A/N: This is a silly side-fic to the at-the-moment unfinished "Vilo's Hymn" and the "Bonded" series. If you haven't read the other stories in the series this one isn't going to make a lot of sense. It was inspired by the fact that we seem to have a bedbug epidemic at work and all you have to do is say "Is that one on your desk?" to watch someone jump up screaming. (Eventually the karma fairy is going to bite me severely for enjoying the chaos and send some home with me but until then it's amusing.)

"Bert" is Wilbert II, which was too big of a mouthful for Michael to say as a baby. Wilbert III is "Willie" and Wilbert is just Wilbert. (Wilbert's return will be told in detail a little bit later in VH; just know that Saphir wasn't able to fix him completely but was able to do some work-arounds.) It was also written at 2AM so please forgive any typos I may have missed.

Don't Let The Bedbugs Bite

To Michael, there were some things so golden, so valuable, that they were beyond any price or measure.

Summers in Grand Chokmah with his uncles and his cousin Virgil were one of those things.

For a few months he was allowed to shed his heavy winter clothing and the responsibility of being his mother's son and simply enjoy himself. Only the last year had ended prematurely, with the boy being delivered back to Nephry's doorstep along with a detailed account of why. He knew they all hoped he'd learned his lesson. He had, but not in the way they'd intended.

The bamboo fiasco had not in the slightest decreased Michael's love of pranks. It had simply encouraged him to shift the focus his efforts on his friends and his family; none of whom were likely to seek legal action against him or want to remove any body parts.

He'd found an unlikely ally in the form of Emperor Peony. His Majesty was fond of the boy and always eager to join in the fun, especially if Michael happened to be targeting Jade and Saphir at the moment. So when he'd explained to his idea for quick joke and what he needed, Peony was delighted to help. "Just tell me everything afterward." The Emperor had pleaded. "Oh, I wish I could be there to see his face..."

///////////////////////////////////////////////////

"What the hell?" Virgil peered down at Michael's outstretched hand. "Dead bugs? Why are you so excited about dead bugs?"

"Bedbugs!" Michael was nearly dancing with excitement. At his feet, a small robot danced around too. "Beans! Peas! Bananas!" It chimed in.

"No, sorry, Wilbert. Don't have any of that. Just bedbugs."

"Are you insane?" Virgil jumped backward. "Get those out of my room! So help me if I find even one..."

"He'll tell you to go saute yourself" Wilbert suggested, making a metal fist.

"Relax, Virg. They're all dead. I made sure of it." Michael was grinning ear to ear.

"Okay, why do you have dead bedbugs?"

"Because your dad is just about go change the sheets on his bed." The boy snickered. "I scattered a whole mess of these where he can't miss..."

There was a scream from down the hall.

"Veal cutlets!" Wilbert screamed back.

"You didn't! He'll kill you!" Michael was doubled over with laughter and Virgil couldn't help but join in.

"Let's see what he does." Michael urged. "Come on."

Less than a hour later Jade arrived at the house, spurred to action by reports of a massive fire in his backyard. He found his lover, sooty faced and grim and wearing nothing but his underwear, had already reduced their goose-down mattress smoldering rubble and was adding the expensive bedding a piece at a time. Most of his own clothing (and Jade's) was piled next to him waiting to be incinerated as well. Max , whom he noticed for the first time, waved to Jade and casually tossed a pair of boxer shorts into the blaze. Wilbert was rolling back and forth on the grass singing something about apple pie.

"Don't go back inside!" Saphir barked at his lover. "You can strip right there and throw your uniform in the pile. You probably have some on you from this morning. Cover your eyes, darling."

Max obediently put her paws over her face, but Jade could see the glitter of her eyes through the cracks in her fingers.

"Before I take my clothing off for anyone, even you, I do like to understand why I'm doing it. I'd like to understand quite a bit more than that at the moment." He blinked, the acrid smoke getting into his eyes. "But we'll settle for what I'm sure will be a less complex answer."

"You can suck my cranberries!"

"I wasn't asking you, Wilbert."

"Because it's your fault! It can't be my fault: I don't leave the house enough for it to be my fault and Virgil's bed is clean. It was just ours...we've been sleeping with them, Jade!" Saphir's voice was nearly a wail.

"With WHAT?"

"Stuffed potato skins!"

"Bedbugs!"

"We most certainly do not have bedbugs! What is wrong with you?"

"I saw them! They were on the sheets!"

"Then you saw something else, beetles, perhaps!"

"They were too bedbugs!" Max stomped her foot. "Don't you call Saphir a liar, Jade!" In truth, Max had never seen a bedbug in her life but even if her friend had insisted that he had, in fact, found stuffed potato skins on his sheets she would have backed him up.

"I knew you'd say this! You never take me seriously!" Saphir grabbed a stoppered vial off the ground and thrust it at Jade. "You look here, you skeptic!"

"Yeah, you cobb salad!"

Jade peered into the tube. "They're dead, but my humble apologies: those are bedbugs. How...Saphir, put down the pillows and let's think about this logically...put them down doesn't mean in the fire... Max, that goes for you as well. Drop my underclothing, please." Max had been attempting to sneak another pair of boxers into the inferno. To Jade's dismay Wilbert snatched them up and tossed them in. "Toast!"

Saphir muttered and threw the pillows back to the ground. "What's to think logically about? You've contaminated our home! You've put us all in peril! We'll all require medical attention; they carry rabies, you know."

"No, Saphir, bedbugs do not carry rabies. You're thinking of raccoons and although I was wrong about the bedbugs I am positive you didn't find any raccoons snuggled between our sheets."

"Stop mocking me! This isn't funny!" He was almost on the verge of tears and Jade shook his head.

"My first question to you is, did you see any of these creatures living? Or were they all dead? Because, love, these specimens appear to have been dead for some time.

"They were all dead. But that doesn't mean..."

"And where are the boys?" Jade's tone was calm.

"Stuffing the salami, Master Jade."

Jade choked a bit at that one and the robot gave him an innocent look. Fixed it, my cranberries, he thought...

"Inside. They've been most helpful in getting the mattress and linens out here. When I think about my poor Virgil and how these things could have fed on him...he's so delicate, Jade."

"He's not delicate, and I'd wager anything you like that both he and Michael took off as soon as they saw me coming. Doesn't that strike you as rather odd?"

"Now that you mention it... they did seem a little uneasy when you arrived." Saphir looked at the bonfire and the charred remains of the mattress, and seemed to sag in understanding. "I suppose you're going to be upset with me, now, aren't you?"

"Do not worry, Master Saphir." Wilbert patted him on the arm. "I'm sure he's not mad enough to deny you lemon meringue."

"You'll be sleeping on the sofa, but then again so will I until we can get a new bed. It should be big enough for both of us, even if it is a little small for...lemon meringue." Jade shook his head. "Is that still there or did you burn it too?"

He put his arm around Saphir, who now fully realized he'd been made a fool of and was turning a brilliant shade of red. "I'm going to let you handle this one, since it was you they targeted. However, if you want my advice, you may want to let Dist have a go at them."

"I think I will." Saphir frowned at the rear door of the house like he'd never seen it before and something shifted in his features. "Excuse me, please."

"Not so fast, you two." Jade called after the cheagle and Wilbert. "Let him take care of it."

"Pumpkins!"

"We really should have said something." Virgil glanced at his cousin in worry. "Papa's going to be mad as hell about the mattress." They were holed up in Virgil's bedroom sitting cross-legged on his bed.

"Don't worry!" Michael waved his hand. "They'll never figure out it was us."

"You, you mean. I didn't have anything to do with it."

"You didn't tell him the truth. You're just as guilty as I am, Cousin."

Virgil sighed. "You're right, though. It's not like he'll figure out..."

"VIRGIL! MICHAEL!" Came an ear-splitting shriek of rage. "WHEN I GET MY HANDS ON YOU..."

"The window!" Michael shoved it open. "Come on, we'll hang out at the palace until he calms down."

"You know what they say about the best laid plans." Jade's voice carried up from outside. "I'm afraid this exit is unavailable."

The door to Virgil's room burst open, and Saphir stood in the doorway filthy and gasping and still in nothing but his underwear. "You...you dare to make an idiot out of me? ME? I gave you life!"

"Ummm..."Michael raised his hand. "I'm pretty sure you didn't in my case."

"Michael, shush!" Virgil hissed.

"I gave you a robot, then! I've showered you with love and affection your entire life and never once held the fact that your father has the brains of a chipmunk against you! This is how you repay my generosity and kindness? And you...Virgil, how could you? Your own flesh and blood!"

"Virgil's innocent, Uncle Saphir. He didn't know I was going to do it. It was all my idea."

"You're going back to Keterburg! And not by Albiore, either! You're going home by postal service! And I intend to tell your mother everything! Not just about today; I've been keeping your secrets for eleven years and she's going to hear all of it! And I'm taking Bert back! And then I'm..."

"I swear. I just thought you'd panic a little. I didn't mean to cause so much trouble." Michael burst into tears. "Please don't take Bert away! I need him! I'm sorry..."

As if Dad was going to buy that, Virgil thought scornfully.

"Oh, Michael, don't cry. It's alright, I'm just very angry right now." Saphir seemed to change before Virgil's eyes. "You did cause trouble today but I know you didn't mean for it to go this far." He hugged Michael close. Over his shoulder Michael caught Virgil's eye and winked. Saphir did not notice, of course. "Heaven knows things I've done have gotten out of hand. There now, we're still friends. I won't take Bert back; he's yours forever."

"So we're not in trouble?" Virgil asked hopefully.

"I wouldn't go that far." Jade spoke from the doorway. "Michael, when you're finished playing Uncle Saphir like a harp from hell, you and Virgil can go extinguish the fire and clean up the mess in the backyard. Then you can spend the rest of the afternoon repairing the damage to the yard. Is this going to be a yearly thing? I'm only asking so that I can plan ahead. Do you dislike visiting us that badly? Shall I tell Nephry to keep you at home next year?"

"No! Don't do that! Don't send me back this year like you did last year. I want to stay; I won't do anything else, I promise!"

///////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////

"That should be the last of them." The exterminator handed Jade a slip of paper. "If you see any signs of them in the next 90 days give us a call and we'll do another visit free of charge."

"And you did as I asked?"

"Yep. First time anyone's ever asked me to take the little bastards alive but you're the boss."

"Did you hear that, Saphir?" Jade called behind him. "We can go home now; no more nasties."

One of the palace maids happened to be walking by in time to hear the conversation. Grabbing the startled exterminator, she pulled him into a kiss. "Thank you! Oh, thank you! I have to go tell the others! He's leaving! He's leaving, Caroline! He's going away..."

Jade entered the bedroom where Saphir was already packing, with Virgil's help.

"Well, so much for that crisis. Virgil, what have you learned from all of this?" Jade queried.

"Never, ever believe Michael when he says he's sure something is dead."

"Excellent. Now, another question. What have we taught you about revenge?"

"Only if the person really, really deserves it."

"You do a father's heart proud."

///////////////////////////////////////////////

Michael frowned in his sleep and twitched, and then came fully awake. At first he thought it was just a remnant of a bad dream, but he felt the delicate tickle of something on his arm. He brushed it away, and then felt another tickle on his leg. Puzzled, he turned on the bedside light, and then jumped to his feet.

Bedbugs. Dozens...no, hundreds of them. His bed was a teeming mess of them.

How...that was months ago...

A bedbug crawled out from the sleeve of his nightshirt and meandered its way down his arm before he had the presence of mind to flick it off.

Uncle Jade...that visit earlier today. Just passing through on business...right.

"MAMA!"