Issues. By Voracity(PG-13)
Xander walked out of the courtroom, sighing in relief. Oz instantly took him in his arms, cuddling him tightly. "They said I'd been put through enough. They asked my opinion of the law and I told them, I made that short statement you helped me write about single fathers and divorced dads and thanked the town." He started them down the hall. "I passed the Chief on the way in so gave him the pictures I brought." Oz smiled at that. "He said he'd pass them on." He stopped them beside the Range Rover Derek had generously let them steal for the few days they'd be there, kissing his mate deeply. "Come on, I want to go see the kids."
"I'm sure Nick hasn't killed them yet," Oz reminded him, opening the door so he could help his husband in with a tender hand on his rear. "They're fine, we should have some alone time."
"Okay," Xander said, leaning over for another kiss, meeting the door. He frowned at Oz as he got in. "You shut the door when I was going for a kiss." His husband nodded at the person staring at them so he shrugged, waving. "Yay. I wanted a kiss. I don't care if they don't approve."
"At dinner. I'll take you to a small, romantic place and we can touch under the tablecloth."
Xander cleared his throat. "Um, Oz, there's no place like that here."
"Sure there is, it's called our table at home." He pulled away. "Xander, not to upset you but that guy scared me." He squeezed the steering wheel. "The look on his face when he saw you kiss me burned my back and I couldn't stand it anymore. We'll just have to be a little discreet here, 'kay?"
"Sure, Oz, whatever makes you comfy," Xander said gently. He rubbed over the tense thigh. "Relax. You look like you're afraid to hit something. Or a first time driver." His husband relaxed a little, laughing lightly. "Or worse, you look like Buffy's driving us."
Oz shook his head, pulling up in front of their rented house. "You're so bad," he whispered, stealing a quick kiss. "Come on, want to play with the kids."
Derek looked up at the man that was shown into his office, waving him toward a chair. "Mr. Wyndham-Price, how are you?"
"Wesley, please," he said, straightening out his jacket. Then he leaned forward to hand over the plain-wrapped package he held. "My associate, Angel, who I believe you met sometime in the recent past, helped me look through all the Chronicles but the original spell wasn't in any of them. Some of the first ones had mentions of it, worrying that they had set the age limit too high, naturally since none of the early Slayers seemed to make it past the age of seventeen." He cleared his throat. "Until Ms. Summers, none had really made it past twenty." He looked down. "Which worried the Council immensely when it was still in working order instead of what they became." He flushed lightly. "I am glad that Rupert was able to stop them, I only regret not being able to help him."
"I'm sure he understands," Derek said soothingly, pushing a button on the phone. "Rupert, would you and Buffy please come in here?" He let the button go and leaned back, waiting for them to show up.
Buffy gasped when she saw who was in the chair, hugging him lightly. "Hey, Wes, what's up?" she asked, sitting on the new couch.
Rupert and he exchanged firm handshakes, then he accepted the package from Derek. "Buffy, he's had Wesley looking through the Chronicles for some mention of what's happening to you." He coughed lightly.
"Yes, it seems that the original Watchers put a time limit on the powers, to limit the girls to their primes." He took off his glasses to clean them. "And you're reaching that age now it seems. Twenty-five."
She shook her head. "So, what, I was supposed to keep fighting as my powers blinked on and off and eventually die to make room for a Slayer who was younger and faster?" she asked cooly.
"I'm afraid so," Rupert said quietly. "There was no mention given to our generation at all about the spell or the age limit." He cleared his throat. "Any hint of the spell?"
"No, nor a way to remove the calling from her." He turned to look at the Slayer again. "Buffy, I'm sorry to say that you're the only one to make it to twenty-one. You've slowly gotten weaker since you were eighteen and passed that test." She shook her head. "Yes, you have. I assure you I looked up the information myself."
"No, I mean I invalidated the test. I found out and I fixed the problem another way." She smiled, a little, at Giles. "Didn't I?"
"Yes, Buffy, we did." She smirked at that. "And while that may be true, it is also true that you have been getting gradually weaker since then. Faith shouldn't have been a match for you at full strength." He cleared his throat, looking out the window behind Derek's head. "None of what's happened since then has been the same for you, Buffy. You got tired more easily, got distracted much more easily." He looked back at her again, seeing the look of understanding on her face. "And since then, everyone's been waiting for you to die to make way for a new girl."
"So, how do we remove the time limit or switch it off or whatever?" She stood up, walking over to look at the soothing sight. "I really wouldn't mind keeping it, you know."
"Yes," Giles said gently, walking up behind her, "but it's time to make way for a new girl." He squeezed her arms, feeling the slight tremble in them. "Everything will work out for the best," he told her quietly. She turned to look up at him, smiling wryly. "It will, I promise."
She shook her head. "Yeah, but then what am I?" She walked back to the couch, looking at Wesley. "So, now what?"
"Now, I'm afraid, we have to do something horrible to send the power on." He glanced at Derek, who nodded slightly. "Buffy, it doesn't automatically revert and get passed on to the next girl. It has to be taken from you." Her face fell. "I see you know what I'm talking about then."
"Yeah, a spell right?" She looked from Derek to Giles, meeting his eyes. "You can fix this with some really complicated spell and send it on, steal it from me or something, right?" When no one said anything, she got up, grabbing his arms. "Giles, tell me there's a spell. Please tell me there's a spell or a creature or something." He shook his head, holding onto her when she tried to pull away. "Not again," she whispered, clinging to the sole source of her sanity since she was fourteen. "Please not that."
"We'll have modern equipment this time," Giles whispered, soothing her by stroking down her back. "We'll call everyone back and have them here. You still have some time left." She looked up at him. "We'll bring you back again, Buffy, never fear that we'd not try our hardest." She nodded slowly so he led her back to the couch. "It has to be after your birthday, when the gift has left you," he told her quietly, squatting down in front of her to look directly into her eyes. "You still have months left and we'll plan this much more carefully than we did the Ascension." She shook her head. "Yes, we will."
"Giles, it didn't almost happen last time."
"But it will this time," Derek assured her. "We'll have the proper equipment here this time and we'll do this as quickly as possible." He got up, coming over to sit beside her. "I know you're scared, we'd all be worried if you weren't, but you're being given a chance at living a normal life."
"And if I refuse?"
"Faith never died, Buffy. You're the only one still active," Wesley told her gently. "It's been discussed about sending her on also but it was decided by the remaining Watchers to see if she wakes up before the cut-off date." She shook her head. "You don't agree?"
"No, I was wondering why it was me that has to make the sacrifice." She looked up at Giles. "I want Xander there. I know he'll bring me back, no matter what." He nodded so she turned to Derek. "I want in on the planning and I need some time."
"We'll do it the day after your birthday," he promised her with a slight squeeze to her hand. "That will give you almost eight months to plan." She nodded, getting up and walking out. Derek sighed, leaning back on the couch. "Do you know who will be the next Slayer?"
"Yes," Wesley said with a hint of a smile, "we do and she's very well trained already." He straightened his tie. "Did you have plans to bring her here?"
"Not particularly," Derek said slowly, thinking as he went. "The population locally has decreased since she showed up. One of the other houses maybe."
"I would like to meet her," Giles said. "Tell her about some of the past."
"It might be helpful," Wesley said quietly, "especially since she's not been trained by one of us and she hasn't a clue." Derek stared at him. "She's being trained by someone else, someone very special according to Angel but he didn't say what. He had a talk with her teacher, told him everything he could." He smiled faintly. "Then he bit him to prove it, or so he said." He shrugged. "She's being taught well but the traditions aren't being passed on." He and Giles shared a look. "I do think that having her here for a bit might be a very good idea."
"Buffy would be devastated," Giles reminded him.
Derek shook his head. "I know but if it's for the best, we'll have to work something out, maybe move her into town or something." He stood up, patting Wesley on the shoulder. "I'm going to go find her, talk to her about it. Stay for a while, I'm sure you and Rupert need to catch up."
He walked out of the office, heading for the living room Buffy seemed to favor when she was thinking. He silently sat beside her, letting her lean against him. "I know this will be hard," he told her quietly, "but it's your responsibility to do so. We will do everything possible to keep you around, I like having you here, Buffy. Never doubt that you're going to suddenly be expelled from the house or that your friends are going to leave you. They didn't stay with you because you were the Slayer, but because you inspired them to help." He squeezed her hand gently when it found it's way into his. "I know this will be a time of transition and heavy contemplation, and I understand. I'll keep you on a lighter workload until you get things figured out."
"I'll be normal again, Derek. No more strong, no more speed, no more fighting. That's all I know about who I am most of the time."
"Not true, dear. Your life hasn't been only fighting. You've done much, grown so much, since you got here. You've found yourself and bloomed into an interesting young woman." He squeezed her hand again. "You're still you. You're not losing the things that you've learned, none of the knowledge, just the edge that you used to have. Which, I might add, hasn't always served you so well." He rubbed the back of her head, over the scar that marked where she had been shot. "Being the Slayer has made you vulnerable in so many ways, Buffy, you just have to get used to the rest, to being a normal woman." She nodded against his arm. "I know I and Alex both would listen if you'd care to talk to us, or Philip if you need his sort of help. Same as I know my mother would love to listen when she gets back."
She pulled away from him, wiping her cheeks. "I...maybe I just need some time to figure out everything. Last time I had all of two days." She shook her head. "But I was serious about wanting Xander here." He nodded. "Okay?"
"Of course, whomever you want can be there." He patted the back of her head again. "Never worry about that part. I'll arrange everything."
"Thanks, Derek," she whispered, watching him get up and leave her alone with her thoughts.
Xander hung up the phone and leaned his head against the wall. He felt the gentle hand touch his lower back so turned to look at his husband. "She's not only losing her powers, they're going to have to take them all from her." Oz nodded but he shook his head. "Think of the calling, Oz, one dies, another's called." His mate's mouth fell open. "So, we're going to have to help plan that part well so she can come back this time too." He resisted the urge to put his fist through the wall, but it was a near thing, his fist resting against the plaster before he realized what he was doing. "She wants us there," he said quietly, turning around to be held.
Oz cradled his lover, gently soothing him with tender stroking down his arms and back. "Will told me about what happened last time, why there were two," he reminded him. "You'll make sure if you have to." He felt the nod so let his husband stand on his own again. "Want to go cuddle and watch the kids play with the neighborhood kids?" Xander nodded so they walked out onto the back porch of the rental house, watching Nick and their two boys and Serena, who insisted that she had to come along because she knew the town, play with a few other kids from the town.
Two of the local kids kept looking at Oz then at Serena and Tim then frowning at Nick, which wasn't lost on either parent. "Serena," Xander called, bringing her over. "What's up with your friends?" he asked quietly, sitting her in his lap.
"He like us," she said, nodding. She snuggled into his arms, smiling at her friend walking over. "This Daddy," she pointed to Oz, "and this is my Dada," she said as she patted Xander's hand on her stomach. "They nice."
The little boy smiled shyly and waved, then tugged on her arm so she got back down, going over to play in the dirt with them.
"Crush?" Oz suggested.
"Maybe." He leaned closer. "Oz, come inside, there's something I have to tell you." He got up, closing and locking the door behind them. "Oz, a quarter of this town are weres." His husband nodded. "Three kids in our backyards, drawn to our two changers?" He raised an eyebrow. "Coincidence?"
Oz leaned against a counter, his face calm. "The Sheriff told us that you had helped straighten the dominance problem out when you were here last time, but it was just a mention in passing." He looked out the window, frowning at his daughter knocking Nick down to climb onto his chest and dance on him. "Those guys are a bad influence on her." He started to go out but Xander's hand on his arm kept him still. "Shouldn't we go save him?"
"No, I want to observe. There's been way too many people watching us since we got here last night." Oz turned to frown at him. "The guy at the courthouse, the three people in the audience inside that didn't need to be there? Our neighbors who immediately closed the drapes when we waved last night?"
"Can all be explained easily but taken as a group is distressing," Oz admitted, "but not proof of something." Xander shook his head. "No?"
"No, Oz, I *know* something's going on and we have to fix it." He picked up the ringing phone, being closest to it. "Yeah?" He smiled, shaking his head. "Stalier, man, did you get the pictures?" He pulled Oz down into a chair at the table, frowning, tracing patterns on the top as he listened. "Okay, so when did that happen?" He shook his head. "Who did it?" His eyes opened really large. "That's a bad thing, right?" He shook his head. "Okay, so what can we do to help?" He looked at Oz. "Anything, man, we owe you major." He nodded and got up to hang up the phone. "They're having dominance problems, more specifically who claimed it." He looked at the computer plugged in on the middle of the table. "Call home and see if we have anything in the mailbox."
Derek smiled weakly at Philip as they sat at the almost empty kitchen table, Buffy and Alex having gone out for some time alone, while Rupert and Wesley were in the library eating and talking. "This house is too quiet," he said finally, tossing down his fork. "I've gotten used to the noise."
Philip snorted. "Bet ya never thought ya'd be saying that." He smiled at his lover, taking his hand across the wood to squeeze it lightly. "They promised to call if they had any problems. Same time as you promised not to take off on another vacation." That got another weak smile. "Not even those two can get into trouble there this time."
Derek sighed, slumping just a little. "Philip, I still feel like things aren't totally settled." His lover nodded at him to go on. "I feel like we're forgetting something or like some big disaster is about to happen but I'm not seeing anything."
"It's been too quiet and ya've always worried during those times, wondering if it was a lull or a build-up." Philip gave him a small smile. "Don't worry so much, you'll go more gray and then you'll make yourself feel like you're robbing the cradle again." He put his napkin on the table, releasing Derek's hand. "I'm leaving the priesthood," he said quietly. His lover looked at him in alarm. "I can't stand for what they're practicing."
Derek shook his head. "Philip, the Church is your life."
"No, my life is my life but I believe so *differently* now that I've seen the world. Seen some things I'd like to be able ta forget sometimes." He shook his head. "Derek, ya know I love being a Priest but I can't stay one. Not when I have to say things that I don't believe in and not when I have to uphold ideals not my own or God's." He leaned forward again. "I've called my superiors in for tomorrow and I'm tellin' them then." He grabbed the mobile hand before it could tap in its thinking way, capturing it to hold onto for its strength. "Derek, the Church and God don't have much in common these days. Nowhere in the Bible does it say to subjugate women now. Nothin' in that part they're adhering to is relevant today. And I'm sorry, but God wanted people to be equal, all people. As in 'love thy neighbor' not 'gun thy neighbor down because they're gay, or Black, or Asian, or even Protestant'."
Derek simply nodded. "If you feel that's for the best. Will you be coming back full time?" Philip shook his head. "No?" His shoulders fell a little more.
"No, I want to make up for some lost time first, find out what I *do* believe, how God wants me ta be now." He smiled sadly. "I'll just be gone a few months, I hope, but I'll call and write often."
"Please," Derek said, squeezing their joined hands. "This house is lonely when you're not here."
"I know," Philip admitted, "but I need to find that better way." He stood up, leaning over for a kiss. "I'll be here 'til the end of the month, then I'll steal one of the cars from the garage that we never use and go find God." He sat back down, smiling gently. "I'd offer ta take ya with me but I think Nick would beat me."
That brought a small smile to the Precept's face. "He would be very upset." He let their hands go. "I'll be back in Florida in another week with the boys. I'll give you a schedule, or at least what we have planned, before you leave so you can always find me." His lover nodded gently, smiling at him across the wood. "I'm not sure if we should celebrate or we should grieve," he admitted after another ten minutes of silent eating, putting back down his fork.
"Both," Philip said simply.
Philip looked out at his board, frowning. "What do ya mean it wasn't legal?" He crossed his arms. "I was still a Priest then."
"You were on suspension from the Church," the Priest in charge pointed out, rubbing over his bald head. "You were not to perform Mass or to officiate at ceremonies." He cleared his throat. "We sent you a letter but apparently you never got it." He looked at the two other members. "Will this be a problem, Philip?"
He nodded slowly. "Two of them," he said, retaking his seat behind his own couple. "One couple that wanted me to hear their vows but wasn't officially getting married yet, whom I have a postcard so I can tell them." He rubbed his brow. "And one that just got divorced." He groaned. "Oh, God, Derek'll kill me for this," he muttered, looking up. "So, now what?"
"Now, Philip, you sign over your calling, take your things, and you're free," the Priest in charge said kindly. "Some of us have noticed for a while now that you and the Church were heading for a parting of the ways. Especially after you came back from South America." He saw the angered look toward the last member of the board. "Of which, you agreed to keep quiet about."
"We'll see," Philip said coldly. "There's no way I won't think about keepin' that one." He looked back at the Priest in charge, the man that had initiated him into the Church. "I'm sorry I couldn't be the Priest you wanted me ta be, Father Michael, but I did try."
Father Michael smiled kindly at him. "Philip, you were twice the Priest I ever hoped to be and I'm glad that you were here with us for as many years as you were. Go with God's will, my son, and all will still be well." He watched as the young novice handed Philip the paperwork on the silver platter, watching him sign over his place in the Church, taking them when he was done. "Now what will you do?" he asked gently.
"Now, I've got to go find God in the World," Philip said, standing up, taking the small envelope with the check that was his entitlement and what he had invested with the Church for his retirement. "Thank you, Father Michael, for always listening when I needed ya." He bowed to them one last time then walked out of the room.
He never saw the last Priest lean closer to the other two and say, "He could become a problem for us all," and he never saw his advisor slap him.
Xander looked out on the back lawn, watching his kids play with the local children again, seeing the quiet conversations they seemed to be having a lot of.
"Still acting strange?" Oz asked as he walked into the kitchen, hair still dripping from his morning shower. He saw his husband nod so headed for the coffeepot. "How long now?"
"Before we leave? About four hours. I talked to Stalier late last night and he said there wasn't really anything we could do about the dominance problem here unless we wanted to take over the pack." He turned to look at his husband, smiling weakly. "Tell me it's going to be okay? That the people aren't looking at us funny?"
Oz nodded. "It's all in your head," he said after swallowing his first sip of coffee. "You just suggested the dominance model, you didn't make everyone follow it." He leaned against the counter, wincing as Nick's very loud alarm went off. "Well, your brother's up. We should tell him to call home." Xander nodded, turning back to the window.
Xander flung open the door, jogging out onto the back porch, looking around the yard. He walked back in and slammed the door, glaring at Oz. "We need to go after them," he said, heading to their bedroom and the gear that Oz had snickered about him bringing. He was just sliding into his holster when Nick walked into his room, sliding his own clip in. "Ready?" he asked. Nick nodded so they walked out to the kitchen, frowning at the man still sipping his coffee. "Not coming?"
"Nope, not yet," Oz said. He patted his laptop. "Gonna call home, tell Buffy she was right, read the Slayer-dream again to make sure of a few things." He pulled Xander over, kissing him hard. "Be careful and come back to me," he whispered.
"I will," Xander promised, walking out after his brother. It only took them about six minutes to get to the Police station and then they had to walk through the crowd, which parted, talking quietly when they saw him.
"And I thought you were kidding, boys," the Police Chief said, shaking Xander's hand with a small smile. "Okay, now what?"
"Now," Oz said, walking in, dressed and with his own equipment. "You let us work." He turned to the parents of the other kids that had suddenly disappeared. "Listen, I know you're worried, but being here means that your kids can't get in touch with you if they want to come home." A few of them nodded, a few glared at him. "Hey, three of mine went too, so just let us work. We do this all the time." They all nodded, walking out in pairs of two and three, talking quietly, probably about the three strange men while he set up his laptop.
"Ah, good, probably a much better system than we have." Stalier leaned over Oz's shoulder, brushing his dark hair off his forehead as he read the dream account. "She really saw this happening?"
"Yeah, she has a gift," Oz said, wiggling his shoulders to get some more room. "We do know tonight's the first night of the phase?" Oz asked out loud. Everyone made agreeing noises. "Okay, just checking." He glanced up as Xander patted his shoulder. "Okay, Stalier, where is this describing?" He pointed at the section of the account telling about their walk through the woods.
Officer Stalier leaned over the young computer operator's shoulder, reading it. "Could be about six places," he said, walking over to the map they had set up when Xander had called to tell them about the incident that was going to happen, just in case he had been right. He circled a few spots with his fingers, thinking while he moved his fingers. "I can narrow it down to four," he said finally.
Nick walked over, looking at the map. "One of those is really near a highway."
Xander and Oz walked over, pointing at one spot, filled with caves, deep in the woods. "There," they said together. Everyone looked at them. "Hey, experts on pack dominance for very good reasons," Xander went on to explain. "And if I was an animal gathering my pack, I'd be there."
Oz nodded. "Hunting grounds," he said, circling the woods, "water source, shelter," he tapped the marks for the cave system, a small former mining operation. "No easy access to higher predators." He turned to the Police Chief. "You planning or us?"
Nick cleared his throat. "I'm planning, guys."
"Hey," the older Police Chief started but Nick turned to look at him, expression neutral.
"I'm a former Seal, with five years of combat experience and ten doing this stuff all together. How about you?" The Chief shook his head, waving him on. Nick walked up to the board, frowning at the place. "Okay, we have three entries, all long hikes. Anyone not okay with that?"
"Could take four-wheelers part of the way," Stalier suggested.
Nick shook his head. "This guy plans really well."
"Her," Xander reminded him.
"Okay, she plans really well. She'll have some of her older people on watch, or at least I would." He walked his fingers along a path only he could really see. "Two gentle walks, one nasty one. Break into teams." He turned to look at his partners. "You two take point of the frontal team. You're doing the fighting part." Oz nodded, going back to his computer.
Xander cleared his throat. "Do we have an alternate picked out?"
Stalier raised his hands. "I was chosen," he said quietly.
"Okay, then you're with the third team." Xander went back to where he had dropped the gear bag, opening it to pull out guns and clips, handing them off to Oz and Nick, who laid them on the table. "Okay, guys, this is a fast acting tranq. Safe for all but those under two." He looked at the Chief. "Who here can shoot that well with an unfamiliar weapon?" A few of the officers raised their hands, including the one he had helped learn how to hit the target. "Okay, there's enough. Two to a group, we'll take the odd one since Oz will be changed and beside me." He looked at his mate, smiling slightly. "You good to go?"
"Want some time to meditate," Oz told him. He walked into the back. "I'm going to go sit where you did," he called.
Xander pulled the Police Chief aside. "Did you read it all," he asked quietly as the others were briefed by Nick. The older man sighed and rubbed over his face. "I know, and it sucks, but we can only hope and plan now."
The older man looked into his eyes. "I've already talked with those two people's partners, and they're together, waiting in case it does happen and they do die." He looked at the computer then the guns. "Handy skill to have. She a cop?"
"No, she's a paranormal like those kids." He leaned against the desk they were standing beside. "She's just about to lose it though so this was probably her last one."
"She had three," Nick reminded him, coming over. "Just one about this one and one about her night down, and one about the night before."
"If we could plan that so we did...." Nick nodded slowly. "Can we find out exactly when she was born?"
Nick looked around. "We'll figure that one out later with the Chronicles. Relax about it." He patted his brother's shoulder. "We'll do fine tonight. Oz understands what he has to do and he's accepted. You know what you have to do, and how to help your mate, so we'll all be fine." He grinned. "Xander, you are *such* a worrier suddenly."
"You know, Oz said the same thing, but I've been feeling like something's going to happen with the family thing." He looked at the Chief. "I kept Oz, but we dumped her."
He smiled. "Seems right to me. He actually tried to stop you from leaving them again." He shrugged and walked back into his office. "We'll leave in two hours."
Philip paced in front of Derek's desk, waiting on his lover and the judge that would have a great deal to say right now to come in from the front door. He had sent out a letter to the other couple he had officiated for, warning them that he hadn't been legally able to do so, but now he had to potentially screw up the house even farther. He squeezed Derek's hand as he walked past, turning to look at the Judge. "Judge Starren," he said warmly, shaking his hand. "Philip Callaghan," he waved at a chair. "Sit, please, this is going to take some time."
The judge sat, looking at both of the men. "What's going on? Has something happened that would change the divorce settlement?" He looked at Philip. "I remember your name, it was on the wedding certificate." He snapped his fingers. "There *is* something wrong."
Philip nodded, sitting down in the chair beside him. "Yes, unfortunately, there is. I was on suspension from the Church pending my decision to leave or not, which I since have, but I was informed this morning that it wasn't legal for me ta marry them."
The judge leaned back, closing his eyes. "Well, that certainly may change things." He looked at Derek. "This will make me renounce my earlier ruling and make them re-file as a palimony case. She'll have a chance to request custody." He saw the slight wince. "But I'm sure that they'll look at her past also."
Derek leaned back in his desk chair, frowning slightly. "We both felt we had to tell you this. Are we, or you, obligated to tell her also?" He saw the slow nod and his stomach fell. "And would you still be the judge?"
"I may be, it could be said that I might have a conflict of interest since I'm already involved in the old case." He looked at Philip. "They never told you?"
"They said they sent a letter but I never got one." He shrugged, relaxing a little more. "I didn't know until my hearing this morning." He winced as he heard the loud thump outside the door. "Which one?" he asked with a small smile.
"Go away, Buffy," Derek yelled.
She walked in, frowning slightly. "No, I have something you need to hear. And that was Alex, sitting down really hard." She handed Derek a print out of an email. "She's going to contest and ask for it all." She looked at the judge. "She could get Xander, too, right, going that way? Everything he has would be up for grabs?"
Judge Starren scratched one silver eyebrow, looking up. "Yes, actually, I believe she could. A polygamous relationship could be taken under the Palimony statues." He glared at the paper she was handed. "Are you sure you want me to know?"
"Her Counsel's name is on there," Derek sighed, shaking his head. "What should we do now? Re-file for them since they're in Nevada?"
"Yes, definitely." He handed it back after making note of the name and phone number included in there. "Doing it first would help matters greatly." He cleared his throat. "After seeing that, it will have to be reassigned." Derek nodded. "And I feel like I should tell you that the current roster only has one judge that might be fair to your boys."
Derek shook his head. "This just keeps getting worse and worse," he muttered. He smiled kindly at the judge. "Thank you for not yelling at Philip. I know this is an awkward situation." He stood up, shaking his hand.
"No, awkward would be dancing through this case by the looks of it." He nodded at the other two and left.
"Can you make her disappear?" Buffy asked. Both older men turned shocked looks on her. "Hey, I love the girl like a sister but even I can see how bad she's gotten since they came back." She shrugged and walked out.
Derek picked up the email, dialing the number on it. "Hello, is David Armstrong there please? Yes, this is Derek Rayne, about the Rosenberg case?" He shook his head at Philip, motioning him back to the chair.
"I'm gonna get somethin' ta eat. Relax."
Derek nodded, turning to look out on the garden. "Yes, actually I am. No, her boyfriend and her other boyfriend are both out of town right now on assignment but they left me in charge should something happen with the attempted divorce." He snorted. "I'm sure. Who told her?" He shook his head, picking up a pen to play with. "I can get in touch with them tonight, but I'm sure they'll want to know if there's a settlement on the table yet." He nodded, writing it down. "She does know that we'll fight her over all of the children, biologically related or not?" He nodded and hung up. "Thank you," he told the quiet office, buzzing the kitchen with Nick's new intercom system. "Philip? Would you please come back in here *before* you eat."
He leaned back, waiting on his lover to return. When he did, he handed over the paper he'd been writing on. "Sit, Philip, please." The former Priest sat down, looking up at him. "It was a member of the Church that told her. A member of your board actually." He frowned slightly. "I'm sorry, Philip, I didn't want you to find out some other way."
The younger man sighed, leaning back in the comfortable chair. "I know why." He turned his head to look around the room. "While I was in South America trying to keep the other Priests from converting the natives, one of them was called into a small village by a man. His wife had been using birth control since they'd already eight kids." He looked back at his lover and grimaced. "He helped bring her up on charges of murder for it." Derek went pale. "And she was found guilty." He looked down at the paper in his lap. "The other priests and I, once we got word of what was going on, went to try and help her but that first Priest had been down there before, he was well known and feared." He coughed lightly, blushing now in embarrassment. "Derek, the Church backed him on it when we tried to have him thrown out. Said outing the scandal would be worse than living with it. They talked to someone to get her sentence revoked but she had died in prison." He coughed again, leaning into the strong arms that were suddenly around him. "They forced us to agree not to talk about it." He looked up into the deep eyes, seeing the understanding there. "I told them I wouldn't uphold that anymore."
"So they retaliated." Philip nodded. "I see." Derek hugged him again. "Philip, no one would ever blame you for standing up for what you believe in. And I'm sure that they held many things over your head to get you to agree," he stopped when he saw the small head shake. "No?"
"Only one thing. They said they'd kick me out." He got up, silently asking for a hug as he walked closer to the older man. "Derek, I regret doing that so much now. I hurt so bad for that family and for what's been done and for the precedence that was set." He was wrapped into the strong arms. "It took me seeing you ta make me realize how wrong I was."
"Philip, no one blames you. You tried your hardest and you can still speak. They can't do much to harm you now." He kissed the top of his head gently, then let him move back a few inches. "Do you want to help me plan a strategy for this with William?" The younger man shook his head so he let him go. "Philip, go tell people, let them know. It's the only way to make the hurt and guilt less in this case. And I'm sure no one would fault you." He patted the younger man's arm as he walked out, waiting until he was gone to sit behind his desk again and dial the man's honeymoon villa in Italy. "William? Have you heard?"
Xander walked into the cave, Oz right behind him. He tranqed the two guards, then moved forward, the warm heat at his back his safe feeling. He glanced around at the large open area, seeing all the sleeping bodies scattered around, including two of his own. He motioned the other people in his team to move forward, turning to take Oz's gear before he could change. He looked into his eyes one last time as he kissed him deeply, making it last as long as he could. "Be safe," he whispered, sliding the extra belt around his waist.
"I felt you in there," Oz admitted. "The pain, the anger." He brushed through the dark hair, taking his time in case it was all about to end. This fight could only go one way, death to one of them. "I loved you then, I was just too blind to see past her shell. And I'm sorry, for not seeing sooner, for not knowing by some osmosis of pain, for all the time we wasted." He looked down as he felt the first effects of the change. "Help them all, Xander, no matter what," he requested.
"I'm going for our kids, Oz, Nick's right behind us. I'm not leaving." He twined their fingers, locking their rings together, sliding the slightly older man's off and taking the pendants he was handed, their ritual. "I'll be here," he promised, stepping back to watch over him as he put the jewelry on so the link wouldn't be broken.
Oz finished changing, looking around the open area at the rest of the people changing, sniffing the air. He walked into the cavern, smelling as many of the bodies as he could, walking up to where he could see one laying on a soft sleeping place. He looked over the female and snorted, growling softly at her to get her attention.
She looked at him and howled, walking down to sniff him closer, batting him in the head. And that was her final mistake. The alpha male that was Oz sidestepped the slap, reaching around with one of his own, longer, arms to hit her instead, catching the side of her snout. She tried to get away from him. They danced for a few minutes, slapping the other, trying to find a weakness, moving back and forth between the crowding bodies. Oz got her again on the side of the head, and she managed to actually claw his stomach, opening up a small wound.
Oz heard his mate's hiss and looked at him briefly, then back at her. He snarled, moving closer as she tried to hit him again. He caught her arm, pulling her closer, ripping into the side of her neck, tearing as hard as he could. As her limp, unconscious body fell to the floor, Oz looked up and howled, screaming his dominance to the night. He felt one of the cubs pulling on his hand so he looked down at her, patting the top of her head. His cub, his and his mate's cub. He picked her up, lapping the side of her face.
Xander and Stalier walked over, the younger one patting the top of the cub's head then his mate's. Oz stood there, letting himself be petted like the beta his mate thought he was, he knew it was necessary. Oz had spent too many hours talking with the wolf earlier in the day so he wouldn't overreact now. He watched as his mate smiled at him, facing him, rubbing his injured stomach, putting a bandage on him to help control the bleeding.
Nick stood at the edge of the cavern, watching Xander manhandle the werewolf that was his entire world now, and was awed. He wasn't sure if this was Derek's conditioning or if they were actually so much in love that the wolf recognized him as his rightful mate, but for whatever the reason, the wolf understood this part. He watched the werewolf acknowledge Xander as his alpha, then watched his brother acknowledge the officer that had kept him sane for so long as his own alpha. The entire cavern broke out in howls, and he had to cover his ears to protect himself from the noise.
Many thousands of miles away, Willow chanted quietly, smiling at the spell she had written earlier. She grabbed her head as a vision, something that hadn't ever happened to her before while she was casting, ripped through her mind. She panted as the sight of the cave-in, her mates and her children in it, faded from her sight, turning the energy away from them, turning it on herself instead, taking the small hit with a pained groan, exerting her will to control it before the power could externalize and burn the house down.
Derek's vision woke him and he grabbed the phone before he was fully awake, dialing London automatically. Whomever had answered just managed to get out 'Luna Foundation' when the alarms started to shriek across the phone line, making him wince. He reached out with his own, usually, untapped powers, drawing on Philip's from much practice in emergencies, using it to help whomever in London had been casting, helping them to control it before it destroyed everyone in the building.
The phone fell from his limp hand as he felt the power snap, dissipating into the house itself, and Derek Rayne passed out for what was probably the first time in his life.
Xander watched from his position at the mouth of the cavern as everyone started to change back, waiting for his mate to come to him this time. He saw Oz look around for him, smiling slightly at the cub in his lap.
Oz walked over, looking into his lover's eyes, seeing the truth and love in them. And he smiled, happy to have him in his life and happy to be his. They did the reverse of the jewelry exchange, Xander handing back the pendants like the gifts of love they were and sliding his ring back onto his finger. Then they kissed, the whole world melting away again as their mouths merged and joined, letting their hearts and bodies follow.
"Guys," Nick said in exasperation, waking up to them. "People and children are watching." He sighed, covering his eyes as they ignored him, or didn't hear him, lying back down on his improvised bed.
"Daddies!" Serena yelled, tugging on their belts. "Kissie us instead!"
Oz finally felt the outside world start to come back, breaking the kiss to look at his daughter. "What, princess?" he asked, picking her up. Tim and Brandon both walked over, cuddling their thighs in their sleepy way. But it was Serena who smiled and kissed him, then her other daddy.
"We 'kay now!" she said happily, summing it up.
TO BE CONTINUED...