look for a car." He looked up at Oz. "That's possible, Nick, and if it is that, then I'll gladly help." He hung up. "Nick wanted to know if this was about the court case."
"Usually, when we tell people who we are or who we work for, we get funny looks, people not coming near us, and some discrimination," Oz told him. "It'll go away, but a car is necessary."
"Two cars would be best," Derek suggested. "That way you could both do things when you needed to."
"Point, but there's three spare cars at the house at any given time. One's fine."
Derek stood up and walked over, giving him a hug. "Then we'll find you one that you'll like. Has Xander figured out what sort of sound system he wants?"
"Yup. And the color too. We're going new car looking this time by the way."
"Goot, that shouldn't be too difficult." If Derek had only heard himself, he would have cringed for jinxing the expedition.
Derek sat down on the boy's couch with a sigh, turning his head to watch Xander walk past the door. "Is he alright?" he asked Oz.
"He'll be fine later," Oz told him. "He's already called one of the local papers to make a statement, they've been bugging him for weeks," Oz added at the frown. "They were ecstatic and they'll be here tomorrow. They even said you could come out and watch over their shoulder if you wanted to."
"I think I should. It's easy to spill things when you're emotionally stressed." Derek sighed as he kicked his shoes off and put his feet up on the coffeetable. "What about you?"
"I'm fine, they didn't say those things to me."
Derek nodded. "I do wish that they had chosen another way to try and figure out what we do. The whole case was intended to harm us as much as possible."
"Xander's thinking about suing them," Oz said quietly. "The Judge did suggest we do this so what happened to us would never happen again."
"That would bring the house in, Oz," Derek cautioned.
"Which is why he hasn't filed anything yet," Oz told him.
"We may be able to get around that," Derek said, looking up at the ceiling. "When did you paint that?"
"It was already done," Oz reminded him. "Jon did the clouds though, we thought it added a nice touch."
"It does," Derek agreed. He sat up and put his feet down as Xander walked in with a snack tray. "You didn't have to fix something to eat," he said gently, patting him on the arm.
"Yeah, I did," Xander said, leaning back into his end of the couch. "The medicine I'm on gives me the munchies." He took a bite of his sandwich, nodding at the tray for Oz's benefit. "Eat," he said when his mouth was clear.
"Yes, dear," Oz sighed, grabbing a sandwich and a drink. "You too, Derek. Join us in our sublimation."
A plan formed in Derek's mind but he grabbed the last sandwich, taking a bite. He reached over to stroke down the side of his son's face. "It will be all right, son. Everyone will forget and it will all go away."
Alex walked into the room, smiling at them. "I have some good news, guys, your movies came in." She got out of Jon's way as he carried the boxes inside. She looked at Derek, who subtly shook his head. "Not a good time?"
"No, it's a great time, Alex," Oz said, taking a drink of his soda. "We've just had a sucky day."
"Oh, no," she said, sitting down next to Xander and giving him a hug. "More fallout?" Everyone nodded. "They have no right to do that!" she complained. "You didn't do anything!"
"Yes, but their being charged with it is as good as a conviction in the public's opinion," Derek reminded her. "Did Nick call while we were gone?"
"No. William and Buffy did. She'll be home soon."
"Let's hope that it doesn't hurt her," Xander mumbled through his food, "she doesn't need the stress."
"I'm sure it won't, at least not as much as it has you two," he amended when Oz stared at him.
"We'll fix it," Oz agreed, looking at his mate. "We've always gotten through everything else, we'll do it this time too."
Xander looked up and nodded. "If you say so." He finished off his sandwich and stole Oz's, curling up in his corner to eat. "Unpack the movies and find something?" he suggested between bites.
"Sure," Oz agreed, pulling the first box over to slit open with his keys. "Hmm, old movie, cheezey movie, or oldies?" he asked, pulling the first few out.
"Something that'll make everyone laugh," Derek suggested gently. "I think we could all use it."
Alex stood up with a pat to Xander's head. "I've got to go pack up some of my old clothes to go to the consignment shop. Have fun, guys, and don't worry so much." She left them alone.
Derek pulled Xander over to hug. "It will be fine, all this will go away eventually, and soon you'll be back to your happy life."
"I hope so," Xander said, looking over at Oz. "I want all this to go away, I want my life back."
"Me too," Oz told him, coming over to sit beside him. He picked up a movie to show off, making Xander grin and Derek shudder. "Sorry, the mate rules." He opened the tape and slipped it into the machine, coming back to cuddle with his husband against their father. "We'll be happy again soon enough," Oz whispered once he was leaning into Xander's side. "I promise. It may take a few more months but we'll deal."
Derek looked down at them, his plan firming in his mind. He would help them fix this.
Xander looked across the room at the reporter, holding up a sandwich. "You sure you don't want one?" he asked as he walked over and sat down at the table. "Sorry, but I've got a few problems when I don't eat."
"Not yet," Xander said, giving him a sad smile. "Give me a few years." He took a bite and wiped his mouth. "Okay, what do you want to know? I have no idea how to do this."
"Well, first thing, how about how you're dealing?"
Xander groaned, picking up his glass of tea to take a sip. "This really sucks. We've been called names, been discriminated against, and generally treated like we actually did something."
"Are you saying that some of those reports were made up?" the reporter asked.
"Yeah, they were. There's one in particular that's so false that it made the Judge laugh when she met with the children to talk with them." He took another sip. "We have a counter report to everything they ever brought up, including that one, and they all say that the kids are healthy, happy, and just above average."
"The kids were reading before their fifth birthdays and Xandra, the single after the quad, caught up with them in under six months. They've all been educationally tested and they showed great potential."
"How are they being schooled?"
"Our nanny and the house's butler are doing it. We've had a small building built on the edge of the property and they all go there, including the baby. Adam's got post-graduate work under his belt and Jon's got a great educational background too. We'll teach them ourselves until they're old enough to need the interaction of other kids."
"And if this ... discrimination continues?"
"Then they'll be home schooled for their whole life. I've got plans to start helping with that once I graduate this year."
"Thanks," Xander said with a shy smile. "I didn't even want to start college at first. Derek and Oz pushed me to go and do my best. They've been the most supportive people in my life, especially through all this."
"Do you know your standing in the class?"
Xander grinned. "Pretty high. Anything else is a secret for the rest of the family."
"Are you the first one in your family to go to college?"
"As far as I know."
"Then you've done very well for yourself." He looked around the kitchen. "This is a great house."
"Yeah, it is, isn't it," Xander said, still grinning. "It was time for us to move out on our own but we didn't want to move that far away from the house." He pointed out the french doors at the garden. "The kids are up there everyday still. So are we usually."
"Hmm." The reporter looked down at his notepad. "What would you like people to know about this case?"
"That they made up stuff. We didn't do *anything* wrong. We don't even had pictures of the kids in anything less than a diaper in bed. There's no *way* we did something as disgusting as child porn. I wouldn't do that and neither would Oz or Jon."
"Jon being your nanny?"
"Yeah. He'll be up here later if you wanted to talk to him."
"I might." The reporter smiled at him. "Do you have any idea why those agents made these stories up? Most people can see them making a mistake and backing out, but they came out with evidence and things. People see that as proof of guilt and your dismissal as a miscarriage of justice."
Xander snorted. "What it was was fair. We didn't do anything. All their supposed proof was made up for them. Why did they do it? Because they wanted to get inside the Luna Foundation because we were doing good work in the community. Someone got the idea that we must be bad because we care and they decided that we needed to be prosecuted. There's no basis in fact for anything they brought up."
"Good, I'm glad to hear that. There was that one report though..." he started.
"Yeah, well, that one report was true. The kids were hurt by their first nanny. They were never told about it until the trial brought it back. I stopped the guy doing it by breaking his jaw and slamming him into the wall a few times."
"Why weren't you charged with assault?"
"Because the detective saw some sense in me protecting my children."
"Were they your children then?"
"Oz and I were in a relationship together with their mother. She's the mother to all the kids actually. It worked out that we got the kids when we split up."
"I've never heard about that. That was Willow, correct?"
"Yeah, that was Willow."
"Why did you guys break up?"
"Um, that's real personal to me and I'd rather not say anything about it. It had nothing to do with the kids or anyone's treatment of them, it was totally personal between Willow and us."
"That's fair enough. She was at the trial?"
"Yeah, and she testified too. She was great and has been really supportive of us through all this. We've managed to mend a few fences between us but there's no hope we're getting back together."
"That's good to know," Oz said as he walked in. "Going okay?"
"Fine, Oz. Would you switch the clothes for me?"
"Sure," Oz agreed, stopping to get a kiss and drop his bookbag off before going to do as he was asked.
"He's a sweetie. He's been the most supportive of me through all this."
"There's a report that you're on psychiatric medication," the reporter said. "Is there any truth to that?"
"I'm on anti-anxiety drugs, I started them just before all this crap started."
"Ah. Hence the food?"
"Yeah, that's a side effect."
"It was better than the one that made him paranoid," Oz said as he walked back into the kitchen. "We got those the day the agents first approached us on vacation."
"Yeah, that was bad," Xander admitted. He held out a hand, getting a hug from Oz. "We've settled that though. We're all working okay."
"They came up to you on vacation?" the reporter asked, looking shocked.
"In Universal Studios," Oz told him. "It wrecked our first vacation together." He gave Xander a squeeze. "I've got to study, I have that test tomorrow in Counseling." He snapped his fingers. "You do too, huh?"
"Yes, Oz, I'll come help you study in a few minutes." Xander watched as his mate disappeared up toward their bedroom. "He wants what's best for me."
"So I can tell. Your love is shining," the reporter said, smiling at him. "What would you ultimately like to have happen as a result of this farce?"
"I want the rules to change. I want people like them to have to present proof before they ruin someone else's life. I want the rules to change so that there's some oversight over these people." Xander took a sip of his tea and shook his head. "Most of all, we'd like our life to get back to normal and for people to quit walking across the street to get away from us or treating us like we're criminals. That's our fondest wish, to not have to hide from people anymore. I know it's a pipe dream, but I want this to never happen to anyone else and I want everyone else to know that we didn't do anything wrong. "
"That's fair though."
"Fair isn't always reality," Xander reminded him. "If it was, we wouldn't be having this conversation."
The reporter nodded. "Very true. Do you have any idea what your boss is going to do about this? He's known to have some friends in high places."
"He may have friends like that but he never told us anything about any plans." Xander shrugged. "Derek doesn't tell us everything."
"Don't you call him dad?"
"Yes, but he asked me never to do that in front of any member of the press because of what you guys used to say about us."
"Touche," the reporter replied with a smile. "You had no idea that your father called those agent's boss to talk to?"
"Not a one," Xander said, looking up toward the house. "He did?"
"Yeah, he did," the reporter told him. "You really didn't know?"
"No, daddy didn't tell us anything," Xander said quietly, looking up toward the main house. "Do you think the rumor's true?"
"It could be." The reporter clicked off his tape recorder. "I think this should clear up some of the misunderstanding." He stood up and held out a hand. "You have a beautiful house and a wonderful family. Can I get a picture of them?"
"We have one you can take," Xander offered, pulling out his wallet. "We try to keep the kids out of the press." He handed the picture over, smiling and pointing at the little figure on the end. "He's almost walking."
The reporter grinned at him. "Getting ready for another handful?"
"The house was built with a little toddler in mind," Xander told him. "Dad made sure that everything was child-proofed."
"Wow. You guys planned for everything."
"Yeah, we tried," Oz sighed as he walked down the stairs. "Jon said he wanted to talk to us, Precious started to cause trouble again."
"Brat," Xander muttered. "We'll deal with her tonight."
"What sort of problems does she cause?" the reporter asked.
"She's special among all the kids and she uses it to lord over them and make them do things that they shouldn't do," Oz told him. "Last time it was 'hey, let's go play in the woods without telling anyone'."
Xander shook his head. "We'll figure it out, Oz, same as always." He walked into the open arms, giving him a hug. "Your turn to yell or mine?"
"Have you tried spanking?"
"Once, as a measure of last resort. She was trying to get another kid to do something harmful and her brother joined in. They both got two swats on the rear."
"We tried everything before that," Xander told him. "Time-outs worked for a few months. Grounding worked for longer - with their schedule, the other kids were usually grounded at the same time."
"Peer pressure, an interesting strategy," the reporter said.
"It works well with four of them when there's something they've all been looking forward too," Oz told him. "With Xandra, we hardly ever have to punish. If she gets in trouble, it's always for something other than what the quad's done."
"She learned not to mimic their behavior," Xander added.
"Being psych majors must have helped."
"Sometimes," Oz agreed. "Did you want to talk to me too?"
"You'd be willing?"
"Yeah, I'd like to have our old life back too." He sat down at the table, pushing Xander off his lap. "Don't embarrass the guy," he said quietly. "We'll cuddle later."
"Promise. Go see Derek."
"Yeah, I think I need to ask him something about his meddling career."
"He did?" Oz asked after they were alone, Xander had decided to go into the living room and fidget.
"From rumors I've heard, yeah." He turned back on his tape recorder. "So, I've heard from Xander that you didn't do anything wrong. Do you have anything to add to his blanket statement?"
"I don't know why we were chosen to be picked on, but I resent it. Not only are we good parents, but we've always tried our best to spoil our kids. No one's hurt the kids since that one incident, and anyone whose tried was stopped."
"Was there someone who tried?"
"Derek had an enemy that went after the whole house one time. The kids were there. He was stopped, though it took some time to bring him to justice."
"Oz," Xander called. "Derek said we couldn't say anything about his personal life."
"True." Oz shrugged at the reporter. "Let's just leave it at yes, and they were stopped, all right?"
"Sure, I can do that. How did you stop him?"
"That time? With a tranq rifle. Not fast enough for him to not harm Xander, but we dealt."
"Forget that," Xander said as he walked in, shooting Oz a glare. "We're not talking about that week."
"Sure, we're not talking about that week."
"I won't tell anyone guys, really," the reporter said, giving them his best winning smile, but Xander gave him a 'get real' look. "You don't trust us?"
"After being hounded by people because they thought I was sleeping with Derek after he took me out to lunch, the story that never died? Would you?"
"Well, no," the reporter said with a grin, "but I'm not going to print any of that stuff. I've already been told that this story has nothing to do with the Luna Foundation by my editor."
"Thanks," Oz said quietly. "We tried to keep the house out of the court case, but they kept pushing their way up to support us. We really don't want to hurt them more."
"Did either of you ever think about making a statement to the press when all this was going on?" the reporter asked.
"I thought about it," Xander admitted, taking the seat beside Oz and linking their hands on the table, "but I was told it would be for the best if we didn't."
"I tried to but the lawyer told us it was a bad idea and blocked it," Oz added. "You're nice for a reporter."
"Yeah, there's some of us born every year. We don't last too long in the business though."
"Hey, we like you," Xander said, "so far anyway. We may even like you after we read your story."
The reporter chuckled. "Yeah, I'd be cautious right now too. Oz, have you ever thought about going after the agents who charged you with this?"
"Every day," Oz ground out. "I had dreams of ripping out their throats with my teeth and spreading their blood around the island." He shrugged at the shocked look. "Hey, they ruined my kids lives."
"Ours," Xander corrected gently. "I had those same thoughts, though I never really shared them before."
"Why not?" Oz asked, looking at him. "I felt kinda guilty for wanting them dead."
"Yeah, but I thought I might actually go do it a few times." Xander shrugged at the hard looks he was getting from his mate. "Sorry, but I actually found myself in the car one night with it turned on. I don't know how I got there, but I got scared. Derek knew about it, I ran to him."
"As long as you shared it with someone," Oz told him gently, leaning over for a kiss.
"You guys are very loving," the reporter said, breaking into their personal interaction. "How has this affected you? Besides Xander's new medications."
"We were already very close," Xander told him. "That's one of the reasons we wanted our own home. We tend to eat cuddled up and things like that, and it's hard for Derek to watch that."
Oz leaned into Xander's side, taking up his usual spot with a sigh. "Better," he said, looking up, smiling as Xander relaxed into him. "This is us normally, we decided to tone it down because we didn't know how you'd react."
"Boys, I'm all for love. I'm not gay, and I don't understand what you guys have, but it's obviously love." The reporter smiled at them. "Has it changed anything else?"
"It's made us tighter," Oz told him. "More like what we were when things were shaky, when we were first married."
"You two went through a ceremony?"
"On a beach in Florida," Xander told him, smiling down at his mate. "Everyone whose seen it has cried and said that it showed how much in love we were." He kissed the top of Oz's head. "We've got to go back on the dig again this summer."
"What about the kids?" the reporter asked.
"They'll be staying up here. We're gone for two weeks then come home for another week or so. We did okay on that schedule last time, though Junior was born back then and we had him with us all the time." Xander looked down. "We did a lot of baby care those days."
"Will the nanny accept that? And the kids?"
"The kids think it's okay when we leave for a while, as long as it's not a whole month," Oz said quietly. "The nanny's used to us having screwy hours and he does well in keeping the kids occupied on those days. The rest of the house helps too."
"Yeah, they really stepped in and batted for us during the divorce," Xander said, looking up at the ceiling. "We should paint that."
"Focus," Oz whispered.
"No, a defense mechanism. Our paternity trial got messy there for a while and he doesn't like to remember it. Not that I do, but sometimes it helps to examine the pain."
"Some pains are closer to home than others," Xander countered. He looked at the reporter. "Willow had been my friend since elementary school. She was like my sister for most of my life. It hurts to remember how that tore us up, the house and us."
"And you," Oz added, patting him on the leg. "You had the hardest time of all of us."
"Yeah, but I dealt because you helped me," Xander reminded him. "I'm still very thankful that you're in my life, Oz."
"Thanks," Oz said, looking up, staring into the dark brown eyes, seeing the fear there. "It's okay now. I promise," he said quietly.
"I'll do my best to present your side of the story to the people," the reporter said, packing up his things. "I'll let you two be alone together. Do you think Derek would mind if I went up there and asked to talk to him?"
"Go ahead," Oz said. "I stopped in and reminded him you were down here, he said he'd like to talk to you too." He looked over. "We could go on if you wanted."
"I think I have enough to make most people cry." He walked out through the french doors, heading across the bridge and up to the main house.
Oz looked up at Xander. "You sure you wanted to show him that much of us?"
"Yeah, I think the whole world should know."
Oz nodded. "You still want to hyphenate our names, right?"
"Yeah, I do," Xander admitted. "I want the whole world to know that I belong to you and that you're mine."
"All right. We'll face any fallout together," Oz said. He nodded at the envelope he had put on the front of the refrigerator the day before. "Go sign the papers. I already told them to do it on our diplomas."
Xander squealed and hugged Oz as hard as he could, hopping up to get the papers when he was done.
Derek looked up as his door was tapped on. "Come in," he called, sitting up straighter when he saw the unfamiliar man. "You're the reporter working with Xander?" he asked.
"Yes, Doctor Rayne, and I wonder if I could bother you for a few minutes. I'd like to add your opinion to this story."
"Give me a minute to shift some things around," Derek said, gathering up all the papers on his desk and sliding them into a drawer. "I'm sorry, but when people come to us for help, they expect confidentiality." He waved at one of the chairs sitting across from his desk. "Please, sit. What would you like to know."
The reporter pulled out his tape recorder and set it on the desk. "Your son wished that the world was fair, is that your wish?"
"Yes, I do wish that the world was fair, especially in cases like this where one party was egregiously wronged. What I wish most is that this ... incident had never happened. Those two don't deserve this sort of pain."
"I noticed how in love they were," he said with a faint smile. "Do you know where those two agents are? Xander and Oz both said that they dreamed of killing them horribly, and they've both disappeared. Would you know if something happened to them?"
"I know nothing about that," Derek said, getting very serious. "Is there some indication that the judicial system thinks that we do?"
"No, it's just some speculation I've heard here and there out in the world." The reporter leaned forward. "Doctor Rayne, can you prove that no one has hurt those children except for that one incident?"
"We have many forms of proof. Everything from behavioral reports to psychiatric evaluations. All of them said that the children were unharmed by anyone. Especially by someone that they trusted."
"Were you satisfied with the Federal case against you and the manner of proof that they brought?"
"I could never be satisfied with lies and innuendoes based on fantasy. It was shown during the trial that one of the agents had a serious problem with obsessive and control issues. I can only assume that he made those horrid things up to humor his problems. As for why they're gone, I can only hope it's not to cause anyone else the harm they've caused to this family."
The reporter clicked off his machine. "Thank you, sir. You always give the best quotes." He stood up and bowed, leaving the office.
Derek shook his head and dialed the boys home, getting no answer. He turned to look out his window, but he couldn't see anything from this angle. After a few minutes, he forced himself to go back to work. He could talk with them later.
Derek sat up as the man he was waiting on was shown into the sitting room, giving him a smile as he held up the coffee pot. "Would you like some? I can assure you it's quite excellent."
"No, thank you, Doctor Rayne." The elderly man settled himself on the couch opposite the other man, looking him over. "I'd rather we got down to business. I don't go in for the social niceties these days."
Derek nodded graciously and made himself comfortable. "My son and his mate would like an apology from you over what happened to them. They would also like to make sure that it will never happen again."
The older man chuckled. "Took me at my word, didn't you?" he laughed. He reached over and poured himself a cup of coffee, adding a lump of sugar, then leaned back and relaxed. "I'd like to do that, both parts, but I really can't make that apology."
"You are aware that most of the so-called evidence that your men came up with was fabricated, correct?" The other man nodded. "And yet you still can't make them an apology, let them heal from this incident?"
"I could, but my bosses won't let me."
"I was told that you were over your own unit."
"There's always a higher power, Doctor Rayne."
Derek smiled. "True, but do you think that any real higher power would let that family suffer needlessly for your mens' mistakes? I couldn't believe in one that did."
The other man nodded slowly. "I know. I have been authorized to make a statement, but I wasn't authorized to make an apology. It seems," he coughed, "that our government doesn't do apologies."
"Bet me," Derek said coldly, unknowingly mimicking his son. "We apologized in the past when we've managed to screw up someone's life so blatantly. Why will they not allow it this time?"
"Doctor Rayne," the other man said as he set his cup down and leaned forward, "I'm sure you're aware of the reason behind this whole farce. There are people higher than I am that would still like to know certain facts."
Derek snapped his fingers, showing off for the first time in a very long time by producing a small flame in his hand. "You mean this?" he asked calmly. "You can tell them that this isn't the only place I can put this flame." He banished it, staring at the spot it had been resting. "If they had managed to learn anything by now, they should realize that we're on the side of good. If they're still that stupid, then I can gladly let loose something to prove to them what we do. We can always catch it again later."
"Such threats from a man who serves God," the other man said quietly. "How did you do that?"
"Magic is still a fundamental force in life, Doctor Everens. Never doubt that it totally went away." Derek smiled gently, banishing his cold demeanor. "Now that you know, are you willing to make an apology, even a tacit one?"
"That I can do," he agreed, looking around the room. "How do you serve God, if I may ask?"
"I serve as you do, I take the bad things away from those that need my protection." Derek stood up, holding out a hand. "You'll make a statement then?"
"This afternoon. I have a conference planned." Doctor Everens stood up. "Could I borrow the happy family?"
"You may be able to pry the boys away from their new house, but you may not subject those children to any more media attention."
"That's fine. I would guard those children the same way if they were mine. Would you call them for me?"
"Of course." Derek picked up a phone and dialed the new house, getting a grumpy sounding Xander. "Son, Doctor Everens is here and he wanted to borrow you for a statement this afternoon. No, son, a goot one, one in which you are vindicated." He smiled as he hung up. "He'll be right up. Oz is in a test."
"That would be fine. Can he meet us there, it won't be for a few hours yet?"
"I'm sure he could, as long as his teachers didn't complain too much about it." Derek looked over as Xander walked in. "Go change," he ordered when he saw the ripped jeans and t-shirt. "I know you have dress clothes, I helped you buy them."
"They don't fit," Xander said with a shrug. "I've gained weight again and I can't find my pre- running away clothes."
"They're in the attic," Derek said, his tone getting gentler. "You have gained weight, I never noticed it was that much though."
"Yeah, about ten pounds. Oz likes it." Xander shrugged. "I'm going to use our old room to shower and change in." He walked out, leaving them alone.
Derek waved at the couch. "You might want to sit down, it will take him a little while to pick something out."
"Have him meet me down at City Hall at five," Doctor Everens said with a smile. "And Mr. Osbourne if you could arrange it." He nodded and walked out, leaving Derek alone to think.
Xander came back a half-hour later, working on slicking down his hair. "He didn't wait?"
"No, we're to meet him at City Hall at five. Go grab something for Oz."
"He has a test tonight," Xander warned.
"I'm sure we can get it excused. This is important to you both." He smiled at the familiar looking outfit. "I remember when you bought that. Nick was very impressed with your personal sense of style."
"Yeah, it surprises me sometimes too," Xander quipped, heading out toward the kitchen. "Let me go pick something out and pack Oz some gel."
Buffy picked up the San Francisco paper that had been imported for her, smiling at the headline. She read the article on the press conference, and the one with Xander and Oz, and sighed. She jumped as someone touched her shoulder, showing it off to Barbara. "They're fixing it really well," she told her.
Barbara read both articles and smiled. "Good. Maybe now they can get some peace from the world."
"Nah, Xander said that they had a special surprise for me when I got back." She leaned into Barbara's side. "You think that this will all work out in the end?"
"Yes, dear," the older woman said, patting her gently. "Everything works itself out eventually, it's a matter of whether or not you like the outcome that it was worked out to."
"Yeah. Let's hope it's a good one," Buffy said quietly, sitting up. "What do I have to do today?"
"You have to prove to Willy that you learned your lesson yesterday, dear, and that you won't smart off to him again."
"Hey, he could keep the comments inside."
"True, but you should respect your elders."
"But fear isn't supposed to be part of that," Buffy countered.
"He is older than you, you really shouldn't match wits with him, Buffy. He might lose what he has left." She giggled. "Wouldn't that be a sight, his wits lying all over the practice mat."
"Eww." Buffy stood up and handed over the paper. "Here, you have and be happy. I'm going to go beat up on your husband." She left the breakfast nook, heading to the gym.
Barbara smiled. "Just as I had planned it. And my son couldn't believe that I was this devious." She carefully folded the paper and put it away before getting up. She had many more things to plan before the boys graduated in a few weeks.
TO BE CONTINUED...