Xander and Ray snuck past the doorway, going out to have a day to themselves. They were sure their lovers wouldn't notice for a while, but they didn't see the housekeeper in the kitchen. Xander giggled as he started his sports car, pulling away from the house with a squeal of tires.
In the house, Henrietta smiled down at the kitten that always followed her around. "Yes, Ribbon, your daddies have went to be naughty." She reached down pet the kitten, smiling at the pitiful look she was getting. "Did you want a treat?" she cooed, tossing down a piece of her lunch for the cat.
Oz checked the time on his computer, frowning. He hadn't been jumped by Xander or Ray in a while. He got up and walked out into the hall, looking both directions in case Jedi wanted to run him over again, her favorite game recently, then headed for Xander's writing room. No one. He walked into the craft room, but there still wasn't a single person. He headed out to the pool area, one eyebrow going up when he found Methos napping beside the pool. He shoved him to wake him up. "Where're the boys?" he asked.
"I have not a clue. Ray was gone when I woke up this morning," Methos told him, making room so Oz could sit beside him on the lounger. "Haven't you seen Xander?"
"Nope. Not in his writing or his sewing rooms." He looked around the pool area. "Think they took off?"
"Probably," Methos agreed. He looked toward the open kitchen window. "Henri, did you see the two young and energetic ones?" he called.
She walked over to the sliding door and looked out. "Yes. They snuck out earlier, matching naughty grins brightening the house." She walked out, the kitten following her as usual. "I don't think they had anything major planned."
"No, they're probably shopping or something," Methos said, looking at the kitten. "When are you going to bring her home? She mopes after you every night."
"I'm not allowed to have animals," Henrietta reminded him. "Otherwise, we'd already be at home with me." She picked the cat up, petting her. "Isn't that right?"
"Of course it is," Oz agreed. "Spa or shopping?" he asked Methos.
"Probably a bit of both," Methos said with a shrug. "I'm not worried about them."
"You're letting *Xander* run around with *Ray* by *themselves*?" Henri asked, looking at Oz. "Don't you have to usually go save him when he does that?"
Oz groaned. "Maybe it'll be different this time. After all, he has Ray with him." He looked at Methos, who was starting to look concerned. "Ray would protect him."
"People have been looking at my Ray recently," Methos admitted. "They've been getting a bit too friendly for my tastes." He sat up, looking at Oz, then he nodded. "You call the spas he usually goes to and I'll look to see if there's anything on the news yet." He got up and jogged inside, Oz right behind him.
Henri smothered her laughter in the soft fur. Those two were so predictable when it came to their mates.
Oz and Methos stalked into the day spa, scaring the man standing behind the desk. "Harris and Kowalski?" Oz grunted.
"I...in room three," he stuttered, pointing. "Sir, is there a problem?"
"Do you have a badge?" the woman walking up behind him asked, looking them over. Oz shook his head. "Then I suggest you wait and talk to them once they're outside," she said firmly.
Methos snorted. "I have no desire to wait to talk to my husband," he said snidely, heading for room three, Oz following him.
One of the girls from the nearby giftshop ran over and said something quietly to the woman, who smiled. "I see," she said, relaxing. "As long as it doesn't become a problem, I don't have a problem with that." She patted the receptionist's shoulder. "That's their husbands. Mr. Harris is often here with his. Apparently, they snuck off without telling anyone this morning," she told him, going back to her office.
The receptionist wiped off the back of his neck, smiling at the girl who was running back to her register.
Oz pushed open the door, making it slam against the wall, and strode in. He and Methos looked at each other, then spanked their lovers at the same time.
Xander squealed and jumped. "Oz!" He gave Ray a helpless look. "They found us," he pouted.
"Yes, we found you," Methos said, leaning down to nip Ray's shoulder. "You could have left us a note." He got out of the masseuse's way, pulling a chair over to sit in front of Ray's head. "So, what else have we got planned for today?"
"We got a call from Danny and Jack on the way in," Ray murmured, putting his head back down as the nice man started to work on his back again. "They want us to bring them out."
"That'll be fine," Methos agreed. "Xander?"
"I wanted to stop by and see my old friend," Xander said, grinning up at Oz. He saw the questioning look and shrugged. "The one with the scales."
"Oh. I guess we can do that," Oz agreed. "What else did you have planned?" He picked up the bottle of oil warming in the tub of water and poured some out, starting to work on Xander's back, making him moan in pleasure. "What else?" he asked again, his voice dropping down to sound more intimate.
"Animal stuff," Xander groaned. "And lube."
"We're finally out of lube?" Ray asked him. "I thought that last case would last forever with our lives recently."
"Yup," Xander agreed, turning his head so he could look at Ray. "He does this really well," he sighed, pushing up into the warm hands. "You should feel this."
Oz looked at the masseuse, who shrugged and switched places with him. Ray moaned loudly and kicked his feet as he got off after only a few minutes of Oz's special treatment. "Oz," Ray whined. "I wanted to relax."
"And now you're really relaxed," Methos said, leaning forward to get a kiss. "Sooth him, Oz," he ordered. He watched carefully as Oz worked on his lover, watching what he did and which places he worked.
Oz looked over at Xander, who had his eyes closed and looked like he was having a moment of bliss. "You good?" he asked his husband.
"Perfect," Xander purred.
Oz let Methos have Ray's back and went over to work beside the masseuse on Xander's back. Between them, they turned Xander into a large mass of goo.
Xander held up a piece of paper, not opening his eyes. "Go pick them up?" he whispered.
"If you wish," Methos agreed, taking the paper. "How much longer do you have in here?"
"He's still got a wrap and a soak," the masseuse told him. "About two to three hours."
Methos looked at the paper and sighed. "Xander, they've probably landed by now." He went to find a payphone and a phone book, wanting to call them and tell them to wait for him. "I'll bring them back here," he said a few minutes later, sticking his head in the room.
Oz waved a hand. "We'll be here. Remember to have them rent a car." He moved down to work on Xander's calves, knowing his love had been having a few cramps in them lately. He looked up, smiling when he saw Xander was asleep. "You do good work," he noted.
The masseuse grinned. "You too." He nodded at Ray. "That's normal?"
"Sometimes," Oz agreed, continuing to work on the tight muscles. "You need to relax, my love," he whispered.
The masseuse backed off and wiped his hands. "I'll go check on their wraps. It should be about time." He left them alone, letting Oz wake them up.
Oz pulled a candybar out of his pocket and woke Ray up first, giving him it. "Here, I know your blood sugar tanks after you get off." He stroked through the red hair, frowning at the dark blond roots. "You need redone."
"I'll do it later," Ray grunted, tearing into the candy. "Thanks."
"It's all good," Oz reminded him, moving over to wake his husband up. "Xander. It's time to move onto your next treatment," he said quietly, gently touching the soft shoulder. Xander blinked up at him, looking adorable in a child-like and innocent way. "It's time to get up," Oz repeated. "You've got to move on to your next treatment." Xander blinked a few more times then shook his head. "Yes, love, you have to get up. It's time to move on and get wrapped on the smelly stuff."
"But I'm comfy," Xander whispered, holding out a hand.
Oz smiled at him, taking the hand to kiss and squeeze. "I know you are, but you've got to walk over to the next part, then you can nap again. I promise, I'll stand guard so you can nap if you'd like." Xander gave him a sleepy smile and put his head back down, but he stayed awake. "Ray, you okay?" he asked, looking over at their friend.
Ray had eaten all the candybar and was now back asleep, head pillowed on his arms.
Oz groaned and Xander chuckled, still sounding half-asleep.
The masseuse walked back in and smiled at Oz. "They're ready if you can get these two moving."
"Not wanting to move," Xander whined, his eyes closed again.
Oz rolled his eyes and poked Xander between the globes of his ass, making him shift upwards. "If you can do that, then you can walk down the hallway and nap in the next room while you're wrapped in warm stuff," he noted, going over to wake Ray up again. "Ray. Come on, Ray, it's time to get up again and move."
"No," Ray pouted, not opening his eyes.
"I'm sorry, but it's time for you both to wake up. It's someone else's turn in this room."
"They can't have the Oz," Ray said firmly, gripping Oz's arm and not letting go. "Our Oz."
"Ours," Xander agreed sleepily, starting to nap again.
Oz rolled his eyes. "Help?" he mouthed, making the masseuse smile. When they had finally gotten everyone into the next room, and both lovers were smothered in seaweed, Oz leaned back and relaxed, watching them nap together on the table. He considered Ray's statement and how protective Ray was of him, and decided he liked it.
Xander bounced into Daniel as Methos led him into their waiting and changing room, giving him a hug wearing only his peachskin thong. "Hi. We're almost ready," he said, going back to find his pants.
Jack walked in and covered his eyes, turning around so he didn't have to watch Xander change. "Geez, don't they have a bathroom?"
Xander looked down at himself. "What? I'm covered." He frowned at Jack. "Be thankful I'm wearing clothes." He pulled on his pants and let Oz hand him his shirt. "We've got to do a few things before we head home. Did you two want to come with us?"
"Sure," Daniel agreed. "Where did you need to go?"
"Pet shopping," Oz told him. "That and Xander wants to stop by and see a friend he helped find a home." He looked at his mate, giving him an inquisitive look. "When did you get that shirt?"
"Earlier," Ray said, walking out wearing Xander's loose button-up shirt. "I messed mine up and he got a new one."
"Oh." Oz nodded. "Okay. Is yours dirty or ripped?"
"Um, let's not go there," Xander said quickly, making sure he had everything in his pockets. He walked out, dragging Daniel with him for protection from Oz.
Oz put a hand on Ray's arm. "Am I going to be pissed and hurt someone?" he asked quietly.
"Did anyone ever tell you ya're possessive?" Ray asked. Oz nodded. "Good. It's handled, deal with it." He got free and followed Xander out so he could find his own lover.
Oz looked at Jack. "I worry," he said at the confused look. "People like to take Xander." He walked out, letting Jack follow him. "Xander?" he called, handing over the wallet the younger man was patting himself down for. "I was sitting on it." His lover grinned at him. "What happened?" he asked gently. "I promise not to overreact."
"We got pulled over for speeding and the cop started to make comments," Xander said, not looking at him. "He intentionally spilled something on Ray's shirt."
"All right. Did you make a report?"
"Would they listen this time?" Xander sighed. Oz shook his head. "Then why bother?"
"Because it'll be recorded," Jack told him seriously.
Xander shrugged. "It happens a lot. There's been cops that have accused me of selling it. There's been ones that have accused me of stealing my own car."
"There's been ones that tried to kill us both because we were together," Oz added. "We deal, Jack. It's okay." He stroked down Xander's arm. "You okay?"
"I'm fine, Oz," Xander said, giving him a smile and a hug. "Thank you for not overreacting."
"Hey, I just want to protect you from people like that," Oz whispered. "I don't want to be possessive, but protective." He pulled back and brought Xander's head down to kiss him on the forehead. "Ready to go?"
"Sure. Can we go see our friend first?"
"Sure. It's on the way to the pet warehouse." Oz took the credit card slip and signed it, handing it back to the receptionist. "Anything else we needed?"
"No," Xander said, walking out to their car, holding Oz's hand. "Ray?" he asked, pulling him away from kissing Methos. "You two take that car, we'll take the sports car. Jack, you two follow us. We're heading downtown." He slid into the passenger's seat, letting Oz drive them.
Xander looked up at the office building, smiling at the ghostly head that came down to sniff him. "Hey," he said, smiling at his dragon friend, ignoring his new ones. "How are you?"
"Good," the dragon said, his accent still crisp. "I do wish I had been able to bring my body. There's been an annoyance that I would have liked to bite to make disappear." He looked behind Xander at the men standing there. "I recognize your mate. How are you, Oz?" he asked, dipping his head.
"Good. We just got back from another cross-realmal trip." He touched Xander's braid. "He found the teacher you said he needed."
"Yes, I had noticed that his gifts seemed more stable." The dragon snorted, ruffling Xander's clothes. "Are you happy, young man?" he asked Xander.
Xander beamed at him. "Yup. About most everything in my life." He looked around then grabbed Daniel, pulling him forward. "This is Daniel, one of Oz's students. He's one of those people who study cultures."
"Ah," the dragon sighed, "research. How I miss that."
"You used to research?" Daniel asked, stepping forward on his own to get a closer look at the apparition.
"Whoa," Jack said, pulling Daniel back.
The dragon chuckled. "I'm very peaceful to all who aren't lawyers and aren't out to harm me." He smiled fondly at Xander. "He showed me that not all humans were bad and out to get me." He looked up at where his tail was hanging out of the window. "Damn lawyers," he muttered. "I will be right back. Please, if you'd like, come up and get comfortable." He disappeared, his smoky form flowing back up to the floor he inhabited.
"Cool," Xander said, walking across the street to go into the building, Oz and Ray right behind him, Daniel trying to get away from Jack. "Hi, we were invited up by the dragon," he told the man sitting behind the desk as he walked past it. They got on the elevator as the security guards got to it, the door shutting in their faces. Xander pushed a second button, getting off on this other floor, waving everyone on. "He's down here," he said, heading for where he could feel the spirit. He walked into the meeting room, smiling at the lawyers. "Sorry, we were invited up by the dragon and I felt him here." He smiled at the lawyer that jumped up and backed into a corner. "What?" he asked innocently.
One of the demons stood up and glared at them. "You released him," he accused.
"But he needed a good home," Xander said sweetly, leaning closer. "You really shouldn't have blown up my house or my Oz," he told him, standing back up.
Oz stepped out from behind Xander, glaring around the room. "Dear, I don't think we're supposed to be here."
"No, you need to be here for this," the dragon said as he walked through one of the walls, making a few people scream and run away. "Good, the worlds need less lawyers," he called after them. He looked at Xander, giving him a smile. "Thank you for this home, young one. It's most appropriate, but I do need to ask you for a favor. I miss my lair. Might I get you to go get me some things from my old one?"
"I don't own the house that has the gate anymore," Oz told him. "I do know the owner and I can ask him if we can go," he suggested.
"Please. I need my sunrock and I need my two trunks." He smiled at both of them. "That will truly make my floor a home." He turned his smile on the lawyers. "These still need to learn that I have taken over their territory." He stopped as Xander leaned up to whisper in his ear. "Young one," he said, looking shocked. "Is that ethical?"
"More ethical than they are," Xander agreed. "They blew up my house, while I and my pets were in it." He looked at Oz. "They blew him up too."
"Does 'blow up' have a different meaning here?" the dragon asked Daniel.
Daniel looked pained. "No, probably not. I heard that their house was destroyed but thankfully Oz managed to throw the first bomb away. And with what Oz is..." he said, trailing off.
"Oh, they know," Oz said, looking at the head lawyer, who was still standing up. "Don't you?"
The lawyer promptly sat down, nodding. "Yes, we know," he said, swallowing. "It was a tragic mistake of my predecessor, who has been fixed." He looked at the dragon. "Truly, it was not this Board of Directors."
"Yay," Xander told him coldly. "You worked for Wolfram and Hart then, you were probably aware of the decision to make Angel's life a living hell. Now you can live with my friend and teacher," he said, waving a hand at the dragon. "I hope some of you will listen to him, he's a very good ethics teacher." He bowed to his teacher. "I thank you for all you taught me. It's kept me from becoming an insufferable whiny person." He took Oz's hand, entwining their fingers. "I wouldn't have been able to keep him if I had become what I might have."
The dragon smiled at Oz. "You've got your hands full with this one."
"Oh, yeah," Oz agreed. "I know." He tugged on Xander's hand. "You never know, they might have changed under Angel's rule." He watched as everyone went pale. "Or not," he said, shrugging. He looked at the dragon. "If you ever need us, send us a message and we'll come." He squeezed Xander's hand. "Did you need anything else? Just your roost and your trunks?" The dragon nodded. "Then we'll try to go get them this weekend for you."
"No one stays for tea," the dragon sighed.
Xander grinned. "I will if you want." He looked at Oz, who nodded. "We both will."
"No," the dragon said, smiling down at them, then at Daniel. "I believe his mate is most discomfited by me. You will have to come back to tell me about my lair anyway."
Xander nodded quickly. "Sure. We'll come and stay for tea then." He looked at Daniel, then at Jack, who wasn't looking very happy. "You're right, we'd better go. These two aren't used to beings like you," he said. He looked the smoky form over. "I wish you were solid. I'd like to get a hug."
The dragon laughed. "As would I, Xander, as would I." He smiled at Oz. "Protect him well, Oz. I know how many people would like to have him as theirs." Xander got free and leaned into the smoky form, whispering to him. "Come with me for a minute, young man, and we will discuss this further." He and Xander disappeared together, Xander coming back alone after a few seconds.
"Okay, we can go now," Xander said, leading the way out with a wave over his shoulder for the lawyers. "Leave him alone or he's going to make your lives a bigger hell," he called as they walked onto the elevator. Oz looked at him and Xander gave him a hug, whispering in his ear.
"Do you feel better now?"
Xander nodded, snuggling into him. "Much. He made me see that this isn't that bad of a thing. He even told me one of his books had something that might help me." He looked at Daniel. "He really was my Ethics teacher. A three day lecture that changed my life. You can come have tea with us if you'd like." He got off the elevator as the door opened, striding out to their cars.
Daniel laid a hand on Jack's arm. "Maybe I should drive," he suggested gently. Jack handed over the keys without any comment.
Jack ran around the front yard with the dogs chasing him, playing to forget all the strange things he had seen so far.
Oz watched him from the window, checking every now and then on Daniel, who was calmly sipping tea on another couch. "You okay?" he asked, turning away from the window.
"I'm fine," Daniel said. "Jack's convinced himself it was some sort of illusion. I'm not sure what it was, but I'm open to all new experiences." He finished off his tea in a large gulp. "It was strange, but I'll work through it tonight while I write in my diary."
"We're kinda used to it here," Oz told him. "This town is full of strangeness. You get used to it after a while." He relaxed. "I was turned into a werewolf for a while by a bite from a 'nephew'." Daniel's mouth hung open. "We hang with some vamps too, gotta remind them to come up and talk to you guys too. Maybe Marilyn too. Her new form's mutable."
"Yeah, she used to be the Slayer," Oz sighed. "Nice girl, very friendly and good at her job. We were helping train her when an older, bad Slayer started to come after her." He looked down at the ring Xander had made for him while they had been on their trip. "Anyway, Faith, the bad girl, decided to use magic against Marilyn. She bartered a night with a sorcerer for a spell that would strip Marilyn of her powers during her next fight, thereby killing her." He looked at Daniel. "Unfortunately, it didn't work. The spell did strip her powers but Marilyn lived, mostly. Now she's working with Angel and Wesley to train the next girl."
"Was she turned? Is that the right word?" Daniel asked.
Oz snorted. "No, she got infected by the demon she was fighting. Our friend Buffy, who I met Xander through, she had been a Slayer too, got infected with the same sort of demon and got telepathic for a while. Marilyn became like the demon, she's a halfie now." He shrugged. "She's still a great kid, very good at what she does, and she's still fighting the good fight beside Angel."
"I see. Is she happy?"
"Not particularly, but Wes has done a lot to help her. There for a while, she told everyone that the old her had died and took on a new name, Keeper, and decided she was now some sort of knight. She'll answer to Marilyn, but only from those of us who knew her before."
"Has she sought help?" Daniel asked.
Oz chuckled. "In our world, we are the only help. Wes is a Watcher, they deal with the Slayers on a training and helping level. He's used everything he's ever been taught, and picked everyone's brain that he could, to help her return back to her old life. She's still insisting that Marilyn died that night during the fight. Even the Watchers have her listed as dead."
"And the new one?" Daniel asked.
"Marigold? She's cool. A hippy love child. She's actually taken Faith in hand, once she was turned and broken. They make a decent team most of the time. Wes wants to stake her *so* bad, but Marigold won't let anyone harm her Faith-snuggly."
Daniel smiled. "It sounds like everything's pretty normal for you."
"Oh, it is. This is normal around here. You learn to deal with the strange after a few weeks of knowing what's going on."
"Are a must if you're going out at night, or might be out at night. Wooden, fits in a pocket is best, but we've seen some pretty ornate ones in the past. Just make sure you always have one in this town. And a vial of holy water helps too. Things that won't die by wood can usually be hurt by holy water. You'd have to ask Xander though, he's made a chart for you guys."
"Where is he anyway?" Daniel asked. "I looked for him earlier and he was nowhere to be found."
"I think he went to get the stuff for the dragon," Oz sighed. "He didn't tell me where he was going but he was wearing his favorite leathers and sword when he left." He scooted down until he was lying down. "He'll be back by tonight, or early tomorrow probably. I don't worry about Xander going into that sort of situation. He's very well trained to go into anyplace that needs a sword." He looked up at the ceiling. "If he would put the same sort of effort into his writing as he does his fighting and jewelry making, then he'd never be bored again."
"He makes jewelry?" Oz nodded. "I'd be interested in seeing some," Daniel said. "He seemed like he had a very fine touch with metals."
"Oh, he does," Oz said, taking off his ring and tossing it over. "He made me that while we were gone."
Daniel looked over the small emerald, turning it around in the natural light to see the delicate metal work on the band. He hummed in appreciation and got up to hand it back. "Your wedding band?"
Oz shook his head, holding up the hand he was sliding the ring onto. "No, he said I deserved an engagement ring but never got one so he made me one." He looked at it against his simple platinum band, touching the tri-necklaces he wore. "Our wedding was very special. Xander went into clothing overdrive and made everything, including this incredible outfit in barely there red gauze that felt like silk." He looked up at Daniel. "We'd gotten back from India recently and Xander really loved our travels there."
"I noticed all the saris," Daniel said, sitting on the end of the couch. "Where did he learn to make jewelry?"
"He's been interested in it for a while now so he bought into a small jewelry business. He's taken some lessons with them, and on our trip across the portal with another master over there. He's got a very delicate touch with metals and stones. Nothing he does is big or chunky, but it's all substantial."
"Which means it's probably unisex?" Daniel thought out loud. Oz nodded. "Wow. Is he going to show any of his work?"
"Maybe. I think he's going to talk to the store he works with and ask them what they think about a private showing." He sat up. "I'd better go check on the babies, I haven't heard a squeak from a ferret in a while."
"They were napping by the pool last time I looked out back," Daniel offered.
"Great. Jedi's teaching them how to swim." He got up and walked out to the back patio, going to make sure all the animals were fine.
Daniel settled in to watch Jack play with the dogs.
Xander walked into his house after being gone a few days and dropped the neverending bag he had brought with him on his trip, leaning against the wall beside the door. "Oz? Methos?" he called lightly, knowing at least one of them were waiting on him. Ray came jogging out from the kitchen and stopped when he saw the condition his friend was in. "Upstairs," Xander said quietly.
"Sure," Ray said, helping Xander up the stairs to his room. He watched as Xander stripped down, wincing at the nasty-looking cut on his back. "Why hasn't that healed?" he asked, pointing at it.
"It has," Xander noted. "It was much larger and poisoned yesterday." He walked into the bathroom. "Come talk to me? I'm not ready for quiet yet." Ray got up and followed him in, sitting on the little stool in the corner where Xander's vanity sat. "Ray, do you know what it's like to walk in during the crucial battle in a civil war and have both sides want you to stop it by being on their side?"
"No," Ray said honestly, "but I guess it'd suck."
"Big time," Xander agreed. "The guy that was ruling when we were there died and his kids were fighting with each other, and both of them wanted me to stick up for them. I ended up picking the one that didn't want it at all and had gone into seclusion to get away from everyone." He turned on the shower, testing the water. "Oh, man, this is gonna feel so *good*," he sighed as he got under the steaming spray. "I ended up spending almost a month there, trying to get it all straightened out without getting killed, and then I when I finally got to go get the things that I was there for, a young dragon had taken over the lair and was renovating." He sighed again as he pulled the braid out of his hair and got it wet, starting to work it through his fingers. "Ray, is my comb out there?"
"Yup," Ray said, tossing it to him. "So, did you get the war solved?"
"Yeah, and when I chose, the sibling reacted by trying to have me killed. She *really* didn't want the throne." He finished combing the leaves and dirt out of his hair and picked up the bottle of shampoo. "Damn, empty," he muttered, tossing it at the sink. He picked up Oz's, but it was empty too. "Ray, is there any shampoo in the house?" he asked, leaning his head against the wall.
"Sure, I'll go get mine," he said, hurrying out to go do that. He came back and found Xander in the same position so shrugged and stripped so he could climb in and help him. He touched Xander's hair, making him flinch. "Shh, it's me," he promised calmly, pouring some of his pear- smelling shampoo out to work through the bottom of Xander's hair. "It's just me and you're home."
"Yeah, I'm home," Xander said, turning around to give Ray a hug. "Where are they?"
"With Jack and Danny, going over the lab with the architects and those guys." Ray gave Xander a squeeze. "Want me to wash your hair for ya?"
"Please," Xander agreed, turning around so he could lean against the wall again, making sure his head was free of the spray. He relaxed as the semi-familiar motions of someone washing his hair calmed him down, forcing him to focus on this reality instead of what had happened in that other one.
Ray looked at his friend's slowly relaxing back, knowing that Xander would need to share the story sometime, but not with Oz. This was definitely something Xander wouldn't want to share with Oz or Methos. "So, wanna talk?" he asked as he poured out some more shampoo and started on Xander's scalp, working the lather in so the two sections could be joined.
"Okay. Well, if you do, then I'm here."
"I know," Xander sighed, turning and grabbing Ray's hands. "I know you're here, but this is another one of those things that's not getting out, no matter who it is." He gave his best friend a hug. "It's not you," he said at the hurt sounding sigh. "It's totally me. I'm not spreading this poison any farther."
"But if you keep it in, it'll fester," Ray pointed out. "It'll make it worse."
"I'll be able to forget about it," Xander promised, pulling back to give him a weak smile. "Just keep everyone off me tonight, okay?"
"You sure?" Ray asked, not looking convinced.
"Yeah, I can store it somewhere tonight, same as I have with everything else, I just need a little time. And for my hair to quit itching!" he said, reaching up to scratch.
"Let me," Ray said, turning Xander around and attacking his hair again. "Maybe we should get you some of the dandruff shampoo," Ray suggested when Xander started to growl as he scratched the tender scalp.
"Just keep doing that and I'll let you go later," Xander promised.
"Um, maybe you need a medicated shampoo after all," Ray said, after having pulling Xander down so he could look at his scalp. "I think it's itchin' because it's toasted down here."
"I know," Xander admitted. "But it itches, Ray."
"Thought I heard water," Methos said as he walked in, a plastic bag swinging at his side. "I bought more shampoo." He peeked into the shower, looking down at the reddened scalp. "Rinse and let me look at it," Methos said, giving Xander a smile. "One never knows what sort of creature may be waiting for you in a cave or a forest."
"At least it's not lice," Ray noted, pulling down the hand-held attachment to rinse out Xander's hair. He looked into Xander's eyes, giving him a smile. "Just your scalp?"
"No, I've got itching on my legs too," Xander admitted with a sigh, standing up so Ray could finish rinsing the back length. "Do I have to do this now?" he asked Methos. "I'm trying to shower off the stink from over there."
"If we do this now, you'll be able to wash everything off and then put on medicine, which we can go get while you finish your shower," Methos told him. "Now, come along and let me look at your skin, Xander." He held out a towel, helping to dry the long mass and get Xander motivated to go lie on the bed. He noticed Xander's look at the door and kissed him on the shoulder as he laid the younger man down. "Oz is downstairs taking care of the animals. I'm here purely as your physician." He looked at Ray, nodding him back into the bathroom. "Go run him a hot bath. Most of the time, a soak before the shower will help some of this." He waited until they were alone to look at Xander's calves. "When were you burned?" he asked quietly, looking up at Xander.
"When I was trying to stop the civil war," Xander told him, nearly whispering. "It started out as a fight for the throne, moved into a civil war, and then another country attacked that one and I ended up defending the castle as it burned and was gassed."
"And you came back after how long?"
"After a few weeks. The other leader apparently admired me for my abilities and had me taken off the field as a prisoner. At least until he realized I wasn't a politically worthy pawn." He snorted. "And then I was cast out and warned to leave the area for good."
"Is that when you came back?" Methos asked, gently probing the new skin. Xander nodded. "Good. At least you didn't stay around."
"Nope, not into torture. I did manage to save all the kids before I left though, got them away from the sadistic bastard."
"I see." Methos dropped the leg and pulled Xander up, looking down at his scalp. "This looks more like a chemical burn."
"It was a burning gas. Felt like acid as it ate into my skin." He pulled up a piece of his hair, looking at it. "Lots of this broke off later that same night. Can the itching be stopped?"
"Most definitely. There's some excellent things to do that with these days." He looked down at Xander. "Is there anything else I need to examine for you?" Xander bit his lip but he shook his head. "I saw the mark on your back."
"Claw mark," Xander noted. "It's healing. The poison's all gone."
"Good. And everything else is..."
"Fine," Xander agreed. "He never touched me that way, Methos. Just innuendo and that crap." He forced himself to sit up. "I'm fine, Methos. I itch, but I'm fine."
"Then I'll go down and get some oatmeal to soak you in. That should take care of most of the itching, it's a very neutralizing agent. Did you wash off after this gas hit you?"
"I was bathed later that night and wrapped in stuff that's basically equivalent of aloe. Long bandages soaked with the stuff." Methos nodded for him to go on. "It's like a gassy form of napalm. It's very slimy feeling when it hits your skin and then it burns like someone set it on fire."
"I see. Maybe we should scrape some of your skin and check it over."
"Do my pants. They're in the bag," Xander said, pointing at where Ray had dropped it for him. "Better yet, give it to Danny and Jack, let them do it. Maybe they can make more of it and fill the starships with it."
Methos patted him on the shoulder. "I'm sure they can. Have you visited your friend?"
"Yup. He said thank you. Kept me for tea until I started to itch. Told me I needed to shower this stuff off."
"I'm not sure. But don't worry, if it hurts, I'll yell," Xander said with his usual humor. He stood up, grabbing the bedpost to steady himself. "I'm really just tired and hungry. And you're not telling Oz."
"Of course I'm not," Methos said smoothly. "If something serious happened there, then I'll expect you to do that yourself." He gave Xander a smile, watching as he walked back into the bathroom. His smile turned cold as soon as the door was closed. "I'm very sure I don't need to tell Oz anything. I'm sure he'll pick up on it just fine," he said quietly, going down to find the oatmeal he had promised the young man.
Oz walked into the bathroom, smiling at the picture Xander made sleeping in the tub. He sat down beside the tub, picking up some of the long, dark hair to look at it. His smile fell away when he saw the condition of the usually soft and unbroken hair. He measured it's length, one eyebrow going up when he noticed how much longer the strand he held was now, it would have reached the middle of Xander's butt if he had been standing. "To the salon you go," he whispered, dropping the hair to give his husband a kiss. "You okay?" he asked when he noticed Xander was staring at the ceiling.
"Fine," Xander said. "Who told you?"
"No one told me anything. I just picked up your hair to play with." He gave him another kiss. "But if you want to tell me anything, I'm here."
Xander turned his head to look at his mate. "Ray and Methos didn't say a thing?"
"Only that you had some strange rub marks on your skin and they thought you'd been riding hard for a few days," Oz lied. He saw Xander's eyes, and knew his husband recognized the lie. "Okay, Methos let slip that you needed pampered because it wasn't a simple 'go get this for me' mission, but nothing else. I just figured on the rub marks because he said you'd been there for a while." Xander silently lifted a leg out of the soothing oatmeal-laced water, and Oz moved down to look it over. "Huh. Did you get the guy who burned you?"
"It was a gas and not quite. He let me go."
"Good," Oz said emphatically. "Did you need to talk about it?" Xander shook his head. "Okay then. If you do, I'm here and so are Ray and Methos." He leaned in for another kiss. "Want help bathing or showering this stuff off?"
"Please. I don't think I could hold the back brush right now," Xander said tiredly.
"Okay. Can you stand?" He helped Xander up and sat him on the closed toilet lid, going back to drain off the water and start a shower. He knew Xander expected him to throw a fit and go burn down the castle over there, but if his mate was upset enough to want to hide it from him and he said it was taken care of, then he would trust him this time. Besides, Xander talked in his sleep. He'd hear about it eventually. He brought down the hand-held attachment and rinsed out the tub, adjusting the water for the perfect shower. He put the attachment back and started the waterfall head, going to help Xander back into the tub to get clean.
Ray carried the tray into Xander's bedroom, giving him a smile when he saw he was awake. "Methos took pity on all of us and made lunch," he said, setting the tray across Xander's lap before curling up next to him on the bed. "Ready to eat?"
"Yeah, I could eat," Xander agreed, sitting up a little farther so he wouldn't spill anything on the bed. One hand fell to Ray's hair and the other shoveled the delicate little sandwiches into his mouth. When he got down to the plate and the mint, he used both hands to unwrap it, then moved the tray out of the way and curled up against Ray. "Hi," he said quietly. Ray's smile got brighter. "I'm sorry if I was an ass yesterday."
"Not at all, just kinda shell shocked, ya know?" Ray asked, rubbing over the tense back. "Think you're ready to go do something about your hair?" Xander shrugged. "It needs worked on, Xan. It's got bad knots and it needs conditioned." He touched the dry, brittle mass. "Really needs conditioned," he repeated.
"I'll go get that done today," Xander told him. "Want to come with me?"
"Sure. Or Oz is free. He's downstairs talkin' Jack outta wakin' ya up to go work in the lab."
"I'm sure that won't be necessary," Oz said as he slammed the door. "I told Jack that you had to de-stress from going back over there and needed a day to heal a few injuries. When he got stringent, I noted that everyone defragged differently. He seemed to understand that part." He sat down beside Xander, pushing the bedtray over further. "Want to go to the salon today to fix your hair?" Xander nodded. "Good. Ray, are you coming with us?"
"Yeah, I could use a trim," Ray agreed. "Want Methos...."
Oz shook his head, interrupting the thought. "He and Daniel are working out. They're out in the woods somewhere."
"Okay," Ray said with a slight shrug. "Whenever you're ready, Xander."
"Oz, I still itch," Xander complained. "I'm not sure I can handle clothes."
"Hey, they've got skin treatments and a salon at that one spa we went to recently," Ray offered. "Why don't we call them and tell them what's going on?"
"That I got exposed to an acidic gas?" Xander asked.
"Or that you had a reaction to some chemicals here at home," Oz suggested. "That you're itchy and aching, that your hair's a wreck because of the drugs they gave you."
"Okay," Xander said weakly, letting Oz handle it. Oz was great at this part of taking care of him. He got up, heading for the closet to find something that he might be able to stand wearing. He came out with a pair of his lightest dance pants, a pair of sandals, and a thin tank top.
"It's cool outside," Oz warned him as he picked up the phone and dialed. "Hi, this is Daniel Osbourne calling for Xander Harris?"
Xander tuned him out as he searched for an overshirt to put on. Ray handed him his and he smiled at his best friend. "Thanks," he whispered. "I'll try not to make it a lump of fabric in the car."
"Hey, whatever you need," Ray noted. "You can even sleep on the way down," he offered. "I'll be a good pillow this time."
Xander kissed him on the cheek. "I know you will. I might nap, but you get the front this time." He pulled back, pulling a thong out of the underwear drawer to put on under the pants.
"You can tell which color those are," Oz noted as he hung up. "We've got an appointment in three hours." He watched as Xander switched thongs to a skin-colored one, then finished getting dressed. "Will you be warm enough?" he asked gently.
"My skin feels like it's on fire," Xander complained. "And no, I don't have a fever," he said when a hand started for his forehead. He let Ray finish taking his temperature, looking up at him. "I promise, it's okay."
"Good," Ray said. "We can give you some benadryl if you want," he offered. "We've still got some."
"I don't think it'll help," Oz told him. "I told them he itched and they said they have a wrap that might help." He touched Xander's back gently. "Ready to start that way? We'll take our time."
"Sure," Xander said, allowing Ray to help him up. "Um, did anyone pull things out of the bag yet? My sword probably needs to be scoured to get the rust off by now."
"I'll do that later," Oz told him, helping Xander out of the bedroom and downstairs. Jack stopped them before they could leave. "Jack, there's a TV upstairs and my computer's on if you want to go log on and chat with your people back at home," he said as he walked past them.
"Actually, I've already done that," Jack said. He looked at Xander, then at Oz. "We analyzed what was on Xander's clothes. The doc said to have him swaddled in stuff that will neutralize it, that it is acidic, and it'll continue to eat into his skin if it's not stopped." He gave Xander a 'sorry' look. "When Oz told me you had some clothes that needed to be looked at, we sent them back right away, kid. Anyway, the lab guys said this was the nastiest stuff they'd encountered recently, but it would continue to eat at your skin unless you could kill it. They're working on what exactly will do that, but they did say the aloe and oatmeal stuff Adam was doing last night was probably the best they could come up with on short notice."
"We're going to get his skin treated by a pro," Ray told him. "They've got stuff for itching, it might kill this stuff."
"I'll tell them it's acidic," Oz said. "Thanks, man."
"Hey, you're welcome." He handed over the letter he had printed from his e-mail. "This is the exact letter she sent over about it." Oz read it over, nodding at the blacked out parts. "That should give whoever a chance to help slow it down at least."
"Thanks," Xander said, giving him a smile. "We'll be back tonight. Do *not* let Jedi con you into giving her cookies again." He continued toward the garage with Ray's help.
"How long before he shows signs if it does continue?" Oz asked. Jack shrugged. "Not a clue?"
"It ate through the leather," Jack told him. "It also ate through the slide when they were able to find a sample. They said it's like a gassy napalm."
"That's how Xander described it too," Oz agreed, patting Jack on the arm as he walked past him, heading out to get his mate treated by a professional skin care expert.
After a consultation with the skin care people, Oz sat back and watched as Xander was smothered in an oatmeal and seaweed wrap. He smiled at the haircare person who came in, knowing she had been told about this stuff too, and was ready to do her worst to Xander's hair to restore it. "He's got an extra five inches," Oz told her.
"All right," she said, setting up her box on a rolling table she had pulled out of the closet before sitting down. "Mr. Harris, my name is Cherise and I'm going to work on your hair, all right?" He nodded and she smiled. "I've heard some wonderful things about your hair, Mr. Harris, and I'm going to try and make it all better for you. Did you want me to trim off that five inches if I have the choice?"
"Please," Xander whispered. "Oz, I'm still itching."
"I'll go get someone," Oz said, getting up to go find the person who had done his wrap.
Xander looked up at her. "My hair's a wreck. It's dry, it's tangled, and it's nasty feeling," he said weakly.
"I can deal with those three," she said, giving him a smile. "How about we start with a detangler and comb it through?" He nodded, putting his head back down and letting her unwrap the towel from his head. "Oh, my," she said, rubbing her fingers together. "Did you dye this recently?" she asked, checking the towel for more of the odd color that seemed to be running from his hair.
"No," Xander told her. "It's from the same stuff that's making me itch."
"But it's not a dye?" she asked, just to make sure. He shook his head. "Then, um, you're leaking your natural color." She showed him her fingers and the towel. "I think we need to do a full wash before we do anything else." She lifted up the mass and looked at the tangles. "Maybe I'd better work on combing it out first," she decided, picking up her bottle of detangling spray and spritzing his hair. She picked up her widest toothed comb and started at the bottom, working her way delicately through the mass, using the stained towel to wipe her fingers and comb off when the color got too much. She showed Oz the towel and the hair she was working on when he walked back in with the skin care person. The skin care person looked at the towel, then frowned at Oz. "He says he still itches," Cherise told them.
"Then let's get this washed off," the skin care person said firmly. "We're going to have to send him to the hospital."
"Fine," Oz agreed. "Braid his hair up?"
"Of course," Cherise said, working to quickly braid the long mass. "I'll go get the manager to call an ambulance," she said once she was done, leaving them alone.
The skin care person looked at Oz. "Is this some sort of new biological weapon?"
"No, this was something he wandered into. We're having it analyzed by a friend who works for the military."
"It was a natural gas," Xander said tiredly. He looked up at Oz. "I *really* itch," he whined.
"We're taking you to the hospital," Oz told him, gently touching his face. "Does your face itch too?" Xander nodded. "Okay. Is there anywhere that doesn't itch?"
"My ass," Xander said with a faint grin. "The crack doesn't itch."
"Good," Oz said, smiling down at him. "We're going to find you a good doctor and we'll get this solved, okay?" Xander nodded, putting his head back down. Oz got out of the way of the woman wielding the hose to rinse his mate off.
Xander looked up at the familiar woman, giving her a smile. "Hi, Doctor Janet. You got here fast."
"You've been sedated for the last day," she told him, giving him a smile too. "How do you feel? Still itchy?" He nodded. "All over still?" He nodded again, more frantically. "Has it spread to that one area that wasn't itchy?" He nodded even more frantically. "All right. I'm going to give you a shot that will hopefully take away some of the itches." She picked up the end of his braid, showing him the new white streaks in it. "These, I can't do a thing about."
"Hey, I won't look twenty-one anymore," he quipped. "Just make it quit itching," he said, grabbing her arm and staring into her eyes. "Please make it quit itching."
"I'll do my best," she promised, getting her arm free of the surprisingly tight grip. She uncapped the syringe and moved his sleeve up, swabbing it with an alcohol pad she had ready. "This may make you sleepy again, Xander. I'm not going to lie, this is a drug that's in trial at the moment. The only side effects we've seen," she told him as she stabbed the needle into the muscle and released the medicine, "has been nausea, dizziness, and headaches." He nodded, closing his eyes. "All done," she said, giving him another smile. "You okay in there?" she asked when his eyes stayed closed.
"I can feel the itching picking up on my legs," he whispered. "It's getting worse."
"This medicine should take some of itching away," she said, sitting on the side of his bed. "Xander, I have to ask. Are you like Daniel?" He shook his head. "All right. Then I'm going to get someone in here to wrap your legs with what we were using in the emergency room. Okay?" He nodded, staring at her. "What? What's wrong?" she asked, flustered by the 'hurt little boy' look she was getting.
"I'm so screwed," he whispered. "I was wearing leather and Jack said it ate through it. I'm nowhere near as tough as leather."
Her smile got gentler and she moved the wispy, broken strands off his face. "Don't worry, I'm pretty sure where it matters you're tougher than any little piece of leather." He shook his head. "Yeah, you are. Your skin's thicker than those pants were," she told him as she stood up. "Don't worry, I'll be right outside the room if you need anything."
Xander looked around, noticing for the first time that the walls of his room were concrete and there were no windows. "I'm back at your job?"
"Yup, I'm afraid so," she said, opening the door and letting Oz back in. "But we brought him with you. He insisted."
Oz laid down next to Xander on the bed, holding onto him. "You're much tougher than any tight piece of leather," he agreed in a whisper. "You've always been tough when it mattered." He flinched as the door closed. "You're in decontam," he told his mate, not looking up. "They wanted to know how this was done and what the source is."
"The source is this little sulfurous rock that crumbles when you touch it. As it crumbles, it turns into this gassy stuff. It's thrown into places and it dissolves as it hits."
"So it's that soft rock that everyone screamed at us not to touch?" Oz asked. Xander nodded. "Did we bring back a sample of that?" Xander nodded again. "Where is it?"
"In the case in my sewing room. And you might want to warn them to wear gear, the case was looking a little smoky the last time I looked at it," Xander said through his yawn. "I guess I'm going to nap again."
"You don't scratch as much when you're asleep," Oz agreed. "I promise, Xander, it's going to be okay. I will make this all right." He kissed the slack cheek and got up, going out to talk to Janet. She needed that sample of rock.
Methos sat up straight as he read over one of his formerly lost journals. "I don't remember this," he said to himself, rereading the passage. "When did I run into someone else using magic?" He looked over at Daniel as he walked in. "Translate this," he said, handing it over and pointing out the passage.
Daniel sat down, reading over it. "When ... one loves another enough to give up their life....there is a magic link between them that can bind them closer or kill them both?" Daniel suggested, finishing the sentence. "This bond may be used to destroy them or it can be used to heal them if it is at all possible to...access it. If...no, but, the person who interferes with the bond...must....be ready to...." He looked up. "Survive with them?"
"Live with them, as in forever," Methos corrected. "I don't remember writing that."
Daniel looked at the cover. "Is this your mark?" he asked, handing it back, the place marked by his thumb until his teacher took it.
Methos looked it over then nodded. "As far as I can tell, it was mine. I've never seen this journal before though. I have no idea when or why I wrote this." He relaxed. "If it's true, then we may be able to help Xander." He picked up the phone and handed it to Daniel when he heard the female voice on the other side.
"Yeah, Janet," Daniel said, brightening. "Really? Okay. Do we need hazmat gear?" He nodded slowly, mentally making notes. "All right. I'll go find it then Jack and we'll get it for you." He hung up and tossed the phone over as he stood up. "They brought back a sample of the rock when they first came back. It's in a case in the craft room?"
"It's that nasty yellow stone then," Methos said, standing up. He walked into the craft room, going to look in the case. He pointed at the small stone, much smaller than it had been when it was placed in there. "It's that one. It's very fragile. It was easily two-thirds bigger when we put it in there." He considered the two other stones in the case with it. "You might want to take the whole thing, the other stones may have some residue on it." He carefully took the case down off the wall and handed it over. "It's locked and I have no idea where Xander put the key, but you'll need to pad the stones, if only to make sure that one doesn't finish breaking down."
"Okay, kids," Jack said as he walked in. "Janet just called me." He stopped when Daniel pointed at the display case. "Okay. Are we taking the whole thing?"
"Yeah, but we need to get in there and pad the stones. It seems that the one that got Xander is easily broken down."
"And we need what equipment to do that, besides the key?"
"Which we don't have," Daniel admitted. "And we'll need hazmat gear. That little yellow stone is dangerous enough to send us into the same problem as Xander has."
"I'll leave this to you two, I'd best go call Rupert." He walked away, heading for Oz's office and the computer sitting in it.
Jack lifted the case carefully, letting Daniel guide him out to a room where they could lock the doors and not have to worry about the animals that were lying around the sewing room. Once they were inside, Jack called on their new base's personnel, getting some of the tougher guys out there with hazmat gear. But while they waited. "So, Danny, immortal?" Jack asked.
"Yeah, immortal," Daniel agreed with a light sigh. "Only until I lose my head though." He looked at his best friend and commander. "Does that bother you?"
"No, but it does mean that I don't have to be as careful of you on missions. Hopefully Adam will be teaching you about being careful and all that along with the sword stuff?"
"Oh, he is, but he's like me, Jack. He's one of those people that thirst for knowledge."
"Ah, but does he run *toward* the danger is the question," Jack countered. "Because you do that, and it's pissing me off."
"Yeah, well," Daniel said, looking down and rubbing the back of his neck. "It always makes sense at the time."
"Good. That's nice. And what about later, after you've dragged us with you?"
"Well, then it usually doesn't make as much sense," Daniel agreed, giving Jack a faint smile. "But you usually don't complain that much, Jack. I'm not always running toward *trouble*."
"Danny, you've managed to find more trouble in the most out of the way places. No one on any other team in the SGC can match your skills."
"Was that a compliment or a complaint?" Daniel asked as he bent over to look down at the stones. "I can see the residue it's left on the case."
"It didn't eat through it?"
"It's lead and leaded glass," Methos said as he walked in, leading two of the security personnel from the base. He quickly caught the ferret trying to come in and help, taking her with him. Ray would never forgive him if his beloved ferret got hurt. Even if Ray didn't know that he knew they were taking her with them if they ever got around to leaving Xander and Oz.
Jack and Daniel evacuated the room after Jack gave the guys some specific instructions, letting the people with the large rubber suits do this job. He dragged Daniel into Xander's writing room, stopping to look around at the wallhangings, and shuddered at what they portrayed.
"This is where Xander writes," Daniel told him, hoping to calm him down. "What do you want, Jack?" he asked tiredly. This particular discussion was keeping him up at nights. He'd been avoiding Jack for a while now, not wanting to have this discussion, but he knew it was coming.
Jack shook himself, staring at his friend instead. "Daniel, how long had you know about this before you died?"
"About a week," Daniel admitted, sitting down on the sinfully soft, flame colored sofa. "Xander found me in London and told me what was going on."
"And he's who got you a teacher?"
"Yeah, he and Adam are close friends. Oz and Adam are closer, but that's not going to interfere with my training."
"And what about your training?" Jack asked.
"I've got to learn how to use a sword. There may be other lessons that might help me as much, we'll have to see about those," he repeated Adam's words. "Jack, I'm sorry this has upset you, but it's not my fault. I didn't chose this. I didn't ask for this. And I really am not thrilled with the idea of losing everyone else in my life at the moment."
"Okay," Jack said, running his hands through his hair. "Why would you lose us?"
"Jack, I'm *immortal*," he said quietly. "Adam's over six *hundred* years old." He saw the realization dawn and nodded. "Yeah, so I'm not real thrilled with this whole thing right now."
"Daniel, promise me you won't do something stupid," Jack ordered quietly. Daniel gave him a funny look. "I know you're not going to walk into a fight without a weapon, but you've got to try for me, okay?" He sat down beside his best friend and pulled him in for a hug. "Promise me, Daniel, that you'll always try to win your fights."
"I promise, Jack," Daniel whispered.
A cleared throat interrupted them. "Yeah?" Jack asked, pulling back.
"The case and the stone are secure, sir," the soldier said. He looked at the wall hangings and quickly focused only on the two men. "What now?"
"Now, it gets back to Cheyenne Mountain as fast as possible," Daniel told them, smiling at him. "I'm going to start undergoing much more rigorous training and Jack was making me promise that I wouldn't give up."
"Oh," the soldier said and nodded, apparently that explained it enough for him. "Is there a flight scheduled?"
"No, call Doctor Frasier and have her set all that up. And make sure that little yellow one doesn't dissolve any more," Jack warned. "It's acidic."
"We've got one of our civilian helpers in the infirmary back at the base, the one who this house belongs to," Daniel told him. "He's being eaten through by the yellow rock. It's analogous to sulfuric acid."
"Yes, sir, we'll be very careful." He saluted Jack and then left, much at ease that one of the better Colonels in their program wasn't turning against the Air Force Way.
Daniel shook his head. "I think he's pretty thankful that you're not the owner," he said with a faint smile, waving a hand at the tapestries.
"They're very...graphic," Jack said, admiring the work if not the content. "Where do they find these things?"
"In India," Methos said from the doorway. "Xander finds some of the most amazing things in little out of the way places." He smiled a feral smile at Daniel. "Are you ready for another go, young one?"
"Sure," Daniel said, jumping up. "Let me go get my sword. I was sharpening it in the living room," he reminded his teacher. "You've told me often enough this is a safe place." He pushed past him, going to find his sword and make sure it was ready for practice.
"How's he doing?" Jack asked, getting comfortable, waving a hand to show he wanted to talk to the older man.
"He's doing as well as expected. Most intellectuals don't do well at first, though I must say he's a lot less whiny than most have been." Jack nodded. "Tell me more about what he does and I'll be able to incorporate that into his training," Methos offered after a few minutes of silence.
"We're in various environments," Jack told him. "Nothing's ever standard except the base. Sometimes we're in snow up to our hips. Sometimes we're in a rainforest environment." He shrugged. "I'm hoping this training won't be the most necessary for our missions."
"Ah, but it never hurts to be prepared and he will at least be bringing his sword with him from now on," Methos told him. "And I'm going to teach him some other weapons as we go along. It will be important for him to be able to fight with whatever weapon's at hand."
"Hey, that I can understand. As a matter of fact, I like that idea a lot," Jack admitted. "Can you give him a more practical weapon? Something that'll help on any planet?"
"Something like an axe?" Methos asked dryly.
Jack nodded. "Yeah, even just a little one might help. I'm tired of having to shoot at trees."
"Most fighting axes aren't suitable for cutting down trees," Methos told him, getting comfortable. "I will let Daniel choose his own favorite weapon, but I will tell him about this, though I believe he's been considering this while he researches his weapon choice."
"What about the sword he has?"
"That's his first sword and always will have a special place in his heart, but it's not a very heavy weapon. There are a few of us who fight with rapiers, but it's very hard to take a head with one, or with a lighter sword. I'd like to see him with a more substantial weapon myself."
"Good. So you want Danny to stick around also?"
"I wouldn't train him if I didn't," Methos told him as he stood up. "We'll be out in the front yard." He walked away, heading to go find his student and make him bleed and learn some more.
Jack thought about that for a few seconds but then the room got to him and he had to go find somewhere else, maybe somewhere with more of a sports motif, to go think in.
Methos answered the phone, listening to the quiet voice on the other end. "Yes, Steven, bring him down," he sighed, hanging up. "Oh, dear. What has my little Blair gotten himself into this time?" he whispered, curling back around his Ray's body.
"Who was that?" Ray mumbled.
"Steven. Another of my students is looking for an escape from his present lover and he's bringing him here."
"Xander and Oz might not like that," he noted.
"Xander knows Blair. They met while Xander was coming back from New York."
"Oh. Do they *know* each other?"
"Yes, dear. Xander reawakened Blair's own GHSness. Blair's a lot like you in some ways," he said, rubbing over the soft, but firm stomach skin. "He's also an intellectual like Daniel."
"Do you think they'll hit it off?" Ray asked, rolling over to get proper cuddles. "I mean, you've got to have Daniel around for a little while."
"True. Actually, if I remember right, Blair's also an Anthropologist. They might already know each other professionally."
"Maybe," Ray yawned. "Nap?"
"Yes, dear one, go back to sleep. Steven's helping him get here, but he and Richie aren't coming with him tomorrow."
"Cool." Ray closed his eyes and fell back asleep, safely held in his lover's arms.
"I do love you for your mind also," Methos whispered, kissing Ray's forehead. He relaxed as he thought about all that Xander could really teach Blair, if he were back.
Xander woke up and looked around the dark room. He blindly reached out for a lamp, running into a warm lump instead. "Lights?" he suggested.
"Sorry, we're looking at the areas of your skin that've been attacked." Janet flipped on the lights, after taking off her special goggles. "They glow under certain lighting conditions." She smiled down at him. "How do you feel?"
"Better," he admitted. "Is it cured?"
"Nearly. Six treatments and four more wraps ought to do the trick with the way it's decreasing. You're down to your primary contact point now, your legs and your left arm."
Xander looked at the bandaged extremities. "Is it that bad?" She nodded. "So I have to be a mummy?"
"Just for a few more days," she said, giving him a brighter smile. "So, what are you going to do when you get out?"
"I'm going to go jump my Oz," he said with certain conviction. "He'll need the reassurance."
She shook her head. "I meant besides that and going home to your animals."
"Oh. I don't know yet. Maybe going to a spa to get a treatment for my skin, because I'm thinking it's going to be really dry." She nodded. "And having someone really good look at my hair at the same time."
"All right. I'll be giving you a list of herbs to stay away from for a little while." He nodded. "Just as a precaution. Which spa do you go to?"
"It's this nice little place in LA, not in Beverly Hills, I went there and they didn't like me because I was a guy," he told her. "But it's down by the better plastic surgeons."
"Surely you're not thinking about that," Janet asked. "With how young you look?"
He grinned. "Nope, I won't need plastic surgery for a *long* time," he told her.
"But I thought you're not like Daniel," she said, starting to look confused.
"I'm not. But there is a way for Oz to keep me around with him, and we did it. So I'm going to be around with him."
"Oh." She nodded. "Okay. Anyway, it looks like it's only going to be a few more days." She looked at the corner. "Oz thought you might like something to eat so I had him escorted down to the cafeteria." Xander nodded. "He'll be back soon." She patted his arm. "Just relax, you're almost better." She picked up her goggles and walked out, making notes on his chart as she walked.
Xander settled down in the bed, waiting for his Oz to show back up so he could get cuddles. Food was much less important to him than cuddles.
Blair got out of his car and ran over to his teacher, jumping on him to give him a hug.
"Shh, you're safe too," Methos promised Blair, dropping his sword to hug him and lead him a little ways away. "What happened?" he asked once they were sitting together on the front steps.
"He decided he was going to be an ass about what I am and shove it in my face every fight we had, which were getting worse," Blair said, giving him a helpless look. "I thought he respected me."
"He probably does, but he didn't realize what he had," Daniel said as he walked over. "Hi, are you Blair?" he asked, holding out a hand.
"Yeah, I am," Blair said, smiling at him.
"Daniel," he said. "So I guess our present spar is done for a while?" he suggested lightly.
"Yes, go pull Jack away from the Sports channels and have him help you in your weapons research," Methos ordered.
"Yes, Adam," Daniel sighed, rolling his eyes as he went inside.
Blair looked up at him, grinning. "He's a new student?"
"Not like you were, but yes," Methos agreed.
"Cool. He seems really nice."
"He is. He's an Anthropologist also," he noted, gauging Blair's interest. It wasn't often that he played matchmaker, but when he did, it often went well.
"That's cool," Blair said, snuggling back into the comforting arms. "When do I get to meet this Ray guy?"
"In a few moments. He's out back watching the ferrets."
"Ferrets?" Blair asked, looking up again. "Xander has ferrets?"
"And about eleven other animals," Methos said dryly, "not to mention ours are here right now also." He stood up, pulling Blair with him. "Come, let's introduce you to my Ray and then we'll get you settled into a room." He led him inside, going slowly so Blair could absorb his surroundings.
"Wow," Blair said, stopping in front of one of the saris Xander had hanging around the house. "This is beautiful work. Where did Xander get it?"
"In India. He and Oz spent some time there a few years back."
"How is Xander?"
"Not changed that much," Methos said lightly. "He's grown up a bit, became a better fighter, but he's still Xander."
"So he's still rescuing everyone that needs it?" Blair asked.
"Yes, Blair, and I'm sure if he were here, he'd invite you in for a bit too." He continued the trek out to the pool, coughing to get Ray's attention from his trimming of nails. "Ray, this is Blair," he said, smiling as his mate jumped up and ran over to give the other guy a hug.
"Hey, Blair." He smiled up at Methos. "The babies have sharp toenails."
"All babies have sharp toenails," Methos said.
"I can help," Blair offered. "I had a pet ferret for a while, but my mother made me set it free." He shrugged at the horrified look. "I was eight, I couldn't argue with her. Of course, I set it free with the help of one of the neighborhood boys and his setup for his own ferret, but hey, it was free from our house," he said with a grin.
"Cool," Ray said, leading the way back over to the napping ferrets. "Let's finish these guys off and then take them back inside. Mom's not real fond of them lying out here without her." He picked up the one he had been working on, getting sleepy protest squeaks, but he cuddled that one until it had calmed down. "Yeah, let's finish this so you can go back to your nap," he whispered, letting Blair hold the baby while he cut it's toenails.
Methos shook his head but sat down to watch. He had no doubt that he'd be trimming their ferret's claws sometime.
Daniel looked across the table at Blair. "So, what's your field of speciality?" he asked, passing over the plate of meat.
"Tribal cultures," Blair told him. "Yours?"
"Ancient. Particularly Ancient and Primary cultures, the ones that founded a lot of other ones."
"Wow. Mine's kind of a static field," Blair told him. "Most tribes are relatively similar.
"True, but aren't there always differences?" Daniel asked.
"Oh, yeah. But the basic structure of the society...."
"Never changes," Daniel finished for him with a smile. He glanced at Jack, who grunted. "Anyway, I'm in with a few expedition groups right now, if you'd like I'll help you find a new job."
"Thanks," Blair said, shooting him one of his most brilliant smiles. "I love teaching but sometimes I really miss being out in the world, doing it all again."
"How many languages do you speak?" Ray asked.
"About fifteen fluently and another ten reading, not counting a few dialects and slang versions of some of the languages," Blair told him. "Are you a scientist too?"
"Nah, I was a cop." He saw the sad look and laid a hand over Blair's hand. "Methos told me. I'm sorry about Jim and all."
"Yeah, me too," Blair sighed. "It took me a long time to get over him." He shook himself.
"Jim?" Jack asked. "Was he a cop too?"
"Yeah, a detective with Major Crimes in Cascade," Blair told him. "Are you a cop too?"
"Military," Jack told him. He saw the inquisitive look. "Danny's helping us with a project right now."
"Oh. I didn't know the military was into archeology," Blair said, looking at Daniel.
"Not really, but it's a side project," Daniel told him. "Someone's pet project." He shrugged. "It pays well and it's exciting work. Though I do have to give the cultural relativity lecture a lot," he said, looking at Jack.
"And those that get the field version never forget," Jack said with a smirk. "Blair, this guy's got a nasty left hand, it likes to come out and smack people across the back of the head when they're not paying attention to the cultural stuff when they need to."
"Yeah, I wanted to do that to a few students of mine in the past," Blair said, grinning at Daniel. "Feel good?"
"Very. After the third time of telling this one guy to leave the sacred object alone, he understood the reason." He looked at Jack. "So, Jack, any word on Xander's condition yet?"
"Condition?" Blair asked.
"Yeah, he got exposed to some chemicals somehow and we imposed on our physicians to take a look at him," Jack told him. "And no, not yet."
"I got a call from Oz," Ray told everyone, putting down his fork. "He said Xander's better. It's back to the areas it first started in, and someone named Janet said he might be home in as few as four days."
"Cool," Blair said. "I'd like to touch base with Xander again."
"How do you know Xander?" Jack asked.
"Um," Blair looked at Methos for guidance, who nodded. "I'm another GHS member, but I'd had to hide it for a while due to working with Jim at the police station. Xander made me remember what I was." He looked down at his plate. "It's kinda because of him that Jim kinda happened."
"Ah," Daniel said, nodding. "I've heard of GHS, but until I met Xander I never understood it." He looked at Ray and Methos. "I know both of you two are members too, Xander let slip that Methos trained him when he first became a member."
"GHS?" Jack asked.
"Greedy Hedonistic Sluts Society," Ray told him. "It's all about the pleasures in life."
Jack blinked a few times as he absorbed that. "Danny, are you learning that too?"
"No, but Adam taught me the ways too," Blair offered. "I could never be the GHS that Xander is, but then again, I'm not meant to be someone's concubine either."
"I've often said Oz should start his own little kingdom somewhere and set up Xander as his official concubine and bodyguard," Methos said dryly.
"I thought that's what this was," Daniel joked.
"Yeah, it is in a way," Ray said, grinning across the table. "I'm the secondary concubine in the house and chief animal helper, and Methos is the cook." He grinned at his mate, and got kissed for it.
"You're *my* concubine, Ray," Methos reminded him.
"Yup, all yours," Ray agreed, lighting up his face with a bright smile.
"That's what I wanted," Blair said.
"And thought you had?" Daniel asked sympathetically.
"Yeah," Blair sighed. "I thought I did, but then things started to go downhill. He started to shove what I was and what I had done before in my face and I started to scream back. Then I got less than happy and left." He shrugged. "It happens."
"Yeah, but it sucks when you lose your lover," Daniel said, reaching over to touch Blair's hand.
Blair looked into his eyes. "You do know," he said.
"Yeah, I've been widowed."
"Oh, man, I'm sorry," Blair said automatically. "How long ago?"
"Nearly eleven years," Daniel said with a smile.
"Without anyone else on the horizon?" Blair asked hesitantly. He could really start to like Daniel if he was allowed to. That military thing was still bothering him, they rarely liked people like him.
"Only some very good friends," Daniel told him.
"Daniel," Jack warned. He knew the signs of his best friend falling in love all too well. He'd seen them the first time. Besides, this would take clearance and he wasn't sure where General Hammond stood on couples going on missions. Because, from the looks of Blair, there wasn't anyway they'd get away with not letting him join the team. He pushed back from the table and got up to go find a more private phone.
"Jack?" Daniel called after him.
"Just going to check in," Jack called from down the hall.
Daniel shrugged and went back to discussing their field with Blair. "So, what do you think about that new Greek site? The Dionysian temple?"
"I think it's a wonderful find, especially since they found some decently preserved scrolls in there," Blair said, turning back on his mega-watt smile.
Ares and Strife popped in together, both staying invisible, but both smiling down at the couple curled up on the cot in front of them. "Gee, they're cute," Ares noted. He looked at Strife. "Why am I here if no one here believes we exist? They didn't pass the belief test either."
"Cupie said that's because they're fighting the schmuck's that tried to take over for us," Strife told him. "He appeared to one of their people and he seemed to think that it was only the aliens, the knowledge that we're real has been forgotten by all but a chosen few."
"Oh." Ares considered this for a few minutes. "All right. I'll watch over them and check things out." He looked out at the hall. "Anyone in particular?"
"Well, the guy that Cupie appeared to isn't here right now, he's back at Xander's," Strife sighed, "gettin' a new honey from what Cupie can tell, but the other two members of their team are here. A blonde lady who's *real* smart, Unc, and a real warrior from the old ways."
"Huh." Ares nodded and walked out through the door, going to find this warrior. Maybe it was time to show up and scare some people back into belief. Strife leaned down and kissed Xander on the cheek. "You rest," he ordered when one brown eye opened up to look at him. "I need you bettah, no one's lightin' your candle." He winked and left before Oz could wake up too.
Xander grinned and started to fall back asleep, Oz still buried partially inside of him from earlier. He came awake when he heard the door open, silently reaching for the knife right beside his hand under the pillow, not wanting to overreact in case it was Janet, but wanting to be careful in case it was their nightly visitor.
"Fags shouldn't be here," was the harsh whisper.
Xander rolled over Oz's body and came up with the knife held up. He and the soldier fought for a few seconds. Xander lost his knife because of the weakness from his injury, but the soldier lost his rifle, which Xander ended up with, holding it under the soldier's chin. "Oz," Xander said calmly. "Call someone."
"Okay," Oz sighed. "You okay? You're not supposed to be this active, Xander, you'll start to itch again." He went over to the alarm button, that went straight into the infirmary, and pushed it. "Janet should be on her way up." He got out of the way as the door opened and an unfamiliar doctor ran in. "He tried to jump us," he told him as the guy tried to tackle Xander.
"I'll be damned," Xander said, kicking the doctor. "Where's Janet?"
"Coming," the doctor gasped, looking at the soldier. "You attacked him?"
"He's a fag!" the soldier yelled. "He can't be tolerated here, he'll destroy us all!"
"I see," General Hammond said as he walked in. "Son, the gun please?" he asked, holding out a hand.
Xander unloaded it and tossed it over. "He's been in here every night for the last three nights."
"We'll deal with him," General Hammond said, giving Xander a smile. He glared at the doctor. "Sedate him and take him to the brig," he ordered. "I don't want him spewing this across the base." He turned and left, letting the doctor do his job with the help of the section's guards. Generals did not get their hands dirty with people they wanted to beat up. Besides, he had to consider his best people's dilemma. And maybe he'd offer a job to these two too.
Xander laid back down on the bed, starting to scratch his arm.
"I warned you," Oz told him, coming over to grab his hands. "Janet'll be down here soon to rewrap you but you've got to let me handle these things for a while."
"But I like protecting you," Xander pouted.
"And you will," Doctor Frasier said as she walked through the door, needle already uncapped, "but not for a few more months, Xander. Let Oz protect you both for a few months, then you can go back into overprotective mode." She stuck the needle in his arm, watching as Oz got him calmed down and back under the blankets. "We'll come wrap him once he's asleep," she said, sharing a smile with him. Xander *hated* the feel of the wraps, so they only did it while he was asleep.
"Can we still go home tomorrow?" Xander asked pitifully, trying to stay awake for just a few minutes longer.
"I don't have a problem with it," Janet said, smiling down at him. "We'll send some of the gel home with you, along with bandages and instructions." She patted him on the head. "Because of you, I've got a better way to treat burn patients," she told him, then left to go get the burn gel.
Oz snuggled down beside Xander, holding his hands so he couldn't scratch.
Xander walked off the plane and headed for the parking lot, figuring Oz probably had parked the car somewhere near the airport in short-term parking. He met his husband out beside their car, smiling at him. "Spa?" he pleaded.
"Sure. I called while we were in the air, you've got an appointment in about an hour. You got the list Janet gave you?" he asked as he put their single piece of luggage in the trunk.
"Yup," Xander said, getting in as soon as Oz opened his door. He leaned over and gave Oz a hug. "I wouldn't mind going home first, but I don't want to stay like this anymore."
"Shh, we'll get you moisturized and your hair trimmed while we're there," he promised, returning the hug. It was good that Xander was back to normal. And two hours was something tolerable, he could wait that long to get back to his sanctuary.
Xander looked up from his table, smiling sleepily at his Oz. "I'm not itchy," he whispered, bringing him over for a kiss. "I love you."
"Love you too. Just relax and let them work on this part of you and then we'll go do the hair thing." Oz pulled his chair closer, wanting to be able to touch Xander. He really wanted to make sure his Xander was all right. He hadn't been so scared about Xander for a number of years, and it bothered him. His lover wasn't immortal like he was, just very long lived. He didn't know how the spell would react if Xander were shot, or heaven forbid, burned to death. Maybe it was time for him to get his inner warrior back under control and start to protect his Xander instead of the other way around.
"Quit worrying," Xander said, not looking up.
"I wasn't," Oz lied.
Xander snorted. "Sure." He lifted his head to look at his husband. "Nothing's going to happen to me, Oz. Even if you had been there, it wouldn't have saved me from that rock." He reached up and touched his husband's forehead. "Just relax about it. No one's going to hurt me, and if they do, then you can have them."
"Xander, there was a chance that you wouldn't come back. I should have went with you."
"Maybe," Xander admitted, "but then both of us might have been trapped over there until I found someone else to create a portal back to the house." Oz looked confused. "The mirror had a crack on the side, I wasn't sure it was going to work. Actually, I almost got caught by the guards when I snuck in to get back to the portal. I had to hide for two days," he yawned, "before it opened," he finished, blinking sleepily. "Thankfully, the guards weren't immune to a fascination spell when they caught me trying to go through."
"The mirror was broken?" Oz asked quietly. Xander nodded, putting his head back down. "You might not have been able to come back," he whispered, leaning over to hug as much of his husband as he could.
"I would have come back," Xander promised, patting Oz's arm. "I knew where at least two mages were and I would have made them create me a portal to come home."
"Is the mirror working now?" Xander shook his head. "Okay then I won't worry about what might be coming through."
"Nothing can. The mirror was shattered on this side," Xander told him.
"Wow. You shattered one of the mirrors?"
"No the guy in the armor running around the house did," Xander told him, giving him a grin. "He's fine by the way. He's the guardian of that area. Once I un-horsed him, he listened to why I had crossed over. He was very impressed with me." He yawned again. "Oh, one of them goes to a dragon's lair. A dead dragon's lair from what he could tell. We really need to empty out the bag."
"You didn't," Oz sighed.
"Well, she wasn't there."
"A nest?" Oz said, his mouth falling open at the nod. "You're sure she's dead?"
"Her body was in there," he noted, wiggling up to get more of a hug. "I checked, Oz, she was dead and so was her child. Both by lots of arrows."
"Oh. What about the people who did that?"
"Well, I found six bodies," Xander admitted. "If there were any more, then they weren't there when I was. But, boy, are they going to be surprised when they come back," he snickered.
Oz groaned. "Xander, that's like stealing. They killed her, they deserved it."
"Oz, I left the only non-jewelry thing there. It was a crown wrapped around a sword and a sash. I only took the jewelry stuff," he pleaded.
Oz shook his head and closed his eyes. "Fine," he sighed. "I'll call Wes and have him go watch that one." He got up to go make that phone call but Xander pulled him back down. "Xan."
"I told him to," Xander told him, kissing him on the nose. "I was responsible."
"Okay," Oz agreed. "We'll put it in with the stuff you made, but you can't show it, Xander."
"Deal," Xander agreed. "Though, there was this one thing that I found that I want to investigate," Xander said thoughtfully. "Oz, is it possible for a stone to be a power source?"
Oz nodded. "We saw a few of those in the realms, they kept those lamps that had been lit forever going. Why?"
"Because I found a stash of them in the cave. If it works the way I think it does, then can I give them to those scientists?"
Oz shrugged. "We'll see. You know I want to look at their stuff first," he reminded him.
"Yup, but Daniel did and said they were legit."
"Good, then we'll sit down and look at everything tonight," Oz agreed. He soothed his lover by stroking over his neck, putting him back to sleep. He had a lot to think about before they got home.
Methos ran out to help Xander from the car, immediately enfolding him in his arms. "You're all right," he whispered, hugging him as hard as he could. "I'm not letting you out of this house or my sight for a very long time."
Oz walked around the car and tapped Methos on the arm. "Mine."
Methos pulled him for a hug too.
Daniel leaned against Blair's side, smiling down at the three men. "Xander's home," he noted for Jack, who was walking up behind them.
"Good." Jack walked past them, waving at Oz, who was looking over at him. "Hi. How was the base? Did you get a letter for me?"
Oz pulled it out of his back pocket and handed it over. "He never sealed it," he said before Jack could say anything. "Of course, he offered us your job, but hey," he said with a grin.
Xander poked Oz. "I don't want to work there yet."
"Yes, dear," Oz said, grinning up at Methos. "You too?"
"Of course. I'm not letting Xander go anywhere without some severe supervision."
"Good," Oz agreed.
Jack shook his head and walked back to the porch, reading the letter. "Okay, Danny, you explain it to him," he said, handing over the letter and walking back into the house.
"Hi, Blair," Xander said, waving. "When did you get here? And for that matter, why are you here?"
"His boyfriend became an ass," Methos told him.
"Oh. Okay. Welcome home," Xander called, snuggling in just a little closer. He was enjoying his cuddle.
Ray jogged out to get into the hug too.
Daniel walked down and started to lead the huggers inside. "Come on, guys, there's lots of soft surfaces to cuddle on in the house."
"Last one up gets the outside," Ray called, and he and Xander took off running, chased by Oz, and lastly Methos went running after them.
"That's not fair," Methos called as he ran.
Blair grinned at Daniel. "Yup, that's definitely Xander."
"How did you meet Xander?" Daniel asked, bringing him into the kitchen.
"He was found by Jim while trying to stop a ...something," Blair said with a shrug.
"Ah, the ubiquitous something," Daniel said with a grin. "We've met a few of those while in town at night."
"Ours was terrorizing a mall trying to get clothes to eat," Blair said with a shrug.
"Ah. Ours was trying to eat a tree." Daniel reached over and pulled Blair against him. "Blair, can we talk seriously?" he asked in his ear. Blair nodded, relaxing into him. "Want to come work with me and Jack?" he whispered.
"What?" Blair asked, turning around to look at him. "You mean for the military?"
"More like beside the military," Daniel admitted. "I'm still a civilian." He smiled a little self- consciously. "I wasn't quite truthful with you the other night. Yeah, I do work with the military, but," he took a deep breath, "it's not around here."
"Around here?" Blair asked.
"Yeah. As in we travel a lot. Um, across a gateway."
"Gateway?" Blair asked, crossing his arms. "Tell me the whole story, Daniel, please," he said in his best 'teacher' voice.
"Okay, I was going to do that anyway," Daniel said, getting a little cooler. "And I want you to listen to all of it." Blair nodded, hopping up to sit on the counter. "All right. Back in 1928 a large metal circle was found in Egypt. The military took control of it shortly afterward to study it, thinking it was some sort of weapon."
"And is it?"
"No, it's actually a gateway to other worlds. Worlds that were seeded from Earth's population."
"And you can prove this?" Blair asked.
"Yeah, I can prove this, and I will prove this later, if you agree." Blair nodded for him to go on. "All right. Anyway, the stargate, as it's called, is a gateway to other worlds, and we've found the aliens that did this. We're at war with them still. It's a slow process, but we're taking care of them."
"And you kill these aliens?" Blair asked.
"Only when we have to. I'm more concerned with the cultures we find and make contact with. We're learned so much from these cultures. I...I have had to fight," Daniel stammered. "It was a matter of life or death for me and the team."
"Which includes Jack?"
"He's my team's leader." He pulled one of Blair's hands free. "I want to show you my world, Blair. I know you don't want to be part of the military, but we will protect and take care of you. They do me."
"What would I be doing?" Blair asked quietly.
"About the same thing he does," Jack interrupted. "He's the first-contact person. We guard him until we see him running into danger and then go save his, and our, butts."
Daniel groaned. "I haven't done that in a while, Jack."
"Gee, he sounds like Jim," Blair joked. "He used to say that I was a trouble-magnet."
"Oh, geez," Jack sighed, going out onto the patio to get away from them.
Blair grinned. "Okay, that's reasonable. But I should probably tell you what my supposed diss was on."
"Gee, mine was on the cross-pollination of ancient cultures, due to the aliens."
"Mine was on tribal protectors."
"Oh, sentinels. We've run into one of those." Blair looked a little shocked. "Yeah, he was kinda nice. His Guide wasn't, but I understood her territorial imperative."
"Gee, Jim got that," Blair said quietly, considering it.
"Jim was one?"
"Yeah, he was. And he caught me after I had some fun with Xander."
"Just a quick thing in my office." He sighed. "Jim was a very...one way sort of lover. I was so stifled I had forgotten what I had been before I met Jim. Running into Xander, and having fun with Xander, made me remember that, and Jim threw me out."
"Oh, man," Daniel said, pulling him into a hug. "What happened then?"
"Jim got hurt the next day. Xander saved him. He spent a long time in a coma."
"Oh, wow." Daniel gave him a squeeze. "You all right?"
"Yeah. I'm good. Jim's not, but I'm good." He grinned up at him. "Aliens?"
"Yup. They took over the roles of the Ancient Gods and made slaves of a lot of people. Then they took them away to become slaves on other planets."
"Okay. And could I work with you?"
"That I'm not sure of," Daniel admitted. "You might get assigned to another team or to the Archeology team." He shrugged. "My boss..."
"Would probably like to talk to me before he can make that decision."
"Yeah, and then there's ...."
"Training with weapons and learning about these aliens," Blair finished for him.
"Yeah, and besides, you can stay at my place," Daniel offered.
"How cluttered is it?" Blair asked carefully. "I've got a warehouse full of my stuff."
"We might need a new one then," Daniel said with good humor.
"Did we get this settled yet?" Jack called.
"Yeah, Blair's coming back with us," Daniel called. "And then I'm going to have to find a bigger place."
"Danny, with our salaries, a bigger place..." Jack walked back in and shook his head. "Never mind. Let me guess, Blair's got stuff like you do?"
"About a thousand books if I ever get all my stuff out of storage," Blair said, not looking at him, staring into Daniel's eyes. "And stuff from my travels. Plus my clothes."
"Hmm, I've got stuff from digs," Daniel told him. "And about as many books if I ever get them all back from people who borrowed them." He smiled.
Jack shook his head. "You two need to live in a library," he said as he went back to watching the ferrets chase each other around the pool. "Get out of there!" he yelled a few minutes later.
Ray came running out of the house to save his ferrets.
"Oh, it's going to be a *long* day," Jack sighed as he walked back into the house.
TO BE CONTINUED...