Doyle looked over the edge of the basinets, smiling at the two children. "Hello, boys," he said, holding up a soccer ball. "Just a few years and we'll be playin' with this." He looked up as someone walked into the room, smiling at Buffy's mother. "She's fine. Little sore, but I'd expect that."
"What are they?" Joyce asked, walking over to look down at her grandchild. "Buffy said something about spikes."
"They do, but only when they're upset." He tapped one of the boys on the forehead, smiling as his spikes came out. "That one's yours."
"Ah." She reached down, rubbing over the taut belly. "Hello there, Benjamin," she said.
"Buffy named him last night," Xander said from the corner. "They're giving her an exam, they think some of the spikes may have torn into her uterus." He got up, waving at the chair. "Want to sit and hold him?"
"Please." Joyce picked the little boy up, walking over to hold him. "Oh, my, you're a big one, aren't you?"
"Yeah, he is," Doyle said, smiling at Xander. "Cordy's gettin' ready to go home. Makeup and all."
"You gonna stay with me tonight?" she asked from the bathroom, sticking her head out. "Hi, Mrs. Summers." She looked at Doyle. "That way you can watch both of them?"
"Sure," Doyle said, shrugging. "If you're sure ya wouldn't mind."
"Nope, that means we can split the midnight feedings." She disappeared back into the bathroom.
Joyce looked Doyle over. "You're the one whose adopting him?"
"Yeah, I am," he said, standing a little straighter. "I have the same problem and I have a good support system built up aroun' us."
"Good," Joyce said. "I would like to stay in touch with you. This will probably be the only grandchild I'm getting."
"You can adopt Miri as a grandkid," Xander offered with a grin.
"Not until your men tell me why they're sitting in the hall."
"They're waiting on Buffy." Xander looked down as he heard a belch. "Oops, supposed to leave that inside you, Bert."
"Don't call him that," Cordelia yelled.
"Whatever," Xander said, winking at Doyle. He handed over the spit-up cloth. "Gonna go check on Buffy and tell her that her mother's here."
"I heard," Buffy said as she was wheeled through the door. "Six tears." She smiled at her mother. "Enjoy him, I'm not going through that again."
The nurse laughed. "We have a woman down the hall that said the same thing once, after her second I believe. Of course, she's in here to have her seventh this time, but that's the way life is sometimes." She got Buffy settled back in bed. "You could go home today if you wanted."
Buffy looked at her mother, nodding. "Yes?"
"Of course. Get dressed." Joyce handed Buffy the baby, standing up.
Doyle came over, carefully taking the child to put back with the other one. "There we go," he said. He looked at Xander. "Go fix whatever happened this time or ya can't sit for them."
"Bet me," Cordelia called as she walked out of the bathroom. "All yours, Buffy."
"Gee, and you didn't lose the radiance," Xander told her, giving her a kiss to the cheek. "Be well. Yell if you need us?" She nodded. "Okay, gonna go home and see my kids." He waved at the boys then at Buffy. "See ya at home?"
"When I come to get my stuff," Buffy told him. "Maybe tomorrow?"
"Sure. I'll even pack you a lunch if you want."
She snorted. "Not. My mother's home now. She cooks really well." She took her mother's hand. "How long are you in town for?"
"A few days was all I could spare," Joyce told her. "I still have another month at that other museum." She smiled at Xander. "I'll come talk to Giles tomorrow. Go see them, they looked rotten."
Xander nodded, heading out into the hall. "Going home?" he asked Oz, the first one he ran into.
"Not, going to drag you to Sam's." He took his lover's hand in his, forcing him to follow. "We're going to get this settled, one way or another."
"Whatever," Xander sighed, heading for the Explorer as they got off the elevator, but Oz kept hold of him. "I can't drive if you do that."
"I'm driving. Deal with it."
Xander got free. "I'm not running away, Oz, get over it."
"Yeah, you are. You ran at home and you're going to do it here. That's what you do when you get upset."
"No, I gave myself some space to think. I wasn't sure I could be with people who wouldn't trust me to not cheat on them." Xander pulled out his keys, heading for his car.
"Would you have?" Oz yelled, following him, forcing him to stop so he could get into his face. "If you had found a bag of my things with those in there, what would you have done?"
"Gee, I don't know," Xander said coldly, "ask before I jumped to conclusions about your guilt?" He used the remote on his keychain to unlock his car. "Get in if I'm driving you over there." He headed around to get in and drive but Oz stopped him. "Mine, you're not driving."
"You're not in any shape to drive," Oz told him gently, his voice soft. "Let me do it."
"No." He looked at his lover. "Mine. I *can* drive. Really." He slid in, closing the door, starting the engine, not waiting to see if Oz was getting in or not.
Oz climbed in, buckling himself up. "Just don't wreck. I'm not explaining it."
"Maybe you should take up that habit. You've got a lot to explain for." He pulled out of his spot, heading out of the garage, with a quick stop to pay their fees.
Sam stepped between the yelling men, breaking in between them. "Stop it. And Xander, quit swearing. That's not allowed in here."
"Yay," he said, turning his back on her, then turning again when he figured out he was facing Giles. "I don't know why we're here. This isn't even about me this time."
"Well, apparently they think it is," Sam said harshly. All three men looked at her. "Thank you. This bitter fighting isn't like you three, what happened?"
"Ask Oz," Xander said, heading out of the office. "I need a drink," he said when someone tried to stop him. "Still not running." He shook free, heading out to the water fountain.
"Oz?" Sam asked as she closed the door. "What happened?"
"I found some things in Xander's dance bag. Someone else's thong and a bag with a used sex toy, and the stuff to use it with." He sat down on the couch, holding his head. "I confronted him, and he got cold. That night he moved down to his own room. Came home and moved down there, no warning at all."
"Okay," she said, nodding. "Giles, were you there?"
"Yes, actually he and I had been discussing some problems I had been having at work."
"And some I was having with my work," Xander added. "Not that it matters."
"You didn't let me finish," Giles protested.
"Remember the rules here, guys," Sam said. "Everyone has the right to speak without interruption." Xander threw up his hands, but Sam waved at Giles. "Go ahead."
"We were talking, both about my work and his, and Oz knocks on the door. He tosses this prosthetic at Xander, who promptly says it's not his."
"And no one trusts me," Xander added. "Still don't."
"We did," Giles told him, trying hard to sound reasonable, "but that wasn't the only thing he found."
"Yeah, and when I went to the club later that night and asked, the manager said he didn't know how the things had gotten in there but Grayson's thong was something he had been looking for."
"You returned them?" Oz asked.
"Yes, I did. It's the honorable thing to do." Xander looked at Sam. "All this is about their inability to think that I won't cheat on them. That's it. And I'm not able to keep going on like this. If I can't be trusted, then I don't need to be with them." Giles' mouth fell open. "And I'm pretty sure the only reason I am there is because of the children."
"We never meant for you to take on all the childcare duties," Giles yelled, getting into Xander's face. "We've told you that before, and you've still not yet learned it."
"Gee, why would I have?" Xander asked. "I'm working nights and taking care of the kids all day. I'd like to see you do that." He poked Giles on the chest.
"Enough!" Sam yelled. "We're not doing that in here. This isn't about blame." She pointed at the couch. "Sit."
Xander sat against one of the bookcases, not moving.
Giles stared at him then shook his head and sat down.
"This is the way it's become," Xander pointed out.
"You could have sat with them on the couch," Sam reminded him.
"Why? They don't want me up there. They don't trust me enough to want me near the kids. Oz even took Elizabeth from my arms last night."
"She was still crying," Oz reminded him. "I was trying to get her calmed down and you weren't doing it."
"She has colic, she's going to cry, even when she's calm."
Sam closed her eyes and rested her head against the back of her chair. "I wonder where Blair is?" She picked up the phone and dialed, smiling when she got an answer. "Are you back on the ground?" She sighed. "No, come to the office. No, the three of them are here. We're fighting hard this time." She hung up. "Blair will be here in five minutes. Do you think you can keep from killing each other for that long?"
"Yeah," Oz said, relaxing. "I think I can."
"I'm not going near them, so unless it's thrown or psychic it isn't going to hurt me," Xander said.
Giles shuddered. "Xander, don't say things like that. You know we'd never harm you." He looked over at his lover. "We've never intentionally hurt you, have we?"
"Not yet," Xander agreed. "Plenty of times without thinking but never intentionally."
Giles nodded. "At least we apologized for those. It could be worse. We could be like your parents were."
"Why does everything come back to my past?" Xander asked, standing up to face off with them. "I'm not the only one here who had a rotten time as a kid, why don't we talk about someone else's for a change?"
"Because yours keeps hitting our relationship," Oz said, trying to calm him down. "It's just the way it happens."
"No, it doesn't," Xander said coldly. "This isn't even about me this time, it's about both of you and your lack of trust for anyone that's not you." He turned, walking out.
Sam sighed, shaking her head. "That didn't go well, guys."
"Blair," Oz sighed, getting up to meet him at the door. "Xander's gone off the deep end again."
"Whoa," Blair said, holding up a hand, heading for his office. "I haven't even put away my jacket yet. Let's wait until I can breathe before jumping on me." He walked into his office and shut the door, leaning against it. "Wow, again," he said, shaking his head. He walked back out to find everyone in the outer office. "What happened?"
"Oz found some things in Xander's dance bag that led him to question whether or not Xander was cheating. He got pissed and left for a bit, then moved out that night," Giles told him. "Even the children are affected this time."
"Okay, now do it slower," Blair demanded. "Someone put something in Xander's bag that made Oz think he was cheating, right?" Oz nodded. "Okay, and you confronted him with this?"
"And he said he didn't know anything about it," Oz agreed, "but then he left and when he came home he moved out of our room. Now he won't even talk to us and it's become a version of blame. Everything's a blame now."
"Okay. Do we think he's going home?"
"Most likely," Giles said, looking outside. "I would guess it would be to leave again though." He looked at Oz. "We have mishandled this one."
"I *tried* to apologize, but he wasn't listening," Oz reminded him, his voice getting a little frosty. "Everything I've tried was pushed aside as some sort of trick."
"Which is very consistent with Xander," Blair reminded them, stopping the argument.
"There's another problem," Sam said, giving her husband a smile. "He thinks it's them against him."
"And he said he had only stayed this long because of the children," Sam added.
"Oh, hell," Blair said, heading for his car. "Stay here. Give me time to talk to him alone." He had to walk back into his office for his keys, but then headed back out, going after the only person he knew who could be hurt so easily.
Blair tapped on Xander's door, dodging the thrown pair of socks. "Thanks, but I have plenty," he said, walking in and moving the bag the young man was packing to sit in front of him. "Want to talk? Just us, your lovers aren't here yet."
"Not really," Xander said, walking to the end of the bed to finish his packing. "I don't have anything to say anymore. Everything's my fault and that's the end of it I guess." He growled when the hand stopped him from moving. "Get off."
"No, I want to listen. Explain to me why you're packing."
"Because I'm going to work. I called my boss and he said I could go back." Xander looked at his closet. "I'm not leaving, I won't do that to my daughter."
"That's good to know, but how is this iciness hurting her?"
"It's not," Xander said, turning on his counselor. "I've made sure I don't fight with them when the kids are awake."
"Where are they now?"
"With Willow and Spike. I've been with Buffy and Cordy while they were in the hospital."
"Oh, they had the babies?" Xander nodded. "And?"
"Boys, healthy, Buffy got spikes in her uterus. No big." He headed for his dresser. "Most of the guys I used to work with aren't there anymore. I'm going to have to start over and make friends again." He walked back to his bag, putting the last load of things in it and zipped it shut. "There, now all I have to do is pick out music and stretch."
"And eat," Blair reminded him.
"I'm doing okay in that department, thank you." Xander lifted his bag with a grunt. "Way heavy."
"Do you really want to go back tonight?"
"Yeah, I do. I need my own job." Xander looked and saw the earnest look Blair was giving him so he dropped his bag and sat on the bed beside him. "I'm not even sure what I did wrong. I didn't put those things in my bag. I didn't cheat on them, and I wouldn't. One of the guys was HIV positive, why would I have slept with him? And sleeping with anyone else would seriously sicken me, they should know that."
"They should but they have the same insecurities you do about this relationship, Xander." Blair relaxed. "They're still having the same problems believing that all this is real and that you're not leaving them."
"Truth? If I had been going to leave, I'd be gone by now. After nobody listening to me again, and most of the time not caring if I'm here as long as the kids are quiet, everything's clean, and supper's on the table I'm not sure I want to stay anymore." He looked toward a window as he heard a car pull up. "Sounds like they're back."
"Wait, give them a chance," Blair suggested. "They don't want to end this. If they had, they would have done it when you moved out." He looked around the room they were in. "This is nice stuff."
"It's from my old apartment. Sileya wanted the stuff that was in here." Xander held his head. "Blair, I've done everything on my own. I started that business on my own. I've been doing it for how long and they never noticed? Not until Giles started to wonder why we were still getting a candle making catalog."
"At least they noticed at all."
"After two months," Xander said dryly. "Two months of melting wax in my private room downstairs. Two months of me disappearing for hours on end, of wax showing up on most of my clothes, of the kids tracking wax everywhere when they helped." He looked at the older man. "It's the same thing all over again. I'm a non-entity. Even the ghost gets more notice than I do."
"Okay, so let's work from there. Did you try and get any of the attention back?"
"Why should I have to do all the work?" Xander asked, hopping up to pace. "I shouldn't have to work for their attention. They should at least notice when I'm around, right?" Blair nodded. "They're not. Sileya, the new girl Giles is training, and I get along great. I've been helping her. I helped Buffy through most of her pregnancy problems. And do I even get noticed except by the girls? No." He threw up his hands. "I can't do this anymore, Blair, I can't be the invisible person. Not even my own *daughter* notices I'm there." He walked over to shut the door when he heard footsteps on the stairs. "This is how bad it's gotten. This time I'm getting pissed instead of depressed though and it's bothering them even more."
Blair shifted so he was leaning against the pillows. "What do you want them to do? Really want to happen?"
"I want everything to be good again." Xander sat against the door, drawing his knees up to lean his chin on. "I want everything to go back to the times when things worked out right and it was good between us. Back when I didn't worry about if I was doing something wrong because they never even called me by my name for weeks on end."
"You're not invisible," Blair said quietly. "I can see you."
"Yeah, but to be honest, you really don't count in this situation. I don't live with you."
"You don't love me either," Blair reminded him.
"Which just makes it worse." Xander glared at the door as someone knocked. "Go away before I start screaming again."
"I can't do that," Sileya said. "I have the kids."
"Oh, Gods," he muttered, shaking his head. "Can you handle them for a little while?"
"Sure, you know that. Need me for something else?"
"No, that's all," Xander said, closing his eyes. "See?" he said, looking up. "It's a war zone. It's come down to sides and blame and I'm the bad one again."
"You're not the bad one," Blair said, getting off the bed to come sit in front of him. "Ooh, sore knees," he complained as they popped. "Feeling really old right now."
"You and me both," Xander muttered, putting his head back down. He pushed into the hand that patted the top of his head. "Oh, touches."
"Not been getting any?" Blair asked, rubbing through the thick hair, scratching lightly at the scalp.
"Not any." Xander looked up as the touches stopped. "Why can't it be good again?"
"Because something changed and you have to get over it and move on."
"Everything changed apparently." Xander sighed, shaking his head. "Maybe it is my fault. When no one wanted to listen to me about starting up a business, I did it without telling them."
"That isn't the problem here, Xander. The problem is that you're not being trusted. For whatever reason, those two men of yours aren't feeling secure in this relationship."
"Gee, them too?" he asked snidely.
"Hey, don't do that to me, I'm not the one who's doing this," Blair reminded him, backing away a little. "Why aren't you feeling secure?"
"Because I'm invisible?" Xander suggested, looking at him. "You must have major jet lag."
"Actually, I was only up in Cascade, no time switches. I'm tired but not that bad. Is there another reason? Lack of support maybe or something else?"
"Yeah, but that all ties back to not being seen anymore." Xander stood up. "Blair, you're not calling this one right at all. Maybe you should rest."
"If I do that, would you promise me not to run?"
"Um, can't do that. Not anymore at least." He looked at his bag. "It would be kinda easy, huh?"
"A little too easy, and then what would happen to those kids?"
"Gee, they'd survive. I've broken the twins of their not eating for anyone else habit. They probably wouldn't even remember me."
"I don't know," Xander said, turning to punch the paneled walls. "I don't know a damn thing anymore and it's getting frustrating. I'm not even sure who I am anymore, much less what everything's going to do to her and the twins." He fell down, holding his head. "This is like some long goddamned nightmare that I cant' wake up from."
"Language," Blair warned gently.
"Is coming out of my mouth," Xander said, glaring at him. "I can swear, I am an adult."
"Yes, you are, so let's start acting like it, okay? You're acting like a scared kid whose parents are leaving them alone for the first time." "Gee, I don't think I remember back that far. I've been alone, Blair, this is *way* different." He shook his head. "I'm going to go to work. Talk with them, maybe you can make them see me as actually being here." He stood up and grabbed his bag, heading out into the hall. "Sileya, I'm going to work."
She stuck her head out of her room. "No you're not. I have to go help patrol tonight with Wesley."
"Giles and Oz should be back by then," Xander told her with a wave from the top of the stairs. "I'll be home really late, yell if I wake you up." He walked out the door, heading for his Explorer.
"Gee, not leaving?" Oz said from the hood of Xander's SUV. "Looks like you're breaking a promise."
"I'm going to work."
"You don't work."
"Oh, did I forget to mention that I got my old job back?" he asked snidely. "Must have slipped my mind."
"Along with the rest of it," Oz said, sliding off to stop him from opening the door. "Do they want you back? Even with some of the guys thinking that you stole stuff?"
"They know I didn't steal anything!" He looked him over. "Unlike some people think, I'm known to be trustworthy."
"I don't steal either," Oz reminded him, still not moving from in front of the door. "You're not leaving until we finish this."
"Kids are home," Xander told him. "We can't fight."
"I don't care if we go out to the barn and scream, we're going to finish this."
"Let me save you the trouble," Xander said coldly. "It's all my fault and it's finished. There, happy now?" he asked, shoving Oz out of the way. "Better yet?"
"No," Oz said, grabbing Xander to pin him to the side of the SUV. "Not better. Worse. You're going psycho on us and we'd like to know why."
"How would you know what I was becoming?" Xander asked. "You haven't seen me as a person in months!" He backed away from his lover, glaring at him. "How would you know anything about me, Oz, most of the time you don't even register that I'm around, much less living."
"I do notice you. I may not say something every time I pass you but I do notice you. When you're not locked in your room."
"Hey, at least I'm trying to get my life straight, okay? Drop the business since it looks like it's dying anyway." He nodded at his door. "I have to go to work. Go away and we'll finish this later."
"You walk off and we're all going to be sorry," Oz warned, stepping away from the Explorer.
"If I don't leave, I can't get my job back," Xander said as he climbed in. "And right now, I'm more concerned about how I'm going to live than this fight that I can't win." He started the engine but Oz opened the door and turned it off, taking the keys. "I need those."
"No, you need to get your unhappy ass out of there and finish this fight with me so we can all move on."
"Oz.... Is there a moving on?" Xander slid down, looking at his lover, who looked shocked. "If this was you and Willow, would you be moving on?"
"We did and she actually cheated."
"A kiss, Oz, a kiss. You think I fucked all my coworkers. Not the same thing."
"I know you didn't, I just had a doubt!"
"Why were you doubting?" Xander asked, throwing his hands up. "You never had cause to doubt me before. You never even thought I was capable of doing that before. Why now? Why, at that sudden instant, did you suddenly decide I was doing something so sickening to me that I would be ready to plunge myself into fire to clean myself of the left overs?"
"Because that's when those things showed up," Oz said quietly. "I didn't have a reason to be frightened before that."
"Why not? Chastity used to hug me seven *billion* times a day and you always knew. Why didn't you suspect something then? Why, when I was at one of my lowest moments in a long time, did you have to start treating me like a possession that you occasionally took down to dust but was just a pretty thing you kept up on a shelf?"
"When was the last time we made love?"
"Um, four weeks before your accident, I think." Oz shook his head. "Not the point."
"Very much the point. How long was it before you were going to ask what I was doing in my room?"
"Until you wanted to tell me. I thought that was the reason we had them, so we'd have private space."
"Yay! How often do I ask what you're doing?"
"Weekly at least," Oz said, nodding. "You think we don't care."
"No, I *know* that you don't care." Xander slammed his door, walking around the front of the Explorer to bend down and pull something out from under the bumper. "You don't realize I'm around until the kids are screaming, food's not on the table, or something needs cleaned." He opened the little black box, pulling out his spare keys. "I'm going to work, you can think while I'm gone, that's what I'm going to be doing."
"You're not leaving," Oz said, stopping him from getting in, slamming him against the side of the SUV. "You're not going to go show off for a bunch of strangers when you're mad enough at us to do something stupid."
"Unlike the Xander in your little world, I don't do things like that. I'm working so I can keep myself on solid ground in case the candles don't work out." He pushed his lover back. "I've had it, Oz, figure it out and tell me. If you don't really want me to be here, just tell me and I won't be." He climbed in, starting his engine and backing away before anything else could happen. He stopped down by the mailbox to check through what was there, putting the rest of it back so the rightful owners could get it. He buckled up, heading out onto the road to town, taking the familiar drive.
Oz walked into the house and slammed the door, glaring at Giles. "Why didn't you ask him what he was hiding in there?" he asked, heading to his office. He started to walk in then growled and headed up to his room, slamming and locking that door. He looked down at the twins, who were starting to fuss. "Shh. You can nap again, I'm just changing clothes." He looked at the things in the closet, shaking his head. He broke into one of Giles' old boxes, pulling out the jacket he found in there, grabbing one of Xander's too-tight t-shirts to go under it. He pulled out a pair of faded black jeans, pulling his new clothes on. He looked down at his sneakers and shook his head, getting down to search for suitable footwear.
"Going clubbing?" Giles asked from the doorway.
"Thought I locked that," Oz muttered, pulling out his boots.
"You did, but we do have keys for this lock." Giles walked in, closing the door behind him. "Are you going after him?"
"Would you like some help?" Giles asked.
"Nope. This was my bad apparently." Oz looked up from tying his boots, blinking at the bland look he was getting. "It's up to me to fix it, it's my bad."
"It was both of our problems," Giles said, bending down to look at him. "It wasn't just you. When you showed us those things, I had my doubts also."
"Yeah, but we have this other problem. We've been ignoring him again."
"Well, he has been locking himself in his room an awful lot."
"Yeah, but we never asked why."
"I thought that was the purpose of having them?" Giles asked, clearly confused. "So we would have a private area that we didn't have to justify to the other two.
"Yup, but that wasn't how he saw it." Oz stood up, stomping his feet. "Better. Going out. Be back later with him." He walked out the door, heading for his car. He backed down the drive, heading for the club Xander worked at.
Xander took his first stroll down the stage, keeping his smile on even though he saw who was sitting at the end of the stage. He shook it a little for the other guys, concentrating on his routine, ignoring all his pesky emotions and feelings. His first song ended with him resting his back against the pole, grabbing it to slide down until he was squatting, spreading his legs out so they could see up into the spandex that was his thong through his crotchless pants. He rolled to his knees, crawling toward the man he had picked out to dance for, the one that was already sweating and had one hand under the table. He got to his knees, wiggling it in his face, slowly pulling his straps undone, leaving the two final ones until he stood back up, spinning on his knees to grab the bar and pull himself up, using the momentum to swing around the pole. He landed in front of Oz, again resting as the songs changed, pelvis thrust out. He winked at the man next to Oz, fingering the other two straps, getting a bill waved at him. He leaned over, taking it with his teeth, undoing both straps with a quick yank and handing them to the person. He put his arms over his head and sideways slithered around the front of the stage, showing off all the muscles he had built, dancing to the heavy bass beat he could feel through the soles of his feet. He strutted down the small, lower section in front of the tables, turning and showing off his rear as he danced some more, smiling at the man he had originally danced for, strolling back to him, swinging his hips in time with the music. He picked up his tip, then grabbed the pole to do his last trick, his fast swing with the abrupt stop. He swallowed hard as he sped up, kicking off the ground, but the pole didn't even shimmy with his motion. He came to his abrupt stop and slid down, one leg wrapped around the pole, looking out at the audience. He walked over to pick up his tips, ignoring Oz's bill. He bowed and left the stage, heading back into the dressing room.
"Good show, boy," Chastity said, giving him a quick hug as they passed. "Good to see you back."
"Yeah, it's good to have a job again." He headed in to his spot, using his towel to plane the sweat off himself.
"Harris," the manager said, walking in. "Wanted out front to mingle."
"I thought I didn't have to do that," he complained as he pulled on a pair of jeans and shoes. He zipped them up, turning to find his manager gone. "Whatever," he sighed, checking in the mirror beside the door to make sure he looked at least semi-presentable. He strolled out, smiling at the men around the entrance, stroking down one's arm as he passed. "Hi."
"I think your man wanted you," he said, backing away from him. "He looked kind of scary too."
"Yeah, that's Oz," he sighed, heading to the table he could see Oz sitting in, back in the darkest corner. "I'm not having a fight here either," he said as he sat down.
"Good, want a drink?"
"Nope, I don't do that." He took his usual water, watching as Oz downed a shot. "I'm not letting you near me if you keep doing that," he warned. "You know how I feel about heavy drinking."
"Yeah, but you made me want to drink this time." Oz sipped his beer, looking the younger man over. "You feel better yet?"
"Yeah, it's called getting a paycheck." Xander sipped his water, looking around. He caught Chastity's eye from his position up on stage, shaking his head. "He'll never get decent tips if he doesn't concentrate." Oz reached over and slipped something in front of him. "What's this?" he asked, picking up the twenty. "I'm not taking my own money as tips."
"Not, it's my money. Which is just as good as anyone's here."
"You're drunk," Xander said, standing up. "We'll talk when I get home or in the morning."
"You go back up on that stage and I'm hunting everyone who looks at you," Oz warned quietly, barely above a whisper. "You're not leaving. Especially not for some sugar daddy."
Xander leaned down, getting in his face. "Oz, I'm not leaving, period. Unless you keep this shit up. I'm not a possession and I'm not an object. I'm a person with nice, normal needs." He stood back up. "Got it yet?"
"I had it, but we lost it," Oz told him, grabbing a belt loop to pull Xander back into his lap. "I'm not losing it again, babe, this is it, last chance."
"Then why are you doing everything you know I hate?" Xander asked coolly. "You're trying to piss me off so I leave?"
"No, I'm trying to piss you off enough that you start screaming at me again. At least that way I was getting something out of you instead of snow." He let him go, watching as Xander stood back up. "I mean it, go back out there and they'll all suffer. I'm beyond caring who I hurt to keep you."
"Just like Sam's serial killers?" Xander asked, looking stunned.
"Just like them," Oz agreed, sipping his beer. "If it means I have to kill everyone who looks at you, they're gone. You're not leaving me again."
"Does Giles know you've went off the deep end?"
"Nope, but he thinks you have."
"No, *you* think I have," Xander countered, sitting back down so he didn't have to raise his voice. "You guys may be my life, but right now I feel really dead. I feel locked into something that so isn't me I might as well be lost on some other planet and taken as an heir. This is what you guys are doing to me. You're killing me, Oz, and I won't let it happen this time. No way in hell am I going to roll over and play pretty object for you again."
"You act like you're some trophy wife," Oz noted. "You're not. We don't tell people about you, we don't show you off." He looked around, giving Xander a grim smile. "As for making yourself feel better by having a job, this isn't that far up the line from prostitute. You're just selling a peek instead of a hole."
"Real nice, Oz, drink some more." Xander started to stand but one very strong arm caught his.
"I'm not finished. Sit. Down." Oz waited until the order had been followed. "How does this make you feel more like a man, Xan? Do you feel more like a man when you're up there showing it off? When strange men are jacking off to you? Or maybe it's when you imagine whatever to keep yourself hard up there. How does doing any of this make it all go away?"
"Easy, I'm not stuck at the house being the wife. I can handle anything as long as I'm not in that position." Oz's face fell. "Yeah, truth hurts, Oz, but you know what? It's kinda funny. I could be in exactly the same position Blair's in, the same genetic make up and everything, but even if I am, I'm not the one whose going to stay at home and be the good little wife." He spat the last word. "Never again, Oz, *never* again." He stood up. "I have another set in a few minutes because we're short a dancer tonight. I have to go get ready."
"I mean it," Oz warned.
"Yeah, I know. You never say anything you don't mean. Including the fact that you don't trust me to not cheat on you with every man in here." He handed the waitress his bottle. "Put that in the fridge for me please. I'll need it after my next set." She nodded, walking away, and he continued back into the dressing room.
"Your first set was rough," one of the other dancers told him. "Real choppy."
"I've been off with injuries," Xander told him, stripping back down to his thong, looking down at himself. He got up, heading for his locker and a change of clothes. "What the hell?" he asked, looking at the outfit hanging in there. "Whose is this?" he asked, holding it up.
"Mine," Chastity said. "I couldn't fit it in mine."
"Then use an empty one." He laid it over the back of a chair, pulling out his next outfit, checking it over before stripping down and rebuilding himself from the thong up.
"Oh, fourth number?" Chastity asked as he walked over, taking his outfit. "You could borrow mine. Everyone out there's seen yours."
"Then they'll be surprised when they noticed I've changed the routine," he said as he shut his locker and locked it. "Later." He headed for the door, stopping to look at the pictures of his kids on Chastity's mirror. "Where did you get these?" he asked him.
"You left them when you had your accident that night."
"Those aren't pictures I had," Xander said, turning to look him over. "Where'd you get pictures of my kids?"
The manager walked in, hearing the anger and hate coming out of his dancer's mouth. "I'm sure they were left here," he soothed. "Get into your routine frame of mine, Harris."
"I can't. We never took pictures of them in those outfits. They got those last week." He looked Chastity over. "When'd you take them, dear?" he asked, his voice going icy.
"You left them," he said, snorting. "Hitting your head on the stage must have been worse than you let on, sugar."
"I bet," Xander muttered. He looked at his manager who nodded toward the hall. "Those are *new*," he hissed once they were alone. "We don't have pictures of them in those yet. They've only worn them one day and that was to Walmart."
"I can understand that, but you can't accuse him of things. Chastity's not all there," he explained softly. "Same as you lover seems to be tonight."
"Then I definitely don't want you on stage. Guys like him tend to snap and break people. Then I lose business."
Xander shook his head. "Oz is all air. He won't hurt anyone."
"He threatened you?" his manager asked. "Literally threatened you?"
"No, the patrons," Xander sighed. "You really don't want me to go on? Even though you're short?"
"Short I can deal with, dead customers I can't. You're not going on again. Get it straightened out and come back." He walked away, heading for the stage lineup board.
Xander sighed and walked back into the dressing room, going to change back into his street clothes.
"What's wrong, babe," Chastity said, standing up to block his way. "Not getting to go on after all?"
"Nope, my lover and I having a fight in the bar got me suspended for a few." He walked around the other set of mirrors, heading for his locker. "Where's my padlock?"
"It broke," Chastity said, then laughed at his dirty look. "Well, it did."
"I'm sure," Xander said dryly, pulling out his bag, checking it for any more nasty surprises. He zipped it up and headed out the back way, pulling out his keys as he walked, not expecting to be jumped on the way. "Oz!" he yelled when he saw who it was. "Happy now? I can't work because of you."
"Yeah, I am," Oz said calmly. "I'm going to follow you home too."
"No you're not." Xander headed for the Explorer, grunting in displeasure when he saw the flat tire. "Did you slash it too?" he asked snidely.
"No, I came out and it was like that," Oz told him, turning Xander around and backing him against the hood. "I wouldn't hurt your car. I won't hurt you, but I'm not going to let you destroy what we had."
"I wasn't the insane one," Xander protested.
"Yeah, you were. I tried to apologize."
"No, you *tried* to get me to going back to being the nice, quiet little housewife. Which I won't do." Xander pulled himself up, glaring at the bouncer as he walked out to check on them. "Did you see who slashed my tire this time?"
"Sorry, I didn't see a thing. You sure he didn't do it?" he asked with a nod toward Oz.
"Yeah, he'd have to pay to fix it."
"Ah." The bouncer nodded and headed for the door. "Keep it down out here, boys. You're interrupting the happy mood."
"Whatever," Xander sighed, looking his lover over. "What is your problem with believing I'm a competent person? Why can't I be trusted like Giles is?"
"Because I know you've cheated before."
"No, that was hormones and a funky mind fart. I didn't *cheat* with her, I only kissed a few times."
"Was still cheating," Oz pointed out, crossing his arms. "You going to leave again?"
"Depends. If I can be trusted and feel like I'm a part of the family instead of the hired help, no. If not, I'm not sure what I'm doing yet."
"You leave and I'm going to hunt you down."
"What is it today? First I get psycho stalker inside and now you?" He slid down. "I need to call the auto club."
"I'll give you a ride. Go tell the bouncer you're leaving the car here for tonight."
"Fine, but I'm still not having this fight with you. You know what's wrong and if you won't fix it, I'm moving out to the trailer." He headed into the club, smiling and shaking his head at the offer of the phone. "We'll get them in the morning when it's less expensive if it's okay."
"Sure, just get it before the club opens at two."
"Of course." Xander waved and walked out, heading out to where Oz was sitting in his car. "Don't think this ends it, Oz, it doesn't."
"Oh, I know. We'll finish this fight at home. Blair went home," he noted as he pulled out of the lot. "Buffy's back in the trailer because her mother had to leave suddenly." He pulled out onto the highway. "We will be yelling about this later though."
"Fine. Whatever." Xander rested his head against the seat, closing his eyes. "Just get me to a shower."
"I'm going to insist and scrub you if I have to. You smell like him again." Oz pulled off the side of the road, looking at his lover. "Psycho stalker?"
"Chastity has pictures up on his mirror of the kids in the outfits we bought them last week," Xander sighed. "He tried to say I left them the night I fell."
"That's enough evidence for me," Oz said, starting the engine, turning on the blinker to turn around. "We're going to go have a talk with him."
"My boss said he was unstable, warned me against getting in a fight with him." Xander turned off the engine. "You're not going back there. I may not like you right now but I don't want to see you dead."
"Xander, this person has pictures that could have only been taken one day *recently* of our kids. What makes you think he's going to stop there?"
"What makes you think he's going to keep going? I noticed his pictures, we started to have a fight about it. That's why my manager intervened."
"All right, I'll wait and see if something happens," Oz said, leaning his head back. "Still doesn't get you out of the fight." He rolled his head to look at his lover. "I... I do love you, you know. It's not like I'm keeping you in slavery."
"You ought to try living it on this end, Oz. Nothing ever changes. I'm the working mommy now instead of just the mommy and you two daddies get to go off and do meaningful things called work and school."
"You could be going with me," Oz reminded him.
"I can't do school, Oz! We've had this fight before. I *suck* at school, even worse than you seem to think. I bribed my way to graduation and I still almost didn't make it. I won't be able to do college."
"I'll help," Oz offered calmly, returning to his usual calm demeanor.
"What? You're going to ambush teachers so I can get blackmail material on them?"
"No, but I could tutor you in some stuff. The required classes at least."
"Which might be enough to let me pass with a 'D'. Which won't be good enough."
"No, it wouldn't," Oz agreed, reaching over to hold his lover's hand but it was pulled away from him. "I want to touch you, is that so wrong?"
"No, it's too right. I can't do that right now."
"Your body's screaming for attention," Oz told him, shifting to look at him. "I didn't mean to ignore you, Xander. I really didn't. Why can't we move on?"
"Because it's always the same fight," Xander sighed, leaning his head against the glass. "Apparently I'm not real clear on my needs."
"Or I'm not getting it," Oz suggested, trying to keep it light.
"Yeah, that's the other explanation, but it's not just you. It's Giles too. It's like I'm some foreign body and you're the immune system trying to take me out. You keep going back to your old ways and it *hurts*, Oz, it really does."
"Why do you say my name so often?"
"To counteract you not saying mine ever."
"Oh." Oz turned back to the front, starting the car. "I've said your name twice since we left the club."
"Which is good, you're almost batting a thousand now. That's more times than you've said my name in the last three days." Xander closed his eyes. "Home, Oz. I want a shower and you want to keep fighting."
"I won't fight in front of the kids." Oz pulled back out onto the highway. "Blair set aside a block for us for the next three days if you want."
"Maybe. Don't you have a test?"
"I can get an excuse. You're more important than a test."
"Gee, good to know. Am I also more important than shower grime?"
"Yup, much more important. Not even on the same page." He signaled for a turn. "Giles asked me to pick up something when we were coming home. That okay?"
"You're driving," Xander said with a wave. "Have fun."
"You could try to act interested."
"You could have tried to act interested when I started to burn wax in the house too."
"Point." Oz pulled into the Super America, turning off the engine and heading inside. He came back out with a paper bag, sliding it into the back seat as he got in. "You still in there?" he asked as he started the car and pulled back out onto the highway.
"Nope. No more Xanders for you to abuse and ignore."
"I don't abuse you," Oz protested weakly. "I don't beat you or put you down."
"No, you do it very subtly by not showing me any support for anything I do that's not laundry."
"That's not fair. You never ask for a cheerleader."
"Why do I have to ask? Do *you* have to ask for one?" Oz grunted. "Does *Giles* have to ask for one?"
Oz shook his head. "No, I get the point."
"Why do I have to *ask* when I want some support? Or even when I'm doing something normal, do I get a 'good job', or a 'thank you for getting out that stain'? Or even a 'good to know you're still alive, you're a valuable piece of property to us'?"
"Got the point," Oz said, a little firmer this time. "No need to drag it to death."
"Or even a 'hey, that was nice work. Explaining life and death to Miri wasn't something I was looking forward to but you managed to save her sanity from Giles' explanation and still give her one she could accept'?"
"Stop it," Oz yelled. "Why do you do this to me?"
"Do what?" Xander said, turning to look at him. "Tell the truth? Give you a taste of my life? Or was it showing you how bad it gets?" He got out of the car as they stopped at the bottom the road they lived on. "I'll walk the rest of the way. Go home, Oz."
Oz turned off the car and got out, glaring at the younger man. "Get in the car now, Xander. I've had enough of this. We're not going to start fighting again until we get to Blair's tomorrow. Now get in the car and let's go home. Before I dunk you in the creek to wash that thing's scent off you."
"Fuck off, Oz," Xander said, glaring back at him. "I'm not property. I can decide to walk if I want to." He headed for the house, cutting into a field. "I'll be home tonight," he called over his shoulder.
"So help me *God*, Xander, get in this car now!" Oz yelled, making him turn around. "Now! This is even more stupid than some of the other things you've done in the past." He shut the door, walking over to the edge of the field. "If I have to come in there and get you, you're not going to like it."
"Gee, going to add physical abuse on top of everything else?" Xander asked snidely, turning and continuing to walk. "I'll see you at home."
"Get in the car or be locked out. I still have your keys."
"Buffy has an extra bed."
"Now, Xander, or else."
"Or else what, Oz," he said, turning to look at him. "Or else you're going to beat me? Or else you're going to kick me out? Or else you're going to be even less supportive of who I am? Or maybe you've decided you're going to simply rip me apart this time? How about it, want a free shot now?" He held out his arms. "Come on, take one."
"Get in the car," Oz repeated. "Now."
"No, I'm going to walk." Xander turned and started walking again. "Later."
Oz stormed back to the car, getting in and speeding home. He stomped into the house, turning and locking the door. "We're not letting him in," he told Giles, who was fixing a sandwich.
"Why not? Miriam, here you go, love," he told her, handing it over. "Now go eat upstairs in your room." He waited until they were alone to turn and look at Oz. "Where's Xander?"
"He's walking. He's now decided that we're abusive and this is all about him having to stay home all the time." Giles nodded. "This isn't a shock to you?"
"Should it be?" Giles said gently, coming over to hug Oz, simply holding him. "I may love the boy but I'm not sure I can give him what he needs." He pulled back. "You and I are much better suited than Xander is to us. Maybe it's time we accepted that."
"No, we're not breaking up," Oz said firmly. "I'm not losing the only family I have." He headed up to their room, slamming the door behind him. The twins immediately started to cry. "Don't do that," he sighed, going over to them, hoping to keep them quiet. "Please don't cry."
Giles walked in, closing the door. "I wasn't suggesting that we break up, just that we all need to reevaluate what we have. Xander needs a much more demonstrative lover, someone who can show him and give him what he needs, which isn't you or I."
"I would if I knew what he wanted," Oz said, still bent over the crib, rubbing Elizabeth's stomach. "There we go, Tigger, yeah, time for a nap again." He backed away, stripping off to sit on the bed. "I hate him right now," he admitted once he was lying down. "For making me change and for making me so mad. For taking all this away from me."
"It's not just him," Giles reminded him. "It's all of us. You and I might as well be strangers anymore. I have no idea what's in Xander's mind any more than I could read the twins'. All I know is that I'm making everyone around me horridly unhappy recently and there's nothing I can do about it."
Oz listened to the kitchen door slam, tensing up. "Xander?" he called when he heard steps in the hall.
"Nope, me," Sileya said, opening the door to stick her head in. "He still out?" Oz nodded. "Want me to go look for him?"
"He's in the west field," Oz told her. "He'll find home by tomorrow. Be careful out there, one of his coworkers is going stalker on him."
"Oh, fun," she said, backing out. "I'll watch myself. Good night."
"Good night, Sileya," Giles called after her. "Stalker?"
"He has pictures of the kids in their new outfits last week. Xan's boss had to stop him from getting in to an argument with the guy, said he wasn't real stable." He closed his eyes. "I want to go find him and finish this."
"If you start to fight again tonight, this will all be over, Oz. We can't continue this when we're still so upset."
"I need him," Oz whispered. "I need him like I need the kids now." He looked at his other lover. "I need you too, but I need him more. He's what makes this a family instead of three men living together with kids."
"He doesn't seem to see it that way," Giles pointed out. "Maybe you should share that tomorrow when we go in."
Oz nodded, sliding down until he was comfortable. "I will. I'll tell him over breakfast, after all the kids are gone to Willow's." He sunk into the strong arms, letting them hold him. "Thanks, I need this." He didn't bother to wipe off the tear running down his face. "Just thinking about not having him here is making me sick," he admitted. "I can't live like that."
"He wouldn't go any farther than the trailer," Giles soothed. "Miri needs us just as much as we do her."
"Still too far."
"I'm sure he'll do what's best for all of us."
"No, he needs to do what's best for him for a change," Oz said, wiping off his cheeks. "That's part of the problem. He's not living life, he's surviving in it. As our slave apparently." He rolled over, looking up at Giles. "Did you ever tell him he was doing good? With the candles or anything?"
Giles thought for a second then shook his head. "Not as far back as I can remember." He gave Oz a squeeze. "We'll figure it out."
"I hope so. I don't like the future I'm seeing." Oz closed his eyes, resting his head on the warm chest. "Hold me?"
"Of course." Giles waited until he heard the soft snores to add anything else. "Xander, why can't you be happy with who we are?" he asked. "Why do we have to change?"
Xander walked into the house, taking off his shoes by the door since they were wet. He headed up to his room, walking in and turning on the light. He raised one eyebrow when he saw Oz lying on his bed, but went over to wake him. "Get up," he said, nudging him. "You're not sleeping in here."
"I just wanted a cuddle," Oz said, holding up his arms. "A simple hug?"
Xander continued to stare at the man on his bed. "Just a hug?"
"Just a hug," Oz agreed, holding up his arms again. "I slipped out because I needed one."
Xander moved closer but was still out of reach. "Did Blair tell you?"
"I didn't talk to Blair, Giles did." He looked over his lover's tense form. "I thought we could both use the tactile stuff tonight."
"Yeah, I could use it," Xander admitted, "but I'm still pissed."
"Okay. Get comfy and come get hugs."
"I want closer to the door," Xander said as he stripped down to his thong and slid in. He hesitantly sank into the open, welcoming, arms, holding in the sigh he felt at the perfection of how he was being touched. He closed his eyes. "Thank you," he whispered.
"Any time, even when we're fighting." Xander stiffened. "Not a lecture, just a remark," Oz explained. He gave him a little squeeze. "If you need it, I want to be here."
Xander stayed silent for a few more minutes. "Why can't it be like this all the time?" he whispered.
Oz ignored the tears he felt dripping onto his shoulder. "Because the rest of the world sometimes skews us when we're in it." He gave him another squeeze. "Would you like more?"
"We're not having sex, Oz."
"Was thinking backrub or something."
Xander shifted so he was laying across Oz's body instead of down the side of it. "This is like a bad ache for me, Oz. It hurts."
"For both of us." Oz ran his nails down the sticky back. "You still need a shower. The oil's congealing."
"I don't want to fight," Xander sighed.
"Was just a comment, not part of the fight. We've called a truce until we get to Blair's." Xander nodded. "I'll stay if you want to take your shower."
Xander nodded, stopping as someone knocked on the door. "Go ahead and help him. You can come back," he decided, getting up to head for the shower.
Oz answered the door, giving Giles a grimace. "I was reconnecting."
"I figured as much, I wanted to talk to him also."
"He's in the shower," Oz said, letting him in. "I need to tell him stuff."
"Would you rather I left you two alone for a bit longer?"
Xander stuck his head out. "It doesn't matter." He walked out when he saw Oz's hurt look, standing in front of him and tipping his head up. "What did you want to tell me?"
Oz looked into his eyes. "You're the one that makes us a family instead of three men and kids living together," he said softly, blinking at the surprised look. "It's been more like roomies for the last few days and I want my family back."
Xander hugged him, squeezing as hard as he could. "I feel the same way. I didn't know I was the hinge that was making it a family for you."
"You do the same for me," Giles said, giving him a hopeful look. "I have no idea where the problems are but I'd like to try and fix this."
"We're fixing it," Oz said firmly. "I don't care how much screaming we have to do. I'm not letting us break up." He glared at Giles. "No more fighting."
"Fine, no more fighting tonight," Giles said, heading for the door.
"You could stay and sleep," Xander offered softly, looking down at Oz. "Both of you. It's a really big bed and I'm lonely in it." He glanced at his older lover. "Not if you don't want to," he said when he saw the hurt look. He let Oz go and went back into the bathroom. "I'm going to shower. I'm sticky." He closed the door.
"It's a start," Oz said, waving at the bed.
"It is, but I'm not comfortable with this idea. I can't sleep when I know I'm mad at the person next to me, I never have been able to."
"I..." Oz looked at the bed then back at Giles. "I..."
"Go with him," Xander called as he started the water. "I'll live."
Oz shrugged. "I want to sleep with you both. I miss my nightly cuddles."
"As do I," Giles sighed, hugging him. "Come back when you're ready."
Oz shook his head, stopping Giles from leaving. "Not tonight. We're in a truce, stay."
"No, you both stay," Xander said, opening the door. "Could one of you maybe come in and get this itchy spot on my back? It feels like I'm breaking out or something."
Giles nodded, heading into the bathroom, looking at the spot that was hanging out of the shower. "It's a rash," he said, rubbing a finger across it. "What touched that spot?"
"Just my usual oil." Xander turned, giving him a slight smile. "Good rash or bad rash?"
"Bad rash. Like you should take some medication for it." Giles walked to the medicine cabinet so he could look inside but there wasn't anything in there. "Let me go get you something from the bathroom. You really should take something for it."
"Did Chastity touch that spot?" Oz asked, lounging in the door.
Xander thought then nodded. "Yeah, he patted me there." He looked over his shoulder. "You don't think he did something, do you?"
"Let me see it," Oz said, twirling his finger in the air. Xander turned for him, sticking his back out again. "Yeah, it's spreading. Giles, medicine may not be enough. Washcloth?" he asked, taking it when it was handed to him. He wiped over the area, frowning when more of the rash popped up as water hit it. "Out of the shower," he said, pulling Xander out. "It's reacting to the water." He looked at Giles as he walked back in. "It's reacting to water." He let the older man look at the spot, wiping a new spot for him to see the reaction.
"We may want to head to the hospital," Giles said grimly. "I can't tell what's there."
"We can't afford it," Xander reminded them, turning his head to try and look. "Can we swab it off with alcohol?"
"We'd have to do your whole body," Oz warned. "We don't know if it was put into your clothes." He looked at the bottle, then turned to run a glass of water. "Here, take the pill, lets see what it does."
Xander swallowed the allergy medicine, then started to choke, holding his throat.
"He's choking," Giles said, pounding him on the back but Xander was shaking his head.
"No, he's in reaction," Oz said, heading for the nearest phone to dial the local emergency number. "Hey, this is the Harris/Osbourne/Giles house out on Guild Road, we need some help right now. No, our lover was exposed to something, we gave him allergy stuff and now he can't breath." He dropped the phone, heading back into the bathroom, trying hard to help Giles make him comfortable.
"Go get the door," Giles said finally, pushing Oz out of the way. "I've had paramedic classes, go let them in."
Oz nodded, heading out of the room at a run, down to the kitchen to turn on the lights, watching for the ambulance. He hugged Sileya as she walked in. "Xander was exposed to something major, he's having a reaction, we're going to the hospital."
"Okay." She finished her trek to the refrigerator, coming out with a bottle of soda. "I'll watch the kids. I have to finish my paper tonight anyway." She nodded outside. "Lights."
Oz jogged out, waving his arms. The ambulance backed up and headed up to where he was.