GHS 6: Finding Him, Fixing Them.
An old man stepped out of his house next to the one Oz was trying to get into. "He ain't home," the old man called. He shuffled over, stopping on the far side of the driveway that was separating the houses. "He's gettin' groceries. He yours?" He looked Oz over. "The boy needs a keeper. He spent his first week mopin' around before he got himself a job."
Oz nodded. "Where's the store?"
"About six miles down the road on the left, but he'll be home soon."
"Define soon," Oz asked, stepping closer to him.
"Half-hour, hour maybe." He shrugged. "He's not real regular." The old man shuffled over to a bare patch of ground. "Too bad he wasn't here earlier, he'd do good with a garden. Give him a way to work off his energy, that boy's awfully jumpy."
"He's like that," Oz said quietly as he walked to the edge of the cleared area. "He been okay?"
"Nah, he's lonely. Kept tryin' ta fix him up with someone but he only wanted the one he wanted." He glanced up. "I pictured you as a bigger guy. Though he did say you were strong and smart."
"Maybe, but not without him." Oz looked at the plant remains littering the ground. "Tomatoes?"
"Yup, yellow ones. You have a garden?"
"Not recently." Oz looked up as he heard a car coming.
"That's Gladys. His car sounds different." The old man picked up a dried stalk, breaking it up. "What happened between you two? All he said was it was his fault."
"He broke up a fight I was in then ran away. I tried to keep him out of it but he jumped in." Oz kicked a clump of dirt. "He didn't even give me a chance. Not to complain or to thank him."
"Ah. Yeah, the boy'll get in the way. Alex is a do-gooder." One of Oz's eyebrows went up but the old man didn't even look at him. "He wanted a new life."
"Oh." Oz checked the house behind him. "Has he been okay otherwise?"
"Yup. Just lonely." He pulled up another stalk. "What took you so long?"
"I found him three days ago." Oz squatted down to look at the plant remains. "Is there something I need to know?"
"Nah, you'll do fine, just don't let him apologize."
"No," the old man cut him off, looking at him. "It can wait. Don't let him do it now." He smiled as he heard another car. "That's him. Be good ta him, he deserves it."
"And more," Oz agreed as he stood up. He walked over to Xander's house's porch and sat down, watching as the old Blazer pulled into the driveway.
Xander didn't look at his house as he slid out, grabbing a few bags. "I got you the stuff you like," he said as he handed his neighbor the bags. "Rocky Road and a bottle of cherries too." He walked around to the back of his Blazer and found Oz waiting there. "Still need a bell?" He unlocked the gates, opening them and grabbing some bags. "I got them," he said firmly, pushing Oz out of the way when he tried to grab something.
"I know. You've always been competent." Oz grabbed a few bags. "Less trips this way." He looked down at the bag his lover had dropped. "I'll get it, go unlock the door." Xander just stood there. "Xand? Refrigeration helps things."
"Yeah. Yeah, you're right." Xander picked up the remaining bags and headed for his porch.
Oz picked up the dropped bag, walking slowly after his lover. He walked into the house, setting the bags on top of the stove. "Gates are still up." He sat down on a stool beside the stove, waiting for Xander to come back in.
Xander took his time walking out to his truck to close the back. He leaned his head against the glass to take a few deep breaths, his eyes closed to help him calm down.
"You okay, Alex?" his neighbor called.
"Yeah, just inhaling the lingering exhaust," he called back. He looked toward the old man's house. "Did I get everything?"
"Yup, and something extra."
Xander blushed and jogged toward the old man's house, taking back the box. "Sorry." He took the money he was handed. "Thanks." He trudged back to his house and stopped as he opened the door. "Letting me do it all?"
"Didn't think you wanted me to do it," Oz told him quietly.
"Oh." Xander closed the door. "No old guy and Giles?"
"Giles is training with Connor and Meth. Richie's in London doing something for the old guy. Mac's still living, he's chained to Connor's wall." Xander nodded, taking off his jacket and hanging it up. He grabbed a bag, walking the four feet to the fridge and cabinets, silently putting the bag's contents up. "I only found you three days ago," Oz tried.
"Took the first flight?"
"Second, couldn't make the first."
"Oh." Xander grabbed another bag, heading for the freezer. "Why come?"
Oz stood up, walking up behind his lover's stiff body. "I needed you. You're the reason I don't want to lose anymore." He slowly wrapped his arms around the younger man's waist. "You're the first person in a long time that made me want to keep going." He took the milk from the frozen hand, putting it away for him. "I missed you," he said quietly.
"Why? You were tired of me." Xander turned around to look at him. "Oz, you hated me."
"No, I hated how you kept trying to interfere in my fights because most of the people I fight would hurt you too." Oz looked up, seeing the wet eyes. "I could never hate you, Xand, not ever." He leaned forward, resting on the warm shoulder. " I can't think without you," he whispered. "Everything's stopped. No work, no thoughts, no dreams without you."
Xander pushed Oz back with a frown. "I don't need a guilt trip." He grabbed another bag and slammed it into the refrigerator. "I really didn't need this, Oz, not at all. I have enough stress and guilt in my life without guilt for ruining your life."
Oz grabbed Xander, forcefully turning him around. "Wasn't meant to make you feel guilty, it was a statement of need." Oz looked at his hands and let Xander go. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to hurt you more." He pulled out his wallet and handed over a card. "My cellphone. When you want me, call." He put back his wallet, heading toward the door. "I'm at the bed and breakfast for a few days." He closed the door behind himself.
Xander slumped in on himself, sitting down on the stool. "Oz, why are you doing this?" After a few seconds he put the card down on top of the microwave and stood up, going back to putting up his groceries.
Oz looked at the credit card in his hands, considering staying for another day. He sat up when someone knocked on his door, walking over and throwing it open. "Yes?" he asked the desk clerk on the other side, his disappointment showing.
"A letter was just delivered for you, sir," he said, handing over a pale grey envelope. "Are you staying longer? The manager wanted to know so she could plan room assignments for an upcoming wedding."
Oz shrugged. "One more day I know of. It all depends on him." He slit open the envelope with his nail. "I'll tell you later," he murmured as he shut the door. He sat at the desk to pull out the paper inside. A ticket fell out of the folded, heavy, cream paper. Which when he opened it, only contained a time. "Okay, Xander," he whispered. He grabbed the phone, hitting the zero. "This is Mr. Osbourne." He grinned. "Yeah, it was. Give me two days?" He nodded. "Okay, I can understand that. Is there..." He wrote something down on the back of the paper Xander had sent. "Could you book me a room? Really? Thanks." He hung up, turning to look out the window. He stood up, grabbing his suitcase to pull out some clean clothes.
Oz slid into his seat in the theater, not looking at the man beside him. He relaxed as a hand slowly moved over to touch his. "Hi," he whispered as the previews started.
A third of the way through the action movie, a head was laid on his shoulder so Oz tipped his head to press against his love's. By the end of the movie they were cuddled together, Xander resting against Oz's chest and under his arm. As the credits rolled, Oz let the shifting Xander up, staying in his seat. "I have to leave the bed and breakfast tomorrow," Oz said quietly as the lights came back on.
"Why?" Xander asked, staring straight ahead.
"There's a twenty-six person wedding party coming in the day after tomorrow. They booked me at the closest traveling businessman's hotel, the ones with the suites that have kitchens."
"That's almost an hour away." Xander stood up and grabbed his jacket.
Oz stood up, walking out after him, stopping his lover outside the old theater. "It was the closest place." All he got was a nod. "Xander, I'm still going to be here. All you have to do is call." He looked around then checked his watch. "Dinner?"
"Nothing's open, it's after eight," Xander said with a small smile. "If you wanted, you could stay with me."
Oz took Xander's hand and squeezed it. "We still need some careful putting back together." The younger man's face fell. "I'd be too tempted to pick up where we left off without all the talking stuff, and I want to start there."
"And this stuff?"
"Definitely this stuff. I miss going out to do stuff." Oz squeezed his hand again before letting it go. "When you're ready, call and we'll do this again."
Xander nodded. "Dinner? Tomorrow night?"
"Give me a time and place."
Xander gave him a slow, bright smile. "There's a great place down the street. I'll make reservations and call you for when." Oz nodded so Xander started to walk away. "I've got your number."
Oz waited until he was alone to smile. "Yup, you do." He headed for Xander's old car, sliding into the Lexus and turning it on to get heat.
Xander tapped his fingers on the table to try and avoid looking at his watch. The maitre'd walked over and handed him the phone. "Oz?"
//Refereeing between Meth and Giles,// he groaned.
Xander snorted. "How much longer?"
//Grab dinner and come see me for dessert? Shut up! I'm already *way* late to be at dinner with Xander!//
Xander sighed. "It's late, Oz."
//I've already paid for dinner so order. I'm sorry. I wanted to be there *so* much.//
"I know," Xander said as he hung up. He looked up to see the understanding look in his waiter's eyes. "He's refereeing between friends and can't get away." He picked up the menu and actually got it open before dropping it. "Just some coffee and that pie that I can smell in the kitchen." His waiter left, leaving him looking out the window.
Oz walked into the bookstore Xander worked in, giving his lover a small smile. He walked back into the shelves, browsing through the meager collection but picking up some things that looked interesting. He even found a history book he had been waiting to read for a few years. He stepped up to the counter that served as a check-out, putting down the stack. Three cd's were put on top of them and he didn't question it, just pulled out his wallet.
"Anything else, sir?" the woman working beside Xander asked, giving him a pleased smile.
"Your co-worker for the afternoon." She gasped and Xander's mouth fell open. "I owe him a meal. I got stuck dealing with whiney people when I was supposed to dine with him." Xander shot him a look. "No?"
She nudged Xander with her elbow. "Go with him. Make him buy you that cd you've been wanting."
Oz held up a hand. "If he doesn't want it to be now, I'll gladly wait. Though I have a lunch packed for us in the car."
Xander walked around the counter, silently heading for his car. He waited until Oz was beside him to say anything. "You're way open about us," he complained.
"I'm sorry," Oz said, reaching over to touch the dark hair. "I didn't think you'd mind me being romantic." Xander shook his head. "I'm not?"
"Yeah, it was," Xander sighed, relaxing. "This is just a hold-over from last night. Get it fixed?"
"Giles summoned a demon to prove that they exist to another person the old guy had called in to help with the research. It drank all of Meth's beer."
Xander chuckled. "No wonder. How are they?"
"Fine. They're not mad either, just upset that you ran and hid." Oz's hand slid from the soft hair down to the rough cheek. "You have chapped skin."
"It's been windy." Xander turned in his seat. "You bought two hundred dollars worth of books and a picnic lunch? I'm not that pissed."
"No, but I need something to do when I can't sleep." Oz started the car. "Every time I try, I see how it could have turned out." He shuddered. "Not a pretty dream."
"I'm fine," Xander reassured him, resting his hand on Oz's thigh. "Want to picnic on my rug? It's warmer and my dog's home again."
"Hey, cool." Oz put the car in gear, backing out of the space. "When did you get a dog?"
"I needed something there. She's a good girl, likes to cuddle at night, but she's a mooch."
"Ah, begging. I was going to try that soon."
"You don't have the eyes for it," Xander told him as they pulled into his driveway. He grabbed the bag of books as he hopped out, pulling his keys out as he walked up the three stairs to the porch.
Oz had the two bags with lunch and was almost to the porch when he was run over by a small bundle of fur.
"Rocky! Get your hairy butt back in here!" Xander stood in the door, shooting his dog a glare. "Now!"
Rocky bounced around Oz's ankles, trying to grab the bags or trip him up. "Help?" Oz asked.
Xander walked down to grab the dog, falling onto his knees when his puppy tried to wiggle out of his grasp so he could catch her again. He looked up with a big grin. "We're a lot alike." He stood up, carrying the bundle of fur inside with him. "Come on!"
Oz walked up the three steps, kicking the door shut so Rocky couldn't get out. "Want plates or are containers good enough?"
"Whatever, this is your seduction."
"Nope," Oz said as he dropped the bags onto the stove. "Not a seduction. Simply a date." He looked around the kitchen. "Here?"
"No, living room." He watched Oz set everything out in the middle of the floor, amazed by the care he was showing. He winced as Rocky decided to help but she was simply picked up and put in between Oz's legs, the way he was sitting providing a natural napping depression. Xander sat down across from his lover, watching him closer. "This is nice," he said, looking over the food, almost everything was something he had said was his favorite at one time or another. Oz had even remembered to bring Ho-Ho's and Twinkies. "Wow. Very thorough."
"You deserve no less," Oz reminded him. He picked up a piece of folded paper, handing it over. "But I did bring a present. It's a fax from Giles."
Xander opened the letter and read it slowly, nibbling on the fruit salad that had been put in front of him. He smiled and wiped off his cheeks. "That's sweet."
"I feel the same, he's just better at saying it." Oz looked down at his cheeseburger, unwrapping it to check and make sure it was done right. "I'm willing to wait until you're ready to come home to me, us, Xander." A hand was put on the side of his face and he looked up to find that the young man had moved over to sit beside him. "Did you want me to shift..."
"Shh," Xander said, kissing Oz's cheek. "I do love you, but we do need to talk. I did..." A hand was placed over his mouth so he removed it. "I did and I think I owe you an apology."
"Not even close. You don't owe me anything. You were trying to protect me, even though it broke some rules that I live by." Oz ran the tip of his thumb across Xander's bottom lip. "I love you for interfering and for not wanting me to lose alone, but you can't help me there. With everything else in my life, yes, but not during the fights." He looked into the brown eyes, seeing the understanding there. "When you do things like what you did, it's like cheating. I'm one of the good guys so I'm not supposed to cheat. Surprise them maybe but not cheat."
"I know and I'm..." Oz covered his mouth again.
"There's nothing to apologize for, Xander. I need to apologize for being so hard on you about it and for not sitting down like this to explain the rules to you. I also have to apologize for not treating you how you needed to be treated." He stole a tender, gentle kiss, not really more than a brush of lips. "Eat, dear, I like to watch you do that. You always take such pleasure from the simple things."
"Not anymore," Xander said, looking down at his puppy. "I'm not happy, Oz, and I can't take pleasure from anything."
"Shh, I'm here now. We're working on it and you'll be happy again if I can help it." Xander looked up in shock. "Yeah, I know, that's one of those scary thoughts but I want to have that forever with you and to make sure that you're happy most of it." He picked up a piece of melon from the fruit cup, rubbing it across the younger man's lips before letting his bite into it. "See?"
"You're going to feed me for as long as we live?" Xander asked with a self-conscious grin.
"If you'd like." Oz leaned in to lick over the damp lips. "Whatever you need, I want to be that guy."
"Just like the song?"
"Yup, just like that. Which is why I have some major apologizing to do still."
"This is a good start."
"This is just lunch. Apologies have to be made with long walks to look at flowers and stuff."
"Um, Oz, this is October in Vermont. There's going to be snow soon. No more flowers until May."
"If I have to, I'll wait that long," Oz told him as he picked up a grape, popping it into Xander's mouth with his thumb so he could press against the soft lips.
"No, I don't have that sort of patience. By spring I want to be home again."
"Okay." Oz picked up a chicken wing, dipping it for the young man and lifting it to his lips. "Here, try these, they tasted great in the store."
Xander nibbled on the wing with a smile, grabbing it from the willing fingers to eat. "You need to eat too," he reminded. "I can't enjoy supper if you're not eating."
Oz picked up his burger and took a bite, chewing quickly. "Better?" His hands went back down by his lap.
"Nope, I have *way* too much food and you've only got that." He looked down at his puppy. "And she may be taking it soon." He finished just as Rocky snuck a bite of the burger.
Oz looked down, giving her a bland look. "You wanted it that bad?" He put it down on his leg. "Okay." He grabbed one of the wings. "Can I share?"
"You've always shared very well." Xander leaned over to lick off some of the burger's juice. "Needed a napkin."
"Hmm, you're a better one." Oz groaned as the dog moved in his lap. "How old is she?"
"Just old enough to be given away. Her old mother had three outside of the grocery store to give away a few weeks back. I almost kept all three. There was a red one that was almost the same color as your hair, and a dark one that was almost mine, but I decided the blond one would be safer."
Oz licked his lips and put the bones back into the bag. "I can see how that might have been wiser. Looking at one that had my hair color might have hurt." He took Xander's hand, holding it. "Meth gave me a teddy bear that had hair the same color as yours. Even Giles is refusing to be around me. He says I'm depressing." Xander frowned at him. "He does. Meth took my sword from me and started locking me in the house. He said it's not safe for me to go out. Every time I have someone shows up or Mac gets free and tries to kill me."
"He sent you out without your sword?"
"No, he didn't know I left. He was planning on showing up and dragging you down to Connor's and locking us in together." Oz picked up another wing, nibbling on it. "They're really worried about me, Xander, and I can see why."
"I thought you were being poetic," Xander muttered, pulling Oz's head over to rest against his forehead. "I'm sorry, Oz, I shouldn't have left like that. I just didn't want to have another argument. We'd had so many and we were trying to work it out when that happened." He looked down at the nose trying to get more of the food. "Touch that and have to eat puppychow tonight," he warned. His puppy's nose quickly withdrew back into Oz's lap. "Thank you."
"Gee, she really likes people food."
"She thinks she is a people," Xander said, sitting up. "I want you to come here and stay, Oz. I have extra rooms and you can have one if you want to. No pressure to take up where we left off, just shelter and talking." Oz shook his head but the puppy barked. "See, she agrees with me."
Oz looked down at the big, warm, brown eyes looking up at him. "She has eyes like yours." He looked up and saw the same begging look. "If you're sure..."
"I'm *so* sure," Xander said, leaning over for a kiss. "It just doesn't work if you're there and I'm here. It's hard to talk to you when I can't look at you, I feel funny."
"Then I'll be here," Oz agreed. "I'll go get my stuff tonight." He patted the dog's head. "Rocky?"
"She's part boxer." Xander grinned, wiggling his fingers at Oz's lap. "Aren't we? We're part boxer and part lab with a little retriever."
Oz shook his head. "Mom got out?"
"Yup, and despoiled the neighbor's purebred boxer. But she's a good girl." He reached over to pick up the dog, holding her to his chest just as the door was knocked on. "Um, hold her." He handed the puppy back and stood up, walking around the edge of the couch to get to the door. "Hi, Mr. Philipson. What's up?"
"Just wonderin' if you were okay," Xander's neighbor said. He looked in at Oz, then smiled when he saw where the puppy was sitting. "Gladys called and ordered me to come check on ya, said you were doing immoral things over here."
"I forgot to close the curtains," Xander said, covering his eyes. "Tell her it's my dog but that Oz is going to move into my spare room so we can talk easier and so he doesn't go broke with motel bills."
"Sure, though the woman needs to mind her own business." He nodded at Oz. "See ya soon I have no doubt. Don't let her go in my garden." He turned and limped off the porch. "Snow tonight, Alex, might want to stock up."
"Yes, sir, I will." Xander shut the door, looking at Oz. "Gladys lives in the beige house across corner from us. Her attic window has a telescope that looks into the living room." He waved out the window. "So, still willing?"
"Yup. Not even wanting to think about how much I spent in the last week on rooms."
"Cool." Xander leaned in for another kiss but Oz avoided it. "Not nummy?"
"Yeah, you are, but I wanted to take it slow, one more kiss and Gladys is going to get a floor show." Xander gave him a goofy grin. "What have you been living on?"
"I stopped in New York and had Devi help me to cash out what I had. I maxed out one of my cards with a withdrawal of cash, but it'll be automatically paid out of my checking account," he hurried to assure when he saw the beginning frown.
"Wasn't for that, was for who. Did he try anything?"
"Yeah, but I stopped him." Xander pulled his knees up to put his chin on them. "I'll tell you that story later. 'Kay?"
"Yup, just as long as you're safe." Oz took Xander's hand, rubbing the back of it with his thumb. "We should eat before Rocky gets a lot of people food." He looked down to find the puppy nose deep in the ranch dressing, her fluffy tail in Xander's fruit cocktail. "Or it could be too late."
"Why? We have ranch dressing in the fridge." He picked her up, setting her out of the way with the dressing and the fruit. "I know I'll regret giving her those citrus things later but she loves them." He patted her gently for a second. "She's a great cuddler."
"So are you," Oz told him, shifting so they were sitting side by side. "Are you going back to work today?"
"I should. Don't want to but I should." Xander looked at the impromptu meal. "Not really. I don't think she'll be expecting me back but I'll call and ask anyway." Oz handed over his cellphone. "Got to be expensive."
"Yeah, but you're worth it."
"Gee, I'm worth roaming charges?"
"It's through our long distance people, we don't have any and it's national coverage. The way the guy explained it to me was that it's like our home phone with a calling card."
"Oh." Xander nodded as he dialed. "That's pretty cool. Hi, it's Alex. No, we're talking and eating. Rocky! Get out of the wings!" He smiled. "No, it's cold outside. We're picnicking on my rug with the dog." He nodded and hung up. "I have the rest of the day off but I have to help stock tomorrow night."
"Can I cook?"
"Nope, tomorrow's pay day and I have this rule against cooking on paydays." He picked up a wing and rubbed it across Oz's lips. "You need to eat as much as I do," he reminded. "Nibble for me, babe." Rocky barked. "Not you, him." He looked back to find Oz was eating from his fingers and he had sauce smeared all over his mouth. "Hmm, messy."
Oz pulled back and licked off his lips. "You know what ran through my mind?" Xander shook his head, tipping it off to the side. "The nights that you used to eat in my lap. I missed those days. You always seemed so happy."
"I was," Xander said quietly, finishing off the wing and dropping the bones back into the bag. "I was even happy when we were fighting, I just thought that you wouldn't want me around since I had to help you that way."
Oz pulled Xander into his lap, ignoring the bottle of raspberry sauce that had been knocked over. "I wanted you so much. I don't even remember the next few days. All I remember is begging you to come back." He rubbed over Xander's back and down onto his thighs. "I missed you by seconds I guess, but I stood in the middle of the street and called for you. Connor pulled me back inside."
"Okay, you keep saying Connor."
"Russell Nash? That's his real name."
Xander nodded. "Oh, okay." He laid his head on Oz's shoulder. "I'm sorry I left, I just didn't think you'd want me to stay."
"Leaving is the only thing that you ever have to apologize to me for," Oz whispered, hugging him. He pulled back. "You went back to the old Xander, the one whose never heard of moisturize except from his ex's mouth. This is scary to me too."
"I'm still the same guy, Oz, I just didn't have the energy to take care of myself. Then it started to become easier to go back to the miserable times." He pushed himself off his lover's body, looking at the mess his foot had made. "I'll clean it later if Rocky doesn't."
"I will, it was my mistake."
"No, it was my foot."
"I didn't watch where it was going when I pulled you over so I'll clean it." Oz shook his head. "We're arguing over blame of the small things to keep from the main one. I don't want to do that. I love you, Xander, I want you to come home with me when you're ready. Or we'll move up here."
"My neighbors are liberal, but not that liberal," Xander said with a small smile. "If you want to clean up the mess, go right ahead. The carpet scrubber stuff makes my hands break out and gives me a runny nose."
"Okay, I'll clean it if you clean up lunch." Xander nodded, hopping up to gather up the remains of lunch. "We'll eat it for supper?"
"Could. I have a bag of stuffed potato skins that I can add and some cheese sticks."
"Cool. We'll munch later. Maybe rent a movie and just sit together? " He looked hopeful.
Xander put down the things he had picked up. "Oz, I'm not sending you away. Go get your stuff from the hotel and come back."
"Let me help you clean up?"
"Sure." Xander handed him a pile of styrofoam containers. "Put those in the fridge if you can find room. If not, put them on the stove and I'll clean the fridge."
"Do you need to shop? I could do that on the way back."
Xander nodded. "Okay, get munchie-type stuff. Pizzas and things."
"'Kay," Oz said, nodding. "Um, work?"
"I called off and my car's over there. I'll walk over later and get it. Just go get your stuff and I'll have clean sheets on the bed." He leaned over, wrapping his arms around Oz's neck. "Love you too, but you're worrying. I'm not going to change my mind."
"Thanks." Oz stole a kiss and got free, heading for the kitchen. "This is a nice place."
"The owner's out of state for a year on her job, I'm renting it." Xander brought all the food he could grab from his puppy into the kitchen. "Come on, hurry up." Oz followed, handing him things while he put them up. "Okay, go get your stuff. Get a *few* groceries, and we'll be set for the night. We'll go pick out rentals later." Oz nodded and grabbed a hug. "We'll work it out," he promised. "Oh, your phone?"
"Keep it, Meth's going to call and nag in a while. You can nag him back. Or just don't answer it. Whatever you feel comfortable doing."
"Sure. I'll nag him back," Xander said gently, turning Oz toward the door and grabbing Rocky, who was wiggling in time with her tail. "Not you, he's going to go and come back."
"Yup," Oz said, pulling out his keys. "Be back in about two hours." He walked out, waving over his shoulder. "Two hours," he called again as he got in.
"I won't forget," Xander told Rocky. "Will we? No, we won't forget how long he'll be. We've got to make the house pretty for him." He put her down, heading for the spare room. "I slept in here last night so I should change the sheets." He looked at the nicely made bed and shrugged. "Maybe he'll like me-smelling sheets." He checked the room then ran up the stairs, heading for the bathroom and his unsightly clump of stuff on the sink.
Oz looked through the selection of pizzas, searching for one he wanted. "Just getting two for me," he muttered, grabbing two small boxes, "and the rest can be his kind." He grabbed six of the bigger boxes and tossed them into the cart. He started back down the aisle, looking around at the store's offerings. "Wonder if he has real food?" he asked himself, standing in front of the frozen vegetables section. He grabbed a bag of broccoli spears and one of fries, tossing them into the cart, then headed for the cheese section, ending up in the deli when nothing there came up to his standards. "Three pounds of mild cheddar and one of provolone please?" He hummed along with the canned music the store was playing while he waited, taking the packages.
"Um, ham. He likes ham. Give me a pound of the smoked ham? And one of the roast beef, that looks perfect." He glanced around, grabbing a bag of rolls that said 'fresh baked' and a roll of bagels that said the same, turning to get the meat. "Thanks." He pushed the cart on, stopping to get both juice and soda, and chips for later, then headed for the checkout. He pulled out his wallet, frowning at it's almost empty state. "Huh." He pulled out a card he usually hid from himself, handing it over to pay for the things he wanted Xander to have. He signed the slip and handed it back, taking his card and putting it up front. He pushed the cart out to the Lexus, frowning up at the snow drifting gracefully down to litter the top of everything. "Got to call home, get something warmer," he reminded himself. "And get some money wired up. Not living on my credit cards, I'll never get them paid off, no matter how long I live." He loaded the groceries into his trunk and slammed it, pushing the cart over to the cart return and hurrying back to his car. "Damn, really cold," he muttered. He started the car, wincing at the grinding noise it made, but backed it out of the parking space, heading for Xander's house.
Xander glanced anxiously out the window through the not-so-gently falling snow, watching for his car and his lover to show up. He smiled when he saw the Lexus pull up, grabbing his jacket and making sure that the gate was up so Rocky couldn't escape as he ran out the door. "Oz, where's your jacket?"
"Timbuktu," he complained, opening the trunk. "And if you think I'm kidding, you're wrong." He grabbed half of the bags and slid the strap for his bag over his shoulder. He jogged toward the house, automatically correcting himself when he slipped on a growing spot of ice. "You need salt," he yelled as he made it inside.
"I know," Xander said, following and closing the door. "Good girl," he said, giving Rocky a smile. "She jumped the gate the other day and headed out. That's why she was at the vet's."
"Ouch. She okay?"
"Yup, she cracked her head a little. They wanted to watch her to make sure she was okay." He looked at all the bags, counting silently. "I said a *few* things."
"Yeah, and I heard the words 'snow' and 'stock up'. So I did." He waved the boxes of pizza, earing a smile. "Just what you like, except two little ones."
"Oz, you should have bought stuff you liked too," Xander reminded, giving him a brilliant smile. "But I'll forgive you because I know what you were thinking." He rubbed down the older man's arm. "The big freezer's out in the spare room. We'll call Methos tonight to get you real clothes before you freeze." He unloaded the rest of the bags, shaking his head at the contents. "We'll be fine," he called.
Oz stuck his head out of the back room, his skin very pink right then. "It's cold enough in here to be a freezer."
"Yup." Xander stuck the drinks into the fridge and shut the door. "Hurry up and you can have Rocky and the warm blankies."
"Wow." Oz walked out, connecting the hook and eye closure to keep the door shut. "Okay?"
"Yup. But you're being way careful of me still. I told you I'm not going to change my mind."
"I know, but ...."
"But you're worried," Xander cut him off. "That's not *your* job, it's *Giles* job. Who, by the way, called to nag today. When he heard my voice he yelled and Methos apparently stole the phone from him. Giles kept yelling at him to give it back." He smiled sweetly. "What did you do to him?"
"That's Methos for ya, he's trying to turn Giles into you so he won't be so lonely. Ray's still in Canada then he's got to go to Chicago for a few weeks." Oz walked closer, looking up at his lover. "I missed you, Xander, I really did."
"Yeah, I missed you too, fussy." He kissed the end of Oz's nose. "Want to get movies?"
"Can I get a little warmer first?"
"Yup, we got an hour before all the really good ones are gone. And the local place is okay about new ones but the older, cultish ones are their specialty."
"Cool." Oz wrapped himself around Xander's chest. "Warm," he sighed, closing his eyes. He felt him stiffen so backed up. "Sorry." He picked up his bag, looking around. "Which room?"
"The one on this floor, next to the living room." Xander followed him into it. "That wasn't about you, that was my body remembering you. It had this sudden urge to toss you to the floor and hop on top of you."
Oz snorted, dropping his bag on the bed. "Xander, even if you had, I would have stopped us. No matter how much my body was thinking the same thing, I would have stopped us. It's not time yet." He held open his arms. "'Nother hug?"
"Sure," Xander said, moving into his arms. "I'm sorry I scared you."
"I can't lose you, Xander, that's the only certain thing in my life."
"I thought your programming was."
"It is but I can't work right now. Every time I open the machine, I blank out and start to see you."
"Mushy," Xander said with a grin and a cheek nibble. "Come on, let's get movies before it gets too bad." He led Oz out to his Blazer, letting him get in first. "This is the sort of thing you need up here. The guy who sold it to me was going to Florida for good." He started the truck, putting it in gear and backing out. "Oh, and my boss thinks you're cute and good for me." He stopped at the chuckle. "What? You are. You make me happy and that's a good."
"Not thinking about that. Do you know the last time I was called cute?"
"Um, when I called you that?"
"Yup, during the pageant." Xander backed onto the street, putting the car into gear and heading back into the main part of town. "I told you you were cute in your dress."
"Oh, yeah. I forgot about that. I was thinking the last time I had been called cute was by Willow when she was describing me to Buffy."
"How's she anyway?"
"Will's okay. I've written her a few times, she knows you're taking a vacation." He paused at the snort. "I didn't want everyone to know."
"Good point. Buffy?"
"She's not in town anymore. The Council came to straighten her out for a while. They're shipping her back to Giles this week."
"And she's totally fixed?"
"Supposedly." Oz grabbed the bar as the Blazer slid around a corner. "Easy."
"Sorry. Little bit of ice." Xander drove for a few more minutes in silence before pulling up in front of a shop three doors down from his work. "Gotta love small towns. Everything's compact."
"Yup, and you know everybody."
"Good point. Gladys will know what we rented by tomorrow morning."
"Hmm, no porn then."
"Not here, Oz, not even in the area." He rolled his eyes at the small chuckle. "It's like that here. I have some at home, it's been mailed."
"Cool. Maybe tomorrow, or later tonight?"
"One question, can I, if you feel like letting me, relearn your body? Not doing anything more than touching and maybe cuddling on the couch like teens?"
"Sure," Oz said, giving him a bright smile. "I think we could do that easily. Actually, I would love to just lay there and hold you, never letting go."
"Yeah, me too," Xander said, sliding out of the truck and slamming the door. "Come on."
Oz got out, hurrying up the few stairs to the main sidewalk and inside the video store as fast as he could. "Real cold. Gotta call home and tell them to send me stuff." Xander rubbed down his back, heading for a rack of movies. "Wow," he said as he caught sight of a box, "wanted to see this forever."
"Was cheesy," Xander said, looking at the box. "Have it at home though." He held up a box. "How's this one?"
"Seen it. Was good though." He held up a box with a picture of Sean Connery in armor on it. "Seen this one?"
"The Green Knight? Nope, not yet. Is it good?"
"Kinda, but it's got a switching point that's real obvious in there, you just have to wait it out. That gives us two."
"I've seen the Bond one, so one." He looked at all the nearby shelves then headed for a shadowy corner rack. "Wanna watch Goth stuff?"
"After seeing the real thing for how many years?" Oz asked quietly from behind Xander. "To laugh at?"
"Could. Though I like the last incarnation of Bram Stoker." He picked up the box. "This one. It's a cool movie if you ignore some stuff."
"Cool, still haven't seen that one." He took the box to read the back of it. "Very good sounding. Can we get a comedy too? I really just want to relax with you tonight."
"Sure," Xander said, leading him over to the comedy section. "Police Academy?"
"Yeah, get the series."
"Um, don't have one or three. Got the rest though."
"Sure." Oz picked up a few of the boxes and held them against his chest. "Who's paying?"
"I am, they can't run cards here." Xander walked up to the check-out lane, handing over the boxes they carried and pulled out his card to hand over as well. He smiled at the woman behind the counter. "This is Gladys' daughter, Oz."
"Oh, is that *him*?" Xander nodded. "He doesn't look like he drove you away."
"Cheryl," Xander said, his smile going away, "I left him, not the other way around, and it was over something *I* did, not him." A female someone cleared their throats behind them. "Sorry." He moved closer to the counter so she could get by.
"No problem, just wondering if you needed help to leave him again." She glared at Oz. "No one should have to leave their lovers."
"Shh," Xander whispered, touching her arm. "It wasn't like that. It really wasn't. It wasn't a domestic thing, the only domestic thing we had was bliss. For us, it was just something I did that made me leave. He came for me to make me see I was wrong to leave instead of talking about it." He gave her a brave smile. "Really, there's no domestic violence here, Tara."
"Okay," she said, still glaring at Oz. "But if you need help, you just yell my way." She patted the side of his face. "The people of this town won't put up with spousal abuse."
"Domestic violence," Xander corrected.
"It's the same thing, it shouldn't matter that your spouse is another man."
"Very true," Oz said, holding out a hand. "Xander makes me the happiest man in my life, I would never hurt him. Not for anything in life."
She hummed but shook his hand. "Good. We all like Alex." She grabbed her tape from the counter, giving the woman behind the register a smile. "Later, Cheryl."
"Bye," she called after her. "So, what happened?"
"We were fighting over things like my disappearing for hours on end without leaving a note," Xander said with a small frown at his wallet as he pulled out money to give to her. "Got to go to the ATM after this." He looked over at Oz, who was watching him. "I don't have my other cards."
"I do," Oz said. "They're in my suitcase." He tapped the top of the tapes. "How long do we have them for?"
"It's Friday, so Monday." She pulled a bag out, taking the tapes from her helper and putting them in. "Oh, it looks like we don't have one of them after all."
Xander shrugged. "Okay." He took the bag and his change, waving and giving her a little smile. He sighed once they were both in the Blazer, closing his eyes and leaning his head back. "I hate that about small towns."
"Yeah, but it's a good thing if you were really being hurt."
"Point," Xander conceded as he pulled himself together and started the truck. "Um, how do you drive on really slushy snow?"
"Let me?" Oz asked. He got a nod so he got out and slid around the end of the Blazer, getting in. He checked his passenger as he put the truck in gear, buckling himself up at the last second. He slowly inched out of the parking space, looking behind him. "Tell me if I hit something, okay?"
"Yup, the guy behind us has stopped though." Oz put the Blazer in forward and inched forward slowly. "Huh, so you do it slowly?"
"Well, you don't want to accelerate too quickly. We can turn at this corner, right?"
"Yeah, unless you want to go out by the old school."
"No thanks." Oz flipped on his blinker, turning the sharp corner just as slowly. "It's been a few years since I had to do this too." He sped up a little, still going about ten miles under the speed limit. He stopped and turned the corner so he could get onto the street that would take them back to the main street. He pulled over, looking out the window. "Xander, who's that?" He pointed toward an alley way. "She's not got a jacket either."
"Not sure," he said, unbuckling and getting out. He sloshed across the street, tapping the girl on the shoulder. She jumped and screamed. "Easy, Juli," he said, looking her over. "You locked out or something?"
She nodded. "Something like that."
He looked up. "Listen, I'm willing to let you come use my phone, I live a few blocks away, but not if you're trying to break in."
"I live here," she said, looking up at the lit window. "My mother kicked me out so she could have someone up there. She didn't realize it was snowing."
Xander nodded, pointing toward his Blazer. "Get in. I'll take you to Tara's. We just ran into her at the video store." She gave him a smile and jogged across the street. Xander got back into his seat, looking at his lover. "We have to find the woman that just yelled at you." He looked over his shoulder. "There's a dog blanket back there somewhere. The emergency pack is back at the house to be refilled."
The girl found the blanket and wrapped it around herself. "Thanks, Alex. This is great of you."
"I can't let someone suffer that way." He pointed back out onto the street. "Straight across. Or actually, pass by the grocery store first. I think I saw her car there." Oz nodded, checking behind them and pulling out. He turned onto the main street, heading with more confidence into the store's parking lot. "Watch out, this decline is always slick," Xander warned him as they were about to turn.
Oz slowed back down to a crawl, parking the Blazer next to the store. He watched at Xander got out and ran inside. "So, you go to where he works?"
"Yeah, and he does some volunteer stuff at the teen center too. He's really cool. Are you Giles or Oz?"
"I'm Oz." He held a hand over his shoulder, shaking hers. "We're trying to fix it now."
"Good, he needs someone. The guy's really cute but he needs someone more stable than most of the guys around here." She smiled as he came back out and hopped back in. "Not in there?"
"She had to make a stop then she's heading home." Xander buckled himself back in. "Back onto the main street, where we were headed. She lives down that way."
"Okay," Oz said, restarting the engine and backing out carefully, having to stop so he didn't run over a woman and her children. "Can you see if they're all out of there."
"No," Xander said, sticking his head out of the door to check. "Mrs. Palmer? You forgot one," he yelled. She turned around and whistled, bringing her child and the toy she had dropped. "Thanks." He closed the door. "Now it's clear as far as I can tell." Oz nodded, backing out even slower. By the time they had gotten back onto the street, the young girl's teeth were chattering. "Shh, Juli, it'll be okay." He turned around to look at her. "We'll find her soon. She was heading to the ATM then home." He looked out the window as they slowed down. "Right then straight. Tara's my boss at the teen center and she lives about six houses down from the post office."
"Keep on this street, even past the post office, and go about four houses down," Juli corrected. "She moved to the other house a few days ago. A bunch of us helped her. That street on the left? Get on it. It's the blue house on the right." She blew on her hands and rubbed them together. "Alex, this is killer of you, thanks."
"No big," he said with a smile. "Now if only I had learned to drive on snow."
"I thought they had some of that where you lived."
"It's a few hours away and I never went there while I was driving. I went to the beach and did a lot of interstate stuff, but never into the mountains." He looked at the house they were pulling into. "You sure it's this one?"
"Yeah, this is where we put all her stuff."
Xander shrugged and got out, letting her out of the back and walking her up to the house. He knocked on the door, smiling at the woman who had yelled at Oz in the video store. "Cute house. Found her outside. Her mother kicked her out without a jacket."
"Poor thing," Tara said, letting her into the house. "Come on, Juli, let's get you warm. Thanks, Alex. Be safe."
"I will. You too." He let the screen door close, walking back to the Blazer and sliding in. "She's a good woman, a social worker actually. She just cares a lot."
"Which is a good thing. You could use it," Oz said as he backed out.
"Watch out for dark shapes. There's a lot of cats on this street that run loose."
"Okay." Oz slowed as he saw one dart under his bumper. "Speaking of which."
Xander got out and knelt behind the truck. "Misty, I'm not taking you home. Rocky and you will fight again and your mother will be really pissed." He looked at her tail. "Oz, pull forward a few inches."
"Can't," he said, opening his door, "something just ran under the front."
Tara walked out of her house, putting down a dish and ringing a small triangle. Both cats ran over to the plate, attacking it like they hadn't eaten in days. "Night, guys," she called, waving.
"Night, thanks," Xander called, waving back. He got back into his seat, his door open just long enough to let the cat jump up into his lap. Oz put his head down and shook it. He tried to get her, a very pregnant her, off his lap but she refused to move.
Tara walked over to look at her. "She's pretty. But she doesn't live around here."
Xander nodded. "We'll take her home. If you hear a parent complaining, tell them to yell my way." He looked over at Oz. "Are the back wheels clear?" She checked and grabbed a cat, shooing a few more out, then nodded, giving them another smile. "Thanks. Now, Oz, before more come."
Oz backed out quicker than he had been driving, driving away with a wave. "This town is insane," he told his lover conversationally. "Absolutely insane."
"No, they just like each other," Xander said, petting the cat. "So, no collar. No collar marks on you fur." He checked her eyes. "She's starved, Oz. Fortunately, I have some cat food at home and some nice, comfy blankets for her to sleep on."
"And if she delivers tonight?"
"Then we'll deal with it," Xander said firmly. "It's the least we could do. I'd expect everyone else to do the same for Rocky."
"Good point, and they'd call you too."
"Yup, and if Tara doesn't know who it belongs to, her husband works in city hall in the licensing place." He stroked down her back. "She's obviously a pet, she likes me."
"Do you have litter?"
"Nope, but we got a box and we got some newspapers. Should be okay enough." Xander pointed at their turn off. "Um, Oz?"
"Xander, trust me on this, she needs more than a box and newspapers. Especially if she's going to deliver tonight." He pulled up in front of the other supermarket. "Hand her over for a second." He held the cat, feeling her stomach. "One's turned wrong, she'll go tonight, and we're probably going to need a vet." He handed her back. "Stay." He walked inside, checking to make sure that the cashiers could take cards, and when they couldn't he went to the service desk, making a withdrawal through them. He headed back into the pet aisle, coming out with his arms full, heading for the lone cashier's register. "Hi."
"Alex just found a pregnant stray that he thinks will deliver tonight. We're just stocking up." He held up a finger, jogging back into the aisle, and came back with a few cans of food. "This too." He watched as she rang him up, handing over his money, and took the bags. He walked carefully back to the Blazer and got back in, after moving the cat from his seat. "Okay, we've got food, litter, and stuff in case we need to take care of the kittens." He shut the door, looking around for her. When he didn't find her, he got out and retrieved her from under the Blazer, handing her over to Xander. "Here, she's in labor. Use the dog blanket to make her comfortable for the next few minutes." He started the truck and headed home.
"Wow," Xander said once they had the birthing box all set up and she was comfortable. "How did you know how to do that?"
"Methos was a doctor for the longest time." He reached down to pat Rocky's head, the puppy was watching the cat go through her labor. "She'll be fine but we need to watch over them. She needs to clean them and there shouldn't be that much time between the kittens." He looked at his lover. "She's pretty. What're you going to name her?"
"Miracle." Xander looked up with a guilty grin. "If I can't find her mother."
"Hey, animals need love too." He reached over, rubbing down Xander's face. "Let's give her some privacy. Since she's in the kitchen, we can just check her when we get up for drinks and snacks." He looked at the stove. "How much longer on the pizza you stuck in?"
"Two minutes," Xander said, checking the timer on the microwave. He opened the door. "Yup, two or three." He stood back up, watching as the first kitten appeared, grabbing Oz's arm to hold on as tight as he could. "Look," he whispered, pointing.
Oz nodded. "Good color and easy presentation. That one should be okay." They watched as she cleaned the kitten off. "Good Miracle," he whispered, putting the bowl of water down beside her. "When you need it," he said, backing away since she was growling at him. "Grab dinner and we'll go start a movie." He poured them sodas and walked out to the couch.
Xander walked out a few minutes later, smiling as he handed over the tray. "Second kittens out and being licked clean. He sat down, taking the tray to put between them. "Coolness. Bram?"
"Yup. And this one is a seductive one from what I've heard."
"Very." He looked toward the kitchen as Miracle started to howl. "Um... should we?"
"I'll go look, you stop the tape when the actual movie starts." Oz pushed himself off the overly soft couch, heading back into the kitchen. He flipped on the light over the sink, looking down at the box. "Oh, you're stuck," he said, kneeling and helping her by pushing on her stomach. "There." He sat back, watching as she started to lick that kitten clean even as the next one started to come out. He looked up as Xander walked up behind him, pointing. "Fourth is coming." He watched as that one was born, the mother taking a few deep breaths before going back to her cleaning. He timed the time until the second one was cleaned, frowning. "We'll have to watch that one, it wasn't breathing for a while." The mother looked up and meowed pitifully. "If I could do it for you, I would," he assured her. He reached in, touching her stomach. "One more that's not ready yet. It's not in the canal."
Xander sat on the floor, watching her. "Should we call the vet?"
"Let's let her take some time. Animals can usually do this on their own. Even the problem ones are usually handled by themselves. If she hasn't delivered it in an hour or starts to have problems, we'll call."
"Okay." Xander reached over to pet Rocky, who was nosing one of the kittens. "Hey, you. Gonna be okay with the kittens?"
Miracle growled then started to howl. "Now we call the vet, that's a bad sign," Oz said, watching Xander as he hit the speed dial button on the phone. "Do they do house calls?"
"The female one would, she lives here in town. The other lives in the next town over and probably can't get out since he lives nearly on top of a mountain." He tapped his fingers. "Hi, this is Xander Harris. No, it's not Rocky, she's fine. I found a pregnant cat tonight, she actually jumped into my lap inside my Blazer. She's had four kittens, really quickly, but the last one..." She started to howl again. "Is making her make that noise." He looked toward the box and nodded. "Okay, can you?" He smiled. "Okay. Thanks." He hung up. "She'll be over in a while. She does all the small animal stuff anyway, her partner does the bigger animals." He unlocked the door and sat back down in front of the box. "Hey, Miracle, it's okay, we're getting you some help. Yeah, we are," he said, reaching over to pet her between the ears. She bit him and he hissed, pulling his finger away. "Um..."
"Don't report it, I'm pretty sure she's not rabid. No signs, and we'll keep watch." Oz looked over his shoulder as someone stomped up the stairs. "In here," he called.
A tall, reed-thin woman walked in, tossing back her hood. "Hi, Alex. Who do we have here?"
"I'm calling her Miracle." He got up so she could sit down in his place. "She's howling with the contractions I guess."
"She is," Oz said, looking at the vet, whom he had felt something off. "Oz," he said, holding out a hand. "The third was caught too, I helped push her out like my grandmother taught me."
"Okay, that's good to know." She reached into the box, dodging the jaws. "Yeah, we're just in pain. Who'd she bite? I see blood."
"Me," Alex said, holding up the finger he had been running under water. "Stung too."
"She's just a little thing," the vet said, holding her close to her chest and petting her stomach. "Oh, we're not in any way ready to have this one." She frowned as she kept touching one spot. "She has a mass or something between her kitten and the exit." She looked up at Xander. "Your call."
"Whatever," he said, nodding. "I don't want her to die."
"She still could," Oz said, reaching back to rub down his leg. "She's awfully little to be a mommy cat." He looked up. "If we have to, we can raise the kittens." Xander nodded.
The vet cleared her throat. "I'm agreeing with your friend Oz, Alex, she's not in the best of shape, but if we don't she will die." She looked down. "I'd like to try though. She really jumped up into your lap inside the Blazer?"
"Yeah," Oz said, looking down at the kittens. "We were trying to get clear of the other ones and that one jumped us just as we were almost pulling out."
The vet laughed. "At least we know where you were. I've never seen her around though." She stood up, heading over to the door to look out it. "We're in white out," she sighed. "I can't take her in during this."
"You could use the table as long as you cover it," Xander said. "I'm sure the owner wouldn't mind and I'd clean it really good. It's not been used in forever."
Oz stood up. "Give me the dish towel and I'll clean it so she can drape it." He walked into the dining room, wiping down the wooden square table. He backed away as the vet laid the birthing box on it, walking around to hold it so she could work. "Let me help?"
"Of course. Nurses are always welcome." She opened her bag, pulling out a sterile package and some gloves. "She's not going to be as comfy as she would back at the clinic, I only carry local with me."
It won't hurt her for long," Oz said, touching her chest. "Or at all." The vet swore and grabbed her, putting her down on the table. "Want me to cut or do CPR?"
Xander cleared his throat. "Oz, would it work?" The vet shook her head. "Save the kitten then." He walked back into the living room, taking the box with the other kittens.
Oz looked at the vet and shrugged. "Your call."
"He's right." She pulled on her gloves and grabbed a wrapped scalpel, tearing it open. "Just hold her still, the kitten is moving enough." She cut into the cat's stomach, hissing as blood started to flow out. "She couldn't be saved. That's a rupture." She cut into the uterus, pulling out the kitten to look at. "Take the extra towel in the bag and rub her," she commanded, handing the kitten off to Oz.
Oz sat down in the chair, rubbing her with the towel, blowing on her face. When he wasn't getting a response, he checked to make sure she wasn't paying attention then brought forward a little touch of his quickening, hitting her with the jolt. Which was enough to get her to cough. "Living," he said, rubbing her face off. "Yeah, we'll be fine," he cooed, putting her up to his chest. "What?" he asked when he saw that she was looking at him funny.
"I've only seen one other person do that and I know why. Are you here for him?"
"I'm only here for Alex. I'd like to stay at peace. I don't even have a weapon with me." He handed over the kitten. "He's safe, as are you." She smiled, turning her plain face into a radiant one. "Good. Having said that, I'm not fighting for a long time. Xander's too important to me."
"Good. I'm sure he'll be glad to hear it." She looked down at the kitten. "You are the lucky one here, my boy. He likes animals."
"We both do," Xander said from the door. He was holding one of them. "Oz said this one didn't breath for a while either. She was too busy cleaning off the third one that had been stuck. This one just slid out as an afterthought."
She exchanged kittens with him, looking that one over. "It's too soon to tell but I'm not seeing a problem, Alex." She handed her back. "Your friend can probably tell you how to take care of them. I'll take the mother home with me and we'll bury her tomorrow when we can get back to the office." She wrapped the blanket around the mother's body. "I'm sorry, Alex, she was hemorrhaging internally." Oz handed her her bag. "Thanks. Take good care of them and if you have any problems tonight, call me. It's not like I'm going to sleep." She walked out into the nearly white night.
Oz looked at Xander, who looked lost. "We can do this. Same as she did. Go run a tub of warm water and grab an old washcloth that can get blood on it. I'll start to warm the milk and we'll feed them after they're clean."
Xander nodded heading off to do as he was told.
Oz leaned back, lifting his feet up with a grunt. "Yes, Methos, I said that our family has just grown." He smirked as he looked down at the small, furry lumps on his stomach. "No, we didn't adopt. I'm not even sure Xander wants kids." He chuckled. "No, a very pregnant cat jumped in his lap as we were leaving a friend of his' driveway. She delivered here last night." He petted the four furry lumps with a finger, just gently letting them know they weren't alone, like their mother would. "No, she died with the last one inside her. No, there were five but now there are four, including the one I zapped." Oz growled. "Excuse me? I've seen you do it for your horse!" He shook his head, rolling his eyes. "Yay, she already knew. She's a pre-immie." He laughed again, shaking the kittens and getting weak sounds of protest. "Sorry, guys, and girl. What? No, Xander does have a dog though. Half boxer and half lab/retriever mix." He smiled, looking out the window. "No, Rocky's playing on the covered porch so she can bark at the kids running past."
Xander walked into the house, stopping to look at the kittens. "Friends?"
"Methos." He handed off the phone. "Here, he can nag you about how I brought one back." Oz sat up, lifting the bottom of his shirt so the kittens wouldn't have to be picked up. "Yeah, let's go get droppers of milk." He walked into the kitchen, getting the small bowl of milk from the microwave. He tested it with his finger before putting the eye dropper into it, his shirt resting on top of the stove. He picked up one of the kittens, sliding the dropper into his mouth and releasing it slowly. "How was work?" he asked after Xander had hung up. "Oh, forgot to tell him to send me clothes."
"You remember money?"
"Yeah. How'd you know?"
"I saw your wallet last night," Xander reminded him. "It's all in the bank?"
"Yup. In a foreign bank for the most part. I called and it's in transit but it won't be available until tomorrow." He finished getting a second dropper down and switched kittens. "They've been good for me, so far. We've been taking lots of naps. They like my stomach." He looked over at the quiet. "What's wrong?"
"Methos yelled because you're picking up strays."
"He would. Of course, he picked up Connor, me, and Mac. The man knows a lot about strays. That's who most of his wives have been." Oz shrugged. "I like strays. And before you say it," he said when he saw the open mouth, "you're not a stray. Willow was a stray, almost. Most of my strays come to me not the other way around."
"I came to you."
"No, I came to you. You were lounging with Giles when I interrupted if you remember," Oz pointed out as he switched kittens. "Here, rub the two fed ones. They need their stomach's rubbed to help digestion."
"Okay." Xander picked up the first one, rubbing it's stomach as gently as he could. "They're so tiny!"
"Yeah, but so was their mother." He watched as the first one was put back down on his shirt and the next one was picked up to be rubbed. "We doing okay?"
"Yup." Xander put down the second kitten to pick up the one Oz had just put down. "We do this well together."
"I was hoping that we could start doing other things together, talking maybe?"
"Yeah, I'd like that," Xander said, leaning over to kiss Oz's cheek. "Thanks."
"For saving that last kitten. For just showing up without warning me. For just being you and liking me."
"Oh, I do more than like you, Xander. Now I understand why Mac drove himself insane over that one woman."
"You know what I've wondered since I heard that you guys are what you are?" Oz shook his head, rubbing the last kitten's stomach himself. "If Dick Clark was one of you."
"Not that I've heard, but I personally think it's some sort of demonic deal. With the music he works with? It'd almost have to be demonic in nature." Xander chuckled, handing back the kitten he was holding. "We've done okay today. I called my stuff-keeper to get my winter clothes, even though my favorite jacket is back at Meth's. They'll be here tomorrow; and I called Methos to tell him that we're talking and to send up my sword."
"Gee, our phone bill's going to be hellacious when we get back." Oz looked at him. "Aren't we going home? Eventually, I mean."
"Yup, as soon as you're ready to leave here," Oz said gently, leaning his head on Xander's shoulder. "I'd get closer but I think I'd drop the kittens."
"We need to get them a bed."
"But it's the warmth and the heartbeat they need," Oz pointed out. "They have special beds for kittens in some places. When I call Meth tonight, I'll ask him to get us one." He kissed the side of his lover's neck.
"Why don't you ever tell me about your old life?" Xander asked, stepping away from him. "You tell Giles all these neat stories and I never hear them."
Oz made sure all the kittens were in his shirt and carried them out to the couch, taking it off and covering them with the rest of the material to make sure they stayed warm. He sat down in the rocking recliner, putting it back a few inches so it wouldn't rock. "Come sit," he said, patting his lap. Xander curled up on top of him, wrapping himself around his lover's torso. "Comfy?" The young man nodded. "What would you like to know? About the time I was forced to be a concubine because Methos thought I'd be safer there? Or about some of my travels? Or some of my art?"
"You said you were an artist, but I've never heard of you before. And I noticed that most people kept names that are close to their own or mean something to them. Like Methos with Adam."
"I'm not that good," Oz murmured, rubbing down Xander's back. "Do you have to go back to work today?"
"Nope, I quit today." Xander stole a kiss. "I liked working there but it's time for me to quit hiding."
"We're here until you're ready to go back home," Oz reminded him. "Only you can say when it's time."
"In LA with Methos."
"Why'd you let Mac live?"
"He's a good guy usually, Xander. He's just had a bad few years. He got chosen to fight the Millennium demon and even though he won, Ahriman made him think he had killed his own student. Richie was actually in an alternate plane of some sort and was released as soon as Ahriman was gone but Mac still almost went insane when he took Richie's head by accident. Not to mention that it brought flashbacks from when he had a dark quickening and went evil for a while."
"That's when you've absorbed so much evil quickenings that you turn evil yourself. It starts to fundamentally corrupt you after a while." He kissed his lover's temple gently. "You don't have to worry about that either. I'm not usually fighting. I'm one of the least active members of the whole thing."
"Because you're an artist or because you just respect most everyone."
"A little of both, Xander, to tell the truth, but I also hate fighting. I hate the quickening after I fight, it makes me feel ill to have to take someone else into me and I hate the fact that it changes me somehow."
"That's why Methos fights for you?"
"No, the old guy doesn't usually fight either. Matter of fact, when he and Mac met, he tried to get Mac to take his head so he could fight a particularly strong one of us who was hunting Methos. Mac refused, he's that sort of guy."
"Then why was he coming after you?"
"Ah. That's a long story in itself. See, way back when, when I was about maybe seventy years old, Mac had this lover. He loved her *so* much it hurt him to leave her to go to work each morning. That's about how I feel about you, you know. Anyway, he wasn't that old either. He still had some rough and coarse ways compared to the gentle city flower he was dating. Now, she was one of my models, nothing explicit of course, but I still was given a form to work on. One day, she came to me crying really hard." He took one of Xander's hands in his, entwining their fingers to look at. "She said he was mean and cruel to her, asked us to save her since she knew we knew him. Methos and he hadn't met yet but we knew who he was because we went to scope him out to make sure he wouldn't be coming after us. I agreed and talked the old guy into helping set her up outside of the city in a real house."
"He got jealous?" Xander asked quietly, looking at their hands too.
"More than. He went possessive and swore that I had stolen her. He even brought the authorities into it, so we had her swear that I didn't. Jails back then were a lot worse than they are now."
"But he didn't believe you?"
"No, he said we were lying. Methos was out of town at the time so I didn't have anyone to back me up but her. And once it came out that I was sleeping with Meth, we got run out of town. Mac still didn't believe it though. That's why he's been after me on and off now for almost four hundred years."
"Wow," Xander whispered, looking into Oz's eyes. "Where's Rocky?"
"On the covered porch. She wanted to bark at the kids."
"Oh. Okay. So are you any good?"
"Nope, not at all, but I enjoy it. Each of my lives has had something to do with art."
"Dingoes and your art programs?"
"Yup, that's me."
"What's your best art thing?" Xander asked excitedly.
"Weaving. It's not that hard once you get the hang of it, but you can get very fancy or very simple with it. It's also one of my favorites, though I like painting and taking pictures. I'm just not very good with them."
"And you stay that way so you never get real attention?"
"Also a very good reason." Oz squeezed Xander's hand. "Anything else?"
"Can I tell you something?"
"Of course. Is this about what Devi tried to trick you into?" Xander started and sat up. "Shh, lay back down, Xander, I'm not mad. I mentioned to Methos that you had been in New York so he went snooping for information. Oh, and he has your stuff from Devi's office." He soothed the young man back into his lap with his hands. "He tried to get you to do an assignment?"
"Yeah," Xander sighed, relaxing into the strong arms again. "I woke up in this hotel room, alone, and there was a note and some clothes that I had worn while I was working waiting on me. Devi's note had said this was one of my old clients that wanted a repeat performance. I got dressed, it was the only thing to wear in the whole room. Even the towels had been taken out. I called him and he showed up. I tried to tell him I wasn't going to go back to the life but he said it was just this one thing and we'd all be fine. He was really scared of something and because he was, I was. He led me to this other room and shoved me inside." Xander closed his eyes. "On the bed was this really big, mean looking demon that I had refused to take on one other time. He laughed when he saw my expression and how scared I was. I tried to get out the door but it was locked magically. Well, he got up, and he was big, Oz. Really big. I shrank back against the door, looking him over. He started to talk about how I was his now and how he would make me realize I was supposed to be his forever, or as long as I lived. A really pretty portal opened and I was pushed through."
Oz shifted. "Did he hurt you?"
"No." Xander opened his eyes and gave him a small smile. "I got away from him." He reclosed his eyes and laid his head back on Oz's shoulder. "He had taken me to this harem-like place, only all the people looked really sad and almost dead. He pulled me through the crowd and into this room where he ordered me to strip. I refused and he snapped his fingers. My clothes did this funny wavering thing but didn't disappear. I snorted and acted all tough and stuff so he wouldn't know I was terrified. Anyway, we ended up fighting and I ended up with the controller to the magic collars the people in the harem had been wearing. I released them all and broke the thing. Then I had to run for my life. He got really scary. I ran past this heavy door, so I backtracked and locked myself inside." Xander gave Oz's chest a small, secret smile. "Little did I know that the upper demons were really pissed because that was their controller and he was only supposed to be watching over their pets, not having fun with them. So three of them killed him. I found this out later after I was released from the safe."
"How did you get home?"
"One of the demons recognized me from my description. He tried to make a move and I told him I was taken by Meth, though I called him Adam. He sent me home with a generous tip and some advice. I escaped from the hotel room by calling housekeeping for towels and pleading with the woman that came to help me for part of the haul. She hid me in her cart and took a third of what I had, which was a lot. Then I got into the cab and told the driver to take me three places, waiting each time. He asked for money up front and I showed him one of the stones I had been given. His mouth watered. I told him he could either have one or he could get paid. He took that one, which was small and ratty looking compared to the others. I had him stop to get me some clothes at a small outlet mall type place. While I was there, I called a very shady jewelry store, telling them a story about how I was an abused spouse and how I had taken some of my jewels from my dowry and I needed to cash them out so I could escape. They believed me so I went there and got it all cashed out at way under value. Then I had the driver, who had taken the chance to cash his stone out also, take me to a car lot where I got my Blazer and a map. I followed the map to the place on the train ticket." He opened his eyes to look up. "That's how I ended up here."
"You rented this house how?"
"With the left-over money. Some of it's in the bank, most of it's in the safety deposit box with the forms I got it from the jewelry store. I stayed at the bed and breakfast for a few days and I found the notice in the local paper so I called. She was nice, but kinda hard to please. Asked a lot of questions. I gave her the real reason, minus the gun stuff, and she let me rent the house. I'm supposed to call her when I'm ready to leave."
"Yeah, big wows." Xander nuzzled into Oz's neck. "I kept thinking about what you would do to get out of there."
"I'm not that good of a fighter," Oz told him. "Someone like Mac is much better. I'm one of those that if it happens quickly, I can win. If it turns into a long fight, I'm screwed." He kissed the side of Xander's head. "Are you sure you're okay?"
"Yup. The other demons didn't touch me at all. They weren't interested in me, only the one that had kidnapped me was. What else did I have, besides two bracelets, in Devi's office?"
"A few credit cards, a small box with your name on it. Devi wasn't in good shape when Meth went for him. He was pretty badly beaten up. He took one look at the old guy and whimpered, running for his office to start handing him things. Oh, and he said there was a big box of stuff too, or was it two boxes of stuff? Not sure, we'll have to ask him. It's in New York at Connor's so we'll get it on the way home."
"What about the kittens?"
"We're taking them with us," Oz said, giving his lover a small smile. "I have to fuss over something and I like them. They're nice so far."
"Can we keep them?"
"Two? They'll be lonely." Xander gave him begging eyes. "We can give the other two to Methos."
Oz chuckled. "He's not really into cats. They don't like him." He squeezed Xander hard. "I missed doing this stuff with you." He looked at the young man's outfit. "Gee, I recognize that shirt."
Xander looked down at it. "This is the outfit that I left the house in," he said in surprise. "I had no idea that I had put it on." He frowned and looked up. "Maybe this means it's time to start over with that night?"
"I'd like that, Xander, so very much." They shared a kiss. "Hmm, properly lotioned too, must really be ready to accept my apologies."
"If you'll accept mine for running."
"Of course." Oz groaned as the phone rang. "Want to answer that while I check on the kittens?"
Xander slid off his lap, grabbing the phone. "Hello? Um, hold on. Is this one of her children? No, she's out of state on assignment for a year. She and her husband are both there. No, I'm renting the house. Yeah, I have her number. Let me find it." He ruffled through the pile of papers on the wall beside the phone, coming up with it. "Okay, email, phone and address. It's ... yeah, I do. Okay, I'll do that tonight." He smiled and hung up. "I've got to email her tonight."
"Did she give you the addy?"
"Yup. Do you have your laptop? Before I forget?" Oz nodded so Xander headed for his room, going through his bag to pick up the laptop. He stopped when he found the long knife, looking at it. "Oz? I thought you said you came without a weapon?"
"No, I said without my sword, I stole the knife from Connor." Oz leaned against the door. "I never travel anywhere without some sort of weapon, Xander, but Methos has my sword hostage."
"Oh." Xander dropped the knife back into the bag and looked up. "It was just a shock."
"You found it and started to doubt the everything I've said because that one part of the story didn't match?" Oz asked dryly. Xander nodded, not looking at him. "Xander, would I come all the way up here to lie to you?" He walked in to sit beside his lover, pulling him back into his arms. "I'm not going to lie to you, Xander. I can't travel without a weapon, it isn't smart. No, I don't have my main weapon, all I have is that knife." He gave him a light squeeze and let him go. "You can doubt whatever you want, but I'm not lying to you."
"Okay." Xander nodded, rubbing across the laptop that was put into his lap. "Guess we still need to do a lot of talking, huh? I should go beg for my job back."
"Let me support us for a while?" Xander shook his head. "No? Not even for a week or two?"
"Well," he said, looking up then shook his head. "I like taking care of you."
"And I like doing the same. You take good care of me, Xander, but it's time to let me do the noble thing and let me pay."
"Sure." Xander nodded, standing up. "So, can I cook tonight?"
"Or we could do it together. I'll fix your dinner and you can fix mine?" Xander smiled at him. "If you'd like to cook, I'm all for that." He looked toward the door as someone knocked. "Want me to get that?"
"It's probably for you anyway," Xander agreed, walking out of the room with Oz following him. "Or not, that's Gladys." He checked to make sure the dog wasn't around and opened the door, letting her in. "Hey, Gladys. Is there a problem?"
"Oh, I just came to check on Rocky. Saw the vet last night and hoped she wasn't sick again."
"She cracked her head the other day when she jumped the baby gate to get out." He motioned her around the doorway so she could see the four furry lumps on the couch. "Doc Greenwalt came for them last night. Their mom jumped up onto my lap when we were trying to pull away so I brought her home because Tara didn't know her mother. She had problems with the last one and died while they were getting it out. Then one died last night."
"It was the one that hadn't been breathing real well," Oz reminded gently. "She checked the rest of the kittens this morning and said that they were going to be fine."
Xander smiled at his lover. "I know. I'm just worried, they're so *small*."
"Yeah, they are. You keeping them?"
"Probably. Unless the mother's owner shows up before we leave." Xander looked out the window. "Oz, Fed Ex guy, must be your shipment." He got out of his lover's way as he walked out to meet the man, watching to see what was pulled out. "Huh. Just a little envelope? Oh, and a trunk." Xander rolled his eyes. "Whoever must have packed the rest of his clothes." He picked up one of the kittens that was nosing around, holding her so she could be seen. "They're cute, huh?"
"Very. So, when you leaving? I heard you quit."
"A few weeks maybe. Oz and I still have some things to work out and I can't work with them needing so much care." He opened the door so Oz could pull the trunk through it. "Bodies?"
"Multiple," Oz grunted as he drug the heavy trunk through the door. Finally, it was out of the way so Xander could shut the door. "They sent it to Meth and he packed some extra stuff." He sat on the kitchen floor and popped the trunk open, handing the envelope up to Xander. "Yours."
"From?" Xander opened it and smiled, showing off the card inside. "It's from Meth. Oh, and a check from my account in your name." He rolled his eyes at the snort. "I've got to find my cards."
Oz got the last lock popped open and looked down inside, handing an envelope with Xander's name on it to him. "Think that may be them." He pulled aside a familiar fabric wrapped bundle, nodding as he saw his swords, then moved them aside so he could look underneath them. "Clothes too. Thankfully." He looked up, pulling out a shirt with a bow around it. "I think this is for you. I'd never wear that fabric."
Xander touched the stretchy velvet shirt with a smile. He held it against his chest. "Okay." He looked at his neighbor, handing her the kitten. "Can you put her back onto the shirt and make sure she's covered?"
She did so and headed around the trunk for the door. "You boys apparently need some privacy. I just wish I could have changed your mind, Alex."
"I understand," he said with a tolerant nod and smile. "Bye." He waved as she walked away. "She tried to prove to me that I really wanted women by fixing me up with Cheryl's daughter." He locked the door and knelt beside the trunk. "Swords?" Oz handed them to him. "Clothes?" A few things were tossed out onto the floor. "So what was so heavy? That's not a lot of clothes."
"I know." Oz pulled out one of the two boxes lining the bottom of the trunk. "These have your name on them too," he said, putting it between them. "Must be what Meth got when he went to Devi to get information."
Xander carefully opened the first box, looking down inside. He frowned as he pulled out a lump of cloth, unwrapping it. "Wow."
"Um, that's a soul stone," Oz said quietly. "As in it can steal them." He took the stone by the fabric and held it up to the light. "No lights inside, must be empty." He looked inside the box, holding his breath. "Um, presents that you left?"
"Yeah," Xander said in disgust. "Hated this stuff."
"You know, we could just open up a jewelry store with this stuff." He opened the other box, and quickly closed the lid. "We've got to call Connor and have him meet us in New York. We've got to do something about this." He showed the bundles of cash on top of the box. "This sucks."
"Point." Xander picked up one to run his fingers over them. "Gee, movie night?"
"No," Oz said, shaking his head. "Safety deposit box?"
"Is full. I could get a second one." Xander got up and walked over to the phone, pulling out his wallet to grab his bankcard and dial the number on it. "Hi, this is Alex Harris, can I talk to the person whose over safety deposit boxes? No, just an inheritance that I need to stash somewhere." He nodded his head in time with the music. "Hi, yup, this is me. Um," he turned to look at the box. "I'm leaving in a couple of weeks but I just got an inheritance from a relatively insane aunt who believed in cash and only cash? No, like a lot more than would fit in the box I have with you right now, which is full anyway."
Oz searched through the first box. "Both need to go with a few exceptions." He held up a shirt in confusion. "Who gave you that?"
"It was in my suitcase. The contents must have been in there." Xander turned back to the door. "No, like about the size of a case of two-liters. Yeah, I can seal the box, that's not a big problem. No, she had some stones and a lot of cash. No, if I'm coming in, I'm having an escort." He smiled. "Sure. Want to do that here or there?" He nodded and hung up. "She'll be over in a while with one of the security guards, who's an off-duty officer. We need to sort out what's going in."
Oz tipped over the box and started loading the cash and stones back in first. Then went all the boxes of jewelry. Then the second box was tipped over and over half the contents of that box were shoved into the first. Oz looked up when he realized Xander was watching him. "Did you want to keep some of it out?"
"No, I was wondering if you were trying to purge that part of my life from your memory. Keep one of the cash bundles out so we don't have to live off the credit cards." Xander walked into the living room, grabbing the shirt with the kittens on it and coming back in to sit down. "They're awake and nosing around."
"Cool. I'm not trying to purge it, just packing more efficiently. I'm guessing the clothes can stay?" Xander nodded. "Okay. That just leaves the important stuff." He checked through the other stuff then sighed. "Did you have anything else in the house you wanted to add?"
"Nope, everything that's really important to me, you're guarding," Xander said with a goofy grin, getting one from Oz. "You do. You guard my heart and soul."
"As you do mine," Oz said, reaching over to Xander's hand and looking into his eyes. "I wasn't kidding, I haven't been able to sleep, Xander. Every time I tried, I'd get pictures of you. You being happy, you laughing, and of your shot missing and Henderson hitting you again before I could save you."
"I won't do it again," Xander promised, breaking the intense gaze. "You know what? Until that last assignment Devi put me into, I never felt dirty about what I did." He looked at the bundle of cash Oz had pulled out. "Before it was something I had done, just another job. After that time in the hotel, I started to think about it and I feel dirty. Now, it's almost like I have the word 'prostitute' tattooed across my forehead."
"No, you don't," Oz said, kissing the mentioned forehead. "And you're not dirty. You were trying to figure some things out and that's how you did. It was just a job. We've all had jobs that we didn't like, enjoy, and were ashamed of after we left them. I'm not real proud that the old guy *gave* me to someone to protect me. Same as I'm not real proud that the guy talked me into becoming his concubine for six years or that I couldn't get free without Methos coming back for me."
"You really would understand, huh?" Xander said, looking up at him. He gave his lover a weak smile. "Thanks, Oz."
"Anytime, love. But you're not dirty, spoiled, or anything else like that. It was just a job."
"Yeah, it was just a job. The trouble Devi almost got me into wasn't my fault and I'm not dirty. Even though nothing happened."
"If you want to talk about it more, I'm here. Or even Methos, he was taken hostage and used as a sex slave for a number of years." He brushed over Xander's cheek. "Whenever you're ready, I'm here." He pulled back as he saw someone walking up the stairs. "People." He grabbed Rocky and got up, getting the door. "Hey."
"Oh, hi." She smiled and held out a hand. "Sarah. And this is Duke, he's here to escort me back to the bank." She smoothed her skirt out as she sat on the floor, taking Oz's former space. "Oh, they're adorable. How old?" she asked, reaching over to touch the kittens.
"Born last night," Xander said, shifting so Duke could head for the living room. "Couch will suck you into it," he warned.
"Thanks," the guard grunted, sitting down in a chair that let him see them.
Xander shifted back so Oz could sit beside him. He watched as Oz made a bed out of his discarded shirt for the kittens, putting them next to Rocky, who he had laid down first. "Neat. Think she'll lay there for them?"
"She's a female, she might." He rubbed her head. "Good girl. Lick them and keep them warm for us please." Rocky looked up as she licked the nearest kitten. "Good girl. You can have treats later." Oz looked at Sarah, taking stock of her. She was blonde, almost stereotypical in her comically happy look and short, chin-length bob. "So, you're going to store this for us?"
"Yes, we have a special spot in our safe for boxes." She touched the top of the two boxes. "Which one?"
"The one without the clothes," Xander said, checking them. He frowned as he caught sight of clothes in both, picking up the shirt he had accidentally packed on top of the box he wanted to get somewhere safe. "This one," he said as he shoved it closer to her. He picked up the bundle of money on the floor. "My Aunt Devi was a bit eccentric."
"Truly," Oz agreed. "That's her retirement account." He leaned over, putting his head on Xander's shoulder. "Can I?"
"Sure. Be comfy."
Sarah opened her briefcase and pulled out a form and a pen, using the top once it was closed to write on. "Okay, let's make an inventory." She opened the box and sighed as she caught sight of the stone on top. "What's that?" She picked it up by the cloth covering it. "It's really unusual, I've never seen anything like it."
"Aunt Devi used to swear it would steal souls," Oz told her conversationally. "As you can see, she was almost religious in her collecting."
Sarah put down the stone and wrote something on the form. "Yes, I can. Stealing souls?" She looked at them. "Where did she get that?"
"It's a family heirloom and story," Xander said with a self-conscious smile. "Her father got it from his grandfather who dug it up, and dropped dead that night. The local Priest said it had stolen his soul." He shrugged at the laughter. "You know how those stories get started."
"Very true." She pulled out a small box, looking at the jewelry. "My, she had excellent taste." She wrote the contents down, putting it aside. "Um, you might want to check one of the kittens," she said, glancing that way. "She's peeing on your shirt."
Oz shrugged. "They're too young to use litter and their mother would have to live with it. It'll only be until their eyes open in a few weeks."
"It'll wash," Xander agreed, nodding. He looked inside the box. "I think the rest of everything is down under the fabric wrapped bundle, which was the rest of her jewelry collection."
She pulled it out, opening it. "Oh, my." She picked up a sapphire pendant, holding it up in the light. "Wow. I'd kill to have this."
"So would some other people," Oz said dryly. "Including some people we know. That's why you're taking them."
She smiled. "It'll be safe, I promise. Even if we get someone that breaks into the safe, they'd have to get through another door that's time-locked to get to the box. It'll be in the same place we put boxes for the reserve." She made note of the jewelry. "You should have an estimate made of some of these pieces, just to insure them."
"We will once we're at home."
"Or on the way," Oz suggested. "We were going to stop through New York. We could hit one of the big jewelry places."
"Actually, there's a branch of where I got the other stuff appraised somewhere in the city." Xander looked inside the box. "Wow, I didn't really look at the cash before. That's a lot."
Duke grunted. "Don't worry, Alex. It'll be safe with us."
He grinned at the guard. "I know, but it still shocks me." He popped his neck and yawned. "We were up all night with the kittens. Even Rocky didn't get a nap."
Oz kissed the side of Xander's cheek. "You can nap soon. I'll start thinking about how we're getting home. Oh, and the Lexus is still making noises."
"There's a good mechanic over near the school," Sarah said. "Matter of fact, the woman who owns this house's husband works over there. Or he would if he hadn't went with her."
"Yeah, they fixed the Blazer when I first got up here. It was grinding bad."
"Cool, we'll take the Lexus over later." He turned back to watch her count the money. "How much?"
She stopped and made a note. "Sixty thousand so far. Still three bundles to go." She piled the one she held with the others she had counted, picking up the next one. "I'm wondering how she got so much."
"She was a prostitute," Xander said, glancing at Oz. "When she was younger. Then she found the perfect man and stopped for him."
"Oooh," Sarah said, giving them a startled look. "Did she tell you that?"
"It's another part of the family story. She apparently had this really wealthy client that tracked her across the country after she had left to try and get her back. Most of the jewelry came from him."
"What was your uncle?"
"Not real sure. She never talked about him. He died about sixteen months into the marriage and she was alone after that."
"Oh, how sad," she sighed, putting down the bundle of money. "Did she remarry?"
"No, she lived off the interest of her money mostly. But she only had a little bit in the bank, what her client had given her." Oz looked up at Xander. "She was very well off but his death warped her. She was never the same."
"I'd hope she found some happiness," Sarah said, picking up the last bundle to count. "Sixty-six thousand and forty dollars. A very odd amount." She handed over the form and watched them both sign it. She took it back and signed it. "Thanks, Alex. Just give us a few hours notice before you leave."
"We've still got a few weeks," Xander told her. "I'm almost ready to go home but not quite." He squeezed Oz around his shoulders. "We still have some talking to do and the kittens need to be older." He took his copy of the paperwork.
"Very good," Duke said, standing up and walking back in. He took the repacked and sealed box Sarah handed him, hefting it. "Not that heavy. What're you doing with the Blazer?"
"Unless the Lexus is junk, we're probably going to sell it or something." Xander looked up at him. "Do you know someone who'd want it?"
"I wouldn't mind it. My jeep's about to give for good." He walked out, carefully making his way down the steps. "Sarah, watch out, there's some melt on the bottom step," he called back as he headed for the car.
She shook their hands, bending down to touch each of the kitten's heads. "Good luck, Alex. He obviously makes you happy." She stood up and straightened out her skirt, heading out to her car. "Good bye, Alex."
"Later," he called, pushing the door shut without getting up. "That was easy."
Oz looked at the forms. "Yup, very. Money makes the world go round," he reminded. He handed it over. "She even estimated some worths for you."
"Cool." Xander winced. "Why does this stuff happen to me?"
"Maybe you're irresistible to depressed and lonely demons," Oz suggested, standing up and trying to pick up the shirt with the kittens on it. Rocky growled at him. "Okay, you can have them for a while longer. Just tell us when they're ready to be fed." He backed away, right into Xander's rear. "Sorry."
"S'okay." Xander handed over a can of soda. "We've been doing okay, right?"
"Yup. Our sixteen months were really happy and I'm hoping we can go back to that after this." Oz wrapped an arm around his waist, pulling him closer to kiss his cheek. "We'll figure it out, Xander, but I am happy with you." He let the younger man go. "If you're not going to be happy, I guess we'll have to work it out."
"I want to be happy," Xander said, shutting the refrigerator door and looking at his lover. "I guess I'm scared of what'll happen next."
"What happens next is that we talk and we fix things. We get you back to the point where you're happy with me and with us, then we head for home."
"Home, it's like this fictional place right now. Like some fairytale castle." He frowned, looking down at the animals. "Will they really be able to make the trip cross country?"
"We'll have to go slowly and make a lot of stops, but if we wait until they're about weaning age then we should be fine." Oz looked down at the kittens. "At least six weeks from now."
"Okay, I think I can be pulled back together by then," Xander said with a nod. "Can you help me get over my fears?"
"Yup, if you help me get over mine."
Xander smiled. "Oz, that's what I'm here for." They shared a kiss, broken only by the sound of a snowball hitting the door and Rocky getting up to protect them. "Gee, fun?"
"Could be. It's been almost sixteen years since I was around snow." He turned them so they could watch the kids play on the lawn, laughing at the mishaps of the snowball fight. Oz looked down as a cold nose hit his foot. "Hey, Rocky, what's up?" She looked at the door and whined. "Ah, time to go out. Want to walk her or me?"
"You walk, I'll warm milk for the kittens." Xander turned and stepped over the spread out shirt, pulling the bowl out of the microwave to test. "This was a brilliant idea, keeping it warm all the time."
"Yup, just gotta remember to make sure it isn't curdling. It's lasting about three warms." Oz pulled on his jacket and pushed into his shoes, grabbing the leash. He grabbed the wiggling puppy, hitching her up and taking her out. "Few droppers at a time," he reminded.
"I know." Xander picked up the first one, putting the dropper into her open mouth. "Lunch, sweetie," he said softly. "Yeah, that's it."
Xander looked up from combing his hair, giving Oz a small smile. "I'll be done in a minute." His lover sat down against the heater that made the hall very narrow, watching him. "I'm just combing my hair."
"I know. Just wanted to watch you." Oz looked toward the bedroom. "Rocky all settled in for the night with the kittens?"
"Yup, she's taking good care of them. Maybe... I was thinking about breeding her. She'd have beautiful puppies."
"Sure. If that's what you want." Xander nodded so Oz leaned his head back. "Have you lotioned down yet?"
"Nope. Haven't been."
"It's just easier to not remember that right now." Xander put down his comb and sat down on the toilet seat to look at the immortal. "Why'd you want to come up and watch, Oz?"
"I used to watch you almost every night," Oz reminded him quietly. "You used to sit at your little table and lotion everything slowly, growing hard from it. That's one of the images that stuck in my head." He looked down at his hands. "You probably think it's silly, but I stole your bottle of lotion and used it on the bear Methos got me. It still probably smells like you. Even he and Giles stole it a few times."
Xander nodded and stood up. "Is that all you wanted?"
"I wanted a hug too, but I'd like to watch you lotion yourself," Oz told him, looking back up. "Please?"
"Sure." Xander reached into the medicine cabinet and pulled out a gold bottle. "I switched to this stuff because it smelled like your aftershave." He handed it over to let Oz smell, his heart starting to beat faster when he saw the ecstatic smile his lover got over his face. "You like?"
"I love. This smells like every fantasy I've had of you, Xander." He handed it back. "Please may I watch?"
"Sure. I told you it was okay." Xander sat back down on the toilet, pumping a little of the lotion onto his hand and starting on his right ankle and leg.
Oz watched as Xander worked his way up his leg, then switched to the other side, working his way up that side to his thighs. Xander switched to his arms, starting on his left wrist, working his way slowly up to his shoulder and down onto his chest. Down to his stomach, where he smoothed the lotion in little circles, groaning as he touched himself. Oz blinked as Xander worked his way back up his chest, teasing himself lightly across his pecs and nipples. Then the younger man worked up his neck before hitting his other arm. Xander finished by working over his hands then his feet, making sure to get the lotion in between the digits and into every crevice. By the end, both of them were hard, Xander had his eyes closed and Oz was ready to jump. Xander looked over and gave Oz a smile. "More?" Oz suggested.
"No," Xander said, standing up. He pulled Oz against him, holding him so tightly against his body that he could feel it when Oz breathed. "I want to do more, Oz, it's time." He initiated the kiss, letting his lover deepen it as he wanted to. "Oh, missed this," he panted when he had control of his mouth again. "I feel like myself again. Please?"
"I don't want to rush you..." Oz stopped talking as his mouth was attacked again. "Whatever you're comfy with," he murmured, wrapping his hands in Xander's hair to hold on while he kissed him. "Please?"
"Yes," Xander said, walking them down the hall and pushing Oz into his room. "Come here," he commanded as he got onto the bed. He pulled the immortal's top off, leaning into it to lick over the warm flesh. "Missed how you taste," he whispered, teasing a nipple and moving away from it. Oz groaned, pushing his head back where it had felt best. "Want more?"
"Much more," Oz said, getting onto the bed on his knees. He laid him out so he could taste him, working his tongue over each part of his body, ripping the boxers off when he came to them so nothing could get in his way. "Needed this," he murmured as he started to suck the hard cock, working it with all the skill he had ever learned. "Needed you," he whispered, pulling off and rolling onto his side to pull Xander's head over so he could kiss him.
"Oz," Xander complained, rubbing over his chest. "Wanted more."
"Anything," Oz panted, pushing back against the hand. "Be a willing sex slave for you." He rolled onto his back, spread out. "Do what you want."
"Ooh, an invitation," Xander purred, straddling Oz's chest so he can lean down to kiss him some more, even as his ass was grinding against his lover's cock. "What do you need, Oz," he whispered, moving down to his lover's chin to lick along it.
"Anything," Oz groaned, pushing his hips up to get more. "Like what you're doing. More?"
"Sure." Xander glanced up. "I can tease."
"Yeah, you can," Oz agreed, reaching up to grab Xander by the hair, pulling him up to kiss him again. "Whatever you want," he murmured against the wet lips. "All for you."
Xander pulled back to look down at him. "Really?" Oz nodded. "Anything I want?" Oz nodded again, giving him a little smile. "Even if I just really wanted cuddled?" Oz rolled them over, pulling Xander against his body and held on. "I missed this," he admitted, squeezing hard. "I'm sorry I got you so hard."
"It'll go down," Oz reminded him. "It's more important to me that you're comfy and here." He shifted them up so they were laying on the pillows, getting them under the covers with a few tugs. "There, sleep, babe, I'm here." Xander nodded, burying his face in his chest. "Anything you need," Oz reminded quietly, rubbing down the relaxed back. His own eyes started to close, gently lowering him into a sound sleep.
Until Rocky barked at them from the laundry basket at the end of the bed. Then both men sat up and groaned. "I'll do it," Oz said, sliding out. "You can have the next one." He carried the basket down the stairs and into the kitchen, putting the bowl of milk from the refrigerator into the microwave and turning it on.
Xander lay back against the pillows with a groan. "What is wrong with me?" he muttered. "I've wanted and dreamed about having Oz at my mercy and all I wanted was a cuddle?" He covered his head with the pillow and groaned again, but eventually fell back asleep.
Oz strolled into the bookstore behind Xander, heading for the stacks to find something new to read. There really was nothing on cable those days. He had just picked up one book when another customer walked in and tapped Xander on the shoulder, making Oz arch an eyebrow and walk out to stand beside him. He put the book down on the counter, looking at the man in the suit.
"Hey," Xander said, waving at Oz. "You can tell me. This is my lover, we don't usually keep secrets from each other."
"I think it's best we showed you," he said, waving at the door. "Can we?"
"Sure." Xander nodded at his boss, taking his check with a small smile. He glanced at Oz. "Problems with my box."
"Oh." He looked at the book. "Hold that for me, I'll be back in a few." He walked out behind Xander, catching up easily since the bank was across the street and two doors down. He wrapped an arm around Xander's waist, looking at the box that was pulled out for them to view. "Wasn't that full?"
"Was," Xander said with a frown. "Where's the money?" He looked at the man in the suit. "Where did it go? Even the paperwork on how I got it is gone."
"That's not all," he admitted. He opened the small safe door behind him and stepped out of the way. "From the call we got from you, there should be something of yours in there too, am I right?"
Xander nodded and Oz answered. "Box with money and jewelry." He looked at the box again. "Who did it? The only ones who knew about the big box were Sarah and Duke, and Gladys, who saw me pull them out of a trunk I was sent."
The man in the suit frowned. "Sarah and Duke haven't been back to work since they left your house. Did she give you any paperwork at all? I've found what we have from when you rented the box."
Xander nodded slowly. "At home, it's on top of the microwave." He frowned at the box. "She stole it all?"
"Apparently." He shrugged. "We've turned her into the police but we'd like a copy of the inventory."
"I'll go get it," Oz said quietly. He patted Xander's back as his arm slid from around his waist. "Then you can check and make sure she didn't make any withdrawals from your accounts."
Xander shook his head. "I haven't used my one at home from here. There's no way." He looked at the man in the suit, squinting just a little. "One of the stones in the box was dangerous possibly. We've had two deaths associated with it. Has anyone checked their houses?"
The man in the suit shrugged. "I'm not sure. I can call and ask the police. If you need to, we can wire your other account for money."
Oz shook his head. "We can do mine. I have enough ready cash lying around to live off of, more than." He looked at Xander, who was staring at him. "Told you I was having an auction. It was last night. All the money's in my account right now." He walked out of the bank and down the street, heading for the house. He stopped when he saw an unfamiliar car in the driveway, heading slowly up the stairs. An older woman, somewhere in middle age, met him at the door. "Hi." He checked the house. "I'm Oz."
"Oh," she said, opening the door. "We tried to call last night but the line was busy."
"I was monitoring an auction of some of my things," he said with a small shrug. "Xander's at the bank right now, someone stole from him. Um, I just came to get a paper. I'll send him back in a few?"
She nodded. "That'll be fine. Who's kittens?"
"That's a longish story. The mother jumped into his lap and wouldn't let go so we brought her home. She died that night as did one kitten." He looked down at Rocky, who was nosing two other dogs. "That's Rocky, Xand picked her up a few weeks ago." He looked back up at her. "Um, can you give us a day to get things together?"
"That's no problem. I can move your things down to the bedroom by the living room. I know this is a bit sudden." She smiled, reaching over to ruffle his hair. "At least you showed up."
"Yeah, and we're talking again." He grinned, reaching over to grab a paper off the microwave. "I've got to take this back to the bank. Are the kittens okay?"
"Yeah, they're asleep," a male voice called from the living room. He popped his greying head in. "They're cute."
"Thanks." Oz nodded. "We'll be back in about an hour to get the things moved. Most of his stuff in the bank's disappeared. Along with a teller and a guard." Both older people hissed. "Yeah. Oh, and one of your children called the other night. Xander gave them your addy."
"She called," the mother sighed, rolling her eyes. "She's fine. Go do that, we'll talk later." Oz nodded and walked out of the house. "He's nice," she said. "Why couldn't my girls find someone like him?"
"They're not that lucky," the older man said, kissing her cheek. "They're really small."
"The boys are probably hand raising them." She yawned. "I'm going to take a nap. Come get me when they come back." She headed up the stairs, two of the three dogs following, Rocky being one of them. The other, the smaller puppy, laid down beside the kittens to sniff them.
"Don't eat them," he warned the puppy. "They're really fragile."
Oz handed off the papers. "Guess who's home," he said to Xander. His lover groaned. "Yup, they were there when I got back. She said we could have the spare room that you put me in."
"Coolness. How much longer until we can move the kittens?"
"Few weeks." He looked at the officer walking in with a box and a small bag that looked like a pillow case riding on top. "His?" he asked, taking the bag as it started to slide.
"All but a few grand of it from the original paperwork." He shoved the box onto the desk and pulled a fabric-wrapped lump out of his pocket. "What is this thing?"
"It's a family heirloom," Xander said with a frown. "It's supposed to steal souls. My grandfather dropped dead the night he uncovered it." He took the lump, looking at it in the light. "See, really pretty lights in it."
The officer shrugged. "If you're sure it's not poisonous." He looked at the bank's man. "They're both comatose but not dead. They're heading up to the hospital right now to be evaluated." He looked at Xander. "Heard you were thinkin' of leaving soon."
"Few weeks," Oz corrected. "We have newborn kittens that can't travel yet. And since the house where we're staying is now filled by the owners, I'm guessing we're going to be moving to an apartment locally." Xander nodded. "You have that planned?"
"I know where a few are, including over the row of stores," he pointed across the street. "Few nice ones up there." He looked inside the bag, nodding. "Looks to be all there." He handed it to the bank's man. "Want to count it for me?"
He snapped his fingers and a teller came over. "Please count the contents of the bag and check the contents of the box against this list," he said, handing over the paperwork. "Thank you, Mary."
She smiled and picked up the bag, followed by the officer who carried the box. "Anytime." They headed for a closed off room, locking themselves in.
Xander shifted in his seat. "I hope they'll be okay."
"I'm sure they will," Oz told him, patting his arm. He looked at the bank's man, looking him over. "Is it safe for him to continue to leave those here? I don't want that much money laying around in an apartment, even if we're going to be home most of the time."
"Of course. We'll lock the box and the money away more securely this time, making sure no one can get to it without my authorization." Mary came out and whispered in his ear. "Thank you. Can you reinventory the box?" She nodded and walked back into the room. "It seems that you're missing about six thousand, just over actually." Xander shrugged. "You're not worried?"
"More than likely, they've spent it in a way that you can't get back. I have enough there to let that ride." He nudged Oz, who grunted. "Don't nap. We can do that in a while." He looked back at the bank's man. "We have newborn kittens. He's been great about getting up to take care of them."
"Ah." He smiled. "I'd heard how the mother jumped up into your lap, Tara's told almost everybody about her. I'm sorry to hear that the mother died."
"So were we," Oz said, yawning. "We should be getting back, is there anything else?"
"Not unless the officers want to take a statement or something." He looked at the one that had walked out behind Mary and was leaning against the wall. "Then I guess you can go."
Oz nodded, standing up and stretching. "Xander, books?"
"Please." He wrapped an arm around Oz's waist and led him out of the bank, heading back over to the bookstore. He picked up the book Oz had left on the counter and pulled out his wallet. The owner came out, giving him a look. "They found it," he said with a shrug. "I'm sure they'll be okay."
"I'd hope so." She took his bill and rang up the book, handing him back the change. "I know you wouldn't have a stone that would kill someone."
"Family legend says it steals souls," Oz explained. "Apparently something was true." He yawned again and shuddered. "You take care of the little people for a while, I'm going to nap." He wandered out of the store, heading across the street.
Xander grinned. "He's been doing most of the kitten care." He followed, remembering to grab the bag, and caught up with Oz beside the railroad tracks. "They're really back?"
"Yup, him, her, two dogs." Oz looked over at his lover. "Want to find us an apartment tomorrow? I'll watch the kittens and read if you would, then we'll move."
"Sure," Xander said, rewrapping himself around Oz's waist. They turned down an alley that ran parallel to the tracks, heading down behind a few houses and an abandoned factory. "The Lexus will be fixed in a few days," he reminded. "We've got to start making plans on how to get home."
"I only have the trunk, and your stuff will probably fit into it. We can put the animals into a big carrier in the back seat and tend to them from there." Oz turned the corner first, pulling Xander next to him so they wouldn't get hit by the car coming towards them. "I'm more concerned about housing right now. And a nap," he conceded at the shy smile he got. "You sure you're going to be okay?"
"Yup. She's got four kids, all just out of the house. Actually, I know her daughter that lives in the area. She's come over to use the washing machine a few times. She's really nice. Very strong willed, but so's her mother." They walked down the street the house was on, cutting a small corner to hit the driveway. "Home again, for now," he whispered, leading Oz up the stairs and into the house. He caught the puppy trying to escape. "Hey, you," he said, bending down to scratch her ears. "How was your trip?"
"Fine," the older man said. He took one look at Oz and pointed toward the bedroom. "I'd put him somewhere softer than the wall." He watched as Xander walked Oz past him and into the bedroom, shaking his head. "At least he's happy," he told the puppy trying to jump into his lap. "What? You're too happy to be home?"
Xander walked back out. "Oz has done most of the kitten care stuff." He looked down at the towel laying beside the heat vent. "Good, you're all okay," he said, picking the towel up to sit them on his lap. "Hungry yet, guys and girl?" He looked up at the amused snort. "The last one was born on the table, but we've cleaned it really well. Doc Greenwalt had to come cut her out." He rubbed over her head, earning a little protesting noise. "I'm sorry. You aren't hungry?"
"Oh, they probably are. What happened to the mother?"
"She had an obstruction. It was snowing really bad when Doc came over, too bad for her to take her into the clinic. Miracle was howling really loudly, I guess it hurt her a lot. Anyway, Doc set up a nice semi-sterile area on the table to remove her, and when she made the first cut, blood just gushed out. Apparently she was hemorrhaging badly and she couldn't be saved. Oz saved the last little one though." He picked her up and kissed her pink head. "Yeah, we're a miracle in our own right, huh, sweetie."
The old man laughed. "You dote on them too much, they need to get some time alone."
"Oh, they will, but they also need a lot of attention right now." He laid her back down on the towel and bunched it up, carrying it into the kitchen. "How's Penny?"
"She's taking a nap, the traveling got her." He stood up, walking in to watch them. "Want help?"
"Can you rub their stomachs gently after I feed them? Oz said they need it to help digestion." He nodded so Xander picked up the first one, sliding the eyedropper into the open mouth and releasing it slowly. "Yeah, there we go," he cooed. "No more hungry tummies for another hour or so." He handed her off. "There's the first."
"Jim," the woman called from upstairs. "Tell him he can come up and get his stuff."
"We're feeding the kittens," he called back. Xander shot him a smile. "Give us five minutes." He looked over his shoulder as she walked in. "It's dinner time." He handed over the little bundle of fur. "See? Very helpless. Just like a baby."
"I think you're looking forward to the grandchild *much* more than I am," she sighed. She sat on the stool, watching as Xander fed them. "She really died?"
"Yup, hemorrhaging. Doc Greenwalt had to go in for the last one, the little pink one." He held her up. "She was stuck behind something, but when she cut into Miracle, she started to bleed really badly. Of course, her heart had just stopped too, or just about at that time."
Oz walked out, kissing the back of Xander's neck. "She's not in pain anymore. She came to you because she knew you'd help." He reached around to rub a finger across a kitten who was yawning's head. "Nap time all around?" he suggested.
"We'll bathe them later," Xander agreed, leaning back against Oz's chest. He had to catch the towel since it was tucked into his belt, catching one kitten before he could roll off the stove. "Careful." Oz helped him get them all settled. "He's very gentle with all of us." Xander looked around as someone started to bark. "Rocky?" She wiggled into the room, barking at them. "Want to watch the kittens for a while?" She barked again. "Okay, we'll set you beside the window and you can nap beside them." He took back the last kitten. "Did we feed all of them?"
"Yeah," Jim said, looking at them. "You'd never guess they're probably going to become lap sized."
"Their mother was about half-lap sized," Oz told him. "She was really young." He picked up the towel, walking the contents out to the bay window beside the tv in the living room, laying the towel down where Rocky was napping. "You watch them for us," he told her with a scratch to the ears, "and you can have a pork chop later. Okay?" She barked and licked his hand. "Good girl." He backed away, looking down at her. "Very good girl." He felt an arm go around his shoulders and looked over to find their landlord looking at them too. "She's been a good girl, but she likes to steal food. Thinks she's a people."
She laughed. "Mine all beg, my youngest one taught them well." She squeezed his shoulder. "Can you come up and get his stuff? I noticed all your stuff was downstairs."
Xander coughed. "I can do that. It'll take me a few minutes." He jogged up the stairs. "Oz, go take your nap."
Oz looked up at her and shrugged. "He likes to take care of me, same as I do him." He got free, walking around her and into the bedroom. "We've got plans to give you back the house tomorrow if possible."
"That's fine," she sighed, sitting down on the couch. She looked at her husband. "Think they'll do okay with them?"
"They should. They both seem to have a good head on their shoulder's." He looked down at the dog. "How they're getting back across the country with four kittens and a dog I'm not sure."
She smiled. "Only you, dear," she said, standing up. "I'm going to go help him pack and change the sheets." She walked up the stairs, smiling at the young man taking things out of a drawer. "That's all you have?"
"Nope, I have some more stuff that was shipped. It's down with the clothes Oz had shipped up since he didn't realize it was going to start snowing soon." He smiled at her. "Just a few more minutes and you can have your bedroom back." He looked at the two dogs on the bed. "They're comfy though, you might have to fight for space."
She smiled at the animals. "Oh, they know better." She picked up a shirt he had tossed. "Velvet?"
"I like fuzzy clothes, they make me feel good." He put down the last of his clothes, sitting down to look at her. "You look worried."
"I am. The pregnant one didn't call last night."
"I talked to her a few days ago, she's on bedrest because the baby tried to come out through her back, her words." She rolled her eyes. "Her doctor told her she was on bedrest and she called down to the bookstore to get something to read. Her husband's around here somewhere. He came in to pick it up."
"I wish she would get someone decent," Penny sighed. "But at least you're getting settled again."
"Yup, I love my Oz, and he feels the same. We still have some talking to do, we've been talking around the subject and easing back into it. We'll have it settled before we leave. The kittens won't be able to really travel for a few more weeks."
"About a month and a half," she said with a nod. "At least you have a plan. I wish you luck, Xander."
"Thanks, Penny." He hugged her. "I'll get out of your hair. I'm sure you want to change the bed or something." He picked up his bag. "We'll find an apartment tomorrow."
"How's your job?"
"Actually, I quit, but I do have a lot of money in the bank." He gave her a self-depreciating smile. "I was only working because I was bored, I didn't need to do it." She patted his arm. "No, really," he said, pulling out the papers the bank had given him. "See?" She looked at it then up at him. "It's an inheritance. I have more at home but I wasn't wanting to touch it." He shrugged again, taking the papers back. "Night. Have a good rest. Yell at us if we keep you up." He walked out of the room and down the stairs, tapping lightly on the door before walking in. "Just me," he whispered, closing and locking the door with the hook-and-eye closure. He laid his bag down and slid onto the bed, and was instantly cuddled. "Wow."
"Missed you," Oz whispered, putting his head on Xander's shoulder. "Sleep?"
"Yeah, we can nap," he whispered, pulling the blankets up over them. "Sleep, babe, I'll watch over you." Oz smiled. "Night, love."
Xander looked around the apartment. "This is the only one?"
"No, I got another one but it's more expensive." He looked Xander over. "You sure you can afford this? You look like a college student."
"I have funds," he said simply, looking out the windows. "What's the other one like?" They walked across the hall and into a bigger apartment, this one with a balcony and a view of the grocery store. "Wow," he said as he wandered around the two room apartment. He briefly wondered about the room without a window but shrugged it off. "I like this one. How much?"
"Five hundred a month, all utilities included. How long you stayin' for?" the landlord asked.
"About two months, maybe a week less." Xander pulled out his wallet, handing him over the cash. "Security deposit necessary?" he asked when he saw the frown.
"No, not really. How'd a kid like you get so much money?"
"Easy, I inherited it. I had this really insane aunt and it was hers. The rest is over in the bank. Now, we have animals, is that a problem?"
"Nah, as long as they don't spray things. You got cats?"
"Four newborn kittens without a mother." Xander stepped out onto the balcony. "Really like this place."
"The building's for sale," he said with a smile. "You worked downstairs, right? In the bookstore?" Xander nodded, not looking at him. "Heard you quit because you were getting ready to leave."
"We will be, as soon as the kittens are old enough." He turned to look at his landlord. "Where's the nearest rental place? Like a Rent-a-Center?"
"Near the mall, I'd guess," he said, closing his eyes to think. "White River might have one. I have a phone book downstairs, I'll toss it up here for ya." He walked out. "You movin' in today?"
"Yeah, Penny's back. Oz and I can do it in one trip. Where's the parking spaces?"
"In the alley, they're marked, though your boss tends to park in one."
Xander grinned. "I'm sure we can work something out. One of our cars is in the shop."
"Yeah, I saw the fancy lookin' thing. Yours or his?"
"Mine, from at home." Xander turned to look out at the view again. "Keys?"
"I'll have them for ya when you come back." He walked out and shut the door.
Xander smiled. "He'll like it and so will Rocky and the kittens," he told himself, heading out of the apartment, going back to gather what was his.
To Be Continued...