Xander patted the manila envelope, going to put it in the 'please send this out for me' basket, their cutely labeled mail basket that he and Miri had made together. He picked up the phone as he headed for the library, dialing the post office. "Hi, yes it is." He sat down. "Was a decision reached about getting our mail to us out here?" He nodded. "Okay. No, I didn't even know we had neighbors. So we'll need a mailbox put out by when?" He made a note on his hand. "Okay, any regulations we'll have to deal with?" He made another note. "Okay, we'll have it up and labeled. Thank you." He hung up, looking in the basket holding the sleeping twins. "Guys, we're getting mail." He jumped up as he heard a vehicle coming up the gravel driveway, frowning at the power company logo. "What's up?" he asked as he walked out to meet him on the porch. "Is there a problem?"
"We have a shut-off notice," the man said, handing it over.
"Whoa, whoa, we've paid the bills and never got another notice." He read it over carefully. "Ah, wrong address. This is number eighty-three, not eighty-seven. Not sure where that is though." He nodded inside as the twins started to cry, then headed that way. "Shh," Xander cooed as he picked up the basket. He turned to find the worker standing behind him. "You can call if you want. This is the Harris/Osbourne/Giles household."
The electric worker nodded, picking up the cordless phone to dial his home office. "Yeah, it's Tom. I'm here at what our map has marked as number eighty-seven Guild Road but he says it's number eighty-three?" He pulled out his clipboard to look at. "No, that's not here. This is the Harris/Osbourne. . . ." He glanced up.
"Giles," Xander supplied.
"Giles," the worker finished. He made a note. "No, he said eighty-three." He nodded and hung up. "Okay, number eighty-seven is four houses down on the other side of the road. The guy just died. We'll be out soon to fix the map." He looked at the basket. "Neat trick."
Xander looked down at the basket he was swinging gently. "Yeah, they just needed rocked." He shrugged. "Who else should I be looking out for?"
"Phone's noted as off so maybe water?"
Xander nodded grimly. "No wonder we didn't have any this morning." He shrugged. "Thanks."
"Welcome." The worker waved and headed out to his truck, leaving.
Xander set the basket down and picked up the phone, pulling the phone book over to look up the number. He dialed slowly, tapping his foot at the horrible music they had. "Hello, this is number eighty-three Guild Road? Yes, well, you turned off our water instead of number eighty-seven." He growled as he heard her response. "Listen, I have three kids and no water. We've paid our bills. . . ." He clutched the phone tighter, tensing up. "No, you listen to me. You turned it off wrongly. This is *your* fault. If someone isn't down here to fix your screw-up, I'm going to start going above your head, starting with my lawyer and the mayor. Good," he said coldly after another second of listening. "I'll be expecting him." He hung up, looked at the phone, and threw it across the room. "I will be calm," he told himself. "I will be calm or I'm going to kill him." He took a deep breath. "Got to get the hormone thing under control again, this is not becoming a good day after all." He stood up as he heard a car, walking out to lean against one of the porch supports, arms crossed. "Let me guess, your map was wrong?" he asked the woman that got out of the car.
"No, but I may be at the wrong house. Is this the Harris household?" He nodded. "I'm Ms. Andrews from Child Protective Services."
Xander groaned. "What's wrong now? Someone turn us in for making Miri eat vegetables?"
She chuckled as she walked closer. "No, this is simply a follow-up to our earlier," she made it up to the porch, "claim."
Xander chuckled weakly. "Oh, yeah. The one that nearly killed us all." He waved inside. "Miri's at daycare, it's her one day a week."
She walked through to the open room, sitting and giving him a warm smile. "I read the file, and the last worker's notes. Personally, you do what you have to with children to take care of them." Xander nodded, almost starting to relax. "I have, and the State has recently reviewed this also, no problem with trios. As long as they're stable."
He held up a finger as he heard another car coming up the drive. "Give me a second." He jogged out, frowning at the water company woman. "Good. This is number eighty-three, not eighty-seven." She nodded. "Then turn the water back on."
"Do you have the reconnect deposit?"
Xander's mouth fell open. "You shut it off wrongly! We paid our bills!"
She pulled up her clipboard. "We have you down as a reconnect, which is a fifty-dollar deposit."
He shook his head, walking down the stairs. "You guys were *supposed* to have shut off eighty- seven, the person who died. This was *your* bad. Why do we have to pay for it?"
She shrugged. "It's the rule. I can't reconnect without it."
He pulled out his wallet, handing over the money. "There, now please turn it back on. The twins need a bath."
She headed down the driveway to the intersection of the lines.
Xander sighed, heading back into the house. "Sorry, the person down the street died and they think it was us." He flopped down on the couch, groaning when the twins started to cry. "No."
"Let me," Ms. Andrews said calmly, following the noise to bring back the basket. "They seem to like the motion," she noted as she set them down on the table in front of Xander. "They look healthy."
"Oh, they are." He jumped as the pipes rattled. "Good, water." He looked over at her. "We okay?"
"Fine as far as I can see."
Oz and Miri walked in. "Hey. Water company?"
"Had to pay fifty dollars to get them to fix their mistake. They thought we were number eighty- seven. Oh, we can get mail here now. We need a well-marked mailbox," he looked at his hand, "five feet from the road. I think at least, it's smeared." He looked back up. "You're quiet, Miri."
"She got told she was imagining our friend." Oz set her down in Xander's lap. "We okay?" he asked the woman. "You look like Social Services."
"I am, I'm doing a follow-up." She stood. "I do have a few questions, but I could come back on a less stressful day." Xander waved. "You're sure?" He nodded. "All right, your youngest daughter's medical problems were noted as part of a study on the subject and we had questions about your choices in her care."
"Um, which one?" Oz asked.
"Oh," she said, looking down in the basket. "I thought the other was a boy. I was talking about the one you didn't allow to get closed."
"That's him," Xander said, "and me." She just stared at him. "It runs in families."
"We were told. . . ."
"And her mother," Oz added.
"Oh. Oh, all right. Why didn't you decide to choose one gender?"
"Have you ever tried to wrap your mind around not being what you've been told you were?" She shook her head. "Know any transgendered people?"
She nodded. "My sister. Are you saying it's the same feeling?"
"Only worse because someone chose for you and got it wrong. Blair's fully both, same as I am, so we talked and decided it would be better in the long run if he chose. We picked male because he appeared to be more externally that way and it'll create less problems eventually when he's in school."
She nodded, looking very convinced. "That's definitely well thought out. Will you be telling him?"
"And the schools," Oz noted. "We're aware of the stress this will cause, but it's better than the problems Blair could have if we had just fixed it."
"Good." She stood back up. "I'll have to put this up for review, but I don't see a problem."
"Gee, last time we heard that, someone came to take Miri away," Xander quipped sourly. "Let me give you another fact, Ms. Andrews. There is *nothing* I wouldn't do for these children. *Nothing*." She paled. "We're all fine and healthy. Blair's going to the same doctor I am, the one all of us that have this problem go to. We're very close friends with *two* psychologists, who are the children's Godparents. There is no way you're taking my children," he finished, his voice going from icy to deathly quiet.
"I see," she said nervously. "I really don't see a problem. It was just a few questions we had that needed answered."
"Your office has had a lot of questions about the children," Oz reminded her, "and all because we're three men together."
She sat back down. "To be honest, the stereotypes and prejudices are still in the government offices. I would like to say we're more enlightened but we're not." She coughed lightly. "I'm the official caseworker for your family if any other questions come up and I have no doubts about your excellent care." She tried to smile. "Unless I drop dead tomorrow, no one should doubt my decision." Her cellphone rang and she frowned as she answered. "Thank you," she said and hung up after listening for a few seconds. She looked at Xander. "Your oldest child's daycare just made a suggestion that you're not taking care of her medical needs. They're saying she needs medication."
"Gee, her doctor said she's normal," Xander said. "They all go to Doctor Amri in town if you'd like to talk to her."
"I'll have to," she sighed. "I think she's normal and that the daycare center she goes to is full of scary children who are too calm."
"Me no go back?" Miri asked listlessly.
Xander turned her so he could look at her. "What's wrong? You need a nap?" She shook her head. "Are you sick?"
"Med'cine make me sad."
Ms. Andrews gasped. "They gave you medicine?"
Oz nodded. "One of the workers slipped something about that. They gave her Ridalin, she thought Miri was supposed to get it. I left Giles yelling at them." He looked down at Xander. "Didn't want to mention it in front of her."
Xander hugged Miri tightly. "No, sweetie, you're not ever going back there."
Oz nodded. "I withdrew her." He looked at the Social Worker. "Want to make a note of this?"
"Oh, I can do more than that," she said coldly as she stood. "I don't see a problem in your home and I will be checking into them." She waved at Miri. "Watch her, it looks like she was given much more than a normal dosage for her age." She picked up her purse. "If we need a statement, I'll be back out." She walked out, leaving.
Oz watched Xander cuddle Miri. "I like her."
"Me too. Slipped how?"
"And I quote: 'Thank you for remembering her medicine today. She became such an *angel*," he said with mock-cheerfulness. Oz looked over his shoulder as the back door slammed. "Living room. I didn't think mentioning that would have helped matters any with her being here."
Giles stormed into the room, hugging Miri as he stole her. "She is *never* to go back there."
"Never," Oz agreed. "The Social Worker agreed too."
"Yes, I had a word with her." Giles sat on the couch, still cradling their daughter. "We'll be fine," he cooed.
"Yeah, we will," Xander agreed. "All of us." He looked at Oz. "Mailbox?"
"Wal-Mart is open twenty-four/seven. When do we need it up?"
"Tomorrow. Mail should come about three."
"Cool. We'll get one tonight and put it up in the morning." He relaxed, everyone was home and safe.
Oz walked into the house, bumping a tape case against his leg as he headed for Xander's office. He knocked before opening the door but his younger lover wasn't in there. He listened, then headed for the clapping noise he could hear outside. What he saw made him stop and grin.
Xander and Miri were playing with clay on a stump, molding a figure as fast as they could then flattening it with their palms, doing it over and over again. Then Miri sat back and clapped.
"El'phant," she said.
Xander stopped his molding to look at it, rolling a trunk from his clay and sticking it on. "There, now it's an elephant." He smiled at her. "Very good. We'll save it to show the other daddies."
Oz walked down, sitting beside the stump they were working on. "It's a great elephant," he told their daughter with a small smile. "We'll put it in the library." He nudged Xander. "Guess what I found in today's mail?" He got a confused look so handed over the tape. "You have a letter too."
Xander squealed, hugging Oz, beating his back with the tape. "They made it!" He hopped up, running into the house so he could watch it.
Oz scooted over to take Xander's place. "Want to make another?" he asked, handing her the well-worked ball of clay, moving the elephant to safety on the porch. He watched as she formed a big ball, giving it legs.
Xander bounced into Giles as he walked through the door. "I got a story finished!"
Giles patted him gently. "I'm glad the job your Uncle got you worked out." He took the tape that Xander was dancing around with, blushing at the pictures on it. "Oh, my," he said softly. He read the description, staring at his lover in shock. "You wrote this?"
"Yup," he said with a nod. "They changed some grammar, took out some words, and added a scene, but otherwise it's all me." Xander grinned madly. "And I got *paid* for it." He gave Giles another hug and danced around the kitchen some more. "I got paid, I got paid, I got paid," he sang.
Giles smiled and laughed at his lover's antics, leaning against the counter. He waved at Miri as she came in, picking her up to hug her. "How was your day?"
"Me make el'phant," she said, showing off her dirty hands. "Daddy happy."
"Yes, I noticed." Giles smiled at Oz as he walked in. "I believe he's very happy."
"He pouted for about ten seconds at the changes but got over it when he saw the check." He grabbed Xander to hug, holding him still. "Miri's elephant has a place of honor in the library and the ghost left it alone."
"I'll look at it in a few minutes." Giles looked at Xander. "Are you going to pick a pen name?"
Xander nodded. "Next time. I called the production company to see if they needed another one. They'd like me to do three or four stories a year, they'll edit and help me get into the groove. But I'm getting paid."
"Which is important to you," Giles said, giving him a smile. "I'm glad for you, Xander, I know you've wanted a real job for a while now."
"Yeah, and it's a great feeling."
"Then I'll tolerate it as I do Oz's ownership of the adult stores."
Xander frowned. "Owning porn is okay but doing it isn't?"
"It's a peculiarity of how I was raised." Giles put Miri down. "Maybe we shouldn't discuss this around her."
"No more discussion," Xander agreed. "Are you really happy for me?"
Giles nodded. "Definitely. I'm extremely pleased. We should celebrate later."
Xander smiled. "Sure, but first we need supper."
"Chickee?" Miri suggested with a grin very much like her father's.
"Why don't we feed her and we eat later?" Oz suggested. "We can make supper part of our celebration." He grabbed the phone as it rang. "Yeah?" He laughed. "Congrats. No, if you'd like, come up." He hung up. "Buffy. She just got free of her mother and needs the trailer."
"Ah. Does she need help moving?" Giles asked.
"Nope, just bringing clothes for now. She'll be moving up in a few days."
"Good," Xander sighed. "I really wanted to celebrate." He looked around. "Can I get serious and talk to her about the baby?"
Giles nodded, his smile falling away. "I'd like it if you would. She's refused to talk to me about it. Please discuss it with her, Xander." He walked over, kissing his lover. "Thank you."
"Welcome," Xander whispered, leaning into Giles' body.
Xander tapped on the trailer's door, holding out the cup he carried. "Thanks," Buffy said as she let him in. "What's up?" She flopped down into the long living room chair, sipping her present.
"Buffy," he started, sitting on the floor in front of her, "I've been asked to be nosy."
"You want to ask about my plans, right?" He nodded and she placed a hand over the small bulge of her stomach. "I'm not sure what to do."
"Okay, then let me give you some options. We're pretty sure the baby's half-demon and it's even a sort we know a lot about, right?" She nodded, scowling. "We also know someone with the same background."
"You want me to talk to Angel's friend?"
"And Cordy since she's having the same problems."
"Which would make sense," she sighed. "Can we do that? He looked really scared when Miri told him about the babies."
"It can't hurt to ask. I'll even do the calling." She gave him a forced smile. "Good. I'll tell you what's going on." He hopped up as her TV went to static, waving and jogging out. "Hey! You've got the wrong house," he called up to the cable worker. "We're number eighty-three."
The cable worker stopped his climb down the ladder, looking at him. "Eighty-three?"
"Oh." He pulled out his clipboard, looking it over. "This isn't yours." He started climbing back down again.
"Turn it back on," Xander reminded.
The cable worker frowned but went back up, fiddling with the box. "There, better?"
"Yeah, 'cause otherwise I'd have to bring my kids to your office." He grinned. "It's on the other side of the street."
"I don't think so, we've done number eighty-seven. This is Anderson. Know him?"
"Um, I know the next farm over has people, it could be them," Xander offered.
"Could be. You going to mark your mailbox?"
"Yeah, tonight." He gave him a slight grin. "We've just been really busy."
"Ah." The other man landed on the ground. "Okay, all set. We'll be putting in the digital boxes next month but we'll be calling first."
"Cool!" Xander caught Miri as she ran out to meet the strange person.
"Hi!" She waved at the stranger. "Pony?"
"No, he doesn't have a pony."
The cable worker chuckled. "Sorry, don't have one with me." He tapped her nose. "I'm at the wrong house, sweetie, but we'll be back next month." He waved and left.
Xander carried her back into the house, smiling at Buffy, who was feeding one of the twins. "Wrong house."
"You guys get a lot of that." She switched kids with him. "You need to paint the mailbox."
"Oz was going to do it tonight."
"Let me. I need something to do. One can take only so many soaps." He pointed at a paper bag. "Cool, after breakfast then." She looked at the stove. "You won't make me give my baby food poisoning, will you?"
"No, silly. Feed the other baby and I'll cook. I'll even lend you my pregnant Willow cookbook. It's where all her cravings were kept."
"Good. Now if only I knew how to cook."
"It's idiot-proof," Xander assured her. "Even Willow could cook the stuff in it."
"Okay." She headed upstairs to answer the pitiful crying.
Xander put Blair down in the kitchen's baby carrier and picked up the phone, dialing a number in LA. "Oh, Doyle, just the guy I wanted to talk to." He relaxed at the warm voice on the other end. "Yeah, I think it'd be a good idea to get you and Buffy together so you could give her some expectations. Yeah, she agreed. No, she's out in our trailer for the next two weeks while her mom's out of town." He nodded, smiling at Buffy as she walked in. "Sounds good. We'll be here." He laughed and hung up. "They'll be out tomorrow. Him and Cordy both."
"Okay." She sat down, feeding Elizabeth. "We were wet."
"Yeah, babies do that." He picked up a pan out of the drying rack. "Eggs?"
"Pork chop!" Miri demanded.
"Oh, pork chops!" Buffy said, licking her lips. "I agree with her."
"Okay," he said with a small laugh. "Pork chops it is."
Xander opened the back door, letting Doyle in. "Going bad?"
"She and Cordy are talking."
"Ah, cravings made you sick." He nodded wisely. "Had that with Willow." He closed the door, heading for the fridge. "Want something to drink?"
"Jus' some water if you got some cold." He caught the bottle that was tossed at him. "Thanks."
"Anytime." Xander walked over to sit across from him at the table. "So, any decisions?"
"Not particularly. I'm thinkin' about some options." He took a long drink. "They're not mine, I had someone check. They're my sibling's."
"Wow, really big decisions." Xander leaned back in his chair. "What are you considering?"
"I've thought about offering to take them both, but my life isn't set up for kids." He laughed sourly. "I've got people after me for my debts. How could I take care of little ones?"
"Good point, but I got Miri at nineteen while I was working at Hardees." Doyle snorted. "There are twelve-year-olds with kids. It matters whether or not you want them and can take care of them. If not, you could help Buffy and Cordy pick adoptive parents."
"Yeah, I could," Doyle said listlessly.
"Or you could consider taking them on," Xander reminded gently. "You do have choices."
"Yeah, but none I'm comfortable with."
"Being comfy isn't life."
Doyle looked up in shock. "Point," he admitted with a smile.
"Anytime you need me, I'm here." Xander stood up. "Raid for munchies, her kitchen's bare." He headed for his office.
Doyle got up and headed back to Buffy's trailer. He sat between the two women, clearing his throat. "I'm going to do something rash. I want to adopt them both."
Cordy's mouth fell open. "'Scuse me?"
"Neither of you know what the little ones are going to go through. They'll need some help to get over their first change in public and things."
Cordy shook her head. "You can help me with mine, but maybe Buffy's?"
They turned to Buffy, who still looked shocked. "Problems?" Doyle asked gently
She grabbed his hand, putting it on her stomach. "It moved!"
Doyle's mouth fell open. "It is." He smiled at her. "Big moment for you, huh? Finally realized it was real?"
"Yeah, before it was like this concept, now it's a *real* real." She got slowly paler. "Oh, God, I'm *pregnant*." She put her head down and started to cry.
"Glad mine wasn't that bad," Cordy said as she and Doyle moved to comfort her. "It'll be okay, Buffy. It's not like you're going to stay fat." The Slayer just cried harder.
"Maybe that wasn't the best thing to say," Doyle said gently. He pulled her over, giving her a hug. "Shh, princess, it'll be fine. We're here for you." She nodded, wiping her nose on his shirt. "It'll be fine, Buffy. I promise."
She looked up, her eyes swollen. "How? I've got to fight and things. I can't do that when I'm huge and fat, or with a baby on my back. I'll get laughed at." She started crying again.
"Isn't that why there's a new Slayer in town?" Cordelia asked, showing her confusion.
"She has a skull fracture," Buffy sniffled. "I've gone back on duty."
"Not anymore," Doyle told her, giving her a hug. "I'll call Angel and we'll figure out what to do. Does her Watcher know?" Buffy nodded. "Is there a third girl? I thought Angel said that there might be one."
"Faith," Cordy said happily. Then her smile fell away. "Oh, yeah, she's in jail."
"And soulless," Doyle told her. "Xander took it from her when he got Miri back."
"Oh, wow, how'd he do that? I didn't think Xander had those sort of skills."
"He got really pissed and took one of Giles' weapons that did it for him," Buffy said, calming down. She kissed Doyle's cheek before settling herself back in her chair. "Thank you. I have no idea why I did that."
"It's called hormones," Xander said as he walked in with a covered tray. "Lunch?"
"Please," Buffy said, grabbing the plate he handed her, starting to eat. "Wow, you're good at that."
"Yup, had to learn or starve both me and my kid." He ruffed Buffy's hair, giving Doyle a smile. "It's from a pregnancy cookbook, it's decent food but it'll help stop a few of the cravings because of the ingredients in it." He smiled at Cordelia, who was pushing the food with a fork to make sure it wasn't going to bite back. "It's relatively fat free too." She dug in, making him smile more behind her back. "If you need me, I'm going to be in my office. I have a copy of that book if anyone wants to get one themselves." He left them alone.
Doyle took a bite of the pasta dish and smiled. "He's a decent cook," he said in admiration, looking at Cordelia. "Your craving for cheese gone down yet?"
"Amazingly so," she said, eating another bite as fast as she could. "We've got to get that book from him."
"I'll get the name and we'll get you a copy," Doyle assured her, nudging her foot under the table. "Maybe we'll even make Angel cook for you sometime."
Buffy snorted. "The man burns water. I let him help me cook us a snack one night. He knows how to microwave well though." She scraped her plate clean. "I love that man," she sighed. "Sometimes Xander is just incredible."
"Yeah, and sometimes he's Xander," Cordy reminded her, both women bursting out in giggles.
"I bet he has chocolate though," Doyle said innocently, watching as both women got bright and smiling faces before heading out to hunt down their host. "Let's hope he has peanut butter too, the princesses are right on cue." He leaned back, eating leisurely. "I will be getting a copy of that book though. We need that."
Xander leaned back from the table, belching. "Oh, man, forgot what Mexican food was like. Great job, Oz." Miri looked at him expectantly. "Sorry, excuse me."
"You're welcome," she answered, looking at Giles to make sure she had done it right.
"That's very good, Miri," Giles said with a smile. "You don't have to answer that one though."
She nodded, eating her own taco, or her version of it because hers had been turned into a taco salad so she didn't get it everywhere. "Okay."
Xander grinned at Giles. "I'm so glad you offered to do the manners training."
"Me too," Giles said, giving him a smile. "I fear you were raised by wolves for a few years of your home training."
"Hey, belching is a compliment in some countries."
"Not this one," Oz put in, looking up. "Feel better?"
"Much. My tummy's a very happy camper and so am I." He belched again, this time covering it with his hand. "'Scuse me."
Miri frowned at him. "That not what you say."
Oz chuckled. "That's very good, Miri. Do it right, Xander, we don't want her to have a bad example."
"Sorry, excuse me," he said, sticking his tongue out at Oz when their daughter's head was turned. He leaned back farther, looking out at the trailer. "Think we should bring her food? She can't cook."
"She make rice," Miri said. "Auntie Buffy help me."
"Ah," Oz said, nodding. "Was it good?"
"Oatmeal rice." Miri stuck her tongue out. "Blech."
"Overcooked it," Xander quipped. "Common first time mistake. I did it three whole times before I learned that you could test it."
"It took me considerably longer," Giles said, looking out the window. "I was not talented in the culinary arts at all, I'm still not."
"You make good potatoes," Oz told him.
"Clouds?" Miri asked, looking around. "No clouds, Daddy."
"Sorry, we were talking about cooking."
She nodded. "You're excused." She looked at Giles, who nodded and smiled. "Good me, get cookie?"
"After you finish all your supper," Xander said, tapping the edge of her plate. Miri nodded and ate another bite.
Giles cleared his throat and pulled a few slips of paper out of his pocket. "I think you deserve a real reward, Miri. How would you like to go to the circus?"
"Yes, a circus. It has all sorts of animals and people who perform for you." She still looked confused. "They have people doing things to make you laugh."
"Okay, me go." She nodded firmly and ate another bite, belching just like her father, with a small addition of spit food.
Oz reached across the table, handing her a napkin. "Clean it up," he told her, "and next time cover your mouth." He looked at Xander, giving him a bland look. "Bad example."
"I am not a bad example. Mine just slipped out." He tapped her on the head. "What do you say?"
"'Tuse me," she said, smiling at Daddy Giles.
"Close enough," Oz decided. "Finish your dinner."
"Me no eat," she said, putting down her fork. "Want pony."
"Oh, a hunger strike," Xander sighed, grinning at his little girl. "I'm so proud that you reached this stage so early." He gave her a kiss but she waved him away. "What?"
"Don't encourage her," Oz told him firmly. "Eat or no circus and they have horses and elephants."
She picked up her fork and dug in, shoveling food into her mouth as fast as she could.
Oz waited until their bedroom door was locked to whap Xander on the arm. "Don't encourage bad behavior, she'll try to have another hunger strike the next time we tell her no."
"Hey, at least I didn't decide she was now old enough to cook her own food." Xander grabbed his robe, heading into the bathroom, closing the door behind him. He leaned against the warm wood, eyes closed. "I am not sharing that," he told himself. "No matter how pushy certain people get." He turned on the shower, getting undressed so he could start his nightly routine.
Oz looked at Giles, who shook his head. "You don't want to know?"
"No, I'm afraid of what I'll do to his parents. Did I mention that I saw his mother in the store the other day? She said some very mean things to me. It's a good thing I didn't have Miriam with me."
"You wouldn't have taken it if Miri had been there," Oz reminded him. "How bad?"
"Very. It seems she's under the impression that we're holding her son here like some cult. She said she'd see me in Hell before she let me corrupt her only grandchild." He smiled. "I told her that the only thing holding Xander here was himself and that I was ecstatic that he was. And if she tried to do anything to us, I would prosecute her again. I also mentioned that I thought she would look stunning in prison garb, that it would add life to her lack thereof."
"Cruel," Oz noted, lying down. "Congrats. You going to tell him?"
"I believe he heard," Giles said with a faint smile. "I just heard him swear."
"Ah." Oz patted the bed beside him. "Come lay down. I want cuddles."
"Of course you can have cuddles." Giles laid down and pulled Oz into his arms, holding onto him. "How's this?"
"Good," Oz admitted. "Really good. Could be better with the Xander cuddler, but I'm good." He looked up as Xander walked out. "Want to tell us about it?"
"Nope." Xander pulled out some boxers to put on, sitting down on the end of the bed, not looking at them while he dressed. "It's nothing."
"If it was nothing, you wouldn't remember it so strongly," Giles gently suggested.
"Maybe you should talk to us about it so we could judge it as nothing for ourselves?" Oz nudged Xander's rear with his toes, earning a dirty look. "Come cuddle."
"You're not hearing about it," Xander said as he snuggled up behind Oz's warm body, pulling the blankets over himself. "Night."
"It might make you feel better," Giles suggested, reaching over to stroke over Xander's wet hair. "You really should dry your hair, love, you've had a good case of the sniffles recently."
"I'm fine," Xander sighed, rolling over to snuggle down by himself. "Go take your showers before the twins wake up again."
"We all wish Blair would learn the trick of sleeping all night," Oz agreed as he rolled over to hug Xander. "I'll get up, you nap. I'll even take last shower."
"You said he wouldn't take a bottle from you last time," Xander mumbled through his yawn. "Sorry."
"No big," Oz whispered, rubbing over the firm stomach. "Take a nap, we'll do it for you tonight."
"Thanks," Xander said with another yawn, closing his eyes. "Night."
"Night, precious," Oz sighed, holding him. He looked over at Giles, watching him get up to take his shower. "We'll be fine, right?"
"We're always fine," Giles told him, "sometimes we just have to work a little harder to get to that point." He disappeared into the bathroom, his shutting the door waking the twins up.
Oz slid out of the bed, grabbing the bottles they had brought up with them as he walked over to the crib, leaning down to look at them. "Hi, it's my turn to feed you so let's be nice tonight, okay?" He picked Blair up, sticking the bottle in his mouth before the baby could complain that he wasn't Xander.
Giles looked over at Blair, their therapist and the one their son was named after. This man was responsible for them still being together as a family and for Xander still being alive. He shifted uncomfortably. "Thank you for agreeing to see me on such short notice."
"You guys are my great success story, of course I'm going to do maintenance," Blair said with a grin. "What's up?"
"A few things. One of them being the boys appalling descent into the porn industry." Blair snickered. "No, I've recently found out about Oz's ownership of those stores, but then Xander's started writing the movies that they sell and I'm not sure I can absorb that."
"Let me guess, you were taught it was bad?"
"I was taught that renting or borrowing them was mildly perverted, owning it was horrible, and making it was something sure to send you to hell." Giles unbuttoned his top button and loosened his tie. "I'm not sure I can reconcile that with our family. Especially as I caught Miriam in our closet the other day and Xander's first tape was sitting out on a shelf."
Blair coughed. "This is another case of your background being interrupted by modern freeness," he said. "This happened before."
"Yes, but never to the extent that I was shamed by knowing them, as I feel I should be."
"Ah, so you're just embarrassed. The 'what if someone finds out' syndrome. It's really common but I'm sure you could camouflage it somehow. What's really bothering you?"
"This is a major concern for me, Blair. I'm really appalled by my reaction to my men just because of their ownership and profession."
"Huh. Why are you being so stiff about it? Is your mother going to yell at you?"
"That would be rather hard since she's not among the living," Giles said softly.
"Then who's going to know?" Blair put his feet up on his desk. "Even if someone does find out, it's them, not you. You're not responsible for their possessions or their jobs."
"That may be true, but in a small town. . . ." Giles started then shook his head. "I know why I'm so worried, I'm worried that the backlash of this will leave us even more isolated and that it will hurt the family in too many ways."
"Then you'll break up and you'll be alone," Blair finished for him as he sat up. "Think about this, okay? If someone, say a church group, found out about Oz owning the stores, what would they do?"
"They'd try to get us shut down and shun us," Giles said slowly.
"And that would do what to you? You said Miri wasn't in daycare anymore. Xander has his part- time job. Oz has his stuff. The worst you're likely to get is nasty mail and silent protest."
"Unless social services finds out, then we may not have the children anymore," Giles reminded him.
"If that happens, then you sue their asses off. They have no right to protest over you owning something as long as Miri and the twins aren't being hurt by it."
"I doubt they'd see it that way," Giles said with a small smile. "I have no doubt this will get to them either as the IRS did an audit of the business."
"Oz have to pay fines?"
"No, the ownership issues were what brought them to their attention. They thought one of them was ducking taxes. As it happened, both he and Willow were owed money by the business. She for leaving it before her mother decried her existence."
Blair chuckled. "You could always ask him to sell it. If you put it reasonably enough, he might consider it."
"A friend of his works there, that's who talked him into buying the blasted business. He's also planning on expansion into the online commerce area."
"Well, it's a smart move for the company, but I don't think Oz realizes what sort of strain his ownership could become for him. All businesses have bad times when the owner has to suck it up and pay out a lot of money."
Giles slowly smiled. "I hadn't thought of that. Could I bring him in here to talk to you?" Blair nodded. "Thank you. You know more about this than I do, I let the accountant deal with all that nonsense when we had the store."
"I'm sure Oz is relying on someone to do that too," Blair said dryly. "Now, what's the other problem? This wasn't big enough for you to call me at Fed Central."
"Xander's gone non-communicative with us again. He said something the other night and refuses to talk about it at all, even though it's obvious the memory is hurting him. Oz and I both have tried to talk to him about it, get him to tell us."
"And you think I'd do better?" Giles nodded. "What makes you think that telling anyone will make the hurt better? Xander guards his past more fiercely than a pitbull with a steak."
"Because he's not even wanted to play with the children recently. He's deep in thought about something."
"That something could be about how much different his life is now, how the kids are better off. I think you should offer to be there when he's ready but not push him anymore. He's one of those people that if you push him, he'll back himself into a corner then fight."
"But if I seem to give up and be there, then not only would I find out, but he would feel more independent, correct?"
"Or he could just notice that you're there to talk to and still not tell you. He may not need to get this one out. It may not be as bad as some of the things we talked about." Blair shifted, leaning forward. "What was this one about? Maybe I can give you a better clue."
"Something about how Miri said she wasn't going to eat unless she got a pony. He congratulated her on it." Giles' brow wrinkled. "I have no idea what to think but that night, he went very silent. Ever since that night he's been doing the deep thinking. Frankly, Oz is worried sick and I'm not much better."
"He's not leaving," Blair reminded him quietly. "Not at all. He can't do that, not to you and not to himself. Xander knows where the center of his universe is and he's not going to shun it because he's thinking. I really think he's considering how much better off Miri is."
"I hope so," Giles sighed, rubbing his forehead. "I have no other means of telling with him. He's still not talking to us about any problems he's having staying at home this way."
"I'm sure you'd hear it if it was that serious," Blair said, trying to reassure him. "Where is he now?"
"Getting tests. His doctor wanted to do a thorough exam. They both know I'm here, I was honest in my desire to bring you into our lives again, but Xander just shook his head about it and gave me permission to leave him there."
"Is Oz with him?"
"Waiting in the waiting room. We don't go back during regular exams."
"Makes you uncomfortable?"
"And him," Giles said with a smile. "The first time I was there, but after that, it's very rare that we're in there for the actual exam. For the discussion after though, definitely. We demanded the right to be there and his doctor understands."
"That's a good thing at least. How are the other things in your relationship?"
"Mostly fine, though I can see Xander is getting weary of staying home all the time. It never comes out with the children, but his sense of humor with us has taken a dark, and . . . and occasionally mean, turn. Even with Buffy he's been a little on the forceful side. I think that's partially my fault as I asked him to talk to her for me, though he offered first."
Blair shook his head. "You're thinking that there's a problem so all the little things are getting magnified, Rupert. Those boys depend on you for stability that they wouldn't have. Without you, they'd have broken up a long time ago, possibly before anything could have gotten started. All this worrying has turned you from their stability to their father and you're hurting the healing process just as much as they are with their problems."
Giles laughed sourly. "I'm turning into my father then, something I always thought I'd rather die than do. So I need to step back and just be there for them? Let Oz do the forcing?"
"No forcing," Blair told him sharply. "Not of Xander. All you'll get is a very rigid and pained animal in front of you if you try. He won't push back, he'll fight, then what'll happen is depending on whether or not you're able to keep the children out of it."
"He could well leave if we kept pushing," Giles said thoughtfully. "Then Oz and I shall have a talk tonight and we'll give him the space he needs."
"Without making it seem like you're withdrawing. There's a fine line there with Xander. Just over it is starting to abandon him, just this side of it is force. Just let him know that you're there when he needs you and then let it drop. Let him come to you if he needs to talk. From now on actually. He needs to take some more initiative in helping himself again."
"I'll do that," Giles said, standing. "Thank you, Blair."
"Welcome. Tell Miri I said hi and hug the twins." His eyes twinkled. "I'm buying them noisy toys for Christmas, you might want to promise them those."
"I doubt I'll be bothered by it, I'm still working full time." Giles smiled and walked out. "I'm sure Xander will call you and tell you all about them. Once he recovers his patience." He closed the door behind himself, walking out to where he could see their car waiting on him. "Hello, loves," he said as he slid into the back. "What's the news from the doctor?"
"Nothing bad," Xander said. "He said I wasn't hurt by the miscarriage. As far as he could tell, I'm as normal as I was before." He turned to look at his oldest lover. "What did Blair have to say?"
"Just that I shouldn't be worried about you. To let you know that I'm here for you when you're ready to talk and then to back away to a comfortable distance."
"Uh-huh." Xander shook his head, turning back around. "Drop it, Giles, it's nothing."
"If it was nothing, then you'd tell us," Oz reminded him as he started the car and backed out of the parking lot. "But I can go with Blair's suggestion. When you're done with all your thinking, come get us and tell us." He had to stop at the end of the lot for traffic and Xander got out, heading back into the office.
"Oh, dear," Giles sighed. "Oz, you might as well park the car and come in." He got out to follow him, walking into Sam's office as he saw Xander in there. "Maybe we should talk now?" he suggested as he walked up behind Xander to give him a hug.
"I can think without having to share it," Xander said warmly, getting free. "I don't need to be pushed or to be coddled."
Blair stood in the doorway, giving them both a bland look. "Yeah, but I told them not to do that."
"Which is what he said. I didn't need it at *all*," Xander said, throwing up his hands. "I really can think without it being a major crisis that needs help and talking to." He sat on the couch in Sam's office, just looking at Giles. "Why can't you respect that I need space sometimes and that I'm fine now. I can think and it can be about nothing."
"Because the timing of your big think left something to be desired," Oz said as he walked in. "Hey, Sam, Blair. Sorry to do this." He looked at Xander again. "You said something about your childhood then you went all silent and broody, what were we supposed to think?" He walked over to sit on the couch so he was facing Xander.
"Did you ever think that I might be considering other things?" Xander asked, his voice losing all it's heat and anger. "Why can't I just think and have it considered normal? I used to be able to think and not be labeled as dangerous." He looked at Blair. "This is your fault, you just totally got it wrong this time. What I was thinking about had nothing to do with my old life."
"I told him it might not, but he decided it was," Blair said, and weathered Giles glare. "I did say that."
"Yes, well, Xander doesn't tend to do that," Giles said, turning back to him. "Usually when he goes silent there's a good reason for us to intervene."
"Gee, not really," Xander said, staring directly into Giles' eyes. "Even I can go into deep thoughts, it's not just a you and Oz thing. I'm not shallow."
"Not saying that you were," Oz said, trying to break into their fight. "Just saying that he had to worry before when you were as quiet and broody. He was worried that this was another one of those times that he had to worry."
"Wouldn't you know if it was?" Xander asked, standing up. "Wouldn't you know if I was having problems and have already dragged me here?"
Giles nodded. "I've been considering it so you'd have someone to talk to about having to stay at home for a bit longer." Xander's mouth fell open. "You've started to go back to that mean person again, the one you become when you're in pain. That's why this thinking episode moved me to come here. I've seen you do this before and I wanted to halt the problem while it was still something we could deal with easily."
Xander shook his head. "Just stop." He looked at Blair. "You tell him this too?"
"Nope, this is all him, but I can see the difference. You're getting hard and bitter again."
"Yeah, sometimes that happens," Xander said dryly. "This is nothing." He turned to look at Oz. "You going to jump in with a question about my sanity?"
"No. I know you're sane, and doing mostly okay, but I was going to suggest that we come back once a month so you'd have someone else to talk to too."
"I don't need it," Xander sighed, heading for the door. "Decide my future for me and tell me when it's fixed so I know what I'm doing." He headed out to the car, pulling out his keys so he could sit in the back and sulk.
Oz leaned forward, holding his head. "Okay, we messed up. Big time." He looked up at Giles. "Why are you smiling?"
"Because he did vent some of his anger at us," Giles said, patting Oz on the shoulder. "We should take this fight home."
"Home has children that will worry if we fight," Oz pointed out.
"Miri's never seen you fight?" Sam asked.
"Not yet. We try to do it when she's in bed or not at all. Though Xander and I have had a few shouting matches out in the barn over how he's spending money." Oz looked up at Giles. "What's causing this?"
"His feelings of being left there to rot?" Giles suggested.
"It could just be frustration that you two are mothering him," Blair said dryly, still leaning in the doorway. "No one has to worry about either of you the way you two do him, and you two don't have to worry about him that way either. He's really okay, guys." He headed back to his office, closing the door.
Sam coughed lightly to bring attention back to her. "I think Blair's right. Just let him do it alone for a while, if he needs help he'll come to you."
"We're worried that he isn't one of those that go to people when he needs them," Giles told her.
"He is now," Oz reminded him. "We're being stifling, right?" Sam nodded. "Then we just tell him we're backing off and do it?"
"It can't be that simple," Giles said, looking from Sam to Oz and back. "Can it?"
"I'm afraid it is. He's able to do this on his own, whatever it may be," Sam said, giving them an encouraging smile. "This is a good sign, really."
"Yes, but we're used to comforting him," Oz reminded her. "We've been doing it for a long time." He looked toward the door. "Maybe we should go home and do this. I'm sure he'd be more comfortable with some music."
"Yes, we should," Giles sighed, standing up. "I'll apologize tonight and we'll be fine."
"No, you don't need to apologize, just explain it," Sam told him. "You haven't done anything wrong yet. Just explain your reasons and see what he says. He's an adult, just as much of one as you are." She walked them to the door, waving at Xander, who nodded once. "See, he's hurting because he thinks you guys don't trust him to take care of himself. He's a big boy, dads, you have to step back and let him live."
"Even if it means that we're going to have to rearrange our schedules so he can leave the house," Oz finished. Sam nodded, giving him a pat on the back. "Thanks."
"Welcome. Anytime, guys, really." She headed back into her office, closing the door.
Oz walked out with Giles, getting in and buckling up. "We'll talk at home or we can stop. Your choice."
"Let's not do it at all," Xander mumbled, slouching a little more. "We don't need to talk."
"No, I think we do," Giles said, turning to face his other lover. "I was wrong to have watched you so closely but you worried me. I thought that you were getting depressed again and I never want that to happen again." He reached over, taking one of Xander's hands, which didn't hold his back. "I'm sorry we upset you but I felt it was necessary."
"And now we're going to step back so that you can think and tell us what you want to do," Oz added, looking in the mirror. "This is all up to you now. We're not going to quit watching over you but we're giving you some space to finish your thinking in peace. Agreeable?"
Xander shook his head. "Why? Why do I need watched now? I'm not suddenly going to start hacking up the kids and feeding. . . ." He clutched his stomach. "That's a bad thing," he told himself, closing his eyes. "Banish that thought and the image." He swallowed, taking a few deep breaths.
"Ready?" Oz asked, turning to look at him. Xander nodded but didn't open his eyes. "Need a different image?" Xander nodded again. "Okay, I want you to picture a field. You and Miri are riding across it." He took Xander's hand from Giles, stroking the back of it. "As you're riding, you're laughing and joking, teaching Miri all about everything that she'll need to know about fields. About the rabbit that popped up next to you, the tree at the end of the clearing where you're headed. About how the grasses get so high and why they're green." Xander started to smile. "Now kiss and hug her, making sure that you know she's all right. See that she's growing up and that you're getting wiser."
Xander opened his eyes, taking one last deep breath. "Thanks, Oz."
"Hey, it's what I do." He squeezed the hand he held. "What do you want us to do now?"
"I want to be able to be trusted again. I'm fine, really fine, and I shouldn't have to be watched. No matter how snarky I get at times. We all have bad days and I'm allowed to vent too."
"You've been having a few of them in a row," Oz reminded him. "That's what really worried us. That and you going silent. The last time you did those together, you started to have headaches for no reason and started living in bed."
"I'm not going back down into the depression," Xander said, looking at them both. "I'm not, just trust me to know when I am. I will ask if I need help."
"Okay. You do that and we'll be fine," Oz agreed, letting him go. "As long as you can and will ask, we don't have to watch."
"It doesn't mean we won't care," Giles tacked on, "because I don't think I could quit caring about you, Xander, but I will back off on my worry."
"No, you won't, you'll hide it." Xander grimaced, looking at him. "Giles, if I were your child, would you be doing this to me?" Giles looked startled then nodded. "Okay, one problem, I'm not your kid, I'm your lover. You don't do it to Oz, and he has problems too. You shouldn't do it to me."
Giles nodded. "I know, it's become a habit that I need to break. Tell me when it gets to be too much. Is that agreeable?"
"Only if you stop the worrying you're doing now. I'm not going to run away. I'm not going to burst out in song and dance, but if I can't find myself as an adult, I'm moving down to one of the end rooms so I can do it in peace."
Oz shook his head. "We agreed, our fights don't extend into the bedroom. You move out and it'll start little ripples through everything else. Then we'll really have problems."
"That's one of the things I was thinking about," Xander admitted, looking at his hands. "I don't want to be the center of the house. I don't want to be the cog that everything revolves around anymore. I like being the dad, I even like having Miri all day, but I don't want to run the house any more." He looked up and saw acceptance. "You don't mind?"
"No, we expected this was coming," Oz told him, reaching back to brush over a piece of hair. "We'll have to figure out how to do things, but it may take some time to lower your importance. Maybe even until Miri's going to pre-school half the day."
"Hey, I'm mostly patient. If we have to wait a year to do that, then that's okay, as long as we're working on getting you guys into the house again."
"We can try," Giles told him, "but there are bound to be problems. The twins for one."
"They will eat from you if I'm not there," Xander reminded them. "They'll eat for Buffy. Truthfully, we need a live-in mommy-type person who will take over all I do every day and let me go live life too."
"We can't afford a housekeeper, Xander," Giles said firmly. "No matter how much that would be the perfect solution. There are other ones, including me taking less hours a week at work and Oz working on having a consolidated schedule. The children may be a bit shaken up but one of us should be there at all times if we can do it properly."
"Works in theory," Oz noted, "but real life is full of things like traffic jams that mean I'm going to be late to tests."
"Then we can deal with those as they happen," Giles told him. "Xander does have a point, it isn't fair to him to take all the childcare duties on himself. I would like to be able to sit and rock the children when they cry."
"Unless you're going to retire, Oz was right," Xander said. "There's going to be times when we're inconvenienced by me working. Unless I get a night job that ends reasonably early and one of you can stay home until I get up, we may be dreaming."
"Then we'll work on that," Oz told him. "There's some night jobs that are safe, you could do that and still have a lot of time with the kids, even as we got to take more time with them too." He got a nod. "Then that's the plan?"
"As far as I can see, it's the perfect solution," Giles told them, giving them both smiles. "Let's go home, I'm going to revel in spending more time with the children."
"Good, you get to do the feeding tonight," Xander said with a yawn. "I'd like to sleep through a night for once."
"Hey, we're there to help," Oz told him, starting the car and backing out of the parking spot. "Think Buffy's ready to yell yet?"
"Nope, I'm sure Miri's not driven her nuts yet. She and I had a talk before we left." Xander laid down on the seat, adjusting his seatbelt. "Wake me when we get home."
"Sure," Oz said, turning on the radio to a low volume, Xander needed noise to sleep.