Xander smiled as the inspector walked up to him, shaking his hand. "So?" he asked, waving a hand at the mostly done house. "My men pitched in to help and I got some help from my teacher, Mr. Kendricks at the voc school, who didn't even complain when I killed my leg for a day."
The inspector walked around to look at the work, heading inside to look at the unfinished walls. He came back a few minutes later. "I've got to admit, it's some very good work. The only problem I'm seeing is the outlets aren't up to code."
Xander nodded. "We're waiting on the stuff to put in another box. I looked those up last night and it shouldn't be too hard. I've also added a second breaker for the room, it was easier."
"I understand fully, Mr. Harris." He made a note on his citation. "What about all those beams?"
"Those were fixed the next day. My teacher came out and used his week off to help me. We got all those done the first day, got the plywood started that day, and the second day most of the windows went in."
"Then I'm glad you called me at this stage." He signed the paper and handed it over. "Very good work. A question though, that roof's going to hold people?"
"We're going to reinforce it," Xander told him. "We've found this stuff that they use to bulletproof cars that's light enough to put in ceilings. We're going to put it inside and out, overtop of the plywood. That's why there's no tar paper up there yet."
"Good. I had been wondering about that. Is it useable for construction?"
Xander pulled a crumpled printout out of his front pocket and handed it over. "That's what we found. They say it's good enough for construction and it's insulating too. It'll also help cut down on the noise while we're working in the library."
"Good enough," he said, handing it back. "You did very well, young man." He nodded at the house. "Continue and call me before you put up the walls."
"Most of the walls are going to be built-in bookcases. We'll be doing the rest of the electrical stuff tonight, after my lover gets back from Home Depot. When should we call you?"
"How about I come out tomorrow and look over your electrical work?" Xander nodded. "Good. You do know that you've got to use fireproof insulation because of your plans?"
"Yup, we've got three rolls waiting on us in the barn."
"Good enough. I'll be back out tomorrow to check on that. Please don't do anything more than the electrical and any plumbing that you'll have to replace." He headed for his car, going to make his report as he drove away.
Xander whooped and walked inside, going to hug his lovers, who had been trying to listen. "We did it. We're all but passed. He's going to come out tomorrow and look at the wiring."
"Cool," Oz said, kissing him on the neck. "Guess I should get to Home Depot."
"Yup, you should," Xander said, giving him a pinch on the butt. Oz just shook his had and walked off, going to do his errands.
Giles smiled at Xander, holding his arms out for a hug, which he got. "I'm glad to have been able to help you with this," he said quietly.
"You're leaving again, aren't you?" Xander asked.
"I've decided that I need to go somewhere to think about what's wrong with me. I've decided to do a bit of traveling to do that. I've a month planned on this trip."
"Okay." Xander backed away. "As long as you come back as this Rupert instead of the one that showed up while I was sick."
"I'll do my best to be an even better Rupert for you," he said, kissing him lightly. "I'll be leaving the same day Sileya, Homer, and Wesley do."
"Say goodbye to the kids," Xander reminded him.
"I'll be doing that at the dinner." Giles walked away, heading back out to his trailer.
Xander sighed and sat down in the nearest chair, wincing as he removed a screwdriver from under his rear.
Xander looked at his first completed set of shelves and grinned, patting himself on the back. Sure, one was crooked, but he could fix that in a second. He turned at the clapping and bowed to Homer and Oz, who were standing behind him. "The first one's done," he said proudly.
"Good work," Oz said, walking over. He touched the crooked shelf, which was loose. "Got to fix that one still."
"I've got to tighten all of them. I wanted to make sure I wasn't going to knock one out of alignment while I was putting in another one so I left them all a little loose. Give me twenty more minutes and this one will be ready to have books on it."
"We can't wait," Oz told him, giving him a hug. "Good job, Xander. I'm very proud of you." Xander beamed under the praise. "You want to cook dinner tonight?"
"Um, it's your turn."
"Yeah, but I figured since you were on a roll and all, that you might want to do that too."
Xander shook his head. "I want to get this finished. Call me in time for dinner."
"I will," Oz assured him, leaving and taking Homer with him.
Xander got back to work on his shelves, killing the time until the official bon voyage party happened.
Oz raised his glass of juice to the departing trio. "May you have fun in England. If there is such a thing to be had." Wesley glared at him. He was spending the night because they were leaving in the early morning for a three am direct flight.
"And may you find the less interesting members of our family," Xander added on, smiling at Sileya. "After all, Ethan said they weren't all like him."
She giggled. "From what he told me, half of them are like him and the other half are like the stuffy rich people I grew up around. Maybe I'll find someone that's a nice mixture of the two."
"Hopefully," Xander agreed, grinning at her. "So, how does one dress to meet royalty these days?"
"Very carefully, same as everything else," she said, winking at him. "And I'd hardly call one Baroness royalty, Xander."
"I would," Xander countered. "I'm not used to people like that."
"I'm not totally comfortable with it," Sileya said, giving him a fond smile, "but I've known a few. Oh, did I tell you? My mother will be meeting us in London for a few days. She wants to meet Homer." She patted his hand.
"Cool," Xander said, smiling at the both of them. "Just be yourself, Homer; if she doesn't like you then you can scare her."
Homer snickered. "I don't think it'll be a problem." He looked at Chloe, who was staring out a window. "I'm sure they're fine," he told her.
"They're on a stakeout so they can't call," she said. "I've been in this situation before, but I was always at home."
Xander reached across the table, and when he couldn't reach her, he picked up a potato and tossed it at her. "I wouldn't worry about it, Chloe, they're experts at getting out of trouble."
She tossed the potato back. "I know. They're also experts at getting into trouble."
"Good point." Xander winked. "I'm sure they're snuggling up together in the van, stealing some personal time."
She giggled. "I'm sure. Blair's been *real* happy with mom recently." She dug into her food. "This is great, guys."
"I'm glad you like it," Giles said. He looked around the table. "I have an announcement also. I've decided that I need to take a trip to clear my head." Sileya and Homer clapped. "Thank you," he said, frowning at them. "I'll be back in about a month or so." He smiled at Chloe. "I'm leaving Xander in your care, dear. He can boss Oz around so I'll expect you to make sure he doesn't push himself too hard."
She smiled. "I'm sure he'll be fine." She looked over at Xander. "After all, he'll have a lot of things to occupy his time."
"Garden?" Miri asked, lifting her head up and giving Chloe a brilliant smile.
"Sure. If your father says it's okay," Chloe amended when she saw the head shake Xander was doing.
"I'm not taking care of a garden," Xander told her. "I kill plants."
"I can help with it," Oz told them, laying a hand on Xander's leg under the table. "We'll see, okay?"
Xander nodded. "Okay." He looked over at Miri. "If we put in a garden, you're going to have to help take care of it."
"'Kay," she said, giving him her best smile. "I will. Can we have butler too? I miss smooshy eggies."
Xander groaned. "No. Definitely not. We can't afford a butler." He leaned over to kiss Oz on the cheek. "Pass that down to her please."
Oz did as he was told, kissing his daughter on the cheek. "We'll figure it out," he promised her.
"Guys," Chloe said quietly, "I found something odd earlier." She pulled something out of her pocket and held it up.
"Oh, my pretty!" Miri cried, taking it from her. "Thank you. Me miss this."
Chloe looked at Xander for an explanation. "When she went traveling recently, she got a lot of those. There's still some sitting around the house." He held out a hand. "May I see it?" She passed it up to him. "Thank you." He held it up to the light then shrugged. "What is it?"
"Green pretty," Miri said proudly.
Giles took the stone and looked at it. "I believe it's a piece of jade." He handed it over to Miri. "Please keep those in your room, Miriam, we don't want the twins or William to get hurt by playing with them."
She glared at him. "You shh! You no give me orders."
Oz tapped her on the head before Giles could react. "He's still your father, you will follow his orders," he commanded quietly. Miri looked up at him. "I know, you're confused. How about we talk about this tonight before bed?"
She nodded. "'Kay. Me sorry, Daddy Rupert," she said, looking down at her plate.
Giles swallowed. "I'm sure it was just a slip, we'll deal with it." He looked at Oz, who just looked back. "Will I be included in this talk?"
"If you'd like," Xander agreed.
Chloe got up and went into the kitchen, coming back with a big bowl. "I can't cook much, but I've known pudding since I was six," she said as she presented the huge bowl of swirled pudding. Miri clapped, Xander clapped, and Oz groaned, "My waistline."
Everyone laughed and dug into the treat.
Oz climbed into bed beside Xander and cuddled up to him. "Miri understands about what she said," he whispered, waking him up with a kiss.
"Cool," Xander mumbled as he rolled over. "Now what?"
"Now, I'd like to do something with you, if you'd like." One brown eye opened. "Sorry, I knew you were napping, but I didn't think that you needed it." He stole a kiss. "Want the bed back?"
"Nope." He got comfortable on Oz's chest. "Not moving."
"Everyone else is still up," Oz pointed out.
"Let them entertain themselves."
"William's still downstairs."
"Okay," Xander sighed, moving himself off Oz. "I was really tired so I came up early. Go get William?"
"Sure." Oz stood up and walked out of the room, going down to get his baby. He stole him from Wesley. "Night, peoples. Xander's really tired."
"We'll be good without you," Sileya told him with a smile. "Go rest."
Oz looked at her. "You sure you're ready to go?"
"I've got to pack some of my personal items, but otherwise, yes, I'm done." Her smile turned gentler. "Oz, he's been working himself into exhaustion for the last week over the addition. Let him nap."
"Going to." Oz carried his son back upstairs and into their bathroom, running a bath for both of them. "We'll be comfy in here," he told his son quietly, not wanting to wake Xander again.
Xander padded into the bathroom and stopped, smiling at his boys asleep in the tub. He leaned down to brush across William's hair, picking him up when he woke up. "Shh," he whispered, bringing him back to the bed to put a diaper on him. "Yes, we'll go to bed, love. Yes you will." He tucked the baby into his bed for the moment, going to grab the camera and take a picture of his mate sleeping in the tub. Oz woke up at the flash.
"Huh?" he asked, then started checking the water.
"He's tucked safely in your spot," Xander told him, sitting on the floor with a grunt and grabbing a bath sponge. He soaped it down and ran it over Oz's chest. "You looked so cute, I couldn't resist." Oz looked confused so he nodded at the camera on the side of the sink. "So, why are you so tired?"
"Not, the water was warm and so was William. I guess we both needed a nap."
They both groaned as William started to yell. Xander handed over the sponge. "I'll go get him a bottle. You relax. You deserve it." He got up and grabbed his cane, walking out and downstairs, going to fix his baby a bottle or two for the night. By the time he came back up, William was using Oz's finger for a pacifier and Oz was staring at the door. "Took forever to get warm water from the tap," he complained as he handed over one of the bottles. He put the other in a thermos beside the bed and screwed the lid on it tightly. "There, now we've got two."
"Maybe we should get a bottle warmer," Oz suggested. "It'd take less time than the warm water bath."
"We'll go look at one tomorrow," Xander told him. He lay back down with the baby, laying William on his stomach so he could be comfortable while he drank.
"Let me?" Oz asked, running a hand between William and Xander's stomach.
"I've got it," Xander countered. "You got to feed him earlier."
"Yeah, and you got the last one." He stole the baby with a grin, cradling William comfortably in his arms, making cooing noises at him. "Yeah, we like eating with me, don't we?"
"We like eating with both of us," Xander reminded him.
"I think I'm the favorite. It's a dad thing," he explained at the hurt look. He leaned down and gave Xander a kiss, accidentally smooshing William. "Sorry," he said, shifting the baby when he started to fuss. He put the bottle back into William's mouth and scooted down to cuddle with his lover. "So," he said, wanting to talk.
"So?" Xander asked.
"What's going on with the addition?"
"I've got half the shelves up, and I've had to replace a few of the screws because they kept getting loose. Everything's done but the porch and the doors out to it."
"Coolness. How are you going to do those?"
"Well, I was going to bring you with me to look at doors first of all. Then I was going to use my knowledge to put in doors, my teacher said it was just like doing windows, and then we'll have doors."
"What about wiring and those sort of things?" Oz asked.
Xander smiled. "Almost no wiring and most of it runs through the ceiling to the few plugs on this wall. I remember that from when we fixed these rooms."
"Cool. Can I help?"
"Sure. And you can even watch William while I do the hard stuff."
"Cool." Oz snuggled in against Xander, watching his son eat. "You know, he's really amazing."
"Yeah, I know," Xander whispered, stroking through Oz's hair. "He's an amazing little boy, but we're not going through that again."
Oz snorted. "Okay by me. I don't want to see you in the hospital again." He took Xander's hand from his hair and held it. "What else can I do to help you with the porch?"
"Mostly, at first, it's going to be keeping the kids from coming near the work. Once we get the whole of the porch done, then it'll be keeping them from pushing Miri off it." Oz yawned. "If you want, I'll hold him and you'll nap."
"Nope. I'm good." He yawned again.
Xander waited until Oz was asleep before taking the baby from his arms to finish the feeding.
Xander looked up from his cutting through the wall as Oz walked in with a glass of water. "Thanks." He put down the saw and sat on the floor, gulping the water down. "So, how's the downstairs?"
"Very noisy. I thought you needed to put in the metal stuff?"
"I do, but the doors will be here later today. I'll put those in first, then go put the aluminum stuff up." He pointed at the wall. "Besides, when I have to put the layer out there, it'll be easier."
"Ah. How did the platform work?"
"Great," Xander said, grinning at him. "My teacher thought it was brilliant."
"Cool. I'm glad you liked it."
"Yup and we're keeping it around because there's a lot of stuff in the barn I could use it for too, including hay."
Oz gave him a hug. "I wasn't worried. I'm just glad you liked it."
"Liked it a lot," Xander told him, keeping him from moving. "Oz, should I be doing this?"
"Which this?" Oz asked, pulling himself away by force. "Working on the house today? Probably, if you feel up to it. Or was there another this?"
"All this," Xander sighed, looking around the room. "Someone told me the other day that we were so wrong because we were together."
"As men or otherwise?" Oz asked.
"Otherwise. More of the living together thing than the man thing, but that was in there too."
"Oh, you got pounced on by that Church group. That's the one that wants to buy the store." He sat down beside the younger man and leaned into him. "Which part's bothering you?"
"The impermanence issue." Xander stared down at his leftover water. "It's like we could both walk away at any moment and destroy the other. I found that out while I was sick and it's really scary."
Oz reached over and took the glass, holding Xander's hands instead. "Listen, I know you need stability, and you know I'm not leaving. Why is this getting to you now? Because you were sick and they mentioned it? Or because of Giles?"
"Both," he said, turning to look at his lover. "I've gotten lost somewhere in my head again and it's not a pretty place."
"See, all these fears are something that I should be helping you take care of." Oz took their joined hands and rubbed the back of his across Xander's lips. "You know I'm not going to leave, right? Not without warning and not without a really good reason." Xander nodded. "Then why are you worrying like this?"
"Because I feel like I should I guess," Xander admitted. "When that church lady came up to me, she was just so *sure* and confident, and every time I said that you weren't leaving me, she countered it with something else." He shuddered. "I don't want to see her again."
"Then you won't," Oz said simply. He got free and pulled Xander's head over to give him a kiss on the nose. "She doesn't know us, Xander. Relax. I'm not leaving and you're not leaving me." He stole a real kiss and stood up. "You finish this, I'm going to go read to the kids."
Xander nodded and got to his feet, going back to cutting out a door-sized portion of the wall.
Oz went downstairs and picked up the phone, dialing his trusty ally. "Blair? No, someone majorly screwed with Xander's head. He thinks I'm going to leave him." He hopped up on the counter. "Yeah, he admitted that some of it was the crap with Giles. Oh, did you tell him to go on vacation? No, he's on vacation. Oh, this is his session? We thought he was going to travel the world. Hey, Rupe. No, the church group added onto the fear that you helped create in him. Nope, now he thinks what we have going on is this very delicate alliance and that we're too easily broken apart." He hummed. "Maybe, but that isn't the real truth for him and I. I couldn't ever leave him. Yeah, because I know what it'd do to him, but also because I know that I'd be miserable and so would he. Yes, Blair," he sighed, "I do love him." He started. "No! Oh, no, not gonna do that. Get over that plan now." He glared at the wall. "Yes, but it's not legal and I don't think that drastic of a solution is necessary." He straightened up. "I think I have it. Nope, not gonna tell you. Call before you come back." He hung up and hopped down. "Xander? I'm going to town. Need anything?"
"Screws please, like the ones for the shelves," floated down from the upstairs. "And snacks."
"Sure." Oz grabbed his keys off the board and a screw to measure against, then walked out, heading for his car. He still couldn't handle Xander's car, he hated those levers even more than his lover did. He slid into his sedan and started it, backing out as he buckled up, and headed into town to make sure Xander couldn't leave him totally. At least he'd have a chance to get him back this way.
Xander walked down to supper the next night and stopped as he saw the candlelight in the dining room. He walked inside and looked around. No one. "Oz?" he called.
"Coming." Oz walked in carrying a tray. "Hey, you're early."
"I got done for the day," Xander told him, sitting down. "Should I go shower?"
"Nope. You're good to me the way you are." Oz sat down across from him, using the smaller width of the table instead of the length, and held out a hand. Which Xander took to hold. "Xander, I know that you've been having doubts. I even understand them. But they aren't what's going to happen." He waved a hand at the room, wincing as the dining room door slammed. "Yeah, thanks, mom!" he called out to their ghost. He smiled at Xander. "Listen, I want to have a romantic dinner with you. Would that be okay?"
"Sure," Xander said, giving him a smile back. "I'd like to have a romantic dinner. Do you want to stay in here?"
"No, I want to go have a picnic under the stars." Oz stood up and blew out the candles. "Go shower while I find the picnic stuff?"
Xander stood up and blew him a kiss. "Half hour?"
"Great." Oz watched him walk out, then went to get everything they'd need.
Xander leaned on his arm, staring up at Oz and the stars behind his head. It almost looked like Oz was wearing the stars from where he sat. "You look nice like this," he told him, picking up a cube of ham to nibble on while he waited for Oz to tell him what was going on.
"You always look good," Oz told him, leaning down to kiss him. "Xander, I did something semi- stupid but really brilliant. Will you listen before you say anything?" Xander nodded so he pulled out the papers. "This is a palimony agreement." He saw his lover's face fall. "Not gonna happen, but this is like a mid-nup for us." He handed it over. "It's so that you can be sure I never leave you."
Xander looked at the paper then shook his head. "It's in legalese."
Oz shifted over to sit behind him and pointed at the first clause. "That's a naming of the parties," he whispered, nipping on Xander's ear. "I've included both you and Giles, though his status was left kinda fuzzy since we're not really together right now." He stole a kiss when Xander looked up. "The next clause states what we have. A long-term steady relationship that's emotional, physical, and financial." Xander nodded so he went on. "The next few are what you get from me if we ever split up. This is where it becomes like a pre-nuptial agreement for straight people. If we ever break up, you have the right to a third of the stores that I own. And you also have the right to visit any children I may have without you." Xander nodded. "Not gonna happen, but we all know that it's best to be safe." He stole another kiss. "This also says what I get if we break up." He pointed to another section. "This one says that I get visitation with all the kids."
Xander pulled his head down and kissed him. "You did this for me?"
Oz nodded. "Yeah, just for you."
Xander grabbed him and pulled him down on top of him. "I love you, Oz. You're the bestest lover." He cuddled him for a few minutes. "What about Rupert?"
"Well, there's where we're going to have to do some tinkering," Oz admitted. "I wasn't real fair to him. He gets a third of the stores too, but he also loses the twins. See," he said, rolling off so he could look at Xander in a serious instead of sexual and loving way, "if he leaves and we're together, we get the twins and he gets visitation. If we all break up, then you get the twins too and I get visitation with them too." Xander nodded. "Also, if we three break up, you get the house because of the kids. Rupert and I get to pick a spot on the other side of the property to build ourselves houses and the property goes into the kids' names."
Xander grinned. "I think you're brilliant." He looked around. "Pen?"
"This is a preliminary draft," Oz told him. "There's room to negotiate if you want to."
Xander shook his head. "Nope. The only thing I'd change would be to give myself just under a third interest in the stores and to give you palimony payments from my trust."
Oz teared up but he was smiling. "Thank you, Xander."
"Hey, you're a good man, Oz, and I love you. You did this for me because I was scared about something stupid and unlikely to happen." He wiped off his own cheeks. "Great, now I start crying." He kissed Oz again. "When can we amend this?"
"Tomorrow. I set up an appointment for us in the afternoon. That way you could do some stuff with the house before then and be relaxed." Oz ran a finger across Xander's lip. "Before we sign, we'll have to make sure Giles won't mind."
"Can we have Blair find him and call him?"
"Yup. We can do that," Oz agreed, pulling Xander on top of him. "You know what? I like cuddling under the stars with you."
"The porch'll be done in a few days," Xander offered. "All I need to know is what sort of flooring do you want?"
"Wood with a dark border under the fence so it doesn't look like a porch from the ground."
"Okay. I can do that. They've got some new laminate stuff that should work really well, and it'll be splinter free."
"Which is always a great," Oz agreed. "We're going to have to get a curtain for the door. I like to tan naked."
"Hmm, naked, warm, oily Oz. That could become one of my favorite things." Xander leaned down and stole a kiss, but his stomach spoke up. "I think it's hungry," he said, wiggling his way down Oz's body. He slowly unzipped Oz's pants. "I hope you don't mind that you'll have to wait a few minutes to eat," he whispered against the bare flesh, "but I'm starved." He swallowed him down.
Xander bounced into Blair's office and handed him pictures of the addition and the kids, and a copy of the agreement. "Oz knew I was scared and he got *sweet*," he said cheerfully.
Blair looked it over then smiled. "Okay. Rupert," he said, handing it over to the other man in the room, and the reason Xander was there. "What do you think about this?"
Giles read the opening paragraph and pulled out a pen.
"Um, you might want to read it first," Xander cautioned. "We've kept it that I get custody of the twins."
Giles smiled at him. "Of course you do. You do the best with them." He read it quickly then signed it. "Blair, if you'll be the witness?"
Blair signed the paper as soon as he got it back. "What about yours and Oz's signature?"
"We're doing that this afternoon." Xander sat down and looked at Giles. "Why did you lie about going on a trip?"
"Because I needed to do this part alone," Rupert told him gently. "But because Oz found out that I was here, Blair has decided that I need to talk to you alone." Xander nodded. "Xander, I'm sorry for the hell I've caused you over the last year or so."
Xander held up a hand. "Stop. It's almost been the whole time we've been together as a couple. On and off since we got the store."
"I'm sorry about those times too," Giles said with a small smile. "I didn't realize what trauma I was doing to your ego and your sense of self by making you the 'wife' as you put it back then." Xander nodded so he went on. "I know that I've managed to make you miserable, and to rethink your entire reason for existing, and for that I'm sorry."
Blair tapped the paper that was sitting on his desk. "Rupert, do you know what caused this?" He got a head shake. "Xander, why don't you tell him?"
"Well," Xander said, shifting until he could put his leg up, "part of it was you and the way you treated me while I was in the hospital. Admittedly, the panic the other day was started by the Church group in town jumping on me and telling me that you and Oz were going to leave me someday." He tipped his head. "Rupert, I know that you're healing, but what you did to me was not only cruel, it was a punishment for wanting a life of my own. The timing that you chose, the way that you snubbed me, even the things that you said, were all a punishment for me finding myself. It wasn't that you were making me stay at home, it was that you were trying to eradicate any and all sense of myself that I had. The same as you did in the hospital. This wasn't a new thing on your part, it was a harsher continuation of the old problem. One that you're going to have to solve or you're going to stay in the trailer."
Giles bowed his head. "Xander, I know I did wrong, and I'd like to work on getting better. Do I have your support?"
"Sure, just as soon as this is real and not something that Ethan would pull," Xander said, looking at him. Giles stared at him in shock. "Giles, how long have I known you? How many times have I seen you suffer over what that town threw at us? I see sorry there, but I don't see sorry for good in you yet." He stood up, taking his cane off the side of the chair. "Blair, he's sorry, for now, which is going to lead to doing this again," he said as he walked over to him. "I've seen him be sorry before, I've even seen it pointed in my direction, but I'm not seeing it this time." He looked over his shoulder. "You need more time to be sorry, Rupert, before you do this stuff again."
Blair cleared his throat, breaking the stare. "All right. Xander, why do you think he's not really sorry? Was it what he said? How it sounded?"
Xander leaned against the edge of Blair's desk, facing his older lover. "The last time, and every other time, he's been sorry enough to change something, he's gotten emotional. He's gotten gravely voiced and done the whole sitting-in-the-dark-drinking-myself-into-a-stupor thing. He uses that to think about what he's done and why he did it wrong. I'm not seeing any emotion at all in him. No, actually, I am seeing one and it's a happy one. It's a happy Ethan one, which I've seen before too."
Giles hung his head, cradling it on his hands which were hanging between his knees. "Xander, I'm still not sure how I managed to harm you so badly."
Xander looked at Blair. "Do I field this one or you?"
"Only if you can do it without screaming. Sam has a migraine but she had to come in for a few patients."
"I'll try." Xander walked back over and sat across from his lover again. "Giles, you did this by being a cold and unfeeling bastard to me. You also did this by treating me as if I were my daughter. Not to mention the whole 'you're not good enough to leave the house, someone might see you' problem that you've been having for as long as I've known you." Giles stared at him. "Yeah, that's what I'm seeing. I'm not a child," he held up a finger, "I'm not a helpless man," he held up another finger, "and I do have the right to make my own decisions and to become a fully functioning adult." He held up a third finger then dropped his hand. "I'm going to demand it when you come back. If you treat me like I'm five, I'm not going to let it continue. If you treat me like you want to hide me because of what we have, I'm going to go dancing around town with a shirt that proclaims who I'm having sex with and what we do in bed. If you treat me like I'm feeble *ever* again, I'm going to beat you with my cane until you realize you just screwed up so totally that you're going to be *royally* sorry about it."
Blair shook his head. "No threats of physical violence, Xander. That's not healthy either."
"No, it's not," Xander said, touching his cane. "I don't want to use this anyway. It was a wonderful present and it's very special to me." He looked over at Rupert. "You recently had me named Sileya's Watcher. Why?"
"Because you were doing the job."
"Was it really that or you didn't want to do it? Was part of it that you were tired of dealing with them? Was it the fact that she's Ethan's daughter? Is part of this the fact that I'm Ethan's son?"
Giles grimaced. "Xander, I had no...."
Xander stood up. "That's a lie," he said calmly. "I've seen those before too. You knew?" Giles sighed and nodded. "Since when?"
"Since I first saw you. You look quite a lot like him when he was your age," Giles said sullenly.
Xander spit on him. "So you decided to deny me the one thing that I've always wanted? The chance to know that I had parents that gave a damn!" He shook his head and backed away, running into a small side table. "Giles, right now, I hate you. You took one of the things that I needed most of all in my life and you hid it until it was almost too late."
"Yes, and where would you be then? Without your laptop?"
"How about without a father?" Xander said coldly. "Like I am now. If you had told me, maybe I might have had some more time with him." He stomped out of the office and climbed into his Explorer, going home.
Blair looked at Giles. "He might not forgive you for that," he told him.
Giles hung his head. "I don't know why I do that to him, Blair. I really don't."
Blair looked him over, seeing the same things Xander did now that they had been pointed out to him.
Xander walked into the house and straight into Oz's arms. "He's an ass," he whispered, calming down.
"How was Daddy's?" Chloe asked as she walked in. She stopped when she saw he was crying, backing out of the kitchen. "Kids," she called from the hall, "give them some time before you get hugs."
Oz stroked down Xander's back, calming him down until he could talk about it. "What did he do?" he asked finally.
"He knew about Ethan when he first saw me," Xander whispered, not letting go. "He never told me. All of this has been because of that."
Oz growled. "That's not real smart of him, huh?" He pushed Xander back some. "I was freaked when I found out, mostly because of our past run-ins with him, but I got over it. Didn't I?" Xander nodded, calming down. "What else happened?"
"He signed the agreement when I showed it to him." Oz opened his mouth. "I told him about the kids and everything but he signed it anyway." Xander patted down his pockets. "Damn, I left it there."
Oz nodded slowly. "Did you sign it?" Xander shook his head. "Who did? Just him and Blair as a witness?" Xander nodded. "Then, if something else happens, we'll deal with him using it." He wrapped Xander in his arms again. "What did he say to you?"
"Nothing much," Xander admitted, "I caught him in a lie and confronted him. He admitted that he knew I was Ethan's son since he first saw me. Then I went off because he got snide." He hiccuped. "He asked me where I would have been if I hadn't met Ethan, without my laptop?"
Oz growled again. "Not gonna happen. You think he's still there?"
Xander shrugged, relaxing now that he was somewhere safe and soothing. "Not a clue," he admitted. "I'm in the I-don't-care-right-now range actually."
Oz nodded. "I can see that. I'd feel the same way." He gave his lover another squeeze. "You got a box from the Watcher's Council. I think it's the books you wanted."
"Okay. I'll put them up after I do the aluminum stuff. Want to help by holding?"
"Sure. I've already moved the platform inside. What else can I do besides hold?"
"Hold me?" Xander asked quietly.
"For as long as you want." Oz pulled him back into his arms, holding him as tightly as possible.
Chloe walked into the library, covering her ears. "Guys, that's really loud," she called when Xander was grabbing another screw. "The kids are screaming at you from outside."
Xander looked down at her. "They okay?"
"You drove them outside in the middle of a rain storm," Chloe said, frowning up at him, looking every bit like her mother.
Oz shrugged. "It won't hurt them. It's the warm rain season." He looked toward the back of the house as he heard a car. "Can you see who that is and herd the kids onto the porch?"
"They're hiding in the barn, watching the cats," Chloe told him, going to find out who it was. She came back with an older man. "It's him," she said, nodding. "I'm going to help Miri. Need anything?"
"Nope, we've got it," Xander said, holding a screw with his teeth. He waved his drill. "Who are you and what do you want?" he asked, before sinking the screw into it's assigned hole.
Oz climbed down and shook his hand. "Oz. And you are?"
"I'm Reverend Gilmorn. Which one of you owns that store in town?"
"My daughter does," Xander said, sitting down on the platform. "We're still not interested in selling it to you though. Especially not after running into one of your members the other day. I really didn't need to be told that all this was going to end and that I should face up to facts now, before my children - who according to her shouldn't be with us at all - have to suffer." He gave the reverend an expectant look. "Was there anything else?"
Oz coughed. "Xander, that's way harsh."
"No harsher than her arguments when she cornered me in the store," he countered. "You saw what I was like that night. I did try and get away from her but she kept forcing herself into my path. I had to get a store worker to save me."
Oz grunted and looked at the reverend. "We aren't interested in selling the old store anyway, but I'm going to agree with him, we don't want your people bothering us anymore."
He smiled gently. "Surely you can't argue with her. Gay relationships don't last as long as heterosexual ones."
Xander shrugged. "It's lasted longer than a lot of marriages I've seen."
The reverend sighed. "If you're sure you feel that way. We're going to try and get around you to get that piece of land. We've recently found out that another person holds that land in trust for your daughter."
"Whom we're also in a relationship with," Oz pointed out. "Anything else?"
He glared at him. "No, young man, there isn't. But know this, we will have that piece of land."
Xander snorted. "Why would you want a store that had been a victim of arson."
"Because it's a Holy miracle that it survived intact."
"It survived because the Fire Department was only a block away," Oz told him. "We survived due to knowing what was going to happen. And I doubt you'd want it considering we sold occult materials in there."
"If a God helped us, I doubt it was yours," Xander added. He stood back up with some difficulty and pulled out another screw. "Oz, I've got this panel set, would you go get me a drink?"
"Sure, babe." He pushed past the annoying man, going to get them both drinks.
The reverend walked out in a huff and left their property.
Xander waited until Oz was back in the library to look down at him. "I'd rather sell to a pagan group," he said quietly.
"Good. I know one that's wanting someplace to be. I'll check with them and then with Rupert." He handed up a can of soda. "Want a straw?"
"The one with the cover?" Xander asked with a grin. It was handed up to him. "Thanks, Oz, you're a great man." He took a sip then went back to reinforcing the ceiling. Oz went to call a few friends. Maybe they'd get the store situation settled soon.
Xander looked up as he heard a truck pull up and leaned out across the new porch to look down at the driveway, waving at Oz. "Up here," he called. "Doors are in." He screwed in a few more of the corners on the plate he was working on before they got up there. With Oz was a young woman, slightly overweight, with long red hair. "Gee, you look like a Willow and Tara person," he said, holding out a hand.
She shook it. "Actually, I'm a Natalie sort of person, and my group doesn't agree with what they did."
Xander waved a hand. "Sit, the panels shouldn't be that hot." He looked at Oz then back at her. "Which version of paganism do you follow? I know a little about Wicca."
"Well, we have a diverse group. We have a few Wiccans, we have a few that are trying to learn to be Druids. Mostly we're college students who are just trying to find our way. Our coven leader is a guy who lives here though, so this would give us a permanent base."
Xander looked at Oz, who shrugged. "Okay, we'll think about it." She smiled. "I'm not sure who else is going to ask for it, but we're going to be very rigid in who we sell the building to. It meant a lot to us."
"And you used to sell occult supplies, right?"
"We used to have a reading room with some of the major demonology books," Oz corrected. He looked her over. "Where do I know you from?"
"I was in your supposed graduating class," she said, giving him a smile. "Can I tell our leader that you'll think about it?" Oz nodded. "So cool, guys, thanks." She hopped up and ran down the stairs. "Um, Oz," she said as she came back.
Oz waved at Xander and left, going to take her back into town.
Xander shook his head as he went back to his aluminum panels.
Strife neighed as Xander mounted him and set off out into the woods before Xander could tie his leg in. He felt the tug on the reins but he ignored it. He didn't want to go that way. He had a purpose for going this way. He slowed down as he came to a clearing, neighing at the man standing guard over the four women.
Xander looked down at him and shrugged. "I don't know, man, the horse did it." He tried to turn Strife around, but his stallion was being stubborn.
One of the women walked over and patted Strife on the nose. "He always did know how to get into trouble." She smiled up at him. "And a new Watcher. How is your sister?"
"Fine," Xander said, confused. "Um, are you like Strife?"
She shook her head. "No, we're much different." She held out a hand. "Come sit and listen to the woods with us?"
He carefully slid down and braced against his horse's side as they both walked over to the logs they had been sitting on. "I didn't know you guys came out here," he said quietly. "Not that we mind. Actually, it's all good to us if you need to use our land. I know you'll be respectful." She giggled. "Sorry."
She leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. "Thank you. We will always be respectful of the land. You have nothing to fear from us."
"Oh, I know that," Xander told her, giving her a smile. "So, what version do you serve?"
"We're not in any particular division of paganism. We follow the spirit of the directive, not a leader's voice." She looked him over. "How is your daughter?"
"Much better now that she can't travel," he said with a smile. "Can you come up to the house tonight? I'd like you to meet my lover. I think we may have something for you." He stood up, supported by Strife's neck, and got back on. "Come up anytime. You're always welcome." He turned the horse around and left the woods.
Xander woke up and was sitting on his horse's back in the barn. He looked down at the shaking head and grunted. "Did you do that?" he asked him.
Strife just whinnied and stamped his foot so Xander let him wander outside to go begin their ride.
Xander tapped on Oz's office door. "I'm confused," he said in greeting when the door opened. "I apparently fell asleep on Strife's neck in the barn and while under, I met a group of pagans that I really could admire. So I offered them the store."
Oz nodded. "Cool. I've talked to Giles and he'll agree with whomever we choose as long as they're reasonable. Or so he says."
"If not, can we get control and take the store from him?"
"Yup, but it might be messy."
"Then it'll be messy," Xander sighed. He took the envelope Oz handed him, looking at it. "What's this?"
"Your check for this month. I found it in the mail. I was going to deposit it for you."
"Oh." Xander turned it over in his hands. "I wasn't going to town for a few days. You can if you want."
"Cool. How's the porch going?"
"I still have the border to do. Why do you want it to look like tarpaper from the ground?"
"Because that's what most roofs are made of," Oz reminded him, going back to his reading. "I've got a court date tomorrow against the University, an informal meeting with the judge. Want to come?"
"Nope, I'd better get the railing firmly nailed down by tomorrow night. It's tacked on right now, but we're supposed to be getting storms tomorrow night. I've got to seal the deck and finish nailing the railing."
"I'll help when I get back," Oz told him. He looked up. "What else was there?"
"I was just freaked by the dream."
Oz nodded. "I can understand that." He held out an arm and got a hug. "You've got a letter in the mail today. Why don't you go read it?"
"Sure." Xander walked out and closed the office door, heading into the kitchen to get his mail. He sat at the table to open it, smiling at the precise handwriting inside. "Hey, I can write another one," he called.
Chloe walked down the hallway. "Write another what? I didn't know you wrote."
"Um, you're too young," he said quickly as he folded it back up. "Adult stuff."
"Oh, *those* sort of things," she said knowingly. "Seen one." She walked over and pulled out a bar of cheese and some flour tortillas. "Want a snack?"
"No thanks." He smiled as she walked away, enjoying having someone around who wanted to play with the kids when he was too busy. He got up and wandered back down to Oz's office, showing him the letter. "Can you help me? Maybe edit for me?"
Oz snorted and looked up at him. "I'm not very good at it but I'll try, okay?" Xander grinned. "Good, now go finish cleaning your office. I've got to research this meeting and the procedures."
Xander walked into his office and looked around the mostly clean space. He sat down at his desk and looked at the mess that was still left, his desk. He started by pulling papers forward and filing them, eventually coming to a small black bag. He opened it and smiled as he looked inside, reaching in to touch the instruments his Uncle had gifted him with when he had went into the Witness Protection program. He made a quick decision and walked out to go up to his daughter's room. She had a few stones left from her journey and he wanted to see if he understood the directions.
Miri sat down beside her father at the table, watching what he was doing to her pretty. "Why you play pretty, daddy? You no like pretties."
"Shh," Xander said, glancing over at her. "I'm trying to make your pretty prettier by shaping it." He tapped the stone just like the directions had said and the last bit of rough stone came off. He held it up in triumph. "Yay me!" he cheered, picking her up to hold her. "See," he said, showing her the stone, "it's prettier now."
She took it to look at, holding it up to the light and moving it back and forth. "I like," she said finally, wiggling down to run out of the room screaming, "Daddy made it prettier!"
Oz walked in a few minutes later with Miri in his arms. "You used your Uncle's kit?" he asked.
Xander grinned. "It's not that hard with this type of stone." He repacked everything and cleaned up his mess. "I'm going to give it to Miri when she's older."
"Give it to William," Miri suggested.
"See, if he gives it to you, then you can make all your stones prettier," Oz told her, letting her down after giving her a kiss on top of the head. He took the bag and looked it over. "This all of it?"
"Except one chisel looking piece that I have back in my office because it's broken," Xander agreed. "Want to hide it?"
"Yeah, let's hide it." He looked down at Miri. "We're going to put this up until you and William are older, okay?" She nodded. "Then you can learn how to use it and make all sorts of pretties." She beamed up at him so he smiled back. "I'm going to put this in my office and you are not to look for it until you're old enough to understand the book in it."
She nodded. "Okay," she said. "You go put it up for me until I older." She nodded and looked at her other father and nodded again. "Me go play with pretty." She skipped out, going to show her sisters. They liked her pretties too.
Xander grinned at Oz. "I just wanted to see if I understood it."
"I know, but with some other types of stones, it's a lot more mathematical." He nodded toward the hallway. "Go finish cleaning your desk so you can write, Xander."
"Yes, sir," Xander sighed, going back to the dreaded task. He trudged down the hall, his cane lightly dragging on the floor beside him.
Oz shook his head and went back to his law books, wondering what he was going to do with his lover.
Xander snuck out onto the porch and looked for any damage the intense storm last night had caused. He grinned when he saw one water dampened spot, and grabbed the cans of sealant from under the tarp in the corner and a few towels to dry the porch off with. Pretty soon, he was evenly coating the whole deck, making sure he got all of it so it wouldn't get ruined. By the time Oz was up, the second coat was dry and the third coat was going on.
Oz walked out as he yawned and looked at the floor in front of him. "It needed more?" he asked sleepily.
"We missed a spot," Xander told him. "I'm putting on extra coats to make sure it's going to be okay." He moved the roller closer to Oz's feet. "Might want to go back in before you get sealed to the deck, Oz."
Oz backed into the house and watched as Xander backed up to join him. He took the roller and put it aside, then pulled his lover back into bed with him, cuddling him. "You're a funny guy sometimes," he whispered, going back to sleep on the firm chest. "I like you that way. It makes my life interesting."
Xander grinned as his mate started to snore, waiting until he was fully asleep to get up and go downstairs to put the books up. A few minutes later, Oz walked in and grabbed him by the arm and led him away. "I'm going to take your cane away," Oz told him as he put Xander back into the bed and firmly put himself on top of the frail body. "Stay. I need to sleep."
"Oz, it's nine, you need to get ready to go see the Judge," Xander reminded him.
"Quiet. Don't want to think about that."
"Then think about this," Xander whispered. "You'll get to see the look on the President's face when the Judge yells at him for you."
Oz lifted his head and stared down at him. "Not yet I won't."
"True, but if you don't go today, then you won't ever see it. Right?"
Oz grunted and got up, heading into the bathroom. "I'm sunbathing when I get back," he called out.
"Okay. I'll have it sanded and finished by then." Xander grabbed his roller and walked back outside, leaning his cane against the wall while he worked on sanding down the last coat of sealant so he could put on the last one.
Oz looked over his shoulder as he heard the giggle and moved faster than he ever had in his life to grab his towel and cover himself. "Hey, Chloe," he said, waving a hand at the immaculate deck. "Come out and enjoy the sun with me?"
"Sure. You know," she said as she sat down, "Dad does that same move."
Oz snorted. "I'm sure he does. He seems like a lineless guy." He turned his head to look at her. "So, what brings you up here?"
"Well, William is firmly in Xander's lap while he reads his new books. The twins are down for a nap and Miri's out playing with the Arwynn. And she keeps calling her 'the Arwynn'." She grinned. "I got bored."
"Ah. Know that feeling. I'm just up here because the judge didn't like me."
"He didn't think that gay couples felt enough for each other to understand my wanting to be with Xander while he was down." He shrugged. "I don't need law anyway."
"So take night classes," she stage-whispered. "If you only take one class at a time, they can't say anything."
"Point," Oz agreed. "I was going to start doing that anyway. I start again in the fall, this time in Computer Science."
"Which you're good at," she reminded him. She got comfortable on the ground, staring out across the land. "What's Miri talking about when she says she wants a butler?"
"One of the places she traveled to, one of the dimensions, had a big house that the uses there lived in with our six kids. They had a butler and a huge garden."
"Oh, so that's where this all came from?" He nodded. "Then why does she think I'm the butler?"
"Because you've been spelling Xander with the cooking stuff. And you cleaned her room for her. Don't worry, we'll have a talk with her tonight."
Chloe shrugged. "I can do that."
"Don't worry about it, we'll straighten her out." He put his head back down. "You can pull some pillows out if you want," he offered. "I won't mind."
"No thanks. I think I'm going to go for a run."
Oz propped himself up and shook his head. "Your father said you weren't to get out of our sight, Chloe. Jogging would entail you running farther than the backyard or around the cage."
"Well, where can I run?"
"There's the path through the woods," Xander said from the doorway. He leaned his arms on either side. "Oz, how are you decorating your sunporch? I thought we could go get furniture and the awning tonight at Wallyworld."
"They don't have any awnings, I looked," Oz told him. "As for furniture? Something simple? Maybe a few loungers and a table?"
"Cool by me. Chloe, is there anything you'd like to see up here?"
"Nope. Where can I run?"
"I'd try the path through the woods," Xander suggested again. "It's not well entrenched yet, but it's safe. No one's going to touch you on our land." She nodded. "Hey, it could be worse. Blair could have asked us to tie you to the house."
"Miri thinks she's the new butler," Oz noted as he lay back down.
"Hmm, got to fix that then, huh." He grinned at her. "Don't worry, your never-ending time of babysitting is done now. The house is finished and I'll have time to play with them again."
She shook her head. "I didn't mind, Xander. I know that you guys need some extra help now and then. Besides, they're fun to be around." She winked at him. "Now I know what to expect when I have children, sometime around when I'm forty or so."
Xander smiled. "Good, you don't want to be surprised with it like I was." Oz looked at him. "I wouldn't wish that on anyone, but I was talking about the surprise factor. One phone call from Wesley and I was a daddy."
"A good daddy," Oz amended for him. He patted the deck beside him. "You did a great job on the house too, Xander," he said as they were joined. "I'm very proud of you." Xander beamed under the praise. "What's your next project?"
"Okay," Oz agreed. "In the fall or not?"
Xander absently rubbed across his knee and the numb spots around it. "Maybe in January," Xander admitted. "I'm still pretty tired when all I do is stand for a few hours. Class was always about standing so I'd better be stronger."
Chloe looked over at him. "What about your physical therapy?"
"Mary's still sick so she's making it in some days but not others. We've learned to call first." He stroked over Oz's back. "You need more oil."
"Put some on for me?" Oz asked, handing the bottle over. "Chloe, you going to tan with us?"
"No thanks. I need to run." She stood up gracefully and jogged back through the guys' bedroom.
Oz turned his head to look at his lover. "I think we grossed her out."
"Maybe," Xander agreed, "but it's an embarrassment thing, not a disgusted thing."
"Which is a great thing," Oz agreed. "Oil me?"
"Sure." Xander poured some of the thin oil out into his hands and straddled Oz's back, working over the sun-warmed muscles. "You're gonna look good with a tan. It'll look good with your hair."
"You could tan with me," Oz suggested. He felt the head shake move through both their bodies. "It'd make some of the scars start to fade," Oz offered. "It'll even make some stretch marks fade a little."
Xander shrugged as he slid off Oz's back, grunting as he landed on his limp leg. He got himself settled and looked down at his legs. "Maybe I'll start some of that this summer."
"We need to get you some shorts," Oz said sleepily, eyes fluttering closed.
Xander shook his head frantically. "Nope, not going there yet."
Oz opened one eye and gave him a look. "I thought we'd gone over this already."
"It's different if you're looking at them. I don't want everyone to know. I mean, they all know what happened but I don't want the looks I'd get when they saw the scars. I don't want pity."
"You don't want people to look at you like you're disabled," Oz told him. "Which someone always will. Scars or not. As soon as they saw the cane, or watched you walk, they'd know." He touched Xander's fake knee. "Let them think what they want, Xand. You don't have to agree with them."
"I care about what people think," Xander said quietly, looking down at the amazing green eyes. "I care about what they think and why they think it. I'm like that. I can't be like you and not care."
"I understand, but you can care less about what they think." He rolled onto his side. "Xander, how many people know what happened to you? In detail?"
"Everyone in town," Xander said with a grimace. "Why?"
"How many of those everyones don't know that you've had some lasting damage?" Xander shrugged. "If they knew you had lasting damage, wouldn't they expect you to limp or have some outward sign of the injury?" Xander nodded. "Then why do you think they pity you? They're watching you because they know and they want to see how you've managed. Not to pity you. Any that do pity you are too full of their own selves." He squeezed the fake knee. "Now relax and we'll get you some shorts tonight. Nice ones, not the Bermuda ones that are sitting in the bottom of your closet that go with nothing."
Xander shrugged. "I'll wear them around the house," he conceded.
"Good. And you won't change when we go out unless you have to either. I'll prove it to you, Xander. They don't pity you and if they say they do then they need their egos deflated." He rolled back onto his stomach. "How's William? You've been hiding him all day."
Xander gratefully went with the subject change. "He's good. Drooling constantly. He hit me on the chin earlier in his uncoordinated way." He smiled. "We need more formula tonight."
"Cool. There's a new ready-to-drink version I want to try him on." Oz yawned. "I never mix the formula enough."
Xander patted him on the butt, removing his lover's towel so he wouldn't have light spots. "There, you nap in the sun. I'll keep the kids out of the bedroom." He stood up and braced himself on his cane for a second, trying to find his balance before walking back into the house. He closed the new curtains so the kids couldn't peak out at him then checked on his son. He smiled down at his angel, remembering how appropriate his name was sometimes.