That Old Spoiling Mood.

Giles opened the package slowly, not sure what it would contain. It was from the house in Sunnydale, so it was from his husbands, but that didn't mean it was a present. Inside he found...a book? He pulled it out to read the back cover, but all it contained were reviews. He glanced at the author. "Xander's newest one," he said, giving the book a fond smile. "It is a present." He settled into his desk chair, opening it to read. After a few pages, he started to sweat. It was him, someone had sent the book to him as a warning. The further he got into it, the more sure he was that he was in very bad danger of being lost to the world. He finally tossed the book aside, not able to read any more of the revenge-oriented story. He shuddered and turned his attention back to his work. The resort would be lost without his careful management.

He could give someone the book later, he was sure at least one person on his staff read things like that. They wouldn't even know it was another torment meant for him.


Xander screamed in joy as he opened his package with his third book. "It's here!" he yelled, running out to the living room, where Oz and Richard were playing their never ending game of chess. "It came! It came!" He handed it to Oz, who pulled him down into his lap for a hug.

"What's that?" Richard asked.

"His third book," Oz said, handing it over. "It's his way of working out his darkness."

Richard stared at the cover, which had the outline of someone hanging in chains, with their hands over their heads, and the shiny knife reflecting light toward them. "My, it looks interesting," he noted.

"We only got six copies this time," Xander told him. "You can borrow that one, but you might want to read the first one first. It's much lighter."

"Yeah, this one is a bit more cruel," Oz agreed, patting Xander on the butt. "Did Henri forward it?"

Xander nodded. "I figured that she kept at least one of the copies for herself. She likes them," he told Richard. "D'Nalia occasionally reads bits and pieces for me, but I'm not sure if she's ever read the whole thing."

"I think that's a parent thing," Oz told him. "I don't think many parents get to read much that doesn't go directly toward their children's ears. Which your books aren't suited for." He pinched Xander's butt. "Let me move and then we'll go fix lunch."

"Okay." Xander headed downstairs, going to take his happiness out on his forge. It was a good way to wear out any emotion. He'd be on a more even keel in a few minutes.

Oz shook his head and pointed at the chess board. "You sure you want me to do this?" he asked.

"Go ahead. It will tie us for games won," Richard said with a smile. "I can borrow this one?"

"Yeah, but it's real dark," Oz warned. "He worked out a lot of frustration in that one."

"I think it's an excellent idea," Richard said, giving him a pleased smile. "It's much better than getting into bar brawls or any of the many other ways he could harm others."

"Good point. At least this way, the pain is only hypothetical. I'd hate to be the guy in this one though." He shuddered. "I had a hard time editing it for him."

"I might like it," Richard said, putting it into his pocket. "We'll see." He looked at the board. "Are you going to move?"

"Okay, your funeral," Oz said, moving his queen. "Checkmate. That makes us tied, sixteen games all."

"Yes, a good game," Richard said, clapping his hands together. "How may I help with lunch?"

"You get to fix the salad," Oz said, standing up and heading into the kitchen. "Xander, food?" he called.


"What did you want besides a salad?"


"Okay." Oz shrugged and pulled out the bread. "I guess we're having sandwiches and salad."

"It's a well rounded meal," Richard reminded him. "Xander must have to watch his figure."

"Oh, yeah," Oz agreed, nodding as he sliced into the firm loaf. "Day old is all right, right?"

"Just fine," Richard said, getting into the refrigerator for the vegetables. "Should I leave off the dressing?"

"Yeah, leave off the dressing. Xander's becoming a picky eater again." Oz finished slicing the bread and started on the deli ham. He jumped as he heard a loud thump from downstairs. "Xander?" he called.

"Garage," came up the stairs. "Richie!"

"I guess we're having guests," Oz told Richard. "Richie was Mac's student but he's not a white knight like Mac was. He's pretty decent though." He looked over as he heard footsteps. "Hey, long trip?" he asked when he saw the worn look on the younger immortal's face.

"Yeah, long trip. Steve's working full time with Danny now, and I decided to take a long trip to try and forget him."

"One of the good things about our lives is that there's time to go after the ones we love again," Richard said wisely. "Especially if they're also immortals." He held out a hand. "Richard."

"Richie," he said, nodding at the food. "Let me go get clean." He headed for the back hall, finding the bathroom from Xander's directions.

Richard walked over to the sink, washing his hands again. "Did Xander give him an animal already?"

"Yup. Motocat. Wonder where he...." He watched as Rocky and Ray's smaller dog, Banger, headed for the bathroom. "I guess he's here after all." He cut some more bread, then finished building his husband's sandwich. "Xander? Food," he called.

"Coming. Give me a few." More banging came from the forge area.

"The salad's finished," Richard announced, taking it and his sandwich to the table. "What else can I do to help?"

"Open the two liter and pour some soda," Oz told him, as he finished building his own sandwich. He carried both of theirs out to the table, using the ranch dressing to finish his off. He took a bite, smiling and swallowing quickly when Xander came up the stairs with a new something. "What's that?" he asked, taking the still-warm piece of metal. "Huh, pretty," he said, handing it back.

"I wanted your opinion on the carving," Xander said as he sat down in front of what was obviously his plate. He dished himself up some salad and used the Italian dressing to finish off his sandwich. "I like this ham, we should get a lot of it this time," he noted. "When are we going shopping again?"

"I just went yesterday," Oz reminded him. "We won't need to go for a few more days." He smiled when he saw the twin redheaded boys trying to sneak into the kitchen. "Yours are on the counter," he told them.

"Boys!" D'Nalia yelled. "Get up here."

"I made extra sandwiches," Oz called up to her apartment. "They snuck down."

She came down and glared at the boys. "They're grounded. They're supposed to be cleaning their room, not eating good sandwiches." She patted Xander on the top of the head. "Don't spoil them too much please."

"We're not trying to," Oz told her. "I was expecting them to sneak down here for lunch, they usually do," he reminded her with a shrug. "Did the automatic payment work this time?"

"I was going to go shopping today and check that," she told him, sitting down at the table, letting her boys sit next to her and eat their sandwiches. "Thanks for this. This is the first time they've been good all day."

"Hey, not a big," Oz told her. "We like the boys. It reminds me why I only ever wanted to babysit," he said with a smile.

She laughed. "I used to say that too," she sighed, patting her boys on the head. "But they're adorable little hellions."

"Can I spoil them soon?" Xander asked her, starting in on his begging routine.


"Please? I need to spoil someone and Oz won't let me spoil him."

"Nope, they're spoiled enough."

"Please?" he asked, turning up the power of his begging.

"No," she complained. "If you spoil them, then I'll never get them back under control."

"I'll call it their one day a year of brattiness," he offered. She shook her head. "Please?" he asked, turning up the power of his pout.

"Nope. One day of brattiness wouldn't keep the rest of them at bay. No spoiling of the children."

"But I'll make them promise to be good for a week," he offered.

"No," she said, looking him directly in the eyes. "No spoiling of my children; they'll become insufferable. No buying them lots of toys. No buying them candy. No kidnapping them to go play in a playground." He gave her his best pout and her heart ached. "There should be a rental agency so people like you can get your kiddie fix," she sighed. "Boys, if Xander gives you presents, will you be good with them? And be good for the rest of the day at least?"

The boys looked at each other, then at her. "Toys?" they said in unison. She nodded. "We'll be good," they said together.

"Okay." She looked at Xander, who was giving her a brilliant smile. "Fine, whatever, I can always send them down here for you to deal with if they get too bad," she agreed.

Xander gave her a hard hug. "I knew you'd like the afternoon off." He finished his lunch and looked at the boys. "Hurry up and we'll go shopping," he promised. The twins shoved the rest of their food in their mouths, having to keep them open to chew it all.

"Don't choke," their mother warned. Both boys obediently swallowed and opened their mouths, showing their mother that they'd eaten it all. "Okay. No noisy toys, Xander."

"Nope, but we'll get to go pick out toys for the animals," he promised the boys. "Go get your jackets and shoes."

"No noisy toys, Xander," Oz told him. "I will hide them all."

"Yes, dear," Xander said happily, holding out his hand. "Cards?"

"Cards," Oz sighed, pulling out his wallet and handed over one of the bank cards. "The checkbook's in the bedroom." He shook his head when Xander whooped and ran off. "I know we're going to suffer for this one," he told their housekeeper. "It's been too long since he went the last time."

"What about his fabric?" Richie asked.

"He's threatening to go back to his store in LA to get it," Oz said, finishing off his sandwich. "He's searched the ones here, and he's not comfy with them. He's going to fly back day after tomorrow and have them all shipped here."

"Gee, more boxes?" D'Nalia asked. "He'll never get everything unpacked."

"He'll have them delivered and dragged in through the garage," Xander said as he passed them, waving his keys. "I've got the keys for the sedan, it's still got the extra car seats in the back." He whistled, bringing the boys running. "Come on," he said happily. "Let's go have *fun*!" He led them out and every adult in the house sighed.

"At least it's not us. The kids will be able to keep up with him," D'Nalia said, giving Oz a smile.

"I can finally clean the bedroom," Oz agreed. He looked at their guests. "Go amuse yourselves, we'll be done in an hour." He headed for the bedroom and D'Nalia headed upstairs to clean her apartment - something that was very hard to do with children underfoot.

Richie smiled at Richard. "So, lived here long?"

"Yes, actually. I've lived in the area for nearly fifty years now." He ran a hand through his hair. "I like this area of Florida, it reminds me of home."

"I'm a street kid from Seacouver; this is *far* from home," Richie said, still grinning. "Have you seen my cat?"

"She was playing with the dogs."

"Cool." Richie got up, taking his, Oz's, and Xander's plates into the kitchen. "Were you playing chess?" Richard nodded. "Want to play? I'm just learning, but Steve said I have a good eye for strategy, as long as it's not about money."

"Many people have that same problem," Richard agreed, nodding at the living room. "Come on. I'll set up the board while you clear the table."


Xander stopped in the mall's entryway and looked down at the boys, who he had insisted hold his hands. "All right, we'll go to the pet toystore first, then one for you guys, OK?" They cheered. "We've got to get the animals lots of fun things." Ian got free and started to run. "Freeze!" he shouted, and the little boy froze, staring at him in shock. "I told you to hold my hand," he said as he walked toward him with his brother. "Now," he said, taking the little, held-out hand, "we'll go and you'll stay with me." They walked into the big chain petstore, grabbing a cart for the boys. "In you get," he said, putting them both into it. "Where to first? Dogs or cats?"

"Dogs," the boys yelled, ignoring the other adults who were staring at them.

Xander smiled and wheeled them that way, making 'zoom' noises as he headed down the aisles. "Here we are," he announced, waving a hand at all the toys. "Let's see. Should the dogs get some chew toys?" he asked, and the boys cheered, so he added some of the chew toys to the cart. "What else?"

"Squeaky stuff," Ian shouted, pointing at it.

A woman walking past smiled at Xander. "What cute boys you have," she said, waving at the twins.

"I'm babysitting. Their mother's my housekeeper, and she needed a day off. We're shopping for all our animals, huh, guys."

"Yup," Sean said, smiling at the woman. "We have lots of animals."

"Whole lots," Xander agreed, patting him on the head. "We'll get kitty and ferret toys in a few minutes. What sort of squeaky stuff, Ian?"

"Balls," Ian said, pointing, no longer pouting because he wasn't the center of attention. "And newspapers."

"We can do that," Xander agreed, tossing a few different choices in the cart. "Your turn, Sean, what next?"

"Tug and talk," Sean demanded, smiling at the woman's back as she moved on. "And one of the stuffed animals. They need teddy bears too."

"Okay," Xander agreed, tossing a few more things into the cart with the boys. "What else?"

"Jingle balls," Ian said, pointing at a plushy with the jingle toy tag. "Try it?"

"Sure." Xander handed it over, letting the boys pass it back and forth to try it out. "Good enough for the animals?"

"We want one too!" Sean demanded. "This is fun."

"Okay." Xander grabbed a few more and tossed them into the cart too. "Now what?"

"Flashy ball," Sean said, pointing at the display. "That one. The blue one."

"And the football," Ian demanded.

Xander picked that package up carefully, looking it over. "Guys, we can't get this one," Xander said, putting it back onto it's rack. He looked at the pouting little boys. "See, I have an allergy to the stuff that those toys are made from. If I touch them, then I can get *really* sick, okay? So none of those."

The boys nodded. "Okay," they said together. "But we want a rope toy," Sean told him.

"Sure, we can get a tug rope. A talking one or a plain one?"

"Both," the boys said together.

"Good job," Xander said, tossing in the requested ropes and two packages of tennis balls. "Oh, treat dispensing," he said, grabbing one of each. Someone would be happy tonight. "Okay, onto the cats," he said, making the 'zoom'ing sound again as he pushed the heavy cart to the cat toys.


Oz looked over at D'Nalia, who was watching their chess game. "Do you think he's loaded up the car yet?"

"Probably not. He's probably still in the pet store with the boys. They've got to be demanding some toys for them too."

"Maybe," Oz agreed. "I hope he remembers he's supposed to be getting cat food. We're out."

"I'm sure he'll figure that out, he's the one who did the morning feeding."

"Point," Oz agreed, looking down at the board. "Still studying?"

"Just wondering what Xander is getting besides pet and child toys," Richard admitted as he made his move.

Oz snickered. "You have *no* idea," he told the older immortal. "He's come home before with his sports car *full*. No room for one more toy, human or animal."

D'Nalia smiled. "I wondered where all those toys in the chest came from."

"All from one shopping trip. He was *bored*," Oz told her.

"I'll remember that," she said, looking dismayed. "Was that what this was?"

"Nah. This was a wanting to spoil someone thing. He likes to spoil others. I have no doubt that the boys aren't going near an adult bookstore." He made his move, but hesitated and put that knight back, moving the one on the other side. "Your turn." He leaned back, smiling at their housekeeper. "Why aren't you relaxing in a tub or something?"

She smiled. "You don't pay me for that."

"We pay you even if you're having sex upstairs," he reminded her. "Go use our tub and be decadent. It'll keep Xander from using it later."

"Try the body tea, as Xander called it," Richard offered. "I believe he put it in the wardrobe in there." He looked at Oz. "Does he often use such unusual furniture in places like the bathroom?"

"Not really. How much of that do you use anyway?"

"A small pinch is more than sufficient," Richard told them. "It's very soothing. It even soothes Mariana's nerves. I put her in a bath the night that we left and she quit hissing at Ray." He gave Oz a wry look. "It seems she wants Methos for herself."

"Over our dead body," Oz said.

"I'm going to go bathe," she announced, heading for their bathroom. "If I'm not already out, tell Xander that I will be inspecting the toys when they come back."

"Okay," Oz called. "We'll bring you a snack in a few minutes."

"I'll get it," she called back, coming back to the kitchen to make herself a snack. "Wouldn't want to traumatize you," she said with a wink to her boss before going back to the bathroom.

Oz shook his head. "This is not what I had planned for the day." He looked out at the porch, where the rain had just started to get harder. "Today I expected to spend the day in bed with Xander, listening to him talk about his next story."

"Why won't he write more pornography?" Richard asked, making his move. "Your turn."

"Because I refused to edit it for him," Oz said dryly. "It got too hard to read it and not jump the Xander. Meth has the same problem with his darker stuff, but Ray demanded that Xander take care of Meth if it is his book's fault. It seems last time he got worn out," he finished with a grin. "So did I if I remember right."

"You four have a good relationship," Richard said, smiling at him. "I'm happy that you've found contentment, especially with people who can protect themselves and you."

"Yeah, I'm really happy too," Oz admitted, looking at the board. "Which one did you move?"

"That one," Richard said, touching the top of a pawn. "It's still your turn."

"Okay," Oz said, moving his queen and taking the remaining knight on Richard's side. "Yours." He looked out the window. "I hope he remembers how to drive on wet roads. He doesn't drive very often," he said quietly.


"Because he doesn't like to drive. He likes it when other people drive, that way he can concentrate on other things, like the discussion. He can do both, but he likes to give his whole attention to driving."

"And the twins will be doing what?"

"Probably playing. Hopefully fairly quietly." Oz glanced down the hall. "I'm sure they're fine. The pet store is in a mall with a bookstore and a few toy stores. They could still be inside."

"They could be," Richard agreed, thinking that the boy had to talk about this, it sounded a lot like a trauma reaction.


Xander glanced out at the rainy sky and shuddered. "How about some pizza, guys? I don't like to drive in the rain."

"Okay," the boys said, reading their books. "'Shroom and 'roni?" Ian asked.

"Yup, we can do that," Xander agreed, steering them toward the food court. He kept the boys in sight as he ordered, taking their tray over to the table and sitting down with them. "Pizza," he announced, getting up to grab napkins. He turned around, and the boys had divvied up all three plates between them, leaving him to get another few slices for himself. He came back to the table and grabbed the boys' books, putting them aside on a chair. "Eat," he told them. "The rain should be done soon, and then we can go home so you can show your mother all your new stories that she'll help you read."

"Cool," Sean said, digging into his pilfered slice of pizza. "Thank you, Uncle Xander, you're really nice."

"You're welcome," Xander said, giving them a smile. He noticed a guard coming toward them and wiped his hands and mouth, nodding at the man. "Was there a problem?" he asked.

"Just admiring the boys," the guard said. "They're cute."

"I'm babysitting and spoiling them," Xander told him. "Has it quit raining yet?"

"It's started to slow down. Be careful when you go home; the east entrance just had a wreck." He kept going, heading for one of the food booths.

"Remind me of that, okay, guys?" They grunted as they stuffed themselves. "Okay, let's finish up and go home, beat the rain, huh." The boys ate faster, helping him with his meal too. "Let's go." He grabbed their hands, and the few remaining bags, letting them grab their books, and left, not noticing the fallen wallet.

It was Sean that noticed it and went back to get it, smiling at the woman starting to sit down. "'Scuse me, I need to get that," he said, grabbing the wallet and taking it back to his uncle. "You dropped this."

Xander checked the ID to make sure it was his, then smiled at the young boy. "Thank you, Sean. How about we stop and get fast food for dinner?"

"Okay," the boys said together, dragging their uncle out to his car.


D'Nalia walked up the stairs, following her boys. "What did you get?" she asked, glaring at Xander when the first noisy toy was removed from a bag. "Isn't that a dog toy?"

"We liked it," Ian defended.

She shook her head, letting Xander slip away. She'd yell at him tomorrow, after she removed all the batteries and hid them.

Xander walked down the stairs, sliding into Oz's lap for a kiss. "We had a good time."

"Good," Oz said, pushing Xander off and into his chair. "Did you save room for dinner?"

"Yup. I only got a few bites of my pizza. The boys stole the rest." He grinned at Richie. "I even got more animal toys. Want to help me unpack them?"

"Sure," Richie sighed. "How many?"

"Just toys. Some for each type of animal." He shrugged. "Oh, Oz, the shopping account is empty."

"I noticed," Oz said, looking at the bags piled in the living room. He snorted when he saw a ferret baby trying to get into one. "You might want to get something unpacked now." Richie handed over his knife and Xander left for the living room. "How did he do that?" Oz muttered.

"Easy. And the cat food's in the car," Xander called back. "It only had about four hundred in it. We spent two of that in the bookstore. The boys actually decided to go to the bookstore instead of the toy store." He pulled out the tennis balls and uncapped them, sending three of them around the room, drawing out hidden ferrets and cats. Then he grabbed some of the loose catnip and spread it around in a big circle, and the rest of the cats migrated, except for Fluffy, Methos' cat. She didn't like catnip. It didn't affect her normally, it made her sneeze. He grabbed another bag, pulling out the new bag of chew stuff, tossing a few of them away from the catnip. The dogs in the room barked, coming over to investigate. One ferret baby squeaked up at him, pushing a ball toward him. "Do you want to play?" he asked, giving the ferret a toothless smile, teeth tended to scare them. He pushed the ball, watching as the ferret scampered off, catching it and playing with it before bringing it back. "Oh, fetch," he said happily.

"Xander, why are you teaching a ferret to play fetch?" Oz asked from the table.

"She picked it up without my tempting her," Xander defended. Methos hated it when the cats played fetch, he kept saying it was unnatural. Maybe he'd feel better about a ferret doing it. He rolled the ball again, smiling as the ferret ran off to chase it. "Coming," he said when he saw Oz get up to get dinner. He grabbed the ball again and sent it down the hall, then walked over to his seat.

Oz shook his head as the ferret pushed the ball over during dinner, reaching down to toss the ball back into the living room. "Not during dinner," he told the baby, who wiggled to get free to go chase her ball.

"I wonder if they'd do it with the fuzzy mice," Xander said thoughtfully.

D'Nalia came down the stairs at the groan, looking at the array of toys and the ferret bringing the ball back. "Want to play?" she asked, rolling the ball for it. "Xander, how much did you spend in the bookstore?"

"Not enough. There were a few more that they wanted." He smiled down at their housekeeper. "I like to spoil people, it makes me happy. If you complain about the books, I'm going to go back and buy them *all* for the boys."

She shook her head. "You're insane," she noted.

"Yup," he said, reaching down to grab the ball, sending it towards the couches. The ferret ran after it, squeaking at it to slow down.

The mother ferret, Jedi, climbed up into an empty chair and scolded her father.

"Huh, she agrees, no playing with the animals during dinner," Oz noted, looking at his husband.

"I'll play with her," D'Nalia sighed. "Such a chore." She caught the ball and rolled it again. "I can't go upstairs and feed the boys, they're stuffed."

"We had pizza," Xander agreed. "They ate mine."

"Then they brought home burgers," D'Nalia reminded him. "Which they're presently picking at."

"We brought one home for you too," Xander offered, giving her a smile. "Thank you for letting me spoil them."

She leaned over and patted him on the arm. "You're welcome, but those talking ropes and Jedi toys are coming down here to stay." She caught the ball and bounced it away, smiling as the baby squealed and ran after it.

Jedi squeaked some more, then crawled into Xander's lap, nuzzling his hand. "Oh, do you want to play?" he cooed, grabbing the tennis ball and tossing it for her.

"No animals at the table," Oz ordered. "They can play in a few minutes."

Xander got down on the floor to play with his babies. He and D'Nalia sat together, both throwing the balls for their ferrets.

Oz shook his head and sighed, handing Xander down his plate. "Never again," he warned. "You need to eat too."

Xander grinned at his husband. "Thanks, dear. Oh, and I talked to Henri. She said she sent Giles a book too."

Oz winced. "Ow," he said finally. "He's already paranoid."

"But maybe he'll get the point," Xander suggested, looking a little happier. "And maybe he'll think that I'm going to enact some of it for going with the pros."

"He slept with paid help?" D'Nalia asked.

"Yup. It seems his powers had to come out somewhere so he cheated. And he paid for it too," Oz told her. "He admitted it."

"I'd kick his ass," she said plainly. "None of the fancy stuff Xander likes to write out, just a good old-fashioned ass kicking with the divorce papers tossed onto his heaving chest at the end."

"We can't be divorced without some higher interference," Oz told her. She shrugged. "No, our marriage was literally sanctified by Cupid, God of Love."

"And a few others," Xander added. "He wasn't always like this, it all started when he ran away to be trained." He ate a bite of dinner, sharing some of the stuffing with his baby. Then he threw the ball again, making her squeal. "I'm wondering what really happened to him on that roof."

"It might have been related," Oz said carefully, "but you can't blame it all on that."

"Yes, I can," Xander countered. "He left to think, he came back odd, he stayed odd, and then, when he left to run the resort, he started to cheat on us. It all started around that time." He took another bite, then pointed at his husband with his fork. "His quickening even felt funny when we did that in Boston."

"It did," Oz said after some thought. "Oh, well. If he shows up, Richard has offered to take care of him and check him out for us."

"You really like him, huh," Xander said with a small smile.

"Yup, he's an interesting person who doesn't push his age on anyone. He actually seems to not like being so old. And he's never really played 'wiser older one' down to me. I can appreciate someone not talking down to me." He looked down at his husband. "Do you mind?"

"Nope, I like that you have friends again. It's good to see you having something outside the house that I made you hide in." He picked at his food. "I keep wondering if all my not wanting to go out into the world stuff is what drove Giles funny. I don't want to do that to you."

"Babe, I don't like going out and partying every night. Being a home body is good for me." He slid down to the floor, cuddling his Xander to his chest. "Trust me, I'm happy being at home. Giles was when he was himself. He never used to want to go out either. This wasn't you. This is something about Giles. Some of us just have to go funny for a while, before we can figure out what we really have and go back to beg for it."

"Trust me, Xander," Richie said quietly, staring down at the couple, "some immies go funny for a while but most of us come out of it with some help. It took Meth finding me and making me listen to what happened to Mac to save me from becoming a hunter. I went odd for nearly a year. It took a real friend with some very strong handcuffs to solve my problem, but it can be done if you want to. Giles will figure it out and come back. It was nothing you did. This wasn't trauma induced like mine was."

Xander handed Oz his plate and got up, giving their friend a hug. "I'm sorry Mac hurt you too," he whispered. "If you ever need it, we're here to shelter and help you." Richie started to stiffen so he let go and went back to his spot, narrowly missing a few of the ferrets, who were begging. "Hey, guys, want to go play?" he asked, waving the ball before bouncing it into the living room.

Richie looked at Oz, who shook his head. "Don't ask," he mouthed, then he got up and grabbed his plate to eat beside his husband. "This is stress relieving," he said after another round of throwing the ball for the overjoyed ferrets. "They're getting happy, we're getting mild exercise. They're getting mild exercise, which is pretty nice too. Even the vet agreed that they needed some more exercise."

"Did the ferret breeder call back yet?" Xander asked, taking a bite of his casserole. He caught the ball that was heading for his plate and tossed it, wincing as it bounced downstairs. "Um, I think someone needs to get that one. I doubt Jedi can carry that ball up the stairs."

"Let her try," Oz suggested. "If she can't, I'll go after it." He took a bite of his dinner, pushing away the little nose sniffing his plate. "Not for you. You've got ferret chow."

Xander smiled and made sucking noises, bringing the cat who thought it was a ferret and stole their food over. He fed her a small tidbit of meat, making her happily run away to eat it away from the others. "See, sometimes you have to give them a treat. It makes them happily run away and hide."

"Run away, run away," Richie mimicked.

"That's what we're doing tonight," Xander decided. "We will go rent movies and watch them together. Monty Python and what?" he asked their guest.

"I vote for an action film," D'Nalia put in, teasing the ferret baby with the ball. "Yes, you can have it," she said when the baby started to wander off, rolling it in front of the ferret's path, making it go running after it. "They don't do teasing very well."

"They've still got a short attention span," Xander agreed, nudging Oz to go get the ball for Jedi, who had come up without her ball. He waited until Oz was gone to look at their housekeeper. "Will you help me make a prezzie for Oz?" She shrugged. "It'll involve some cooking, and I know I can't do that very well."

"Sure," she agreed, patting him on the hand. "What are we making?"

"Fudge and cookie cocks and balls."

Richie choked. "'Scuse me?" he gasped.

"I found a mold to make penis and ball shaped stuff, a full mold, not just a side view one. I want to make Oz a cookie one and a fudge one."

D'Nalia shook her head. "I don't want to know why you're making these, do I?" He grinned. "Please, not with food, I might be sick. No, I will be sick," she decided.

"Nope, not for that. For his *birthday*," Xander said. "It'll be his cake, but I figured that cake wouldn't be stiff enough."

"Oh." She shook herself. "Okay. Do you have the molds?"

"Yup, they're in my closet. And we've got to hurry, Methos and Ray will be back tomorrow night. They promised to come back from the honeymoon in time for his birthday to give him spankings."

She laughed, leaning over to kiss him on the cheek. "I'm more than ready to help you plan a naughty birthday for your honey." She caught the ball and rolled it again, sitting back up as Oz walked up the stairs. "We'll figure out the recipe tomorrow."

"Chocolate chip?" Xander suggested.

"With nuts?" Richie asked. He grinned at the shocked looks. "What?" he asked innocently.

"Definitely with nuts," she agreed, smiling at him. She looked at her partner in naughtiness. "We'll do it up right for him. Just an hour of shopping for supplies."

"I've got to get the other bank cards then. Our shopping account is empty."

"Why did you guys set it up that way?" Richie asked.

"It was Steve's idea. This way we have a set allowance for shopping."

"And what did we spend the rest of it on?" Oz asked as he came over.

"The house."

"I thought I gave you money for that," Oz said as he sat down, rolling the ball for D'Nalia. "I know I withdrew a lot of cash specifically for that purpose."

"You did?" Xander asked. "I thought that was a bonus for the girls."

"Did you give Henri that envelope?" D'Nalia asked. "I didn't get it."

Oz groaned. "All right, we'll take some money out of the checking account and have it moved over."

"Thank you, Oz," Xander said, kissing him on the cheek. "I love you."

"Love you too. What's on your mind now?"

"Book shopping. I didn't get to do hardly any at all today because I was watching the little guys. Do people come up to you and tell you how cute they are?" Xander asked the twins' mother.

"Yup," she said, nodding. "It seems to be an appreciation thing. How many?"

"Four. Two in the bookstore, one in the pet store, and a guard in the food court."

"Wow. We never got the attention of a guard before. Well, except for that orange incident," she amended, chewing on her bottom lip, "but that was a fluke."

"I think we've had one of those ourselves," Oz said, looking at Xander, who had collapsed a whole display of chips looking for a bag that wasn't smooshed, as he had told the security guards who had come running when the display had fallen. "Whole display?"

"Small grocer, tub of oranges stacked just higher than they were."

"Ah. Xander's was chips."

"And yours was cans of cranberry sauce," Xander countered.

Oz groaned. "That was an accident, I tripped."

"That's why three cans ended up in our cart?"

"Yup." Oz looked at D'Nalia. "Before he tells you anything, I don't want a birthday party. I don't like surprises."

"Okay," she said, giving him a smile.

He looked at her but she looked innocent so he couldn't say anything.


Xander carefully tied the bow on Oz's dessert present, smiling at Richard as he walked in. "Birthday boy's in the bathroom. He'll be right out." He stuck his tongue out at the bow that was refusing to cooperate. "Meany," he told it, fluffing it again. "There." He put the box into the refrigerator, then turned to hand their guest a can of soda. "How are the ferrets?"

"Very good. They've investigated everything in the house, found every hidden cubbyhole, and my bowling ball."

"Then they adjusted normally," Xander agreed happily. "Does *she* have a problem with them?"

"She's in Spain, working on something for her business," Richard said with a smile. "It was my anniversary present to her." He smiled at Oz as he walked out. "Ready for a rematch, old man?"

"Sure," Oz agreed, looking at Xander. "Where did you hide the presents?"

"What presents?" Xander asked innocently. "You said you didn't want anything for your birthday and that you'd spank me if I bought you something."

"Point, but I know you did."

Xander shook his head. "I'm a *good* boy, Oz, and I don't want anyway," he added with a grin. "No presents. Want me to go find you one?"

Oz shook his head and headed out to the chess board. He started to sit so he could stare at the kitchen, but then he decided maybe it'd be good to be surprised this time. He set up the chessboard, waiting on Richard, who was watching Xander.

Xander had Richard tie the bow on the solid fudge cock and ball set, still smiling at the quiet whistle his creation had gotten. "It's a mold," he whispered as he put that box back into the refrigerator. "I'll let you borrow it if you want." He headed into the bedroom to wrap Oz's other presents.

Richard was still smiling when he walked out to start this game of chess. "You'll like it," he promised. "It's a very Xander thing to give you."

"It's made of metal and jewels?" Oz asked.

Richard just smiled more. "You'll see." He made his first move. "Let's play, shall we?"


Oz reached for the two big boxes of his, but D'Nalia smacked his hand. "Not until the boys are upstairs," she told him. "Those are not presents for the boys to see."

"Okay," he agreed, reaching for another one. This one was apparently fine so he opened it. "Xander," he breathed, pulling out the thin silver chain. "This is beautiful. Did you make this over there?" he asked as he ran it over his fingers. It was made of the metal that only appeared in the other realm they'd visited. It was soft, so very soft and silky against his skin, so he put it on. "Wow. This is great work, Xan."

"Thanks," Xander said, grinning happily. "It's actual silver instead of the realmal metal. I did something special with it to try it out."

"Then I'm really impressed," Oz said, leaning over to give him a kiss. "Thank you."

"You're welcome," Xander said, leaning back in his chair. He picked up his coffee to sip. "Unwrap everything but the blue box," he said. "That's one for when the other guys get here. They sent it ahead in case they were delayed."

"And they didn't want me to open it?"

"Nope. Meth said to not open it until they got here." Xander grinned down at the boys, who were eating excellent ice cream. "Did you guys have a good time today?" They nodded. "Did you tell your mother what you saw today?"

"We saw 'gration bust someone," Sean told his mother.

"What?" D'Nalia asked.

"They saw Immigration come bust someone today," Xander told her. "We were in the candy store and the nice guys in suits came in and took the owner."

"Xander, what did you do?" Oz asked.

"Nothing besides buying a bunch of candy and ice cream," Xander promised. "The funny thing was that he didn't seem foreign."

"That little candy store on the shopping strip?" Richard asked.

Xander nodded. "Yup, him."

"He's actually from somewhere in Europe, he came over as a child with his grandparents. I'm sure it's just a misunderstanding." He pointed at his present. "Unwrap that one next," he suggested.

Oz picked up that present and carefully unwrapped it, smiling at the small figurine inside the large box. "Wow. Where did you find this? I've been looking for the whole series for a year now."

"I included the card," Richard told him. "Xander was quite nice when I asked him what you'd like."

"That was the one I couldn't find," Xander said lightly. "I never thought about looking in a comic and gaming shop."

"Wow," Oz said, running a finger along the top of the comic character's head. "This is so great." He smiled at both of them. "Thanks." He put it on the mantle, then came back and sat down, pulling another present over. This one the boys had obviously helped wrap. "I think this one is from some little boys," he said with a smile. He opened it, smiling at the gift certificates inside. "Cool. A certificate to one of the bigger old music stores." He pulled them both over and kissed them on the head. "Thank you, guys." He smiled at their mother. "Thanks, D'Nalia."

"We thought you'd get a lot of use out of that one," she said, giving him a smile. "When can you play and put the kids to sleep again?"

"I can do that tomorrow for naptime," Oz told them.

Xander grinned. "I might stay home and listen to that."

"You've got to go buy fabric," Oz reminded him.

"Yup. My plane leaves about the same time that Meth and Ray get in so they won't have to take a cab, and I get to help you celebrate all tomorrow night; they get you until I get back."

Oz shook his head. "I didn't want to spend my birthday alone."

"They'll be in in about two hours," Xander told him, reaching over to pat his hand. "As a matter of fact, I'm about to leave to catch my flight. They'll be back shortly and you'll be able to cuddle them all night and dream about the stuff I'm going to be doing to you as soon as I get back." He grinned. "Guys, why don't you go check on the animals?" The twins ran off to go check on the animals. "Now you can open those two boxes."

Oz opened the first box, his mouth falling open at the fudge statue. "Whoa. Chocolate cock?" he asked, pulling it out. He ran a finger along the base and tasted it. "Oh, fudge. Even better. Trying to tell me I should broaden my horizons?"

"No," Xander said, grinning at him. "You deserved a sweet treat, and that was the sweetest I could find. D'Nalia helped me make them."

"Them?" Oz asked, putting his fudge cock back into it's box so he could open the other one. "Cookie?" he asked.

"Hazelnut chocolate mint chip," D'Nalia told him. "With walnuts and almonds spread throughout it and a coffee flavored drizzle because I thought it was plain."

Oz got a goofy grin on his face. "Guys, you are so great," he sighed, putting that one up too. He didn't want the boys to get into them. It might scar them for life to cut into a bigger than life cock.

Xander got up and gave his husband a kiss, and a cuddle. "So, are you okay with me going away for the night now?"

"Sure, as long as you come back tomorrow," Oz whispered, stealing another kiss. He patted the firm butt. "Go buy lots of stuff for presents and come home as soon as possible," he said, letting Xander go. He watched as the boxes were taken and put into the refrigerator. "Thanks, I didn't want them to melt." He smiled at the boys as they came back. "Are they napping?"

"A few. One's licking the other's butt," Ian reported. "She seems to like it. She's shaking her leg but she's not moving."

"She was purring," Sean agreed. "It sounded funny."

"That was something we didn't need to know, son," D'Nalia said, pulling them into her lap.

"Where's the big boxes?" Sean asked. "We didn't get to see them."

"They're back in their protected spot;, they're very special," their mother told them. "They're not to be touched by little fingers." She kissed each one on the head. "Now, I think that's all the presents. Thank Xander for the ice cream."

"Thank you," they said, then they ran back up to their apartment.

"Thank you for letting me see the look on his face when he opened it," she said, winking at Xander as she got up and followed her boys.

Xander stole another kiss, then went to grab his bag and tickets. "All right. I'll be back tomorrow afternoon, probably before dinner. You behave with the newlyweds, and I want film if you don't." He waved at Richard and stole one last kiss before leaving the house.

Oz sighed and leaned back against the chair. "I love him," he noted. "Our life is never boring."

Richard chuckled. "I'd say. He offered me the molds so I could make one of my own, though I don't think I could make a solid fudge one. Maybe an ice cream one, I used to have a very good hand at making ice cream." He stood up. "I'll leave you alone now. I know you have to do a few chores for the animals before your other members come home, and I'm deeply into Xander's most recent book." He walked out, leaving Oz alone with his presents.

He found one last one sitting under everything and frowned, but he opened it. "Whoa," he said, looking at the small pendant. "He's doing good again." He took off his necklace and put the small pendant on, putting his new presents back on. Maybe he'd meet Meth and Ray wearing only that. He started to fantasize about them, so he was still sitting there when they came in an hour later. "Hey," he said. "I cleaned up."

"So I see," Methos said, smiling at the wrapping paper. "Where's this monument that Xander said you'd want to show off?"

"The fridge," Oz said, forcing himself to stand up, ignoring his hard cock as he walked into the kitchen. "He found a mold and made me special presents." He pulled out the boxes to show them off, watching their faces.

"Oh, that's what he was talking about," Ray said, running his finger along the top of the fudge one. "It's good."

"The naughty one has reached all new heights," Methos noted, licking Ray's finger. "Fudge?"

"The other's a complicated cookie one," Oz told him, still grinning. "And he gave me this too," he said, showing off the necklace and pendant.

"Wow," Ray said, touching the small stone. "That's pretty." He put the boxes back into the fridge and grabbed Oz, kissing him hard. "He said to give you that and to call his name at least once tonight."

"Yes, we should be getting to bed," Methos suggested, dragging his Ray with him to the bedroom. The flirt had teased him the whole plane ride back from Egypt. Oz followed along happily, stripping as he went. Methos had to watch as Oz swallowed his Ray's cock as soon as the young man landed on the bed, it was all he could do besides stroke himself. He finally came out of his watching mode and grabbed some lube, slicking himself up. If he knew Xander, Oz would already be stretched and more than ready for him. He slid into Oz's body easily, groaning at the silky feeling of his best friend's body. "Yes, I missed this," he hissed, pulling back to slam in.

"I offered," Ray reminded him. "You said you wanted Oz's ass."

"I took your ass many times," Methos corrected. "That whole time we were in the ruins for instance."

"Point," Ray groaned, pushing Oz's head down farther. "Yeah, that was a good time."

Oz moaned and wiggled, silently begging for more.


Xander walked into the fabric store he loved, smiling at the woman behind the counter. "Hi," he said, looking around. "Isn't Merry around?"

"It's her day off but she said she'd be popping in around noon," the girl said. "Are you the one she's coming in for?"

"Yup," he said, heading for a cart. "It's time for me to load up."

"Are you a designer?" she asked.

"Only for my family. I make most of our clothes. Even flew in from Miami. I couldn't find a good store down there that I liked." He headed for the cottons, always his first stop. Oz said they needed more of it, and he now had the room. He started loading up his cart with some of their favorite colors, only stopping to make sure he could find a pattern for sheets. He smiled happily and grabbed a few more bolts, happy that they wouldn't show bodily fluids as much as white ones would. "I need another cart," he told himself, going back to the patterns. He noticed a woman coming toward his cart and went to move it.

"Isn't that clearance?" she asked.

"Nope," he said, giving her a faint smile, "that's my seasonal shopping binge."

She shook her head. "You must love t-shirts."

"No, that's my husbands. I like velvet and the softer stuff. Though, I did have a few pairs of pants out of some of the thicker t-shirt cotton, they're very comfy." He went back to searching for more patterns. He found a few for D'Nalia and the boys, smiling as he put them into the cart too.

"Oh, you have children?" the salesgirl said as she came over to make sure he didn't need help.

"Nope, our housekeeper does. I make most of our clothes though, so I'm going to start working on theirs too." He tossed another packet into the cart then went to park it beside the register.

"How much of each did you need?" the girl asked.

"All of it," Xander told her, grabbing another cart.

"Sir, I'm not sure we can do that," she said hesitantly.

"That's why Merry's coming in," he told her, giving her a smile. "She's used to me by now." He headed for his favorite fabrics section, the velvets, not that he could wear many of them in Miami.

Xander handed over the cash for his fabric, laughing as the packing guy forced his way through the door. "Need help?" he asked.

"No, thank you, sir," he said, dropping the boxes. "Are you the one who's mailing all this fabric?" He nodded. "Do you think these boxes are the right size?"

"Only if you're going to bend them," Xander said, holding up a bolt. "We're sending one hundred sixty of these to Miami."

The boy groaned. "I guess I need more boxes then." He went to get some more boxes, letting the people there pack the first set for him.

Xander smiled at the girls. "You guys deserve major tippage today."

Merry laughed. "I know," she told him, "but we do get a commission for your order. Any order over four hundred dollars now. The boss lowered the limit again."

"He said he couldn't find a good store in Miami," the salesgirl told her superior.

"None of them had everything that I wanted. I figured it'd be cheaper to come out here and do a massive load." He grabbed another bolt and fastened it down with a piece of fabric tape. "I got yelled at over the pins," he explained. "They set off the metal detectors at Fed Ex the last time."

Merry snickered. "I bet." She pulled out a flyer from under the counter, handing the paper over. "Here, try this place," she told him. "It's a fabric convention. They're not usually open to the public but you can claim to be a minor designer I guess. I hear they're bringing out a new type of silk this year, six months before it's on the open market." She patted him on the hand. "Don't worry, it's all good for us though. We love your business, Mr. Harris."

The box guy came back, still panting. "I asked and the boss said it'd cost almost two hundred," he told Xander. "We won't know exactly until we weigh everything."

Xander pulled out his wallet and handed over a five hundred dollar bill. "Put the change into a box and put some sort of extra mark on the addy so I know which one it's in," he told the boy. He blew kisses at the women and gathered up the non-fabric stuff, putting the flyer into the bag. "I'll be back in a few months," he called. "Thanks for the flyer." He headed out to his rental car, going back into LA proper. He had to visit his two banks, and check on the accounts that Oz didn't know he had. He hadn't meant to deceive his husband, but it was always better to be safe than sorry. Besides, he needed to pay for his ticket back.

On the way in, his cellphone rang. "Yeah?" he asked as he pushed the button to answer it, the headphone attachment already on. He had expected Oz to call by now. "Hey, Danny. Yup, you heard right. I'm on my way back to Miami from LA. No, fabric trip. Really?" he asked, thinking. "Okay. Um, Denver? Sure. I'll stopover there for a few hours. We'll chat. Oh, and tell Steve that Richie made it to our house. He and Motocat were fine when I left last night. Nope, Oz's birthday so I let Meth and Ray have him for the night. I know he wanted to spend some major time with just them." He laughed. "Yeah, it's a quirky relationship we have, but it works for us. We're all really happy with what we have. Sure. Same cellphone number? I'll call when I get my ticket." He hung up and hummed along with the radio. Until the phone rang again. "Hi, Oz," he said happily. "Did you have a good birthday night?" He laughed, having to pull over so he wouldn't cause an accident. "Really? I'm glad. I knew you wanted time alone with them, that's why I planned this. Of course. Oh, and I'm going to have a layover in Denver. Nope, not yet, but Danny just called and he wants to see me for a few so we agreed on Denver." He snickered. "Sure. Just save some of that tight ass for me and we'll all be happy. Yes, you can get Ray ready for me. I'm sure we'd both like that." He blew a kiss and hung up. "He's such a sweetie," he said, turning to look at the traffic so he could get back on the interstate.


Daniel Jackson, member of an elite military organization that went to other worlds, squealed when he saw Xander and gave him a hug. "Hey, you. Long time no see, and no letters either."

Xander grinned. "Sorry. We're just now settled into the house. I was going to give you an ecard tomorrow." He pulled them into a small, unpopulated bar and into the darkest booth there. "So, what's up?"

"Two things," Daniel said, holding out a small bag. "The front compartment has a new fabric. We'd like you to evaluate it for us. All our people have said was 'can't be made into a uniform'." He grimaced. "The military has no imagination."

"Yup, but you still help them," Xander pointed out.

"Being an Anthropologist is a little different though. I'm supposed to see cultural differences and creativity. Blair helps me a lot; now I have backup when I rant against the 'we want weapons' mind set." His grin got sappy. "We're happy."

"Good. It's good that you're ecstatic. Do you love him though?"

"I, um, asked him about that. He got this horrified look and refused to talk to me for a week," Daniel admitted. "I think that was a 'no'."

"Probably," Xander agreed, opening up the bag to feel the fabric. "Very soft. Is this the new silk I've been hearing about?"

"No, that's purely a terrestrial thing. This came from a weaver that has asked for asylum. The stuff in the back compartment is very fragile, but it's some sort of precious stone." He watched the younger man examine the new stone critically. "Any good?"

"Very fragile, it'll probably crumble if you don't use it just right." He dropped the one back into the bag. "Can I keep?"

"Those are yours. The General said that..." He trailed off as the waitress brought them waters. "Hamburgers for both of us."

"Fries and ranch dressing with mine, no onions, only ketchup and pickles please."

"Me too, but no dressing," Daniel asked. "Soda?"

"Sure," Xander agreed. "Coke?"

"Dr. Pepper or Pepsi," the waitress told him.

"Dr. Pepper," they said together. She smiled and walked away.

"Okay, why am I evaluating the stone?" Xander asked, putting the bag beside him with the handles under his leg. "Any particular uses in mind?"

"It seems to reflect light. Someone hypothesized a personal shield application but I don't think so. I folded up a copy of the geological report in the back just in case you get any ideas based on the area it was found in; no one's done an in-depth analysis of the component elements yet. The General wanted you to brainstorm mostly."

"Good deal," Xander agreed, smiling at the waitress as she came back with their orders. He paid for the lunch, sending her away again. "Anything else going on that I need to know about?"

"The negotiations that started with your present went well," Daniel said as he scooped up some ketchup on a fry. "We've all but signed a mutual aid agreement." He ate the fry. "How're Oz and the animals?"

"Good," Xander admitted, taking a bite of his burger. He took a drink once he was done. "Little dry." He glanced around. "We think we've found a ferret breeder who might take a few of the babies off our hands. She's been looking for a different bloodline. All the dogs checked out as healthy. So did everyone else when we did a mass checkup a month ago." He ate a fry. "These have been sitting around," he said, wiping off his hands so he could check his watch. "I've got about another hour. Did you need to talk? You sounded kinda down on the phone."

"No, I just got told my favorite project wasn't going to go on forever." Daniel shrugged. "It was a blow but I'll go on. It was almost over with anyway. Unless I can come up with something pretty amazing soon, it'll be closed down to me and most of the Archeological crew, and the minor people will finish it off for us."

"That sucks."

"Yup, but I'm needed on bigger things," Daniel reminded him. "I'm being moved to a new site that I've never seen before, but they're being nice. Dessie and Blair get to come with me legitimately this time."

"I heard you got into trouble," Xander said with a grin, sipping his soda. He grimaced and put it aside. "Really syrupy. Guess I'm eating at Miami's airport. They've got some pretty nice stuff there."

"Is it that bad?" Danny asked, taking a bite. "Eww, but not worse than military slop." He finished his burger off quickly, then took Xander's. "So, any new news? We were sorry we couldn't make it to the wedding, but we weren't home."

"Ray understood, but he's looking forward to a long visit." Xander stole one of his friend's fries to try them out. "Yours are warm at least."

"You could call the waitress and have her fix it," Daniel suggested.

"Oh, but why?" he said with a smile. "It doesn't matter. I'm heading home, and Oz promised me a special dinner because I spoiled our housekeeper's kids rotten and made them sit around and read."

"You bought them books?"

"Yup, I wanted to spoil someone so I took them to spoil." His grin got cuter. "They even helped me buy animal toys. Oh, and the ferrets have started to play fetch with a tennis ball."

"That's cool. I'll have Blair see if Dessie would like that. He's been trying to dig into our books recently so we've had to start training him again." He leaned closer. "Did you have to de-scent yours?"

"Nope. It doesn't bother us, but I hear it's a common procedure," Xander offered. "You might want to check with a vet. There's a good one near you; they were on the animal channel a few years back."

"I know that show," Daniel said, starting to laugh. "I'll call them once I get home. They're not that far away, almost as close as the one we've got to use right now."

"Hopefully it'll help some," Xander told him. "The only problem we've had was a small problem with litter box odor."

"We've had that too," Daniel sighed. "Blair's calling it smelly butt syndrome." That got a real laugh. "How much longer?"

"I should probably get back there in the next thirty minutes," Xander said, checking his watch. "Box it up and walk with me? I'll buy you a lemonade on the way."

"Okay," Daniel agreed, waving the waitress over. "Can I have a box please?" She nodded and hurried to get them. "You were right," he whispered. "But Blair won't mind the small bite marks." He took the box and dumped their food into it, carrying it so he could follow Xander back to the gates. "So," he said once he had the promised lemonade. "Why were you in LA?"

"Fabric shopping. I couldn't find anyplace in Miami that I really liked. They all said they could special order, but that's a lot of trouble just to get all my seasonal shopping done." He smiled at the gate checker as he handed over his ticket. "Just checking in," he said.

She typed in his seat. "Yes, Mr. Osbourne, we have you already confirmed." She looked down at the bag in his hand. "Did you just pick that up? We didn't have a carryon notice for you."

"I brought it for him," Daniel told her. "It's a new project for a present."

"You can have security check it if you want," Xander offered.

She smiled. "Thank you, sir." She waved over a guard. "He just picked up this bag, it's a present. Would you check it for him?"

"Sure," the guard said, taking the bag and putting it on the counter, doing a quick check. He held up the blade in the front, one which didn't have a handle. "Throwing knife?"

"No, an attempt with a new sort of metal," Daniel told him, pulling out his ID. "He's a certified metal forger, and he's checking the temperament out for us."

The guard looked closely at the ID then at Daniel. "You're really a consultant for the military?"

Xander pulled out his ID. "I'm traveling under an assumed identity because my latest book is coming out today," he explained to the ticket agent.

She smiled. "I knew I recognized you. I read your first one. I hated it, but it was well written."

"Thank you," he said, giving her a smile. "I always like honest opinions. And hey, you probably couldn't have hated it any more than my hate group."

"Oh, no, sir, I joined them. How do you think up such things?"

"It's getting it out of my head so I don't have to think about them," Xander told her. "It's a good way to get out all my daily stress so I don't harm someone like the driver who cuts me off, or my cheating spouse."

She shook her head. "He must be stupid, Mr. Osbourne."

"Very," Xander agreed dryly. "Is everything all right?"

"Just fine," the guard said. "You really wrote those dark books?"

Xander nodded. "It's just a way to get my dark side out safely." He smiled at Daniel. "He's the only one who told me to keep them on my laptop. Everyone else dragged me to my editor's and demanded he read them."

"Why did you have an editor already?" the guard asked.

"I got bored and wrote some porn. They're very good sellers, but not as good as my manuals." He accepted the tag for his bag and put it on the handle. "Anything else?"

"No, sir. Thank you for your cooperation." He looked at the agent. "He's clear."

"I'll make a note of it," she said, typing into her computer. "There we go, all set," she said, smiling at him. "Thank you for not taking offense."

"It's a lot better than someone saying 'oh, I like you, that was cute', which I've gotten before," Xander told her, leading Daniel to the better chairs. "So," he said finally. "That was odd."

"Security is tight here because they had a bomb scare two days ago," Daniel explained. "Sorry about that."

"No big. I'm used to scrutiny." He flipped his braid over his shoulder. "That's one of the few times that I've gotten real, honest feedback though."

"Oh, that part. I saw the third book," Daniel admitted. "Has anyone sent one to Giles to warn him?"

"Henri did," Xander admitted with a sigh. "Before she sent me the copies."

"Oh, man," Daniel sighed. "Do you want Blair or I to pop down there and talk to him?"

"Nah," Xander said with a grin. "When he's ready to apologize and quit cheating, he'll find us. He's good for that."

"Okay." Daniel looked out the window. "Here comes the plane." He gave Xander a hug. "When are you traveling again? Blair and I wanted to join you."

"I was thinking about going again next year. Not during the summer, but maybe the fall, depending on where I want to go. Do you like going to markets? Oz hated it."

"Blair and I both think it's one of the easier ways to learn little things about a culture. You can easily see their method of interpersonal interaction; how they react to the opposite sex, how they react to outsiders, their eating rituals." He shrugged. "We love to tool around the small and large markets. We were thinking about the Middle East or Turkey. Hitting a lot of the major cities there with the bigger markets."

"I'd *love* that," Xander sighed. "When?"

"Fall would be better," Daniel told him. "They've got hotter summers over there." He touched the braid. "You might have to do something about this."

"Why? I'm a designer half the time," Xander said with a grin. He stood up at the boarding announcement, giving his friend a hug. "I'll email tonight and send you our addy. You've got to come for a long stay after you get back and we'll plan the trip." He kissed him on the cheek, then the forehead. "Give one to Dessie and one to Blair." He giggled as Daniel tickled him lightly. "Thanks." He grabbed his bag and ticket, heading back to the gate to get on. He hated being the last one, it felt like everyone was staring at him as he got on. "Hi, back again," he said happily.

"Is Miami home now?" the gate attendant asked.

"Sometimes. But they already know that. The hate group's fearless leader knows where I live; she gives new members a tour past my house." He took his ticket back and headed to his seat, getting settled in. He'd get some work done this time, maybe even figure out what to do with this new fabric. It was very strong but very delicate, like the best properties of silk, only a little less rough against his calluses.

"Sir, please put that away," a stewardess said as she walked past him.

"Sure," Xander said, stuffing it back into the bag. He looked around the compartment, frowning at the man across from him, the one who was staring at him. "Hi," he said kindly.

The man pulled out his ID and flashed it at Xander. "May we talk?" he asked.

"Once we're in the air," Xander agreed. "I don't think I have a seat mate. The ticket agent said I didn't." He checked his belt and his bag, taking a deep breath as the door was closed and the plane taxied away from the gate. He did his usual count to two hundred once they started take off, then everything was all right. He looked at the man across the aisle from him. "What did you need?" he asked.

"In a minute, when I can switch," the man said. The seatbelt light went off and he shifted over to the seat next to Xander. "Sir, I work with the FBI, and we've been tracking your books." Xander groaned. "We don't think that you actually did those things, though we'd like to think that you wouldn't be that mean to your second husband, but there might be someone who's taking some of your suggestions to heart."

Xander nodded, relaxing. He wasn't in trouble. "Okay, tell me what you need and I'll try to help. And I have to warn you, I didn't do any research on this. It all came out of the darker parts of my mind, the ones I'm trying to purge."

"You found an excellent way to do so, Mr. Harris," the agent agreed. "Has anyone contacted you saying that they really appreciated you?"

"I've saved all my mail but the hate mail," Xander told him. "I can call my mate and have him pull them, they're in his desk. If you want, someone can come over and look through them, and copy the ones that you think might be this guy."

"Guy? I didn't say it was a man."

"But mostly I write about male characters," Xander pointed out. "A woman couldn't do some of those things unless she was very strong."

"Good point. We'd like that."

"Okay." Xander looked around for a stewardess, who walked over. "Can I use my cellphone yet?"

She shook her head. "Federal regulations say you can't use one while we're in the air. There are seat phones," she said, pointing at the little pouch. "You can use that if you have a credit card, or we do have credit slips you can buy if you need one."

Xander pulled out his wallet and handed over a twenty. "Please. I need to call my mate."

"Yes, sir." She walked away and came back a minute later with a blank card. "Here you go. Just swipe it through the slot and dial." She walked away, heading back to make some coffee.

Xander followed her directions, dialing his house. "Hey, you won't believe this. No, there's a federal agent here who needs to look at the mail we've gotten from fans." He handed over the phone. "Here, you explain it to him."

"Mr. Osbourne?" the agent said, smiling when he heard the answer. "Sir, I don't worry or wonder about that, but some of us did notice when we were doing research to see how best to approach you. Yes, sir, we've already got someone heading for the publisher's too. Yes, that's what we need. If you wouldn't mind, we're looking for someone who likes your husband's ideas."

Xander smiled at the stewardess as she started the cart down the aisle. "Coke?" he asked. She handed him a twenty ounce. "Thanks. Any nuts or anything like that?" A few packets of mixed nuts, one of trail mix, and one of snack mix were handed to him. "Thank you. I'm a happy camper now." She smiled and walked on after the agent shook his head at the offered coffee. Xander settled in to listen to the conversation. He knew his fans and none of them would do this.