Old Friends, New Friends.
Ray paced in front of the large double doors, waiting for his new friends to come back with his former partner. He stiffened as he heard the distinctive motor that was the Range Rover, moving away from the portal so he didn't get hit with the door when the kids that had demanded to go too came in. He grinned as Serena and Precious walked in, waving at them.
"He here," Serena said, patting her new uncle's leg. "He nice. Tells stories."
"Yeah, he does," Ray told her, waiting until they had disappeared to turn and look at the man now standing just inside the doorway. "Benny," he said quietly, holding out a hand to shake. He was surprised when he was tightly hugged and held, closing his eyes to savor the feeling before backing up. "Come on, let's go walk in the garden while we talk." He handed his bag off to Adam, who was just coming down the stairs. "I'll bring him up to his room in a few minutes, we've got to talk." The temporary butler frowned at him but headed back up the stairs as the two men headed for the garden.
Benton Fraser looked around the garden, noting the harmonious balance of the growths. "Ray, what's going on? Why was it so important that I come down here?"
"Because this guy keeps popping up asking for ya and he creeps me out, ya know." He stopped them, sitting down on a bench. "He's even shown up here in the house." His former partner frowned at him. "Derek thinks he's some sort of being."
"Those don't exist."
"Sure, and neither do things that go bump in the night, right? What about our cases? The one where the guy flew away? You thought they didn't exist either." He patted the bench to have something to do with his hands. "Derek said the only way to make him go away was to find out what he wanted and convince him he really didn't."
Benton sat and thought for a few minutes, his shoulders straightening as if he'd made an important decision. "Ray, there are things no one knows about me and that was one of them. I can't and won't tell you about it, but I'll make him stop showing up. Would that help?"
"Only if it's not going to hurt anyone." Ray looked around to make sure they were alone. "That's what these guys do, they fix these things, Benny, and I think we need them to fix this guy too." Benny shook his head. "Yeah, we do. Otherwise, he's going to start affecting little Benny." His friend looked confused. "My sister's kid, I named him after you, remember? I told you that on the phone."
"Oh, yes, I had forgotten." Benny patted his hand. "We'll fix it later tonight and you won't have to worry any longer." He stood up. "Now if you could show me up to my room please?"
"No, not until you explain why you're such a cold prick." Ray stood up, glaring at him. "What did I do this time?"
"Nothing, I'm just tired, it was a long flight." He smiled at the Detective. "I just need a rest, Ray, relax."
"Uh-huh, sure ya do, that's why you're being cold again, right?" He shook his head, walking toward one of the doors. "Come on, I'll show ya where ya need to go." They walked inside, Ray showing him to the guest suite, which Derek had said was going to be his. "I'm up those stairs at the end of the hall, next to the nursery." He walked away, heading up said stairs to go be with his son.
Benny watched him go, his face becoming very sad. "I'm sorry," he whispered, walking into his room and shutting the door.
Ray took his child from the nanny, sitting down to feed him himself. "He's here," he told his son, "and he's not happy about it." He looked up at the small pat to his shoulder. "Hey, Derek, what's up?"
"Is your friend in his room?"
"That's where I put him. And we're not."
"Friends?" The younger man nodded. "I'm sure it's just the stress of the situation."
"No, we parted on bad terms and we weren't great friends before that." He went back to watching his son suck down his formula. "He's brought some chilliness with him too."
"I'm sure you two will work it out," Derek said gently, patting his shoulder again. "Would you like me to take him down to the office with me? Junior will be in there while Jonathan and Philip have the other children out for a checkup." Ray shook his head. "All right, but if you'd like, there's plenty of room." He walked out, heading down the stairs. He met the house's guest in the hall, smiling at him. "Ray's upstairs if you'd like to go talk to him, he's presently in the nursery feeding his son."
Benton shook his head. "No, thank you kindly though." He looked around the hall. "May I talk with you? I'd like some information about what's going on and Ray wasn't sure of a few things."
"Of course," Derek said, waving toward the other set of stairs. "Let's go down to my office. I'm watching my grandchild while the other children are out for a checkup." He walked beside the other man, silently taking in what he could of his mannerisms and personality, and not liking what he saw very much at all. They walked into the office, and Xander silently handed him Junior. "Thank you, son, now please go finish your report. It was due yesterday."
"We did it earlier," Xander said, patting his son's arm. "It's in the middle of your desk. I'm going to go eat and do some laps." He nodded at the guest and left.
Derek waved at the couch. "Please, get comfortable." He sat down with the baby, looking down at him. "How are you today?" he asked. Junior blew spit bubbles at him. "Ah, I see. Let's put you down for a short nap, shall we?" He set the baby into the cradle behind his desk. "Now, Constable Fraser," he said, looking at the man, his pleased smile falling away at the small pained look. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing, just wondering why I was brought here."
"Ah, down to business. It appears someone or something from your past has latched onto Ray and his son. It also appears he, or it, would prefer you but is more than willing to settle for his son." He leaned back some. "We would like to help, but only if we know what's going on." He waited through the silence, sitting back up eventually, very straight. "Ray was so scared he flew out here from Chicago without telling anyone, walking from the ferry in the rain." That got a small flinch. "With the child of course."
Benny sighed, shaking his head. "This does not concern him and you should not have gotten involved."
"It's the nature of the work we do," Derek said kindly. "We couldn't not get involved. My sons and I all think of Ray as a friend."
"I am sure but he should not be involved either. I will handle it and you will keep him safe." He stood up, walking out of the office.
Derek watched him go, giving his back an appraising look. "Of course we will," he said once he was alone. He buzzed Nick in the control room. "Nick? No, we're going to need to secure the house for this case it looks like. No, he's overly controlled." He hung up, turning to look out the window. "Anyone that nice, polite, and stiff has to have a deeper, darker core," he reminded himself. "And we're about to travel into his."
Benton Fraser looked around his room then down at the things he had laid out on the floor earlier. He flinched at the small knock to his door, quickly hiding them under the desk so whomever it was wouldn't see them and stop him. "Yes?" he asked as he opened it, looking down at the young boy standing there.
"Supper time," he said, grinning. "Come eat? Me take you." He grabbed one of the stranger's hands, leading him out of his room and down to the dining room, just like Daddies had asked him to. "Us," he said, letting go to sit in his chair, taking his bib from his sister Serena, whose week it was to deal with them.
"Thank you," Benny told the child. He nodded at his host, sitting down at the empty seat. "Ray," he said in greeting, looking at the child beside him. "Is that your son?"
"Yeah, little Benny. He's awake so I thought he should come down to eat." He reached over to brush some of the unruly blond hair off his son's forehead. "We're doing okay together. Vecchio's mom watches him while we work." He stopped at the cleared throat.
Buffy handed Ray the bowl of vegetables. "No work at the table guys, it's a house rule." She smiled at them. "Though talking about children seems to be mandatory."
Ray smiled at her. "Thanks." He dished some of the food out, handing the bowl to Benny. "He's a good baby, not real loud or anything."
"I've been meaning to ask you about that," Derek said with a small smile. "Have you had his hearing tested? If I remember right, almost all of the other children around here were cooing by his age."
"Not yet. I talked with the doctor and he said he'd do it at six months."
"Hey, even if there's a problem there are plenty of cures today," Xander reminded him at the hint of sadness. "And he could just be quiet. My cousin, when he was born, slept twenty hours a day and never made a sound but he's perfectly normal and healthy. Well, okay, not *normal* but healthy."
"Was that the one the FBI's looking for?" Oz asked, handing over a plate of ham.
"Yup, that's him. Psycho cousin." Xander dished some out, passing the plate on. "So, Constable Fraser, what's it like at your post? I spent a few months in the Canadian Wilderness but I'm sure you're at least in a town."
"Yes, actually I am. A fairly small town, most of my time is spent in the wilderness tracking poachers and the like." He took a bite of his food, chewing quickly. "Where were you?"
"Not real sure," Xander said, taking Oz's hand. "I was really hurting mentally at the time over an accident and I just ran away and ended up there." He shrugged, stuffing his mouth, glancing at his children. "Eat," he said, after swallowing.
"Not like beanies," Serena said, tossing her fork down.
"Then eat the potatoes," Oz told her. She nodded and picked back up her fork to eat. "We've got to talk to Adam about the proliferation of beans," he told Derek. "Neither of us like them either."
Derek smiled, laughing quietly. "I'm sure, but you should eat them too."
"Yay," Xander said, pushing the lone bean that had found it's way onto his plate off to the side. "I don't eat them, ever, and I'm not going to start." He looked at his children. "You, on the other hand, have to eat a bite of them at the least. And I mean a real one, Timmy." The boy in question pouted, eating some. "Thank you."
Derek laughed, turning his head to cough. "That's very parental of you," he told the man he considered his son. "Eat boys." He turned back to their guest. "Things can get a bit hectic with the children eating at the same time as we do. Normally they eat earlier and are just finishing up as we sit down. They stay up to talk to us while we eat and they have dessert."
Benny nodded. "A wise move, dealing with so many children must be a draining experience throughout your day."
"Nope, actually they're energizing," Buffy said, smiling down the table. "It's like they bleed excess energy off into the air and we pick it up. But they're not often here because their nanny steals them most of the day to go do things."
"We get skates," Precious told her. Timmy nodded, his mouth full.
"So I heard," Buffy told them. "How about if we look at them later tonight." All the kids nodded. "Okay, now eat guys."
"We are," Xandra protested, pouting. "'Sert?"
"Later," Oz told her, blowing a kiss. "You have to eat first."
"'Tay," Serena said, digging into her meal.
Derek turned back to their guest. "They can be a handful when they're, how do you boys put it, rampaging?" Xander nodded. "Yes, they just storm around the house and yell those days but most of the time they're angels." He looked down to see the naughty grins of the two boys. "What did you two do today?"
"Bran mean to me," Xandra said, putting down her fork. "He scare me."
"With what?" Xander asked, reaching over to pat the back of her head. "What did he scare you with?"
"He jump from bushes with *frog*." The word just dripped with ooze and disgust. "Meany." She stuck her tongue out at her brother.
"None of that," Nick said since he was closest. "No dirty tongues are allowed to hang out at the table." She withdrew it, picking back up her fork to take another bite. "And you, Brandon, will quit tormenting your sister. That's not nice." He stared down the little boy, who nodded, and went back to his meal. "Thank you."
Xander smiled at his brother. "Gee, dad, you do that so well."
"Hey, you were slow." Nick shrugged, going back to his meal.
Alex laughed. "We'll get you one of your own," she said, patting his arm at the scowl.
"Maybe a kitten?" Buffy suggested.
Nick shook his head. "Pay no attention to the women," he told Benton. "They're heading off the island for the night and are overly happy."
Derek shook his head. "Behave, all of you." Nick smiled at him. "Especially you."
Ray shook his head, looking at his former partner. "It's good that they love each other," he told him, "but it's all an act."
"I see." Benny took another bite of his meal and pushed his chair back. "If I may be excused? I really should take a rest."
"Of course," Derek said, smiling at him. "Most of us are on the same floor as you, at the other end, through the stained glass door, if you need anything." He waited until they were alone, Oz nodding that they were after hearing their guest head up the stairs. "So, what do you think?"
"I think he's in major trouble," Buffy said. She looked at Ray. "Always that stiff and formal?" He nodded, grimacing. "That could be part of the problem there."
"Often people who hide themselves so deeply have some of the worst problems," Derek told him. "Our first priority is still your son, though. He'll be protected as much as our own are."
Ray smiled. "I know, so what's my job?"
"You, well you're the bait really," Nick said, patting his arm. "You'll just sit there and read later."
"Okay. Whatever, you're the experts." Ray finished his food, scraping his plate. "I'm going to go put him upstairs with Junior. You sure Adam and Philip can handle them?"
"Yes," Derek told him, "I'm sure those two can handle them both and the others also, who will help him." He nodded at Ray as he got up, leaving with his son. "Well?" he asked his house.
"Him got big boo-boo," Precious said, nodding. "Big one."
"Who does?" Buffy asked her. "Ray or the other guy?"
"Story guy," Xandra said, nodding. "Big one, here." She pointed at her head and her chest at the same time.
"I see," Derek said, smiling down at them. "Do you think you five could help Adam and Philip watch the babies tonight? Make sure they knows what they want?" They all nodded. "Goot, then finish up so you can go help." The kids finished eating, sliding down and handing Serena back the bibs so she could put them up where they belonged, all of them trouping up the stairs.
Xander shook his head. "I think they're a little young," he said quietly, "but I agreed to let them help. Just no more than that, Derek, please."
"Xander, you know I wouldn't risk those children's lives, not for anything. They'll be safe up there with them." He cleared his throat. "There is also the matter of the demon still buried in your son," he said with a small frown. "Nobody can get him out it seems." Philip got up, tossing down his napkin and heading out of the dining room. "I didn't mean anything," Derek told him, catching his arm. Philip nodded and got loose, leaving to consider his pain at leaving the Church that hadn't gone away yet.
Xander stared down at his plate. "We need to fix that."
"Yeah, but it's not harming him yet," Nick told him. "We have some time if we need it. One job at a time if possible."
"Okay," Oz said, rubbing over Xander's arm. He looked at Derek. "What's our job?"
"You two will guard Ray tonight. Nick and I will deal with the demon."
"Is that what it is?" Buffy asked. He nodded. "Do we know who or what?"
"We know some things, and Constable Fraser has given us a few more clues as to what was received. We just have to be very careful, which is why you both are leaving tonight." She and Alex both nodded. "Good, I'm glad I don't have to force you to go out."
"No," Alex said with a small smile, "we'll gladly go play on your money for a while. Besides, we both could do some shopping." All the men groaned. "Hey, we need things."
Buffy nodded. "Lots of things. And stuff too."
Xander shook his head. "If you buy any more clothes, I'm not letting you use our closet anymore. You need to get rid of some of it. Have a yard sale or something."
"Charity," Derek told him. "A yard sale wouldn't work out here." He coughed, staring at Nick, who was laughing. "No," he said simply. "But you could always help her pack the things she would be cleaning out of her closets."
Nick shook his head. "Don't think so, Derek, not me." He stood up. "I'm done, I'm going to check the security cameras."
Oz and Xander pushed back. "We're going to the library." They walked out together, the older husband nuzzling the younger's neck.
Derek shook his head, closing his eyes so he didn't have to watch. "Those two need a hobby."
"They have one," Buffy noted, "it's just each other." She finished quickly, staring at Alex until she put down her fork. "Ready?"
"As I'll ever be." She took the credit card Derek held out to her. "Thanks, dear." She got up and followed Buffy out to the doorway, where the Range Rover was.
Derek looked at his fingers. "At least they left my hand," he muttered, finishing his own meal so he could get ready for later. Whatever might happen.
Ray fidgeted in his chair, trying hard not to look at the doorway or his watch. Finally he felt the cool body behind him and stiffened. "What? I'm not him."
"No, but you're tainted by him," the demon said, leaning down. "Give him to me and I'll leave you alone."
"Take him," Ray said, standing up. "I don't want him, just take him and leave us alone." He glared at the laughter. "Hey, I don't want you giving my son any ideas."
"Ah, yes, and how is he?" The demon sat on the edge of the table, looking at him. "Where would he be anyway?"
"I told ya, I don't want you to influence him and give him bad ideas."
Derek walked in. "You may not have the child, he is under stronger protection." He tossed Ray the bottle of holy water, moving to flank the demon. "This man and his child are none of your concern."
"Ah, but he is." He looked at Ray. "You ran to the man who defiled a Priest for help?"
Ray shrugged. "Love is all good according to these guys." He took the top off the bottle, holding it ready to throw as the quiet words started from the balcony.
The demon looked up then down under the table. "Gee, you don't think much of me, do you?" He walked out of the containment circle, startling all of them. "He is mine by right of his agreement, none of you can stop me from claiming him."
"That's not quite true," Xander said, walking in reading a book. "I thought this seemed strange." He looked up with a small, mean grin. "Knowledge really is the best offense against your type you know. What did he offer you?" He put down the book in front of Derek. "He's a bargaining demon. He's here to get what's his by right but he can't take it because there was a clause in the contract. And I'm guessing it's Ray." The demon growled, flashing briefly back to its real form. "And I'd also say that what he gave in return was enough for the man upstairs, but it's something integral to him."
"His sense of taste?" Ray asked. Then shook his head. "No, it's his control." He looked at the demon. "He's not mine to give."
"Ah, but if you invalidate the bargain," Xander told him, "then only you could give Benton to him. And he can't touch your child, though they share the same name it's not the same person," he quoted.
Derek smiled at him. "Very goot, Xander." He picked up the book. "Bring forth the scroll," he read.
"Oh, stop," the demon said, pulling it out of his jacket. "Here, I just want what's my due."
"Then take it," Benton said, walking in, wearing his dress - red uniform. "I honor all deals, even those made while drunk." The demon laughed then looked at Ray, making Benton scowl. "He has no part of this."
"The clause," Xander reminded him. He ran his finger down the paper, just above it actually, until he got to where he wanted, showing it off. "Clause?"
"Love," Derek said, translating it. He looked up at Ray, then at the Mountie. "He's invalidated it by love." He handed it back. "Ray, according to this, he's yours, that's how the contract's worded."
"Hey, I was young," the demon complained. "And I thought this would be easy. His boon should have meant that no one would ever love him." He frowned at Derek. "I'm still young, but I've never made that mistake again."
"We all screw up the first time," Xander told him, patting Ray's shoulder. "He's yours. Deal with it."
"He's free, I won't own a person's soul," Ray said simply with a small shrug. "And I wouldn't want him to be around if he didn't want both of us." He looked at the demon. "I'm setting him free, he's not mine to gift any longer. Go bother him." He walked out of the room, leaving them alone. Benny tried to stop him but he pushed him off him. "Go away."
Derek nodded at Oz to go after him, leaving he and Xander and Constable Fraser to deal with the demon. And Giles, who was upstairs with the spell books. "Why do you want him?"
"He is mine," the demon said simply. "I gave him what he wanted and now it's time to collect."
"I belong to no one," Benton said coolly. "No man or demon owns me."
"I do," the demon said simply, putting a collar around his neck. "And unless you can convince him to take you back in the next hour, you're mine." He smiled and disappeared.
"Oops," Xander said, handing the scroll back. "We didn't read far enough." He hurried out after his husband and new friend, finding them in Ray's room, ignoring Philip's quiet story from the hall. "Hey," he said, closing the door behind him. "You have to take him back or he's the demon's for good." Ray frowned at him. "Sorry, we didn't quite read far enough."
"No," Ray said, shrugging, still relaxed against the back of the bed. "This is his problem and I'm out of it now." He nodded at the door when someone knocked. "Let 'im in."
Derek walked into the room, frowning at the man on the bed. "Did Xander tell you?"
"Yup, and I still don't care." Ray shrugged. "Not my thing, I don't own people."
"We're not asking you to, just to claim him."
"Ah," Ray said as he sat up, "but there's the problem. He'd hate that. He didn't like the thought of being *with* someone, which is a lot less than being *claimed* by someone." He looked over Derek's shoulder at the man in the hall. "Hey, that's a good look for you, but I would have made it the same color as your eyes." He stood up, heading into the bathroom and slamming the door.
Derek turned to find their guest outside the door, frowning. "If you could talk him into it, it would save you."
Benton shook his head. "I don't think he would listen and it is probably better this way." He turned to go but stopped when the wet washcloth hit the back of his head. He looked at the child glaring at him, handing it back. "Thank you, but I don't need this."
"No, the kid's right," Xander said, walking out into the hall. "Thank you, Serena, go back to the nursery please." She frowned at him. "Let us handle this, it's okay." She nodded, closing the door behind her.
Ray walked out, pushing Benny against the wall. "You actually think that I want you to leave? After all the *shit* you put me through, you want me to just let you do the noble thing and leave? Not a chance." He backed up. "Come on, I still owe you one."
"Ray, I do not think..."
"Yeah, that's about right, you're not thinkin'. Now shut up and let me deal with this." He headed down the stairs, into the library and glared at the newly returned demon. "He's mine, leave."
"It's not that easy I'm afraid," it said with a small smile. "You have to prove it."
Ray pulled his gun. "I'll prove somethin' to ya, now leave." He glared. "Don't even think I won't do somethin' about ya. Just go away."
"Ray," Xander said, lowering the gun with one hand. "Bullets don't work against his kind." The Detective looked at him. "Just go upstairs and let us deal with this. He's yours. No one else can stake a claim to him." Ray shook his head, sitting down so Xander faced off against the demon, using the strategy Oz had planned for them while they were arguing. "Having read over the contract, I can actually say this with some authority, you were an idiot." He smiled, changing his stance to a more confrontational one, arms crossed against his chest, one foot in front of the other but balanced still. "You gave him an out, you let him have free run of the world if he wanted, and you didn't keep track of him very well. Now, I realize we all make mistakes but that was pure stupidity." He grinned maliciously. "I've seen some bad guys, and a number of demons, and you've got to be the worst. Now, also," he shifted his weight to his back foot, "I'd say your boss wasn't too happy with you and demanded some results so you came to collect early, mostly because the time limit you built into the contract, another not real smart thing, isn't up yet by anyone's estimation. We *could* stand here and argue all night or we could just make you give it up and allow you to go home before we do something stupid, like kill you."
The demon laughed. "You can't kill me."
"Why not? We've killed others. And we have one of the upper hierarchy upstairs hiding in my child. We could always call on him to come down here and send you home, or any one of the three magic users in the house. Or we could even call Buffy back to have her deal with you. But I think you'd rather just slink off so we don't have to break a sweat."
The demon shook his head. "For a mortal you're very unusual."
"Who said I'm mortal?" Xander asked. He stepped closer. "None of us here are typical mortals. I mean really. You've been watching how long and you haven't seen that?" He stepped back. "You really should ask for someone to train you since you suck." The demon growled. "You do, you suck, muchly actually. You've totally screwed this one up and you suck." The demon charged him, and Xander ducked under his clumsy grab attempt. "Hmm, needs to be taught how to fight too. Maybe I should refer you to Angel. He's supposedly good still." The demon tried to grab for him again but Xander kicked his knee, making him go down. "Clumsy too." No one could piss off a demon like Xander could.
"Why am I doing this?" the demon muttered, getting up and looking at the man. He raised a hand but a silver rope floated over it, tying around it and then his other hand, binding him. "What?" He glared at Derek where he was standing reading from a book. "Sorcerers," he spat, trying to get loose.
"Yes, and there are more of us," Giles said as he walked in, pouring salt in a pentagram around the figure, and a circle outside of it. "There, done," he said, stepping back. He and Derek started to chant together, banishing the demon before it could cause any more harm.
"NO!" it screamed, lunging at the border but it couldn't get out, there was some wall blocking it now. It looked down as it felt the portal open, then back up, silently begging Xander to help it, but the mortal just waved as he started to sink down.
Derek closed his book with a snap. "Goot thinking, boys." He patted Xander's arm. "Now then, Ray, please go talk to Benton before he does something incredibly stupid, like leaves before you settle the rest between you." He got out of the Detective's way, watching his back for a second.
"Knew you were annoying for a reason," Oz said, walking in with Junior to give him a kiss. He let the baby take one before grabbing another. "I'm taking your story time tonight."
"Okay." Xander sat on the edge of the oak table, swinging his feet. "I wanted to be here for Ray if he needs me anyway."
"Okay." Oz stole one last kiss and left them to clean it up, passing their temporary butler on his way in.
"I hope you don't expect me to clean this mess up," Adam said.
Xander patted him on the shoulder. "Vacuums up," he told him, "but that's why we pay you the big bucks." He looked at his father. "Speaking of money, you forgot to cut Oz's and my checks for our time in Florida." He smiled at Giles when he snorted. "We worked part of it."
Derek simply turned and headed for his office, locking the door once he was safely inside and alone.
Ray met Benny, the older one, at the front door, frowning at him. "Running?"
"I am simply heading home now that the problem is cured. I have to be back at my post as soon as possible." He picked up his bag.
"Say hi to Dief for me, 'kay? Tell him next time I'll see him, he'll have a playmate." Ray stood up, turning to head up the stairs.
"I'm sorry about how we seem to end things," Constable Fraser said quietly. "This is not what I wanted."
"Yeah, well, it's all you. I'm not the one forcing you to leave." Ray turned but he was alone in the hallway. "Figures," he muttered, heading back to bed. He checked on his son, just a quick glance he promised himself, then walked in to pick him up, sitting down in the rocking chair to hold him. "He'll be back someday," he promised his baby quietly. "No one can resist a Kowalski for long." He kissed the fly-away blond hair, rocking slowly as he looked out the window.
Xander watched the shadows on the ceiling shift, thinking. He wondered where Willow was and what she was doing. If she missed them. If she wanted to ever come see her children again. He decided then to do something about it. After all, she was like his sister, it was his job to fix this. He slid out of the bed, heading down the stairs to the control room. He nodded at Adam as he passed through the kitchen to get some coffee, sipping it as he wandered into the library. Standing in front of the map that hid the holographic door, he looked up so the retinal scanner would work and let him in.
He slid into his usual seat, flipping back on his monitor and calling up the file directory, selecting the one that was used to send out pictures to various family members. He logged onto the internet, typing in a search string, and upon finding it, filled out the form to get his own free home page. He smiled as the blank form came up, starting to build the index page. "Our children," he said as he typed.
Oz cleared his throat. "Why are you doing that?"
"The computer or the pictures?"
"Either would be good." He walked in, taking the coffee to sip. "What are you doing anyway?"
"I'm putting the kids up on the net." He looked up, seeing the understanding there. "She's a ho but she deserves to see their pictures. And it might keep her from showing up."
"If you say so." Oz sat down beside him. "Want help?"
"Nope, I can do this much. Nothing fancy, some cut and paste and inserting the pictures." He finished the first page and put it up on the main screen. "Like that?"
"Looks good to me." He pointed to the link. "I'd name the link something else though, less ambiguous maybe."
Xander went in and redid the link to the second page, smiling at his mate as he hit the upload button. He opened another page to create on, using a template to put the pictures at cute angles and put borders around them. In under twenty minutes, he had a nice little page built, three pages total, and had it uploaded to the web. "There," he said, leaning into Oz's side. "I feel less guilty now."
"Okay, but you're going to have to update it."
"Yup. Every six months?"
"Maybe." Oz turned his head to plant a small kiss on his mate's nose. "Bed?"
"Yeah, I could use some cuddling." They headed back upstairs after turning off the computers so no one would know what they had done.
Derek frowned at the account activity summary, reading the times then the login code as he pushed the call button for the control room. "Xander? Come to the office please." He sat up as his son walked in, handing over the paper. "What were you doing last night?"
"Um, putting up a webpage." Xander sat down, looking at the form then handing it back. "I was feeling guilty about not allowing Willow to see the kids ever again so I put them up on a page. I'm sure she'll find it eventually." He relaxed. "I used one of those free page services and didn't use this address or anything, even gave our emergency blind email account addy as our email address."
Derek shook his head. "Son, I worry about your sanity some days. People could look at those and use them to track your children."
"I didn't put where we were, just that these were my kids. I didn't mention the house at all so quit worrying. This may actually make her more hesitant to ever come back." He stood up. "Anything else?"
"Next time do it at a normal hour instead of four in the morning," Derek said, letting him go. He watched his back, contemplating the strangeness that was his son some days.
Buffy smiled as she walked into Xander and Oz's bedroom, tapping on the door. "Um, can I borrow one or both of you?" Xander rolled over, looking up from his textbook. "I wanted to go to LA to ... well, to say goodbye to Angel." She looked down, then felt the strong arms come around her waist. "Thanks, Oz."
"Anytime," he told her, squeezing her gently. "I could use a weekend away from the house. Xan?"
"Yup, sounds like an idea to me." He closed his book, rolling off the bed. "Want to go tonight? We don't have class Monday because of the holiday. Just find a decent hotel so you could visit old stomping grounds and stuff." He grabbed his keys and wallet, walking over to stand in front of his friend. "We'll take my car, you'll nap and we'll drive." He kissed her forehead. "Let me go warn the kids and Jonathan to make sure we won't be going at a bad time." He left them alone.
Buffy turned around, hugging Oz. "It just hit me that this is really going to happen," she whispered.
"Hey, being scared is normal. At least this time you have some warning to work through everything." He let her stand back up, wiping off her tear tracks. "We kinda figured you'd want to go and that you'd ask Xander at least."
"No, I wouldn't do that to you two," she said with a small smile. "And we're friends." She punched his arm. "See? You didn't growl or anything."
"No, I know we're friends." He walked her out of their room, down to the front room where Derek and Giles were sitting and reading. "We're going to LA this weekend so Buffy can talk to Angel and go over her former life."
Giles looked up and smiled. "Would you like us to call him and tell him?"
"No, I'll just pop in." She smiled bravely then leaned down to hug him. "Thanks," she whispered.
"Buffy," Derek said quietly, "we'll do what we can to make your birthday as painless as possible and to make sure you come back, but we do understand. If it was either of us, we'd be doing the same thing. Just make sure the boys get back in time for their test on Tuesday." He smiled at Oz. "Do you need another paycheck cut?"
"Depends, did you cut our last ones?" He got a small nod. "When?"
"Xander deposited them two days ago." Derek went back to his book. "I'm sure it's about payday again though, that was half-way between the normal paydays. I think that's Monday really." He stood up, heading for his office. "Give me a minute to write them out."
Oz grabbed Xander's hand as he walked back in. "Go pack for us."
"Okay." He headed up the stairs. "Buffy? Clothes?"
She nodded, heading up to pack a bag for herself.
Derek walked back down the hall at the same time Xander and Buffy walked down the stairs, with Junior. "I won't allow you to take him for a whole weekend." His son frowned at him. "Just milk yourself or something, he'll be fine with us for a few days."
Xander handed him over. "I'd like to take him with us."
"I know but I'm not letting him out of the house for that long." He kissed his son's forehead. "I want to watch him. He'll be fine."
"I'm sure," Xander said, looking at his father. "What did you see?"
"Nothing," Derek said with a small smile. "Oz has your check, have fun."
"Uh-huh. Is this like that Christmas Nick and I wrecked?" Derek shook his head. "Okay, then you can have him this weekend." He walked out to where his mate had his car pulled around, sliding into the passenger's seat. "Dad saw something, we can't take Junior."
"Okay." Oz pulled away from the door. "Bank?"
"Yeah, probably should." He looked over his shoulder at Buffy where she was making herself a bed in the backseat. "You gonna be okay back there?"
"Yup, really comfy car."
"Yeah," Xander said with a small smile, "but you woulda liked the Spyder."
"We don't need another car," Oz told him.
"But your Range Rover is getting old."
"See, old. I'll give you this one if I can have that one." Oz shook his head as he pulled onto the ferry dock. "So, we'll get rid of the van."
"No," Oz said forcefully. "It's a reminder to me."
"I could handle that, it's just living in the garage now."
"Okay, so we're back to having two cars."
"Which is all we really need," Oz pointed out. "Jonathan has the big van and we each have cars."
"But I want one so *bad* Oz," Xander whispered, leaning closer to him. "Please?"
"Please," Xander whispered, dropping his voice to make it sound sexy, taking a small lick over the soft neck. "I'll *beg*."
"You'll be doing that tonight anyway," Oz told him. "No."
"Pretty please?" Xander laid his head on the slightly older man's shoulder, and one hand on his thigh, tracing little figures on the inside of it. "Pretty please, love?"
"No," Oz said, weaker this time. "We don't need one."
"We don't not need one."
Buffy laughed. "Can I drive so you two can work it out back here?"
"No," Xander said. "I'm territorial about this car." He smiled up at Oz. "But I'd give it to my baby if he wanted it." His mate looked down at him, shaking his head.
"No," Oz said very weakly. "We don't need a third car." The hand on his leg moved up closer to his crotch to draw some more, the fingernails scratching lightly on the fabric of his jeans. "Xander," he sighed. "We'll see?"
"You can have the Jag," Xander whispered, "and I'll be your willing love slave."
"You already are," Oz pointed out.
"Point, but I'll do that *thing* you've been wanting to try."
"No, I'll let you try it with me."
"I...." Oz shut his mouth, head hanging now. "Why do you do this to me?"
"Because I love you," Xander whispered, stealing a kiss. He sat back up when he saw the ferry pulling up. "Boat."
Oz turned to look at him. "We'll discuss this later tonight."
"Okay." Xander leaned back in his own seat, adjusting his seat belt so it was on properly.
"Just don't do what they did in that movie the kids were watching the other day," Buffy said.
"Parenthood," Xander said, grinning. "No, Buff, I won't make him have an accident because I..." Oz covered his mouth with a hand as he rolled down the window to show their pass to the attendant. He licked and sucked on the palm, earning a dirty look from his mate as they parked. "Nope, no interstate lovin' for us."
Oz shook his head. "Sure you won't," he said, looking over his shoulder at Buffy. "Don't give him ideas."
"Sorry," she said with a little cackle and a grin. "I'm just a naughty girl today."
"Uh-huh. Don't make us leash you so you don't get lost in LA," Xander told her. "Though I'm sure someone would find it cute." She kicked his seat. "Easy, don't break Oz's car."
"Keep it up and have to rent one when you want speed," Oz warned.
"Yes sir," Xander said meekly, looking up under his lashes.
"So cruel." The older man leaned over, grabbing his husband's head to kiss him hard. "Behave. Or else."
"Me?" Xander asked innocently.
Buffy followed the couple into their bank, hers being closed, and smiled at the teller. Xander took her check, endorsing it with her, and handed all three over to their usual teller. "Road trip," he told her with a faint smile. He felt really weird about liking or joking about this trip. She handed back their envelopes.
"Have a nice trip," she said cheerfully.
Xander nodded, following Buffy back out to the car, then stopped beside the driver's side door, waiting on Oz. "What's up?" he asked his mate as he looked at the paper he was reading. "We have that on diskette at home. What did you need to know?"
"Whether or not we can afford your car." Oz walked around to the passenger's side to get in. "Why do we have hard term investments?"
"So we have it and can't touch it unless we're willing to pay the ten percent fine." Xander slid into his seat. "It rolls over in a few days, I'll have them hold it." Oz nodded so he got out, heading back into the bank. He came back out a few minutes later, leaning into the car. "We can withdraw it into our normal accounts, that okay?" Oz got out and followed him inside to get it all down for himself.
Buffy sat up, watching the traffic flow until her drivers finished their serious business.
Xander watched Buffy's back as she walked into Angel's office. "Is this the right thing?"
"She needs it," Oz told him. "It's time to settle her affairs."
Buffy took a deep breath before walking into her ex's office, nodding at Cordelia Chase, who was manning the front desk. "Hey, Angel in?" The other woman nodded, silently getting up to hug her. "They told ya, huh," she said flatly. Her former Slayerette nodded, leading them to a couch. "I'm okay, really. They gave me some warning this time so I'm dealing."
Wesley cleared his throat. "Angel's getting up now." He awkwardly patted her shoulder. "How are you?"
"I'm dealing. I'm letting them handle the details so I just have to deal with my head." She smiled bravely. "I'm dealing."
He nodded. "If you'd like to read the original Chronicles, just ask." She nodded, looking over his shoulder.
Angel walked in, nodding at his ex. "Buffy. Want to come downstairs and talk?" She nodded and took his hand, allowing him to lead her. They ended up on his couch, staring at each other across the distance of the silence. "So," he said finally.
"I just needed to settle things and...and to ask a favor." She looked down at her clenched hands. "I want you here when..." She looked up in time to see his nod. "Thanks."
He touched her arm. "I realize this is hard for you, and if you want me there, I will be."
"Thanks." She looked back down at her hands. "They, um, are planning on doing it by shock." He squeezed her wrist. "It just seems wrong."
"I understand. How would you fix it?"
"Weaken me," she said, her eyes flashing as she looked up. "Not kill me, or turn me, but I need to be weaker." He shook his head. "Angel, I need this. Just shocking me isn't worth it and I'll fight. I'd kill whoever's holding the paddles. I'll need to be weaker, and I trust *you* to do it."
He started to open his mouth then closed it, taking some time to think. "I'm not sure I can," he said finally.
"I know it's painful, but I *need* this."
He nodded. "If I can't, I'll find someone *I* trust." He looked away from the sadness in her eyes. "Not even Angelus could do that." She nodded, her head going back down. "I'll try. And if I can't, I'll ask someone like Nick." She nodded. "Why else are you here?"
"I had to put us behind me," she said softly. "Tie up loose ends." He reached over, pulling her in for a hug. "Those two must be good influences."
Angel laughed. "Yeah, Cordy's trying to humanize me." He let her go, brushing some hair off her face. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you about the happiness clause in the curse."
She hit his arm. "Good." But she smiled.
Xander lay down on their hotel room's couch, closing his eyes. "We going to call the kids?" he asked his husband, who was wandering around the room behind him.
"They're fine," Oz told him gently, "but we should talk." One brown eye opened to look up at him as he leaned down. "I've been offered a spot in a summer internship."
"Then we have to decide on Grad schools." Xander sat up, kissing his mate's cheek. "My GRE scores were really good and I have good grades."
"Yeah, I'd like to." Oz nodded for him to go on. "But I was wondering where you were putting aps in."
"Berkeley and State." Oz walked around to sit beside the younger man. "I've been accepted to both."
"I got accepted by all three schools I applied to, but my advisor's begging me to stay. I'd love Berkeley though." He snuggled in closely. "I'd go to State if you decided there just to stay with you."
"I'd like Berkeley," Oz admitted. He looked over as the suite's door opened. "Hey. Go okay?" he asked Buffy.
"Yeah, it went okay." She sat down next to them. "He and Cordy are together, which shocked me, and Wes is seeing her with Angel's permission so she doesn't forget she's human." She shrugged. "It works for them."
Xander nudged her with his foot. "You have two more days."
"I'll go look around tomorrow. What's the d.t.?"
"Grad school," Oz told her.
"I don't have to worry about that, no matter which way it goes. My little degree in Physical Therapy is useful around the house but I may not use it otherwise."
"Oz got offered a summer internship."
"Good, but I guess it's a bad too." They nodded. "I'll let you guys discuss, I'm going to enjoy the amenities."
"Where is it?" Xander asked quietly once they were alone.
"A camp in New York for teens. I'd be going two weeks after finals."
"Can I be selfish and tell you not to go?"
"Nothing's decided yet," Oz said gently, squeezing his mate and rubbing down his arm. "I don't want to go that far away and from talking with them, it's iffy right now."
"They don't like you? How dare they not like you," Xander said, a little happier.
"I don't like their politics actually. They've told kids that their orientation was irrelevant to who they are, even though some of the kids are put there by their parents because of their orientation." His husband winced. "Yeah, but I didn't apply for this one, it was part of the package where you applied once and it was sent to all these places."
"I got offered one with the orientation camp on the other side of our island."
"Congrats." Xander grinned up at him.
"I'm going to ask Derek if I can take it."
"Forgot about that," Oz admitted.
"New York house," Xander reminded him.
"Middle of nowhere."
"If I could get into yours it'd be nice."
"They have three openings," Xander said as he turned to look at his husband. "Oz, I'd love to work beside you. I have the card on my dresser, and I'd love to suggest you."
"I'll look at the information packet later." They kissed. "Let's call the kids," Oz said, pulling back. His mate nodded.
Oz watched his husband dance with their friend, letting Buffy let go. He looked down as his pager went off, smiling at the message.
Xander grinned as he jogged back to the table, hugging his husband so he could read the message too. "Such a goof," he said fondly, giving Oz a small squeeze. "Nick's a big goof."
Buffy bounced into her seat, sipping her drink. "Nick?" Oz handed it over and she smiled. "You're right, he's a goof." She handed the pager back. "Come dance with me, Oz?" she asked, begging cutely when he shook his head. "Oh, come on. Xander did."
"I'm not that graceful," he told her. She blinked and he shook his head. "I'll allow you to keep borrowing Xander."
"But he's being anti-rhythmic again." She smiled at them. "Come on, both of you." She got up, tugging them with her. She ended up between them, and then marveled at the changes that came over the couple as they flowed around her.
Xander grinned at Oz, pulling him closer - and Buffy since she was between them -, starting back into their personal existence. He heard the quiet growl so joined their ringed hands, connected them on a deeper level as they looked into each other's eyes. The world fell away from their little group, the music insulating them. They moved closer to Buffy as they picked up on her excitement, becoming almost one entity. Another woman came up to try and pull one of the men away but they ignored her until she walked away pouting. As she got deeper into the inner world the couple was creating around her Buffy wrapped an arm around Oz, pulling him closer, almost resting against him while she smelled his neck. She let Xander turn her around, doing the same to him, her heartbeat picking up as Oz snuggled up to her back. She looked up at Xander and he kissed her forehead as the music wound down.
They slowly parted, heading back to their table, Oz sliding his pager back into his pocket since it was laying out in the open. He let Buffy take the seat between them, taking Xander's hand across the small table. They had been talking about how to cushion her needs without allowing her to get between them, and it looked like tonight was a good night to start.
"Wow," she whispered. "So that's how it is between you guys." Xander nodded, squeezing her hand when he and Oz each picked up one of them. "Can I be jealous?"
"Sure," Oz told her. "It's reasonable."
"What we have is special," Xander told her. She smiled at them. "Let's call it a night," he suggested, winking at Oz. "We still have to go visit Angel tomorrow before we leave."
Oz nodded, finishing his ginger ale and pulling Buffy up when he stood. "Okay."
Buffy knocked hesitantly on the couple's door. Xander opened it and pulled her inside, putting her between them again. "Shh," he whispered, stroking her hair. "We'll fight the nightmare monsters for you."
She closed her eyes, the nightmares that had been plaguing her since she had been told she was going to die not coming to her that night.
Xander walked into Angel's office, smiling at his ex, Cordelia. "Can you talk?"
She nodded, picking up her purse, and led him out to a little park not far away. "What's up?" She saw his ring, so picked his hand up to look at it. "Very pricey and individual."
He grinned, blushing slightly. "Yeah, but we like them." He took a deep breath. "Our boss gave them to us and my husband picked out the new stones with me." Her mouth fell open. "Yeah, the person who made me happiest was Oz."
She hugged him, blinking in shock. "Um, this is kinda...a shock." She pulled back, hitting his arm. "No wonder you hesitated when we were dating. Did you know then?"
"Kinda, but I didn't want to admit it, not even to myself. I never lied to you," he told her, patting her clenched hands.
"Yeah, okay, but how?"
"That's a very long story but I can sum it up in one word. Willow." He winced, pushing the memories of her back again. "Who isn't with us anymore."
"I'm sorry," she said softly, cupping the side of his face in her hand. "Was it a demon?"
"She's not dead," Oz said, sitting down behind Xander. "She went bad and left us after she connected us."
Cordy smiled at him. "You make him happy, and that's what matters. But you'd better keep him happy or else I will come for you." She and Oz shared a look.
Xander frowned briefly at her the pulled out his wallet. "Want to see our kids?" Her mouth moved but no sound came out. "Willow had them but they're all ours." He pulled out the picture taken a few days earlier. "Our family." He took Oz's hand while she looked them over.
Her mouth fell open again as she looked up. "All of them?" she squeaked. Oz nodded. "I am *so* glad I didn't have that many."
"It's a quad and two singles," Oz explained.
"Oz caught the quad and I caught the dark haired one," Xander told her, smiling now. Her reaction was about what he had expected. "The little guy is about eight weeks old." She handed it back but he waved her off. "We have forty more of that picture."
She slid it into her wallet. "I'm happy that you're happy," she said, kissing his cheek and standing up, heading back to her job.
Oz waited until they were alone to kiss his husband's cheek. "Not so hard." Xander nodded, leaning into his body. "She accepted."
"Her eyes were really sad."
"I would expect that. She was considering what you two had." He squeezed his mate. "Let's go back to our kids."
"Okay," Xander said as he pulled both of them up. "I'm sure they've driven someone insane. Maybe that's why Nick paged us to tell us he loved us." He grinned. "At least it wasn't the car."
Xander stopped then smiled, grabbing his husband to pick him up and dance around with him. "Thank you, thank you, thank you." He slid his mate down his body, kissing him gently. "Thank you," he whispered with a second kiss.
"The jag is both of ours," Oz said and Xander nodded. "You really want to go to Berkeley with me?" he asked as he started them walking again. "We'll have different emphasis, meaning lots of different classes."
"Not if I go into the counseling program under the orientation emphasis." His hand was squeezed. "I think I'd like that area and I could still become Dr. Ruth."
Oz stopped them, hugging the younger man. "If you're happy then it's a good."
"That's why I signed up for my internship, to find out if I like it enough to do it." He kissed his husband again, deeply probing his mouth. "Come on, I want to hug the babies." He dragged his husband the last few feet to the car, getting in to the passenger's side.
Xander walked into Derek's office, stealing his son with a blown kiss at him, and walking back out without saying anything. Derek frowned at the laughing man on the screen. "It's not funny," he objected.
The London Precept, still laughing, ran his fingers through his dark hair then over his swarthy face. "He missed them, some as you did him. Admit it, Derek, if you could do that you would."
Derek smiled, leaning back in his chair. "Of course I would. What else do we have to work out in the emergency plans?"
Xander laid the baby on the bed, looking down at the wiggling body. "Are you happy?" he asked with a smile. Junior grunted. He looked at his eldest daughter, who had followed him up. "Precious, should we test him for speech problems?" She nodded. "Did you have fun terrorizing Uncle Nick?" She smiled around her thumb, nodding. "Okay, what's up? You're *never* this quiet when we get back from a trip."
"We have *ANIMALS*!" she yelled, hugging his legs and bouncing around.
Oz winced as he walked in. "We have runaway animals." Xander winced. "They're down taking over the kitchen."
"Ah, a coup." He looked down at their daughter. "We'll talk about the animals tonight." Precious nodded, running out. "Uh-oh," Xander whispered. "Derek will kill us."
"Nick's going to do it first," Oz noted. "He had to deal with it." He lay down beside their youngest child. "What did you want to test him for?"
"The others cooed and made noises at us, Junior just grunts." His husband nodded. "We were going to have his hearing tested anyway."
"Okay, we'll make an appointment with Marcus." He brushed down his son's face, down the soft, dark skin. "It's about time for you to go in anyway."
"Yup, he can scream at the needles too."
"Got a few months before the next batch of those," Oz reminded him.
"Okay." Xander lay on the other side of their son, leaning in for a kiss.
Adam cleared his throat from the doorway. "Please remove your menagerie from the kitchen." He scowled at the laughter. "Now, boys. Don't make me traumatize your children by throwing the animals out of the house." He grunted and fell to his knees as something hit the back of his legs.
"Stop it," Oz called. Brandon and Precious walked in around the man they had hit with the sticks they were carrying. "You're not supposed to bring the forest inside," he reminded them.
"Apologize," Xander said sternly.
"No, he mean to animals," Precious said, glaring.
"They don't belong in the kitchen," Adam told them, then had to cover his now-bleeding face. "Brats," he said, glaring at the little girl that had hit him again.
Oz was up and caught the stick before she could hit the housekeeper again. "No!"
"He bad!" she protested, pointing at him and stomping her foot.
"No, he's not bad. He's right about animals not belonging in the kitchen."
"Or at the table," Xander added.
"Anyplace else but those two places," he told them.
She pouted but her fathers stayed firm so she eventually nodded. "No animals in kitchen or at table," she said, her voice very deflated sounding, her head hung so much her brother hugged her.
"No animals?" Brandon asked.
"We'll see," Xander said, getting up and walking over to look at them, going to his knees to be on their level. "They could belong to someone else who'd want them back."
"Or it could be a goat," Adam said, getting up now that Precious wasn't holding him in place. He headed into the bathroom to clean himself up.
"A goat?" Xander said, looking up at Oz then at the kids again. "A goat?"
"Baby goat," Brandon informed him. "Jus' like brother."
Xander and Oz shared a look. "What else?" Oz asked, almost afraid of the answer.
"Baby baa," Precious told them. "And baby kitties."
"And little pony," Brandon reminded her, making his sister nod and grin. "Xanny like her."
Xander groaned. "We have a zoo."
"A petting zoo," Adam said as he walked back out to frown at them. "Their ferry crashed and Nick had your darlings down by the ocean to watch the birds so they saved them."
Oz rubbed over his face. "That all?"
"Four kittens, a baby or a miniature goat, a sheep of the same size, a miniature horse, and a parrot." He frowned down at the children. "All of which are living in a corner of the kitchen because it was *raining*."
Xander coughed as he stood up. "Put them out in the greenhouse. The kids are down there all the time, and it has lots of doors."
"And concrete floors that can be hosed clean," Oz added. He looked down at the children. "Put the animals out in the greenhouse. They'll be safe out there and you guys can camp on the lawn tonight." He patted Adam's arm. "Sorry."
"No permanent damage." The housekeeper herded the children back out. "Dinner's in a few hours, it's about to be ordered."
Oz shut the door, leaning against it. He and Xander started to laugh. They ended up clutched together on the floor, slowly easing off into gasps. "Derek's got to be ready to kill them," Oz gasped.
Xander nodded. "Wonder how he punished Nick."
Buffy walked in, shaking her head. "Have you seen your kids yet?" They started to laugh again. "Okay, guess that's a yes." She walked over to the bed, taking the baby. "Come on, your dads' need to giggle." She walked out the door, closing it behind her, gently removing the baby's hand from her bra.
"Oops," they said together and started laughing again.
Derek smiled as he felt the body walk up behind him, expecting it to be either his lover or Nick since they planned on escaping later that night. "It speaks well of them, how much they care for the injured animals."
"That may be," Adam told him, smiling slightly as his boss jumped, "but it 's going to hurt when they leave."
Derek turned, looking at him. "I'm sure not all of them will. One of the kittens will more than likely stay. I'm sure they have a plan to hide it under a bed or some such place."
"Their own child will want them back." Adam turned to survey his domain, now cleaned and sanitized again. "I'm sure they'll get over it."
"Eventually," Derek said quietly, turning back around to watch the tent Nick had set up against one door of the greenhouse.
Oz walked up behind his husband, wrapping his arms around the trim waist. "It's good for them."
"It's not Christmas," Xander said quietly.
"Huh?" He turned the younger man around to look at him.
"I used to camp in our backyard every Christmas Eve." He looked down into his mate's gray eyes. "I used to have to."
"Not anymore," Oz told him, equally quiet. "Neither do they. They never will."
Xander nodded. "I know, but the thought hit me. They were happy to go out and camp. A complete 180 from me."
"And from me," Oz told him, pulling them over to the bed. "Will you listen?"
"Of course." Xander pulled himself out of his head, rubbing down his husband's arms to soothe him.
"You know my parents are divorced right?" Xander nodded. "Well, she's had a few long-term boyfriends since they split when I was five. Only one of them was bad so I guess I was kinda lucky."
"Verbal, psychological abuse really." He took a deep breath, relaxing. "He never told me I was stupid, I was always too smart. Inhumanly too smart. Fucking too smart to be human or normal." Xander hissed. "Yeah, *that* word, that's where it came from. Every time he talked about me, I was that 'fucking kid that was too smart to be human or normal'. He never hurt me, but for a long time I thought I was abnormal."
"You are," Xander said and hastily went on at the pain on his love's face. "No ordinary person would ever understand and love me. No ordinary man would have stayed with the Scoobies this long. No *ordinary* man would ever be able to do all you've done and helped me heal the way you have."
"So I'm abnormal but it's in a superior way?" Oz asked with the hint of a smile.
Xander smiled and nodded. "Special."
"Okay, I can accept that." He hugged the younger man. "You're just as special, Xander," he whispered, kissing him.
They stopped at the cleared throat. "Hi, dad," Xander said as he pulled Oz down so he could rest on his stomach. "Come in, we gotta talk about school stuff."
Derek pulled a chair over, sitting down facing them. "What did you need?"
"Internships," Oz told him, patting Xander's hair. "I'm going to turn down the one I was offered, I don't like their politics."
"I got accepted into the gay/lesbian teen one on the other side of the island," Xander said. "I'm trying to seduce Oz into coming with me."
"Don't you have to stay there?" Derek asked.
"Only on our on-call nights since we only live over here."
"But we'll be gone most of the day," Oz said. "If I took that other one, I'd be in backwoods New York."
Derek sighed. "I supposed we can spare you now since the work load has lessened considerably."
"You can always call us back if we both get in over there," Oz reminded him.
"Twenty minutes away and we'll be here all but one or two nights a week," Xander told him. "It's also only six weeks long, but it's a good thing. The kids need this, it's esteem and self building, and it creates a stronger gay community in the new generation, makes them feel like they aren't alone."
"I don't disagree with it," Derek said, "actually, we help fund it. How long have you known?"
"Thursday," the couple said together.
"But I'm not going to New York."
Xander got up, coming back with an envelope which he handed to his mate before laying back down. "Will me, or us, being over there for six weeks be a bad?"
Derek smiled. "As long as we can reach both of you if needed." He turned to look at Oz. "Don't feel that you have to do an internship, you could claim your time counseling here as internship hours. It might be a stretch but on a graduate application, you can explain." Oz nodded. "We also have to make plans about the children's education soon."
"Jon's eligible to home school," Xander told him. "And so's Adam from what he's said."
Derek laughed lightly. "He's much more than able to teach them. He has much graduate work under his belt." He calmed himself. "We should discuss the future of Buffy's position also."
"Jon knows who it is," Oz offered.
"If you asked Buffy, I think she might like to meet her, just to make sure she's good to take the job." Derek nodded at the wiseness. "Just ask her *before* you call her. Flame, wasn't it?" he asked his husband.
Oz nodded. "Yeah, and he said something about being with other Watchers but not the Buffy kind?" He looked at Derek and shrugged. "Not a clue."
"Then Adam might have one," Derek said gently. He stood up, patting the boys' feet and put his chair back, leaving them alone.
"Okay, I want snuggles," Xander pronounced. "I haven't had anything but cuddles for three whole days and I felt you looking at my cock in the car." He rolled to his knees, moving to straddle his mate's body. "We should get naked and cling."
"Okay, but it's your turn to clean up the mess." Oz tugged at Xander's shirt. "Come on, I've been wanting this for days too."
Xander laughed, getting up to get undressed, slowly teasing his lover.
Derek found Adam in the kitchen, watching him scrub a pot. "How do you know Flame?" he asked, walking in after the housekeeper had dropped the pot.
"Who?" Adam asked calmly.
"You heard me, Methos, how do you know the next Slayer?" He leaned against the counter at the small gasp. "Didn't know that she was?"
"No, I had no idea." He turned to face his boss. "She actually picked my pocket one day. She's a fiery little minx, part Hispanic, part English, I believe her mother was a Watcher, or very nearly one." He put down the sponge he had been cleaning with. "How do you know it's her?"
"The Watcher's Council is reforming and the nanny is one of them." They both smiled at that. "He told the boys and Rupert who it was going to be."
"Ah, I see. And they figured it out?"
"Apparently," Derek agreed.
"Would you like me to get in touch with her?"
"I'm not sure yet. I wanted to talk to Buffy first."
"She's out on the porch," Adam said, pointing at the figure on the swing. "She grabbed the tub of ice cream and headed out there almost an hour ago." Derek nodded, walking out. He picked up the phone, dialing his home number. "Joe?" he asked in surprise. "Where's my student?" He leaned against the counter, tracing the lines in the marble. "No, I think I'll be bringing her down here with me. No, she's the next Slayer and I believe they want to teach her a few extra things." He snorted. "Years ago, you would have said the same thing about Immortals," he reminded him, hanging up.
Buffy walked in before Derek, tipping her head. "Giles and I will go get her if it's okay with you. I would like to talk to her, give her a heads-up and stuff." Adam nodded. "Can you get her to meet us?"
"I'll call Joe back and have him meet you at his bar with her when you get there. Are you going tomorrow?"
"Yeah, we should. But it'll probably take us two days. Giles won't let me drive and he can't go that long." She grabbed a banana, walking out of the kitchen.
Derek tossed the empty ice cream container into the trash and the spoon into the sink. "She's being very calm about this still," he said quietly.
"She's not trying to toss it aside at least. You really only have to worry if she starts to ignore it." He picked back up the phone. "Joe? Yes, I know, but I'm sending two people up to get her. The person presently holding the job and her Watcher. No, a different branch at some point way back when." He shook his head and hung up. "That man," he sighed.
"I have a record of the split, I'll send a copy up to him," Derek said with a small pat to the immortal's shoulder. "You best rest. The children will be up early and I doubt Jonathan will be with them."
"Goody," Adam said dryly.
TO BE CONTINUED...