Oz looked at the chart the doctor had tossed down when an emergency case had come in, flipping through it. "Looking better," he told Xander, kissing his cheek next to the oxygen mask. "Breathing better yet?" Xander nodded. "Good." He dropped the folder as a nurse walked in, giving him a shrug. "I wanted to see," he said when she frowned at him.
"I doubt you'd understand it." She checked the monitors and made a note. "He's doing better. The lab couldn't come up with what it was, but it was all herbal. Did he rub up against something funny?"
"Only Chastity when he hugged me," Xander mumbled, his voice sounding almost like gravel.
"Only another dancer, who we think may be stalking him," Oz translated for her.
She nodded. "I'd stay away from work for a little while. I'm sure you can do that." She took a long look down Xander's body. "He doesn't look like one of them Chippendale dancers."
"He's only doing it until he can find a real job," Giles told her from his seat in the corner, where the doctor had ordered him because he kept getting in the way. He leaned forward. "None of us are happy with him being out there, but I'm sure he's not going back again." Xander shook his head. "Good, I'm glad you agree."
"Wrong meaning," Oz told him, looking down into the brown eyes he used to find so fascinating. "He thinks he has to go back so we can afford tonight's visit." Xander nodded. "See?" He looked at Giles, who was frowning. "Sorry."
"That's all right, I'm sure we'll be discussing it this afternoon."
Xander nodded, giving the nurse a pleading look. "Mask?" he asked.
"Not yet," she said, patting his hand. "Not until we're sure you're going to keep breathing."
He lifted it, taking a deep breath of real air. "I'm getting light headed," he explained roughly. "I really don't want this anymore."
She smiled and pushed the mask back down. "That happens sometimes." She walked out with the chart, pulling the curtain shut.
Oz lifted the mask and gave Xander a quick kiss on the lips. "There, better?" he asked, putting the mask back in place.
"Leave it alone," the doctor said as he walked back into the cubicle. "He needs that."
"He said he's feeling light headed," Oz offered. "He just asked the nurse if he could take it off."
"Then he can take it off," the doctor said, looking around for the chart. "Did she take it?"
"Oz was reading it," Xander said hoarsely, sitting up and crossing his feet under the paper blanket. "She gave him a really dirty look when she came in." The nurse popped in and handed off the chart, going back to her duties.
"Good woman," the doctor said, reading the notes in there. "I'd say you can go home, but we're still not sure if any of this has gotten on anything else of yours."
"It only started to show up as a rash when water hit it," Oz said. "We can strip his bedding and wash his clothes a few times."
"Okay, then he can go home. If he starts to feel the littlest bit like he's going to stop breathing again, I want him back here as fast as possible." Oz nodded. "And get him some juice for his throat, it's got to be sore." Xander nodded. "Soothing juice, nothing harsh. Intubating someone isn't pleasant for them the next day." He made a note and closed the chart. "We hope this is the last time we have to see you this month, Mr. Harris, but I'm going to doubt it." He tapped the folder a few times then looked at the men standing around Xander. "Take him home, get him rest. Get him something like butterscotch to suck on tomorrow." He walked out, leaving them alone.
Xander looked at Oz. "Butter rum lifesavers?" he whispered.
"Could," Oz said, handing him the clothes Giles had grabbed as they had ran out to follow. "Get dressed and we'll stop at Super America on the way." He walked out to stand in front of the curtain, nodding at the officer walking past them.
"Is this where Mr. Harris is?" the officer asked, pulling out his notebook.
"He's getting dressed," Giles said as he walked out. "Is there a problem?"
"A minor one." The officer looked at Xander as he walked out. "Is that your Explorer at the Goldmine Club, sir?"
He nodded. "The tire was slashed again so I got a ride home," he said hoarsely. "What's wrong?"
"We found a body in the back." He pulled out a picture. "Do you know that person?"
Xander turned, looking green. Oz helped him to the nearest trash can as he started to throw up. He looked at the picture, then shook his head. "I don't, must be one of his friends."
Giles looked at it and nodded. "It's one of the other dancers. He and Xander had a fight the night before the pole broke free." He looked from Xander to the officer and back.
The doctor walked past them. "Was this related to the cop or did he suddenly get nauseous?"
"Cop," Oz told him. "No big."
"Big big," Xander corrected, coming up for air. He looked at the cop. "That's one of the dancers I used to work with. His name's Grayson. And you might want to tell them that he's HIV positive."
The officer made a note. "I'll pass that information on. Were your tires slashed before tonight?"
"Once," Oz said. "The last time he had gone to the club, the night he talked to his boss." He patted Xander's back. "You gonna live?" Xander shook his head and croaked something that sounded like 'no'. Oz looked at the officer. "Is this something he's in trouble for? I brought him home and we've been together for most of the night. Except for the hour or so it took him to walk from the end of our road to the house through the fields."
"Got lost," Xander ground out, standing back up. "Am I in trouble?"
"No, we know you wouldn't do that," the officer said. "What happened here?"
"One of his coworkers apparently had something on that he's allergic to. It reacted to the shower he started to take and we had to come in," Giles said, stepping behind Xander to hold him still, since he had seen how he was ready to fall over.
"We think he's stalking him," Oz explained. "He has pictures of our kids that are *real* recent and taken at the house, where he's never been."
The officer nodded. "Okay. What's his name?"
"Chastity," all three men said together.
"Ah. We know about him. He likes to get into fights in bars." He put away his notebook. "Are you going home?"
"And tomorrow we're going to LA to visit with our counselor," Oz added. "One of us will be home all other times." Xander held up his hand. "Yes, you, at least until you're better." Xander looked up and nodded, giving him a small smile. "Yes, you can have ice cream. We'll go to Super Walmart for you, okay?" He got blown a kiss. He turned back to the officer. "Is his Explorer confiscated for now?"
"I'm afraid so, but as soon as we have all the evidence from it, we might be able to release it. If not, it may not be until the trial. I'd have to check on that."
"Whatever's fine," Oz said, shrugging. "We can drive him wherever for a while." Xander frowned at him. "We're taking one car to Blair's anyway, so we can't do what we did earlier tonight."
Xander shrugged, turning look at the officer. "Need the keys?" he croaked.
"No, we've got our own ways of securing it." He waved at them. "We know where you live if we have more questions. If not, someone there will have the number you're at, right?" Oz stole a pen off a nurse, writing it on the back of the officer's hand. "Okay, thanks," he said with a smile. "My wife's going to wonder about that."
"Wondering like that is bad," Xander said, looking at Oz, who nodded. "Home, please?"
"Wheelchair," the nurse called from the desk without looking up from what she was typing. "You've been here enough times to know that."
Oz snorted but headed for the wheelchair sitting down the hall, bringing it back so Xander could get into it. "Here, let's head to Walmart then home, all right?" Xander nodded, giving him a slight grin. "Or don't you want your ice cream tonight?"
"Sure." Oz looked at the chair's handles. "Giles, you push." He waited until the other two men were gone to look at the officer. "Chastity had pictures that were recent, like less than a week old, and he tried to say they were older. Xander's boss said he wasn't all there." The officer nodded, giving him a grim look. "What are we supposed to do?"
"Nothing for now. This could be totally unrelated. If it's related, then we'll worry about your safety."
"No, if it's related, then we're calling our friends. Our counselor works for VCTF LA." The officer smiled. "Not adverse to it?"
"Hey, Feds can always guard you better. If you'd rather have the serial killer folks coming up here, we're not going to argue. Cases like this are hard for us." He waved and walked away, heading for the phone at the desk.
Oz walked out, heading for his car. He slid into the back, looking at Xander, who was watching for him. "I asked what we were supposed to do if it was related. He said we're waiting right now but if it kept going, we could call Blair and Sam."
"The police department in Sunnydale is chronically underfunded," Giles pointed out as he started the car. "Oz, please buckle up. You too, Xander." Xander snapped his seatbelt. "Thank you." He backed out of the space. "We'll talk to Jim tomorrow if we see him. Maybe he'll have some ideas about security and the like."
"And if we don't see him, we'll ask Sam," Oz said. "She lived under strict Federal protection for a few years."
"That'll work," Xander croaked, leaning his head against Oz's hand, which was trying to rub through his hair. "Ice cream can wait," he offered with a small grin.
"Of course it can," Giles said soothingly. "The first one of us up can go get it for you." He headed for their house, the only car on the road.
Xander clapped as Sileya finished a trick she had been working on for weeks. "Woo!" he called, then cleared his throat. "That kinda hurt." He gave her a hug when she came over all smiles. "Very good," he told her. "Very impressive."
"Sure to scare all the vamps," Buffy seconded from the porch swing.
"Not entirely practical," Giles said as he pulled himself up off the ground and dusted himself off. "But I'm sure you'll find a way to use it," he told her when everyone frowned at him. "How's your throat, Xander?"
"It's better," he said, swallowing. "Still a little sore, but it's that scratchy, cold sort of sore now." He checked his watch. "Where's Oz?"
"He went to talk to the police, they had called this morning before you got up." He frowned at his student, who was resting against his lover's shoulder, then glared at Xander. "Come, back to work, Sileya, who knows how long it's going to be before you have to take over."
"Oh, come on," Buffy said, standing up with a grunt. "The other girl's doing okay."
"Not really," Giles told her, facing off with Sileya again. "When are you going to start training again?"
"When I can fit back into my spandex," she said, sitting down next to Xander. "Can I say you were really right and not get an 'I told you so'?"
"Sure," he said, nudging Buffy on the shoulder. "How many pounds are you off now?"
"Ten I think. It felt like ten when I tried to do a spin kick this morning." She rubbed her stomach. "I wonder how the baby's doing?"
"Call Doyle and ask. I'm sure he's still awake," Xander said with a grin. "He's not going to get much sleep for the next month and a half."
Buffy shook her head. "With my luck, it'll be the first sleep he's getting. I'll call Angel while you guys are gone." She looked toward the end of the driveway as a car stopped. "Not the mailman." She pointed. "Giles, visitors," she called, watching as the car drove off. "Or not." She stood up as Oz pulled back up the driveway, heading back inside. "I think I'm going to call the office, see if they know anything."
"Good idea," Xander said, giving her a grin. He turned back in time to see Sileya putting Giles on his butt again, so he clapped for her. "Good shot. Just remember, these guys are a lot faster than he is. Can you do that at higher speeds?" She shrugged. "Might want to try." He walked down to help Giles up, looking at Sileya. "Maybe you should schedule some sparring time with Spike. He's one of the toughest opponents Buffy ever faced and he's pretty muchly a captive audience since Willow got hold of him." He watched Oz as he walked past, giving him a look. "You okay?"
"Yeah, fine," Oz said, heading for the door. "Let me go to the bathroom and get a drink and we can go." He walked into the house.
Xander shrugged and went back to his sitting on the porch steps, watching as Sileya squared off against Giles again. "Tighten your back and stomach," he called. "You're making a way big target that way." She stuck her tongue out at him, still managing to duck Giles' blow. "Are we sure you're not chosen yet?" he asked.
"Yes, I am," Giles said, frowning at Sileya. "She's not got the enhanced strength yet. A cocky attitude but none of the other parts of the gift." She stuck her tongue out at him and headed to sit down. "I do agree with Xander on a few things though. I want you to start scheduling time to spar with both Buffy and Spike if you can talk him into it."
"That's easy," Sileya said, turning and plopping down on the steps. "Just ask Willow to sweet talk him." She gave Giles a sweet, syrupy smile. "Am I starting to do better?"
"Yes, dear, much better," he said as he wiped off his face and neck. "You're doing well enough that I'll let you start to patrol with Buffy when she's back in shape."
"Which will be in a few weeks," Xander pointed out. "She's only a few weeks post-birth. She's still supposed to be resting too." Giles scowled at him. "Hey, doctor's orders. The baby skewered her and it's been kinda rough on her. Besides, you didn't used to let her go out while she was on her period. She's still bleeding for another few weeks."
"And how would you know that?" Giles asked.
"Because it's the same amount of time you bleed if you miscarry," Xander said, standing up and heading into the house. "I'll be back in a few. You might want to get presentable."
"What was that about?" Sileya asked.
"Nothing. Go shower and do the tapes I gave you. We'll try to go for an hour longer tomorrow to start building you endurance." He walked past her, heading into the house.
"Okay, another one of those things that never got settled I guess," Sileya said, pushing herself up and heading up to her room. "At least he's nice about telling me to mind my own business."
"About what?" Oz asked as he passed her on the steps.
"Giles got frigid about Xander making an observation about Buffy's condition. Something about bleeding and miscarriages. When I asked what that was about, he politely told me it wasn't my concern."
"Ah. Very true. We'll explain it to you some day." He went back to heading for the kitchen, grabbing a travel mug to fill with water. "Xander?" he called.
Oz walked that way, walking back to where Xander was standing. "You okay?"
"Yup, just peachy." Xander put back Miri's baby book, turning to look at his lover. "We've got to wait for Giles. He's taking a shower."
"I know. We passed each other in the bedroom." Oz looked at the books. "What was it about?"
"I reminded him that Buffy couldn't go out for a couple of weeks. Reminded him of the doctors orders and things like she's still bleeding. He asked how I knew, so I told him." He shrugged, sitting down in one of the nearby chairs. "No big."
Oz knelt in front of Xander. "If we're going to work this out in a way that's going to stick, you're going to have to share all those not bigs with us. Even if they hurt us. I need a clue to know sometimes, but I want to be there when something bothers you."
"I'm fine, Oz, really. I'm over the whole miscarriage thing. Some times it hurts when I think about it, but I'm over it."
"If you were over it, it wouldn't hurt so much. It'd be a dull ache." He looked at Xander's stomach. "You want another one, don't you?"
"Yeah, I do. Some day," Xander said quickly at the opening mouth. "Not right now but sometime in the future. Maybe a real little boy that I actually liked the other parent of."
Oz nodded. "I said we'd see, and I'm still considering it. Are you still having problems accepting how both you are?" Xander shrugged. "It's starting to come out in your speech patterns. Like just then."
"What did I say that was off?" Xander asked, shifting.
"You said a 'real little boy'. I suppose you meant as opposed to Blair and you."
"Maybe," Xander sighed, leaning over for a hug. "I'm not so sure I can help Blair through the problems he's going to start having soon."
"That's because you're still discovering who you are," Oz told him, setting him back in the chair. "I'm here for your explorations, as long as they don't tear us apart." He looked out the window. "Is stripping part of that? Some way to test your sexuality?"
"No, I know what my sexuality is, that's just a job," Xander told him coolly. "It's never been anything but a job."
"Shh," Oz whispered, hugging him. "It was a question not an accusation. It's reasonable to think, right?" Xander shook his head. "Why not?"
"Because I already know which way I go."
"Yeah, and so do we, but you've been distant since you started doing that." Oz kissed his cheek, going back to his kneeling. "Xander, these things have to come out. We're going to be doing some bitter fighting this time. It's going to hurt, but it's got to happen. We can't keep going with the polite lies and secrets. We almost got it the last time but then things happened that started to interfere with that."
"Like the twins," Xander said softly.
"And like you getting that job. And like me doing what I've been doing, waffling about my future. Then we all started to drift apart. Pretty soon, we're not going to be able to stay together, the walls are going to be too high."
"I thought The Wall was about oppression and societal norms," Xander quipped dryly.
"That's a defense mechanism. No more jokes at hard moments. Truth and only the truth."
"I need to do that, Oz, sometimes things hurt too much to think about."
"But we're going to have to or we're going to have to do this again. Wouldn't you rather end the fighting this time?" Xander sighed and nodded. "Then lets try to be totally honest. That defense mechanism was great because it gave us a way to tell when you were getting uncomfortable but it's not good anymore."
"I'll try," Xander conceded. "Okay?"
"Maybe. If you can learn to correct for it. If not, then you're going to have to totally take it off your list of things to do when you're uncomfy."
Xander nodded. "If you say so."
"I do." Oz stood up. "Come on, Giles should be done by now." He grabbed his mug of water, leading the way out into the kitchen.
"Why can't I be me?" Xander asked. "Why do I have to change?" He walked out, turning off the lights. Which turned back on as soon as the door was closed again. "I saw that," he called to the ghost. "You're going to pay that electric bill." The lights went back off. "Thank you." Xander walked down the hall, heading out to the car since Oz wasn't in the kitchen. He touched the hood first, then when it wasn't that hot, he sat on it, looking at his nails. He looked up as he heard someone walking towards him, giving Sileya a smile. "What's up?" he asked, patting the hood.
"Giles is using all the hot water still." She hopped up beside him. "You can tell me to go away too, but what was with the crack about miscarriages?"
"Um, real uncomfortable subject," Xander said, looking at the ground. "You've changed Blair's diapers, right?" He looked over and she nodded. "Have you noticed anything different?"
"Oh, you mean that ...." He nodded. "Okay, so Blair's a herm. It's not unheard of."
"The Hellmouth, the thing that you're going to be keeping from opening, tends to make more of them here. Like on orders of multiples."
"Magnitude," she corrected absently. "So, are you one?" He nodded. "And did you?"
He coughed. "Yeah, I did. Once. It's still one of those touchy subjects between us. Everything seems to be one these days but that was especially painful. I miscarried while they were changed one night; they came back to being human and found me in a tub of bloody water." She grimaced and spit. "They ended up making me miscarry before I could finish doing it because Willow had accidentally gotten the Goddess to bless me with fertility at the same time she did the twins. That's why she got pregnant so easily."
"Okay, so you're one and this horrible thing happened to you. What did your men do?"
"Giles thought I didn't want it. Oz was kinda 'whatever you want'- ish. I didn't get a chance to know what I wanted. I was really starting to accept the reality when it happened." He shrugged, going back to watching his feet swing. "End of story."
"No, beginning of one. Is that when the bad things started?" He shook his head. "Then why didn't you tell them that you were still upset over it?"
"Because I'm guessing that everyone whose ever miscarried is still upset over it, no matter how long it's been."
"Not really. My 'sister'," she did the quotes, "is still really sad." She hopped off the car when she heard the door slam. "Go try to work it out. Nothing's going to be right if you can't." He gave her a weak smile. "I mean it. If you don't work it out, who am I going to depend on around here?" She walked away, giving the men a little wave. "I'll be here all night if you need to stay longer. Willow is bringing the kids back in an hour." She headed into the house, not aware Giles was following until he stopped her. "What's up? Different plans?"
"I do wish you wouldn't delve into my personal affairs."
She pulled free. "Hate to tell you this, but Xander's the only one of everyone around me right now that's treated me like a normal human being. I don't want to see him hurt, that's what friends do." She looked him over. "At least he talks to me." She turned and walked up to her bedroom, ignoring his hurt look. She flopped down on her bed, putting her head down. "Please don't hurt him too much, guys. I really need the friend."
Giles walked out to the car, pointing inside for Xander's benefit since he was still on the hood. "Not coming?" he asked.
"No, I asked Oz to give us a minute." He slid off, getting right into Giles' face. "I don't mind if she asks me what's going on. She lives here too and I'm the only family she seems to be growing. You're treating her like some special needs kid, Giles, and it isn't fair to her. She may be a Slayer sometime soon but she's still fifteen. She still needs friends and stability." He got into the back of the car, slamming the door.
"We okay?" Oz asked. Xander shook his head. "Does this include me?"
"No, you ignore her. I guess that's better than trying to break what little self-confidence she has."
"I don't do that," Giles said, sitting down and closing the door, turning to look at his lover. "I don't try to break her down."
"What did you tell her when she was having problems with a teacher understanding she was more advanced than a football player?"
Giles shook his head. "To try harder."
"Which was wrong. She always tries her best. It's who she is, same as you do. She's not a slacker like I am. Why not ask her what the problem was and then help her get past it? Or even listen when the problem continued?"
"Because I didn't think she needed it. She never told me the problem was ongoing."
"Would you have?" Xander asked bitterly. "If it was Willow, you would have sat her down and given her tea and let her vent. If it were Buffy, you'd calm her down and get her thinking around the problem. When it's Sileya, she's left on her own." Xander looked at the door.
"Don't," Oz warned. "We'll do this with Blair too." He looked at Giles. "He is right about one thing, I'm leaving the Slayage teaching to you. She probably does get disinterest from me. And he's right about another thing, you're way harder on her than I've ever seen you be with Buffy."
"Buffy was older..." Giles said but both younger men shook their heads. "She also came to me partially trained."
"Buffy's first Watcher died before he could do much more training than 'stick a stake here'," Xander told him. "You told me that once, that's why you were so proud of her for beating Lothos by herself." He hunched down in the seat. "Sileya's father is being held against her, or that's what she thinks."
"How do you know this?" Giles asked coldly.
"Because I'm becoming her big brother and confidant. She needs one of those. She was taken from everything she's ever known, put in a strange environment where no one is like her, and expected to live up to a bitter person's demands."
"I am *not* bitter," Giles protested.
"Yeah, you are. You're bitter because you're done training Buffy and you thought you were free of it. You're bitter because you don't like her father and you're bitter because you can't have absolute control over her like you would have Kendra. That's what she sees. That's why she worked so hard on those special moves, to impress you." Xander shook his head. "This is her fight, but I'm going to stand beside her. Up to the point where she's going to be sent to another hot spot."
"She may be staying here," Oz told him. "Buffy got an invite from the Council to come see them."
"They wouldn't!" Giles said. He looked at the house. "That won't do at all."
"You've got to let her go sometime," Oz reminded him gently. "Same as you will Miri and Elizabeth."
"I know that, but she's needed here. Her instincts were trained for here."
"And she's the first one here in how long?" Xander asked. "We've had a total of what, four Slayers here since Buffy came?"
"Yes," Giles ground out.
"Why didn't they stay and Buffy go somewhere else to fight? If Kelly had gotten pregnant, would Buffy have went to cover for her?"
"Kelly never would have been allowed to get pregnant," Giles told him, his tone dripping ice now. "Buffy's case was spectacular. That's probably what the Council wanted to talk to her about."
"It said assignment options," Oz said quietly, looking at his hands. "Maybe they're going to let her train Sileya for a while."
"Maybe," Xander agreed. "She's up to the point where she's admitting she's not up to par yet." He looked at Giles. "Why are you jealous of our friendship? Sileya won't take me away from you."
"If she wanted to, she could demand that you be her Watcher," Giles said, turning around and starting the car. "We'll discuss this some other time."
"Later today," Xander agreed. Giles glared at him in the mirror. "Yay, she needs to be discussed. I'm not going to let one of my few friends be the reason we're being torn apart, same as I won't let anything else do it." He shifted, making sure he was hitched up, then lay down. "I'm going to nap, I didn't get much chance last night."
"Sleep," Oz agreed. He laid a hand on Giles' thigh. "He's got a few points. Some are stretched but it's probably from her point of view. You're very hard and demanding to her. I found her crying the other day because you wouldn't listen to her. She feels isolated here."
Giles sighed. "I'll talk with her later. We'll get this whole mess straightened out." He put the car in reverse, backing down the drive.
Blair covered his ears. "Xander, stop!" he ordered. "You're babbling again." He looked at his primary patient, trying to stay calm. "Where's all this stuff coming from? I thought you had gotten over some of those things." He looked at Oz, who had sighed and sat down first. "What did you tell him?"
"That he had to be brutally honest, even if it hurt."
"And I'm still not done with all my problems," Xander pointed out.
"You have way more than the rest of us," Oz told him. "I only have the 'you're being cold to us' one usually."
Blair held up a hand. "Stop. If these are concerns of his then we have to deal with them. First and oldest problems first. Xander, have you opened the envelope with the genetic test results yet?" The young man shook his head, taking a seat in the corner. "Do you want to bring it in tomorrow and open it here?" Xander shook his head. "Okay, how about an answer this time?"
"His throat still hurts probably," Giles said, rubbing down the bridge of his nose.
"I'm able to talk," Xander said, looking down at his hands. "That's one of those cases where I want to know but I don't want to know in case it changes a lot of things."
Blair hummed then picked up the phone, dialing it. "Hi, this is Blair Sandburg, I need to speak to Doctor Adams." He tapped his fingers a few times and spun to face the desk. "Hi, yes, it is. No, Xander still hasn't opened the envelope and he wants to know..." He smiled and wrote something down. "Thank you. No, this may clear up a few things." He laughed and hung up. "Xander, you missed your last two appointments." He handed over the paper after folding it over. "It's there when you want to look at it."
"I have an envelope at home with the same stuff," Xander said, turning it around in his hand.
"Can I look?" Oz asked, holding out a hand. Xander just looked at him. "Please? I'd like to know."
Blair shook his head. "Him first. This is his life, guys."
"I have no problems seeing Xander as a full male," Giles said, sitting up. "That's never been the problem. It's turned out that he had the least chance of going out and getting a well paying job so we went out to do it instead. Even though I may be losing mine."
"Problems at work?" Blair asked, focusing on him. "Does this have something to do with the mysterious person demanding you get the job?" Giles nodded. "What sort of problems?"
"Everything's my fault, even if it's not my department. A few weeks back, when Xander and I were sitting in his office before Oz came in with the damning evidence, my boss blamed me for losing an endowment even though the family had withdrawn it because they didn't like the display. Whenever something comes up missing, it's automatically my fault, even though the thief that stole things before is still working there. Everything's become my fault, even when I had nothing to do with it." He leaned back. "This problem of Xander's came at an inconvenient time for the rest of us."
"Problems rarely wait for good moments," Blair reminded him. He saw Xander looking hard at the paper out of the corner of his eye. "Oz, what about you? Any problems in school?"
"Not many," Oz said, dragging his gaze away from Xander to look at him. "A problem teacher, nothing else. Xander, want me to open it and then tell you?" He got a head shake.
"This is something only he can do," Blair reminded them. "This is directly impacting his life and..." He stopped as Xander opened the paper and burst out laughing. "See, not so bad," he said with a grin. "Ease a few worries?"
"But then how..." He waved at his crotch.
"You'd have to ask your doctor when you go back in tomorrow," Blair said, looking at Oz. "I want you to make sure he goes to his appointment. His doctor's concerned about a hormonal surge."
"Not another one," Giles groaned, leaning his head back.
"I'm not pregnant," Xander said dryly. "I'd be too far along to not show if I was."
"Good point," Oz said, getting up sit on the arm of Xander's chair. "Can I see now?"
Xander looked up and grinned. "I'm not our daughter."
"Good," Oz said, giving him a small smile. "You're genetically male?"
"With a small part of an extra 'X' chromosome, I'd guess," Blair said, leaning back in his chair again. "Xander, does this ease a few of your doubts?"
"Only if it means I don't have to be a wife anymore."
"Not those," Oz said, rubbing over Xander's ear. "The other ones that had you doubting your existence last month." His lover looked up at him. "Yeah, I knew about them. It was kinda hard to miss the Cosmo in the bathroom." Xander blushed. "You're still cute when you do that." He gave him a small peck on the lips. "There, better?"
"A little," Xander agreed, looking into the changing eyes, "but some main issues are still here. I'm not a robot, I need praise and love too."
"We know that," Giles reminded him, "but we never know when you need it."
"All the time would be good," Xander told him, a little frostily. "What harm is it going to do to tell me that you love me and that you think I did a good job not giving us all food poisoning?"
"None," Giles admitted, shaking his head and lying down on the couch. "I never thought that you needed that much love."
"We all do," Blair told him. "Some of us need to feel it more the way you do and some need to hear it more the way he does. Xander's a very tactile and touchy person. He needs to know that he's doing a good job and he needs the constant affection that a close relationship would bring. This isn't new, Rupert, and you said you'd change to help him over this."
"Why do I have to be the one to change?" Giles asked, sitting up. "Why can't he?"
"I *have* changed!" Xander yelled, standing up to loom over him. "I've done nothing but change since you met me. I'm not even me anymore and now I have to change again? Hate to tell you this, but I need to keep a *little* bit of myself." He looked around the room. "I'm going to go sit outside for a few minutes." He walked out, leaving the door open.
Blair looked at Giles. "Has he?" he asked.
"I have no idea. I've not seen any evidence of it."
"I have," Oz said. "It's mostly bad. He's become chilly instead of warm. The only one of us he's connecting with is Buffy and Sileya. Even the kids aren't sure who he is some days." He sat beside Giles, reaching over to brush over his cheek. "Xander needs this. He needs the appreciation. Same as Sileya does, same as Buffy did, same as I do. Even you need it, but when Xander doesn't get it, he turns cold and confused. We're pulling his world apart because we're reacting to his silent cues and those are in reaction to us not catching on fast enough so it's getting cyclical."
"Xander won't ask for it," Giles complained. "Why won't he ask?"
"Do you have to?" Blair asked.
Giles stared at him. "No, but..." He shook his head. "Xander's always there to give me whatever I need without my asking for it. I can't do the same though, I can't read his mind. I don't know when he's upset by something, he hides it too bloody well."
"He may," Blair said, "but what about his emotional cues? When does he start to get cuddly?" He stopped as the phone rang, waiting to see if his secretary was going to get it. He looked out the door as it was answered, watching her walk outside and come back with Xander. "When does he start to seem cold and distant? What's the step before those?"
"He starts to worry," Oz said slowly, clearly thinking about it. "He starts to worry about things like working and the money situation. He starts to eat a lot of comfort food. Cereal, mashed potatoes, things like that. He avoids meat for some reason."
"It makes his stomach hurt when he's upset," Giles said softly. "So, when I see those, I'm supposed to tell him I appreciate him?"
"If it's the truth, yes, if not you need to figure out what's wrong. Xander will never *ask* for anything, he's been trained too strictly to do it for himself. Unfortunately you can't give yourself the tactile stimulation of the sort he needs. You can't praise yourself enough to lift yourself back up. This is why he needs someone outside himself, and all they have to do is watch him for the little things."
"The quirks," Oz finished, getting a smile. "The bad jokes when he's in pain from the subject. The fussing over the kids when we're getting him down because all he does is stay home." Blair nodded. "So, what do we do?"
"You react to the situation as called for," Blair told him firmly. "Think of it this way, if Miri or one of the twins was giving off these signals, what would you do?"
"I'd stop them from destroying whatever it was and give them a hug while asking them what was wrong," Giles said, looking out the door as he heard Xander's voice. "What's going on?"
"I'm sure we'll know soon."
"Why didn't we ask Xander when he started to disappear into his room all the time?" Oz asked.
"I thought the whole purpose of those was for us to have a private life."
"Giles, how many times have the kids been in your room?"
"Oh. I see." Giles gave him a weak smile. "Xander doesn't have a private function apart from them, does he?" Oz shook his head. "Then we're back at square one. The only job he can find is harmful to him and us, and he refuses to go to college or learn a trade."
"He blackmailed his teachers to graduate," Oz told him, suppressing a smile.
"Oh, he did, did he?" Giles asked, groaning when he got two nods. "I think I'd best have a talk with him then."
"No, don't," Blair said, waving him off. "It's not like it's a present concern. Xander's hatred of school may be, but he's sure he doesn't do well in that situation."
"He doesn't," Oz said. "He used to have Willow tutoring him all the time because he never understood it." He glanced toward the door. "When I first met him, I wondered if he could read because Willow would patiently explain everything in the book to him."
"I've seen him read," Giles said with a small smile. "Never very often or for very long but when necessary he can comprehend rather well."
Xander tapped on the door, looking very pale. "Blair, how many kills does it take to make it a serial killer as opposed to a sick person?" he asked, sliding down to sit in the doorway.