Trouble of the Motorized Nature.
Derek looked down at his grandson, shaking his head at the chasing of the house's new cat. He looked up as his son walked over to where he was sitting in the garden, patting the bench beside him. "I believe Miri's friend is in goot hands," he said quietly, pointing at where Junior had just caught the cat and was now hugging it.
"Maybe," Xander agreed, leaning his head on his father's shoulder. "How much longer before the house is done?"
Derek chuckled. "Getting impatient?"
"Yup." Xander grinned up at the man who might as well be his father, he had considered him that for a few years now. "Oz said something about a killer shower and bathroom and I wanted to see it."
"Are you ready to move?" Derek asked, reaching over and wrapping an arm around the younger man's shoulder. "All packed and ready to leave the house?"
"Nope. I don't think I'll be ready for that even on the day that Oz forces me to move over there with him. We're going to be awfully far away."
They both looked over at the denuded spot across the garden, stream, and small road that separated the new house from the original one. Derek gave Xander a light squeeze. "I'm sure you'll find the distance isn't that great after that first night, son," he said quietly. "I and Nick will be waiting up in case you need anything, probably, but we'll be fine otherwise."
"I hope so, I don't want you to be sad." Xander gave him a one-armed hug and stood up. "We're going to go out car looking. Would you like to come with us?"
"Of course, let me gather up Junior and his toys and we'll be right up."
"'Kay, that'll give me a chance to nibble on something." Xander walked back up to the house, deftly avoiding the rose bushes that needed to be pruned as he took a shortcut. He stopped to watch the other kids playing an educational game with their nanny, Jon, thinking about what he wasn't supposed to know. He had never lost his memory of the dream, no matter what everybody had told William Sloan. He had even lied to the London Precept about it. He knew Oz didn't have much left from it, just remembrances about the house, and Derek knew a few more things, like what might have happened but not the details. Xander knew he was the only one who remembered everything from that time, and he could appreciate how many things could be changed for the future. He shook himself and walked up into the kitchen, heading directly for the refrigerator and shoving Nick out of his way. "Gotta eat, gonna go car shopping," he muttered at the glare.
"I was trying to get a snack," Nick protested, shoving his half-brother out of the way so he could grab the last thing he needed. "Next time, try asking nicely."
"Why? You're flexible," Xander said with a cheeky grin as he stole a slice of ham and some of the cheese Nick had been slicing off the big block. "Thanks, man, needed a snack myself." His grin got brighter at the growl. "Can we bring you back anything from the car places?"
"No, I've got to visit a mechanic tomorrow. The 'Stang's making bad noises again."
Xander patted him on the back in sympathy. "She's a find old woman, bro, but she may need garaged. It may be time to consider her the classical woman that she is."
"Maybe," Nick said, sounding like he was starting to pout. "We'll find out tomorrow." He sliced himself some more cheese, handing over the knife when his brother held out his hand. "You have working fingers," he reminded the younger man as he built his sandwich. "Use them or I'm going to cut them off the next time you steal my food."
"Oooh, territorial," Xander quipped, cutting himself some cheese. "I thought that was a furry thing."
"Not always," Nick muttered as he walked his snack over to the table. "So, you guys going to get one or two cars?"
"Not sure. Oz wants something like what you crashed the first time, but he's willing to go back to having another sedan. I'm not sure what I want, but I don't think I'm getting a Jag this time. It's not so much me anymore."
"Where are you looking? The used place where you got the sedan?" Nick took a bite and looked up, smiling through the food at the grimace. "Not going used?" he asked once he had swallowed.
"We decided we wanted new," Xander noted. He looked up as he heard footsteps coming toward the french doors, getting out of the way of his son before he could be run over in the process of getting a hug. "Did you have fun?" he asked, smiling down at the little boy.
"Ki," Junior babbled, pointing. "Ki ki, da."
"Yes, I saw the kitty playing with you," Xander said warmly, giving him a hug. "Go wash your hands so grandpa can give you a snack too." Junior nodded and ran as fast as he could for the bathroom, his normal speed. Xander caught Derek watching him and distracted him by handing him a piece of cheese. "He knows how to wash his hands, Derek, give it up."
"He's growing so fast," Derek sighed, smiling at the two brothers. "I see someone needed to eat again."
"Missed lunch," Nick told him. "Had a flat coming off the ferry's deck."
"I needed a snack," Xander added. "He's so much like ours," he said as he looked down the hall. He knew Junior wasn't his or Oz's, just by looking at him. Willow had been fooling around with various men over the course of their relationship as a trio, and one of them was Junior's father. At best guess, the other man was partially Indian and partially African-American, but other than that no one knew who he was. Not even Willow probably. Xander turned his attention back to his food. "Nick's car may need garaging," he told his boss and father. It was kind of convenient having all his family in one house on an island sometimes.
"Is it making that noise again?" Derek asked, coming over to sit down next to his friend. He knew how much that car meant to Nick, after all, he was in competition with it over his attention.
"Yeah, and another grinding one again. I called in and got an appointment in the morning. We'll figure it out then." He shrugged but he plainly wasn't as calm about this as he was trying to project.
Derek patted him on the hand and stole a tomato that had dropped. "You'll have it fixed again or I'll help you look for another car, Nick. We'll support you whichever way you decide."
"Thanks, Derek." Nick looked over at Xander, who was staring out the window. "What's going on?"
"Jon just stopped a bout of crying. Sounded like Xandra was being picked on again by Precious." Xander turned as he smelled a familiar scent coming down the hall. "Oz is here."
Derek smiled but didn't say anything about the use of Xander's gifts. "We'll go once he's decided if he needs a snack also."
"Not really," Oz said as he walked into the kitchen. "I grabbed a soft pretzel to nibble on the ferry." He wrapped an arm around his mate's waist, giving him a peck on the cheek. "They doing it again?"
"Yeah. Jon's yelling at Precious, she'll be up here in a minute."
"I'll find something for her to do," Nick said with a shrug. "How bad this time?"
"I think scrubbing all the floors with a toothbrush might work," Xander quipped. He opened the door as his daughter walked up the garden stairs. "What did you do this time?" he asked her. She was the dominant one in the quad that was their oldest children, and possibly a future Slayer, but she was starting to show behavioral problems by pushing the other kids verbally. Fortunately, she wasn't attacking them physically yet.
"Xandra was being slow," she snorted.
"Gee, maybe it's because she's a year younger," Oz told her firmly. "That means that she's doing everything younger than you did. Cut her some slack or be grounded from the fair this weekend."
She snorted. "I didn't want to go anyway. That stuff's for little kids." She glared at Junior as he toddled in with dripping hands. "Can't you control him?"
Xander got free and grabbed his daughter, putting her up on the counter so he could get on her level. "I want this shit to stop now," he hissed. "You will *not* talk badly about your siblings. No matter which one. Do you understand me?" She swallowed but didn't do anything else. "I asked you a question, Precious. Do you understand this rule or not?"
"I don't see why I should," she protested. "They're not as good as me."
"No, they're better," Oz reminded her. "They're not being punished or grounded. And for that matter, Precious, you're in so deep right now, you'd better hide before I decide that spanking is the only answer to cure you of your little attitude problem for good."
She jumped down and ran away, slamming every door she could on the way.
Xander looked at Oz, who nodded. "We'll deal," he said finally, after their silent discussion.
"Wouldn't the best thing for Serena to show her up?" Nick asked. "Basically proclaiming herself as alpha female?"
"Then the fighting would never end," Oz noted.
"He has a point, boys," Derek said gently. "Precious is showing off to make sure that everyone knows that she's the leader. She'll either have to lose the fear of someone stealing the power from her or she'll get deposed."
"Or a combination of the two," Xander reminded him. "I don't think this will go on for too much longer." He took Oz's hand, giving it a squeeze. "Something's going to have to break and it's going to be her. She can't stand out against the whole house."
"Then we'll have a discussion tonight with the whole house about how to treat her," Derek agreed, standing up. "Are we ready to go or do we need to do anything right now?"
"Good to go," Oz said, patting down his pocket for the keys, handing them to Xander, who handed them back. "I'm driving?"
"I'm like dad, I hate driving in the city when I don't have to." He took his father's arm and led him out of the kitchen. "What sort do you think we should get?"
"Something safe, Xander, please."
Oz rolled his eyes and followed his mate and father-in-law out to the Range Rover.
Everyone walked back into the house together, Nick moping. "It could be worse," Xander reminded him, leading him to the couch. "It could be a lot worse, they could have told you the 'Stang was only good for scrap now."
Nick, who had just gotten back from a surprise meeting with his auto mechanic after breaking down while running an errand, looking up at his brother. "But I love that car."
"We know," Derek soothed, sitting beside him to give him a hug. "You've had that car for as long as I've known you, Nick, but it's time to give it a well-deserved rest."
"Doesn't mean that you can't drive it on occasion," Oz pointed out as he flopped down into a chair, one leg going up over the arm.
"Yeah," Xander seconded. "You need to save it for special occasions now, like Oz does with his van."
"Maybe," Nick agreed. "We don't have room to store vehicles here though."
"Nick, we have that old barn down by the boat dock. If you wanted, I would allow you to turn it into a safe haven for your beloved Mustang." That got a surprised smile. "You'd have to do all the work, and Oz could help if he wanted to move his van there, but it would be your project."
"Really?" Derek nodded. "Isn't that barn about ready to fall in?"
"It needs some work," Derek agreed, "but nothing that you couldn't handle."
Nick thought about it then nodded, turning to give his friend a hug. "Thanks, Derek, I'm going to go down and look at it. Oz, wanna help?"
"Sure. I miss the van. It's too far away." He got up and followed the older man out of the house.
Xander took Oz's seat, mimicking his position. "He misses his band days. He hasn't done any studio work in a while."
"I know. You could encourage him to do that you know."
"I've been trying but he has too many other things going on right now, with the house and Precious and school." Xander grimaced. "I have three finals on the same day," he complained.
Derek smiled. "It could be worse, son, much worse. Think about people who take a full load of classes in two days a week." Xander shuddered. "I'm sure you'll do fine and make me even more proud."
"Cool. Have you done all the planning for the dig? Is Martin going to be there this time? Oh, and what are we driving on the main land?"
"We'll be letting Nick drive one of your cars down for that so we don't have the same problems. Martin will be in and out all summer, he's on a book tour until the end of June, and we might be finished by then. Don't worry about it, I have it all planned."
"Nick's driving across the country? In *my* car?" Xander shook his head. "Not."
"I promise he won't wreck it, Xander."
"Yeah, sure he won't. Remember what happens when we take road trips?"
Derek shook his head as he stood up. "I'm sure it will be fine and Nick won't get into too much trouble with your new car." He gave his son a pat as he walked past him, going toward the kitchen. "I've got meetings this afternoon with the new butler candidates."
"Will we be allowed to borrow them?" Xander asked.
"Only if you ask nicely and it doesn't interfere with their work over here," Derek said as he disappeared down the hall. "You do make a paycheck," he reminded.
"Yeah, but butlers have got to be expensive," Xander told himself. "We can clean anyway." He remembered something from the dream and got up to tell his father something; he didn't want to make him go through this stress again in a few months.
Xander looked down at the plans, frowning as the lines started to blur. "What's that again?" he asked, pointing at one of the blurry walls.
"It's a wall," Derek said patiently. He looked over, frowning when he saw the younger man squinting. "Why are you making that face? Isn't it what you want?"
"No, it's good," Xander said, sitting down in one of the chairs and rubbing his eyes. "Just a little tired."
"Son, maybe you should get your eyes checked."
"They're fine, dad," Xander sighed.
"Xander, I want you to get your eyes checked."
"Yes, sir, I'm going to when we bring the kids in for their first exams later today."
"Goot, I want to see your glasses when you get back."
"No glasses," Xander said firmly.
"If you need them, you'll get them," Derek ordered.
Xander stood up and leaned across the desk, kissing the older man on the cheek. "That's why someone intelligent created contacts," he whispered, then grinned and left the office.
"Wearing glasses is a time honored institution," Derek called after him.
Xander was still shaking his head as he walked into the kitchen, stopping to give his husband a hug from behind. "Dad's being fussy again. He wants me to wear glasses."
"I think you'd look cute in glasses," Oz told him, turning his head for a kiss. Which he got, making him spill the salad dressing onto the table.
"Oops," Xander said, grabbing a towel to mop up the spill. "My bad."
"Yeah, you are a bad little guy," Nick quipped from the doorway. "Want me to round up the kids?"
"Please. We need to leave in about an hour." Xander went back to cleaning up his mess, sneaking in a few kisses as he swiped at the old wood.
"I want to at least see you try on glasses," Oz said softly. "I don't mind if you keep your contacts, but I'd like to see you in glasses just once."
"I don't like glasses, I look funny in them," Xander told him. He got a set of puppy eyes turned on him; Oz had learned that trick well. "All right, I'll try a pair on so you can see me in them, okay?"
"Yup, very okay. Eat something."
"Why is he becoming the diet guy?" Nick asked, as he walked inside trailed by four children.
"Because I need him to. Where's Precious and Timmy?"
"Not sure. Jon went looking for Timmy though." Nick shrugged and pointed at the stairs. "Up there, get washed and changed, then we'll take you to get your eyes checked."
"Where's Junior?" Oz asked, sitting down with his bowl of lettuce and dressing.
Nick looked inside the bowl. "Gee, Oz, did you maybe want some food with the Ranch dressing?"
"Nope, not in the mood for lettuce." Oz took a bite and gave Nick an expectant look. "Well?" he asked when his mouth was empty.
"Adam has him, he'll be up in a minute, he's looking for Precious."
"'Kay, thanks," Oz said as he lifted up another bite. "Xander, real food," he reminded when he saw his husband sneaking out a Hot Pocket to microwave.
"It's one of the chicken and broccoli ones," Xander protested, taking out another. "And a pizza one because I deserve it." He unwrapped his lunch and popped it into the microwave. "There, now you can't stop me."
"I can tickle you," Oz reminded him, pointing his lunch at his husband.
"Eww. Eat that before it drips."
Adam walked in, one hand brushing back his black hair, the other arm firmly wrapped around the wiggling toddler. "I can't find her. I checked her usual hangouts."
Xander walked to the back door and looked out. "Precious, you've got ten seconds to appear before me or I'm going to have to come looking for you with the baby leash."
About a minute later she casually walked out of the bushes. "What? I was playing and being good."
"Yeah, I'm sure. Have you seen Timmy?" Oz asked from the table.
She smiled and shook her head. "Nope. I'll go wash." She headed up the stairs, humming happily as she went.
Xander looked at Oz, then nodded and walked out, heading for where Precious liked to torment her siblings. "Timmy?" he called as he walked up the gazebo's steps. "Timmy? It's time to go now. You have to come in." He looked over the edge and frowned when he saw the small bubbles. He walked around to the open spot in the fence, reaching down into the water to feel around. He grabbed some hair and pulled, bringing his son up. "What are you doing?" he asked as he helped his son up onto the wood, giving him a hug while he stopped crying. "Are you okay?"
"Precious said there was pretty stuff down there if you waited and they thought you were a fish. She said it's a mermaid or something."
Xander shook his head. "Nope, sorry, I don't think so." He stood up, carrying his son into the house and handing him off to Oz. "Precious told him to wait under the water for pretty things. He was breathing through one of those little pipes that surround the gazebo."
"What?" Nick yelled, looking at the soaking little boy. "Timmy, you are *not* allowed in that pond. It's a sacred place, you can't swim in there."
"Precious said there's a mermaid but she only comes out if you wait and act like a fishy," he protested. "I wasn't being bad!"
"Shh," Oz soothed, walking over to the stairs to put his son down. "Go have Jon toss you in the shower, we'll dry your hair on the way over." He watched his son disappear up the stairs, turning to look at Nick once he as out of earshot. "This wasn't his idea, Nick, we all know that Timmy wouldn't go swimming in that pond, not after William told him that's where we bury people."
Nick shut his mouth and nodded. "Sorry, but J...I have friends out there." He looked down at his plate and pushed it away. "I'm going to tell Derek where he was." He left the kitchen, going to find some comfort from someone who'd understand.
Xander shrugged when Oz looked at him. "I'm all for locking her in a closet right now, you know that."
"Yeah, me too," Oz sighed, walking over to get a hug. "We'll have to figure this out. How long was he down there?"
"The bubbles were kinda small," Xander admitted. "How long was he missing?"
"Long time probably," Oz suggested. "We'll talk with Jon tonight, and then we'll bring Derek into it. If we have to, we'll even bring Grandma into it and let her tan Precious' hide."
"Okay." Xander gave Oz a squeeze. "I asked my advisor for advice, he's a developmental person, and he said we're down to the option of drugs or spanking."
"I don't like those, but we'll do what we have to," Oz reminded him.
"Did you ask?" Xander asked.
"Yeah, and I got told to beat her black and blue, just once, and it'd stop all this very quickly."
"Hmm, Doctor Morris?"
"Oh, yeah." Oz pointed at the microwave. "Eat. We'll need our strength to deal with her tonight."
Xander was led out to the cases of glasses by his mate, grimacing at the funny colored ones Oz stopped in front of. "No."
"Huh?" Oz looked at what they were in front of and shook his head, pointing down at the case that had caught his eye. "These, not the English teacher glasses."
Xander looked down at the frames in the case, then gave his husband a helpless look. "Please, anything but that?" he asked.
Oz groaned and looked around the part they were in, tugging Xander after him toward a nice display of higher end frames. "These maybe?" he suggested, pointing at a gold pair.
Xander looked down then shrugged. "I guess. They won't show up that much. I still want my contacts though."
Oz nodded, giving him a squeeze to the wrist. "That's fine, dear, but sometimes I'd like you to look all scholarly and stuff. It turns me on."
"His breathing turns you on," Jon reminded them. "Precious and Serena both need them, but Serena's being balky, and the boys are about done."
"For what?" Oz asked.
"Serena, reading. Precious, all the time. That's why she's been running into the railing at the top of the stairs so often."
Xander shook his head and groaned. "This is going to cause more problems, right?" Jon nodded. "Has anyone told the brat that she needs them?"
"Yes, and she's throwing an awesome fit, that's why I'm over here," Jon told them with a grin. "Timmy's fine by the way. We talked while Precious was getting her exam. He was starting to see pretty colors when you pulled him up. Oh, and he's not mad that you pulled him out of the water by his hair, I explained drowning to him and he understood. You were just worried about him," Jon said with a pat to Xander's arm and a grin.
"Yeah, majorly," Xander said. "What are we going to do about Precious?"
One of the technicians cleared her throat. "Getting her to quit hitting her brother might be a good start." She pointed at the waiting area where Precious was beating Timmy with a copy of the Children's Bible.
Oz walked out and grabbed the book, slamming it down on the table. "Sit down," he ordered, pointing at the chair. "Your attitude problem has reached an all time high at this moment and I'm about ready to call someone to keep you for a few days." His daughter didn't sit, she put her hands on her hips.
"Oh, spank her," the receptionist said, "I won't tell no one."
Oz smiled at her. "I'm trying to keep my temper in check before I beat her," he explained.
Xander walked up behind them and grabbed Precious, sitting down and turning her over his knee, giving her four swats. "Now," he said, slamming her down into the chair her other father had pointed at, "you will sit there until it's time for you to come back and pick out your glasses. If you move, if you so much as think about trying to kill another person today, you will not only be grounded, but you will be staying in the old house for two days while we move."
"That's mean to grandpa," Timmy protested. "He's not been bad, why are you punishing him?"
Xander looked at him. "Not funny," he said dryly. He reached over and tipped his son's face up. "Are you sure you're okay?"
Timmy nodded. "I didn't drown, daddy, you saved me." He stuck his tongue out at his sister. "No matter what she did."
"Good," Oz said, pulling Xander back up. "We're going to pick out Daddy's frames and contacts, we'll be back in a minute. Jon?"
"Yeah, in a sec. Gotta find a good pair of shades," he called. He walked out a few minutes later, getting appreciative nods from both fathers. "Cool, huh?"
"Yeah, those are *great* on you," Xander said, smiling at him. "Can you watch them?"
"Sure. Go pick them out. I wanna see you in glasses too."
Xander groaned but followed Oz back into the glasses area.
Jon looked down at Precious, glaring over the edge of his frames. "You *will* behave, or I will do something drastic this time. Do you hear me?"
"What'd she do?" the receptionist asked him, giving him a smile.
"She told Timmy," he pointed at him, "to go hang out under water until he saw the mermaid."
"Oh, no," she sighed, shaking her head. "I hope he's all right?"
"Yup, I'm fine," Timmy said. "Daddy catch me and pulled me out by my hair."
Precious muttered something and Jon swatted her. "Enough, brat, or else." She stuck her tongue out at him so he pulled out his cellphone, dialing a number that had shown up on his dresser a few weeks ago, written in Brandon's handwriting. "Hey, is Ingrid there? No, this is Derek's nanny and I need to talk to her real badly. Oh, yeah, it's an emergency. One of the quad is turning psycho and I think only she can handle it."
Derek answered the door, smiling at his son and his new glasses. "Those look adorable on you," he said, giving him a hug. "Why did you ring the bell?"
Xander pointed behind him at Jon, who was carrying a kicking and screaming Precious. "She's been throwing fits. Even the cops on the ferry wanted us to beat her again." He got out of the nanny's way, watching as his daughter was carried up the stairs. "Oz is outside on the trail, the kids are with Adam again, Timmy has reading glasses and so does Serena. Precious needs to wear hers all the time but she's already tried to break them and throw them out the window while we were driving. Jon's called someone," he sighed, "I don't know who, but Brandon recommended them." He shrugged, handing over his bag and glasses. "I only need them for reading. I'm going to join Oz on the jogging trail." He walked away, leaving it all in very capable hands.
Derek looked inside the bag and slid the glasses back into their protected case, shaking his head at the boxes of disposable contacts. "If he's happy sticking things in his eye, I won't complain too much," he told himself as he closed the door and went back to work. He had to find a butler soon, he couldn't take much more of Nick's cooking.
Derek opened the door and stared at the woman on the other side in shock. He hadn't seen her dressed in civilian clothes for almost thirty years. "Ingrid?" he whispered, pulling her in for a hug. "Why are you here? You haven't left the order have you?" He let her move back so he could look at her. "No matter, you're welcome in my house for as long as you want to be here."
She smiled at him, a beautiful and gentle smile. "Derek, I'm here to take your problem child in hand."
"Oh, Ingrid," he sighed, now understanding the cryptic comments made by Xander earlier, "I fear she's too much, even for your eternal patience."
Xander jogged down the hall, looking around. "Have you seen the cat?"
"Junior had him in the kitchen," Derek said, giving his son a frown. "Why?"
"Because Junior was just crying that the cat ran away because someone was going to hurt it." He smiled at the stranger. "Hi, don't mind us, we're at the exorcism stage of childraising right now." He ran up the stairs. "Strife!" he yelled, calling the cat.
"Your cat's name is Strife?" she asked archly.
"Yes, we had a young girl visiting from another dimension and he showed up to be with her. He's since stayed to be with Junior, the youngest." He pulled her inside, closing the door. "Ingrid, why are you really here?"
"I was called upon by your nanny, Derek," she said lightly, but in reproof. "He was given my number by someone named Brandon, who knew I was needed."
Derek groaned. "Brandon. I should have known he was behind this." He shook himself and smiled, waving a hand at the living room. "Come, sit, I'll bring Brandon down to meet you in a few moments, right after I help Xander." He ran up the stairs at the scream of outrage, stopping when he saw Buffy protecting Xander from his daughter. "What happened?" he asked, glaring at the child in question. "And where is the cat?" He reached over to slap her, stopping her mental exertions so her father could be let go of.
"Gone," Xander said, trying to reach around Buffy to get her. "She decided to flush him away."
"He's a menace and he doesn't like me anyway," Precious sniffed. "He disappeared though."
Ingrid cleared her throat from behind Derek, stepping around her brother. "Child, you have no right to harm another living thing. It is not God's will."
Precious snorted and looked at her. "And who are you?"
Buffy reached out and tapped her on the forehead. "That's Derek's sister Ingrid and you'll be respectful of Sister Ingrid."
"Oh, you're like Brandon's friends." She waved it off. "Whatever, I'm not like that."
Xander looked at Ingrid. "You thought I was kidding, right?"
Ingrid smiled. "Don't worry, I think we'll settle this out relatively soon."
"Please, before she kills someone this time." Xander kissed Buffy on the shoulder and backed away. "I'm going to find Oz, let him know that you're here." He walked away, but everyone could hear his mumbling.
Derek and Buffy both stepped back to let Ingrid handle this. If Brandon, who talked to angels, said that Ingrid was needed to solve Precious' problem, then they'd let her do it. Ingrid looked down at the little girl and pulled her over, giving her a swat on the rear then a hug. "You will never harm a child or an animal again, Precious, or you will rue the day that you made me angry." She pointed at the stairs. "Go to your room."
"You're not my boss," Precious said defiantly. She glared at Derek. "This is all your fault, isn't it?"
Brandon walked up behind them, glaring at his sister. "My friends have all said that you needed to be beaten, but not spanked. We're not following you anymore 'cause we don't like trouble." He smiled at Ingrid. "You're just like my friend showed me." He patted her on the hand. "We'll talk later. You fix sissy." He grinned at Derek. "Serena's swearing."
"I'll go deal with that, come on, Brandon," Derek said, taking the offered little hand and leading the boy away. "Ingrid, I'll be in my office in a few minutes if you'd like to come talk with me."
"Of course, Derek." She smiled as she grabbed Precious' shoulder, forcing her up the stairs at the end of the hallway. She walked into the empty room at the end of the hall, looking at all the furniture. "We'll fix your new room up for you tonight," she decided, pushing the girl in and closing the door. "If you leave this room before I come back for you, you will add more punishment to what you've already earned." She walked down the stairs and waited but Precious didn't come out of the room. She continued down to the office, smiling at her brother, who was holding another little girl. "Did she get hurt?"
"Precious broke her glasses because they said they were a mark of Serena being lesser."
"Oh, dear," Ingrid said, walking over to pat her on the head. "No, they're not. They used to be thought of as a sign of intelligence though. Think of them that way, dear."
"But she has to wear them too," Serena pointed out weakly.
"Yes, but yours are for a special function, hers are because she can't see," Derek reminded her. "Never doubt that you're special, little one." He gave her a hug and let her go. "Go get a snack and let me talk to my sister, dear."
"Okay, grandpa." Serena smiled at Ingrid. "Did Brandon's friends call for you?"
"Yes, dear, they did. Can you ask him to come in here?
"Sure, he's stealing cookies." Serena walked out, her spirits raised now.
Ingrid sat on the couch, looking at her brother. "Who called me?"
"I'm not sure."
"Then let's start at the beginning. I recognize Brandon's name, and it was his nanny that called for me to come."
"His friends are actually messengers," Xander said as he walked in. "Where'd you stuff her?"
"In the room on the end of your hall. Could you help me move the furniture out later?"
Ingrid smiled at his confused look. "We're going to start maintaining my work schedule. I think, what with school and helping me in the garden and the kitchen, that she won't have much energy for fighting with the others."
"It's almost more of a dominance problem," Xander told her. "If one of the other kids would become more pushy, they'd take over from her and everything would be fine."
"She wasn't turned, son," Derek reminded him gently. "She may not operate on the pack principle."
"Yeah, maybe," Xander sighed as he sat down. "I just intercepted a message from Kyoto, Paris is giving them grief. They sent their answer to us too."
Derek nodded. "I'll deal with Paris, I've known of their problems." He smiled. "Was there anything else?"
"Yeah, Oz said that he's taking Nick car shopping tonight. I need something to do."
"There's always studying for your tests," Derek suggested, chuckling at the grimace he got. "It's needed, your finals are in another week or so. Don't you want to keep your grades up?"
Xander shrugged. "Yeah, kinda. Are you coming to our graduation, Ingrid?" he asked, turning to look at her.
"I would be delighted to attend," she said with a smile. "How high are you graduating?"
"That's a surprise for everyone else," Derek told her. "We never announced that the boys are rather high in their class."
Xander nodded. "Oz is a lot higher than I am. I had a few rough semesters in there." He stood up. "I'm going to talk with the other kids."
"You need to get Serena another pair of glasses," Derek told him. "Precious told her that they made her weaker after breaking them."
"Not gonna beat my daughter," Xander reminded himself, his eyes closed. "Okay, I'll deal with it. Thanks, Dad."
"Welcome." Derek waited until they were alone to look at his sister. "You'll find that this house is hardly ever boring these days, even without many cases."
She smiled. "I'm sure." She crossed her legs. "Tell me about the problems you've been having, brother. I want to cure that child. There's no way she can handle her future when she's that temperamental and obsessive."
"That's one way of putting it," Derek agreed, making his sister laugh.
Xander watched his kids stare at each other in front of the fireplace, wondering what was going on in their little heads. He was pretty sure it had something to do with Precious since Timmy had glared at her a few minutes earlier, but he had no idea what they were thinking of. If he had, he might have stopped what happened.
Serena walked out of the nursery, followed by Timmy and Brandon, as soon as they were sure Jon was asleep. She tapped on her sister's door, pushing Precious inside when she opened it. "You will *not* harm this pack again," she told her sister. "You're not welcome here anymore." She crossed her arms across her chest.
Precious snorted. "I don't have to be part of the pack, I'm a *normal*."
"Pity," Serena said in direct imitation of her great-grandmother. "That makes you weaker, Precious, not better." She reached out and pushed her backward, knocking her down. "You will never harm the pack again. Or else." She turned and walked out, followed by Timmy.
Brandon looked down at his sister, shaking his head. "You should have listened to my friends. They told you not to mess up what we had." He followed his sister out.
Precious sat in the middle of her floor and cried.
Jon walked into the kitchen, frowning at Xander. "What did Ingrid do to Precious?" he asked as he grabbed a banana and started to peel it.
"Not a clue, why?" Xander asked, looking up from his homework. "She misbehaving again?"
"No, she's been having crying jags all day. Every time Serena looks at her."
Xander put down his pencil and stood up. "Sounds like something happened then." He walked out the back door and down the path toward where the school was, taking his time so he could think. He tapped on the door as he walked in, nodding at Adam that he was going to take Precious with him. He tapped his daughter on the head and motioned her outside, following her out. "What's wrong?" he asked, sitting down in front of her and patting the ground in front of him so she would sit too.
"You don't love me," she declared, backing away from him. "Sissy made sure I knew that."
"Precious, come here," Xander said calmly, holding out his arms. She walked into them after a short hesitation. "We do love you, both Oz and I do, but we don't like your attitude problem. We don't like how you've been picking on the other kids. We will always love you though because you're our daughter."
"Sissy said that you didn't want me around."
"Ah." Xander gave him a gentle squeeze. "I think she said that *she* didn't want you around."
"She said I wasn't welcome in the pack," Precious said quietly.
"Do you wonder why?" Adam asked as he walked out to join them, sitting across from Xander in the grass. "After all the torment that you've put them through and all the harmful things you've done, would you want you around?"
Precious hung her head. "I wanted to be a good alpha."
Xander chuckled. "Sweetheart, you're not an alpha. Your fathers are your alphas. You won't get to be an alpha for a *very* long time." He patted her on the back. "Do we need to sit down and lay out the power structure for you?" She looked up and shook her head. "Are you sure?" She nodded. "Good, because you're not the alpha. Not of the other kids, and not in the house. You'll probably never become an alpha because you're so special and you'll have to rely on too many people to help you." He brushed some of her hair back from her face. "Just like Buffy can't ever be an alpha, neither can you."
She got free. "Uh-huh. Auntie Buffy is too an alpha!" she protested. "She's a good one."
Adam snorted. "Dear, Buffy's never been in control of her life. Rupert has had control over her for the longest time. She's not an alpha."
"You wouldn't know, you're not special," Precious spat. "Go away, you're mean."
Adam smiled coldly at her. "Do you really think so?"
Xander frowned at him. "Not now, Adam, I'd like to get over this situation before it gets worse." He forced his daughter's head around so she would look him in the face. "You aren't the alpha, you'll never be the alpha, and no one believes that you could be the alpha dear. Leaders rule in the best interest of their betas or they get overthrown." He stood up, waving at the door. "Go back to your studies. We'll discuss this later." He shook himself and got up to walk up to the house. He and Oz had to make some things very clear to the children.
Serena closed the door behind her and faced off with her sister. "You should have stopped," she said. "You should have left us alone. *Never* mess with the pack." She started to change, sprouting hair.
Xander and Oz looked up from the house plans as the screaming started, both sprinting from the room for the living room. Oz was the first through the door and he grabbed Precious, putting her behind him.
Xander grabbed Serena, holding her wiggling body still. "Get her out of here!" he ordered his mate. "She won't calm down while Precious is here."
Oz turned in time to almost duck the lamp coming up behind them. He was awake long enough to see the lamp hit his other daughter and Xander, groaning as he passed out.
Nick ran into the room, stopping when he saw Precious was the only one standing. He picked her up and shook her. "What are you doing!" he screamed.
"She attacked me!" Precious protested. "I'm defending myself."
Nick slammed her into a chair, and turned to find Adam behind him. "Take her to Derek. I'm taking Serena upstairs."
"Leave her. They can deal with her turning better than Jon could," Adam said, staying calm. He picked Precious up and put her out in the hall. "Stay there." He turned back to Nick. "Check the boys then come meet us in Derek's office. I have no doubt he'll want to talk to you also."
Ingrid walked past the doorway and looked inside. She looked down at Precious. "What were you thinking?" she asked quietly.
"She attacked me," Precious told her. "I was defending myself."
"I'm sure, but you had no reason to hit your fathers also." She took the little girl by the shoulder and herded her down the hall. "We'll be in Derek's office."
Nick nodded and shut the door, after allowing Adam inside. "Check Xander, I'll get Oz." He knelt beside the still body, opening one eye to check the pupil response. "Um, I got a yellow eye."
"He's probably half way to changing," Adam reminded him. "Trying to separate the children." He checked Xander and hummed, leaning down to check Serena. "Both are in that half-way zone. They should be fine. The werewolf healing factor should take care of any of the head injuries they've received." He stood up, brushing off his knees. "I'm going to check on Precious, maybe get her some aspirin." He left the room, closing the door behind him.
Nick sighed and pushed himself up onto a couch so he could wait on them to wake up.
Adam walked into Derek's office with the bottle of Tylenol and a glass of water, handing them off to the young girl. "They're all fine. The lamp didn't cause any lasting damage."
"She attacked me," Precious said again.
"It doesn't matter," Ingrid told her firmly. "You do not use your abilities against anyone else unless you have to."
"She was furry!" Precious protested. "I had to."
"No, you didn't. You could have run. Serena wouldn't have followed you." She looked over at Derek, who was holding his head. "Are you going to have a talk with the other child tonight?"
"Oh, yes," Derek said, but he didn't lift his head up. "We'll all be having a discussion tonight about who's in charge." He glared at Precious. "Take your medicine and go up to your room until it's time to talk."
She pouted but did as he said and left, Adam following her.
Derek looked over at his sister. "No matter how much we talk about it, Serena and Precious won't give this up. Serena will end up winning and Precious will end up being a very unhappy little girl."
"She's not meant to be a leader," Ingrid reminded him. "No more than you really are." He smiled at that. "She's got the same problems that you did when you were made leader of anything."
"I know, she's closer to me than the others are. I'll help the boys figure it out. Sometime."
"As long as it gets cured eventually, before someone dies," Ingrid reminded him gently. She stood up and walked out, letting Derek have his headache in peace.
Oz woke up and rolled over, looking for his mate and daughter, frowning when he saw Serena sitting in a chair sucking her thumb. "Oh, you are in trouble," he told her as he stood up, going over to pick her up. "Come on, we're going to go meditate and discuss."
"Humph?" Xander asked, opening one eye. "She okay?"
"Both okay," Oz told him. "Go to bed or go see Derek. We're going to go meditate." He carried his daughter from the room and out to the garden.
Xander grunted as he pushed himself up, looking around the room for additional damage. When all he could see was a broken lamp, he stood up using the couch to push against and headed for the office. That was where Derek usually was. He smiled as he saw his father's head down on the desk, walking quietly over to check on him. He saw the open eyes and grinned down at the weary face. "Oz took Serena to meditate," he said softly.
"Goot. How are you going to fix this?" Derek asked, forcing himself upright.
"We're going to fix it like we did in Colorado. We'll declare the official system of alphas and betas. Hope you don't mind?"
"Not at all, son, I enjoy being a beta wolf some days." He smiled at the younger man. "Tonight?"
"Yeah, before someone gets killed. How's Precious?"
"She has a headache, she was sent to her room until it was time to talk to everyone."
"Cool. Then we'll deal with it all tonight." He grinned. "I've got to have a snack. Fix you something?"
"No, thank you though. I'm fine." Derek watching as Xander walked out, shaking his head at the resilience of youth.
Xander looked around at the gathered people. "Apparently, there's been some confusion about who's in charge around here. Kids, for the house itself, grandpa's in charge. Got it?" Everyone nodded. "As for this family, and for the pack that makes up part of it, there's a very strong set of alphas and betas in place and you will respect it. *I* am an alpha, and *Oz* is an alpha. Those are the only two alphas in this family. There are no alpha children, no alpha aunts or uncles. Just us. Your aunts, uncles, and grandfather are all betas to us in the matter of this family." He and Oz shared a kiss, then went to kiss someone else to prove that they had the power.
Oz got Buffy, who clung a little bit, but relaxed into him.
Xander got Nick, who surprisingly went limp in his arms. He gave his brother a faint grin for his roleplaying efforts.
Oz went to Derek, who submitted gracefully, then went to Adam, who almost hesitated but went with the program at the last second.
Xander got Alex, who sighed then let him have a quick peck on the lips, and then got Jon, who went with it happily.
When they were done, the couple stood in front of the children again, holding hands now. "There are no other alphas in this family or in this pack," Oz told the children. "Not even when it's just your five."
"Or six," Xander pointed out.
"True," Oz agreed, giving him a smile. "Though Junior's much younger so you'd better be protecting him."
"We do," Brandon sighed. "Is that all?"
"No," Oz said, looking down at his son, and Brandon was definitely his son; he was just like Oz when he first came to the house. "There's also the matter of someone changing to attack another one of you earlier tonight."
"Which is *totally* a punishable offense," Xander added on. "We do *not* allow that to happen. Do we understand?" Everyone nodded. "Good, then we should see no more power moves from the children. No more fighting for dominance, no more trying to kill each other, and no more crap like earlier. Do we get the point?"
"Goot," Derek said. "Now go up to your rooms and go to bed."
Precious looked up at Xander, who nodded. "He's allowed to give you orders, he's an elder of the pack and you will follow them unless we tell you otherwise."
Precious nodded and headed up to her new room.
Serena looked at the boys, then up at her fathers. "I'm sorry, daddies, I didn't mean to hurt her."
"We know, that's the only reason that you can still sit," Oz told her. "Go to bed. We'll discuss this in the morning."
The boys followed Serena out, leaving Xandra. "I'm good, right?" Xandra asked.
"You have been very good as far as I can tell," Xander said, getting down to give her a hug. "You've done way more than we expected you to do today and we're both very proud of the way that you've been doing in school." He kissed her on the forehead. "Now go to bed."
She smiled up at them and got up, running after the quad.
Junior held his arms up. "Ki?" he asked cheerfully.
"Yes, you can go find the Strife kitty and go to sleep," Oz told him, picking the baby up and handing him off to Jon. "Thanks for this, guys," he told the rest of the house. "Night, Junior."
"Da," Junior babbled, clapping his hands.
"Night," Xander said with a grin, leaning down to get a wet kiss. "You sleep well." He ruffled the straight black hair and followed his mate up to their room.
Derek looked over at Junior, giving Jon a smile. "At least he's not part of that mess."
"As far as we can tell, he's been a pawn," Jon said, standing up. "I've got to go monitor baths. Night." He carried the baby away, going to put all the kids down.
Serena walked into Precious' room, glaring at her sister. She stormed over and woke her up by shoving her off the bed. "You are not in charge," she hissed when her sister looked up at her. "Even when it's just us." Precious' eyes narrowed and things started to shift on the dresser. "Oh, try it," she whispered as the hairbrush came closer. "You won't ever hit me again, Precious. Not if you want to be okay."
"Stop it," Xandra said from the doorway. She closed the door and looked around the room. "This is nice." She glared at her sisters. "I won't have this," she declared.
Serena laughed. "You're smaller."
"Yeah, but I'm a better fighter." Serena took control of Precious' hairbrush and beat Serena in the head with it, all without touching it. "She's not the only one who can do things. Remember that. Do not mess with me or Junior." She turned and walked out, leaving the sisters staring at each other.
Precious slammed the room door mentally and stood up, facing off against her sister. "Let's finish this," she hissed. "I won't allow you to rule over me."
"Fine," Serena said with a shrug. "Then we'll fight." She let her nails grow just enough to be pointed, her teeth coming out at the same time, and ducked the flying hairbrush.
Jon walked into the boy's room and shoved Xander hard. "You won't believe it, but they settled it."
Xander looked up at him. "Who needs to go to the hospital?"
"Neither one. Xandra waited until Precious and Serena were engrossed in the fighting then went back in and beat them both up." He grinned. "Got one loose tooth, but otherwise just a few bruises. Oh, and since when has Xandra been able to pull Precious' stunt of moving things?"
"Not real sure," Oz said as he rolled over. "So it's fixed?"
"Yeah, man. I was watching on the surveillance system with Nick, and Xandra said that she and Junior were a pack, and that Precious and Serena fighting was bothering her pack." His smile got brighter. "It was kinda cool actually. She beat up both girls using the hairbrush, then spanked Precious with it. She said she needed it because she was a brat. And now it's all good. Serena and Precious are curled up together, and so are Junior and Xandra."
Xander shrugged. "I didn't even see that one coming."
"Kinda makes sense though," Oz noted. "The quad is a rule unto themselves and they did exclude Xandra and Junior."
"Yeah, point," Xander admitted. "I guess we'll have to wait and see tomorrow about behavioral problems."
"Coolness. Nick slipped a note under Ingrid's door. Oh, and we saw Brandon frown at Xandra, but he gave her a hug, so apparently the boys are going along with it."
"Cool beans," Oz said. "Later." He snuggled into Xander's side and went back to sleep.
"As long as we know what's going on," Xander told him, "let's wait and watch for now. This may change things. Xandra is a loner and she's known how to get what she wants."
"Yeah, she does," Jon said, waving and leaving the room.
Xander shifted until he was curled around Oz, kissing him on the neck. "We'll wait and see."
Over the next few days, thing started to settle down. Every time Precious would do something out of line, Xandra would glare at her. Sometimes Precious even jumped and rubbed her bottom, glaring back at her younger sister. As the week wore on, things settled back into a routine, and the fits of attitude slowly drifted away. Even while most everyone was gone with Nick to get his new car, Precious behaved without supervision.
Nick got out of his new SUV, giving Derek a hesitant grin. "I didn't want my 'Stang to be duplicated," he explained.
"So you got a purple SUV?" Derek asked with a smile.
"It's Maple Red," Nick protested. "I wouldn't buy a purple car." He looked at Xander, who was looking confused. "It's a dark red, sorta maroon color."
"Okay, but it looks purple to me too," Xander said with a shrug. "Maybe it's the light it's sitting in," he justified at the hurt look. "Way different than the 'Stang though. Are you happy with it?"
"So far." Nick opened up the door so Xander could look inside. "It's got a few neat features, including my optional tent attachment." He saw Derek's eye roll and glared at him. "Hey, some of us appreciate things like that."
"I'm sure you do, but I didn't say anything," Derek told him, tugging on the younger man's arm until he got a hug. "I'm glad you found a car you liked, Nick."
"Thanks, Derek," Nick said, blushing a little. "It means a lot to me."
"Hey, Nick," Oz said, breaking the tense but tender moment. "Show him the fold-out compartments in the back."
Nick nodded Derek to the back of his new SUV and opened the hatch, pointing at the semi- concealed netted compartments. "Those pop up so that I can carry stuff without it shifting."
"That's a great option," Xander said, giving him a bright smile. "Much better than a tent."
"Just because you don't camp," Nick started but Derek groaned and walked away. "What happened? Vision? Pain? What?"
"I had no idea that you were getting a vehicle so soon. I just paid the car insurance bill for the house vehicles."
"Not funny, bossman," Nick said, but he was still grinning. "My insurance isn't that high."
"Is now," Oz reminded him. "SUV's are in a whole other category of insurance. Same as sports cars are."
"Speaking of which, when are you two getting your new car?" Alex asked as she walked down the stairs. "Oh, an Aztek, those always looked pretty cool in the ads." She smiled at Nick. "And I see that you went with a highly individual color."
"Yup, I liked it," Nick said with a smile. "So, wanna check it out? Derek's trying to be funny again." He held out the keys and she took them. He watched as Alex got in and drove his new baby off down the driveway.
"It'll be okay," Xander promised him, giving him a pat on the back. "She's a careful driver. That's why women's insurance rates are lower."
"Let's hope this car lasts longer than the last few new ones we've had in the house," Derek said, looking over at Oz. "When do you two go car-shopping again?"
"I picked mine out online," Oz said quietly. "It'll be here in town in a few days."
Xander shook his head, pulling his mate over for a quick hug. "I found mine online too, but I ordered it through the local dealership. I think you'll say it's fitting." He grinned at Oz. "You got that rock-star car, right?"
"Yeah, the roadster." Oz shrugged at Nick's frown. "Hey, I'm young, and I always wanted a major babe car. Get over it."
"Can I drive it?" Nick asked.
"No," Oz and Xander said together.
"You don't need a babe," Xander reminded him.
"I think Nick would do all right for himself without a car like that," Derek defended. "He doesn't need hot cars to pick up people."
"That was my point," Xander said, rolling his eyes at his father's hidden smile. "Besides, he's never out on the town to do that."
"Neither are you two," Nick pointed out. "And what does Oz need a babe car for anyway? Hmm?"
"Easy, he's a musician, it's part of the ideal," Xander defended. "I'm sure it's a very comfy car for him."
"It looks like it is," Oz said, looking up at Xander. "What are you getting?"
"It's a surprise. I'll let you help me pick it up." He gave his husband a little squeeze then backed away so no one would say anything about the cuddles. "Besides, I wanted to surprise you too," Xander reminded him.
"Cool. I'll be surprised too," Oz agreed. "When do you go?"
"After my second final. It's the only time I'll have time to go that whole week."
"If you're sure. If not, I'll go with you the next day."
"The next three days everything is closed."
"Oh, yeah," Oz sighed, relaxing. "Okay, we'll go in the middle of finals, as long as you make it to your last one." He patted Xander on the rear and walked away from him. "I'm going to go eat. Joining me, Xander?"
"Yup. Forgot breakfast." Xander grinned at the people around him before jogging to catch up to his husband.
"There's something extremely odd about that boy's eating again," Derek said.
"Leave it," Nick suggested. "It's his thing and Oz has a tight grip on it. Really," he said at the dirty look. "I've seen more of Oz the diet-guide than I have of Oz the love slave recently. They've got it, Derek." He grinned. "So, what do you think of my new car?"
"I like it, it suits you," Derek said, wrapping an arm around his shoulders to lead the younger man inside.
Nick watched as his brother and Oz pulled down the driveway, handing Derek the phone as soon as he walked in. "Here, you look like you want to be nosy."
"Yes, but Marcus hardly ever humors me anymore," Derek said as he sat down with his cup of coffee. He dialed their doctor's office, slowly taking a sip as the phone rang. "No answer," he said finally, hanging up and tossing the phone back. "I'm sure it's nothing that serious. Oz is probably helping Xander bring his weight back down."
"Yeah, maybe," Nick agreed, "but I'm not so sure it's something so innocent."
"We'll deal with it once he tells us," Derek reminded his co-worker gently. "Until then, all we can do is guilt-trip the information out of him." He smiled at the surprised look. "I have no love of Xander's habit of not telling us when he's sick. I think it's for his own good that we teach him that he can trust us with health matters also." He put his cup aside. "Now then, what are you doing today since the house you're managing is still out on a case?"
"I still need to go to the insurance office, and then I need to run a few errands. Did you want to come with me?"
"No, I think I'll read for a bit then go play with the children during recess." Derek stood up and walked over to Nick's side, giving him a light squeeze to the shoulder. "Behave in town today. I'll be here when you get home."
"Gee, guilt-tripping Xander isn't the only thing you can do," Nick quipped, giving him an embarrassed look when Derek flinched. "Sorry, Derek, but I'm feeling rushed."
"Nick, I no more would rush you than I would the children into adulthood. Take whatever time you need. I'll be here."
"As long as William doesn't get you into anything," Nick quipped.
"True," Derek sighed, smiling faintly. "That man will be the death of me one of these years."
Nick had a revelation. Derek was older than he was. By a number of years. Derek had just made a promise he couldn't keep, his first one for as long as Nick had known him. He pulled the other man into his arms and gave him the strongest, tightest hug he could, almost clinging to him. "I don't think I want to chance you being there," Nick whispered. "Life's too fragile in this house."
"Ah, you've learned lessons from your brother." Derek stroked down the strong back, not surprised when he felt it tremble. "I'm still here, Nick, you have time to figure all this out. I promise that you will." He backed away, looking into the green eyes. "I'm still here."
Nick let him go, nodding. "Thanks, Derek. Would you like to go out to dinner tonight? I'll even let you pick the place."
"Oh, Nick, you don't need to spoil me," Derek sighed, patting him on the side of the face. "We'll picnic in the garden. I'll make us up a light supper and we'll talk." He gave him a smile and walked away, leaving the younger man with his thoughts.
Nick tapped his fingers on his steering wheel as the lane next to his started to move but his stayed still. He flipped on his blinker and changed lanes, sighing in relief as he started to move again. One eyebrow went up as someone almost cut him off by pulling in front of him, but he didn't think anything of it, there were plenty of idiots in traffic. His lane started to slow down and he went with the change, only giving a little groan for the senselessness of it all. He got a good look at the guy in front of him's passenger since he was turned around to look at him. "Don't you kids have finals," he muttered at the young man, who was grinning maniacally at him. That's when he felt the bump. "Oh, no. Not in my new car." He felt the bump from behind and slammed on his brakes, locking them up to try and stop his car from being pushed into the one in front of him. He set the emergency brake with one hand, reaching for his cellphone with the other. "Hey, I'm stuck in traffic on 8th, and someone's trying to play squish with my new car? No, a tan Mercedes in the front with two guys, one of them's very college aged, and behind," he checked in his mirror, "is a van. One of the big, heavy, industrial vans. White, I can't see any lettering or the license plate. I'm in a maple red Aztek, had it for a whole twenty-six hours." He groaned and hung up, releasing his emergency brake. He gunned the engine and pushed forward, grunting as his front crumple zone got it's first test. Finally, the Mercedes pulled away with a screech of tires, and Nick got the license plate. He didn't get one from the van, but maybe the cops that were pulling up did. He pulled off the side of the road and rolled down his window, quickly writing the number down before he forgot it in all the other questions that were going to be asked.
Derek hung up the phone with a head shake, looking over at Alex. "Nick was hit. Someone tried to play squish with him?"
"Oh. Oh, man," she sighed, shaking her head. "That's just mean." Derek looked confused so she explained it to him. "That's when you get trapped between two cars and they try to squish you between them. It's a popular demolition derby sort of trick."
"Because it's done by young men, Derek," she said with a smile.
"Oh, that explains it then. Couldn't they go out cow tipping or something?" he sighed, rolling his eyes.
"Around here? Are there cows?"
Derek shrugged. "The search would keep them out of trouble." Alex chuckled and Derek left to go back to his office. "Nick will be home in a bit. He went to find the boys to catch a ride since his new car's in the shop."
"Okay, I'll start on that lunch that you wanted." She walked down the hall to the kitchen, going to do a favor for her boss.
Nick walked into the student center, looking around for anyone he knew. He found Buffy in a corner so went to sit with her. "Hey," he said, sighing as he sat down. "My car got squished."
"Your *new* car got squished?" She looked at her watch. "Must be some sort of record, even for you, Nick." She pushed aside her plate at his frown. "Sorry. Didn't plan on squishing it?"
"No, but the guys that trapped me did." He picked up one of her chips, grinning at her hand slap. "Sorry, I got the nibbles."
"Go ahead and eat my food then." She leaned back in her chair, stretching backwards. "So, do you need a ride?"
"Yeah. The new baby's in the shop." He gave her a pitiful look. "Please? I'll even let you drive."
"Sure." She patted down her pockets and handed over the keys. "We'll go now. I don't have to be back here for another three hours. I was waiting on Xander to get back with his new car."
"Oh, yeah, that's today, isn't it?" He looked around. "Where are they?"
"Probably still making out to break it in," she said dryly.
Oz looked at the car, shaking his head. "A Subaru?" he asked finally, looking over at his mate.
"Yup, they can go through *anything*!" Xander said excitedly. "Even a Buffy driving fit."
"Okay then." Oz stared at the name of the car, then started to laugh. "Word play," he said finally, getting a grin. "I think it's great and comfy." He wrapped an arm around Xander's middle, giving him a hug. "Are we making payments?"
"Nope. I decided I wanted my car right now." He looked around, smiling as the salesman walked up to them. "Hi. It came in!"
"Yes, Mr. Harris, it did," the salesman said as he handed over the keys. "Do be careful with it. We've gotten your brother's car back already."
Xander quit smiling. "Is he okay?"
"There's a group of teens in town that are playing, as Nick called it, squish. They got him in heavy traffic. The front's totaled and the rear took some damage but we can fix it in a few weeks." He shrugged. "Your brother called a cab and went to go find you."
Oz pulled out his cellphone and dialed Buffy's. "Hey, it's me, do you have Nick? 'Cause if you do, then he can drive our sedan back. Xander just got his car." He nodded and hung up. "They'll be over here in about half an hour. They were headed for the ferry dock."
"Coolness," Xander said, nodding. He looked around, then smiled at his mate. "Where's your car?"
"You both got new cars at the same time?" the salesman asked, looking just a little shocked.
"Graduation present," they said together, then pinched each other on the arm.
"Mine is at a sports car place across town," Oz told him. "I wanted a car in line with my musician heritage."
"Ah." The salesman nodded. "I can understand that. Mr. Harris, if you would come sign the last of the paperwork saying that you received your car, then we'll give you the keys and you can get back to school."
"Eww, don't remind me I have a Profiling exam tonight." He followed the salesman inside the office, going to sign the paperwork while Oz looked at his new car.
Nick caught the keys Oz threw at him, looking at the car he was sitting on. "A Subaru?"
"It can withstand anything," Xander pointed out.
"True," Nick agreed. He caught sight of the model name and started to laugh. "Oh, so *that's* what you meant." He wrapped an arm around Xander' s neck and gave him a squeeze. "Good job, Derek'll love it." He let him go and stepped back at Oz's raised eyebrow. "What? I can give my brother a hug."
"Yeah, but you were clinging," Oz pointed out.
"Hey, he needs it, he had car problems today," Xander reminded his mate. "He can have a hug, same as Buffy could."
"Hey, Buffy's good to go," Buffy said as she walked over to them. "So, Oz, where's yours?"
"It may be in today, I have to go check." He held up the parking permit. "I even remembered to grab a second one for us."
"Oz, this is my last day, you could have had my parking permit."
"Yeah, but my car needed a second one." He shrugged. "I'm going to go check on it. Meet me at the school?"
"Sure. Which lot?"
"Student Center." Oz slid off Xander's hood and walked over to where Nick was looking confused. "I wanted to surprise him with my car. Take me over to my car place?" Nick nodded and quirked his head at the car. They walked off together.
Buffy looked at Xander's car and shook her head. "I don't get it. What word play?"
He patted her on the head. "You will. Give it some time. We'll be home before you will tonight." He got in and sighed as his custom-ordered seat molded to his body. "So cool," he whispered as he shut the door.
Nick looked at Oz's car's tarp and shook his head. "You really went for a musician's car?"
Oz pulled back the tarp and watched his brother-in-law's face go slack. "So you like?" he asked finally.
"Oz, man, if I beg, can I drive it?" Nick ran his hand down the side of the beamer, reverently caressing the silver paint. "This is *such* a great car! Where did you find it?"
"Classified section. I wanted new but this one spoke to me." Oz slid in behind the wheel, grunting as he adjusted the seat. "Yeah, this is going to be my baby."
"After or before Xander?" Nick asked with a grin.
"Different plane of babydom," Oz pointed out, winking at him. He waved at one of the salesman, sliding out to catch the keys. "Thanks, guys. The stereo looks killer."
"You're welcome, Mr. Osbourne. Would you like to sign the final paperwork?"
"Sure. And give you the check." Oz patted Nick on the shoulder. "You can drive it tonight, around the island." He followed the salesman into the office to go finalize his car.
Xander hopped up as he saw Oz pull in, his mouth falling open as he saw his car. He raced over, leaning in to give his mate a hug. "Wow. This is a *great* car," he said, giving him a kiss.
"Boys," the security guard called as he walked over to them. "Be happy in private please." He looked at the car. "New?"
"Three years old but new for me," Oz said as he slid out. He turned on the security system, smiling at the guard. "It is pretty, huh?"
"Very," the guard said. "Bet it's expensive."
"Oh, yeah," Oz said. "Insurance is killer, but it's all good." He patted his hood, smiling as his alarm started to go off. He turned it off then on again. "There, pretty and untouchable."
"Can I touch?" Xander asked, giving him puppy eyes.
"Sure. After Nick drives it around the island, we'll go make out in it." He patted his husband's rear as he walked past him. "Later, got a final in an hour."
Xander grinned at the guard. "I love my Oz," he said as he walked away.
The guard shook his head and gave the car a last admiring look before walking away to go give tickets.
Derek came out to meet his son in the driveway, smiling at the simple sedan his son was driving. He looked at the name, then at his son, shaking his head. "Son, you are such a funny little boy some days," he said, giving him a hug. "I like it. Very mature." He let him go, after kissing him on the cheek. "Go put your Legacy in the garage before the peacocks start to enjoy your tires."
Xander grinned. "Okay. Oh, and you'll *like* Oz's car. Even our guards at school liked it."
"Speaking of which, how did you do today?"
"I passed, which is all I needed to do in two of the three. That last one though, I'm not sure that I didn't just flunk the class. The test was half the grade and I froze on the last two essay questions." He shrugged. "Whatever. I'm able to graduate without that elective." He got back in and pulled away.
Derek sat on the steps and waited for Oz to show up. Surely he couldn't be too far behind.
Derek stood as Oz drove up, smiling at the lithe silver car. "I see you really did get a car that you would enjoy."
"Very," Oz said as he got out. "I enjoy it a lot already." He winked. "Where's Nick? I told him he could drive it around the island."
"He's taking a nap. Buffy worked all the stress out of his body and he fell asleep on the couch." Derek walked over to look inside. "Very nice options."
"Thanks. I have this feeling that Xander's car won't be used too often."
"Oh, I'm sure it will. There's times when you'll need something more .... mature." He saw the smile. "Actually, it's a beautiful car, but it is a bit older than I would have thought he wanted."
"You wanted him to get something safe," Oz reminded him. He ran a hand over his door. "I'm going to go park since Nick's not up yet. Where's Xander?"
"Out with Junior on the jogging trail. They were going to watch the sunset across the bay."
"Cool. Maybe I'll join him. Don't hold food." He slid back in and purred away, going to garage his baby.
Buffy looked up in the middle of her test. "I get it now!" she crowed triumphantly.
Her teacher glared at her. "That's good. Maybe you'll pass the class after all, Ms. Summers. Please shut up though."
Buffy blushed and went back to her test.
Derek looked up as everyone filed into the dining room, smiling at Nick's yawn. "Well, today has certainly been an interesting day," he said once everyone was sitting down. "Nick's new car was punished. Oz and Xander got theirs. Buffy, how was your day?"
"Oh, good for the most part. I pissed off my teacher." Xander looked at her. "I got the word play in the middle of my test."
Derek smiled. "I'm sure you'll be forgiven for it."
"I hope so. I need that class to graduate."
"Word play?" Alex asked. "And how are the new cars anyway?"
"Oz got a beamer," Xander said proudly. "A very cool one."
"Yup," Oz agreed.
"And I got a Subaru Legacy," Xander said, grinning at her groan. "What?"
"Nothing." She picked up a bowl and dished herself out some rice. "Derek, when are we getting a new butler?"
"I've chosen one, with my mother's guidance, and he should start next week." He smiled at Nick. "That means that you can relax in just a few more days."
"Good. I like to cook, but you guys eat like a battalion." Nick looked over at Oz. "When can I take a turn around the island?"
"Tonight. You can even take Derek if you want," Oz told him. "Don't take all night though." He tossed over the keys, watching as Nick caressed them.
"You can play after you eat," Alex said mock-sternly, giving his embarrassed flush a grin. "Eat first, play later. Otherwise, you won't have the strength to play later."
"Good point," Nick said, dishing himself out some food.
"Which Chinese place did we order from?" Buffy asked as she picked up a bowl of beef and broccoli.
"The one next to the docks that you don't really like," Nick told her. "Try the fried things, got those specifically for you."
She picked one up and nibbled, giving him a surprised look. "Wow. These are great." She picked up a few more and tossed them onto her plate, handing them off to him. "Thanks, Nick. You're a great guy."
Nick's blush got a little brighter. "Thanks," he mumbled. He passed the plate to Derek. "Eat or I won't take you with me," he reminded gently.
Derek loaded his plate up, digging into his meal.
Nick looked across the small space at Derek, giving him a smile even though he wasn't aware of being looked at. He liked to look at his friend, and future lover, he was a handsome man. And he was all his, as soon as he was ready to admit it.
Derek shifted so he was looking at Nick, catching the goofy grin before it could slide away. "This is a wonderful spot, Nick, thank you for sharing it with me."
"Welcome." Nick leaned closer, abruptly stealing a kiss. He pulled back with an embarrassed look. "Sorry, felt it was necessary."
"Nick," Derek sighed, reaching over to stroke down the side of his face, "you don't need to excuse yourself when you want to touch me. I am here."
"Yeah, I know, but I still feel kinda funny about all that stuff."
"Then we'll continue at our present pace," Derek reminded him. His breath caught as Nick leaned over so fast and locked their mouths together.
"No, we won't," Nick said between kisses, groping the seats for the back release lever. He finally found it, tipping Derek's seat back and climbing into his lap. "I can't wait."
"Earlier you said you felt rushed," Derek panted, stroking down the firm body. "Why are you doing this now?"
"Because I want to do this now. And now, I'm the only one pushing."
"Ah," Derek said, hissing as his pants were unzipped. "Nick, we don't have the necessary ingredients to do anything in here," he noted, lifting his hips so the younger man could push his pants down.
"Yes we do, don't argue with me," Nick mumbled, ripping Derek's t-shirt open so he could taste the pale flesh. "So musky," he whispered, his tongue still out to take another lick. "So good," he said finally, lifting his head for another kiss, with a short stop at Derek's neck and the pulse throbbing there. "We have everything we need, Derek, never argue with a Seal."
"Fine," Derek said, pulling Nick's head in again for another kiss. "But I wanted to take this a little slower. Prepare you gently, show you what you'll be getting into."
"Do it now or I'm going to do it," Nick warned, standing up to take his pants all the way off. There were some advantages to convertibles. He straddled the twitching thighs again, going down for another kiss, reaching behind the seats to the bag he had tossed in there in case the mood felt right. He had to break the liplock to find it, leaning his head on Derek's shoulder as he searched for it. He pulled out the bottle of lube and shoved it into Derek's hand. "Here, do me good so I can finish this."
Derek frowned at him. "That's not very complimentary."
"No, but I want to experience, not think." Nick wiggled a little, bringing their cocks into contact. "Oh, yeah, like that. More of that please."
Derek smiled up at his lover as he slid some of the oily stuff out onto his fingers, removing the bottle so he could reach it but it wasn't going to get spilled. As he gently thrust up against Nick's body, he slid his slick fingers around and gently parted the jiggling globes, pressing one finger into the virgin opening.
"AHHHH!" Nick screamed as he came, shoving himself down against Derek's hard cock. "Oh, man," he panted, resting his head on Derek's shoulder. "Is it usually like that?"
"Sometimes. Sometimes it's more slow and tender. Sometimes it's more animal," Derek promised, kissing his cheek as he switched up to two fingers, Nick's orgasm had loosened him quite nicely. He switched to his thumb and pinky, using them to stretch the opening. His smile got brighter as he felt the renewed hardness pressing down into him. "Just a few more seconds," he promised quietly. "Then you can do what you want with me."
"I hope it's something we both want," Nick noted as he sat up. He felt the fingers slip loose and moved himself until he was over Derek's cock, which was being held for him. "Deep breath, Derek," he whispered as he forced himself down. He hid the pain he was feeling by closing his eyes and biting his tongue, they had gone too fast for his first time, but it would all be okay in a few minutes. Nick continued his slow but steady progress down the hard cock, coming back up a few times to drop lower. He let out his breath as he made it all the way down, leaning back down to put his head on Derek's shoulder.
"I'll give you a minute, love," Derek whispered, stroking under Nick's t-shirt. "Take as long as you need to adjust."
Nick pulled back and grinned. "Thanks."
"We were a bit hasty," Derek admitted with a wry smile. "Are you feeling okay? Do you feel any tears, or a burning?"
"A little, but I'm sure it'll be fine." Before Derek could protest, Nick kissed him, pulling himself up to start the thrusting action. Derek moaned into his mouth and he went with it, opening his mouth for the deeper penetration of his kiss. His hips started to rock of their own free will, making them both groan. Nick pulled back to grin at his new lover. "This isn't quite how I expected," he noted.
"That's because we're in this position and I can't reach a very important spot," Derek told him, putting his hands on Nick's sides and pushing him down as far as he could go, smiling at the increased groaning. "Did that feel good?"
"If I said yes, could we switch positions so you could do it again?"
"Only if we wanted to get out of the car. There really isn't too many ways to make love in here." He considered standing Nick up and bending him over the edge of the windshield, and getting up on the seat to get him deeper, but he tossed that notion away. This was already uncomfortable enough for Nick, he didn't need more pressure to be put on him. "I could lean you over the hood," Derek suggested. "I'm sure you'd like that."
"If you pull out, I'm gonna scream," Nick told him seriously. "Let's do what we can and you can show me later."
"After I'm done pampering you," Derek added on. "Every virgin should be pampered and spoiled after their first time." He ran a finger down the smooth cheek. "Come, let's finish this, Nick, so I can do what I do best."
"Spoiling me is what you do best?"
"I'd like to think so," Derek said with a gentle smile, pushing up into the waiting body. "I'm going to spoil you with a long bath, complete with bubbles," he said, using his position to pull Nick tighter against his body. "Then I'm going to make you a nice snack and eat beside you until you're ready for me to bathe you."
Nick pushed down, getting back into his rhythm. He added a small shift forward on each thrust, earning him a pinch to the rear. "What?" he asked innocently as he did it again.
Derek groaned and pulled Nick against his body, riding him as fast as he could as his completion got closer. "Want you to come first," he grunted, reaching between them to tug on the hard, dripping cock. "It's best that way."
Nick threw his head back and screamed, his voice going silent after a second as he ran out of air.
Derek sighed as he came, pulling Nick in for a cuddle. "Are you all right?" he asked finally.
"Sure, better than ever," Nick quipped. He pulled himself off and flopped over into the driver's seat. He remembered to pull his jeans up under him to sit on after a second, he didn't want to have to explain any suspicious stains to the car's owner. He rolled his head over to look at Derek, reaching over to take his hand. "I liked it," he said quietly. "We're doing this again, right?"
"As often as you'd like," Derek assured him with a smile. "Can you drive? I'd like to get home and start your bath. You've got to be sore."
"Oh, sore is an understatement," Nick told him as he set his seat upright again. He started the car and turned on the lights, turning the car for home.
Xander checked his watch, then looked over at Oz, who was grabbing some yogurt. "Think we're going to have to clean your car?"
"Yup. I'm going to make them a snack, wanna help?"
"Sure, I'm great in the post-coital snack category." Xander considered the contents of the refrigerator then quickly started to pull things out to make the things he knew would go over best. He tossed a bag at Oz. "Nuke those and put them in a bowl. Nick'll want something a little salty but without a lot of texture."
"That's assuming Derek let him suck him," Oz pointed out as he did what he was told.
"Not really. Being worn out means being too tired to chew. Pour some of the ranch dressing out into a bowl to go with those," he ordered. "I didn't want solid food after our first time, the eggs were the best thing we could have found."
Oz reached over and pulled Xander into his arms, giving him a quick kiss. "I remember, I didn't want to eat at all. I was feeling kinda confused and tingly." He wiped his thumb across the wet lips. "What else are we making? French fries aren't enough for a sex snack."
"I have chocolate covered nuts and the pudding we made earlier. There's also fruit and berries to put together. All good food for sex or cuddling." Xander gave his mate another kiss then got free, going for a knife to do his part of the meal.
"I'm going to insist that they clean up the car," Oz told Xander. "I'm not touching their cum."
"Eww. Not going there either. We'll bring them rags if you want."
Oz nodded. "Cool by me." He reached into the drawer with the dish towels, pulling out a few to include on the tray with the food.
Derek watched Nick sneak up the back stairs with a grin for the bare backside. His smile faltered as he saw traces of blood, but he could check his lover out later. He opened the refrigerator door, smiling at the made-up tray with the note. He read the note, chuckling at Oz's bluntness about his car's expected condition, and took the tray with him up the stairs. He caught up with Nick in the bathroom, the tray being in on the bed for the moment, and bent down to kiss the small of his back. "I need to check you, love. Relax," he warned as he slid a finger into the wet opening. He frowned as he saw how much blood came out, turning Nick to have him look at it. "We hurt you badly, Nick. We'll have to take some care with you for the next few days." He saw the hurt look in the dark eyes and shook his head. "Not that I don't want to do it again, but I refuse to harm you farther by my attentions."
"I'm okay," Nick protested.
Derek held up his finger. "No, you're not." He noticed how pale Nick had gotten so he pulled him into his arms. "It's a freak accident, it won't happen again. I'll make sure to be extra gentle with you from now on and to prepare you as fully as I can. Give it a week and I'll gladly take you again." He kissed him swiftly. "Until then, there are many other things we can do with each other."
Nick nodded and turned back to face the bathtub, leaning over. "Can you check it for me? That blood looked really bad."
Derek sat on the toilet seat and parted the cheeks. He reached over to turn on the tap and grab a handy washcloth, cleaning off the outer flesh so he could better check inside. He parted the newly opened hole with his finger and carefully felt around inside, frowning when he felt the large tear. "Oh, dear." He withdrew himself and tapped Nick on the back. "You may want to go on antibiotics. That's a larger tear than I've ever seen."
Nick shuddered and turned to sit on the edge of the tub. "I'm going to have to tell Marcus, right?" he asked with a light blush.
"I will if that would make you feel better," Derek told him, picking up the younger man's hands to hold. "We could even call and ask him for the prescriptions over the phone. He knows I know what to look for."
Nick shook his head. "I guess I'll have to get used to this part, huh? We'll go in and see him."
Derek made Nick look at him. "This isn't a usual occurrence between men, Nick. I've only been torn three times in over thirty years. Philip's never had a tear, and I doubt the boys have. I was too impatient to be with you and I rushed where I shouldn't have. I won't ever rush your preparation again, I promise you." He brushed the dark, sweaty hair off the pale face. "I won't let you be hurt again."
Nick nodded and sighed, giving Derek a weak smile. "What about going the other way?"
"That's only one of the things that we have yet to explore together," Derek told him with a smile. "Put in your bubbles and I'll go get the tray that was thoughtfully made up for us." He left Nick alone, coming back a few seconds later to find him in the bath and any mess on the side of the tub already cleaned up. He sat down on the bath mat, putting the tray beside him. He picked up a french fry and dipped it in the dressing, holding it up for consumption. "Soft foods only for a few days. We don't want anything to aggravate your condition."
"No oatmeal, right?"
Derek smiled at the disgruntled look on Nick's face. "Not unless you want some. We'll feed you a lot of Chinese food and a lot of eggs." He picked up a spoonful of pudding and held it out. "And even some of this."
"Did you make the tray?" Nick asked before sucking the pudding off the spoon.
"No, it was sitting in the refrigerator with a note telling us it's our duty to clean Oz's car."
"So the bro made it," Nick said flatly. "I kinda wanted to keep us a secret for a few days."
Derek shook his head. "They made it together, though the pudding was definitely a Xander touch. I have Oz's note in the other room whenever you're ready to read it."
"I think I want to have a bedtime story and be put to bed actually. I'll worry about Oz's seats in the morning." He yawned, covering it up with the back of his hand. "Sorry."
"It's a natural feeling to want to nap right now." He moved the tray onto the sink, picking up the washcloth to rinse out in the water, shifting so he could better wash the hard body. "When you're ready to get out, I'll tell you a bedtime story and you'll take a nap, Nick," he whispered, watching as the younger man fell asleep under his hand. "Goot night, Nick. I love you," he whispered before getting up and walking out to make a phone call. They needed to see Marcus first thing in the morning.
Xander looked over as Nick walked in, dropping his knife as he walked over and helped Nick into a chair, grabbing one of the pillows off the bench to pad it for him. "You okay?" he asked quietly, making Nick look up at him.
"Yeah, I got a little too happy last night. Thanks for the food, bro."
"Hey, anytime," Xander agreed, giving him a hug. "If you need to talk or help putting on the cream, just yell in my direction, okay?"
Nick grimaced. "Cream?"
"Yup. Or at least that's what Oz got that one time." He tapped his brother on the forehead. "No more rushing. He'll be here long enough for proper preparation."
Nick nodded and grinned at him. "Thanks, I realize that now."
"Coolness. Want eggs? I'm making the morning round of soft boiled ones."
"Sorry. What about scrambled? No veggies for you."
"That's something at least," Nick said cheerfully. "Scrambled?"
"Sure." Xander went back to the stove and pulled out a pan, spraying it liberally with non-stick spray before putting it in a hot burner. He cracked two eggs and mixed them, pouring them into the pan and letting it set for a few minutes. "So, doctor's visit?" he asked to break the silence, going back to fixing stuff for his kids.
"Yeah, probably as soon as Derek gets up."
"Actually not until four," Oz said as he walked in from the porch. "Heard him, he's in the office. He didn't want to wait that long." He walked over and gave Nick a hug. "Calm down, I know you wanted it bad, but you didn't have to rush." He kissed the top of Nick's head. "You're still cleaning up that car seat, which I'm now thankful is leather."
"Did we make a big mess?" Nick asked quietly.
"Yup. On both sides." Oz let him go and walked over to where Xander was fussing over the scrambled eggs, taking over the toast duties just as a herd of little feet started down the stairs. "How long on the eggs?" he asked.
"Thirty seconds," Xander said, after a glance at the timer.
Oz hummed for a few seconds then took the eggs off, going to cool them down a little bit before cracking them.
Nick watched the cooperation with awe. He could only hope that he and Derek worked that well together.
Xander walked past Derek, handing him his keys. "I have the better backseat to lay down in unless you're going to put down your seats," he explained at the confused look. "Nick won't be able to sit that long, dad."
"Oh. Thank you, son." Derek patted him on the shoulder. "Did he talk to you?"
"Nope, seen that before." Xander blushed a little. "We got too happy one night too, nothing that bad," he said at the frown, "but Oz got a little one."
"Nick's tear is much worse than that," Derek sighed. "I'm hoping Marcus doesn't say that he needs surgery."
"Hey, if he does, then he does. Next time, you'll have the reins in a tighter grip and you won't let him rush you so much." He punched Derek on the arm. "You do let him boss you around a lot, dad. Take it slow for now. Nick needs slow now. He needs to be pampered and showed that it wasn't just Oz's car." He walked away, going to find his mate.
Derek considered the wise words while he waited, smiling reassuringly at Nick as he limped down the stairs. "Come, your brother suggested that his backseat would be better to lie down in."
"Cool." Nick took his arm and they walked out together, Nick letting himself lean on Derek this time.
Marcus walked into his office and slammed his door, making Derek flinch. "What did you *do* to him?"
"He wanted it; hell, Marcus, even I wanted it that badly," Derek said, looking away from his friend and former co-worker. "We rushed where we shouldn't have. Nick did all the work and I did try to prepare him, but it wasn't enough."
"You're right, it wasn't," Marcus said, modulating his tone. He walked around and looked at his client. "He has to go to surgery. That won't heal right without a few stitches." He saw the paleness increase. "I wondered why you sounded so panicked last night," he said, sitting down. "Go be with him, he's in room six. I'll call over to the hospital and get him in." He picked up the phone but Derek didn't move. "What?"
"I didn't mean to," Derek repeated.
Marcus got up and walked around the desk, giving his friend a hug. "He knows. We had a talk about proper preparation and he said it was all his fault. That he rushed you." Derek snorted. "I'd talk that over with him, Derek, he's about ready to break down because he thinks that you don't like him because he let you hurt him."
Derek looked up. "I love Nick, this was all my fault. I knew better."
"Then I'd go tell *him* that," Marcus reminded him. "Room six. We'll get him set up for surgery tonight."
Derek nodded and stood up, going to where his lover was engaging in a bout of mental self- flagellation. "It was my fault," he said as soon as he closed the door, making Nick look up at him. "I knew that we were rushing, but I had no idea that we were being so fast."
"Derek, I did all the work, I should have paid attention to the pain." He shrugged lightly with a grimace. "I thought there was supposed to be a little pain."
"Oh, there is," Derek agreed, walking over to sit next to the exam table. "It's usually a slight burning and stretching sort of pain, not what you must have felt last night." He picked up the large hand to play with it, caressing the fingers and palms, staring at the hand. "That was not normal and it was my fault. I was the experienced one, I should have made you wait until we got home." He glanced up, seeing the pain in his eyes. "Nick, I so much wanted your first time to be special for you. A special dinner alone, a gentle build-up to your first time, all the things that I found special about mine." He reached over to touch the soft cheek. "I will give you that next time, love, if you'll let me."
"Yes, dear, I love you." He smiled. "All the stubbornness, the concern, the sheer volume of your being is dear and precious to me." He squeezed the hand he held. "If you'll have me, I'm going to chain you to my side for a very long time."
"This isn't guilt?"
"Does it seem like it?" Derek asked quietly.
Nick shook his head. "That slipped out, I don't know where it came from."
"From all those insecurities that you'll have to get over. From the same place that led you to believe that if you say the word love then everyone around you will leave, which I have no intention of doing."
"Really?" Nick whispered.
"Really. There aren't too many forces that can make me leave you for goot, Nick. Only death or your pushing me away." He took another stroke down his face just as the door opened. "Is it set?" he asked without looking up.
"Nope, this is an emergency," Buffy said, closing the door. She handed him her phone. "Call your mom, Derek. William's back in the hospital."
Derek looked at her in shock. "He is?" She nodded. "A serious problem?"
"Very, and your mother sounded like she was going to panic when she called Alex. I volunteered to come get you." She waved at Nick. "I'll be in the waiting room, I have the Range Rover. Whatever you decide, I'm good for."
Derek nodded so she left. "I'm not going to go running if you're not coming," Derek told Nick, who was looking at him.
"Derek, if you have to go be with your mother, then I'll understand. As long as you come back." He smiled, almost. "Xander and Oz can take care of me."
"I'm not going without you," Derek repeated. "I'll want you by my side, just for my sake." He dialed his mother's number, his face draining as he heard her crying. "Mother, what happened?" he asked quietly.
"No cellphones in the office," the nurse said as she walked in. "It messes with motorized wheelchairs."
"Something just happened to his step-father," Nick explained. "His mother's hysterical."
"Ah." She nodded. "Tell him to take it outside the office. Just to the hall. I'll sit with you until Marcus comes back if he wants."
Nick nudged Derek, who was whispering into the phone. "Take it out in the hall, send Buffy in. She's a good hand-holder." Derek looked up at him. "Office policy, no cells in the office."
"Fine," Derek said, standing up. "Mother, give me a second to get clear of the doctor's office and I'll be right back." He looked down. "Are you sure, Nick?"
"Please. I need a hand if you're not here." He gave him a smile. "Please go talk to your mother? She needs you more."
"I'll be right back," he whispered, leaning down to kiss his lover on the nose. "You stay here." He nodded at the nurse as he walked past, nodding at Buffy to go back as he walked past her. "Mother? Yes, I'm here," he said as he walked out the door. "What happened? The tumor came back? I thought it was benign."
Buffy sat down next to Nick, picking up his hand to squeeze, looking around the office. "Way clean in here," she said to break the silence. He chuckled. "Are you okay?"
"I'm going to be fine. Just a small thing that needs a few stitches."
"Oh." She blinked a few times. "Like Oz needed?"
He turned his head and stared at her. "Oz?"
"Yeah, well Xander and he never told me that's what it was, but I'm a pretty good guesser about some things. He was limping and Xander was acting all soft and gooey towards him so I guessed that he got a little tear and that Xander was in guilt-overdrive over it."
"Does Derek know about this?"
"Probably not since he was busy with planning something for the house."
"Ah." Nick rolled onto his side with a grunt of pain. "Yeah, I got impatient and got torn. Badly. Marcus went to cuss out Derek for it."
"Ouch," she said, giving his hand a squeeze. "It's going to need surgery?"
"Yeah. It's pretty bad. It's also a good thing that Oz has leather seats or I'd still be cleaning up my mess."
She shook her head. "If you're that badly hurt, I'd have helped you clean it. So would Derek."
"Yeah," he said, looking at the door.
"I'm sure he was serious about taking you with him."
"That's the problem," Nick said quietly. "I don't mind the necessary separations, but I don't want him to feel obligated to drag me with him."
"Hey, you can go over there and lay on a couch just as well as you can at home," Buffy reminded him. "Maybe even better because Barbara has a butler to get you juice and things." She nodded at his surprised look. "And it'd be like a mini-vacation for you. You might even get to do a little sightseeing this time instead of working."
Nick grinned at her. "You're the fount of optimism today, aren't you?"
"Yup, that's me, founting away." She grinned back. "Let him take you to London and spoil you. He feels like he should right now and you need to let him vent the guilt before he can't touch you for good."
"Okay, I'll let him drag me to London," Nick decided.
"Not until tomorrow you're not," Marcus said as he walked in.
"Something happened to William," Nick told him. "Derek's in the hall trying to calm his mother down."
"Okay then. You're going to be taken over there by whomever and checked into same-day surgery. They'll get you tonight."
"Yes, mother," Derek sighed as he hung up and walked in. "I told her we'd be over first thing in the morning," he told Marcus. "When does he go in?"
"As soon as you two can get him over to the hospital and checked in, they'll fit him in somewhere. When did you eat last, Nick?"
Derek looked at his watch. "Besides a shake on the way over, about six hours ago."
"Gotta love these guys," Buffy said as she stood up. "They're always in touch. I'll tell Alex that you're leaving in the morning." She left the room.
Nick looked at Derek. "Take me over there?"
"Of course." He helped his lover up and led him out of the room. "Thank you, Marcus," Derek called as they walked away.
"Always happy to help young love," Marcus sighed as he went to see his next patient.
Xander handed Derek an envelope as he walked in. "Your passports, and Timmy's because he's demanding the right to go and take care of Nick and Grandma for you."
Derek smiled at him. "We'll be leaving closer to dawn, son, but thank you."
"The plane's waiting on you," Oz said as he walked down the stairs with three bags. "It's busy later on so you have to go now."
"Nick shouldn't fly, he's just had anaesthesia," Derek protested.
"You won't get to London before tomorrow at one if you don't leave in about two hours and take Seattle's Precept with you," Xander told him. "It's literally busy."
Derek nodded. "Thank you for checking on that."
"Alex did it, they wouldn't accept an order from us," Xander told him. "Timmy?"
Timmy came running out of the hall from the kitchen, coming to hug Nick. "I take care of him for you. Buffy said that he needed a bedtime story. Daddy, did you pack my books?"
"Not yet. Go pick out seven or so." Oz watched as he ran away. "He's real excited to go take care of everyone," he explained.
Derek smiled then started to laugh. "I'm sure he is."
"Hey, Timmy will be good company for me," Nick noted as he sat on the padded bench in the hallway. "I'll need someone to talk to and I'll help him with his homework." Oz patted the third suitcase. "Where's his clothes?"
Xander pointed at the duffle bag sitting next to the bench. "There. He picked up on the Preciousvision system and knew he had to go see Grandpa right away. Apparently he knew last night."
"Why didn't he tell anyone?"
"Because there wasn't anything he could do to stop it," Oz reminded him. "He saw the big guy, as he called it, touch William's head and then saw William fall down."
"We're guessing they saw it about the time it happened, since it was night over there and early morning over here."
"Ah." Derek nodded, catching Timmy as he ran past. "What else did you see the demon do?"
"He touched Grandpa's head and then he laughed. Then he went poof like on I dream of Jeanie."
"Then what?" Derek prompted.
"Then Grandpa fell and everyone went looking for him, and when they found him, someone chanted over top of him as they took him away."
"Thank you. Next time, tell us when you see things of this nature," he told the little boy as he let him go. "Please."
"'Kay, I will. No one asked though."
"We didn't know Precious had had a vision," Xander reminded him. "If you guys have one and we don't know, you have to tell us."
"Unclie Adam see it and he no ask."
"We'll have a talk with Adam then," Xander told him. "Go put your stuff in the trunk." Derek handed him the keys. "Thanks, Dad."
"You're welcome. Will someone come to get the car?"
"Yeah, we'll come over later tonight to get it." Oz sat down beside Derek on the stairs, giving him a nudge. "Apparently everything's been picking up again. Seattle has to run to Boston for help. Three other Precepts are going to London to be with William and to help take care of the demon. Kyoto is back online and everything's going well, but Vatican City has had a lot of precogs that no one can tell what was in them because it was all too dark."
"In the visions?" Derek asked.
Oz nodded. "Yeah, in the visions. They wanted to borrow Brandon to see if he couldn't do his echo thingy with one of them too."
"Absolutely not," Xander said firmly. "I'm not sending my son into danger."
"You're letting Timmy go to London," Oz noted.
"I have a feeling Timmy would go to London no matter what we said," Xander pointed out. "Knowing him, he'd hide in a suitcase to get over there."
Derek smiled and nodded. "Probably. Would you be willing to send Brandon with someone to guard him?"
"Well, Rupert could go," Nick suggested. "He's the best we have with prophecies. That's what that house has been dealing with." He looked over at his brother. "Besides, it'd give Brandon a chance to go hang with a lot of priests, which he'd probably like."
Xander frowned but he was considering it. "I want Buffy to go too. Giles can protect him ways that she can't, but he'll listen to her where he won't Giles."
"Fine," Derek agreed. "I'll make the arrangements in a moment." He pulled Xander closer, giving him a hug. "I know you want your children to grow up normally, but we wouldn't ask if it wasn't important. And Nick was correct, he'll have a grand time talking to all the priests, as long as he doesn't tell them that he talks to Richie and Kelly."
"See, I'm worried about that slipping out and them hurting him for it," Xander admitted.
"Then instruct him not to tell anyone outside of the Vatican City Precept, or not even her if he thinks it's for the best."
Xander nodded and climbed between them, going to get his son ready to travel.
"Good job," Oz whispered. "I couldn't ease that fear at all." He nudged Derek again and stood up, grabbing the phone for him. He sat down as he handed it over. "Here. It should be on redial."
Derek hit the redial button, putting his plan into action.
Barbara opened the door and pulled her son in for a hug. "You came," she sighed, clinging to him for a moment. Once she gathered herself back together emotionally, she let him go, smiling at Nick. "How are you dear?"
"One day out of minor surgery," Derek told her, leading Nick into the house and putting him down on a couch. "He's not to move for the next day," he told his mother. He looked around, then down at Nick. "Where did Timmy go?"
"He's still in the car probably. You promised that he could go see things while he was here."
"I'll get him," Barbara said with a smile, walking out of the house. She came back a few minutes later with the little boy clutched firmly in her arms. "My, he's cuddly today," she said, giving her son a smile. "Why did he come too?"
"Precious' vision," Nick told her. "He still gets the echo and it showed him here." He shrugged. "I can't explain it."
"It's most useful," Derek noted. "She can't see her own visions at the moment so we rely on the boys to tell us what she saw." He reached over and ruffled the back of Timmy's hair. "We'll take you sightseeing in a few days. Once we know William's okay."
"'Kay," he said with a yawn. "Grandma needs a nap. We should go do that." He pulled back to grin at her. "I'll even read you a bedtime story."
She smiled and laughed, giving him a hug. "I wouldn't mind a nap at all," she admitted. "Come, I think we even have some books upstairs."
"He has some in his bag," Nick told her.
"Then I'll have that brought up to my room." She waved at the men. "I'll go do that. Preston is in the Control Room, Derek. Do go fix this before I do." She and her son shared a look and he nodded.
He waited until she had gone to look down at Nick. "She's going to go after the demon if we don't find it. I'll expect you and Timmy to keep my mother out of trouble while we fight."
Nick nodded. "I'll try." He grinned. "Your mom's like a steam roller when she wants to be, but I'll gladly throw myself in front of her outrage if it helps."
Derek kissed him on the forehead. "Don't get hurt doing it, Nick, follow her if you have to." He left his lover alone, going to the Control Room. He crossed through the barrier, smiling at the pained faces. "I hear you needed some help?"
Preston, the man that had been Precept before William had come back, shook his hand. "Neat trick that, with your grandson."
"Timmy echoes Precious' vision and saw himself here. He demanded the right to come with us." He looked around. "He also said that the demon touched William's head then smoked up to leave. Who chanted over him anyway?"
"We dropped him into sleep," a young woman said, looking up. "We thought it was for the best." She smiled at him. "I had to do it, Derek, please don't yell."
"I wouldn't do that." He could see through her illusion, but he wasn't going to bust Willow. Yet. He turned back to the interim Precept. "How is the curmudgeon doing anyway?"
"He's complaining to the nurses about going to find the thing that did this to him. They think it's a psychosis brought on by the tumor," Preston told him, rubbing across his sallow skin. "Our main problem is finding it. Do you have any idea how many demons are in London at the moment? The three other Precepts aren't helping us any either. They're running around the city causing problems."
"No, but Rupert Giles might. He's on his way to the Vatican City house with Buffy and Brandon."
"Ah, he who talks to messenger's," the woman said lightly. "How is he?"
"Fine. Xander didn't want to let him go, but we needed to see if his echo ability worked with them; their visions have been too dark to see into." She looked up at him, one eyebrow raised. "Xander demanded that Buffy and Rupert go with him."
"Good. At least he's taking care of them."
Preston looked at the young woman then at Derek. "She said she was a member of the Cairo house," he said quietly.
"Actually, she was a member of my house, and this house," Derek whispered back. "Let's leave Willow for now though, shall we?" Preston went pale but he nodded. "She's obviously here to help."
"Yes, I am. Does that mean that you're going to tell everyone?"
"Only if you want to, dear," Derek said, his voice dripping with sarcasm.
Willow tapped her earring and her illusion fell away. "I got told that Timmy was coming here to help and I wanted to shield him," she explained at the astonished looks. "Oh, get over it. All my kids have some instinctual magic."
"Junior has even more than most," Derek told her. "After being inhabited, he's very strong. He and his cat tend to keep us all entertained."
Willow snorted. "I'm sure. That cat of his is going to become a problem soon."
"Leave it alone, Willow. That's his job," Preston reminded her.
"As long as you don't start complaining about the pranks," she gave back. She stood up. "Where's Timmy?"
"Reading his grandmother a nap story," Derek said with a smile. "I think they both were ready for one."
She smiled and put back on her illusion, still smiling. "Okay. I'll see him like this later." She went back to her searching. "Oh, the demon bar hasn't heard of anyone like that, I'd go watch over them to check and see who runs out."
Preston nodded one of his people out, and she grabbed Willow. "That's an odd piece of influence," he said once they were alone in the room. "How does she know these things? We didn't even know that a demon bar existed in this town before she showed back up."
"She's a former Slayerette," Derek reminded him. "She dealt with the other forms of demon, but she knows a great deal about them from working with Buffy."
"Yes, how is the former Slayer holding up?"
"Fine." He looked at his watch and blanched. "Graduation is in four days. I have to be home." He looked up to see the smile. "Xander and Oz are both graduating with Buffy. I promised them I'd be there."
"Then you will. Even if you show up during the ceremony it should be good enough for them." He clapped Derek on the back. "Come, let's find this demon, shall we?"
Xander and Oz looked at each other as they tried on their robes, sticking their tongues out. "I don't like these," Oz said finally. "Being in a graduation robe feels funny."
"We only wore our last ones for an hour or so," Xander reminded him as he did up the last snap. "This is so wrong looking," he decided. He looked over at Oz, and took his off, going to change with him. "This is better," he decided after checking himself out in the mirror.
"Maybe," Oz disagreed, looking at himself. "Now mine's too short."
Xander turned and grinned at him. "We could share this one."
"Not. I'm going to go take Giles up on his offer." He took the robe off and walked out of the room.
"We can go get new ones," Xander suggested.
"No! It's a waste of money and we've been doing plenty of that recently."
"But dad said I needed one," Xander protested.
Oz walked back into the bedroom. "For what?"
"The magic stuff. He said I'd hardly ever use it but I should have one. Not in polyester, but I should have one." He took off the robe and handed it over. "Help me go find one and you can have this one."
"Okay. We need to go pick up your car anyway." Oz carefully folded the robe over a chair and followed Xander out of the room, and into the nursery.
"Hey, Jon," Xander said, tapping him on the shoulder. "Dad said that I needed a working robe. Where do I go to get one?"
Jon gave him a bland look over his shoulder. "Why do you think I'd know?"
"Because Giles said to ask you, he hasn't had to find a decent occult shop since he's been here."
Jon groaned and shook his head. "Okay. I'll get you there. Anything else I need to do?"
"Um, you could pick up my car if you wanted," Xander said with a grin. "We'd give you cab fare to the airport and all. Dad didn't want to leave the Range Rover there for some reason so he took mine."
Jon snorted and stood up, shaking his head. "You guys are going nuts today."
"He was going to use the working robe as a temp for graduation too," Oz explained. He saw the frown and shrugged. "Hey, during our last one, a demon tried to take it over."
"Do you guys *ever* do it normally?"
"Nope," they said together, both smiling.
"Fine," Jon said, shaking his head. "I'll help you be paranoid." He walked past them, heading over to his room. "I need to check on a shipment anyway." He closed his door.
Willow walked up behind Derek in the kitchen, handing him a second cup. "Give me some of the water too please," she asked quietly.
"Why are you really here?" he asked as he poured her some water for tea.
"Timmy's going to end up fighting that demon if we're not careful," she told him. "I'm here to protect him." She punched him on the arm. "Be thankful. You get to stop the demon."
He shook his head. "It shouldn't be that hard."
"Bet me," she said, dunking her tea bag a few times. "It's always harder when you know who it is." She walked away, carrying her cup with her.
Derek frowned but continued to steep his tea. He'd need it's calming influence.
Xander looked at the robes and shook his head. "Nothing here speaks to me."
"Do inanimate objects normally do that?" Jon asked, one eyebrow going up. "Is this something I have to watch out for in the kids?"
"No, you know what I mean."
Jon nodded. "Yeah, but it's fun to pick on the newbies sometimes." He smiled at the woman behind the counter. "At least no one questioned who you were," he pointed out.
Xander smiled up at Precious, who smiled back. "So what do I do?"
"For starters, you could go look at the other rack of robes," Jon said dryly, pointing at one toward the back of the store. "Or you could always go buy a normal robe for graduation and put off doing this until a later date, when you're ready for it."
"Jon, sometime let Oz and I tell you about fighting for our lives during our high school graduation, okay?" Xander suggested.
A woman looked at them from across the rack. "Where are you from?" she asked in disbelief.
She nodded. "Jon, he won't feel comfortable without something at least blessed. By the way, that was nice work. How's your Slayer?"
"She changed jobs," Jon told her. "She reached the magical birthday."
The woman hissed in sympathy. "We'd heard something about that from people in LA. Is she okay?"
"Yup," Xander said, giving her a smile. "Had breakfast with her earlier this morning before she left for school." His grin got brighter. "She, I, and my mate are all graduating in a few day's time."
She snickered. "Let's hope for a quieter graduation this time for you three then." She bowed to them. "Try the ones on the blue rack, they should suit you." She walked away, heading for the back.
Jon pointed at the back of the store. "That way, man." He followed Xander back to the blue rack. "You really fought a demon at graduation?"
"Fought an ascension at graduation," Xander corrected. "Big snake looking demon that used to be the mayor." He smiled at the shocked look. "Hey, I fought beside Buffy for three years, I'm used to it."
"Guess so," Jon said in awe. "How'd you survive?"
"Easy, dumb luck." Xander looked over the robes, suddenly pulling one down and hugging it. "I love this one."
"That one's midnight blue," Jon pointed out. "You need black for grad."
Oz walked over to them and tapped Jon on the shoulder. "Isn't there a reason that he was drawn to that one?"
"Yeah, but he still needs a black one for graduation."
"It might be okay," Xander said, holding it up. "It could almost be mistaken for black."
"Not," Jon said. He pulled down a hanging piece of black fabric. "Try that on over it. It'll cover everything but the sleeves."
Xander tried the robe on and put the black fabric over it, smiling as he looked at himself in a nearby mirror. "I look good," he decided.
Oz nodded. "Definitely tasty." He looked around. "ATM?"
"Two blocks over and one south," Jon told him, pointing the way. "I'll get him what I got when I started."
"All Derek said was that I needed a robe. We have everything else in the house."
Jon shrugged. "Okay then. We'll go talk to your kid's namesake while Oz goes to get you money." He led the way to the register, letting Xander put his robe up there. "Did you have any idea of what trouble these guys used to get in?" he asked Precious, an old friend of the couple and his.
"No, but it doesn't surprise me," she said lightly. "You didn't know this one," she ruffled Xander's hair, "when he was trying to figure himself out."
"Hey, I was a good boy," Xander protested with a grin. "All I did was get temporary tattoos."
"And aliens," she reminded him.
"And aliens," he agreed. He grinned at Jon. "The house used to be a lot more active before you got there. Of course, it slowed down when we showed up, but we still brought lots of life to the house."
Jon snorted. "I bet."
Derek looked around at the few gathered people, shaking his head and checking his watch. Willow had managed to get everyone else sent out of the house so they couldn't get in the way. "Has anyone seen my mother? I think she needs in on this as well."
Preston shrugged. "Not since she and Timmy went for a walk in the gardens." He looked around. "I think one of us could be trusted to tell her what's going on, Derek. Get on with the meeting."
Derek picked up his glass and took a sip. "All right, I will. I have reason to believe that the demon has possessed someone, that's why we can't find it." Everyone started to talk at once.
"Shut up!" Nick yelled. "It's a reasonable assumption. We're so well hooked into the demon network here that we'd know if it was still out in the open."
"But how do we find it if it has been let loose?" Willow asked.
"Easily, dear, you and your group found the way many years ago." He tapped the book he had had Giles send over to him. "In here is the simplest way to figure out who it is that was possessed."
Preston pushed his chair back. "Surely we aren't going to resort to *magic* this early in the process, Rayne."
"Sit down you arrogant bastard," Willow said quietly. "We know that it's possessed someone. Everyone's visions have been quite plain on that subject. A few have even shown us who it is. We're skipping a few steps to shorten this because *some* of us have a life." She looked at Derek, who was frowning. "What? I have a date tonight with a server."
Nick shook his head. "I don't want to know." Derek had told him about this little deception, and while he wasn't for it, he couldn't fault Willow for suddenly finding a maternal instinct. "So, who?"
"It's someone close to this house," Derek said calmly. "It has to be so that they can watch over us. We're the threats to it at the moment and it'd want to keep an eye on us."
"That's assuming that the demonic intelligence is roughly human," Preston said as he took his seat. "We have no idea about it's intelligence."
"It's an instinct found in predatory animals too," Nick pointed out. "Ever watch a snake move to watch you?"
"No. I don't tend to deal with *animals*," he sneered.
Derek tossed the book to Willow as he stood up, pulling Nick behind him. Willow started to chant the spell she had created many years earlier, reading it from the book, the words coming back easily. Preston changed, his form shimmering in the flickering lights.
Nick grabbed the sword over the mantle and handed it to Derek, getting between another house member and Derek to block them. Derek hefted the light blade and threw it javelin-like at the demon's mid-section, where it's heart was. The demon screamed and started to smoke, but Willow continued to chant, her voice rising in volume to counteract the screams, keeping the demon in it's solid form so it couldn't escape this time.
Everyone stopped at the last piercing scream, staring at the demon as it dissolved around the blade, the hole in it's middle growing bigger until it swallowed the whole of the chest cavity. The remaining pieces fell to the ground and Derek nodded at Nick to pick them up. "We can safely store those now, separately so that the demon can't regenerate," he told everyone. He checked his watch and frowned. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to get back to my house or else I'll miss a very special event." He smiled as Timmy ran into the room and looked around, his hands balled up in fists.
"Can I come?" Willow asked.
"Of course. Go make sure that Mother and Timmy are packed."
She nodded and ran from the room, clutching her old journal to her chest.
Derek looked at the stunned people around him. "Well, help him. Go find something we can lock the pieces in individually. You can look for the real Preston later." Everyone scattered, going to do as they were told.
Derek shifted nervously in his seat, scanning the area around the stadium for his son and son-in- law, and for Buffy of course. William tapped him on the shoulder. "Sit still, or I'll tell your mother," he whispered. They had managed to free William for this event, but he had to return to a hospital later that day for surgery.
Derek snorted. "I'm sure you will, but she's doing the same thing." He pointed at where she was sitting in front of him, talking to Nick. He looked at the empty seat beside him, frowning. "Who do you think is missing?"
"Philip." Nick looked over his shoulder. "He's been in deep meditation at his old parish."
"Goot point. I'll have to talk to him about that tonight before I start out for Florida." He gave Nick a brave smile, letting him know that nothing had changed between them.
"And you thought I was a busy little traveler," William quipped. "I'm sure Philip will show up soon enough."
"He should," Nick agreed. "We talked last night." He reached across the back of the chair for Derek's hand. "We'll be fine, don't worry so much," he said quietly.
They all jumped as the processional music started. Derek and Barbara unerringly turned toward where Xander and Oz were filing in, Derek frowning at the unorthodox graduation robe. "Is he wearing what I think he is?" Barbara asked.
William craned to see, then nodded. "Probably." He shrugged when his wife looked at him. "I can't tell, we're too far away."
"Oh, he is," Nick said, smiling at everyone. "Jon said it was because of his high school graduation."
Willow, who was four rows down, choked. She turned to look at them, glaring at Nick. "It had better not be like that this time," she mouthed.
Nick just chuckled. "Let's hope not," he said back.
Timmy looked back from the row in front of Nick and Barbara, frowning at his uncle. "Shh. I'm trying to listen."
"Sorry, dear," Barbara said, reaching out to smooth down his flyaway hair. "Turn around and listen, the speeches will start soon."
Everyone sat up straighter as the President of the College walked up to the lectern.
Four hours later, a cheer went up through their private box as first Xander, then Oz, got their diplomas. Nick checked his videocamera, which was in the aisle, to make sure it was still running. He caught site of someone trying to sneak in and smiled at Philip, nodding at the empty seat. He turned around, ready to clap for Buffy when her turn came.
Nick tapped his fingers impatiently on the steering wheel, frowning at the traffic coming out of the graduation ceremony. It was only him and Philip in the car, Derek had agreed to ride back with William and his mother in Xander's car, and the kids were all in their van. Oz and Xander were in Oz's roadster, and had already snuck away to go make out somewhere. Nick saw an opening and headed for it.
Then he became very glad that he was wearing his seatbelt.
From behind him came a hard shove and he bounced forward, the Range Rover hitting the car in front of them. Philip got out and started to swear at the driver, but he had to duck back inside when the woman driving the monster truck got out with her shotgun.
Nick pulled his gun out and walked out, pointing it at her. "You had to ruin a really good day, right?" he asked her, recognizing her as one of Derek's ex girlfriends. "He's not here, Mallory, go soak yourself in the bay." He got back in, trying to hide before the gun went off. He almost made it too. He yelled as his ankle started to burn, trying to keep Philip from grabbing the gun.
The police pulled up and grabbed her, tossing her none too gently onto the ground to handcuff her. One of them walked over and smiled at Nick. "You need medical attention or did she just hit your car?"
Nick held his ankle outside the door so she could see it. "Um, a bandage?" he panted.
"I'll get an ambulance." She walked around to the front of the SUV while calling for an ambulance on her radio. She came back and frowned, shaking her head. "That's a bad dent. Can you start it so we can pull the cars out of the way?"
Philip pushed Nick out into her arms and nodded. He started the car, wincing at the grinding noise it made, but got it pulled out of the traffic jam. It was soon joined by the car that they had been forced into, and the big pickup truck. He hopped out to go sit beside Nick, gently soothing him. "At least you're not badly hurt this time," he reminded the younger man, who started to laugh.
"Derek's gonna kill me," Nick hissed, clutching Philip to him. "You tell him."
Xander walked into his brother's hospital room and grabbed Nick's wallet, pulling out his license. He cut up the slim piece of plastic, handing Nick the scissors and the pieces. Then he smiled. "There, that should take care of any threat to our cars." He nodded and walked back out, letting Derek and everyone else in.
TO BE CONTINUED...