Note: before anyone asks, no this planet isn't from another book. It's from one I'm trying to finish writing. The muses demanded some GHS time while I was working on it, though, and this is what happened.
GHS in Space
Xander looked around their home for the next three years and sighed. "This doesn't remind me of home at all," he said, flopping down onto a soft-looking couch. "Oh, marshmallows," he said as he struggled to get up. "Help?" he asked. Giles pulled him up. "Thanks." He looked around the rest of the sitting area, shaking his head as he headed up to the bedroom. "At least this is good," he told himself. "Oz, come see."
Oz jogged into the room, smiling at the large, flat, and obviously comfortable spot. Dessie had already staked out a claim on it. "Well, if their ferret's comfy," he said with a shrug. He patted Xander on the rear. "That sitting room is only for formal events. You're supposed to sit on those couches and eat." He looked around at the closet doors. "I guess that one's the bathroom," he said, pointing at an open one. "We'll have to get one of the servants to show us how to use the tub later." He led Xander out of the room and back down the narrow stairs. He walked them through the rest of the rooms, figuring out what they'd use each one for. They finally came to a room with a couch like Xander's back at home, and many small statuettes interspersed with candles. "This will be your private room," he said quietly. "Your writing area."
"What about sewing?" Xander asked.
"That's a household chore, and we've got a special room for that downstairs. You'll be getting a tour of that either later tonight or tomorrow." He squeezed the firm globe he'd kept his hand on throughout the tour. "Come on, we've got to get changed. Fortunately, their clothes look a lot like your favorite dance pants." He forced his husband up to their bedroom, smiling at the other people sharing their house with them. "Hey, guys, can't find your bedroom?"
"All our clothes were put in here," Blair explained, pulling down the new clothes that were sitting with his stuff. "We're moving them around right now."
"We've got that reception tonight," Xander reminded them, going to find his own clothes and figure out what suitable meant now. He laughed as he pulled out his favorite pair of dance pants and put them on. "Yeah, this'll work," he announced, turning to look at his men, and their friends.
Jack shuddered. "No offense, but can I wear my own clothes?" he asked Oz. When he got a shrug, he turned to the pair of anthropologists. "Well?"
"It might insult them or...they might take your unease into account," Blair said, looking at his partner. "Isn't there someone here that we can ask? I know we'll need to be briefed on eating rituals before we go. They adapted to our ways while they were with us."
Daniel walked out and came back a few minutes later with someone dressed in robes. "Here, this is our protocol manager," he said.
The older man bowed. "How may I help you?"
"Well, is this appropriate?" Xander asked, showing off his outfit.
"Xander, that has a stain on it," Blair pointed out, pointing at the small white spot on the butt. "Wear something new."
The older man smiled. "That would be manageable, but you should put on a robe over it, as I am dressed," he said, pointing at his own attire. He saw Jack frown. "We understand that all of you may not be entirely comfortable, but we ask that, for formal events, that you at least try. Here, in your own house, it should not matter unless you're receiving someone important." Jack nodded with a sigh and dug into his part of the closets. "Was there another matter that needed attending to?"
"Where's everyone going tonight?" Jack asked.
"There will be someone who will come pick you up tonight. They'll also be your guide during the dinner and reception." Daniel nodded at that, looking interested. "She is your sponsor and argued long and hard to allow you to come up here."
"We'll try not to be too much of a disappointment," Daniel said seriously. "Have we met her?"
"Yes, she was the third ambassador that came down to meet with your people."
Blair nodded. "She was pretty cool about stuff." He looked at Xander's monochromatic outfit. "Is that appropriate?" he asked, pointing it out.
"It would be. It'll be seen as a cautious and conservative outfit. He will still have to decorate himself, but that shouldn't be a problem. When I helped unpack your personal items I found many things that would suit for tonight's reception." He bowed to them again. "Let me go settle things downstairs and I'll be right back. We'll use him as an example." He left the room quietly, heading down to start the house running.
Xander sat down on the bed. "I think I'm going to need my forge," he said quietly. "I know I'm the only one in our family who packed any major jewelry." He looked around the room, then smiled when he saw the altar set up on the other side of the room. "Let me send a prayer winging out into the ether, and we'll get started." He rolled onto his side and got to his knees, crawling over to the small altar. He knelt before it and lit the silver and white candles, then sent out a nice, long prayer to his Gods and friends. They would probably get a kick out of it. He opened his eyes and found their protocol manager standing in the room again. "Hey, what's your name anyway?"
"My name is Sethryn."
"Are you intelligence or some other sort of agent?" Jack asked smugly.
Sethryn frowned at him. "I am no such thing. Men do not go into intelligence here." He straightened up. "I do, however, report to your sponsor if you're having difficulties."
"He's sorry," Daniel told him, giving Jack a glare. "At home, it's usual to put at least one intelligence officer into any new ambassador's staff to make sure that they're ...."
"Legitimate?" Blair suggested. He smiled at Sethryn. "At home, we've recently come out of nearly forty years of hostilities with another country. Not an open war, but nearly one. That's where the practice came from."
"I see. That would make sense." He smiled at Blair. "I'm sure that wouldn't be necessary here. You're many millions of miles from home. I would think finding a friend would be more important."
"It is," Oz agreed, "but Jack wanted to have everything in the open. He's been in the military most of his life and he can get jumpy about such things." He looked around the room. "Tomorrow, can you give us a tour of the market? I'd like to find some weavers to become acquainted with."
"And I'm going to want to find a forge," Xander said quickly, standing up and walking around the end of the bed to sit beside his Oz. Sethryn looked a little confused so he explained. "I made most of the jewelry I packed. If I don't keep up on my skills, they could start to leave me."
"Ah, I see." Sethryn smiled. "I had heard you sewed."
"I do that too," Xander agreed. "Oz said that there was a sewing room around here somewhere."
"There is. It's downstairs. I'll show that to you tomorrow." He motioned for Xander to stand up. "That is a perfect outfit, but it does need some decoration...and you will need to do some personal grooming before you should be getting dressed."
"Bathing?" Blair suggested.
"And oiling," Sethryn agreed. "It's the convention for unmarried males."
"Then Jack's the only one who needs to do that," Daniel said, smirking at Jack. "What do men who are married to each other do?"
"What do you do at home?" Sethryn asked.
"Hide," Jack snorted. "It's not a widely accepted lifestyle," he explained at the shocked look.
"Ah." Sethryn considered the two men on the bed. "Who heads your family?"
"It's mostly Xander's money but I do all the monetary stuff," Oz told him.
"I really don't get along well with things like bills," Xander admitted with a cute grin. "Oz deals with the mundane stuff so I can be myself."
"Who deals with the household matters?"
"The housekeeper," Xander and Oz said together.
Sethryn chuckled. "I see." He considered it. "We'll set Oz as the Head of the Household in your case. Xander will be marked as a first husband, and your second, Giles, as a secondary husband." He looked at the other couple. "And yours?"
"I do the housework," Blair admitted. "But I also pay the bills."
"Will it matter which one we are?" Daniel asked. "He'll be working with a few of the religions. I'll be working with the historians."
"And I'll be writing hopefully," Xander added in. He looked at Jack. "Wasn't Sam supposed to come with us?"
"She'll be up tomorrow," Jack told him, moving to lean against the closet door. "Her father needed her for something."
"When she does, she'll become the defacto leader of the household," Sethryn told them. "Only a woman can truly head a house. You'll then take on the mantle of her core of husbands." He laughed at the disgusted looks. "Not that you'll be asked to prove it, but that's how our social system is set up. Unless you want to mark yourselves as relatives of hers, or protected beings in her care?"
"Well, we treat Sam like she's a sister," Blair said, looking over at Jack. "But she's not an actual relative."
"Would there be drawbacks to being under her protection?" Oz asked. "I've dealt with a society before that had large ones." Daniel looked over at him. "I knew some Amazons," he told him. "They weren't happy with the fact that I'm infertile but they did manage to train me in some of their tactics, which is why I was there. Then I kept my promise by helping them leave Greece."
"Where was Meth?" Daniel asked.
"In Sparta, trying to get away from the King, who had kidnaped him because he was smart, and the King needed an advisor like him." He smiled. "Which is why they never got to take over Greece and eventually all died out. He wasn't happy to be forced to work for him."
"Is slavery still alive on your planet?" Sethryn asked.
"There's an underground form of it," Daniel told him. "Mostly of women and children, primarily for sexual purposes or for organ transplants." He shrugged at the grimace. "It's something we're trying to stop, but some of the countries that allow it aren't cooperating."
"Where do your people stand on that issue?" Blair asked.
"We use it as an alternative to the death penalty," Sethryn said honestly. "Their assets are taken and either given to the victim or their family, depending on the crime and the social level of the person who committed the crime, and then they're given manual tasks like park maintenance. Your sponsor will be able to explain more about our judicial system tonight. She will also be explaining some items about our sexual code of conduct," he said lightly. "There are many things that may seem strange to you, but she'll explain all that tonight." He looked Xander over. "Come, let us use you as an example and get you into a bath."
"Where are the other bathrooms?" Blair asked. "That way, once we've learned how to work the controls, we'll be able to go take our own."
"This is the master suite. Everyone else baths together," Sethryn told him. "There's a bathing chamber downstairs. I'll show you that after I teach you how to use the individual tub."
"Will Sam be getting this room then?" Xander asked.
"She should, but I expected you two would be taking it as the majority of the animals are yours."
"They don't tend to sleep with us," Oz told him, following him into the bathroom. "Wow. Little hole in the floor."
Sethryn got down onto his knees and touched the three dials beside the hole in the floor. "This first one controls the depth," he said, turning it to show the bathtub get deeper, until it was deep enough for a seven-foot man to stand up and the water still come up to his shoulders. "This next one controls the length." He turned it and the hole expanded outward, becoming more bathtub shaped, until at least three people could sit in it together. "If you push and turn, it controls the width." He did so and it expanded sideways. "This last button controls the water temperature," he said, turning the dial, and water started flowing in through a hole in the side wall. "Left is warmer, right is colder." He stood back up. "Now then, Xander, please strip and climb in. You can adjust the depth and width once you're in there." He watched as the young man stripped and climbed in, showing him how to manage the dials.
"What about his hair?" Jack asked. "He's got a lot of it."
"We have a pitcher for that if he doesn't want to dunk it under the water," Sethryn told him. "Isn't that how you do it?"
"Pretty much, but we have a water wasting device called a shower," Blair explained. "Water comes from above you and flows down over you."
"Ah, we have one of those in the shared baths downstairs. It's at one end of the bathing chamber." He handed Xander some soap. "Don't stay in too long. The water has an organism in it that eats dirt and germs."
"Then why the soap?" Jack asked.
"For his hair," Sethryn told him patiently. "The organism alone won't get his hair shiny or manageable." He led them away, down to the shared bathing chambers.
"Want help?" Oz asked.
"Nah," Xander said, giving him a smile. "It feels like bubbles against my skin. Go join them and tell me what I'm missing." Oz gave him a kiss then left him alone to do his hair. Xander carefully unbound it and let it float in the water for a few minutes before picking up the soap and lathering up his hands. It had been a long time since he had washed his own hair, but he would try.
Oz walked into the room where he could hear noise and smiled. This was a nice bathing chamber. "This is great," he said, walking over to where Jack was examining a decorative waterfall. "That end," he said quietly, nodding back at the ornaments he'd just passed. "Just like a Roman bath." He stripped and joined the other men in the bathing portion, smiling at them. "Xander's working on his hair." He splashed them, earning a squeal of outrage and retaliation.
Jack shook his head at the water fight, going to get clean. Baths never made him feel really clean, no matter what was in the water. He finally got the shower working and sighed in relief. A long stream of water, wide enough for him to stand in the middle of. He jumped when he felt the bubbly feeling against his skin, but he went with it. When in Rome and all that....
Xander quit struggling with his hair as a woman walked in, giving her a smile instead. "Are those towels?" he asked, pointing at the bundles. She put down the rest and held one up for his inspection. "Great, thanks," he said, working the last of the soap out of his hair. He carefully pushed the button for the water, which made it drain out, as he'd found out by accident earlier, and raised the bottom of the tub until he could get out. He took the towel and dried himself off, giving her another smile. "Is everyone else still bathing?"
She said something that he didn't understand and pushed a button on the wall, across from the tub.
"Oh." He thought. Then he held up a hand with four finger. "Other men bathing?" he tried. She laughed and turned him around, showing him the mirror on the far wall, which was showing him the water fight downstairs. He thought that was only a picture. "Thanks," he said, giving her another smile. "I'm going to get Sethryn to teach me the language." She said something else and left him alone. He continued to dry off as he watched Oz dunk Blair.
"Hey, no fair," Blair called. He ran his fingers through his hair. "Now I need to wash this mess."
"You probably had to anyway," Jack said as he walked into the picture, handing over a bar of soap. "Feels really silky, and it's slimy enough to drop."
"It floats," Daniel said, pointing at a bar he had started floating earlier. He looked up and stopped, then pointed. "Hey, Xander," he said, waving.
"Hey, guys, I just found the one on this side." He looked down at Blair. "Start from the bottom and work your way up. Trust me, you'll never get it out of the ends otherwise." He waved and went back into the bedroom, finding Sethryn laying out clothes. "Don't trust them?" he asked.
"Not particularly," he said with a grim smile. "Your sponsor has asked that Jack be attired properly tonight." He stopped when he saw Xander's towel. "That's actually a sheet to cover the bottom of the tub. You switch them out by person."
"The woman held one up," Xander said with a shrug. "It works."
"It would," Sethryn said, coming over and sitting Xander on the bed. "Now we must prepare you. Do you do that at home with help or not?"
"Depends on what you mean by prepare," Oz said as he walked in, wrapped in a much smaller piece of cloth. "We don't usually do much when we go out besides our hair and brush our teeth."
"Here, you'll be expected to be oiled or perfumed, as well as being groomed. Jack will have to be oiled as he is unmated. The rest of you will need to match with your mates, or at least harmonize with him. The second is more if you're looking for someone to round out your group." Oz nodded at that. "Also, you'll have to shave. All of you and all of your group. We have long ago gotten rid of body hair in our people. It's considered a gross defect now if you're hairy."
Oz sighed. "Okay," he agreed. "You get to tell Jack though."
"Of course," Sethryn said, looking confused again. "That is my job."
"I think he means he was going to tell everyone but Jack won't react favorably to that news," Xander explained. "We don't have a shaving issue for men, but some do shave their faces."
"That's partially religious and partially cultural," Oz told him, sitting beside him on the bed. "So, what would you do for us? Oil or perfume?"
"First, I would shave you," Sethryn reminded him. "Come, to the public baths with you both." He led them down, herding the others down with them when they ran into them in the halls. "You all have to shave," he announced. He smiled when he saw Jack run a hand across his cheek. "Not only there," he explained. "Our people have bred body hair out of their lines. It's now considered a gross defect to have body hair." Jack groaned. "You're allowed to keep your eyebrows, eyelashes, and the hair on your heads, but nowhere else."
Xander looked around. "Guys, where's Giles?"
"Probably out somewhere exploring," Oz sighed.
"I'll send someone to get him," Sethryn told him, going to find one of the servants. He came back a minute later. "He'll be found. He's somewhere in the garden." He walked over to a shelf and pulled down different colored bars of soap, these were white. "You use these to get rid of the hair. It should last at least a week."
Oz looked over at Xander. "Please don't get them confused."
Blair laughed. "Him and me both. We need to bind up our hair before we do this." He accepted the cap, watching as Xander was helped into his before putting it on. "Okay, now what do we do?"
"You clean off the hair," Sethryn told them. "It shouldn't take you more than a few minutes. Just like you would with regular soap." He stepped back into the shadows and watched as they arranged themselves on the side of the pool, their feet dangling in the water.
Oz looked at his bar, then at Xander. Then he grabbed Xander's foot and turned him around. He arranged them so Xander could do his legs while he did his husband's. Daniel and Blair did the same after watching them, and Jack just groaned and did his own. When Giles came in, Jack frowned at him. "Don't even think about it," he warned. "Just jump in, get clean, and shave."
Giles did as he was told, very conscious that everyone was watching him. He made a displeased grunt as the water acted on his skin, but he grabbed the soap and gamely started on his hair
"The water does the rest for you," Oz called. Giles ignored him and did the rest of his skin. "Whatever," he sighed, working the shaving soap across Xander's groin.
"Oh, jeez," Jack said, turning away so he wouldn't have to look at either couple. "Isn't there a way to do this in private?"
"There're shadowed alcoves inside the bathing area," Sethryn said from his corner.
"Thanks," Jack said, sliding into the water to go find one.
"That won't hurt the water, right?" Oz asked.
"It will work even under the water," Sethryn told him.
"Cool," Xander said, sliding into the water. "I'll float and you'll do me, then I'll do you?" he suggested as he got into a pleasing position.
"Xander, if you spread yourself like that, you're going to end up having sex," Blair joked.
Xander grinned at him. "And the bad would be?"
"It would be more than appropriate," Sethryn commented. "Just remember to get *all* your hair off."
"Off our heads?" Giles asked.
"No, we're allowed to keep that and the stuff around our eyes," Oz told him. "Everything else has to go. Daniel, remember to do around his hole too," Oz said as he worked on that area for his husband.
Blair slid into the water, mimicking Xander's position. "Yeah, this'll work," he said, spreading his legs for his lover to work on him.
Xander looked over at Giles, who was still trying not to stare. "They consider body hair to be sickening. This shaves you." He flipped over, letting Oz get the back of his thighs and the slightly hairy area between his cheeks. This was a lot better than shaving or Nairing. He'd take this any day. He felt hands moving up his back and flinched.
"Sorry, gotta be done, want to make you smooth," Oz said quietly, gently working around the large bruise Xander was still carrying around. "I don't like it that you're still bruised, babe. You usually heal faster."
"I was sick," Xander reminded him, shifting so his head was on the side of the pool.
"He's bruised?" Daniel asked, craning his neck to look. "How did he get that?"
"Got run over on the beach by a frenzy of fans," Xander muttered into his arms.
"Gee, I always thought yours were more polite," Daniel said as he worked over Blair's groin area. "This is much easier than shaving."
"Much," Xander agreed. He allowed himself to be flipped over and rinsed clean. "How's that?" he asked his mate.
"Belly and chest next," Oz said, starting a slow stroke up his mate's stomach. He looked over his shoulder. "Jack, you all right over there?"
"Yeah, just trying to get it all."
"Want help?" Daniel asked.
"Jack, it won't be sexual, but you have to get *all* that hair off... and I doubt you bend that way," Blair called. He nodded Daniel over there and moved closer to Xander and Blair. "Jack still considers me that cocky upstart kid who stole his friend. He'll be more comfy with Danny."
"I'll help you," Oz promised, moving to Xander's underarms. "Just a few more minutes," he told his mate, who was looking over at Giles. "Want him to come over and help?"
"No," Xander said, shaking himself. "Just staring off into space in that direction." He gave his Oz a kiss on the tip of the nose. "Just my arms and my face?"
"Yup. Just a few more strokes," Oz promised, moving up to Xander's hands. He abandoned those and moved up to do his mate's facial area. "Try not to inhale this." He finally moved away, letting Xander dunk himself. "Okay, arms up," he ordered Blair. He grabbed the soap to relather his hands, starting on the extremely hairy stomach and back. "I hope this doesn't have a growth inhibitor," he said quietly.
"Nope, it shouldn't," Blair said, giving him a smile. "Oz, I want to thank you for taking care of Danny. You know, in advance." Oz gave him a nod and a serious look. "It means a lot to me that he won't be alone. I have this recurring nightmare that the whole team goes at once, including me. I don't think Danny would make it if it's going to come true. He's emotionally very strong, but he's been hurt too much already." He turned to let Oz finish his back.
"Xander, come move this curl," Oz said. He waited until Xander had shoved the curl back into the cap and gotten a kiss before starting again. "Blair, it's not a problem. Danny isn't the only one like that. We were going to go the nearly full seclusion route because Xander couldn't stand to leave his old life yet. Watching out for Danny's not going to be an issue. He's my student, and all good teachers would do the same." He finished up under the other man's armpits, making him wiggle. "Sorry, didn't know you were ticklish." He let Blair rinse so he could start on his arms and hands. He jumped when he felt hands touching his butt and glared at his husband. "I'll mess up if you do that," he warned Xander, who just grinned.
"Who said I had soap?" Xander asked as he slid a finger into his mate's body.
"You'd better not if you're putting it where I think you are," Daniel said, coming back over to help the other couple. "Giles, are you going to need help?" he asked.
"No, I think I can manage. I've shaved that area recently." He moved to a shadowed alcove with more of a bench and laid on his back with his legs up in the air so he could get his hole area himself.
Xander shrugged and used the bar of soap with one hand while he teased his husband with the other. Eventually, it got to be too much for him and he slid into the damp hole as far as he could, slowly pushing himself in as he worked on his husband's body.
Danny and Blair shook their heads but they were smiling as they finished each other off.
Sethryn looked over the men, frowning at Xander's navel area. "You missed a spot."
"I tried it twice," Oz said, offering the bar of white soap. He watched as the small hair was worked over and stubbornly stayed. "I think it's a lot like its owner."
"Did you ever tell Richard we were going out of town?" Xander asked. He wiggled away. "Tickles," he complained.
Sethryn sighed and went to get a pair of clippers, nipping that hair off as close to the skin as he could. "That should do it. Let's go back to the bedroom and we'll finish preparing." He watched them leave, shaking his head as they paired up again. "I need to speak to my sponsor," he said, going to do that while they dried off. He ran into the bedroom, smiling at them. "There's good news. The Lady Samantha has appeared early." He smiled at Jack. "And your sponsor has clarified how we're supposed to be ranking you." He bowed to Xander. "This is your family, with Oz as your first husband and the other two under your protection." He looked at Jack. "You will be listed as being under Lady Samantha's protection." He smiled at Oz. "But she will be wanting this bedroom."
Oz shrugged. "We can always switch rooms." He looked down at his naked body. "Now what?"
"Now, we start on the perfuming." He clapped his hands and a smallish woman walked in with a tray. "She will work on which scent for each of you, and which oil for Jack." He looked at Xander's hair then shook his head. "Come, pick your room now, and we'll find someone to put it up for you."
"I usually braid it," Xander said as he followed him out of the room. "Are the other rooms all small?"
"No, there's a bedroom for the favorite that I think you'll enjoy," he said, heading to the very end of the hallway. He opened a door, letting Xander walk in first.
"This is amazing," Xander said, looking over the round room. There was a large bed, a few windows that overlooked the market down the street, and their trunks were stacked in here. "Did you plan it this way?"
"No, but your sponsor suggested you go in here as the Lady Samantha won't be currying favors anytime soon," Sethryn said, looking a little smug. "I'll have your things moved down here while you're gone. Your sponsor has also said she's quite happy with your plan to continue to work with jewelry. She said that, if people like it, you may become more than interesting and it will add money to your household budget. This is why you're the head of the house instead of your mate." He coughed lightly. "Do I have your permission to take your second husband aside and talk to him?"
Xander nodded. "Yup, sure do." He sat on the edge of the bed and looked at the older man. "We've been fighting recently. This is better than it was. We're in the same state." Sethryn shook his head. "Um, same house?"
"No, I understood the reference."
"Oh, speaking of reference, can I get lessons in the local language? Probably for myself, Blair, and Daniel? And maybe for Oz and Giles?"
"Of course. We were waiting on word from your human researchers to see if our language techniques would work for you. We load the information into your brain and then make you learn it by working with it."
"Will it work?" Oz said from the doorway. "Great room."
"Very great room," Xander said with grin. "It's for a favorite."
"Which you definitely are," Oz said, coming over to give him a kiss. "It's time for our perfuming."
"I'll just go get someone to do his hair," Sethryn said, sliding out of the room so they could go back to the master suite.
Oz stole another kiss and led Xander back down to the bigger room so they could finish getting dressed.
Xander moved around the room, his Oz next to him the whole time, talking with the woman who had come to pick them up. "So, Sethryn said you were going to explain to us about some differences sexually?" he asked.
"Yes, there are some differences, and a few I fear that your friend Jack will not like." She smiled at the woman they walked past, giving her a nod. "You see, our people need sex to live, physically need it. If we don't get it, then we start to have heart problems."
"Wow, that's really a need," Xander said, giving her a smile. "Do you do it publicly? Are there special places where it's not allowed?"
"Have prostitutes become especially high in society?" Daniel asked as he walked toward them.
"Yes, they have," she said, giving him a pat to the cheek. "You are quite a studier of humans, Daniel." She walked with them some more. "Yes, they do have a special standing in our society. They're fully trained and very highly thought of for those that aren't mated or are looking forward to something different." She nodded at another woman as they passed her by. "I know this will discomfit someone in your group."
"Or two," Xander added. "Giles isn't really into outward shows of affection that way. We'll talk with them both tonight though."
"Thank you." She smiled over at him. "I've heard that you have a few things that you could teach our local providers?"
Oz snorted. "More than likely. At least how to dance," he said, patting Xander on the rear.
"It's nice not to have to watch what we do in public," Daniel sighed. "Jack," he said as they moved to where he was standing. "Come walk with me and Blair. Giles, you too," he said as he walked away, heading toward an uncrowded area of the room.
Oz looked at their sponsor. "I still need to ask, are there special eating customs?" She looked confused and shook her head. "On our planet, there's a group of people, and their faith, that says that you don't eat with your left hand because that's used for more...personal issues." She got the 'suddenly got it' look. "We're worried about offending your hosts."
"No, there's nothing like that. Though, we do tend to hold our food with our right hand. You'll be sitting near me, just watch what I do." She smiled at Blair as he walked over. "Yes, bright one?"
Blair smiled at that. "Thank you, gracious sponsor, but I did want to know if it was expected of us to be that way also."
"No," she said with a chuckle. "I've let it be known that your people are more circumspect in their personal associations. It won't be expected of you at all."
"But if we do, we won't get into trouble?" Xander asked, smiling at his mate.
"In certain places and with certain mannerisms observed," she corrected. "I'll have Sethryn instruct you." She kissed Xander on the cheek. "Do learn before you try it out. I really don't need the scandal yet. Definitely, do enjoy yourselves once you know though." She led them to their seats, letting Oz and Xander curl up on her left, Blair and Daniel together on her right, Giles next to Blair and Daniel, and Jack next to Xander and Oz. "Do it this way," she said quietly, showing them how to grab some of the loose meat with the flat bread. "Don't fill up, there's two more courses."
"We've been at dinners with fifteen courses," Oz told her. "It's not an issue."
She smiled at them. "Well, you're certainly interesting. You'll definitely liven things up." She smiled at Oz. "Would you feel comfortable in allowing Xander to give a private showing of his dancing?"
"If Xander feels comfy doing it," Oz said with a shrug. "I doubt we'll have a riot this time."
"I'm out of practice," Xander told her. "I'd need a few weeks to get back into it again."
"That would be fine. But I do have good news. There's a jewelry maker in town that's agreed to let you use his facilities when you need to."
"Cool," Xander said, giving her a grin. "Has anyone said anything about my pieces?"
"A few people have shown interest." She reached over to touch the armband he wore. "May I see this?"
He took it off and handed it to her. "It's made of a metal that we found when we were realm hopping. We're still looking for a local equivalent."
"Realm?" she asked, smiling at Sam as she was led over. "Samantha, how good of you to come early."
"My father just wanted to complain to me, again," she said with a smile as she sat with Daniel and Blair. She watched how they were eating and picked some of the meat up for herself. "This is good."
"Can you explain realms to me?"
"Sure." She smiled at Xander, then turned her attention back to the woman who was sponsoring them. "On our planet there've been a few portals, which lead to different places. Other places that don't exist on our planet, or possibly in our universe, that are accessed by portals of some sort. Those two have gone through a few of them and have learned from their time over there."
She nodded. "Thank you." She looked down at the armband again. "This is very nice work. Can you do more delicate work?" She showed her own bracelet off.
Xander took off his anklet and handed it over. "That's the most delicate I can do," he said as he snuggled back into Oz's arms. "I did a necklace for him too."
"And a pendant," Oz said, showing it off. "It was a birthday present."
She hummed in appreciation. "I'll take this to show our jewelry maker. Maybe he'll be able to get you a showing or something." She put it into her pocket and went back to her dinner, watching as Xander washed off his fingers again. "It was just your ankle."
"Some people are staring," Oz told her, nodding at the other side of the room. "He doesn't want to offend."
She looked over at them. "Oz, they'll be offended just because you're males who are high ranking enough to get into here. They're very much set into the social hierarchy. To their mind-set, you should all be sitting at home waiting on us, even though you're ambassadors." She raised her glass to them then took a sip. "Unfortunately, they're also related to our local Queen, and distantly related to the Empress." She smiled at them again. "Don't worry about it too much. I'm sure you have people like that on your planet."
"But we don't hang with them," Xander told her, giving her a grin back. "We're not quite up to the standards of the country club set so they tend to pretend that we don't really exist."
She snorted. "I have no doubt that they're a universal constant."
"Probably," Sam agreed, taking her filled plate from the waiter. "Thank you," she said, giving him a smile. Their sponsor leaned over and whispered in her ear. "Sorry, no offense meant," she said, modifying her smile.
"Body language," Blair said, batting himself on the head. "We need to find out about that too, before we go into the market place."
"Yes, it would be good if you didn't proposition everyone you met," their sponsor said with great humor. "I'll instruct Sethryn to help you with that tomorrow." She looked over at Xander. "Does your new room suit you?"
"It's great," Xander said once he had swallowed. "Very pretty with great views."
"We're waiting on the morning smell of the flowers," Oz told her. He looked over at Giles. "Did you pick a room or are you staying with us?"
"I've decided to pick my own until we can finish working out our problems."
"I didn't know you were fighting," she said, looking down at him. "I had no desire to make things uncomfortable for you."
"It's not. We'd have to work it out sometime," Oz said philosophically. "Our marriage was sanctified by the Gods Xander serve."
"You're religious?" she asked.
"I'm more of a friend and constant pain for them," Xander said, still grinning. "I pray to them, but I actually do more as an anchor. I exist so they can stay around."
"Ah. I've heard of such issues. A few of our older, less populated, religions have people who fill that function."
"That would fit in this case also," Oz agreed. He frowned as someone walked in carrying his sword. "They went into our house," he said, nodding at the man.
"Oh, dear." She got up and walked over to get into this fight. She came back a few minutes later. "Why did you bring weapons?"
"Because I have to have one with me," Xander told her. "Oz is also my protector." He stood up. "Though I'm quite skilled in my own right. I've been kidnaped too many times to go around without a weapon. We had them wrapped up in our belongings and weren't going to openly carry anything."
She sighed and pulled him with her to the Queen's seat. "Highness," she said, nodding at the woman hearing the argument. "Let him argue his own side."
Xander bowed to her but didn't break eye contact. "Unfortunately, this is a misunderstanding. I did not bring them to be of harm," he said smoothly, taking the sword with a glare at the man holding it. "You don't hold a weapon that way." He looked at her again. "I have been kidnaped many times and am unable to go anywhere now without a weapon. Both my mate, our friend Daniel, and I are all trained to use these. I was not going to allow any of us to openly carry any weapon while we were up here, but I am always careful of my personal protection." He pulled out one of his hair pins and showed off the small shiv. "As you can see, this isn't an insult to you or your people."
"Wouldn't your own people protect you?"
"Yes, ma'am, but those people would be slower to respond than I and my mates; and because I didn't fight, there would be more reprisals from the people whose job it is to protect me. That's why I had to learn to protect myself." He put back his hair pin, fussing with a few strands of hair until it was almost perfect again. "It was not meant as an insult, though how he found them when they were wrapped tightly in the bottom of our things I'm not sure."
The Queen looked Xander over. "This weapon is unfamiliar to us. Would you show us its uses?" He nodded. "Tonight?"
"If someone could go get my sword for me," he agreed. "This is actually my mate's sword." He frowned over at Oz, who came running. "Yours."
"Thank you." He checked over the blade. "No nicks." He looked at the Queen. "Did I read your lips right? You wish us to show you how to use them?" She nodded. "They're basically very big knives but we'd be honored. Xander needs his blade, but we could do it whenever you say."
"I'd need to take off this robe," Xander noted, tugging at the tightness around his arms.
"We wear them that way so fights are less likely to break out," their sponsor explained. "You've been taken?"
"Yup," Xander sighed, nodding. "Quite a few times. Apparently something in my hormones makes people want me." He shrugged and grinned faintly. "It's relatively a usual experience anymore."
The Queen smiled at him. "I would like to see this demonstration. Is this how your military fights?"
"No, ma'am, they use projectile weapons and machines to hurt each other's foot soldiers."
"I see." She looked at their sponsor. "Please arrange for them to give a demonstration tonight. Even if it is a barbarian fighting style it would be interesting."
"Yes, m'lady," she said, bowing her head. She led them back to their seats. "Xander, where's your weapon?"
"In the bottom of the same trunk," he said quietly. "It's a katana. A one handed sword with a slightly curved blade."
"Thank you." She walked off, heading to talk to the castle's protocol manager.
Oz put his sword under his seat. "Daniel, check your blade when you get back," he said quietly. "Jack, be prepared to explain how the military fights. All I could think of was projectile weapons and machines to hurt foot soldiers."
"Okay," Jack said, swallowing fast. "Why did you bring those?"
"We *never* travel without at least one weapon," Xander told him. "Even if it wasn't a matter of my hormones, it's very bad and very unsafe for us."
"Us?" Daniel asked.
"He still reads as one of us," Oz reminded him. "He's been challenged."
"Ray even took a quickening," Xander added. Blair choked. "Sorry."
"That's okay. Why? Was he forced?"
"The guy was taking normal people's heads for fun and training," Xander explained. "He got Ray's former partner. Ray avenged him."
A large man with thick red hair walked over to them, nodding at them. "I am one of the Queen's bodyguards," he said quietly. "I wish to see your demonstration also. I have a feeling that we fight in similar styles."
"If we do, or even if we don't, we wouldn't mind you coming and sparring with us occasionally," Xander told him. "We can always use the practice." He smiled at Daniel. "He's our student in this art."
"I see." He looked Daniel over. "Most of the men of my people are bigger and stronger."
"A lot of our men are too," Oz said, "but those of us who are smaller and faster need to be able to use their advantages also."
The warrior laughed. "Quite true. Be warned. The Queen may ask me to fight one of you for show also."
"As long as it's to a stand still or a concede," Xander agreed. "I haven't fought in a few months, but I'd gladly try my hand at you."
"Good," the warrior said, smiling at him. "Your blade comes." He walked away, going over to the Queen to say something to her.
She stood up as the man carrying Xander's blade walked in. "Our new ambassadors take part in an ancient fighting style of their world, which happens to be the Forenth's style also. They have agreed to give us a show. They have even agreed to fight my personal guard if they're not too tired at the end."
Xander stood up and bowed to her. "Whichever way your highness wishes," he agreed. He sat down and checked over his blade, putting it beside him so he could finish eating.
"You're too calm," Daniel complained.
"It's a spar," Xander reminded him. "And if it's more, then I've been in more fights recently than Oz has. Even one in a club recently."
"Was that before or after the riot?" Jack asked, trying to make it sound like a light joke.
"Before. Someone got me calmed down and out onto the dance floor, that's what caused the riot." He finished off the food on his and Oz's tray and stood up to stretch. "Now?" he suggested.
"If you'd prefer, we could wait," their sponsor noted.
"Whenever's fine, though I would like a few minutes to stretch."
She nodded and led him to where the demonstration was to be held. She turned on the lights, showing him the wooden floor and the mirrors along both side walls. "In here," she told him. "Expect the people to be watching on the cameras," she pointed them out.
He nodded. "All right. I'm going to stretch so whenever you're ready." He waited until she was gone to open his robe and take it off, leaving it and his jewelry in a pile beside the door. Then he took the opportunity to properly stretch. Oz joined him a few minutes later. "You?"
"No, him." He sat down beside his husband, giving him a hug. "Be careful. You don't know his motive."
"Easy, he'll want to save face if I beat him," Xander reminded him. "He's probably here because he's very good at what he does. He's probably got a much bigger and heavier blade." He stretched out in front of him. "Being quick and lithe is my answer to being big and strong." He looked over at his husband. "Remember, my arms teacher was easily his size. I started out fighting guys his size instead of the more normal guys we've been getting into it with. This'll just take me back there." He hopped up as the door opened again and his opponent walked in. "Sorry to interrupt your dinner," he said with all formality. "May my mate stay?"
"Of course," the man said with humor, or at least he was laughing lightly. "I will try not to hurt you too much."
"I heal," Xander said with a one sided shrug. "I don't want to fight to the death, but to a draw would be good."
"My men don't give up," the other man told him. "It would be unmanly."
Xander smirked. "I've heard that before, but that guy was wearing heavy plate armor." He shrugged and stretched up one last time. "Whenever you're ready." He accepted his sword and turned in time to avoid the silent thrust. "You don't talk while you fight?" he asked as he danced around the guy and hit him in the arm and the side. "First blood."
The warrior looked at him. "Do all your men fight like you?"
Xander shook his head. "It's a very unique fighting style. Let's move into the center of the floor so my litheness will be shown to its best." He walked away, heading into the middle of the wooden floor. He bowed to his opponent and waved him on. "Come on." The warrior shrugged and lunged, and Xander turned aside at the blade, locking his with the other man's. He brought them up and forced his opponent back. Then he stepped in to follow his advantage.
Daniel watched the deadly ballet, marveling at Xander's moves. "I didn't know he could do that," he told Blair.
"Can you?" Jack asked.
"No, I'm still learning most of the basics from Oz and Methos. I can beat someone of about my own skill and know how to use my brains to trap them and run away, but I'm *nowhere* near these guys' levels." He took another bite and choked as Xander's stomach was cut into. Of course, Xander laughed it off and moved under the blade, coming up under the other man's guard and stabbing him in the stomach with his hair shiv. Or at least that's what it looked like on the cameras. "Whoa," he whispered.
The Queen clapped and the men broke apart, her warrior panting and rubbing the small cut on his stomach. "Enough." She smiled at them. "Clean up and present yourselves." She waved a hand and the monitors were shut off. "A most interesting style." She looked over at Daniel. "Do you do that also?"
"No, ma'am," Daniel said as he stood up. "I'm their student at this time, but that is Xander's own personal style of fighting. Oz's is much less fancy and dance-like."
"Dance-like," she said, then nodded. "Yes, I would describe it as such."
Blair coughed and stood up. "Xander learned that in another place, but at the same time there were dances taught to him, mostly to train his body in how to move. He has agreed to show those off too, once he's back in shape for it."
She laughed. "I'd like to see that. If his fighting was that stimulating, I'd like to see this dancing. No wonder he's been taken." She smiled at them and they sat down together. "We will eat," she announced, and the discussion started.
Xander let Oz bandage the small cut, giving him a few kisses each time he moved closer. "I'm out of practice," he said finally.
"I noticed," Oz grunted. He looked up at his husband. "Can you not volunteer to do that again?"
"Sure. Wasn't planning on doing it actually," he said with a grin. "He was good."
"Yes, he was, and he was pulling his blows," Oz said, still not happy. "He could have killed you a few times in there. Especially with this cut."
"Oz, I was at the end of his reach; this one wouldn't have been deeper. But you're right, there were a few times in there that he pulled his stroke. I'd like to train with him sometime after I'm used to training again."
"Fine," Oz sighed. "Danny and I need to train too. You'll work with us?"
"Sure." Xander stopped his mate from moving and gave him a real kiss. "Love you."
"Love you too," Oz said, giving him a hug. "I'm glad you're all right."
"Surely he's not that badly injured," the warrior said from the doorway.
"Not at all," Oz said, turning around to let him see. "I'm babying his injuries."
"Once I start training full time again, would you like to come train with us?" Xander asked.
The warrior nodded. "I would. I've never met anyone who danced while they fought." He smiled at Oz. "Do you fight like that?"
"No, I tend to be more of a slippery fighter, always moving to the side." He handed Xander his robe. "Where's your pin?"
"I saw one of the kittens in here," Xander said as he put it on. "Maybe they have it."
"No, that was one of our native species," the warrior said, leaning against the door frame. "They're highly intelligent and very telepathic. They may have been drawn to the stones though; they seem to like them. And your ferrets."
"Great. It's a good thing we brought the brood," Oz said as he straightened Xander's hair for him. "Come on, you don't smell that bad." He led the way out to the normal chamber, the warrior walking beside them. "Thank you for not trying to kill him."
"Someone did approach me," he admitted, "but I ignored them. At least until I tell my boss tonight. She'll want to know." He stopped and looked off to the side, then pushed them ahead. "Go."
Xander and Oz walked on together, Xander's sword in Oz's hand. They made it into the dining area together and headed over to the Queen. "He told us to come on while he investigated something," Oz told her quietly. Then he stepped back into Xander's arms. "I hope he entertained you."
"Very much," she said, waving one of her guards to go find the other guard. "You're very entertaining. Is this dancing much of the same?"
"No," Oz said, starting to blush. "It's much more sexual in nature."
"You don't enjoy such shows?" she asked.
"Our people are much more...discrete about our passions," Xander explained. "Though, some of us do enjoy breaking those norms. It's mostly due to a religion that took charge of most of the world a few centuries back, our time. They believed that it should only be done in certain circumstances, between certain people, and not with people of the same sex. We're just now starting to move past that."
"Good," she said firmly. "I like it that your people are still advancing socially. Maybe you'll end up onto our level someday soon."
"We can only hope so," Oz told her. "If we had peace and true equality for all, then our lives would be much nicer. As it is, we're working on becoming more humane and better in our treatment of others."
"Thank you. I'll be discussing that with your studiers of people soon. We'll need that information when we start formal diplomatic engagements."
Xander coughed lightly. "Ma'am, if I may say so, I believe a piece of my jewelry may be with one of your animals. If you find it, and they're ready to give it up, may we please have it back?"
She smiled. "I'll check with the kittens tonight, but they can be quite headstrong."
Xander turned as someone came running. "He's not all right, is he?" The guard shook her head, glaring at him. "He looked down a side hallway and shoved us to continue walking."
The guard looked at the Queen. "There's no obvious injury but he was found unconscious." She glared at the visitors again.
"I'm sure you have cameras in that hallway," Oz suggested. "But he did look down a hallway and make us go on. Though he did say someone had tried to get him to do a little more than fight us."
The Queen frowned. "I heard rumors about that." She stood up. "I'll go see him myself. Please, go back to your food. We know you didn't hurt him. If you had wanted to, your mate would have killed him with his hair decoration when he had the chance." The guard looked startled but followed her charge out of the room.
Xander and Oz walked back to their seats. "The guy who sparred with us got jumped on the way back," Oz told them all. "Giles, didn't you bring a sword?"
"No, I didn't think it would be necessary. None of us are up here."
Oz glared at him. "You *never* travel without some sort of weapon, no matter if you're going to a place that's holy ground and you're going to be the first person there in five centuries! You should know that by now. Connor should have beaten that into your head."
"He did try," Giles sighed. "I'll make sure to use one of the spares you probably brought so we can spar and train."
"I didn't bring a spare," Oz told him. "Danny?"
"I did," Daniel admitted. "Blair's been training with me." Oz looked at them. "I needed someone to spar with and no one on base even used to fence. It was the only way I was getting any practice in."
"That's fine, it's a healthy exercise," Xander said calmly. "Blair, if you'd like, I'll try to teach you what I do."
"Nah," Blair said with a grin. "I don't think I'm that good. I'm more like one of those wooden dummies that Danny can spar against, only I move on occasion and complain about my hands cramping."
Oz smiled at that. "Good. We'll work on that too." He patted Daniel on the arm. "We'll work on it. We've got three years our time to safely do some intense training. We'll get you up to my level at least." Daniel nodded.
The Queen walked back in and a woman was dragged away. "It was unfortunate that her retainer jumped my guard," she said as she walked back to her seat. "At least they didn't get the new ambassadors; that would have been much worse." The level of discussion went up and the next course was served.
Oz and Xander curled up together on their bed, snuggling in the early morning. They'd just gotten home and were tired but not yet ready for bed. "You did good," Oz said quietly, stroking over the healed spot on Xander's stomach.
"Thanks," Xander said, stretching lazily. "He was good."
"Very good. Apparently his people are about at the level of Conan." He moved up the hairless chest. "I'm kinda liking this new unhairy version of you," he admitted. "It's a little on the kinky-feeling side."
"It is," Xander agreed, rubbing one of his feet up Oz's calf. "You feel really soft too. Almost makes me feel like I'm cheating." He looked down at his cock, which wasn't cooperating. "I think it wants a nap too."
"Must be something in the air," Oz said with a yawn. "Let's nap." He continued to stroke lightly over the hairless skin. "Can't?" he said a few minutes later.
"No, I'm hyped up." Someone knocked on the door. "Come," he called.
Blair walked in and smiled at them. "We asked why we all can't sleep, seems that they've got a chemical in their atmosphere that mimics the effects of caffeine and chocolate on our systems. They didn't warn us because they weren't sure it was going to affect us. We're supposed to feel giddy, lightheaded, lethargic, and/or shaky, depending on our individual bodies."
"Explains the lethargy and shakes I've got," Xander noted, looking down. Oz was finally starting to drift off. "So, we'll adjust?"
"Within a few days. Sam said it shouldn't be too long." He waved and walked out, but left the door open as a group of animals were coming that way. "Guests coming."
Xander looked over the edge of the bed as a few of the cats, one of the dogs, and most of the ferrets came in to sleep with them. "Hey, guys, can't sleep either?" he asked, making room for them. He was purred to sleep by Oz's kitten, who decided to nap on his chest with her tail in Oz's face.
Oz looked at the fabric stalls, then up at his guardian. "Are any of these weavers?" he asked. She pointed at one booth so he went there. He smiled at the woman running the booth. "Hello. May I ask if you weave these?"
She looked him over. "I know who you are."
"I do weave, though I tend not to do such fine cloth. I was looking to meeting some weavers, maybe learning from them."
She looked him over again, checked his hands, then nodded. "All right. My second husband is a weaver. He'll be here tomorrow."
"I'll be back then," Oz agreed. "Morning or afternoon?"
"Afternoon," she said with a smile. "He's not used to the time change here either."
Oz smiled at that. "I've had three sleep periods since we got here yesterday, your time."
She nodded. "It shows." She picked up a piece of lavender fabric and held it out to him. "What do you think?"
Oz felt it and checked the weave by holding it up to the light. "One of the best I've seen in a few days," he agreed, handing it back. "My mate won't wear that color. He will wear the silver or any of the darker colors," he said, touching a dark blood red piece of cloth. "How much for that one?"
She picked it up and measured it. "Three of the silver coins," she pronounced. She smiled at him. "Usually I would haggle but I know you don't know the worth of our articles yet."
Oz smiled in relief. "I was about to haggle, but I didn't want to insult you." He handed over three of the coins and took the fabric. "Thank you." He walked away, his guardian following along. "Was that a good price?" he asked her.
"A little high. She's not the best fabric merchant, but she's the most honest and she is the only one who has a weaver directly in her family." She pointed down a side aisle. "You were looking for Xander; he should be down there somewhere."
"In a few," Oz said. "I'd like to continue to look at things. Do we need anything at the house? No one has said anything to me about getting anything."
"Only for your personal pleasure. Your larder is kept stocked for you by the supplies every citizen is entitled to freely. Treats are at the end of the market," she said, pointing down their present aisle. "If you wanted to spoil him, you could find some amazing food items down there."
Oz smiled at that. "Good, let's work our way that way. Xander loves treats." He looked down one side aisle but she pulled him away. "Can't go down there?"
"You shouldn't. There are many strange things down there, including rumors that say that people come out of there different, less easy with themselves."
"Then we'll probably find Giles down there," he said lightly. "He lives for the strange."
"He shouldn't go down there either. It's not good for anyone. There are things down there from places where the portal has gone by accident." Oz looked up at her. "Trust me, there's many things down there that are not of any people we understand or accept as real."
"Are they funny colored, with horns?" Oz asked. She stopped and looked at him. "All three of us deal with that stuff; Giles just does it for a living. Maybe I'll drag Xander down there later."
"We could go," she sighed, "but you have to promise me to ask before you buy anything."
"Deal," Oz said, heading for that alleyway. He sneezed as he walked through an incense cloud, but continued on. He did find Giles, who was reading through a magic book. "No," he said quietly. "You promised to give it up while we were here."
Giles frowned at him. "I was looking forward to learning a new style."
"Do it and I'll sic Xander on you later." He continued to walk on, stopping when he saw a few skins. "Go get Giles," he said quietly, shoving her back. He walked up to the vendor, pointing at a skin. "How old is that one?" he asked.
The vendor looked him over, then looked at the skin. "Do you know what that is?" he asked. "It's very corrosive, not at all for a soft one like you."
Giles walked up behind him and frowned. "How on Earth did they manage to preserve one of those?" The vendor went a little pale. He looked at the vendor. "Do you still have any live ones?"
The vendor squeaked and ran into the back of his shop. Their guardians followed him. There was screaming so Giles and Oz followed him. Oz stopped one of the demons from jumping on the women's backs. "No, they're trying to save you," he told the demon in the only language he knew, one Xander had made sure he knew just in case he needed it.
"When did you learn that?" Giles asked.
"Xander taught me. We really need him." He got the demons calmed down, all but one who was shrieking and banging against her cage. "Giles, go get Xander!"
"All right." He walked away, heading to the jewelry district.
Oz looked at the vendor, then at the women guarding them. "Isn't this illegal?"
"It is," his bodyguard agreed, frowning at the shrieking one. "Can't you shut her up?"
"She's insane by now," Oz told her. "They fly, have wings and everything usually." She shuddered and pushed a button on her belt. "Getting cops?"
"What are cops?" the second bodyguard asked.
"Officials who arrest people who break laws," Xander said as he walked in. She nodded, looking like she understood. He walked over to the cage and waved his fingers in a peculiar pattern, sucking air through his teeth at the same time. She slowed down and watched his hands, eventually starting to weave with him. "She might be fine if we can get her back to her people." He looked around and went to an area that the vendor had closed tightly. He looked inside and turned very green, closing it up. "Dead body," he noted. He nodded at the guardians. "I know how to get them home," he told them. "I have friends who can do this if you can get me to a portal."
The women guards looked at the officials, who nodded. "Fine," the official said, nodding at the demons. "What do we do with them until then?"
"They're living; they should go home," Oz told her. "The sooner we get them back, the less of a problem they'll be for you." The guards all looked at him. "On our planet, they're often hunted because they're feared. We even worked with someone who hunted the evil of their kinds. We have to get them home."
"Her especially," Xander said, pointing at the cage. "Her wings have been savagely pulled off." He pointed back at the curtain. "There's a body back there."
One of the guards walked back and looked at it, turning green too. "Very well, we'll lead you to a private portal, and we'll bring them along." She looked around, then grabbed a cart. "Can you help us load them up and cover them? They would cause a panic here also."
"Sure," Xander and Oz said together.
Giles walked in holding his new book. "Where are you taking them?"
"To the Demonic Police Plane," Xander told him. "I'll tell them they got lost in a portal and ended up in a marketplace. The owner of the stall that captured them has been dealt with by his own people. Help me lift her," he said, trying to lift the cage. "Gently or she'll wake up again." When that was done, he walked out with his guard. "Can you tell them that I'll send them home, without saying anything of where they've been, if they'll let any more go?" he asked her quietly. She walked over to a stallkeeper across from this one and told him that, and he nodded, going to spread the word.
Xander walked back in to get the cart. He did the hypnotic thing again to stop the renewed shrieking, and carried the cart into the aisle, leaving it there for a few minutes. He checked his necklaces, coming up with one for the Police Plane. When he turned back, the cart was fuller. And there was a second one added to the end of theirs. With some help, Xander and Oz got the carts moving and followed the officials to the private portal in the marketplace. He touched the necklace to the open portal, watching as it changed. He nodded at Giles and Oz to start unloading them while he walked over and talked to the sergeant. "I was in a marketplace," he said quietly. "I found them there. The people who had them have been arrested but a few of them are in pretty bad shape. Please don't make a scene?"
The demon cop looked at the demons being led through. "Not a problem. I'll get you some help."
"One needs some medical attention that I know of. She used to have wings, and she's frantic in her cage. I didn't feel it safe to remove her yet." He walked away, going to help get the demons across. A few of the demon cops came down and lifted the carts up so they could be carried through without unloading them. "Thank you," he said, bowing to the sergeant. "Please, help them. Call on my brother if you need him," he said, handing over a contact bead for Micah. The sergeant looked impressed. "I'm third in line for his house and what they've done sickens me." He stepped back and the portal closed. He turned and almost everyone was gone. "Oz," he said, putting his hand through his husband's arm. "Let's go check out the jewelry stall where I'll be working." He frowned at the book in Giles' hand. "If you use that, I'll take your head myself," he said calmly, heading away.
Giles looked down at his book, then frowned at his husband's back. He was very deep into the demonic community it seemed. That was going to have to stop.
Oz flopped back onto his bed, narrowly missing a kitten. "Hey, girl," he said, reaching back to pet her. "We did a good thing today. Even if it did piss off Giles." He pulled her over to pet, letting her go when she started to struggle. "I'm *so* tired though. And I didn't even get to get Xander treats."
"With the way time runs you'll be able to get him some later," Blair said from the doorway. "How was the market?"
"We found some demons that had been taken and held against their will. Xander got them back to the demonic police. We did some shopping. He proved his worth to the jewelry artist that said he could use his forge." He shrugged. "Kinda normal for a first time in a huge market. I'll explore it later." He yawned. "Sorry."
"That's okay. Jack still has his watch set on home time, and it said it's been twenty hours our time since we last slept. We were working on how to do this."
"Shifts?" Oz suggested, curling up on the foot of the bed.
"Maybe." Blair came in and covered him. "I'll send Xander up if I see him." He walked out, heading down to his room, where Daniel was asleep too, beside Jack actually. He shrugged and walked downstairs, finding Xander napping in his writing room. "Xander," he said from the doorway. "Go up to bed. Oz is waiting on you." Xander nodded and stumbled out, heading up to his room. Blair walked in and sat down on the couch, trying it out for comfort. He didn't last much longer than sitting down.
Sethryn came in and covered him a few minutes later, smiling down at the young man. He snuck away, going to make a report to his boss.
Xander held up his first piece of completed jewelry to the crowd gathered outside the stall and there was a cheer. He handed it off to his gracious host, letting him look it over. He saw the smile and bowed to the crowd, picking up some water to drink. He watched as the piece became the center of a bidding war and went back to make something else. Maybe an armband this time. They seemed to appreciate those. His starting work quieted the crowd, and the winner of the first piece danced away to go show it off. Xander continued to heat the second piece of metal, moving his maker's mark out of the way. He got it to the right temperature and brought it out, starting to pound it into a more pleasing shape, thinning out the metal.
"Make it thinner this time," the jeweler told him. "We appreciate little, delicate things."
Xander nodded. "Okay. Half as thick?"
"That would be good." He sat down and watched as Xander worked on this piece, noticing how steady he was. "You've done this before?"
"Yup. While I was across a realmal boundary, which was basically a portal taking me and Oz somewhere else, I learned how to make jewelry and knives. I was going to start working on the larger stuff, but we had to pick up and leave because of an invasion." He frowned at the metal, which had just gone uneven, putting it back into the heat. "I made a lot of little jewelry then, and I've kept up with the skills when I went home." He took the metal out and evened it out, starting the process of shaping it into an armband, or a bracelet if you had really thick wrists. When it was shaped, he picked up a small chisel and started to decorate it. "Do your people like carvings or decorations added to the finished shape?"
"It's individual. Some prefer decorations tacked on, some prefer the more subtle decoration carvings. Some prefer theirs to not have anything, but those are mostly for the richest families. They prefer theirs to be nearly skin thin."
"I noticed," Xander said as he worked on the carvings. "There's no animals that are taboo? Like serpents?"
"No, but they would be very hard to place outside of a particular religion." He looked over at the one Xander was working on. "I know someone who would love that one. Their God is a serpent headed God, one of nature."
"Cool." He tossed that one into the water, then bent to retrieve it. "How's that?"
The jeweler looked it over and nodded. "Good thickness. Even carvings. Only one spot where the pattern is off." He pointed it out and Xander corrected it as well as he could. "Even better," the jeweler said, nodding. "Put your mark on it."
Xander heated his maker's marks and applied them to the inside of the cuff. "Now what?" he asked.
"Make something delicate," the jeweler suggested, looking at the crowd. "A ring?"
"With a stone?"
"I have a few," he admitted, pulling out a drawer, watching as Xander picked through them and finally picked one. "A very interesting choice."
"It's a pretty color," Xander said with a shrug as he started to heat a small piece of metal. "I liked the looks. Is it very expensive?"
"Not at all," the jeweler said, looking it over. "Are you going to play up to the inclusion flaw?"
"Yeah, I think so." Xander pulled out the small piece of metal and picked up his smallest hammer, pounding it out. It was a good thing that he had brought his own tools. He wasn't sure what the person he was working with used, but he couldn't see a single hammer or mallet. Maybe he rolled it. "Do you roll your jewelry?" he asked as he tapped lightly.
"No, I have a small number of tools like yours," he said, opening a cabinet. "I hadn't had to make anything yet this morning." He pushed the door closed and looked over Xander's shoulder at the small ring. "Can you make it larger?"
"I'm working on shaping right now," Xander said, twisting part of the band. Slowly, he worked it longer and shaped it into a twist. Finally he connected the ends. Then he took a piece of the remaining metal to reheat and make a setting. The ring went into a vice and the setting was applied. The stone was set just so, being turned a few times to the best advantage, then it was all heated together just long enough to make sure of all the seals and the stone stayed in place. It was cooled and looked over, getting a nod from both of them. Xander held it out on his hand, letting the crowd, mostly women, look it over. They all giggled so he handed it to the jeweler and sat down to drink some more water.
One woman shyly looked down at it and then over at him. She smiled and put down a large bronze-colored coin, buying the ring. The jeweler smiled and boxed it up for her. "That one's going to be very happy," he said as he sat down. "You just made her promissory ring."
"That was a common stone for that?" Xander asked. He showed off his ring. "This is the stone we prefer for that," he said, pointing at the diamond. "It's the hardest gem we have."
"Does it mean love?"
"No, it means you're rich if you can afford a stone this size," Xander said with a grin. "It also says something about permanence or eternity, I'm not sure which. Did that purple one mean love?"
"No, it's a sign of nature, of fate."
"So the fact that I put it into a ring meant that she could give it to her intended mate and proclaim they were meant to be together?" The jeweler nodded. "Cool. Did the twisting I did mean anything?"
"That I could charge twice as much."
Xander laughed at that. "Good. Maybe I should get back to work."
"Please, you're good for my business. I've never had so many browsers before." He went back to the front and said something, then Xander went back to the forge area and started working. The women all sighed, mostly in unison.
When Oz came by an hour later, there were even more women around. He smirked and held out a treat to his husband, and was rewarded with it being sucked out of his fingers, and them being laved by a warm tongue. "If you like, I can go buy you more," he said in his most sultry voice.
"I *loved*," Xander whispered. "Nearly as good as chocolate during sex."
"Then you'll love this one," Oz said, holding out another treat. This was nibbled from his fingers too. And it got a smile and Xander nearly swooning. "Good?"
"Great," Xander said, sharing the taste through a kiss. "See?"
"I'm going to go buy a pound of that," Oz said, licking his lips. "See you later. Make them pretty, but remember, you come home to me." He walked off, going back to the treat stall. That last one was something he *really* wanted more of.
Xander smiled at the woman. "My husband," he announced. "He weaves."
A few of the women looked at each other, then at Oz's butt. They looked at each other and then at Xander, then upped the bidding on his next piece, sight unseen.
The jeweler smiled and waved Xander back to his forge. "Please, go work. You just fired their imagination."
Xander grinned and went back to work, working harder so he could go home and be spoiled. "Man, it's been years since I pulled a full day at a forge."
"You won't last a full day," the jeweler reminded him. "Not with how your time runs. At least not until you get used to it." He took the small chain and examined the links that were already done. "This one has a fault," he said, pointing it out. He watched as Xander fixed it and added more links. "Good job," he announced, smiling when he saw the small pendant coming out too. "Together?"
"Or not, your choice." Xander shrugged and went back to working on delicate little things, something he'd been missing. Americans weren't looking for delicate. They were looking for chunky jewelry, but he loved showing off his skills. One more ring and he'd go home for the day. He started to heat the metal for the last ring and noticed there were some drippings pooled together, pulling it out to quickly work it into a broach. Then he pulled out the ring and started on it, making it a pretty decorated band with flowers. He handed over the finished product and bowed to the crowd. "Such lovely ladies inspired me," he announced, then grabbed another glass of water before leaving and heading home. He met up with Oz at the end of the alleyway, and they went home together to share the treats.
Giles opened the door to find a man there who obviously did something with heat and metal, he was sweaty and had burns on his clothes. "Yes?" he asked.
"Is Xander here? I need to discuss him coming to work for me more often."
Giles nodded him inside and went to get his husbands. He found Xander in his room, writing. "Your friend is here," he said, then walked away.
Xander walked out to the sitting room, sitting across from the jeweler he worked with. "Hey, problems with something I made?"
"A small one with the pin, but it was easily fixed." He smiled and handed over a small bag. "Your share of the profits. I'd like to discuss you coming to work with me again."
"I'd like to do that at least once a week," Xander admitted, opening the bag to look down inside. "Wow. How much is this?"
"Quite a lot. That last ring made someone very happy. The Queen's youngest daughter liked it so much she outbid the other women in a generous show of support. That alone gives me a status worthy of some of the better jewelry makers. Would you be willing to come in and work at the stall once a week for forty percent of the profits you bring in?"
Xander nodded. "Let me get Oz, he handles the money." He couldn't quite manage to get out of the chair, so he settled for yelling. "Oz!"
Oz came jogging up the stairs and stopped to look down at his husband. "You bellowed?"
"I couldn't get up," Xander admitted with a grin. "He wants me to work in his shop for forty percent of the profits."
"Good job," Oz said, stroking Xander's hair. "He accepts. Should we draw up papers saying so?"
The jeweler shrugged. "I would leave that up to you."
"I think it's fine," Oz said, helping Xander up. "We trust you."
The jeweler laughed. "Then you're learning." He forced himself to get up. "Thank you. You've done quite a lot for my business today alone." He bowed and left.
Xander showed off his bag of money. "This was for today. One of the Queen's girls liked my last ring so much she outbid the other girls generously."
"Wow." Oz kissed him on the cheek. "I'm working with a weaver. Have fun." He walked away, heading back to his work.
Xander went back to his writing, smiling the whole time. Maybe he'd write some porn to thrill his mate tonight. He might even share it with the other couple.
Sam let her guest into the house and showed him into the less formal sitting area. "How is it going?" she asked the General.
"Fine," he said with a smile. "The diplomats are very happy with us at the moment. Things are actually going very well." He looked around. "How are the men handling it?"
"Except for Jack, it's going well," she said with a smile. "He's still uncomfortable with nearly everything." She looked around. "I think he's sulking out in the garden if you wanted to talk to him."
"No, that's all right. I'm sure you can cheer him up." He smiled. "How is Xander holding up."
She laughed. "Sir, they *love* him. The first night was a little iffy, they found his sword. So he sparred with one of the Queen's guards and beat him." The General shook his head. "Since then, he's spent a day each week working at a small jewelry stall in the market place, and his earnings are keeping us all in sinful treats." She handed over a tray. "Sir, try the caramel looking things. They're sinful, fat free, and have nearly no sugar. We *need* these."
He picked one up and nibbled it, groaning at the taste. He wiped the drool from his mouth. "I agree, we need to trade for these." He finished it off. "How have you been, besides pigging out on these?"
She snickered. "Sir, I've been busy. I've been helping Blair and Daniel sort out their notes and inputting them into the computer. I've also been editing for Xander, who's got some very interesting stories finished, along with some of the stories from these peoples." That got a smile. "If he wants to go back to being a writer, he's got a few that I'd buy multiple copies of, just to have something stored away for my children." She picked up a treat and nibbled on it. "Oh, and they've got a chemical in their water that eats germs, bacteria, and dirt. You don't have to use soap unless you really want to have shiny hair. The water bubbles when you step into it."
"Is it drinkable?" he asked.
"Definitely. It's got some funny side effects the first few days, things like your whole system cleans itself out, but, otherwise, it's great. Think about all the little kids with food poisoning that could be helped with just that simple thing."
"I'll tell the diplomats to add that to the list," the General said, smiling at her. "How is Doctor Jackson's training going?"
"He trains every day. He's gotten quite good. Even Blair is helping with that. He's gotten lessons from both Oz and Xander, who's teaching him how to be sneakier. Giles has started training again, and they're starting to get along again. They're finally starting to talk on a daily basis. Oh, and Xander's giving a show tonight of his dancing. He says he's finally ready. He's had Oz help him make a new outfit."
"I'd like to see that." The General looked down the hall at the sound of giggling. "Sounds like someone's back."
"That would be Blair and Danny, sir. They don't have to hide it here."
"I see. Your hosts are fine with that?"
"Sir, they need sex to live. They actually need it to keep their hearts from being eaten by harmful chemicals in their blood. Prostitution is an accepted employment choice, sir; and it's very highly thought of. They do have certain body language and verbal cues to let you know that someone wants you, but it's perfectly acceptable to have sex in public around here. Xander has tested that particular social norm a few times and delighted a few of the local people each time. Oh, and he's made something for me." She pulled out her necklace and showed it off. "He made that for me last week, as a birthday present."
The General gave her a paternal smile. "I'm glad that the boys are looking after you, Sam." He stood up. "I'd better go talk to Jack. You say he's in the garden?"
Sam called out something in a foreign language, bringing a maid. The maid led the General out into the garden. She sat back and nibbled on her new favorite treat. They really needed this at home. Everyone would be able to eat it.
The General looked down at Jack, who was sitting on the ground, staring at a pond. "Fishing mentally?" he asked as he sat down.
"Sulking, sir," he said, not looking at his boss. "I'm bored, sir." He looked up. "It's like everyone else has a reason for being here...except me." He picked up a leaf and tossed it into the pond, watching as the fish came up to eat it. "I'm here basically to escort Carter."
"No, son, you're here to be an objective source of information," General Hammond said gently. "Jack, we need to talk." That got his attention and his Colonel turned around to look at him. "Son, I'm going to be retiring almost as soon as you come back." Jack's mouth started to open so he held up a hand. "I know, but you're the only person I trust to take over my job. I need someone I can trust to get all my teams home again, no matter how bad the odds are. I'm naming you my successor. If you want to, you can fight it, but I wish you wouldn't."
Jack swallowed his protest and nodded. "Yes, sir. I'd be honored, but...you know I'm going to screw it up."
General Hammond smiled. "I know, son, but I'm leaving you competent helpers. They fix it for me when I screw things up." He stood up. "What's this treat Doctor Carter is eating? It seems addictive."
Jack smiled. "It's a treat, sir, she deserves some. She's been being a secretary for Danny, Blair, and Xander, who's been writing some porn when he's really happy and handing it to Danny and Blair." General Hammond smiled at that. "No, sir, really. I've listened to more *happy* sounds recently than I heard at Woodstock 99."
That made the General laugh heartily as he walked back inside.
Jack smiled himself. Maybe this wasn't so bad of a vacation assignment.
Xander gathered everyone together in the dining room, letting them look over his outfit and watch him practice one last time. By the time he was done, even Jack was hard, and Sam had to excuse herself to take care of some things. "It's a new one," he said as he finished, wiping the sweat off. "Good enough?"
"Wonderful," Oz panted, getting up to give him a kiss.
Danny leaned over to kiss Blair, knocking them onto the floor.
Xander smiled at his husband, then over at Giles, who was shifting uncomfortably in his seat. "Figuring out what you missed?" he asked. He led Oz from the room, going to bathe and make sure his clothes were fine before he left. Oz was going to be there too, just for safety sake.
Xander came out of his last spin and felt himself being grabbed so he didn't hesitate to send the person flying over his shoulder. "Sorry," he panted, smiling at the Queen, who was looking stunned, and had her hand down her skirt. "Should I do another one?" he asked with his impish grin. He pushed some of his hair over his shoulder. The top part was braided down to his neck, then left loose so it was sticking to his shoulders.
"Please, do another one, maybe even more erotic," she suggested with a smile.
Xander moved into the first form, sighing as the music flowed in his head. This one never really came out right. But he would try. After the first screw up, he switched into a different dance, one of the original ones.
Needless to say, the Queen was pleased. Everyone in the room was pleased. And very happy for the rest of the night.
Even Oz. Or especially Oz maybe. Xander wasn't quite sure which the next morning. He was very tired from all the dancing.
Xander looked up from his position on the couch, smiling at Giles as he walked in. "It went great," he noted, eating another piece of Treat, which was what they were calling this new candy they all adored. "I caught the Queen masturbating, so I'm sure she was very happy later." He held up the dish of candy. "Want some?"
"No, I wanted something else," Giles said, kneeling beside the couch. "Xander, I want to heal this rift between us."
"Giles, you not only cheated on us with a friend, you went out and hired prostitutes to cheat on me. You broke my trust in the worst way. What do you have to say that'll make me forgive you?"
Giles pulled out a knife and laid it on his palm, then slowly sliced into it. "Xander, on my blood I swear that I will never cheat on you again. My blood is my oath, and I will die if I break this oath to you." He handed over the blade. "With this knife, you may kill me if you think I have broken my word to you again."
Xander watched as the cut healed, then shrugged. "Will you really die?"
"I'll get very sick," Giles told him. "I may die, but of course I'd come back. I've been working on the binding spell for the last week or so."
"Cool." Xander sat up and then forced himself to stand up. "I'll give you my answer tonight." Giles nodded and got out of his way so he headed up to his room and the altar. He really wished he could have some sort of advice, but of course Cupid couldn't come to him here. But thinking in front of the altar often made him calmer and more focused. He blew out the candles and relit them, sending a prayer to Strife and a deeper prayer to Cupid. It was odd, he could almost feel soft wings around his shoulder and strong arms around his chest, but...that couldn't be. Strife and Cupid hadn't shown up the whole time they'd been there. He sighed and leaned back, running into warm flesh. "Hey, Oz."
"Hey, Xander," Cupid whispered. Xander looked up in shock. "What?"
"You haven't come before when I needed you."
"You didn't need me, you needed Ares when you were almost taken last time," he said with a grimace. "Zeus is still pissed that you smarted off to him when you became the anchor, by the way." He gave his favorite mortal a squeeze. "What's up?"
"Giles just made a blood oath, said he bound himself with a spell, so he'd never cheat on me again."
"Uh-huh. He asked my opinion and I told him to make it foolproof."
"So I should take him back?"
"Xander, babe, he completes you in some way that Oz doesn't. Besides the fact that he's a first rate editor for your stuff. I liked the last porn story by the way. Very tasty indeed," he said with a wolfish smile. "Giles makes you want to study and learn the way Oz makes you want to explore the world." He looked over his shoulder as Oz walked in. "Hey. Just here to give advice."
"I'm not jealous," Oz said with a shrug as he laid on the bed. "I know Xander won't cheat on me with you." He smiled at his mate. "Why did Giles bleed?"
"He made a blood oath and bound himself from cheating on us."
"Oh." Oz nodded. "Good. Do we forgive him?"
Xander looked up at Cupid, who smiled. "I guess so," he said finally.
"Good boy," Cupid said, giving him a kiss. "Great work. I like it when my chosen couples work it out." He disappeared, leaving Xander with warm fuzzy feelings and a feather.
"Maybe you should go use that on Giles," Oz suggested mildly. "He's worried."
"I know." Xander forced himself to get up. "Oz, do you feel lethargic?"
"Yup. I think Treat is mildly addictive." He shrugged. "We'll come down when we get home."
"Good point." Xander left the bedroom, heading down to Giles' room. When he didn't find him there, he headed down to the garden. He found Giles sitting alone and sat beside him, handing over the feather. "I'm accepting it," he said quietly.
"But you're not ready to start where we left off?" Giles suggested.
"No, I'm not. I feel like I don't know you. Like I haven't known you since you went away for training with Connor." Giles nodded at that. "I think it's time we started to talk, and maybe date, again."
"I can do that," Giles said, giving him a smile. "Would you like to go out with me tonight? I hear the new restaurant near the Treat stall is quite good."
"Sure." Xander looked down at himself. "I need to go bathe." He got up and went inside.
Giles smiled. His plan was working perfectly. Very soon, he would have everything he wanted. He pulled his book out of the bushes and started to read again. All he had to do was finish deciphering this one passage.
To Be Continued....Soon, I Promise.