Slogging Through It Until You Reach The Surface
Xander paced nervously in the Judge's chambers, avoiding Oz's attempts to grab him every time he passed by his chair.
"He's not going to say mean things," Oz reminded him.
"You can't be sure of that," Xander reminded him. "This guy might not want to do let us do this because we're gay. Or...or he might not like us."
"Did you take your medicine?" Oz asked. Xander nodded. "And you're still this worried?"
"Because this is a big thing, especially right now." Xander stared at him. "I want this to go okay, babe, but I can't be certain that it will. There's way too many bad things in the world that don't like us because we're together."
"Wasn't that my argument a few months ago?" Oz asked patiently.
"Yeah," Xander sighed, sitting down next to him and leaning into him. "I'm sorry, but I've got major butterflies."
"That's normal," Oz assured him, using his best gentle tone. "It'll be okay, or we'll make it okay. Agreed?"
Xander picked up Oz's hand, joining their rings. "Yeah, together we can do anything."
The Judge walked in and they stood up. "Good morning," she said, sitting down behind her desk. "I have a petition from both of you to change your names?" She looked up and saw how they were sitting. "Ah, for that reason. You know that this won't mean that you're married?"
Xander nodded. "We consider ourselves married, even though it's not legal yet. We've had a ceremony, our children all have hyphenated names, and we're fully committed to each other." He handed over a folder, which she stared at for a second. "Our lawyer suggested that we bring in a copy of the tape."
"I see." She looked at Oz. "Do you feel the same about him?" Oz nodded. "Out loud please."
"Sorry, I'm not a very verbose person," Oz said smoothly. "Xander's my life. Everything that's ours is totally ours together, from our house to our kids."
"You have how many children?"
"Six. My ex allowed us to adopt them all. Four are mine and the other two are adopted from her."
She looked up at them. "She fooled around on you?"
"Yes, ma'am, though one child was from an incident after we separated. She's let us adopt them all as she's never around and we get along better with the children."
"Do you have a copy of the adoption agreement?"
Xander tapped the folder. "It's in there, including the problem adoption papers. Our youngest," he explained at her hard look, "had to be adopted by our friends and brought back because we were in the middle of a paternity suit with the mother. Willow later signed a letter saying that she wanted us to have custody, as did the adoptive parents, who gave him to us as soon as he got home."
"Ah, a tangled web. Does the Judge that ruled over that adoption know of this?"
"Yes, ma'am," Xander said. "Willow went to her and explained everything. She's the one who said to write the letter to Alex and Derek."
"I thought that was you two."
"We didn't do anything," Oz said calmly. "Their whole case was false and there's charges to be made as soon as they find the agents who did this to our family."
She nodded. "Can you find any reason I should grant these petitions?"
"Because it's our names and you really don't have a say over what we call ourselves?" Xander suggested. "We could have changed them in daily use but we wanted to make this official."
"True," she said, nodding, giving him a smile. "Relax, Mr. Harris. I see no reason not to grant this petition, though there's no precedent." She signed her name to both forms, handing them over. "There. Be happy with your new names. Be careful though, there's some who might challenge this decision."
"We're prepared for that," Oz told her, standing up, still holding Xander's hand. "Thank you."
Xander gave her his most bright smile. "Thank you, ma'am." He gathered up the folder, taking it out with him. They met Alex in the hall, giving her smiles too. "She said it was okay," Xander told her.
"Cool, but we just took Junior to the hospital. Seems his ear started to hurt last night and Derek thinks it may have ruptured."
Oz nodded, handing over the keys. "It's good that he held him hostage last night then. Let's go."
Xander followed him out the door, getting into the back with his husband. "How bad? Did he call the pediatrician or Marcus?"
"He called Marcus and described it, he told him to go in." Alex pulled out onto the street. "There's been a small wrinkle in the custody thing. Memorial's decided that only Derek and I can agree to treat Junior. Even with all the paperwork in place."
"Man, it never ends!" Xander complained, throwing his hands up. "Why does this happen to us?"
"Because things like this happen to everybody," Oz said quietly. "We're just lucky that ours get more attention." He hopped out as they pulled up in front of the hospital, dragging Xander with him into the emergency room. "Where's Derek?" he said, looking around.
"Back that way," Xander said as he caught his father's scent, pointing.
"I'm sorry," the receptionist said, blocking their path, "only patients and caregivers are allowed back there."
"They're the custodial parents," Alex said as she walked in. "We're going back together." She led the boys back to the examination room, smiling at Derek. "They got good news."
"And a caution," Xander added, "but that's okay. Hey, Junior," he said, leaning down to kiss him on the forehead. The whimpering crying stopped and the little boy held up his arms.
"Ah, the rest of the confusion," the doctor said as he walked in. "Now I know who usually takes care of him." He wiggled his fingers at the baby. "Your son has an infection build-up behind his left ear drum. The puss forced the ear drum out and it ruptured along the bottom of the membrane. It's easily fixed, but I need to say something." He put down the chart, looking at Xander, who was clutching his son. "Your son may have some permanent hearing loss, even before this happened."
"We're aware that it might have been that way," Oz said. "Our doctor's checked him over and said we'd have to wait and see how bad it was, but that he had partial hearing."
"Good. I hate breaking news like that. With this rupture, he could lose more of his hearing in his left side. Maybe even totally."
"That was his weakest side anyway," Xander said quietly. "They think that he has at least sixty in his right and had about fifty in his left."
"Good," the doctor repeated. He made a note of it on the chart. "Would you like to have a hearing specialist check him?"
"We're waiting until his first birthday," Oz said.
"Jon scheduled him for the week after his birthday," Xander said quietly.
"And he would be?"
"The nanny," everyone said together.
"He has Junior about six hours a day," Xander explained. "He's been going to classes with our older children to have something to do while we work."
"Okay then." The doctor held out his arms. "May I?" he asked when he wasn't handed the child.
Xander gave Junior a kiss and handed him over, watching carefully as the damaged ear was checked. "Will he need surgery?"
"Right now, we'll need to go in and drain off the infection. We'll want to put a tube in, that's pretty standard in kids his age though. Who signs permission to treat?"
Derek shrugged. "Technically, we've signed custody over to them but we're the adoptive parents. The birth mother wanted them to have him but she disappeared right after birth and things got a little complicated."
"We'll both sign one," Oz suggested. "Just to cover every base."
"Good idea, young man." He handed him Junior, watching as the baby was gently cradled. "You spend a lot of time with him too."
Alex smiled. "I just adopted him for them. Junior's their kid, and Derek occasionally takes care of him."
"That's why he didn't like you then," the doctor said. "Good deal. I'll get the nurse to bring in the forms. Each set of parents gets to sign one and we'll take the child in right now." He walked out with the chart, admitting a nurse a few minutes later.
"These are permission for us to treat, the standard forms for surgery." She looked at Xander. "Don't I know you?"
"Maybe," he said, taking the forms to sign, after reading it carefully.
Derek took the second form, signing it about as quickly. "Who's doing his surgery?"
"Someone your regular doctor likes to refer to, Marcus made sure of it." She took both forms back, giving them a smile. "We'll be in to get him in a minute, then you can go wait up on the surgery ward." She left them alone.
Xander took Junior to cuddle, giving him a kiss every few seconds on the forehead. "Yeah, everything will be fine," he whispered. "Yes, in just a few hours everything will be just fine."
Oz helped his mate up onto the table, hopping up next to him so he could comfort his son also. "Hey, little person, yes, hi," he said when Junior looked at him. "Everything's going to be okay. Your pain will be gone soon and you'll be coming home with us."
"There's an overnight stay planned," the nurse said as she walked in with an orderly and a gurney. "It's time. Give him last kisses."
Xander gave him a final squeeze and kiss, handing him off to Oz, who did the same. Derek got him last, holding him for the longest yet. "We'll be waiting on you to wake up," he told his grandson. "Just a few hours." He handed him off to the nurse.
"Go up to the surgical waiting room, he won't be in there that long." She tucked the baby into the sheets, taking him out of the cubicle.
Alex was the first one to get moving. "How about I go get sodas and sandwiches?"
Xander shook his head. "Can't eat." He took Oz's hand and walked out into the hall.
Derek smiled at her. "It's a goot thought, but their stomachs have got to be in revolt right now. It's been a stressful day." He followed them out after giving her a pat on the arm. "Go get yourself lunch, Alex, we'll be waiting upstairs."
Alex sighed and grabbed the wallet laying on the table, checking to make sure whose it was. She walked out of the cubicle, going to find Oz and give it to him. "Here," she said, handing it off. "It crawled out."
Oz checked it then nodded, putting it in his front pocket. "Thanks." He curled up in the hard chair, leaning into his mate's side. He felt an arm go around them both from the other side and looked over at Derek, giving him a faint smile. "This has been one of those days, huh?"
"Very," Derek agreed. "How did your petition go?"
"We got it, but she warned us that someone might protest the action," Xander said quietly. "Does anyone else feel like we just lost Junior for good?"
"Yes," everyone said.
"It's okay though, you've been in those rooms and so has Nick," Oz reminded him. "Nothing's going to happen to him."
"As long as he gets better," Alex said softly.
"Did you have a blip of sight?" Oz asked, looking around Xander to stare at her.
"No, but I'm feeling it too."
"Tell us if you get something," Oz said, going back to his cuddling.
A nurse veered over to look at them. "We'd appreciate it if you'd disengage yourself from your man," she said quietly. "We don't allow that sort of conduct in here."
"If I was a wife, would it be allowed?" Oz asked.
"That's fine then," he said, sitting up, leaning his head on Xander's shoulder.
"Our son's in surgery," Xander explained. "We're feeling really hurt right now."
"That's fine, but we don't allow public displays of affection in the waiting areas." She walked away.
Xander grabbed Oz's hand and squeezed it. "It'll be okay," he said.
Xander looked down at his son, then over at Oz, then they both looked at Derek, who shook his head. "Um, nurse, did anything unusual happen during the surgery?" Xander asked when she walked over. "Junior seems funny to me."
"No, not a thing. What sort of funny?"
"Like there's something different about him," Oz said, looking into the open eyes. "Hey, Junior." The baby started to cry. "That's a definite strange thing," he noted.
Xander reached down to touch him but the baby moved away from him. "Definitely not right," he agreed.
The nurse smiled down at the baby. "You'll be just fine, little one. He's probably still in some pain."
Another nurse walked over, her nametag said she was a student nurse named Kelly. "I talked to Helen down in the ER, she said that the baby quieted down as soon as they walked in. She said it was clear who the parents are." She reached out to touch the baby, but the baby started to scream. "Okay, I'm sorry, little guy." She backed away from the bed and shrugged at Xander, staring at the nurse's neck.
Derek leaned down to look at the child, then looked up at Xander. "What have we been doing about his christening?" he asked quietly.
"It's next week," Oz told him. "Why?"
"I think we should keep that appointment," Derek said. He stood up and smiled at the nurse. "Does he really have to stay the night? We have a physician on the premises."
"That's the orders," she said with a smile. "You can talk to the doctor if you'd like."
Xander nodded. "Please. I'd like to have him at home tonight." He clutched Oz's hand as hard as he could, waiting until they were alone to look at Derek. "Possessed?"
"It's a distinct possibility with how he's been acting." Derek smiled as the student nurse came back over. "Have there been many children that have had this problem recently?"
"The ear thing? Not really. You're the first I've seen on my rotation, but I've only been in this unit for a few days. Now, upstairs, you got some really grumpy people coming out of surgery."
"Kelly!" the older nurse called. "Come help me with this."
"Sorry, have to go," she said with a smile, jogging over to go help.
Derek looked at Xander and nodded. "Call Rupert to come take us home."
"Sure." He pulled out his cellphone and dialed the house. "Giles? Nope, big bad. Junior had surgery and we're wanting to come home. Derek wants you to drive us though." He handed over the phone as the doctor walked in. "Does he have to stay? We have a doctor at the house right now and we'd like to take him home."
The doctor looked at the chart and frowned, then shrugged. "I don't see why not if you have a physician there. Is it your doctor or his?"
"Marcus is supposed to come out tonight," Derek said as he hung up. "I can call and make sure if you'd like."
Derek dialed Marcus' cellphone, stepping away from the bed. "Marcus, it's Derek. You're still coming out tonight for the party, correct?" He smiled and handed the phone over. "Here, you can ask him yourself."
"Marcus? You are? You're sure you're willing to handle a post-op infant?" He nodded. "All right. I'll send them home with instructions but I'm sure you'll know what to look for." He handed the phone back. "Thank you, it will open up a bed for someone else. I'll go fill out orders."
"Oh, good," Kelly said as she bounced over, giving Derek a smile. "You're getting to take him home. I'm sure he'd be a lot less fussy in his ususal environment."
Xander answered his phone as it rang, frowning when he heard the voice on the other end. "She did? Did she say what? Thank you, Serena. Yes, love, I'll tell grandpa you said so. Be good to Adam, all right?" He hung up and nodded Derek into the hall. "Precious just did her broadcasting thing. Serena questioned Timmy, the first one awake, who said that whatever isn't just a bad thing, it's a double bad thing. Like Andres and the silver things put together."
"Oh, dear," Derek sighed, scratching his eyebrow. "I had hoped it would be one or the other. We'll fix it."
"We can't," Xander said, catching his arm before he walked away. "Precious 'saw' the church we go to for baptisms exploding because of the bad thing."
Derek nodded and walked back into the room, barely ahead of the doctor. "It's all set then?"
"Of course." He handed over the forms. "You can take him home whenever your ride gets here."
"Thank you." Derek watched as his grandson was taken off the machines and handed over to Alex, who didn't seem to bother him at all. They walked out escorted by Kelly, who was still bouncing.
"Say hi to Richie for me, and to Brandon, that kid's got a great future. Oh, and your sister too, she's a sweetheart." She waved and jogged back down the hall, disappearing around a corner.
"Richie's an angel," Xander said, looking over at his father. "You think?"
"I know," Derek said. "Come, we're going to meet my sister. Her order may have someone who can help us." He slid into the car just pulling up, letting Alex sit in the back. "Boys, take the other car and follow us. Let Jon and Adam handle the children."
"I'll call Buffy on the way," Xander said, tossing Oz the keys Alex had handed him earlier. "She's due in tonight and she'll need to get her own ride home." He jogged to the car, following his mate.
Sister Ingrid walked into her convent's chapel, sitting down beside her brother. "You did the right thing bringing him here," she said quietly. "He'll be fine."
"Your Reverend Mother was quite upset at us for barging in here."
She patted his hand. "Brother, you liven up this place, for that she's mad at you. You destroy her orderly gardens and simple life by adding in new dimensions that she's never really believed in." She smiled at one of her sisters as she walked past them. "Though, and I will admit this freely, I like your sons. They're both very good men."
"Yes, they are. A true credit to us all." He gave her a hug. "Thank you for helping us. You didn't have to go against her and take the child in, but we do thank you."
"There is no greater evil than to not help when it's needed." She stood up. "Would you like to go to their room? I believe they're about ready for you now."
"Please," he said, standing and following her out. They walked up to one of the secluded rooms on the outside of the convent, one of the ones where visiting families usually stayed so that they wouldn't interrupt the nuns. He walked in and saw his grandson sitting on the bed, frowning at everyone. "There are days when I wish Andres had stayed," he said, sitting down beside Oz. "Do we know what's contaminating him yet, Rupert?"
"No, but we know he's Holy Water reactive," Giles said quietly. "Precious' vision was correct about one thing though, it's not just supernatural or spiritual."
"How do we cure it?" Xander asked. "What do we have to do to save everyone else that's been infected with whatever this is?"
"We're not sure yet, Xander, but as soon as we are, we'll tell you so you can go destroy the creature."
Xander nodded. "Good."
"What do we know?" Derek asked.
"We think it's spawning, that's why it's been infecting people in the hospital. We're reasonably sure that whatever this is, it's been attacking people who have been in surgery. We do think that this creature is from somewhere subterranean. It appears to have affected his hearing but not his sight."
"Would it have the doctors and nurses in on it?" Oz suggested. "And would it be lying in a corner or have to come up to infect people?"
"Most likely, it comes up to infect people, it does have some of the staff under it's control, and killing it will either kill them or free them."
"What can we do to figure that last part out?" Xander asked.
"Boys, let's find out how to get it from your son first. Then we'll worry about going to save the city."
"Actually," Giles offered, "they may be correct. We may not be able to remove it from Junior without killing the actual creature itself." He smiled at the priest that walked in to help them. "I was just telling them what we're supposing is the truth."
"Good, good, it's always good to have someone on your side." He smiled at Derek. "Sister Ingrid went to pray for some support for you."
"Thank her for me." Derek touched Xander's and Oz's joined hands. "We'll deal with it, boys, never fear. No one else's children will suffer with this affliction."
"As long as we get to kill it," Xander said quietly.
Adam looked up as he heard his door open, covering his eyes when he saw who it was. "What's wrong, Brandon? I have a headache."
"I got message from my friend. You have to go where daddies are to save Junior. Your sparkly stuff is what'll kill the thing in him." He climbed up onto the bed and looked down at his teacher. "If you don't brother will be never be back, forever."
Adam uncovered his eyes and looked at the little boy. "Said who? Precious or Richie?"
"Well," Richie said as he appeared, sitting on top of the dresser with a mysterious breeze blowing through his red hair, "I did, she did, and another messenger told them to go see Ingrid. And yeah, it'll take one of us to work it out of him."
Adam nodded as he sat up. "Fine. Where?"
"I know," Brandon said. "I have map from Kelly."
Adam looked at the angelic messenger. "He's going to be a priest, isn't he?"
"A very good one," Richie agreed, waving Brandon from the room. "Listen, I can only tell you a little, but this creature *isn't* reactive to electricity, it has to be a quickening. And yes, there's a nun up there that's one of us, but she's never crossed over. Probably won't since she's slated to die a gentle death at ninety or so." He smiled sadly. "I know how much you hate to be the hero, Methos, but this time you're going to have to at least be the understudy for the part."
"How do I kill it?" Methos asked as he pulled on pair of sweat pants. "Or do I kill it?"
"Forcing some of your quickening back through it's link to it's mother will backlash and weaken the mother. After that, it's a simple spell and blessing combination to rid him of it. The mother will be dealt with by a father." He shrugged at the disgruntled noise. "Remember that trick Ramirez found to channel your quickening? You'll have to do that. Don't give the kid all of yours, but a good portion would be nice."
"Fine. Didn't he have to do some sort of mental centering?"
"And he had to want it more than life, old man. You have to want to send your life's energy into that person to help them more than anything at that moment." He smiled at the muttered comment that sounded like 'that shouldn't be a problem'. "There's a reason you're here, this isn't it, but it is a task. Guard the children well, old friend. They'll need you when they're older." He faded from view.
Methos took a deep breath and stood up, grabbing a shirt and his keys. "Where's the convent," he asked the air.
"I take you," Brandon called out from the hallway. "I'm needed."
"Absolutely not," Methos said, opening the door to look down at him. "Your fathers would skin me if I brought you."
"Precious said so," Jon called from the kitchen.
Adam walked out with the little boy, taking the bags that were handed to him. "Are you sure it was him?"
"Yeah, he's going to take Philip's job one day. I packed you each a dinner, and something for the little guy too." Jon wiped off his cheeks. "Kiss him for me, 'kay?"
"I'll bring him back, Jon, never doubt it." Adam patted him on the shoulder and walked out to the garage, the little boy following along right behind him.
Adam walked into the family's room, holding a hand up as Xander opened his mouth. "Precious said I had to bring him." He knelt before the bed, nodding Giles and the priest over. "Get that spell and baptism ritual together. I've been ordered to do something."
"If you wish," the priest said, "but what are you going to do?"
"I'm going to do something that a student of mine perfected," he said calmly.
"Ever done it before?" Oz asked as he walked over and knelt beside the bed.
"Who perfected it?" Derek asked.
"I've read his journal," Derek said with a nod. "What will it do?"
"It will stun the creature. As to why Brandon is here? I'm not sure, all I know is that Precious demanded it." He focused on the baby, laying his hand on the ashen chest, willing his energy to bleed off him and into the child. He grew frustrated when it wasn't working, his temper starting to fray quickly as no energy bled off him. He blew out a breath and centered himself again, going to a spot he had only found once before, at a time like this. Once he got there, he felt a small hand touch his back. He felt his quickening energy rise up to meet that of another's flowing through him, both of them going into Junior's worn out body. The power going through him grew stronger, making him start to shake, but he held on. He caught some of the energy flowing through him's taste, smiling as he recognized it. He let go of the child as he felt himself grow weak, letting the strong arms move him. "The mother's been backlashed," he whispered. "It can be killed now by a father."
Derek smiled and nodded, helping the old immortal into a chair. "Thank you, Methos," he whispered. "Guard my family." He walked out before anyone realized he was gone, going to do what he had to do. He knew Xander needed to be with his child right then, he could take vengeance for them all.
Xander looked up as the door shut, turning his head to look at their teacher. "He went?"
"He knew you needed to be here," Methos said quietly. He smiled up at the man standing in the doorway. "Father," he said respectfully.
Giles smiled at him. "We've found a way to stun it."
"Good. How long do you need to do the spell?"
"Not long," Giles said. "We'll be doing the blessing at the same time."
"You're an interesting man," Brandon pronounced, looking at this new priest. "I should talk to you about what I want to be when I grow up."
The priest looked over at Oz, who shrugged. "He's the one who's been talking to angels recently. You tell us."
"Uh-huh. Messengers. Richie and Kelly. They're both really cool."
"Then I believe we should go discuss them," he said, holding out a hand. "Would you like to come pray with me, young man?"
"Okay. I'm Brandon."
"Be good," Xander warned. "No tearing around the church."
"Yes, sir." Brandon followed his new friend out, going to take his first lesson.
Xander and Oz looked back at Methos, who shrugged. "He's to take Philip's job," the teacher said softly.
"Figures," Oz said. "One's called to another plane and another is called into service. It's like being the Slayer of God."
"Probably," Giles said. "Though there have always been priests like Philip through the ages, they were always a bit better in touch with Him and the like."
"Spell now, teach later," Xander said, giving him a weak smile.
"Of course," Giles said, giving him a fond smile. "Would you hold his feet, please? This is apt to get a little on the thrashing side."
"Sure," Oz and Xander said, holding the baby down together.
Giles drew a diagram in the holy oil the priest he was working with had brought up, stepping back as Junior started to thrash and cry. The priest stepped in and started the blessing in Latin, Giles' chants merging and flowing around his like garland around a pole. As the chants grew in pitch, the baby's screams became louder and shriller, making both fathers cry, but they kept on. At the last word, which was said together, the baby seized up, his chest filling with air.
Xander choked and reached for him, ready to do whatever was necessary to help him, but Junior settled back down before he could search for a pulse. Oz stopped Xander's hands, holding them away from their child's limp body, looking up at their former mentor. "He okay now?"
"We can't be sure for a few more hours," Giles said quietly. He reached down to touch the warm forehead. "His fever's broken, that's a good sign."
"And if he's not uninfected?" Oz asked.
"Then we'll have to do something more drastic," Giles told him simply. "There have been visitors to the house who have cured other problems before by pushing them out. We'll call one of them back if we have to."
"Whatever," Xander sighed, getting onto the bed beside his son and laying down to hold him. "We'll fix it and it'll be fine somehow. Oz?"
Oz slid onto the bed on the other side of their son, cuddling him from that side, making sure his arms went around his husband too.
Oz woke up when he felt movement from Junior, looking down at his son. What he saw scared him. There was a look of unholy glee on the toddler's face as he looked at his other father, and he was getting ready to bite him. He shifted the baby back, staring into his eyes. "What are you," he hissed at his son.
"I'm me," it said, his voice deeper now.
"Bet me," Xander said. He climbed off the bed and walked over to wake Giles up. "He's still got it in him."
"We'll have to wait for Derek to kill it then, Xander," the older man said sadly.
"There's got to be another way," Xander protested. "He might die if you do that."
"We'll have to wait and see," Giles said quietly. "We've done all we can for now, Xander." He stood up and walked over to the bed, looking down at the baby and it's infernal grin. "I don't want to lose him any more than you do, he's a delightful child. We'll just have to wait now."
"Why couldn't he have kept the demon?" Xander muttered, sitting down on the bed and staring at his son. "Why do these things happen to you?"
"Because we're blessed with so much in our lives that the bads are going to be too difficult to deal with," Oz told him, giving him a smile.
"Yeah, maybe," Xander agreed. He looked down at his son as he started to cry, his face going pale as his son started to change colors, getting blue and breathless quickly. He searched frantically for a pulse when his son stopped crying but Giles pulled him off. "No! I'm *not* letting go!" He tried to start CPR but Oz stopped him, pulling him away from the bed. "No," he said, pointing. "He needs us."
"Maybe it's better this way," Oz suggested, his emotions shutting down as he moved. "He's not taken over this way. He's at peace."
Xander shook his head, still struggling to get to his son, and woke up screaming.
Oz looked around the room he woke up in, feeling vaguely bereft. "You shouldn't have done that to him," he said as he got out of the bed. He walked toward the demon tormentor, picking up something off the bedside table to hold so he wouldn't wolf out; sometimes a tactile sensation in his hands could distract him enough to keep him from turning, not that this was going to be one of those times. "You shouldn't have done that to him or to me." He jumped on the demon, pinning him to the floor. "Let us both go now," he hissed, "or I'm so going to kill you with my bare teeth."
The demon nodded, pointing at the bed. "Get back in, you'll go back to your life. I can't keep you anymore. If...if you kill me, you stay. You can change that though!"
"Not quite true," Philip said as he walked into the room through a wall. "This viewing stuff sucks, as your mate would say. Use the door, Oz, before you do something you'll regret. The vision has ended. None of that has happened yet."
"Will that happen?" Oz asked, staring at his father-in-law's lover. "Will we lose him?"
Philip shrugged. "I can't tell you that, Oz. No one can." He waved a hand at the door. "Go to your mate, he's pulled himself out of the dream state already."
Oz got off the demon's limp form and walked to the door, opening it and walking into the light. He woke up with a gasp, immediately rolling to hold his life's meaning. "Xander, I saw Philip."
"We're going to lose him," he whispered, clinging to his mate. "I can't lose the baby."
"Shh, no loss of the baby. It won't happen. We'll call Dad right now and we'll make sure of it." He rocked them gently, slowly calming Xander down, getting him put back into a fitful sleep with mantras of 'it won't happen, I won't let it' and 'if it does, we know what to do now'. Once he was sure Xander was going to stay asleep, he dialed the house. "Dad? No, I need a friend. No, a demon just tried to get us to change something. No, horrible things," he said, holding his head. "Bad things like false court cases because someone wanted inside the Legacy and things like our new house and...and things like Junior dying." He tossed the phone at the stand, running for the bathroom to go be sick.
Derek looked at the man sitting across from him, the one his nebulous feelings of dread had brought over. "William, we have to go help them. They were just propositioned and it was bad." He put the phone on speaker and let him listen to Xander's crying in his sleep. "Son," he said gently, "listen to me, it didn't happen, that was all a bad dream caused by the demon."
"Daddy," Xander whimpered. "Where's Oz? I can't lose my Oz! Not him too!"
"Shh," Oz said as he walked back in, and his voice cut out Xander's over the speaker. "Dad, we need you, now. And maybe we need someone to meddle too. Maybe grandma even."
"Son, give me a full report, I'll read it on the plane as I travel to where you are. We'll face all this together." He looked at William, who nodded. "I'll bring William with me and we'll be down by the time you wake up."
"Don't want to go to sleep," Oz whispered. "I can't see that again." He groaned, his pain coming through the lines very clearly. "Send it to the plane?"
"Send it to my email address and I'll get it on the plane, son. Relax, they can't have you."
"How did you get out?" William asked.
"Xander woke himself up after Junior died." They could hear Oz swallowing hard. "Philip had to help me out. It was so *real*, but it's only been a few hours since we went to sleep!"
"Good enough, Oz, we'll be there by breakfast time. Send us as detailed of a report as you can, everything that they showed you and the deal. We'll fix it. No one's hurting your family, not if we can help it."
"Thanks, William. You're coming too?"
"Of course. We'll leave Alex in charge of the house." He stood up. "I'm going to pack right now. Derek will call the plane and we'll be in the air before two hours are up."
"I'll be awake," Oz told them. "Come on up. Do you know our room number and hotel?"
"Of course," Derek said gently. "I have it on a piece of paper in front of me. Hang up, Oz, and do the report, it will help you calm down some. We'll see you in a few hours." He hung up after the line went dead. "I'll be damned if I'm going to let anyone harm them, especially not on that level."
Philip appeared in front of the door. "I tried to get them out sooner, but it made them wake up into a reality instead of to reality." He shrugged at the dirty look William gave him. "Some of it was right, there's enough truth in there to make it seem very real. There is a monster under Memorial hospital that's been infecting people. There are people in the government who want inside the Legacy. There are even people who can counter them if you can find them; ask Nick about the people who helped him find Xander, their boss would know who to call. And they were right about Brandon also. It's all a chess game at the moment, Derek."
"Thank you, Philip, for helping them." Derek smiled at his long-time lover. "How long before we can come get you?"
"A few more weeks. Let Xander help ya, he'll be fine with it. Oh, and they were right about his first medicine too, it'll make him paranoid."
"He's on medicine?" Derek asked the rapidly disappearing body. "He is?" he asked William.
"Probably anti-anxiety medicines, Derek, relax." William poured himself a drink. "Go pack, it'll only take me a moment and I'll call the plane service."
"Thank you, William, for understanding." Derek jogged from the room, going to do what he needed to.
"No one deserves that, especially not those two, they've got a hard enough life ahead of them."
Philip reappeared. "Not really. Things have been changing again, William Sloan. And don't give me that look, just because you didn't learn how to travel to annoy people doesn't mean I can't."
"True," William said, saluting him with his drink. "No more hard life?"
"No harder than most. Brandon will take over my spot as one of the Chosen. Precious will become a Slayer some day. Other than that? Normal problems and house problems. They'll deal, they always have."
"Good, I'm glad to hear that. What was that about their house?"
"Derek's gotten them a house."
"I know that. Why was it in the dream?"
"It was one of those real things. At least he hasn't ordered the final things yet, some things can still be changed around so it doesn't hurt them so much." He winked and faded back out.
"Come on, William," Derek called from the hallway.
William walked over to the desk and dialed the Legacy's plane service. "I need a plane in San Francisco, there's an emergency with the couple in Florida." He hung up and walked out, taking his drink with him, he'd probably need it tonight.
Derek knocked on the boy's door, accepting Xander into his arms when he opened it. "How are you?" he asked, leading the younger man inside.
"Not good," he said, pointing at the bed. "Oz still can't talk about it. I wrote out my report too," he said, pointing at the desk. "We saw the same thing."
"They arranged it that way," William said as he sat down in front of the computer screen. "The more reality they could sneak in and the more real they could make it, the worse it would be for you."
Xander nodded and sat down in one of the chairs, looking up at the man who was his father. "Tell me it's not going to happen?"
"I can't do that, son, but I can assure you that some of it won't. We won't be put under false charges, if they try then we'll run over them and let whomever deals with that sort have them."
"I wanted to kill someone," Xander admitted in a whisper. "Those agents, I felt like I was going to kill them."
"And I'm sure you would have if you had been awake," William said firmly, turning to look at him. "Xander, we take care of our own. You're not going to have to worry about things like that with us. If it happens, then we'll deal with it and stop them cold."
"Yes, sir," Xander whispered, reaching out to get a hug.
"Shh," Derek said, pulling a chair over to sit in front of him. "It will all be fine, son. I promise." He opened his arms as Oz got up and came over to where they were, hugging him too. "I promise, none of that will happen to you. Not while I'm still alive."
"Or while I'm still here," William said. He stood up. "Derek, I've called someone to talk to about that first problem, I'm going to meet him for breakfast downstairs." He checked his watch. "I've got my phone if you need me." He left the room, taking his bag with him.
"Boys, what did they want you to do?" Derek asked.
"They wanted us to change an event," Xander said, leaning back and wiping off his face. "Just one, but it would have ruined our lives so that we weren't together. When we seemed to wake up, you said that it was because together we were the force that they didn't want to deal with."
"Oh, I'm sure they don't," Derek said with a faint smile. "I've got the experience you two lack, and you two still have the passion of youth and the abilities that I wish I had. Together we are a formidable team against the dark, but even that isn't a reason to torture you so."
"Philip said that he tried to wake us up," Oz said quietly. "He showed up after we hung up," he explained at the confused look. "Him trying to wake us up brought us to that fake reality." He looked down at his hands. "Can I make changes to the house or have you already ordered it?"
"I can still have some changes made, Oz," Derek assured him with a brighter smile. "I wanted it to be a surprise."
"Oh, it was," Xander said, relaxing. "How much of that was truth then?"
"Some but not all. Some of it was playing with the possibilities of life, the could-be's and that sort of thing. Some of it was the truth, Philip said Brandon will become a priest. Some of it was simply very hurtful lies."
"What about Junior? Who has him?"
"Nick has him. His ear's fine and he was soundly sleeping the last time I heard." Derek shivered as the room started to get cold, looking over his shoulder at the clear area of the floor. "What is that?"
"Magic," Xander said, getting out of his chair and pulling both men behind him. He chanted the words to the simple spell Giles had taught him before he left, one to shield them all from an oncoming evil, and they waited.
A form appeared in the middle of the floor, writhing in pain. After a few minutes, it solidified, becoming someone that they all knew. Xander kept Derek from running over to Philip until he felt the snap that meant the magic was done with. He released his spell, falling into his mate's arms as they watched the reunion.
"Bastard took my spot," Philip muttered before passing out.
"Grandpa?" Oz asked.
"Yes," Derek sighed. "He's had a few demonic friends since before he came back from Hell, he's gotten to know a few of the upper echelon quite well actually. Never consorting, it's more of a fun game for the demons who play with him." He looked over at the boys. "Get him to bed, Oz. I'll get Philip into the shower. We'll tuck them in together."
Philip looked over at Xander. "He fixed it for ya," he said softly. "None'a it will happen now." He fell back into Derek's arms. "The Hell Angels are on your side, ya know. They were bored, not stupid. And William's taken over as a Guardian, but he's still on this plane."
Derek smiled. "I figured as much. Can you stand? I'll go run a bath for you."
"I'll get him," Oz said, tucking Xander into the bed and coming over to get Philip up, walking him after Derek. He came back out to look at his mate, who was curled up around a pillow. "Whatever happens," he said as he crawled in behind him, "I'm not leaving you. We'll face everything together."
"It didn't happen though," Xander said quietly. "We lived an alternate reality for a few months, but the time here was less than an hour, and it never happened. None of the bad stuff. None of the stuff that hurt so *much* that I wanted to cry." He accepted the warm arms around his waist. "Are we that dangerous to them?"
"No, babe. Not at all. If we were, Miri would never have made it over here. Whomever sent her knew that we needed to know about our other selves to handle this. Think of that as another way our lives could have gone, a branching from a recent point in time."
"We're not on that pathway though, right?"
"Right. But if we are, we know what to do now."
Derek came out of the bathroom under a hail of water. "Sorry, Philip wanted some privacy." He walked over to the bed and sat down beside them, looking down at Xander. "Son, they gave you some very valuable information that they didn't want you to have when they took you there. You can choose to use it now or later, but it was given to you accidentally."
"So, if it happens, we can counter it?"
"Very true. Between the three of us, anything is possible and mostly probable. There aren't too many forces on Earth that can harm what you two have, and those are what I guard you against. Remember that the next time you start to worry yourself sick, Xander. Nothing can happen without our say so, at least nothing of that sort. If we remain inactive then we're sunk, but we can fight whatever comes our way."
"Thanks, daddy," Xander whispered, snuggling back into Oz's body. "I needed to hear that."
Oz kissed him on the cheek. "Rest now, Xan, let me be the big strong one."
"Nah-uh, I want to be that for you," Xander countered with a smile.
"Do it for each other, boys," Derek said with a smile. "I'm going to get Philip and myself a room. I'll be back in a little while." He stood up and walked over to the door, coming back to get one of the room keys, smiling when he saw the peaceful, loving expressions on the young mens' sleeping faces. He popped his head into the bathroom, smiling at Philip. "I want to stay for a few days, is that fine with you?" He got a nod and a smile so left the other man alone, going to do what he had to to protect his family. He found William sipping tea in the dining area, frowning at him. "What marker did you call in?" he asked as he sat across from him.
"One that's older than I am," William said, saluting him with his tea cup. "The Legacy was owed a favor by one of the fallen angels." Derek winced. "Not the ones in the box, Derek, but one of the ones who fell voluntarily. He fell because he thought humans were better and more fun than where he was. He paid for it, but he owed the Legacy his life. I called it in to stop a bunch of things from starting. He's going to take care of the people that want inside us and we're going to go back to our normal lives."
Derek shook his head. "I should turn you in for consorting."
"With someone that owed the Legacy his life? What would the Council do, Derek, kick me out?" He smiled. "I doubt that and so do you. There's nothing the Council can do."
"There's always a higher power," Derek reminded him. He left the other man alone, going to find out if they had a room near Xander and Oz's.
William looked across the table at the ruling Precept's Council, finishing his report. "It was the only way to protect the Legacy under what was going to be forced to happen. I checked, after my action. There was going to be a false case put before the courts to allow them into our files. There was actually a demon spawning in that hospital's surgery department, and Junior was starting to have ear problems."
"Did you tell Derek of these matters?"
"No, I co-opted Nick, Alex, and Giles to check and fix things as quietly as possible. And I don't want him to know how close he came to losing everything he cherishes either. I don't want that sort of guilt laid at his feet. When I asked the fallen one why they did that, was the boy's dream correct, he said that it was. All of it. They were so scared of Derek and those two boys that they accidentally showed them the future when Philip tried to free them. The fact that it's Derek and those two boys that scare them that badly is amusing to me, but I don't want them to know that that item was true. They've had enough problems adjusting to the issues that have cropped up in the two months since I exchanged the Legacy's favor." He spread his hands out. "Do with me as you will, but I don't regret it. The boys' knowledge of how powerful they are was taken from them over the next few days after the dream, and the fear and pain was taken from them too. They barely remember it. Derek, on the other hand, knows what he knows. The fallen one couldn't take the knowledge from him, he said it's the sort of power that Derek wields."
"You'd willingly sever your ties to the Legacy, William Sloan?" the Cairo Precept asked.
"Gladly. As long as I have my Barbara, I'm good to go." He smiled at them. "I'll even stop visiting Derek if it'd make you feel better."
The Ruling Precepts got up as a group and moved away to discuss the matter. They came back and none of them looked happy, but they didn't look too upset either. "We, as a whole, have decided that you are to be punished, William. While tradition dictates that you remove yourself from the houses forever, we feel that there is a better punishment for you. You will return to being the Precept of the London house full time. While the Council knows of your agreement with Derek Rayne over the power of the Ruling House, we think that making you work for it would be the best option."
"In other words, I'm too valuable to lock in some hole until you need me?" he suggested.
"This is not a laughing matter," the Vatican City Precept said harshly. "We know of your desire to leave the houses and we prefer you where we can keep a tighter rein on you. In London, you will be subject to continuous scrutiny and inspection. Make no mistake, this is a punishment, one that you might end up hating us for."
"What about the Archival Houses?"
"We'll find someone else that's retired and bored," the Moscow Precept, the third of the three, said gently. "There are many bored former Precepts at the moment."
The Cairo Precept banged the gavel. "This matter is adjourned. Go give your wife the bad news that she has been drafted into the service of the Legacy once again." They stood up and filed out of the room into the main part of the San Francisco house. The Cairo Precept gave Derek a small nod. "Your suggestion was taken to heart, Derek," he said formally. "That was the punishment we chose for him. As for your family, have no fear that we will intervene with them unless we need to. We see the sense of keeping the status quo at the moment." He walked away from the local Precept, going up to his room to pack.
Xander shifted over to hug his father. "Some things aren't so bad, right?"
"Sometimes, things work out just how you planned them," Derek said, giving him a squeeze. "How do you like the fixed plans?"
"I like but Oz said that he wants a tower. Though he said that those rooms might have to be fixed when the kids get to be teens."
Derek smiled at the man sleeping in the chair with their youngest son. "Yes, he would. What about you?"
"I still want a castle, daddy, but I'd like a Tudor styled castle. The one with the arches?"
"That's not Tudor, son, but I know what you mean. I'll see what we can't do. We're meeting with the representative tomorrow."
They both turned to watch as Junior woke up and slid down to the floor, levering himself up on the coffeetable. Xander whooped as Junior took his first step, hopping over to pick him and hug him. "Oh, such a good boy, yes we are, Junior. Such a brilliant son we have."
Oz opened an eye. "Does that mean that I missed it?"
"He only got one step away from the table when Xander stopped him," Derek assured him. "I'm sure you'll see it again soon enough. Adam, bring me the camera," he called. "Xander, put the boy down so we can capture it this time."
Xander put Junior down at the end of the coffee table and sat at Oz's feet, wiggling his fingers at the baby. "Come to me, Junior. Come to daddies." He clapped his hands and wiggled his fingers to encourage his son to come closer.
Junior pushed himself up and wobbled over, grinning at the smiling people. He belched as his picture was taken, smiling again at Derek. "Scuse me," he said, his voice deepening.
"I thought Andres was gone," Oz sighed, reaching down to pat his son on the head. "Get out of there before we perform an exorcism."
"Leave it for now," Derek said with a smile. "He hasn't harmed the baby yet."
"True, but I'm not Andres. He's still being picked on for getting stuck in an infant's body." He shrugged. "I'm here to observe, don't worry about me. I'm going to go back to hiding now." The baby went back to cooing.
Adam looked over at Derek. "I want a raise," he said blandly.
Derek picked up his pen and looked down at his journal, starting to write.
//Many things have come to pass that we knew from the dream. There was an attempt to look at the boys' lives but it failed quickly. Xander was given permission to graduate in his program, using his experiences for credit. The house ended up being the same as the one in the dream, and will soon be done. The boys were very pleased with it when they saw them.//
Derek stopped and smiled. "I'd say that they were very happy with the house. And the home theater system that had been picked out for them.
//All in all, we managed to turn that tragedy of a vision into a positive few moments of life. The bad has been stopped and the good has been accomplished, with a little meddling on my mother's part. Not that she'll ever admit it to anyone. Even Willow has been good about accepting the changes. She sent the boys a 'welcome home' card when she heard they were getting a house. It's not all happened the same way, but most of it was correct. We've even managed to declare the island Pack lands. We won this fight, let us hope the next is easier on us all.//
//The pretending that we're doing is good for us, but we'll have to discuss it eventually. Not even Xander, who's admitting some knowledge from the dream, is willing to share his thoughts on the subject. I've told them that I don't remember anything from their reports, but it was a lie. I remember everything that was told to me, as Xander does the whole dream. The only one I'm not sure about is Oz. Does he remember any of it? He's admitted to having impressions of what happened, but nothing concrete. It doesn't matter, the board can think that we've all forgotten, it's probably best that way in the long run.//
He closed his book, using a picture of his family in front of the house as a place marker.
TO BE CONTINUED...