Problems with Leave Takings.
Derek knocked on his bedroom door, sticking his head around to look at his lover and the other man he wanted, but who still wasn't sure, giving them a smile. "Can I help?" he asked, walking in. It was almost time for them to leave on the last ferry out, heading off for God only knew where so Philip could think.
Nick tossed over an empty bag. "Philip needs help. I'm mostly done."
Derek headed over to Philip's dresser, setting the bag on a chair beside it and carefully began packing underwear and socks in it. "I do wish you would tell me where you're going," he said quietly, paying attention to what he was doing as he switched to the t-shirt drawer. "I wouldn't worry as much if I knew." Derek felt strong arms wrap around his waist and turned to find Philip hugging him. "I worry, love," he said, kissing the top of Philip's head. "I understand why you need this but..."
Philip kissed him gently. "I know," he said quietly, his accent returning to closer to what it had been, the effect of his manipulation at the hands and mind of another priest healing slowly. "I'll worry about ya too," he said, squeezing him. "If I had any idea, I'd tell ya, you know that."
Derek nodded, wrapping his arms around Philip's still and calm body. "I know. It's just in my nature to be protective of the ones I love." He smiled at the hard squeeze he got. "I know you'll take care of Nick and keep him out of trouble, but it's you I'm worried about. You never can tell what sort of thing Nick could drag you into when you go to save him. Maybe even a cult or something."
"Funny," Nick said dryly, tossing a rolled up pair of socks at them. "I don't drag you into trouble, you lead." He walked over, hugging Philip from behind. "I'll take good care of him, Derek. I'll even be as protective as you are." He grinned. "But I won't send him mushy things at work."
"So it *was* you that sent me the flowers that got us caught," Philip said, smacking Derek's shoulder. "I shoulda known." He wiggled out of the restraining arms. "We'll be fine," he reminded them. "I'm searching and I have my faithful bodyguard with me. No one'll touch us." He leaned into Derek's body again, stealing a long kiss. "Now, help me pack. I know it's summer, but I could use a real shirt. Just in case we end up in one of those infamous summer cold spells."
Derek nodded, turning back around to the dresser, and pulled out the shirts he knew Philip liked and he liked to see him in.
Derek continued to wave as the blue sedan disappeared around the bend in the driveway, standing there until he couldn't hear the engine any longer. He turned to find Xander standing behind him, gratefully stepping into his outstretched arms. "I'll miss them," he admitted. "The house is never the same when they're gone."
"He'll be back," Xander soothed, rubbing over Derek's hair. "You need to go sit and write about this," he suggested, leading the older man up the rest of the stairs and inside the castle, kicking the door closed behind them before leading Derek up to his room. "Here," he said, pushing open the door. "I want you to go write about how much you'll miss them and how you're going to make up much worse things about what they're doing than what actually happens." Derek smiled weakly at that. "Fantasize about them in your journal," he said, pushing him inside and closing the door with a, "Goodnight, dad." He headed up to the top floor, heading up to his husband, who was curled up in bed reading a textbook to Junior, their last child. He laid down in front of them, leaning down to kiss the nine-week-old baby's thin, dark hair and the cinnamon colored skin under it. "He's in his room and they got off safely," he said quietly, stroking down Oz's face with the side of his hand. "Dad's going to be a wreck for the next few days."
"Then we'll take up some of the slack," Oz said, pushing Junior over. "I think he's ready to lie down for the night."
Xander got up, heading to the cradle under the window in their sitting area, laying the baby carefully down on the sheet. "Goodnight, Junior," he whispered, covering him with a light sheet and standing there to watch as the little boy fell asleep. He felt Oz walk up behind him so leaned into the welcoming body. "I hope they're going to be okay too."
"Me too," Oz said, kissing the spot between Xander's shoulder blades. "But not even Nick and Philip can get into too much trouble. I'm sure they'll check each other." Xander nodded, slumping more into his arms. "Come on, I need a cuddle." Oz led him back to their bed, tucking him in then lying down beside him to pull him into his arms. "Night, Xan," he whispered.
"Night, Oz," Xander whispered back, clinging to his husband and burying his nose in the warm, scented space between the older man's neck and shoulder. "I'll be okay tomorrow."
"You're okay now," Oz soothed. "Just a little sad." He rubbed the soft back. "I think we should make Derek take the kids tomorrow to cheer him up. Maybe make him take them on a picnic down in the gardens."
Xander chuckled. "That's a good idea. Xandra and Serena will cure his unhappies and Precious will bounce and play with him." He squeezed his husband's hard body. "You're very smart."
"Yup, a genius," Oz said, squeezing Xander back, "after all, I got you."
"True," Xander said, pulling his head away from the warm spot to shoot a grin up at his love. "Guess that makes me a super brain for stealing you."
"One of the smartest men I know."
Derek looked up in alarm as he heard the children running toward him calling his name. "What?" he asked, catching Brandon, who ran into him first. "What happened?"
"Picnic!" they yelled, jumping up and down.
"We go now?" Xandra asked, giving him her best, biggest, begging eyes.
Derek smiled at them. "Am I taking you on a picnic?" They all nodded, quieting down, every single one of the five children pouting now. "Let's see what Adam's packed for us then we'll go. All right?" That got another group cheer and the children all ran toward where they could see Adam standing outside. Derek watched in amusement as the immortal known as Adam tried to get away from their grabbing hands, trying to shoo the children away. The man was transparent when it came to them, but he hated being mobbed by the children. Eventually the temporary butler walked back inside, frowning at Derek.
"I wish you had told me, I would have packed you a lunch already."
Derek smiled at him. "I know you'll do us proud, Adam." He reached over to grab Precious, picking her up and holding her on his lap. "Who spoiled the surprise?"
"Daddy," Precious said, nodding. "He say we go do something special with you."
Derek kissed the top of her head, trying to put her back down but giving in at the pout she leveled at him. "They were very correct. We'll go have a picnic and walk around outside. How's that?"
"Did you want to take the basket now or do I have some time?" Adam asked, pulling food out of the big refrigerator to feed them all.
"We'll come back for it," Derek said after a moment's thought. "But do pack us a snack and drinks in case we need to take a rest break." He looked at Timothy. "Would you get the pack Jonathan uses when he takes you out?" The little boy hopped up and down a few times then ran up the back stairs.
Derek smiled at Xander and Oz as they walked in. "Thank you," he said quietly, hugging each of them. "It was what I needed."
Xander nodded. "I know. And Jon's sick too. Got a bad case of the flu." He sat down at the table, pulling Oz closer to him once he had sat down. "What's for food?" he asked.
"Gruel," Adam said, setting a well-filled plate down in front of them, knowing that the couple shared food almost always, or at least when they could get away with sharing a plate. "Eat all of it or I'm going to lock you out of every room in this house." He turned and headed back to his snack preparation.
Derek smiled at the man he considered his son. "Xander, I'm expecting a call from William this afternoon. We'll probably be out in the gardens then, please come and get me."
"Will," Xander said, stealing the food off the fork Oz was holding for him. "Don't want to talk to grandad anyway." He kissed his mate before taking the next bite, taking the fork to feed him for a few minutes.
Adam watched them and shook his head. "You two need to have a life outside of each other."
"Shh, we're cute," Oz said.
"And newlyweds," Xander reminded. "We're supposed to be cuddly."
"I marry someone like you," Precious said. Oz looked at her. "'Cause then I'd be cuddled too," she explained happily.
Oz nodded. "Yeah, we'll make sure you find a good someone to marry when you're ready."
"Like when you're old and twenty or so," Xander said, reaching over to tug on a curl and pinch her nose. "There should still be some then." She slapped his hand. "There will be," he said.
Derek rolled his eyes. "Oz, feed your mate. He's obviously delirious from lack of food."
"It's from lack of sleep," Xander said with a yawn. "Junior got up last night."
Derek gave them a concerned look. "I thought he was mostly sleeping through the night."
"He is, mostly," Oz said, "but apparently he was having nightmares or something." He looked at Xander, who nodded. "I think we need to test him for the sight, Derek. He shouldn't be having nightmares and he's real quiet recently."
Derek sipped at his juice. "We will. He's almost old enough to be tested." He accepted the plate Adam put down in front of him. "I wonder what's taking Tim so long?"
"He's probably stopped in to check on Jon," Oz said, pushing back from Xander, who had the fork, and heading up the back stairs. He found Tim in the middle of the hallway outside of the nursery holding Junior. "Why'd you get him up?" he asked, squatting down in front of his sons. "He was sleeping."
"He have nightmares," Timmy said, looking up, petting his brother's stomach. "He cry."
"Oh." He stopped to think for a second, and then a plan formed. He knew both boys were receivers, they routinely picked up on Precious' visions, so maybe they could pick up on the baby's too. Oz shifted so he was sitting in front of the boys, looking down at his older son. "Can you see his dreams the way you do Precious'?" he asked quietly. Timmy nodded. "What's he seeing?" Derek cleared his throat as he walked up behind him. "No, we know that they can and if that's happening, it must be important."
"He see a bad stormy, 'nother one," Timmy said slowly, looking up, his face showing sadness. "A big, shiny circle in the center of it. And Mommy." He sniffled. "She walk into it," he said, starting to cry, shifting over so his father could pick him up and make it better. "She go 'way," he cried, hiding his face in his father's shirt.
Derek held out a hand, taking Junior. "I'll start the research," he said, taking the baby downstairs with him.
Oz cradled his son gently, making soothing sounds to calm him down. "Timmy," he said once the little boy was calm, "you know that Mommy's not leaving you. Not really." His son shook his head. "She's not. Willow will always be a part of us. She's yours, and the other guys', mother and she was the first person I loved. She'll never not be a part of our lives."
"You love daddy," Timmy reminded him.
"I do, very much, but I loved your mother first and that makes her special. I'm always going to love your daddy, Timmy, there's nothing and no one that can tear us apart. Okay?"
"You love Mommy but Daddy is special to you?" Oz nodded, hugging him tightly. "Oh, squeezies." He squeezed back. "Thank you."
"You're welcome." Oz dropped a kiss on the boy's dark red hair. "You can always ask me questions about her, and anything else. Your daddy and I both." He released Timmy, watching as he dragged the snack bag down the stairs. Once he was alone he sighed and stood, heading back down to share the news. Halfway down, he found Xander, who simply hugged him tightly, holding on until he was his usual calm self. "We've got to talk. Junior's seeing Willow."
"That's what Derek said," Xander told him, pushing around his husband's hair. "I'm willing to fight to save her, if you want I'll even let you come help."
Oz snorted then pulled the younger man's head down to kiss. "We're fighting for her," he said, stealing the kiss, leaning against the hard body. "But she's not coming back here."
"Then she won't," Xander said. "I don't want her back." He looked down. "You really don't..." Oz put a hand over his mouth. "I know what sort of specialness first love is, Oz, and I'm not worried but it's a little twinge in that part of my mind."
"Don't twinge about it," Oz told him, turning them around so they could finish breakfast with their children. "She's not worth it. Twinge about Buffy."
"Been doing that too," Xander admitted as they passed Buffy's door. "I just hope I can bring her back this time too."
"Thought Derek was going to have the paddles," Oz said, leading the way.
"I have this suspicion I'll end up with them in the end," Xander said, stopping to knock on Buffy's door. "Breakfast, princess?" he called.
Buffy opened her door, glaring at them. "You're not touching the paddles. I don't want you to have guilty conscience syndrome because you couldn't bring me back. Oz would find me and kill me again."
Xander pulled her into a hug. "We'll worry about that when it's time to." He shoved her toward Oz. "Come on, I'm pretty sure we need to have a meeting, either the house or just us."
She nodded, wrapping an arm around Oz's waist. "How's the boss doing?"
"He's okay," Xander said calmly. "We sicced the kids on him." He grinned at the shocked look. "He's taking them on a picnic to ease his own pain."
"Ah, diversion therapy," Buffy said with a smile of her own. "Should work well with him. He's a master of it but he rarely sees it being used on him. No immunity."
"Exactly," Oz said, propelling her down the stairs. "Let's eat."
Derek walked into his office, answering his son's summons. "William?" he asked, pointing at the screen. Xander nodded, getting out of his seat. He took it, waiting until they were alone to activate the screen. "William," he said, giving him a semi-warm smile. He still wasn't too thrilled that the former London Precept had married his mother, but she was happy so he forgave him for it, most of the time.
"What's going on over there?" William asked, taking a sip from a teacup. "Your son looked like he was mentally preparing himself for a war."
"Junior's manifested the sight, or so it appears," Derek told him, relaxing. "The boys picked up on it. They saw Willow walking into a portal of some kind and disappearing."
"So you've been cheering each other up?" William suggested with a small smile. "Did you bug their car?"
"No." Derek rolled his eyes. "I'm worried but not that frantic." He shifted some. "What were we going to discuss? I've forgotten."
"Staff evaluations and how one house's performance has deteriorated beyond acceptable limits."
"Hmm, can we send another Precept in to check the first's observations?"
"Of course we can, I'll be there tonight," William said, hanging up.
"Oh, that was dirty," Derek muttered, getting up. "We've not fallen below expectations. We've actually surpassed them." He walked out the door, still talking to himself, only stopped by Alex grabbing his arm. "Yes?" he asked.
"What's wrong? You look like William's coming for a visit." She blocked his path, her arms crossed over her chest.
Derek frowned at his wife, whom he had married to allow Junior to come home, shaking his head. "It appears our house evaluation has fallen below standards."
"Is that because we haven't had a case in almost a month?" Alex suggested.
Derek nodded. "Probably. But William will be here tonight." She rolled her eyes, walking away. "I had hoped that settling down would have cured the problem he has for suddenly visiting," he said, walking beside her.
"Is your mom coming?" Alex asked.
"Who's visiting?" Adam said as they walked into the kitchen. "How many rooms do I have to make sure are ready?"
"One that I know of but it should just be William and my mother at most. They usually stay in the guest suite at the end of the hall." Derek patted his shoulder as they walked past him. "Did Giles and Buffy get off all right?"
"No, they're about to leave," Adam said. "Buffy forgot to pack last night." He shook his head. "I can't see how she could have ever done the job so well."
"She had Giles as a Watcher," Alex told him, shrugging. "He's kept the whole group intact. Even here they all perform better when he's around."
Xander looked up from his childcare duties at the table, grinning. "Does that mean that we can throw a wild party since he's going to be gone?"
"No," Derek said dryly. "Your father won't allow it."
"But dad," Xander whined. "We don't have anything to do."
Derek shook his head. "We have plenty to do, it's all just things you don't like." He looked at his grandson, watching him drink his bottle of breakfast. "May I? I'd like to see if my sight can pick up on what he saw."
Xander carefully handed him over. "Oz went to talk to the boys to get a good description of it."
"That is a clever way of using their unique gifts." Derek settled the little boy in his arms, brushing down his face with one finger. "So very pretty," he whispered. "You're going to be such a charmer when you're an adult." His sight went off and he blacked out, he hadn't gotten a vision this strong in years. When he came to, his head was on the table, Adam had Junior, and Xander was kneeling beside him. Derek sat up, rubbing his forehead. "Oh," he moaned, taking the glass of water Oz handed him. "Thank you." He watched the expectant faces around him become worried and for once he didn't blame them. Derek cleared his throat. "Oz, what did you get from the boys?"
"Big shiny portal that Willow walked into. It closed behind her. They said there was a person beside her but they couldn't see him." Oz sat down on Derek's other side, picking up his hand to start a soothing pressure point massage. "What did you see, Derek?" he asked quietly, using all the skills he had ever learned to help people with the sight stay calm enough to tell what they'd seen.
"I saw it from a different perspective, Philip's." He shuddered. "He was walking beside Willow and they were fighting over the portal. Something about closing it with a gatekeeper."
Xander coughed lightly. "A portal? Horizontal or vertical?"
"It started out vertical," Derek said, closing his eyes. "As they got closer, it tipped up to meet them. Inside, you could just barely see something trying to come out. Something green, with tentacles. It was in the ruins of a building, it looked burnt."
Xander looked at Oz, who nodded. The younger man got up and walked out of the room, going to stop Giles before he left. He found them standing on the front step, Giles reminding Buffy to be on her best behavior and that they didn't want to scare the new girl off. "Um, we've got a situation. Maybe you should wait a while longer." They both turned to look at him. "The Hellmouth's reopening."
Giles turned pale. "Why? I thought we had sealed it."
Buffy shuddered. "When? Did Derek say?"
"No, both he and Junior have had visions. Derek had one about Philip and Willow walking into it. Something about gatekeepers."
Giles dropped his bag, heading back inside, pushing Xander aside in his haste to get to the library. It took him a few minutes, but once he had found the book he wanted, he headed into the kitchen, the only place he could hear voices. He put the book down in front of Derek, pointing out a section. "This?" he asked quietly. Derek read it then nodded, his whole body slumping. "We'll just have to stop Philip then," he said, rubbing down his arm. "We have some time. It can't happen for another sixteen days."
Derek looked up. "We'd almost have to find someone else willing to stand guard," he said quietly.
"Willow," Oz reminded. "You said they were fighting. Was she wanting to go in too?"
Derek shrugged, relaxing slightly. "I don't know. I saw them sniping at each other but I didn't hear what they were saying."
Xander sat down beside Derek, picking up his other hand. "Think, was she walking in or casting?"
"She was walking in, trying to push him away," Derek said, his attitude brightening just a little. "They must have been fighting about who would do it." He looked at Xander and his smile falling away. "I'm sorry, son," he said, reaching to brush his free hand over Xander's cheek. "I'm sure she feels it's her duty for whatever reason." He of all people knew what feelings Xander still held for Willow, and he knew how confused they made his son.
Giles put down the book. "She may not be capable of holding the portal closed herself," he said, looking at the solemn group. "It says that they'll use her flaws against her. It will eventually reopen, just as soon as she gives way."
"How long?" Buffy asked from the doorway.
"Sixteen days before they can reopen it," Xander said. "How long can she hold it? She's not that tenacious without a reason. Give her a good one and she might hold it forever." He turned his head to look at her. "We'll be there," he promised, "and we'll take Flame to back you up if we have to."
Buffy nodded, walking farther into the room. "Okay. What are we doing right now?"
"You and Rupert should be going for Flame," Derek said, getting free of his family and standing up. "It's still important that she understands her role. We have time to plan otherwise, we'll talk when you get back." Buffy nodded. "Don't worry so much, Buffy, we'll all be there when it happens. I won't allow Philip to blindly walk into the Hellmouth any more than you would Willow." She nodded and turned, walking away from them. "Rupert, go do your duty," he said kindly. "I'll watch over your charges. All of them." Giles nodded, sharing a look with Derek before walking out. "Boys, start the research. I want to know exactly what is going to happen and how to stop it before it can start."
Xander nodded, standing up. "You know most of those books are in Latin, right?" Derek nodded. "Just as long as you realize we can't read part of it." He patted his father's arm. "Just relax, dad, we've got it. We don't want Philip to walk into the Hellmouth any more than you do." He nodded at Oz, who had taken Junior back from Adam and was feeding him. "Yell if you need me," he called as he walked out.
Derek looked down at Oz. "There's something else I'll need to talk to you about soon, Oz. The both of you, since it looks like you will be taking my place in the house someday." He headed out to the garden, wandering out among the calming paths.
Oz looked at Adam, who was pretending to scrub the counter. "You okay?" he asked quietly.
The immortal nodded. "More or less, same as always. Just thinking about someone else."
Oz stood up, handing over the empty bottle. "We all know someone who would take the chosen place just to stop it from being someone we love." He walked out of the room, heading for the library and his mate, the one he was thinking about who would go in instead.
"Yes, but some of them are more stubborn than others," Adam sighed, giving the counter one last swipe.
Xander shifted nervously, looking around Derek's office. His husband shot him a dirty look. "What?"
"Why are you scared? This isn't a bad. Probably just a training thing."
"Yeah, but they want you to take over. Maybe they'll end up sending you to a different house for a while."
Derek snorted as he walked in. "No, it's nothing like that. No one in the Legacy is that stupid." He sat down behind his desk. "Boys, there are a few traditions you have to know about. One will pertain probably more to Xander than to you, Oz, but you will have to know about it." He cleared his throat, picking up an old parchment to hand over. "This is one of the original house mandates."
"Like a commandment?" Oz asked, taking it to read. He handed it back after a second. "I can't read it," he admitted.
"It's in Greek," Derek said calmly. "It's about the distribution of skills in the house. It mandates that each house have a person who can read these, as well as all other pertinent languages. It also mandates that someone in the house needs to know how to control the elemental forces of life."
"Magic and languages, seems reasonable," Oz said. He nodded after a second. "I get it. Do you want one of us to take one of those spots?"
Derek nodded. "Please. I had thought Xander might be better suited toward learning magic though. While you have the control, he has the stronger will to make it happen. The passion and fire it takes to harness the energy." Oz nodded and Xander shook his head. "No?"
"No, Oz is the stronger of us."
"No, Xan," Oz said, picking up his hand to hold, merging the scars on their palms. "He's right, you'd be better for it. Magic and I wouldn't get along because of the wolf problem and you're the stronger willed of us. You out-stubborn Serena and Xandra."
Xander groaned. "I didn't expect this." He looked at his husband, who nodded, giving his hand a squeeze. "You won't bitch?"
"Nope, not at all," Oz said quietly. "As long as it doesn't become the focus of your life."
"Nope, not that much into it," he said, looking at his father. "That okay with you?"
"Yes, we just need to have someone here who can use the ability, they shouldn't make it the focus of their lives." He smiled gently at them. "We're not supposed to harbor those who use it as the focus of their lives."
Oz grunted. "Okay, dad. Was there anything else?"
"Why now?" Xander asked. "I thought we'd have a few years. I mean, Willow learned in almost a month how to use most everything that she did. She just had to build up to the bigger stuff."
Derek shook his head. "That's why she had so many problems, Xander. Magic isn't something that you learn overnight. It's something that you study, the way you have studied people for the last few years. It's a skill you practice and get good at. Most of the Legacy's people that can practice took a few years to learn all the basics then built up to bigger things like banishing spells and the like."
Xander nodded. "Okay, so this isn't a 'one of us is going to be leaving/dying soon so we have to train you now?"
"No," Derek said with a small chuckle. "Even if Philip were to ..." He took a deep breath. "Even if Philip..."
Oz held up a hand. "You wouldn't follow him?"
"Yes, I wouldn't follow him. Mostly because he would kill me, but also because this would be a situation where he figured out that only he could do this and my getting in the way would make his plan backfire and cause problems for everyone." Derek rubbed his hands together. "That having been said, if something happens to Philip, then we'll need one of you to start training in languages."
"How does Moscow do it?" Oz asked. "They can't speak anything but Russian and English."
"Ah, but they do have one person who can speak the ancient regional languages," Derek pointed out. "That was what they needed. Not someone to read Latin, Aramaic, Hebrew, Egyptian, or Greek." He rolled back up the scroll, putting it into his desk and locking the drawer. "That's the lead house's problem usually." He turned to look out the window. "I do have a candidate for some of it, but I'm not sure if he'd like to help the house or not in that capacity until one of you learned."
"Uh-ah," Xander said. "I suck enough at English."
Oz snorted, pulling Xander closer to hug. "We know. I won't make you learn Latin, even though you took Latin one last year."
"So did you," Xander pointed out. "And you actually got a good grade in it." Oz smirked. "Without a lot of work."
Derek turned back around to look at them, shaking his head. "That was how I had it planned. Oz would learn languages under Giles and myself, and you, Xander, would learn magic from us." He smiled and stood up. "Now then, we should go relax and take a small break before my mind snaps back into focus." He headed for the door, leaving them alone in the office.
"He's going to be *real* hurt if Philip goes," Oz reminded Xander.
"Then we'll run the house for a while until he can pull himself together," Xander said. "I've done it before, we can handle it together this time." He squeezed Oz's hand then pulled him up. "Come on, I could use some ice cream for this." They headed out into the kitchen. "Adam?"
He stuck his head out of the pantry. "What? And don't eat the cookies, they're for the children's dessert tonight."
Xander nodded. "Okay. We wanted ice cream anyway. Did you remember to pick any up?"
"What happened now?" Adam asked as he walked out, shutting the door behind him. "Did you hear something from Buffy already?"
"Nope, not yet," Oz said. "Derek just told us that one of us has to learn languages and the other has to learn magic, both really intense things considering we're Psych majors."
Adam frowned. "He could have come to me," he muttered. Then shook his head. "The pints you like are in the freezer, the stand-alone one." He headed outside, following the path he had seen Derek taking earlier.
"Huh," Oz said. "Didn't know he was that talented."
"Apparently very talented," Xander said, swiping a cookie and breaking it in two to share before grabbing them some ice cream. "Come on, let's go find a quiet spot and cuddle."
Oz nodded, following him toward the living rooms.
Adam walked up behind Derek, who was sitting in the grass with the napping children, clearing his throat. "If you had asked, I would have helped."
Derek looked up. "I would have but I couldn't be sure you would be here for the entirety of their reign." He smiled gently. "Oz is due to take my place some day and I was getting them started. Though, I was going to ask if you might help Oz with some of it."
"I could do that, and I could also fill in until he was ready to take over the major duties," Adam said, sitting beside the mortal man. "What did you need him to learn?"
Derek went back to smoothing through Precious' curls, getting the knots out. "He basically has to be able to translate the books in the library. The ancient languages are most used still. We have people to translate most of the newer ones."
Adam smiled as Serena wiggled over to lay her head on his lap. "I do know those, rather well actually. I'll gladly help him learn them, and a few others if possible."
"Have you ever thought of teaching?" Derek suggested. "These four will need to be educated soon and so will Xandra." He patted the top of her head when she blinked up at him. "Go back to sleep, Xandra, we're just talking about your schooling." She nodded and laid her head back down. "They'll need some special handling. Precious is the same as Flame but with an extraordinary gift besides the possibility of becoming a Slayer. The boys are both receptive to her visions, and Serena is what she is."
Adam sighed. "I would gladly teach the children, Derek. I have no problem teaching them, or their fathers, but you have to know there are some things I can't teach, including how to interact with others. Keeping them isolated out here may not be for the best."
"They're going to daycare once a week," Derek said calmly. "Once they're old enough to hide what they can do I'm sure they'll start normal classes at one of the daytime private schools, but there are things that they can't learn there. Precious will need to start learning how to be strong and take advantage of her gifts now, when her mind is flexible. They all need self-defense. There are many things you could teach them besides the basics, Methos, never doubt what you can pass on."
Adam patted Derek's shoulder and gently pushed Serena's head off his leg. "I'll consider it. I've not taught in a while and they do seem to like me."
"Very much," Derek said, watching him get up and leave. "Very much indeed, and they would be a credit to you when they were older." He stroked over Serena's head, smiling as she pushed back into his hand.
Oz looked at his palm then at the calendar marked with the full moons. He looked over at his husband who was napping on the bed, then back down at his palm. "I should have considered that," he whispered, walking over to crawl in behind Xander and hold him. "Hey," he whispered, giving his mate a squeeze. "Can we talk?"
"Sure," Xander said, rolling over so his head was buried in Oz's chest. "What's up?"
Oz smiled down at his mate, covering them both up. "Do you feel different now?" One brown eye peeked out from his chest, giving him a questioning look, so he picked up Xander's scarred palm, joining them. "This? I could have transferred my furry problem to you."
"Not really. Am I supposed to?"
"Only if you get it. Then you'll start to feel kinda aware and alive." Xander shook his head and Oz smiled. "Good. I didn't want to hurt you."
"You didn't," Xander told him, snuggling back down. "Now nap with me, babe, I need it and so do you so I can wear you out later."
Oz snorted. "Other way around, Xan, I'm wearing you out."
"We'll wear each other out," Xander suggested with a yawn. "Nap, we'll both need it."
Xander looked at the herbs Giles had left out on his dresser, shaking his head. "Why did I let myself be talked into this?" He grabbed the tray the herbs were on, carefully carrying it down to the library like Derek had asked him to. He set the platter in front of his boss, sitting across from him. "That was all that I could see."
Derek nodded, poking through the contents. "Very good. You didn't even mix the components up." He pointed out one small pile. "Do you remember what that is?"
"It's a cooking herb," Xander said, looking at it. "Thyme?"
Derek smiled. "Very goot, Xander. Now then, what do we use it for?"
"Um, besides seasoning potatoes?" he asked, his eyebrows going up as he thought. "I don't know. We throw it on candles and things while we cast because the spell called for us to do that?"
"Sometimes," Derek agreed, "but certain types of spells use certain types of herbs. You're not usually going to find deadly herbs in healing spells for instance." Xander nodded. "Now then, what's that red pile?"
"Looks like curry powder," Xander said, squinting at the quarter-sized pile.
Derek looked at him. "When was the last time you had your eyes checked?" he asked, reaching over to lift Xander's chin up to look at his eyes. He frowned after a second. "When did you start wearing contacts?"
"Few months ago. I'm hiding them from everybody." Xander bent back down to the pile of herbs. "I have no clue. It looks like that stuff that costs a hundred dollar an ounce because it's the stamen of an orchid that only has three on each flower." He looked up and grinned. "I watched cooking shows."
Derek chuckled lightly. "So I can see, and you're correct. Not all of the herbs are cooking related. Can you point them out?"
"That one?" Xander asked, pointing at some shredded green leaves. "That looks like those greens that grow on the lawn."
Derek shook his head. "It's a non-cooking herb but that's not what it is." He looked at it closer. "Actually, I'm not sure what it is." He picked up a pinch to smell it, shaking his head. "I don't know what that is, but you're right about it not being a cooking herb."
Adam leaned over, pointing at the herb they were looking at. "That is ground wolfsbane leaves, which should always be torn according to legend." He stood back up, looking at Xander. "Where's your mate? I was going to work with him on some Latin."
Xander looked up at the balcony, then shook his head. "I'm not real sure. He was sitting up there reading earlier. If he's not there, try the cage. I think he wanted to check it for some reason."
Adam nodded, heading out. "Thank you. If you catch him before I do, tell him to come find me please."
Derek looked at Xander, who shrugged. "He's a goot teacher," Derek said gently. "I'm sure he'll help Oz, and the children when it's time."
Xander nodded, pointing at another herb pile. "I thought that was wolfsbane."
Derek leaned down to look at it. "I think you're right." He looked up and shrugged. "We'll go pick some later to make sure."
Oz took the book Adam handed him, flipping through it. "It's in a few languages," he noted. "I recognize Latin and Greek." He looked up. "What's this for?"
"As you learn, you can translate this. It's the writings from a warrior back then." He tapped the cover. "The man was a fascinating example of the time and place. I'm sure you'll enjoy the story once you're able to understand it."
Oz nodded. "Incentives are good." He looked at the book he hadn't been able to sell back, then back up at his teacher. "That's what they used to teach first and second year Latin."
Adam snorted, waving his hand. "Those aren't good enough to teach you anything lasting. We're going to learn the practical way." He wrapped an arm around Oz's shoulders, leading him over to the kitchen table. "I want you to sit there, I have another book to start teaching you Latin." He headed toward his room, coming back after a few minutes with a soft-cover journal. "Here, we'll start with this one I think." He tossed it over. "This is the basics of Latin, tell me what you know."
Oz flipped through the pages, frowning. "About every sixtieth word," he admitted. "And a few all in a row. I remember the food stuff, the directions and colors. Some of the verbs. What's this?" he asked, turning the book and pointing it out.
"Oh, that's a swear word. It basically means fuck." Adam sat down across from him. "How the textbook teaches is great, if you're never going to use it or only use simple phrases, but no one really talked like that. Their phrases are stiff and formal. Real language is dynamic and selective. There are many words you'll never hear used in any language, and a lot of those are in your introductory lessons in your textbooks." He tapped the journal. "You'll learn by reading it, the same way your children did. Tell me the first word."
"Um, I?" Oz asked, frowning at it. "I ate.... past tense. Ate at?" He looked up and Adam nodded. "I ate at restaurant?"
"More or less, it was an outside food vendor. He probably had a few tables but there wasn't a real building around him. No kitchen with chefs running around."
Oz made a sour face. "Okay, so we're going full immersion. Cool. I can handle it if you can handle stumbling."
"I can," Adam agreed. "Continue."
"I ate at... the outdoor vendor place, with...."
Xander sat up, panting and looking around in alarm. He checked on Oz, then hopped up, running over to look down at Junior, who was awake and wiggling around. He picked the baby up, cuddling him close to his chest. "Are you okay?" he whispered, moving side to side to soothe the baby. Junior grunted, looking up at him, sniffling quietly. "What's wrong?" Xander cooed, blinking down as he felt his head patted. "Was that you?" he asked, loud enough to wake up his mate.
Oz looked up from his position on the bed. "Was what me?" he asked.
Xander looked from Junior to his husband and back. "I just got patted." He blinked as the feeling happened again. "Um, have you suddenly gone TK?"
"Nope, we all know I'm not telekinetic," Oz said, getting up and coming over. "What's going on?"
"I keep feeling someone patting the back of my head." Xander handed Junior over, stepping back to look at them.
Oz shook his head, putting the baby back down in his cradle. "Strange." He looked at his husband. "We'll tell Derek in the morning." He calmly led Xander back to the bed, tucking them in and cuddling up. "Sleep, Xan, we're going to need it."
Xander nodded, clutching Oz as he closed his eyes.
The demon in Junior chuckled. "Almost time," he whispered, pulling his thumb up to suck. "Then I'll be home. I'll find a better vessel and come back soon enough."
Xander woke up from the strangest dream. He looked over at his husband, who was sitting at the table in their sitting area, quietly humming a song to their son, then pulled himself up to lean against the headboard. "I don't like that sort of dream," he said.
Oz looked up. "What sort?"
"The sort that scares me." He frowned. "When we go to fix the Hellmouth, we can't bring Junior." Oz shook his head. "We can't. Think about it. Demon in the baby. Mouth of Hell opening. I'm getting lucky seven here when I add them."
Oz sighed, laying Junior down in his cradle again and coming over to sit on the side of the bed. "Well, that's one way of getting rid of him." His mate shook his head. "Not like that?"
"Think about it, Oz. Andres is upper echelon. He's got to have followers. If we bring him, he's going to call them to him. Even if he just chooses to escape, what will that do to Junior?"
"Point," Oz conceded. "But if we don't take him, we could have a possessed son forever."
Xander nodded, shifting to curl up against Oz's body. "I don't know what to do, but that was my dream. We either got a bunch of demons or we lost him." He sniffed the warm skin under the thin t-shirt. "I don't want to live with either of those consequences."
"Neither do I," Oz said quietly, rubbing down the humped back as Xander managed to wrap around him. "What other alternative do we have?"
"We could try banishing him again."
"With possibly the same after-effect."
"Yeah, I know," Xander said, rubbing his face across Oz's chest. "What do we do?"
"We take it as it comes. What else did you dream?"
"Just that Willow was going to come back, without her soul. Somehow she botched the spell to make herself the gatekeeper."
Oz grunted. "Not a good thought. Where was I?"
"You were gone," Xander said, rubbing down one of Oz's thighs. "You were in Tibet."
"Learning how to control the wolf so he didn't come back out."
"Oh. Can you do that?"
"Yeah," Xander said, sitting up fully to look at him. "I saw it in one of the books down in the library. There's an order of monks that deal with the supernatural. It said they helped all sorts of people regain control." Oz looked out the window at the dark sky. "I know, but maybe..." He let it dangle. "We could," he offered.
Oz shook his head. "Tibet is a long ways away, Xander. You wouldn't see me for a long time."
Xander bit his bottom lip, worrying it for a few minutes. "I know, but we have to do what's best." He stood up, pulling Oz with him. "Come on, you need to do this."
"Whoa," Oz said, resisting the tug toward the door. "We have time."
"No, we don't," Xander said, pulling harder on Oz's hand. "We don't have time. You have to find the way to cure yourself." He led Oz out of their room and down to the library, silently towing him along behind him. He sat the slightly older man at the table, taking a few minutes to find the book he wanted. He turned to the right page as he walked back to the large oak table, setting it down in front of his mate and pacing as he read it. "See?" he asked when Oz pushed the book away. "You have to go."
"Why now? Why not after all this is done?" Oz suggested, turning to catch Xander on a pass. "Why now?" he asked quietly, stroking the wrist he held.
"Because you have to," Xander said with a shrug. "I don't know why, you just have to."
"Is this because of your dream?"
"No," Xander said slowly, "I saw this yesterday and I've been working through it since then." He sat down in his husband's lap, nuzzling his throat. "This is important to you, Oz, to both of us. You need to go."
"I'm just worried about the timing," Oz sighed, squeezing Xander. "This seems like strange timing to me."
"Is to me too, but I know you need to go now." Xander sat up. "Please? So you can teach the kids and everything?"
Oz nodded. "Okay, I'll go look for them. The book was specific about where the temple was." He stood up, carefully setting Xander back on his feet. "Let me go copy the pages so I don't have to lug the book." He headed into the control room, not looking back.
Xander picked up a nearby phone, dialing an outside line then the number of the local airport, which was taped to the side. "Hi, I need to know about flights to Tibet?"
Xander hugged his mate tightly as they stood on the stairs. He sniffled lightly, letting go as slowly as possible.
"I'll be fine," Oz assured him, rubbing down Xander's face. "I have my pager. If you need me, page me. I may not get back to you soon but I will call. That's why the Legacy has international service for it's pagers and cellphones."
Xander nodded. "I'll send a 'love you' message each week, okay?" he asked softly.
Oz smiled, grabbing one last kiss. "I know you do. All this rushing me out the door is just so you won't change your mind and lock me in the cage downstairs." He looked up as a horn honked. "I better go," he said, sneaking another kiss before jogging out the door with his two bags.
Xander watched from the doorway as the airport shuttle pulled away, closing the door when he couldn't see the lights anymore. He turned to find Adam standing there, walking around him and up the stairs. "Sorry," he mumbled. "Didn't mean to wake you."
"You didn't," Adam told him quietly. "Where did he go?"
"Tibet. He went to cure his furry problem." Xander trudged up the stairs to his empty bed and room.
Derek watched his son eat, shaking his head. "Xander, where's your mate?" The young man dropped his fork and stood up, heading out into the gardens. Derek looked up as the butler walked over and sat down beside him. "Do you know what's going on?"
"Xander sent him to Tibet to cure his werewolf problem," he said, tapping the top of the table. "He made it fast so they couldn't draw out the goodbye but it's hurting him now."
Derek groaned and stood up. "I'll go talk to him, see if I can't comfort him a bit." He headed out into the gardens after his son, walking up behind him and pulling him against his chest. "You did what you thought was right," he said, kissing the back of Xander's neck.
"I know," the young man said quietly, "but it doesn't make the separation any easier." He turned, hugging the man he called his father. "He had to go. They can fix it so he doesn't get furry." He got out of the embrace, heading back inside. "I'm going to work, yell when you're ready to hold the house meeting."
"It can wait," Derek said calmly. "At least until this afternoon when William gets here." He looked around the gardens, heading for the gazebo, his favorite place to think.
Xander looked at their moon phase calendar, then down at the palm of his hand, then back to it. He shuddered. "I'm sorry," he whispered, touching it. "So very sorry I made you do that." He scratched the spot idly as he led Serena down to the cage. She had gotten too big and strong to simply be put into a playpen or a gated off corner anymore and without Oz there, there was no telling what might happen. He convinced her to get inside the cage and closed the door just as the change started to hit her, making her growl at him.
Xander sat down in front of the cage, reaching between the bars to scratch her nose for her, something all the werewolves he knew liked. "Don't worry, Serena, you'll have company soon enough." He yawned, lying down beside the cage as the first change started on him. "We'll tell Derek in the morning." Within a few minutes, Xander was partially turned, his body sprouting new hair in odd places, but none of the other physical changes were out yet. Except his claws and teeth.
It was around midnight when Xander woke back up, growling at the room around him. He stood up and stretched, glaring at the little wolf whimpering in the cage. He let her out, sniffing her as she did him. "Hunt," he said, nodding. They headed up the stairs together, ending up in the foyer. Xander looked from the stairs to the front door then down at his cub. "Hunt or pack?" he asked. She headed for the front door so he followed her. He led the way out into the woods, teaching his cub the essential of life, hunting.
Derek walked down to check on Xander and Serena, his own nightmares keeping him awake. He stopped at the bottom of the basement stairs, sighing when he saw the open cage. "I had hoped it wouldn't happen, son," he said, heading back up to his office. He grabbed the tranq gun he had fixed for Serena and grabbed the spell to hopefully change Xander back, heading out into the night. He prowled through the gardens, heading out into the woods, aware of what they would be doing from reading the boys' paper on pack behavior.
Xander woke up with a groan, looking around the woods. He sat up, staring around the woods, not relaxing until he noticed Serena close by. Right next to a dead deer. He shuddered, remembering now very clearly what had happened. He picked his sleeping daughter up, heading toward where the house should be. About half way back, he ran into Adam and Derek on the house's four wheelers. He handed Serena over, pointing behind him. "We hunted," he said quietly.
Derek nodded. "I know." He got off the vehicle, letting Xander get on it. "Take her home. Clean both of you up and I'll see you in my office in an hour or so." Xander nodded, taking his daughter back and heading home with her. Derek waited until they were alone. "I wish that it hadn't transferred, Xander will be torn up about what he did."
"So far, he hasn't really done anything wrong," Adam noted. He pointed the way they had come. "Maybe we should go burn their kill." Derek nodded so he got off his motorcycle and followed the path Xander had left when he was escaping the site of his prior night's activities.
They looked down at the deer, then at each other, shuddering at the thoughts running through them at the sight of the human-looking teeth marks and the claw marks. Adam pulled out a bottle of lighter fluid and a lighter, Derek grabbed some branches to clear the area so the fire wouldn't spread. They both gagged at the smell but it had to be done.
Xander sat looking down at the backs of his hands while he waited on Derek. When his father finally walked in, he nodded outside. "I didn't change fully," he muttered. "I remember."
Derek sat down behind his desk, looking at the young man. "I ..." He closed his mouth. "I tried the spell, son, it didn't work on you. Maybe because you weren't fully changed. Or maybe because it doesn't work."
"It worked once," Xander said, looking up. "If the kids start to turn, they're getting it used on them." He frowned. "Promise me, Derek, at least to try." His head went back down and he went back to examining his hands.
"Of course I'll try," Derek said calmly. "Same as I'll try it on you the first night you fully change." He cleared his throat. "Since we now know that you're not ready to be caged, would you like to consider being upstairs tonight and tomorrow? We could lock you both in your room."
Xander shrugged. "I'm not sure that's wise with the nursery and Ray up there."
"Where is he anyway?" Derek asked. "I've not seen him in days."
"He's wandering around the city with Benny. Said he wanted to do touristy things before he went back and faced the music for running like that. I saw him last night before we headed down to the cage." He looked up. "I think I could get out of our room really easily."
"I think you could too, but I also know that we can lock you in and we lock the rest of the doors in case you get out."
Xander thought for a minute then nodded. "Okay, we'll try it. But someone's got to come up and watch. In case we do get out. I don't want to help bring down another deer with my teeth." He took a deep breath. "I didn't fully wolf, I remember everything."
Derek walked around the desk, hugging him to him, as any father would his son. "It'll be all right, Xander, never fear that. We will protect you." He looked toward the door as it opened, admitting his stepfather. "He partially turned last night," he told the late-arriving William, who sighed.
"I'm sorry, Xander. Do you want off this case to give yourself time to consider these changes?"
Xander shook his head, standing up. "No, I have to be there. Junior saw me there." He frowned at William. "No hysterical reaction?"
"Derek and I both knew that it might happen when he found your hands bleeding into each other." He patted Xander's shoulder. "Just don't let the wolf and the hyena out together."
"The hyena's gone," Xander said. "So's the soldier. They're fully a part of me now." He looked up at his boss and father. "You're going to have to do that with me again."
"If I have to, I will." Derek looked at William. "We've got the preliminary research done."
Xander shook his head. "We need to recheck the timetable. Something about that sixteen days isn't right."
William looked at Xander, frowning. "How would you know? I thought you didn't have the sight? Has he suddenly sprouted the family gift, Derek?"
"No, Junior's been broadcasting and the moon overhead was just a few days past full. That sort of 'looks like it could still be full' time."
Derek shuddered. "Then we don't have much time. What else was he seeing?"
Xander sat back down, looking at them. "He saw Willow walking out of it. Without her soul. Living but not all there." He shuddered. "Not a good picture. And he saw Philip." He took Derek's hand to squeeze. "I'm sorry, Dad."
"I'll deal when the time comes," Derek said softly. "Until then, there's hope." He pulled Xander up out of the chair. "Come, not many of us are here so we could do this in the kitchen. Adam may be able to help us this time."
"What is he anyway?" Xander asked. "He smells funny."
William shook his head. "Can you differentiate?"
Xander nodded, walking out the door first. "I can tell the differences between Derek and you, and on more than a personal level. From Derek there's a sort of energy that you don't have that zings out under your personal scent." He looked at Derek, grinning. "Guess it's the magic thing."
"What about Adam?" Derek asked.
"With him, the energy zing is much stronger, almost magnetic." He walked into the kitchen, hugging Adam. "Thank you for helping Dad this morning and not rubbing my nose in it."
"Just make sure you don't get out again," Adam said gruffly, getting away from him. "Sit and eat, I'm sure you need something by now."
"Ah, no," Xander said, shaking his head. "I don't think I could eat. I tried gum and I flashed back to last night's hunt. The sight wasn't pretty."
Adam simply patted his arm. "Gentlemen, would you like a snack? I have torts in the oven for supper and I made a few extra."
Derek smiled. "Please. I liked them the last time you made them." He sat down at the table, looking at Xander. "Come sit, son." Xander took his spot to Derek's right. "William, the only people in this house are us, Jon and the children, and Alex."
William looked around. "I had noticed Xander was missing his appendage but I thought he was being upset somewhere about passing his lycanthropy on."
"Tibet. He's going to learn how to control it, and come home to tell us." He coughed, accepting the glass of soda put down in front of him, looking up when the bowl of cheese puffs landed in front of him too. "I'm not really hungry, Adam."
"I know, but those are so artificial you can't possibly make a connection between that and the deer. Try one."
Xander hesitantly bit into one then grinned. "Great," he said, swallowing quickly. "Thanks."
"No problem." He reached and grabbed a few plates, setting them down on the table in front of everybody. "Alex said she was going to pick up something in the city. She'll be back for supper."
Derek took the first bite and moaned in appreciation. "These are excellent, Adam, thank you." He broke off a piece and handed it to his son. "Try this."
Xander ate the small piece and smiled. "Wow. Teach me?"
"Oh, I think everyone should know how to cook." Adam picked up his own tort, taking a small bite. "A bit too much cheese but otherwise perfect." He looked around the table. "What's going on that you need my help with?"
"Can I ask a question first?" Xander asked. Adam nodded. "I've noticed some people have strong energy zings coming at me under from their scents, and you have a really huge, magnetic one. Do you use magic?"
Adam choked, picking up his glass of water to drink. "No," he said, shaking his head. "It's there for another reason that's not pertinent at the moment." He took a deep breath. "I'll tell you some other time, but it has nothing to do with magic." He shared a look with Derek. "Though, when I tell you, we're going to have a long talk."
Xander nodded. "Okay." He looked around. "I've been receiving Junior's visions. The Hellmouth is definitely opening. Willow and Philip are walking into it, but she's coming back out, without part of her. Then it closes." He stole a bite of Derek's tort, smiling at him when he glared. "Oh, and one other thing? I'm not too sure of taking Junior with us."
William snorted. "Why would you bring a baby to a fight?"
"Because we can't make the demon leave him," Xander said. "I can only see two outcomes. Andres, the demon, calls all his buddies out to party or he takes the opportunity to escape and some harm is done to the baby."
"We could always ask him," William said lightly, giving them a small smile.
"That's a goot idea," Derek said, smiling back. "We'll introduce you tonight, if you don't already know each other."
William glared. "I was joking."
"I wasn't," Derek said simply. "There are times when you need to assess your enemy at a closer level. Sometimes you even need to make a temporary truce to get the wounded off the battlefield." He stood up. "Is Junior in the nursery?"
"Yeah, he was. Jon's up and around but he's mostly sitting and reading." Derek nodded, getting up and jogging up the back stairs. "You really were in Hell?"
"Oh, yes," William said, wiping his mouth. "I was. I was a gatekeeper myself, for the sepulchers. A very bad time in all our lives. Derek's father came back to take over. Fortunately, I took the choice from a possessed Derek and closed the gateway. Then Derek came for me."
Derek grunted as he walked down the stairs. "I'm still not sure that was the right thing to do some days." He sat down, letting Junior face forward. "He was muttering to himself about not being allowed to go back and how you're usually such nice parents."
Xander coughed. "Okay. Andres," he said, looking at the baby, "we're worried about what'll happen when we get you to the Hellmouth."
"I'll leave the child in peace," Andres sighed. "He won't be hurt by my leaving him. Though we may retain a link." Everyone nodded, most with their mouths open. "I'm bound in here, I'm not going to hurt my host by leaving, but you do have to get the witch to unbind me."
"Willow," Xander sighed, leaning back. "That's what I thought."
"Ah, but she worked *through* you," Andres said, lifting one of Junior's hands to point at his father. "So one of you has to do it."
Derek shook his head. "Xander can't do that yet. He isn't ready."
"Then I'd help him," William said dryly, pushing his chair back so he could cross his feet. "He can't stay in the child."
"True," Xander said, looking at Derek. "I could try," he suggested. "I know I'm not ready but that doesn't mean I can't do it."
"Goot point," Derek said, handing the now-cooing infant over to his father. "I'm impressed with how Andres hides himself so well. Usually we can't find a trace of him."
"Junior's not got a formed mind yet," William reminded them. "He's not three months old so there's plenty of open spaces in there for him to hide in."
"Another good point," Xander said. "Adam? You're awfully quiet. Problems?"
"I had no idea that when they said the baby was possessed they meant that."
Derek nodded, smiling. "Yes, you learn something new everyday I suppose. It about sent us all into shock and we're used to dealing with this." He looked at William. "Some of us more than others."
"Funny," William said dryly. "Have we heard from anybody yet?"
"I got a call from Nick and Philip last night," Derek said with a pleased smile. "They're in Las Vegas at the moment."
Xander grinned. "I got a short call from Oz. He got off the plane in Tibet, two stops before he was supposed to because it felt right. And no one asked him about papers."
Adam smiled at them both. "This house is going to become a long, drawn-out pity party, isn't it?"
Derek and Xander looked at each other but it was William who answered. "Yes," he said simply, getting up to put his plate in the sink. "I'm going to go pull your research to look for the correct date. You two get happy for a while."
"I'd like to help," Adam said, standing up and brushing the crumbs off the table onto his plate. He put his plate into the sink also, following him out. "I do have a good grasp of many languages."
Xander looked at Derek. "What's up with the old guy?"
"Old guy?" Derek asked, leaning back.
"I just get this feeling of oldness from Adam. Not like ancient, but Ancient. Like Egyptian ancient."
"Son, you need to ask him that. It's not my secret to tell." He picked Junior up. "I promised to return him soon." He walked away, heading back up the stairs.
Xander finished his cheese puffs, and the rest of Derek's tort before he could come looking for it, heading in to help with the research.
Xander woke up sweating and panting for the second night in a row, glaring at the cradle. "You could just *tell* me," he suggested as he got up. He walked over to where Junior was frowning at him. "Andres, I really don't need that vision. One warning about Willow was enough."
The demon smiled. "Isn't me, it's the baby. He can do that." The demon yawned. "Could use a nap though."
"How soon?" Xander asked, covering him again.
"Two days," he said, blinking up at him. "Two days before the house goes to Hell, possibly literally. Try and keep them on track, He didn't do this on purpose."
"Then it's God?"
"Not actually. It's one of his top angels that declared that Hellmouth should be closed. I really don't think He's paying that much attention to you guys at the moment."
Xander frowned. "If you say so. Go back to sleep." He headed for his bed, getting back into the cold, too big space. "Night."
"Don't do that," Xander hissed. "I'm not your father, I'm Junior's and there had better not be a contamination the way I had."
"No, he'll be fine, perfectly normal and healthy," Andres soothed, and the baby's cooing resumed after a few seconds of silence.
Xander lay back down, looking up at the ceiling. When he figured out he couldn't get back to sleep, he got up and headed downstairs, knocking lightly on Derek's door. "Can I tell you what he said?" when his father opened the door, still not dressed for bed.
Derek let him inside. "What did the demon say now?"
"He said it'll happen in two days and Philip's being called by a senior angel." He blinked at the rage that flowed across Derek's face. "Um, dad?"
"Not for you, son," he said, pulling Xander into a hug. "I'm just tired of being a pawn." He squeezed him. "Are you having nightmares?"
"No, Junior's pushing his visions at me again. I can't sleep because of the Willow warning."
"Even if she begs, son, I won't let her back in this house. Or any of them." Xander nodded. "I'm serious, son. It can't happen."
"But what if she needs us?"
"Son, you're too goot to her," he said, leading the young man over to sit on the bed, facing him as he sat down himself. "I know she's important to you and who you are, but you cannot help her this time. This is her choice to make."
"Xander, listen to me. There's a reason why I can't let her in the house, it's part of the rules. I've bent it for Philip, but I will not allow her back into the Legacy."
"What about just helping her if she asks?" Xander asked quietly, looking down at his hands. For some reason, the change hadn't happened that night and he wasn't sure why. Derek wasn't sure why, but he was looking for a reason. It was the excuse he was using to stay awake.
"Then we'll help her without allowing her in the house." He reached over, stroking down the side of his son's face. "If it's absolutely necessary, she can stay out in the guest house and we'll fix her from there. The children should be fine with that and so should you."
Xander nodded. "Yeah, even if I don't want her that close. This is a strange feeling, dad, I want to help her because it's my duty, she's family, but I don't want to see her, hear from her, or even have the kids near her. I'm torn here."
Someone knocked on the door and walked in. "Thought I heard someone talking," Alex said as she walked in. She sat down next to Xander, hugging him. "If we have to bring her back to help her, I'll watch her. Okay? She won't be allowed near the children or you."
Derek smiled at his wife. "Thank you, Alex. That's very generous."
"Hey, I don't like what she did, and not even forcing Philip to not go will redeem her in my eyes, but I will guard her until she can be cured and sent on her way again."
Derek nodded. "Xander, is that acceptable to you?"
Xander looked up. "Yeah," he said, nodding. "As long as I'm not forced to see her or interact with her."
"Never," Derek said, pulling him in for a hug. He looked at Alex. "The demon upstairs is being most helpful again. He said it'll happen in two days."
"And that it was a senior angel demanding the Hellmouth be closed," Xander added. He looked up at his father. "If Philip goes, I'll take over until you're ready. I'll send out the announcement and put us offline for three days."
Derek smiled. "Son, you should..."
"Dad, you loved him, Nick loved him, Alex loved him like a brother. It's just going to be me, Adam, and Jon. Let us deal while you grieve."
Derek nodded. "If it happens," he agreed. "I know I can count on you to handle things well and London will take over until I'm ready to come back."
Xander nodded. "Glad you worked that stuff out finally." He squealed as Alex tickled him. "Hey! I'm not that mean to you."
"No, you're not, you're a sweetie." She kissed his cheek. "I better go to bed. If we're fighting in two days, I won't sleep tomorrow night." She left the room.
Derek looked at his son, who was getting comfortable on the end of his bed. "Can't sleep upstairs?"
"It's big and cold and lonely," Xander admitted, looking down at the quilt. "I miss Oz."
"I know," Derek said, pulling him into a hug. "We all miss Oz." He let him go. "You can share my bed tonight, just don't cling to me." That got a small smile. "Neither of us should be alone and this will be no different than one of your children crawling in with you."
Xander nodded, moving to get under the covers. "Thanks, Dad, night."
Derek watched him fall into a restful sleep. "Son, he'll come back for you. I know he will." He got up, heading into the bathroom to do what he needed to so he could sleep.
Adam grunted as he was poked, waking up to look at the messenger he knew so well. "Richie," he said softly, reaching out for him. "What's wrong?"
"You'll need to help keep the house together," he said, lying down beside the immortal, holding him tightly. "Derek's about to lose all that he's really held dear when Philip crosses the threshold. Xander's timely sending away of Oz isn't going to help him any. Nick's going to be a wreck too when you bring him back, and Willow will be coming back here." He heard the hiss so smiled. "You can't kill her but you can keep the children and the house safe. Are you willing?"
"I'll protect the house with my life if I need to," Adam answered, leaning down to kiss the top of the spirit's head. "I'm so sorry," he whispered. "I should have stopped him."
"You couldn't have, Mac's not known for listening to reason when he's on a mission." He rubbed down his former lover's stomach. "But, and I will repeat this, but, he's not going to make it to the end. His guilt is driving him insane at the moment."
"Will I have to..."
Richie nodded. "I think so. It's not been said but if it comes down to it, you may have to save him somehow."
"Then I will," Adam said. "Once the house is stable."
"Teach them well, Methos, the children are important." He gave his former lover one last kiss and disappeared.
"I will," Methos promised. "Like I would my own." He relaxed, his mind turning but his body flowing back into the old survival reflexes, allowing him to fall quickly into a deep, restful sleep.
Xander growled from the cage, banging on the bars. He still wasn't fully changed on this, his third night, but he was closer. He looked like some primitive man now, very hairy with sharp claws and teeth, growling and hissing at anyone who came close to him or his cub. Even Derek who sat watching them. He looked down at his cub, seeing her watching him. He sat down beside her, pulling her over to groom, licking over the top of her head. He heard quiet words from outside of the cage and growled at the man out there.
Derek backed away from the cage, sitting on the worktable, tranq gun beside him. "If that's the way you want it, son," he said softly, "I just don't want to hear complaints about hairballs."
William laughed as he walked down the stairs. "Still not fully turned?" he asked as he hopped up on the table to watch the family in captivity. "Have we figured out why?"
"No," Derek said with a small sigh. "I guess some people just start the change slower." He looked at his oldest friend and former lover, and now his stepfather. "How's Mother?"
"She's fine, Derek. She just didn't want to come this time. She said you would have enough stress without pretending to be nice for her sake." He patted the other man's arm, earning a growl from the cage. "My, he's possessive."
Derek laughed lightly. "Quite, but so is Oz. The only reason he doesn't attack me is a post-hypnotic suggestion."
William shook his head. "Better your house than mine, Derek. I never could have dealt with this level of unusual." He got back down, heading up to his room. "I'll see you in the morning, we'll start as soon off as everyone's awake." He climbed up the stairs, the upstairs door slamming behind him.
Derek smiled. "Yes, I should go stop him." He looked at the cage again, then blinked. No furry bodies. No half-furry bodies. "Xander?" he called softly. He looked around, glaring at the empty spaces. He got up, heading up after William. He never noticed his two shadows, not even when Serena squeaked as she stepped on her own tail.
Xander woke up in the nursery and groaned, pushing himself up. "No blood taste at least," he muttered, looking around the room. "Kids?" he called. Brandon and Timmy ran in, jumping up into his arms. "Hi," he said, looking them over. "You guys okay?"
"You lick us," Brandon said, hugging him. "Granpa look for you."
"Okay, I'll go find him in a little while. Where's Serena?"
"She with Jonathan," Timmy said with a small smile. "You licked me." He licked Xander's cheek. "See?"
Xander laughed. "Yeah, I see. You okay?"
"Yup, very 'kay," Timmy said, sliding out of his arms and pulling Brandon with him. "We go visit?"
"Museum," Jonathan said from the doorway. "Man, you *scared* Derek last night when you escaped." He stopped at the blush. "But yeah, you slobbered really well on the kids. Even over their skating injuries." He sat down beside Xander as he went pale. "It's not enough to change the one. The other, you just primed the pump. We knew it was going to happen." He patted his boss' shoulder. "You okay, Xander?"
"No," he said, shaking his head. "I didn't want to hurt them."
"You didn't, you started off an inevitable. Timmy was going to change anyway." Jon pulled himself up with a groan. "Come on, we need food before you take Junior and run away to help the Hellmouth and their mother." He pulled Xander up. "Think of it this way, now you and Oz have something else in common."
"Yeah, but he's going to go all guilty on me for it." Xander led the way out of the room. "Did I lick Junior too?"
"Nah, man, Andres and I talked all night. He said he's going to miss you guys. Said if he had had parents like you, he wouldn't be a demon now." That got a small, pleased smile. "Oh, yeah, but he said that you've got this annoying habit of running over at the smallest cry."
Xander snorted. "Wouldn't you?"
"Definitely. Junior's got some problems that could only get worse if he was left to cry. I'd hate to see a frustrated demon." They undid the baby gate and headed down the stairs together, walking beside each other. "Found him," Jon called as they walked into the kitchen. "He went up and licked the kids last night."
Derek looked up in alarm. "Did he bite anyone?"
"No, but Serena bit Junior. And Timmy's been primed to change next month. Xander's spit went all over his scabs from skating."
William choked, looking from Xander to Derek and back. "How did you get out? Do you still remember, Xander?"
"I remember following you, using the hunting instinct." Derek groaned. "Sorry," he said, taking his usual seat. "Is Junior okay?"
"Yup, just dandy. It's a small bite, just barely broke the skin." Jon reached over and patted the back of Xander's head. "This was your last night for the next month, relax. We'll figure it out."
"Dad, Derek, please do the spell on them."
"I will," Derek promised him. "If not, Rupert will be back by then and he will. I don't want your children to change any more than you do, son."
Xander nodded, picking at the food on the plate that was put down in front of him. "I'm sorry," he said, pushing back and jogging up the back stairs to his room.
William shuddered. "I can't see this ending happily," he told his oldest friend. "I can't see Oz accepting that this happened or any of it. Not even with his infamous calm nature."
"I think that's why Xander sent him to Tibet," Derek said, wiping his mouth and putting the napkin back down on his lap. "On some subconscious level, he knew that Oz being here this month would be bad for them. So he acted to find a way to get him clear of this."
"Well, that would certainly fit with what happened that night. Oz woke me when he was kissing the kids goodbye for a while so I asked. Xander had this really vivid dream about what was going to happen and part of it was that Oz was in Tibet learning from some monks. So Xander acted on it, quickly so he wouldn't get separation anxiety over it." Jon shivered. "Xander's eyes were so sad while he was watching the whole goodbye process. Like he knew it was going to be a long time before he saw him and some major changes were going to occur before he came back."
Xander cleared his throat. "I knew that something was going to happen, but not what." He sat back down in his chair, picking at the food on the plate in front of him. "I just knew something was going to change. I thought maybe it was just me, or that something would happen when we went to stop Philip or something similar. Maybe something with Junior because the demon was going to leave him." He looked at his father. "He's upstairs floating blocks at the moment for Ray. Seems he's been unbound already."
Derek coughed, hiding his mouth behind his napkin. "I see," he said calmly, taking a drink of water. "We'll deal with it when we get there." He looked at the nanny. "Jonathan, are you sure you feel comfortable taking care of the children during this time?"
"Sure, dude, not a problem. The kids all think it's a vacation from worriers." William laughed. "You guys do, you jump at the slightest noise of complaint. The kids are actually worried about you guys being okay because you worry so much about them."
Derek shook his head. "We've not had a lot of experience with children in the house," he reminded. "We do the same things all new parents do."
Jon nodded. "In multiples. Oz and Xander do them, you do them, Adam does them and he seems scared when he over-checks the kids." The butler snorted from his place next to the stove. "Alex pretends to be laid back until she sees one of them being devious then she worries about them turning out normal. Even Nick's gotten into the worry contest you guys've got going. You all need to lighten up, they're fine and healthy."
"Just as long as they stay that way," Xander reminded him.
"Please," William said, wiping his mouth and pushing back from the table. "Are we ready to start the trip?" He looked at Xander. "You could stay, be with the kids."
Xander shook his head. "Junior saw me there. And I'm going to be there for Dad if Philip shows up." William nodded, waving at the door. "I didn't pack clothes, are we going to need any?"
"No, but I would grab a weapon or two. As a matter of fact, bring tranquilizers. It'll be safer in case someone runs after them." He patted Derek's shoulder. "I'll go start the Range Rover."
"We could take my car," Xander offered. "Well, Oz's car."
Derek shook his head. "I don't think that will be necessary. The Range Rover will give us enough room to sleep if, God forbid, Philip is there."
William leaned closer to Derek, whispering, "I've got something to knock you out if you need it." He stood up, straightening his clothes. "Adam, are you coming also?"
"I should," he said, looking around the kitchen. "Jon, please don't burn down the house, I've just got it the way I want it." He smiled at the nanny, getting one in return. "I'll be with them in case they need some extra muscle." He patted Xander's shoulder. "You can call Oz and leave a message on his pager later."
"I did," Xander said, "that's what I did when I went upstairs." He looked up into the old-seeming green eyes. "How do you understand so well?"
"Because I'm like that," Adam said gently. "I've been through many hard times in my life and the presence of someone else was often the deciding factor between my continued sane existence or not." He nudged Xander toward the door. "Go strap yourself in, I'll see you in a moment and I'll make sure Derek's coming." He waited until they were alone. "Am I coming?"
"Yes, I do believe they could use some strength, which we both know you have plentiful reserves of." Derek stood up, pushing back in his chair once he was out of its way. "Come, we should go save them." He headed out.
Adam sighed. "I wish I still had the reserve, but it's almost depleted after Richie died. I'll just have to fake if it's necessary." He walked out of the room, heading out to the Range Rover, not seeing the man who materialized sitting on the counter.
"I love you too, old fart," Richie said gently. He looked down at Brandon. "Hi, Bran, what's up?"
"Me go see pictures. You come?" he asked, holding up a hand.
"Nah, I'll see ya there. I've just got to make sure that your father's all right."
"Daddy be fine, even when Mommy come. Precious say so." He nodded. "Come see pretties with us? 'Rena wants you to."
Richie hopped down. "I'll meet you there, tell her to watch for me, 'kay?" Brandon nodded, running for the back stairs. Richie disappeared, a large smile on his face.
Xander looked across the field that was once Sunnydale High School. He shook his head at the lack of marker for those that had died during the fight at graduation, but he guessed it was the way in Sunnydale, everyone ignored what was going on until it bit them, sometimes literally. He checked on Derek and William, who were laying out a precise circle where the Hellmouth should open, using old plans of the high school to get the distance from the edge of the clearing. He walked over, taking some of the salt to pour out in the diagram Derek had sketched on the drive up.
Derek kept looking up, checking everything from the circle to the sky, to the woods that had been planted on the edge of the former football field when the lot had been turned into a park. "Two hours to dark," he reminded them. "It should be around moonrise."
William looked up and coughed. "Do you know where Philip is?"
"He's not that far away," Xander said, walking past the former London Precept. "I can smell him." He patted his father on the shoulder as he moved past him. "Circle's connected and whole." He stopped, pouring a little bit more salt on a thin patch. "And mostly more than a quarter-inch thick." He looked up and stopped as he saw Willow on the edge of the woods. "Damn, already?"
"It'll happen not long after sunset," William told him, moving between the two young people to break their locked gazes. "Focus, Xander, if we want to save them, we'll have to."
A shot went off overhead and Philip walked out. "Don't make me use it," he said, glaring at Willow. "I was called."
"So was I," she said, crossing her arms.
"There's another way," Derek said, walking closer to Philip but staying a few steps away. "There's a way to close the gateway without a gatekeeper. Rupert found it for us." He held out the book. "Please, just read it," he begged when Philip didn't even look at the pages.
Philip took the book, glancing at it. "This may work, but a gatekeeper will be forever."
"Only until you're worn down," William said as he walked over. "They'll do everything in their power to get past you, use every weakness you have against you. Neither of you are that strong, it will open again."
Xander walked forward. "Philip, I know you've been called. Even Andres admitted that you were called to do this." That got another, deeper, scowl. "We just don't want it to be you. There are other ways, ways that won't kill Derek when you're gone. Ways that won't kill Nick and Derek when you leave them." He pointed at his father. "He's already grieving, Philip, and I know you remember what happened when we left. This will be worse on him, he'll *die* this time." He reached out a hand. "The calling isn't what you think it is."
"A messenger was sent to me," Philip sighed. "I have ta answer it."
"No, you still have a choice," Derek said. "This is the doing of one of the senior angels, not of Got. You have a choice and we have a choice. I would like to not have to use mine, but I do know that you have one."
"I can do it," Willow said, walking forward. "I've left letters for the kids with my boss, he'll send them to you." She frowned at Philip. "You have too much to lose if you die this way, Father." Derek winced. "Please, do you really think he's not still a priest at heart? He's too good for his own good. It'll take someone who knows the dark to hold it back. And I hate to say it, whatever you think was bad, I've been willingly possessed and let it rule me. I've already been corrupted by it but I'm still strong enough to hold the Hellmouth closed."
Philip rubbed his forehead. "No, I was called."
"So was I," Willow said quickly. "Maybe by someone different but I was called."
"The demons coulda called ya," Philip pointed out, trying to sound reasonable even if his face spoke of absolute pain.
"Philip, you're staying," Willow said, walking past him. "I don't care who called you. If I can't hold it then you can hold it next time." He stopped her by grabbing her arm. "Let go," she said calmly. "I will hurt you to keep you with Derek."
Philip snorted. "Ya can't do that. Any magic on your part will open it wider."
"Not mine," Nick said as he walked out of the woods, a set of handcuffs dangling from his left wrist. He grabbed the gun from Xander, pointing it at the man who meant so much to him. "You can't leave, Philip, I don't care who called. Even if God himself were standing here telling you to go." He cocked the gun, the aim never wavering. "Let her go, she's got things to atone for."
Philip shook his head, pulling something out of his pocket and blowing across his palm. Everyone but Nick and Xander fell over. "He bit you," he said sadly.
Xander held up his palm. "During this. Philip, do you really want dad to follow you?" The former priest blanched. "Did you think he wouldn't? He went to Hell for *William*, what's he going to do for you."
"That's your job, ta stop him," Philip said, giving him a small hug, dodging the dart that almost found its way into his back. "Now, now, I need ta go." He nodded at Nick. "Last night was everything ta me," he whispered, hugging him. He turned as a small swirling started in the salt circle. "I have ta go."
Nick fired but the bullet was pulled by the growing air current. He fired again, this time hitting Philip's leg. "No," he screamed, dropping the gun when Philip kept moving, tackling him as he walked into the circle. "No, you're not leaving me. Not again." He locked the spare handcuff around his wrist. "Never leaving me." Philip gave him a sad look and waved a hand over the lock, releasing the cuffs. "You can't do that."
"I can," Philip said. "I learned from Derek as we worked together." He stood up, pulling Nick in for a soft, possessive kiss. "Derek's yours," he whispered. "Be good to him."
"Philip," Nick whispered, clinging to him. "If you go through with this, I'll never touch Derek. I won't be able to. He'll be alone again." He looked at Willow where she stood next to the growing portal. "See, she can do it, she's got all the skills you don't. Let her do it."
"It needs me," Philip said, getting free and punching Nick hard enough to knock him down. "Guard the family, I *will* be watching." He ran for the portal, trying to push Willow out of the way, but she grabbed onto his arm, trying to force him back.
Xander jogged for them, grabbing onto Philip's arm. Willow gave him a dirty look but he ignored her, he knew who was more important to the family. "No," he yelled over the air. "If you go, I'm going. Derek will die and Nick and Buffy will raise the kids."
Philip shoved him away. "NO!" He slapped Willow, trying to walk into the portal again, but he was grabbed, this time by Nick and Xander. "Let me go!" he yelled.
"Not a chance in the Hellmouth," Xander replied. "You're not leaving Dad." He glared at Philip, doing the one thing of magic he knew, a spell to put someone to sleep. Derek had taught it to him earlier to knock Junior out so Andres could leave him without hurting him. Philip started to lurch forward but Nick pulled him back, dragging him away from the portal. "You?" Xander called.
"I'm going," Willow called back. "It's my destiny. It's why I was possessed." She walked closer to the portal but someone else shot her with a tranq. Everyone turned to see William holding the gun. "You?"
"Yes, me," he said, walking over to pull her away. "Xander, back away from the portal. We need everyone out of the circle so we can close it." He dragged the witch out of the circle, letting Derek fill in the gaps the bodies left, then walked over to help him and Xander cast.
Philip looked up at Nick. "I have ta," he whispered, reaching up. "I'm not Julia, this is just my callin'."
"No," Nick said quietly. "This isn't a calling, it's a suicide mission. You're not leaving me." He knelt down beside his love, pulling him up to hug tightly. "You're not leaving," he whispered. "I can't take you leaving."
"I'll be around," Philip said, pushing Nick back some. "I have ta go, Nick, I've been chosen."
"So's Willow. Why don't you let her go?"
"She's a ma."
"No, she's not," Willow said, pushing herself up until she was sitting. "She's a surrogate. All my children are well aware of who raised them and it's not me." She looked at Nick. "I'm going. Even if the spell works."
Nick shook his head. "It's not necessary. This will close it permanently. Like nailing it shut." He stood up, letting Philip fall back to the grass. "Don't move." He walked over to help out.
Oddly enough, it was Junior, and the demon in him, who made the decision.
He was carried over by a minion he had called from the car, glaring at the people trying to close the portal. "I said I'd leave the child alone," he reminded them. "Put me down near the kid's father, he'll protect the infant." The minion put Junior, and Andres, down beside Xander, stepping back before he could be hurt.
"Oh, God," Philip moaned, pushing himself up so he could see. "The baby."
"He's still possessed," Willow said softly. She looked at Philip. "Do you really want to do this, Philip? Are you ready to give up everything to be the guardian?" He silently nodded. "You're willing to give up Nick and Derek, and my kids?"
"Are you?" he asked quietly. She nodded. "They're your children."
"No, I just gave birth to them. Everyone else raised them for me. I doubt the older ones even remember me." She forced herself to stand, wobbling over to her youngest child's side, falling to her knees beside him. "Junior," she whispered, picking him up to kiss him. "I'm sorry," she said, putting him down. "Always grow up like Xander and Oz, they're good guys." She stood up, looking at the portal that was just starting to open enough for someone to walk into it. She looked over her shoulder and smiled, walking calmly into the circle, knowing no one could stop her once she had passed the barrier.
Philip grunted in annoyance, hefting himself up and wandering over. "Ya had to do that, didn'ya," he called.
"If you follow, I do," Nick told Philip, grabbing onto his arm.
Philip shook his head, giving Nick a small, tender kiss. "I have ta. Even if it destroys me, I have to go." He pulled Derek in for a hug. "I'm sorry," he whispered, silently brushing over the Precept's face. "I love you," he whispered. "Always have and will." He turned, heading into the portal, getting away from William easily since he was almost too late to stop him.
Xander made a lunge for Philip as he walked into the circle, grabbing his arm before he crossed and pulled him back through. "No," he hissed. "You're not going to leave Derek like that. No matter how strong your faith is, it doesn't give you the right to destroy someone else's life. You're becoming those same people that you hated, Father."
Philip shook his head. "He understands, Xander, he really does." He removed his arm, patting the side of the young man's face. "Take care of them. I will find a way to watch and I will come back if you don't." He stared into Xander's eyes, shaking his head with a small smile. "I'm not dyin', I'm joining an alternate lifestyle." He waved at Derek then started to walk through, but Nick and Derek grabbed him as well as Xander. "It's callin' me, I have ta go. If I don't, then the portal will never close. Especially not with just her." He shook them off, flinging Derek and Nick away, pushing Xander back in another direction. Then he finished walking through the barrier.
Nick got up, trying to catch him. He had to stop at the barrier but he reached across, wincing as a fire swept over his skin. He resisted whoever was trying to pull him away from Philip, trying to go with him. "Not again," he chanted. "Not going to happen again."
Derek walked over, taking Nick and holding him. "We can't go through, it'll break the spell and the Hellmouth will stay open."
"For God's sake," Andres yelled. "Minion, come. Carry me in there." He glared at Derek as he passed him. "I'll send the priest back out." He had his minion drop him next to the portal and then looked up at Philip. "You're *chosen* to protect the child. All of them. A future Slayer, two werewolves, and Brandon, who no one's sure about. And this one, who might as well be a male Slayer. Get over it." The baby's body humped up and he screamed, his spirit being pulled from the child and floating back into the portal. "Free at last, now I understand what that means."
Willow and Philip both looked down at the crying infant. She waved at the baby. "You heard him."
"I heard a demon tryin' ta tell me my callin'." He glared at her. "I'm not leaving, you might as well take *your* son and go."
Willow snorted. "He doesn't even know me." She pushed Philip. "Take my son and go. He needs you. And if Serena is going to be the next Slayer..."
"It's Precious," Xander said as he broke through the barrier. "Serena is fully wolfing still. So's Timmy thanks to me, and Junior will be someday soon thanks to Serena." He picked up his son, glaring at Philip. "No real man would leave the one he loved like that." He turned, heading back to the portal. "It won't close now, no matter *who* walks through it, even Philip's God."
Philip choked. "What?"
"I invalidated it," Xander yelled as he walked back through where the barrier had been. "See?" He handed Junior off to William. "Take him to the truck while I deal with the rampant stupidity." He glared at Adam. "You too."
Derek chuckled. "Son, you shouldn't have done that, but I do appreciate it." He turned to look at Xander, his face morphing as he was possessed. "This just makes it so much easier."
Xander shrugged. "Yay. If Philip can leave the only people he's ever really loved then I can kill the man who might as well be my father." He crossed his arms. "I sent the one I love away so he wouldn't have to see this, what makes you think I won't kill you?"
The demon laughed. "Because we're stronger," it hissed.
Xander watched as Nick was taken over too, shrugging at him when he turned on him. "Yay," he said, sounding very bored. He yawned, covering it with the back of his hand, in which he held a small silver knife; he had planned for this occasion, even when Derek and William had thought the spell was going to be enough. "Deal with me or not."
Philip stormed out. "How can you be so cold?"
"Gee, I've been taking lessons from you," he said coolly. Xander blinked at him then tossed him the knife. "Get over it, Philip, if you walk through the portal now, they're stuck for good unless we can open another Hellmouth." He waved at the possessed people. "Stand and fight or run away crying. Now you choose." He turned and started towards the Range Rover. "Let me know what you decide sometime before dawn please. They'll be permanent after that."
"Xander Harris, you will *not* do this to your family," Willow yelled, running after him. She grabbed his arm, spinning him around. "How can you be so cold?"
"Gee, Will, you taught me that too. I'm just doing what you'd do." He got loose from her. "Choose now, I'm going to go check my son over." Derek screamed as the silver blade touched his flesh, falling to his knees panting at the pain running through him as the demon left. "Looks like Philip made his."
Philip leaned over Nick's prone body, scraping him lightly too. His love screamed louder, his eyes watering as the demon left him, his body having to change back from the scales that had started to grow. When Philip turned to look at Xander, there was no emotion in his eyes. "Ya had to?" he asked quietly, throwing the knife at the young man. "Ya had to hurt them? Your own family?"
"No, I didn't," Xander said, walking back over. "But I did have to get you out of there." He pointed at the book. "There's a lot you don't know about the job you're applying for and you wouldn't listen to those that have done the research. If you walk in, you're not coming out. Each attack eats a little of your soul away. Eventually it'll be gone and the Hellmouth will open again. And you're not going to heaven, Philip." He grabbed his arm, handing him the book. "You have to read this. Yeah, you can still walk in there. If that's the right thing to do. But you're just a cork in the hole. You can't plug the dam forever." Xander stepped back, watching as Philip read, then watched as he shut the book and looked over his shoulder at the portal. "And?" he asked quietly. "Do you kill everyone who loves you for maybe ten or twenty years of no portal or do you do the right thing?"
"I'm doing the right thing." Philip hugged him. "Tell him ta come for me," Philip whispered. "I'll be waiting." He turned and jogged back to the portal, chanting as he ran. He never saw Willow trying to cut him off, not until she joined him inside the portal. He pushed her out, his mouth hanging open in shock as one of her became two. He had enough time to hear Nick scream and watch him fall to his knees against Xander's steady body before the portal closed and he faced the demon standing there. "I'm the gatekeeper, this is my helper."
Xander looked down at Nick then at Derek. "He's doing it the other way," he told his father, not dodging the slap. "You can go back for him," he explained, not dodging the punch either, though he did catch the hands before they could do more damage. "You can save him, Derek, the same way you did William."
William walked over, taking Derek from Xander's arms. "Let me. We'll work it out." He looked from Xander to Nick and back. "Bring him, I'll drive." The younger man nodded, picking his brother up and carrying him back to the Range Rover with a few grunts.
William sat on the edge of Derek's bed, looking down into his face. "He found the only way you could get Philip back, Derek, and he's killing himself over it. He's running the house. He called London, he put out the notice of Philip going into the portal." He took a deep breath. "You need to talk to him before he leaves." Nick sat up, shaking his head. "No, you lay back down, Mr. Boyle. This is between Derek and Xander. You're staying up here or else I'll bring Timmy down to read to you and make you take a nap."
Derek snorted. "He could use one anyway." He slid out of the bed, grabbing his robe. "Where's my son?"
"He's been living in your office," William said dryly. "I can finally see the resemblance."
Derek headed out of his room and down the stairs, knocking on his office door before walking in. He winced as he caught sight of the four-day old bruises, hanging his head. "Son," he said quietly. "I'd like to talk to you."
"No need," Xander said, standing up. He walked over, hugging his father, then handed him an envelope. "My bracelet's in there too. Just give me a few days to find us a house please." He started to walk past him, but Derek caught him, pulling him into a hard hug. "You'll still be their grandfather, Da...Derek. Nothing else is going to change." He got loose, looking into the older man's eyes. "Just yell when you want to see them."
Derek tore open the envelope, taking the bracelet off and putting it back on Xander's wrist. "You are *not* allowed to leave, son. I should weld this to your body." He pulled Xander back into his arms, holding onto him. "I'm sorry, about all of it."
"It was grief," Xander whispered. "I do understand about that." He pulled back, patting the side of Derek's cheek. "But I was serious. You don't trust me."
Derek pulled his son over to the couch, pushing him down onto it. "Sit and listen." He sat down beside him after a few seconds. "Son, do you remember the last time we had this conversation? How I said I would not allow you to leave the house again?" Xander nodded, balling his hands up in his lap. "I meant it. I'm not letting you leave this house. Not the house, not my side, and not the Legacy." He touched the bigger bruise, wincing again even though his son didn't flinch. "I'm sorry, I promised to never treat you badly and I did. I cannot forgive myself for hitting you, son, but I'm still not letting you leave because of it."
Xander ducked away from the hand. "That's only part of it, Derek. If you're honest with yourself, you don't trust me now. You see what I did as betrayal because I let Philip go." He stood up. "I can't stay because I'm the one hurting you. And I can't do that, not to you or Nick." He took off the bracelet and tried to hand it back. When it wasn't taken, he walked over and put it on the center of the desk. "I'm sorry, Derek, but I need to go. We'll be gone in a few days and you'll have our address." He started to walk out of the office but he ran into William and Nick, both of who were frowning. "I was bad, okay, I fully take credit for that one." Nick pulled him into a hug. "It was my bad, let go."
"Never letting you go," Nick said, not even letting him wiggle. "I'm not losing more of my family. Get over your guilt." He pulled back, still holding onto Xander's shoulders. "You're not leaving. Even if I have to sedate you again."
Derek shook his head. "Nick, that's not the way we do things anymore." He stood up, walking over to where they were, with a short stop at his desk to pick up the bracelet. "You're not leaving," he said, firm enough to be a command. "If you try, I will hunt you down and bring you back in the most embarrassing way I know how. I'll even allow Nick to kick in the door again." William snorted. "You will stay and let me apologize for forcing you to make that decision for me."
"But you were possessed," Xander argued. "I made him go. Made him leave you."
"No, son, you gave me a way to call him back. Without jeopardizing the world by reopening the portal." He touched the bruise again. "We both share guilt over that incident. We need to share it together to make it lessen."
Xander nodded. "You're sure you can trust me?"
"Son, you're running the house. I trust you with everything that's dear to me, which admittedly the house is far down the list now." He smiled slightly, the first one in four days. "I trust you with myself, son, and that's most important. Now stop this foolishness and tell your children to come read us a story, we've not been able to sleep recently."
"Sure thing, Da...Derek." Xander walked out of the room, heading for the kitchen.
Derek sighed, his whole body slumping. "I royally screwed up what we had." He looked at Nick. "How do I fix that with him? I didn't mean to hurt him, or even to strike him. It was almost instinctual."
"Xander understands about grief reactions, Derek," William said, guiding Derek towards the door. "I'll talk with him later tonight, give everything a chance to calm down some." He waited until he was alone to sigh and lean against the wall beside the door. "This is a royal mess," he muttered. He flinched as he heard Xander clear his throat. "How'd you get in?"
"You were wallowing in self-pity. The door's quiet." He handed over a glass. "I'm not mad at him for it, William, really." William started to laugh, getting harder and harder by the second. He ended up leaning against the wall for support while he tried to stop. "Gee, supportive," Xander said, heading around to the desk to pick up a few papers. "I'm going out to think. Don't wreck the filing system." William caught his arm on the way past. "What?" he asked tiredly.
"Xander, you're both feeling guilty over the same thing. Derek's feeling guilty because he hit you and you're feeling the same because you forced him to. And don't deny it, even I can see that far."
"I'm not feeling guilty over him hitting me, I'm feeling guilty over allowing Philip to leave him and making him feel bad enough that he hit me for it."
William sighed. "Xander, trust me, that was just a reaction. Derek was in that much pain and he had to let it out. He used to throw things when he got that upset." He pulled the younger man over to the couch, sitting down beside him. "Derek's worried that he's messed things up between you so much that you'll never call him father again because of these." He touched the bigger bruise lightly. "When you asked him to call him that, that was the happiest moment of his life. Not even when he was told he had a son before was he this happy."
"He has another son?"
"No, it was a demon pretending to be his son." William waved him off. "Not the point, kid. You're his son. The one he chose to be his son, long before you acknowledged it you were his son. Actually, he made you his legal heir on all of his Legacy paperwork while you guys were running away." He squeezed his arm hard. "Don't do that again, you nearly killed him." Xander looked down, not able to meet his gaze any longer. "I know you thought we were going to hurt you, but trust me here, even if the Legacy were like that, it wouldn't have been Derek. He couldn't hurt you under normal circumstances." He let go of Xander's arm, smoothing over the spot he had squeezed. "There is nothing more important in Derek's life than you and the rest of his family. He was even ready to leave the Legacy so he could stay with you and the kids instead of going to London. That's why the lead house was changed."
Xander looked up and shook his head. "No it wasn't."
"Yes, son, it was. Derek and I worked out a system a long time ago. I wanted the power and would use it gently. He didn't want the responsibility for the whole organization. So if I got a Precept position it would work as normally, but if Derek got one, I would rule through him. See, we were always in the same house coming up through the ranks. Then I got pulled to London to be third in command and Derek got his own house. Even now, I rule through Derek. And almost every other Precept knows it, that's why they don't bother him with the protocol decisions. Derek's a great battlefield commander, Xander, but he's not a planner. Oz is a planner and you're a lot like your father. That's why he's going to get this house and we *all* support your relationship."
"So it's politics."
"Oh, yes, politics makes the world spin, even in the Legacy." William smiled at him. "Your changing won't hurt the process I have planned any at all, it's actually probably going to make your relationship stronger in the long run. After the fight and guilt that is."
Xander shuddered. "Oz is going to kill me. He was so worried that I'd change." William pulled him against his side and he stiffened. "What?"
"You looked like you needed a hug and I'm playing surrogate father until Derek's ready to rejoin life."
Xander nodded, relaxing slightly. "Okay." He looked up. "He's really sorry?"
"Son, he never wanted to hurt you, especially not physically. That is a thought that sent him running to Philip's side one night, just to be held. He understands about your past, and Nick's, and he never wanted you to associate this house with pain or hardship." Xander shook his head. "Even if he hadn't known, he still wouldn't ever want to hurt you," William amended.
Xander stood up, looking down at him. "I guess I should talk to him, huh?"
"Let him stew for a while, you'll get a better apology." He laughed at the glare he got. "Derek used to give me that same look when I woke him up in the middle of the night."
"Call grandma and tell her I said hi." Xander walked out of the office, heading up to his father's room, knocking lightly once he got there. He walked in, smiling at the scene that greeted him. All of his children, even Junior, were on the bed with his father and Nick. The older ones all had books out and were reading out loud and Xandra had a book that was being read to her and Junior by Derek. Derek looked up and smiled at him, so he grinned back, leaning against the doorframe. "You guys, if you each read one at a time, then they could hear the individual stories."
"They nap then," Serena scoffed. "We all read. You need story?"
"Sure, I could use one," Xander said, walking over to get on the end of the bed, crawling up to sit between Derek and Nick, lifting Brandon up to sit on his lap. "How's this?" he asked.
"Very goot," Derek sighed, wrapping an arm around him. "My family, all together again."
"Mommy?" Serena asked, and all the kids put down their books.
"She's out in the guesthouse and you may see her if your father says it's all right," Derek quietly told them. "And only if someone like Jonathan or William go out with you."
The kids looked at each other and nodded. "Okay," they said together, Xandra putting in hers just a second behind.
Derek hugged Xandra hard, then squeezed Xander to his side. "Goot, now then, we need more stories."
Brandon clapped. "'Kay," he called. "I see angelies."
Xander looked at him. "Which one?"
"Richie. He nice. He play us and show up when we out."
Jonathan groaned from the door. "Guys, you weren't supposed to worry your father that way." He walked in and shut the door, opening it when he heard a grunt from the other side. "Oh, sorry, Adam. I just needed to tell them about the angel they've been playing with."
Adam dropped the tray, looking at him in shock. "Angel?"
TO BE CONTINUED...