Giles smiled at Xander as he walked in the back door. "It's official, Blair thinks I'm insane to up and quit." He put down his jacket, pulling Xander in for a hug. "What have you done today?"
"Taught Miri her ABC's." Xander looked up at him, giving him a worried look. "Are we okay?"
"We're fine, you don't have to worry about it, Xander," Giles said, giving him a gentle kiss on the cheek. "What would you like to do tonight?"
"Take the spell off that's making everything I touch go bad?" Xander suggested dryly. "What we had planned to do?"
"Of course, I forgot. Do you know if we have all the spell components we'll need?"
"All but one but I asked Oz to pick it up for us." He joined his and Giles' left hands. "Are you sure it'll work?"
"I'm very sure, love, just give it a chance. I'm quite sure that wretched man was not stronger than I am. And if he was, well, we can always call upon Willow for assistance."
"True," Xander agreed, leaning closer. "Hug?"
"Of course I'd love to give you a hug." He got his hand free, wrapping his youngest lover in his arms as tightly as he could. "How's that then?"
"Better," Xander admitted. "The nursery's done. I was going to show you and Oz tonight."
"Good," Giles sighed. "No more paint fumes."
"Yup, no more paint fumes. Until I start on the gym in the basement next week."
Giles chuckled. "At least you're keeping busy." He pulled back to look into the brown eyes. "How are your horses?"
"Just fine. Steel's recovering nicely from jumping all over the barn during last night's storm. Strife managed to unlock his gate and follow Sileya around when she came home. I found her on the porch reading, Strife grazing next to her while she absently scratched his side. I took a picture." He grinned. "That horse won't let me near him. He only wants Miri and Sileya to take care of him."
"I see." Giles looked outside, shaking his head. "I have the feeling that something strange is going on with that horse, but since it appears to be harmless, I'll leave the investigation alone." He abruptly pulled Xander in for an extra squeeze and then let him go. "I feel better now."
"Good. Oh, you got a piece of junk mail. Some company named White Knight Insurance?"
Giles paled. "That wasn't junk mail. Where is it?"
"Trash. The bag's outside, in the left-hand can."
"I, um, thank you," Giles said, jogging out to the trash cans. He came back in a few minutes later reading the letter, shaking his head. "I don't believe this."
"Why isn't it junk mail? Did you sign up for more insurance?"
"It's not that sort of insurance." Giles pulled him out to the living room, sitting on the couch with Xander in his lap. "White Knight Insurance is an information agency. They have everything in there from whose going to fail in a major, corporate, way to antiques and which ones are fakes." He cleared his throat. "Their occult specialist has recently retired and I'm in the running to take his place."
"Will you have to move?" Xander asked softly, plucking at Giles' shirt front.
"Not hardly. Though I will have to have Oz show me how to collect e-mail. That's how they do most of their farming out for answers among their specialists." He patted Xander on the back. "I would like to have that job. Doesn't pay very well, but it's more along the lines of what I was supposed to be doing for the Watcher's Council originally. In-depth research of various occult and supernatural matters."
"So you're going to be a specialist?"
"Yes, it says that. If I'm selected. Apparently I'm one of three names put forward for the post." He smiled. "That would be perfect. I could stay home all day and play with the children, simply checking my email many times a day."
Xander grinned at him. "You and me both." He kissed his lover's cheek. "I think it's great. I'm sorry for almost ruining this for you."
"It's all right, love, you told me. That's the important thing." He looked out the window. "When should Oz be home?"
"About an hour. I need to start supper."
"Let me. You go rest or something." Giles gently pushed the younger man off onto the couch, standing up and walking around him. "Would that leftover roast and some potatoes be all right?"
"Sure. I was going to make some of the corn we have sitting in the fridge too, but that's about what I was going to make. Can you make those oven roasted potatoes?"
"That may take a bit longer than an hour," Giles reminded.
"That's okay. We can eat later than five. Oz really won't mind."
Giles smiled at him. "Of course he won't, but Miri might."
"She'll get over it. She loves your potatoes. She'll gladly wait for them." He gave his lover his best innocent look. "Please make them? Your growing stomachs are growling for them."
Giles laughed, reaching over to pat Xander on the head. "Of course I will, though I doubt that you're going to grow anymore. You're twenty-two now." He looked down, seeing the admiration in the brown eyes. "I'll make them for you anyway. You seem to enjoy them as much as our eldest daughter does." He walked down the hall, heading for the kitchen.
Xander sighed, putting his feet up and closing his eyes. "Okay. I'll just nap," he mumbled, quickly falling asleep, conveniently forgetting to mention the fact that he had sent a thank-you gift to Ethan for all his recent help.
Sileya studied the man walking toward her, frowning at his gliding motion. "What do you want?" she asked her English teacher.
"I need to talk to you about your last paper, Ms. Giles."
"Was there a problem? Did I forget to cite something?"
"No, but the work closely resembles your little *friend's* paper and I think we should discuss that. I want to know which one of you cheated."
"You said we were to work together," Sileya reminded, shutting her locker so she could lean against it. "That's what we did. We took different tracks for our thesis point, but we did share research."
"Ah, I see." He nodded. "That was what I told you to do, but his paper references yours and yours his. That isn't exactly standard procedure."
"After reviewing his, I made a few changes based mostly on what he had found that changed my viewpoint. I thought it only fair to reference his work since it had an impact on mine."
The teacher shook his head, laughing. "You're not scared of me at all, are you?"
"Should I be?" she asked archly. "You aren't that scary, and you're certainly not evil from what I've noticed." She shifted her books a little higher. "Was there some concern about how we worked the papers out?"
"No, just a few irregularities." He patted her on the top of the head. "It was good work, something I'm not used to seeing from the local students. Needless to say, now that you've explained it, you've got an 'A', both of you did." He bowed to Homer as he walked closer to them. "That's an interesting shade of hair," he said, sucking on his upper teeth as he considered the violet hair with flame red highlights. "Very interesting indeed."
"Thanks, Aunt Willow helped me do it." He shrugged. "Problems with our papers?"
"Just an irregularity. Ms. Giles explained it all to me and I'm assured now that you didn't cheat off each other."
"Cool beans. Now what?"
"Now, young man, I want you to consider your next topic. Classical literature."
Sileya cleared her throat. "May I turn in an old paper for this one?" Her teacher shook his head. "Didn't think so, but I have this absolutely great paper on Shakespeare sitting on my computer and I'd like to use it sometime."
"That would be fine, as long as it hasn't been handed in before." She shook her head. "Good, then I'll expect it on my desk at the same time Mr. Rosenburg's is. I want a thesis summary in a week." Homer nodded. "Thank you. Good day to the both of you." He turned, leaving them alone.
"Wow," Homer said, turning so he was resting shoulder-to-shoulder with his friend. "That was kinda cool."
"Very." She nudged him. "Here comes the person whose locker you're resting against." She stepped out of his way, nodding toward the outside. "Want to sit in the sun? I'll help you pick a thesis topic."
"Sure." He followed her out, sitting across from her at the picnic tables. "So, classics?"
She nodded. "Do you have a favorite author in that area?"
"I've extensively read the Greek classics, my mother made me." He grimaced. "I don't think he wants to know about the eroticism inherent in some of the minor writer's epics."
"Oh, I don't know. My paper is on Shakespeare's apparent homosexual leanings in his sonnets." She shrugged, pulling out a notebook so she could write things down.
"Where do you get that stuff?" Homer asked. "Everything he's ever written was about women."
"Not if you read it carefully. If you just glance through then yes, it's all about women, but if you do an analysis of the works it's a completely different matter. The man was positively a closet case."
"Everyone back then was a closet case. It was deadly not to hide it if you were."
"Which is why we should bring people out now that they're dead. Role models are important; he could be an excellent one to creative gay teens the world over." She sniffed. "My old teacher didn't want to hear me out about it, but I'm quite sure of my interpretations."
"Okay. That's your thing. Now we need my thing."
"You could do a paper on the emphasis of doing things the hardest way possible in the epic poems."
"Hmm, I could. Or I could do one on why the Trojan war was actually bad for ingenuity. Nothing new was created for that war, unlike most of the other ones."
"Hmm, that's an interesting point. Could you do a ten page paper on it though?"
"Five probably." Homer frowned down at the wood. "I could work with some of the later works, give a paper on one of those."
"You could, but first you'd have to read the book. We'll only have three weeks to get this paper done."
"Yeah, point." He shrugged. "I don't know what to do it on."
"I'm sure we'll think of something soon enough," Sileya said, trying to cheer him up. "What's gotten to you today?"
"Gym class was a pain. Teacher had us doing dodge ball and I was the prime target both games." He rubbed his upper arm. "I hate that man."
"Oh, yes, I'd heard about him from Xander and Buffy. Not a nice man at all. They're still trying to figure out if my fight training will count as a physical education requirement."
"Gee, can I take classes with you?" he asked wistfully.
"I have no clue. We'd have to ask my teacher, once he gets here." She shrugged. "But you could always come out and learn fencing with me."
"Why would I want to know how to put up a fence." She groaned. "Gotcha," he said with a grin. She shook her head. "Most deplorable," she sighed. "I'll have to make you buy me a treat after school for that."
"Sure. Ice cream or pretzels?"
"Pretzels, they're much less fattening." She looked around, her gaze sliding past the Principal's glare. "What class are we missing?"
"English." He checked his planner, then his watch, and nodded. "English, I was right."
"Oh, good. Now then, what should you do your paper on?"
"How about skipping class?" the Principal hissed from behind her.
She looked over her shoulder. "We've just gotten an assignment and we're discussing how best to implement it. We're not skipping. I doubt Mr. Larans wants us in there since he's giving a test."
Homer smiled at him. "Relax, man, it's not going to kill you."
"In this town you never know," the Principal muttered, walking away from them.
"Oh, yes, I do," Sileya said softly, looking down at her legs. "I do very well indeed." Homer patted her hand. "Thank you." She shook herself. "We should figure out what you're doing so you could order some books from the library."
"Yeah, I guess so." He put his head down on his crossed arms, still looking at her. "Think I could get away with the erotic nature of Greek Epic poems?"
"I don't see why not. It's a perfectly valid investigation. Some of them are a bit randy in verse."
"Yeah, they are," Homer agreed, giving her a smile. "And I am only fifteen."
"Which means that you should be focused on that subject in the first place. I'd have no problem with that topic were I the teacher."
"Cool, I'll give him my thesis in the morning."
"I can do that also," Sileya sighed, putting her books back in order. She pulled out her cellphone, growling as the Principal snatched it from her hand. "I do believe that's personal property."
"It's not allowed on school property," he said, putting it in his pocket.
"Give it back or I'm going to call an officer to make you give it back," she warned. She stood up, now equaling his height. "That is private property and you have no right or rational reason to confiscate it. Unless you give it back, I'm prepared to press charges."
The Principal snickered. "You really did grow up in an ivory tower, didn't ya?" He started to laugh. "Cellphones and pagers are banned on school property." He turned, but the phone fell out of his pocket. "Did you do that?" he asked, his voice deathly quiet.
She shrugged. "One never knows in this town." She gave him an appraising look. "Some of us use them to stay in contact with people who need to get in touch with us for emergency purposes." She bent down, picking it up, flipping the odorous little man out of her way when he tried to step on her fingers. "Thank you." She wiped the slim black case off, putting it back into her bookbag. "Was there anything else that you wanted to impinge on my civil rights about?" she asked coldly.
He stood up, looking her over. "You're like Summers, aren't you?" She shrugged, but was smiling. "Fine," he spat. "Don't let me see it." He stormed away, heading for his office and the bottle of whiskey in his drawer.
"Gee, didn't know the administration knew," Homer said softly. He patted the table. "Way to scare him, Sileya."
"I didn't mean to," she sighed as she sat back down. "I was merely sticking up for my rights." She looked down at her bag. "It's nice that it fell out that way though."
Homer nodded. "Definitely. So, papers?"
Xander stepped out of the doorway, letting his lovers see the nursery for the first time. "So?" he asked after the first few minutes of silence.
"I think it's a beautiful job," Giles said, tearing his eyes away from the very realistic looking creatures to the swirls of water and painted on bubbles. "You did an excellent job."
Oz cleared his throat. "Some of the things look a little...cartoony, but otherwise it's great," he agreed.
Xander looked down at his feet, scuffing them on the carpet. "I borrowed a few of the books downstairs to get them but some of them looked mean so I fixed them. Didn't want the kids to be scared." He glanced up, seeing the shocked looks. "I'm sorry I didn't ask, Rupe, but I wanted it to be a surprise."
"Oh, it is," Giles said, pulling Xander in for a hug, "but a pleasant one. It's a very good job." Oz nodded. "See? And I'm sure the children love it."
"They like to touch the grey/green one," Xander said, pointing to a low figure in the corner. "That's where I keep finding them."
"It's very realistic," Giles complimented. "Very well done. We should take pictures and send them to Wesley."
"I'm sure he'd get a kick out of it," Oz said, turning to look at the rainbow and islands of rocks around the doorway, closing the door to get the full effect. "Wow." He grabbed Xander, pulling him in for a hug. "I'm way impressed."
Xander grinned. "See, and you thought it was going to be funny looking a few days ago."
"Well, the beginning wasn't much," Oz protested. He gave his lover a kiss, handing him back to Giles so he could do the same. "As long as the kids like it and none of the pictures come to life, I'm very happy with it."
"As am I," Giles said, letting Xander go to look down in the cribs. "They don't seem to have a problem with it, no waking up in the middle of the night recently."
"They helped," Xander said, giving his kids a smile. "They handed over clean brushes and babbled at the paint cans and pointed to things for me." He waved at Tigger, who was waking up. "Hi, sweetie, you awake?"
"No," she said, holding up her arms.
"The only problem with her saying that one word is that you can't correct her," Oz said, shaking his head. "You tell her no and she thinks you're babbling back at her."
"You could always make her mimic another word," Giles suggested. "We did that to Miri when all she would say was 'me'."
"Yeah, point," Oz agreed. "I think we should do that."
"Shit!" Tigger said, bouncing in her daddy Xander's arms.
"Or Spike could have," Xander quipped. "Don't say that word." He tapped her on the nose. "Bad word."
"Hell!" Blair said, getting onto his knees to rattle his crib.
"I'm going to stake him," Giles muttered, picking him up. "How are we this afternoon, Blair?" he asked politely.
"Yes!" Blair giggled, patting his father's face.
"Guys, I think we need to have a talk about Blair," Xander said softly. The older two men turned to look at him. "He's more of a girl than not."
"I've noticed," Giles said carefully, "but would that make a difference? It could be a matter of teaching."
"Or it could be that she's female genetically and more prone to act in those ways. Willow's mother has been treating Blair as a girl too, so that might be it, but I think we need to talk to Doctor Adams about switching her gender back to female."
"Her birth certificate was left blank for that part," Oz noted. "He said it'd take a while for the true gender to show up." He walked over, smoothing down Blair's fly-away hair. "That'll cause more problems later."
"It may," Xander agreed, "but being a seriously femme guy can do the same thing."
Giles looked down at his son, shaking his head. "I'd like to study Blair's behavior for a bit before we make that decision. As you said, it could be Willow's mother's influence."
"I know you wanted a son," Xander said softly, handing Tigger off so he could hug Giles, "but we have to do what's best for Blair. We can talk about name carrying on later. Okay?" Giles nodded. "We'll figure it out," he promised. "You never know, I may be wrong."
"Blair could be more of a neutral personality," Oz added, kissing Xander's cheek. "We'll figure it out. Keeping him male may not be that big of a thing for now."
"If we're going to switch it back, we'd best do it soon so we don't confuse him...her so much," Giles said, looking down at his son. "I'll watch him, see what's going on."
"That's all I wanted to happen," Xander assured. "We need more info before we make a decision."
"And we're bringing her in to Xander's appointment in a week anyway," Oz said, putting Tigger back down. "They're not really awake, they just wanted a little attention." He covered her up, backing away from the crib. "Rupe, want to put Blair down?"
"Yes, thank you," he said softly, laying the napping baby back in the crib. "It must have been our voices that woke them prematurely." He headed for the hall, pulling his lovers with him into their room. "I did want a son," he said, turning to look at Xander, "but that isn't under consideration here."
"No, but your hopes that you had a son are," Xander said, sitting on the edge of the bed. "You're so psyched about having a son and doing all the daddy/son things that it's going to hurt if we start treating Blair like a girl."
"That's a good point," Giles sighed, sitting next to him. "I thought you meant that I was going to be obstinate about it."
"Nope, but your heart may," Oz said, sitting on the floor in front of them. "Sometimes dreams get in the way of reality, make you treat people differently." Giles nodded slowly. "You wanted a boy so badly that you chose that for Blair. Not saying that that's a bad, but if we need to reevaluate that decision, now's the time."
Giles leaned back, resting on his forearms. "I understand, but I don't want a son that much."
"Yeah, you do," Xander said quietly. "You used to mumble in your sleep while Willow was preggers about doing all sorts of daddy/son things with him." He gave his lover a small smile. "You were always so happy in them. Playing ball in the park, teaching him rugby. Going on trips to your job."
"Which can be done with a girl," Oz reminded. "Miri's doing all those things when we have time."
"Except play rugby," Giles pointed out with a half-smile. "I doubt she'll want to play such a physical activity."
"Why don't you try and teach her?" Xander suggested. "She'd do anything for you. Matter of fact, she's been wanting to spend time with you. She's been asking when you get to do her playtime."
"I'll attempt to teach her tonight," Giles said, smiling now. "Yes, I think that'll do me for a bit." He stood up. "Thank you, boys, I had no idea that I was that stringent about wanting a son." He left them alone, heading over to their oldest daughter's room to talk to her.
Xander looked at Oz. "That went really well, I didn't want to hurt him."
"He wasn't," Oz assured him, reaching over to pat one of his lover's calves. "Want to go ride with me tonight?"
"Sure," Xander said, hopping up. "I need to change clothes first." He looked down at his sweat pants and painted t-shirt. "But I get Rose because she's gentle with me."
"Okay, but I get Bump since Giles isn't going with us." Oz hopped up, heading for the closet to pull out clothes for them to wear.
"Football!" Miri yelled, grabbing the rugby ball from her father's hands and taking off running across the lawn.
"Rugby," Giles yelled, running after her. "Close enough," he grunted when he tripped, looking up to find his daughter dancing around with the ball. "Would you like me to teach you how to play, Miri?"
She nodded, coming over to sit on his back. "Me play!" she said, bouncing.
Giles grunted, getting up onto his hands and knees, letting her ride his back as he crawled to the porch. "There we are, off again please," he said, stopping in front of the steps, but she didn't move. "Miriam, please, so I can stand?"
"Me cuddle," she said, leaning down to give him as hard of a hug as she could.
Giles fell to his stomach, the strength in his arms gone. "Of course you can have a cuddle." He lay still while she hugged him, rolling over once she got up, grabbing her to give her a hug now. "How's that?" he asked after a few minutes.
"Good," she said, looking up at him to give him a serious look. "You no go?"
"No, sweetling, I'm not going anywhere." He kissed her forehead. "I'm never going anywhere. I'm sorry if you worried about that, but I'm here all the time now." She nodded, still looking very serious. "Would it help if I stayed home with Daddy Xander for a bit?" She nodded, more enthusiastically this time. "Then I'll do that." She squealed and hugged him around his neck, but he didn't mind. That smile was precious to him. "You are *so* much like your father," he said, kissing her forehead again. He sat up, putting her in his lap. "Would you like me to teach you how to play Rugby, Miri?" he asked again.
"No, *rugby*. It's what I used to play when I was younger."
"Mail," Xander said from the porch, waving it. "Your letter, and it's kinda thick," he said, sitting on the porch steps and taking his daughter back.
Giles looked at the letter, slitting it open after taking a deep breath. His face fell as he read it.
"Didn't get it?" Xander asked softly.
"Oh, I did, but not the position I was hoping for. I'm to be a minor specialist." He read through the rest of the forms. "I'm to have a supervisor that's the actual specialist." He snorted when he read another part. "Who's an idiot of a great magnitude in these matters."
"Then you'll work for them and show them how good you are, and once they see he's an idiot, then they'll give you his job," Xander said firmly, nodding when Giles looked up at him. "Really. They will."
"Or he'll mess something up royally and I'll get blamed," Giles pointed out.
"Then you can save your messages to prove that it wasn't your fault. Most email programs let you do that."
"Good point," Giles said thoughtfully, rereading a part of it. "I'll have to get Oz to help me set up an account tonight, it seems that there's a problem already." He got up, looking down at his daughter, who was pouting at him. "We'll play rugby tonight right after supper, all right?" She nodded so he patted her on the head, walking inside.
"So, how was football?" Xander asked.
"*Rugby*!" Giles yelled from inside the house.
"Football without pads," Xander countered.
"Now I see where she gets her stubborn streak," Buffy said as she walked up onto the porch. "Hi, Miri," she said, tweaking her nose. "Just got a call from Mom, she'll be home in a week."
Xander smiled at her. "Packing already?"
Buffy shook her head. "I'm a procrastinator about packing now." She wiggled her fingers at the little girl. "Why so glum?"
"'Cause daddy had to go do something so they'll play rugby later," Xander explained, shifting Miri over so she could crawl into Buffy's lap. "How you feel?"
"Better. No more bleeding, I'm losing weight. I'm going to be okay. Let's just hope that things stay quiet for a few more weeks until I'm ready to go back to full time slayage."
"Good." He patted her on the shoulder. "Miri, would you like to help me move stuff in the basement? We've got to plan out the decorating job down there and put up marks for Sileya's exercise bar." His daughter nodded, giving him a serious look. "What's wrong, precious?"
"Her take daddies?"
"No, sweetie, she's not taking your fathers away from you." He leaned over, giving her a kiss on the cheek. "No one's taking any of your fathers away from you. If they try, I'll beat 'em up."
"Good to know," Buffy said, grinning at him. "I'll even help."
Miri looked at her and nodded. "'Tay. Come help?"
"Sure," Buffy said, putting the little girl down on the steps so she could stand up. "Lead on, guys. I always wanted to be part of a Xander decorating job."
"Oh, you've been the cause of one," Xander assured her with a pat to her shoulder. "Never worry about that." He followed his daughter into the house, letting her lead the way down to the basement.
Giles looked at the message in front of him, his first assignment for his new boss, frowning at what he had written. "Oz, you said I could save a copy of this for my own records. How?"
Oz walked into the library, leaning over his lover's shoulder to click on the button that said 'save to drafts folder'. "Like that." He watched as the message was sent then patted Giles on the shoulder. "Welcome to the twenty-first century, Rupe." He left the library, closing the doors since the twins were crawling around the hall. "Xan?" he called. He didn't get an answer so picked the twins up, carrying them into his office so he could watch them.
Xander walked out of the kitchen, looking around in confusion. "Did someone call?"
Oz popped his head out of the office. "Where were you?"
"Kitchen, in the pantry to put something up. Why?"
"Twins? Crawling? Sound familiar?"
"Yeah, but I thought you had them."
"Do now," Oz agreed, pulling his head back in and shutting the door. "Happy dishes," he called.
"Yeah, right," Xander snorted, going back to his chores.
Giles walked out of the library, smiling at his lover as he walked into the kitchen. "I got my first research package sent," he said, stepping up behind Xander to kiss the back of his neck. "How's the work going?"
"Fine. We need a dish washer."
"They're horribly wasteful of water," Giles countered. "We don't need one."
"We do because my old boss called today." Xander turned to look at him. "He's begging me to come back. Seems he *really* can't keep dancers now. The whole thing with Chastity and me, plus some really bad rumors about me, are driving them away." He laid a soapy finger over the opening mouth. "He only wants me back for two nights."
"No," Oz called from his office.
"He wants me to come back, sort of a way to silently reassure the remaining guys that they're not going to die too." He crossed his arms, smiling slightly at Giles. "Of course, I'd expect one of you to be there with me."
"I'm sure, but I thought we had discussed this, Xander." Giles leaned against the island so he was facing his lover. "We don't like you working out there."
"It'll only be for those two nights. Just a few turns on the stage for a flat fee so the guys don't keep running off." Xander reached behind him, turning off the dripping water. "They think that Chastity stalked me because we were playing psycho games, Rupe. They think that I'm just as guilty of what happened as he was and they're *scared* that something's going to happen to them. Some of them even see me as some sort of protection against the psychos. Something about me always having bodyguards there."
Rupert shook his head. "I don't like that idea of your former boss' at all. I really hate that place."
"It's just for two nights. You or Oz will be there each night. I'm going to do a limited set then leave. Besides, it'll show me that I've moved on from all the stuff he did."
"While that's a good point, I still don't want you up on that stage."
"I know," Xander sighed, crossing his feet. "I really don't want to go back, but it's for the good here."
"Maybe," Giles said reluctantly, looking over his shoulder as he heard Oz come out of his office. "When does he want you back?"
"Tonight and tomorrow, or tomorrow and the next night, which would give me less tips."
"Ah." Giles shook his head. "A Saturday after a payday would give you the most customers." Xander nodded. "Do you want to do this?"
"I don't, if it matters," Oz said. "And we can't find a sitter for tonight. Not with in so few hours."
"I only need one of you to go," Xander pointed out.
"Yeah, but I'm going to crash tonight. Finals were rough and I need to take longer sleeps now." He handed Blair over. "This one likes to chew on books."
"Oh, then we're definitely going to have to have a talk, Blair," Xander said, turning him so he could look into the baby's eyes. "Books are for other things, not for teething on."
Giles snorted. "Miri did an excellent job of teething on a demon encyclopedia set." He wiggled his fingers at his son. "You shouldn't chew on books, Blair, they're not good for you."
"Hell!" Blair waved his arms in the air. "No!"
Xander shook his head, handing him over to Giles. "That's your language, you deal with it."
"But that is an idea," Oz said quietly, looking at Xander. "You could take Spike with you."
Giles opened his mouth then shut it. "That would work, and I know he's been wanting to get out of Willow's apartment now for a bit." He looked down at his son. "Not that you're going to see him."
Xander shrugged. "I'll leave it up to the consensus, but I'd like to go back, just to prove that I've moved on from Chastity."
"Fine," Oz sighed. "I'll call Spike. Just be careful and let Spike protect you."
"Of course I will," Xander said with a grin. "I've got to go find an outfit for tonight." He waved at the sink. "Would one of you like to take over the scrubbing?"
"I will," Oz said, heading back to his office when the loud, glass-sounding, crash happened. "Need a broom," he called.
"Got it," Xander said, grabbing one from the pantry and bringing it to his lover. "What'd she break?"
"Glass candlestick holder. Pulled it down and beat it on the desk." He picked Elizabeth up, handing her over. "Here, take her to help pick out clothes. She's lucky she wasn't cut."
"Yup, our very lucky little girl," Xander cooed, taking her up the stairs with him, making sure that the gate was closed at the top. He let her down in the bedroom, after closing the door, and headed into their dressing room to find something to wear. It had been Giles' idea to turn the former nursery space into a nice extra dressing area for all of them. "Tigger," he called when he heard her moving. "Want to help daddy?"
The baby crawled over to where she could see a cord, picking it up and putting it into her mouth.
"No!" Xander said, snatching it from her. "Don't chew on those." He picked her up, bringing her over to the closet so she could help him pick out clothes. "Think I ought to do my leather act?" he asked her. She smiled up at him, grabbing a glove from the pile to chew on. "Yeah, you chew on that." He tossed the outfit behind him, digging through the rest of the pile to find a second one. His boss had said two shows. "How about my fancy one? The one with the pole tricks?"
Oz walked in, closing the door behind him. "Don't do that one. Do the one that you didn't want do publicly off after showing me." He grabbed the baby, dropping the soggy glove on the pile of leather. "What's that act?"
"That's my attitude act." Xander tugged out a small bag of clothes, looking through it, tossing a few of the items behind him. "Okay, got it." He grabbed a bag, putting everything in it, making sure he had everything while Oz watched. "So," he said, turning around. "Okay?"
"Not really, but I'll live with it only being for two days." Oz sat down on the floor, watching the baby as she escaped from his lap. "Just two shows?"
"I put in a third outfit in case I needed it," Xander said with a shrug. "He said two but things happen like people leaving early." He stole a kiss and stood, stretching his arms above his head. "Want to help me stretch?"
"Love to." Oz looked for the baby, hopping up to bring her out of the bathroom. "No, you don't need to chew on toilet paper either."
Xander snickered. "I teethed on my father's boots." He looked out the window. "It's almost dark."
"Yup, it is," Oz sighed, coming over to hold onto Xander's arm while he stretched.
"Now, Spike, I need you to make sure no harm comes to Xander," Giles lectured. "Absolutely no one is to touch him, fondle him, talk to him, buy him a drink, or to get near to him." The vampire yawned. "If you fail in protecting him tonight, not only will you die, but I'll make sure it's by the most horrible method I know, and trust me, I know quite a few."
"Done yet?" Spike sighed, looking at his nails in the light. "I'm not gonna let him get snatched. Don't worry." He stood up, heading for the door. "Where's the whelp anyway?"
"Waiting on the porch." Giles watched as the neutered vampire walked out and slapped Xander across the back of the head. "Don't do that!" he called, heading for the door.
"He's baiting you," Sileya said from her position on the couch. She looked up. "Could I go?"
"No, you're underage," Oz told her, shifting in the chair he was attempting to nap in. "They card, no one under eighteen."
"Pity, I've never seen a strip act."
"I'm sure you'll find a way to fix that when you're older," Giles said, sitting down to watch Xander drive away. "Why did I agree to this again?"
"Because it's important to him to know that he's moved on," Oz said without opening his eyes.
"Go take a nap, Oz, I'll be up for a few hours. He won't come home to everyone sleeping."
"Thanks," he sighed, standing up. "Night, Rupe."
"Good night, Oz. I'll be up later, once he's home."
"Sure." Oz headed up the stairs, leaving them alone.
Sileya put down her book, looking at her guardian. "Why are you so upset that other people find him attractive?"
"Because I don't like to think of others looking at him, especially not lonely men who might want to take him from me."
"Oh. Would you feel the same way about Oz doing it?" She shifted, pulling her feet out from under her.
"Probably, but that won't happen."
"But would you feel the same?" she persisted.
Giles leaned back, rubbing his tired eyes. "Most likely I would. I'm very protective of what's mine. I'm actually quite overprotective where Xander's concerned, but if it were Oz, I'd feel the same way. I don't want others staring and contemplating taking what's mine, even in their minds." He looked over at her. "Why?"
"Because I heard what Xander's been saying about you treating him different." She held up a finger at the growing frown. "No, he screamed it at you. I thought this might be one of those things."
"It may have been, but I don't want Oz doing it any more than I want Xander to be showing himself off on that stage." He patted her knee. "I know we yell sometimes, but that doesn't mean that you need to help us fight, Sileya, it's not part of your duty."
"No, but if you three have too many problems, then it's my life," she said quietly. "You and Oz may be getting cooler to me, but Xander's the one I depend on. He's my brother now, I can't let him be hurt. Not even for love." She stood up. "I'm going up to my room. Good night." She grabbed her book and jogged up the stairs, leaving him alone with his thoughts.
"I'm trying," Giles sighed. "I really am. If only you weren't so much like your father." He lay down on the couch, getting comfortable to wait for his lover to come back home.
Xander walked out of the changing area, subtly watching the dancers around him as they pulled away from him. He headed out into the bar area, smiling at the bartender. "Bottle of water?" he asked. He got it, putting down the two dollars for it before walking over to the table where Spike was guzzling a beer. "Big allowance?" he asked as he sat down.
"Yup, the best," Spike said, putting down the empty bottle. "You weren't half bad."
"Thanks." Xander opened his bottle, sipping delicately at it. "Was kinda strange to walk out there after everything that's happened here." He looked around, noticing all the changes. "I don't like the new decor," he decided, shuddering as he caught sight of one of the chains draped from the ceiling.
"Is a bit more hardcore than most of the boys on the runway," Spike noted, watching one of the iron chandeliers swing in the breeze as the door opened. "Very gothic now."
"Yeah, it is," Xander said, frowning at the vampire. "What's up? You actually look worried."
"I am," Spike admitted. "Somethin's off." He waved the waitress over, handing her the bottle and taking a fresh one. "First club I've been to that allowed bottles." He drank the top third of it in a gulp, putting it down to look at the person he was guarding. "You're not happy, are ya?"
"Nope, not a bit," Xander agreed, finishing his water and checking his watch. "I have to go back up there in another fifteen. Got to get dressed." He stood up, nodding at the dancer walking past him. "Just stay here," he told Spike, heading for the dressing room and his next outfit. As he walked into the changing area, everyone quit talking and stared at him. "What? Did I suddenly sprout things?" He looked down at himself and shook his head. "Nope. So what's going on?" he asked, sitting down in front of one of the dancers he used to work with, one who had been a veteran when he had first started.
"Things are different now," the dancer said, looking at him. "Very different. We don't think that things will ever be normal again."
Xander nodded. "I noticed the very Bramish decor." He looked over his shoulder at the newer dancers gathered behind him. "Was some of this because of what I went through?" His friend shook his head. "Okay, so it's just the change?" He got a nod.
"Definitely. Since Chastity left, things have went downhill. Almost like the boss has a new keeper." Xander shuddered. "Oh, he won't hurt you," he assured quickly, "he told us that you were safe, and safety to us. It's just that we don't know what's going on. We're worried about not going home one night."
Xander nodded and stood up. "I have a friend outside who might be able to shed some light on things." He looked down at his clothes. "I have to do my final turn, but when I get back, we're going to talk."
"I go on after you," the older dancer pointed out, going back to lining his lips.
"So I'll be waiting," Xander said with a shrug. He changed into his leather outfit, heading out onto the stage.
Xander walked right behind Spike, close enough to be clutching his shirt. "Why do I feel like something's going on?" he asked when they made it to Oz's car.
"Because it is," Spike said, losing all patience. He turned, putting Xander on the hood. "Sit there, let the vampire go back in and save everyone." He tried to walk away but Xander grabbed him, stopping him from moving. "It doesn't work if you don't let go."
"Yeah, but you're not going in alone," Xander said as he slid off the hood, patting down his pockets as he walked into the club, heading into the room that had recently been added on. What he saw made him sick. All the dancers were lined up against the walls, except for the one on the table, and they all had blank expressions. "You know," he said conversationally as he walked in, stopping to hit one of the bouncers as he came closer, "this really isn't a good." He snapped his fingers in front of the bouncer's eyes, but they didn't respond. "Huh, very heavy spells."
"Not a spell," Spike muttered, going to start the unchaining. "I'd smell magic." He stopped, turning as a door opened, nodding at Xander to get back from the doorway.
Xander crossed his arms, glaring at the men who walked through the door. "What's going on, guys?" he asked the cops and his manager.
"Oh, we were called," one of the cops said smoothly.
"Yeah, and so was I," Xander said, waving a hand around. "Let them go."
"We were just going to say the same thing," his manager said with a shrug. "Why you doing this, Harris?"
"Wasn't me." He looked at Spike, who was still undoing them. "So, who's the power person?"
"I am," a deep voice said from behind Xander. He laughed at the bored look he got. "What? You thought that the irritating little one was the only power here?"
"Not into power, wouldn't know," Xander said calmly, turning to face the demon, considering his options. He knew how to kill it, but it was near to impossible to do, especially without something iron or steel. He glanced around at the dancers. "Blood magic or just sex?" he asked casually.
"Why don't you find out?" the demon suggested, pulling something out of his pocket, which Spike promptly grabbed and sent out onto the floor. "Now that wasn't nice," he said, backhanding him.
"Hey, leave my guardian du jour alone!" Xander shoved the demon hard, glaring at him. "Why don't you go pick on your own kind?" he sneered. "Won't anybody play with you?"
"Yes, but I want to be the big boy on the playground." The demon grunted as he stood, looking Xander over. "Are you sure you're not into power?"
"Have it around me," Xander said, waving a hand. "Not in me." He shrugged, grabbing one of the chains Spike tossed at him, starting it swinging against his side. "Come on, nice demon maggot." He backed away a step, looking for an opening.
"Leave him alone, Harris," his manager said. "You don't know what you're messin' with."
"Yeah, he does," Spike scoffed. "Who do you think the Slayers go to for help?"
"Fuck!" The cops all backed away, shaking their heads. "We're not dealing with that group," their spokesman told the demon. "This isn't that good of a deal."
"And it won't be, these ones never keep their promises. Their name translates into 'teller of great stories' or lies." He brought the chain up, whapping the demon upside the head, knocking him back down to the floor. "Man, you're a weak demon, aren't ya?"
"Very," Spike said as he finished unlatching the last dancer and came over to look at him. "You know, I could take him back to Willow, let her have a different pet to torment for a while."
"Get over it, Spike, she's not ever going to let you go." Xander looked at him. "If you're that unhappy, leave."
"Nah, I'm gonna torture her for a bit longer first." He looked down at the demon, who was wiping at a cut on his cheek. "Hmm, very weak, which is odd."
"Why are you sounding like Giles tonight?"
"Because he told me to guard you and that's what I'm doin'."
"Oh." Xander shrugged then went back to watching the demon struggle to his feet. "Okay, so what's really going on here?"
"I'm just raising energy," the demon complained. "Nothing harmful. It's not like they'll remember."
"But that in itself is bad," Xander countered. "They didn't agree to this, did they?"
"In a round-about way, they did, Harris," his manager said, not moving any closer. "Same as you did. It's in your contract."
"Hold on," Xander said, turning to face him. "I read my contract, there wasn't anything in there that mentioned being used by a demon to regain his lost powers. And trust me, I've had that happen to me before, so I know what I'm talking about."
"Huh?" Spike asked.
"Oh. That thing." Spike snorted, shaking his head. "Never understood why you were with her in the first place."
"It was sex, I was nineteen."
"Point," Spike admitted with a nod.
"Can we get on with this?" the demon asked, sounding very testy.
"Sure, you can leave them alone or get them to agree *willingly*. Otherwise I get mean and beat you to death." Xander shrugged. "I think that's fair."
"Fine," the demon spat, pulling another bag out of his pocket and handing it over to Spike. "Wake them and we'll find out if they're willing."
Spike walked around the dazed men, blowing the dust in each one's face, waiting until he was awake to go to the next one. "All yours," he said, handing back the bag, pulling Xander out of the way. "Their decision," he reminded quietly when the young man started to protest. Xander nodded but he didn't relax.
"This child has decided that you all have to be asked now if you'd like to help me regain my powers so I can go home," the demon told them. "I will let you out of the contract you signed if you say you want it to be so."
"Huh?" one of the younger dancers asked. "What are you?"
"He's a demon," Xander said quietly. "He wants to get with you to build up some energy so he can go home."
"No, I mean you," he said.
"Slayerette. One of the good guys. I had to make sure." He looked at Spike. "Home?"
"Home," the vampire agreed, looking at the demon then at the dancers.
"No hard feelings," the demon said, giving Xander a smile. "I knew if you saw me you'd have to ask." He looked at the dancers. "The one he works with knows that there are some of us that aren't so bad, but there are some of us that are more evil than not. That's what he does."
Xander's manager nodded slowly. "I can understand that." He looked the boy over. "Coming back tomorrow?"
"Still want me to?"
"Up to you. Totally up to you."
Xander considered. "Yeah, I'd like that. I have a killer routine planned for my last number." He waved at the other guys. "Sorry, but I had to ask, it's in the job description." He let Spike lead him out of the club and put him in the car. He waited until they were halfway home to say anything else. "Was that brave or stupid?"
"Oh, definitely stupid, but I won't tell if you won't," Spike said, giving the boy a leer. "I won't even tell them that you went full monty for a few minutes tonight."
"Hey, wasn't my fault the guy grabbed my g-string and tore it." Xander settled down in his seat. "Yeah, please don't tell them about that part. I'll never hear the end of it."
"Oh, goody, blackmail," Spike sighed, turning onto the road leading to the farm. "Huh, wonder what that light is," he said, pointing off in the distance. "Looks a good bit away from your place though."
"It looks like Mr. Anderson's farm," Xander said, biting his lip. "Can we swing by his driveway to check? It's only an extra mile or so." Spike nodded after giving him a disgruntled look. "Thanks. He's a really nice guy, he's why we have horses."
"Ah, heard about those. Miri really likes them."
"Yup. And Giles wants to talk to you about certain words the twins are using." He unbuckled as they pulled up in front of the neighbor's driveway, hopping out and running toward the house. He had seen the flames as they had rounded the curve right before the driveway. "Mr. Anderson!" he called, getting as close as he could, trying to hear him.
"He's not in there," Spike said, grabbing him and pulling him back. "I used the cellphone." He drug Xander back to the car, heading for their farm. "Let's get you to your mates." He walked the insensate man inside, pushing him into Giles' arms. "Mr. Anderson's house is burning," he told him. "I couldn't hear anyone in there."
Giles sighed and nodded, pulling Xander closer. "Did you call someone?"
"Yeah, when he tried to see if he was in there." Spike plopped down into a chair. "Ran into a Ferganis tonight. Weak little bugger tryin' to get home again. Usin' the dancers there as a power source."
"Did you find out if..." Giles started but Spike waved at Xander. "Ah, thank you. As long as it was consensual then we have nothing to do with it." He kissed the top of his lover's head. "Love, go to bed. I think you need it."
"Yeah. Yeah, I can do that," Xander said tiredly, pulling back. "Have you seen him?"
"Not today, no," Giles said sadly. "But I'm sure that he's fine. He was supposed to be on vacation this week. Going to find a house near his son's."
"Forgot about that," Xander mumbled, clutching Giles tightly. "Come up with me?"
"In a second, I want to talk to your babysitter about his language problems."
"Tomorrow," Xander told him, yanking on Giles' shirt to make him come with him. "Need you. Need cuddles."
"Of course you do," Giles said, leading the younger man up to their room, putting him in the bed. He stripped himself down, climbing in front of Xander, letting him settle himself however he wanted.
Spike answered the door, nodding the fireman inside. "What's gonna happen?" he asked.
"It wasn't intentional," the fireman answered. "You called it in?"
"We were comin' home when the whelp...Xander saw it. We went to check and I had to drag him home."
"Well," the fireman said, scratching his head. "Your neighbor was in there, but he was dead before that. Strung out real pretty across the bed." He looked Spike over. "You know anything about him?"
"Just that some of his horses were over here because of a problem with his barn."
"All right. We'll go then. If we hear from the family, we'll tell them about the animals."
"He has a son in Texas," Oz said as he walked down the stairs. "What happened?"
"Fire," Spike explained. "We saw it comin' home."
"And he was in there?" Oz asked the fireman, who nodded. "Okay, we have five of his horses over here. He has some at another neighbor's house but I'm not sure which one." He stepped off into the living room. "Can we help?"
"No, it's all done with," the fireman said softly. "He wasn't livin' when it happened though so tell your man that. Your friend said he was worried."
"Yeah, he would be," Oz sighed. "Thanks. Tell the family if you hear from them please." The fireman nodded and left, leaving Oz staring at Spike. "What else happened tonight? His nightmares woke me."
"Ferganis demon. Your boy made sure none'o the others needed help then we left. His boss was impressed though."
"Cool." Oz looked around the room, then headed for the kitchen. "Oh, Spike, quit teaching the twins how to swear. I really don't want to have to come hunt you down this month."
"Fine," he sighed, flopping back down in a chair. "Take all the fun outta watchin' them." He flinched when he heard the low growl. "I'll be more careful," he promised.