Xander looked up from his selection of metals. "What's wrong?" he asked his coworker, the jewelry forger he borrowed space from once a week. "You look upset about something." He dropped the stones he had brought from home to work on while they waited for all the diplomatic problems to be worked out.
"Just considering." The jewelry maker turned to look at him, leaning against a work bench. "What do you have to do to repay your training?"
"Huh?" Xander closed his tacklebox of jewels and dropped a half-finished hairpin on top of it. "My training isn't like that."
"But everyone has to repay for training, usually in hours working for the temple." He pointed toward the temple of prostitution, a necessary and pleasurable place for most of the native population to spend time at. "So, what do you have to do?"
Xander shook his head. "Sorry, man. I'm not taking that sort of training. They're trying to teach me how to lower my hormone levels consciously instead of letting them do whatever they want." He grinned. "Not that I couldn't learn some tricks from them about sex, but I'm pretty okay in that field already."
"Oh." The other guy blinked a few times. "You don't have to repay in hours?" Xander shook his head. "Why not?"
"I guess it's got something to do with the whole diplomat thing," Xander said, starting to feel uneasy. "I asked if I had to do a service for them and they said no. I guess the stuff I brought with us about our world's sexuality was enough." He leaned against his own workbench, studying him. "Does everyone expect me to take a turn servicing people?" The jeweler nodded. "Well, damn." He glanced around the little shop. "I think I want to go talk to Oz. I'll be back later." He gathered up his stuff and headed for the house. He needed to not only talk to Oz, but to their sponsor, the Queen's First Wife. He walked into the house and slammed the door. "OZ!" Oz walked out of the living room. "Did you know that everyone expects me to work off my training?" Oz shook his head, after a short pause. "Well, they do. I just got asked when I take time off to go over there."
Oz waved Xander into the living room, sitting him down in one of the chairs, across from the Military Liaison. "Start from the top."
"Okay, we asked about any fees, right?" Oz nodded. "And we made sure that I wasn't going to owe a debt to the temple?" Oz nodded again. "But yet, my buddy at the shop just wanted to know when I was going to start working at the temple because *everyone* has to pay them in hours worked."
Rear Admiral AJ Chegwidden cleared his throat. "Did you sign a contract? I'd be willing to look it over for you." Xander stared at him. "I was a lawyer for the military, son, I can do things like that."
"Okay," Xander said, looking up at Oz. "Where did you put it?"
"In our room, I'll go get it." He leaned down and kissed Xander on the head. "Calm down. I won't let them force you to work over there." He jogged up the stairs, leaving them alone.
"He's right, Xander, if you signed a contract they can't make you do such a vile service."
Xander raised an eyebrow. "To them, sex is a necessary activity, not a moral issue. And by the way, that's not the problem. The problem is that I refuse to cheat on Oz, ever. I won't allow myself to be pulled away from Oz, not even to get control of a rogue hormone problem that keeps getting me kidnaped. We'll deal some other way if we have to, but I'm not cheating on Oz."
"Good man," Chegwidden agreed, smiling at him. "It's good to see stable relationships, no matter what the type." He turned his smile on Oz as he walked back down. "That's very thin."
"They don't really do formal contracts," Oz explained. "They still live on the honor principle." He sat down in Xander's lap, watching as the Admiral read the short form. He straightened up when he saw the smile. "Good news?"
"Very good news." Chegwidden handed it back to Oz. "It says you don't have to perform any service for your training." He leaned back in his marshmallow chair. "That leaves public perception."
"Which is probably why no one's come to the stall recently," Xander put in. Oz nodded. "Well, gee, that sucks."
Oz stroked over Xander's chest. "I'm sure it'll get better. Maybe the First Wife will help us out with that. We'll call her in a few minutes."
"If worse comes to worse, you can always run back home," Chegwidden reminded them. "I'm sure you have something you could be doing back there and it'd still be a help to the project."
Xander shrugged. "Maybe." He looked at Oz. "What do I do?" he asked quietly.
"Let me call Nethisha, she'll have a clue." Oz forced himself to get up and headed into the kitchen to make the call. "Hey," he told the husband who answered. "I've got a question for our sponsor. Is she in?"
"She is," the husband said formally. "Give her a moment please." He walked away, but left the link open. "It's the tradarin's mate," his voice called, using the word for prostitute.
Oz was about ready to kill the minor husband by the time Nethisha came in front of the camera. "Xander's been approached about working," he said quietly and calmly. "We know he doesn't have to, we appreciated the help with the negotiations you gave us, but he's very worried about this."
Nethisha bit her lip and glared at someone off-camera. "As he should be. I know that our daughter didn't go to watch him today because someone told her about it. She was hoping to monopolize his attention once he started working." She smiled at him. "We did manage to convince her that it wasn't going to happen."
Ris, the First Wife, leaned around her wife's body. "Is he going to leave and hide?"
Oz shrugged. "I think he's about ready to. This really bothers him. It makes him feel like he's going to be forced to cheat on me and he's nearly in tears."
Nethisha sighed. "I'll do what I can, but public opinion in this matter is very fierce." She smiled and patted her wife's hand. "We'll both do what we can. Did you want to miss dinner tonight?"
"Yeah, I think so," Oz agreed. "He's pretty shaken. He came home from work early when his friend down there asked him about it." He glanced toward the living room, where the two men were quietly talking. "I'd better get back to him. Did you like that story?"
"Very much," Ris praised. "It was an excellent retelling. We'll send his computer over tonight so he can send it on. We have noted a few corrections in the story, but otherwise it was excellent."
"Thanks." Oz waved and signed off, heading back to give Xander the good news. "They're sending your laptop over tonight so you can check for the few corrections," he said as he slid into Xander's lap. He noticed their other visitor and waved. "Hey. Jack's in the garden working on the little pond. Apparently he's upset by the scum on a corner of it."
"He's allergic," Xander said quietly. "He removes it so he can sit out there and think." He looked at the Colonel, who was giving them a dirty look. "At least we're not in the military," he said sharply, giving him back as good as he got.
The Colonel headed for the kitchen, managing to miss most of the ferrets that were running toward the living room. As he walked out of the house, he muttered to himself about the destruction of his beloved Corps. He found Jack and glared at him. "You don't salute?" he ordered.
Jack snapped off a salute without looking up from his book. "I'm not on duty, I don't have to." He looked up then and shrugged. "What's wrong on base? Hammond need us?"
"I doubt he needs any more fags!" He kicked a rock into the pond. "I don't know what you think you're doing here, but lounging around probably isn't it!"
Jack stood up and looked the other man over. Sure, he was older, stronger, wiser, and smarter, but he wanted to show this idiot up. "No, my job is to deal with the diplomatic issues that Captain Carter can't handle. Right now, since the diplomats are back on the base, I have a vacation. If you don't like that, then go back to Hammond and whine to him." He poked the man on the chest. "And if you *ever* come up to me again and start in about *other* people's orientation, I'm going to send your smug ass to the brig!" He poked him again, sending him into the pond. "Get out of there before you poison the fish!" He sat down on his chair again and picked his book back up. "Leave now, or I'm going to drag you back by your stupid-ass comb- over!"
The Colonel huffed as he pulled himself out of the pond. "Hammond wants to see you anyway," he sneered.
"Good." Jack slapped his book down and grabbed the idiot, pushing him in front of him. "Let's go." He shoved him through the house, stopping long enough to have a word with Oz about what had happened. Then they continued to the base, Jack shoving the idiot through the gateway hard enough that he fell. "Oh, did that hurt?" he taunted coldly, heading up to the office. He tapped on the door. "Sir, with all due respect, if you send that Colonel back I'm going to deck him." Hammond waved him in so he walked in and shut the door, standing at parade rest. "You wanted to see me?"
"First, what did he do?"
"He decided to sneer at Xander, and when he got it shoved back in his face, he tried to say I was gay and threatened me. I did teach him a *small* lesson, and I can only hope he didn't poison the fish in the pond."
Hammond leaned back and looked him over. "At ease," he ordered. "Explain."
"He decided that my taking some time to read was not only wrong, but another sign that the gays had taken over the service. He also called me a fag." He glanced around, then back at his commanding officer. "I only hit him with a finger, sir. I was polite, even when he ordered me to salute him."
Hammond smiled. "Thank you. I'll have a discussion with him once he's changed. Did the Admiral get there?"
"He was helping Xander and Oz with something since they were waiting on the diplomatic dinner tonight, sir."
"Good. What's wrong with Xander?"
Jack glanced around again. "With all that's been going on, did you hear that he was taking training to control his hormones?" His boss nodded, looking pleased. "There's a common misconception that he's going to be spending some time *paying back* his training at the temple." Hammond winced. "He was all but crying when he came home. I was in the kitchen and heard most of it."
The General smiled. "All right then, I'll expect him to come home soon for a break." He handed over an envelope. "That's your upcoming tour schedule. You'll notice that there's another visit by the President, with his wife this time. There may also be a visit by some of his upper-level staff to get some last minute details settled for the alien's first visit here." He shifted, crossing his feet. "Besides that, there's going to be a *short* daytrip for Nethisha's daughter to come visit the town, get used to the atmosphere, make sure that they're totally compatible and all that."
Jack nodded. "All right. Am I taking Siblinth on her daytrip?"
"No, I was planning on making it Ellison's job," Hammond said lightly. "With some guards of course." Jack smiled and nearly laughed. "If Xander's going to be coming back, I might make him do it instead though." He nodded at the envelope. "Go hand that off to Carter and Oz, and give me any objections by tonight, Earth time. Dismissed." Jack saluted and headed out. "And call that Colonel in here!" he called after him. He snorted once the door was shut. "I will straighten that out." He pulled out a transfer form and started to fill it out. He was sure the Colonel would appreciate somewhere more...military oriented. "Sit down," he ordered when the man knocked and walked in. "We've got to have a talk, son."
Xander flinched as he heard the comments, clinging tighter to Oz's hand. "I don't want to be here," he whispered.
"I'll support in whatever you do," Oz reminded him. "If you want to go home, go. We'll be done within six months." He kissed Xander on the cheek.
Xander pulled his mate's head around, giving him a real kiss. "I'll be waiting for you," he promised, then he released Oz and jogged back to the house. He couldn't take the staring and whispering anymore. He ran into Ray, who was just coming back. "I want you to watch Oz for me," he said seriously. Ray dropped his bag and stared at him. "I'm heading home. I can't take it anymore and I'm going to go home, and eat chocolate, and be appreciated, and be happy with myself."
Ray pulled Xander in for a hug. "I'll watch him for ya," Ray promised. "I'll even make sure Meth'll put him between us for naps." He let Xander go a little bit. "You'll write?" Xander nodded. "Okay. Have fun at home and be good!" He gave him a kiss. "Six months or so and we'll be there with ya." He let him go, watching as he walked up the stairs to pack. "Methos?" Ray called, bringing his lover out of the bathroom. "Xander's headed home."
"I expected as much," Methos said calmly, smiling at his husband. "We'll watch out for Oz. Which animals is he taking with him?"
"I don't know," Ray admitted. "Xander, animals?"
"Ferrets, my cat, and Rocky's son's puppies," Xander called from down the stairs. "Cages are in the storage room next to the bathroom." He came down with his three bags, one slung over his shoulder. "Thanks, guys."
"Hey, anything for you, ya know that," Ray said with a grin. He went to help capture the animals. They got most of the ferrets, but a few refused to come out of their hiding spots. He carried out the large carriers and put them into the cart. "We'll send the rest home as soon as they come out," he promised, giving Xander another hug. "Be safe. We'll be home soon." He watched as Xander got into the cart and it took off. "Damn," he muttered, going to help find the rest of the ferrets.
"You didn't take Dessie, did you?" Blair called from upstairs.
"No, she's in the kitchen with her babies," Ray called back. "We kept the chow too!" He smiled at his mate, who was holding a kitten. "We'll ask Oz who else gets sent back?" he suggested.
"That would be fine," Methos agreed, handing off the cat. He needed to go shave.
Ray sat down to pet the poor animal, it would miss her daddy.
Xander carried the last carrier through the gateway and smiled at the men waiting on him. "I set the armband off," he told them.
"Stand down!" Hammond yelled from upstairs. "Xander, do you need help?"
"Please?" He sat down on the ramp, counting to make sure he had everything. He hopped up and went to check, coming back with the smallest of carriers, the one with a single puppy. He sat down again as the General walked into the gate room. "Hey. I couldn't take it anymore."
"I understand fully," the General said kindly. He glared at the men standing there, with their hands still on their rifles. "I said stand down," he reminded them. They walked out. "Captain, I want them to go through the sensitivity lectures," he ordered, walking over to sit beside Xander. "Are you all right?"
"Fine. The whispers and the looks got to me. Oz understood." He leaned against the strong shoulder. "I don't like to be looked at like that. I got enough of that when I came home from my roadtrip."
"I know," the General said quietly, patting him on the head. "Let's get you topside. I'll arrange for you to get to Vegas at least."
"Thanks." Xander heaved himself up, then turned around and helped the older man to his feet too. "They keep saying six more months and it'll be done."
"It should be," General Hammond agreed, grabbing the pile of carrying cages. He nodded the man standing at the doorway over. "Grab some of these and take them topside. He's going home."
"Yes, sir!" the man shouted, grabbing the remaining cages so he could carry them out. Xander took the top one from him so the man wouldn't trip, and they headed up to the elevator and the surface.
Xander picked up the phone and dialed the resort. "Steve Ellison please?" he asked. He tapped his foot, watching the cages being loaded onto the cart. "Hey, Steve, it's Xander. No, the negotiations are fine, but I'm not needed anymore." He smiled. "Yeah, but I'm at the airport. Send me a car? Sure. For a day or so, unless you need to take some time off?" He chuckled. "All right, then I'm going to stay tonight and talk to you, then head to Florida." He checked his watch then hung up, counting the cages. "Where's the large ferret cage?" he asked.
"In the back, sir," the counterman told him. "We're getting them right now." He nodded at the animals. "Gone for a while?"
"Yeah, but we've all had our vet checks." He reached between the bars to pet a puppy while he waited, Steve had promised him a ride within an hour. When the ferrets came out, he smiled at his babies. "One more day then we'll be home again," he cooed, letting the guard move the trolley toward the entrance. "Is it hot outside today?"
"Fairly so," the guard told him. "Why'd you travel with so many of them?"
"We're just getting back from an extended trip," Xander explained. "That's why I had some of my working stuff with me."
"Did they go through quarantine?"
"We were in the country, just not at home." Xander waved a hand in front of his face as they walked outside, shaking his head. "This is horrible."
"This is summer in the desert, sir," the guard reminded him. "Are you staying at one of the big resorts?"
"No, I and my family run a small, kinda exclusive resort off the strip. Animal friendly and all," he promoted with a grin.
"So I can tell." He waved the limo driver over. "Here for Harris?"
The driver nodded. "Yes, sir." He looked at the animals. "Sir, Mr. Ellison said that we weren't going to be animal friendly for much longer."
"Bet me," Xander told him. "The resort was left to my husband, not him." He climbed into the back with the animals, letting the guards he had tipped generously deal with the other stuff. He checked on everyone on the ride in, more than ready to get out and let the animals free by the time they got to the resort. "Steve?" he called as he was helped out of the car. Steve smiled and came jogging out. "We are staying an animal friendly place. Jace liked the idea and we demand that it stay that way." Then he gave the man a hug. "Help me get the animals up to the room?"
Steve nodded, nearly struck dumb. "Do you know what sort of renovations we'd need?"
"I checked into it for Giles. We had a plan all drawn up."
"That's all well and good, but the city decided you had to update the air conditioning unit. That's a lot of money. Speaking of money, a forge?"
"Yes, Steve, a forge, for when your sword breaks. Because they do." He looked at the young immortal. Then he looked up. "Um, Jace?" he called. "Some explanations?"
She appeared with a giggle, rearranging her clothing. "Welcome back, Xander," she cooed as she gave him a hug. "Oh, animals!"
"Yes, but it's too expensive," Steve complained.
Jace frowned at him. "It is not! Many of us have to travel with our animals, especially when we have to run in the middle of the night. And yes, we do need a forge. Too many of us have come running for holy ground when our primary weapon breaks." She patted Steve on the head. "I like your management style, but Xander was right." She kissed Xander on the cheek. "Go settle in and I'll treat you to dinner," she offered.
"All right then," Xander said, starting to feel a little happier. "Want to watch me lose at baccarat later?"
"If it makes you feel better," she soothed, helping him by grabbing some of the animals off the luggage cart. "Come on. Steve, did you put him in the Executive Suite?"
Steve nodded, feeling railroaded. But he would do what they said, he was only managing the resort after all.
Jace snuggled up to Xander on the couch, letting him take some comfort by her presence. "What happened?" she asked quietly.
"I was getting training in controlling the hormones and everyone expected me to spend some time working off my training at the temple of prostitution."
"Oh, dear," Jace sighed. "Is that a normal thing?"
"Yeah, but I wasn't taking that sort of training, this was a basic training that's given to everyone who *might* have the problem. But everyone decided I was going to be ho'ing and I'm not!" He sniffed. "I won't cheat on Oz."
"I know you won't, so does he," she purred, pulling him down so he was resting against her chest. "I promise that he knows you won't cheat on him." She stroked down his back, smiling at the man who appeared behind them. "They decided he was going to start working as a pro," she told Cupid.
"It was a general perception," Cupid agreed. "I already heard it from Oz. He asked me to come give Xander a cuddle too." He sat down on the other side, snuggling up to Xander's free side. He smiled when he felt a familiar tingle start, and Bliss appeared in his lap. "This is Xander, Bliss."
"He not happy?"
"No, he's not happy." Cupid smoothed some of Bliss' feathers. "You can cuddle him if you want."
"'Kay." He shifted until he was resting against Xander's shoulder too, giving the best cuddle he knew how. "You come to wedding?"
Xander looked over at him. "Who's getting married?"
"Me and Migrid. She's pretty and said yes." Cupid patted him on the head. "It next week."
"It's a common thing that kids go through," Cupid told him. "I'm sure Xander would love to come to your wedding, son."
"I'll even bring you a prezzie," Xander promised with a weak smile.
"Cool. We like prezzies." Bliss snuggled in, and he laughed when Strife popped in on Xander's lap. "Comfy?" he asked his uncle.
"Sure am, kiddo," Strife agreed, snuggling into Xander's arms. "You okay?"
"Fine," Xander told him. "Just kinda upset."
"Cool. I'm gonna be right here with ya." He grinned at Jace. "Unc's been lookin' for ya."
"Yay," Jace said with a smile. "Friends come first." She kissed Xander's forehead. "I'll go to him once he's in bed and settled down for the night."
"Even cooler," Strife breathed. "I wanna watch that fight."
Jace pinkened slightly. "Do you really think there's going to be a *fight*?" she teased.
Strife leaned over to give her a kiss, but a hand got in his way. "Hey, she's ours too," he protested.
Ares glared down at him. "Once I'm done with her, you can have her...for a while." He smiled at Xander. "You okay?"
"Yup. You can steal the Jace." He wrapped his arms around Strife. "I'm going to keep the rest of them, they're very comforting."
"Coolness," Cupid agreed.
Ares pulled Jace up into his arms. "She'll be back later." They disappeared.
Bliss shifted over, getting the free side for himself. He was a big god, he could have a whole side to himself.
Xander snuggled into the warm arms, taking comfort from his friends.
Xander kicked his door, growling at it. "I know I live here," he told the door. "Why won't you open!"
"Because D'Nalia said that a rampaging bitch came and broke into the house two days ago so she had to change the locks," the neighbor called out a window. "I've got a spare. She and the boys are at the beach." She tossed down an envelope. "Welcome back, Mr. Harris." She looked down at the animal cages. "Ferrets?"
"Yup, and cats and dogs," Xander told her as he opened the door. "Why?"
"Because the city's trying to ban them," she explained.
Xander grinned. "Then I'll take them to Canada."
"Oh, are you Canadian?" Xander hesitated and she smiled. "Dual citizenship?" she suggested.
"Something like that," Xander agreed, carrying his animals inside. He went back to get the rest of the animals from the back of the cab, and then his bags. "Thanks," he called, waving at her. "Warn her if you want." He closed the door and flopped down onto the floor, releasing all the animals. "I think you guys might remember this place," he told them when everyone started to sniff around. "I know it's been a while, but really." He looked over as a large dog walked out of the hallway. "Hey, Sinjin. How's the puppy?" He held a hand out and the dog pounced him, lapping at him. "Good boy," he cooed, petting the dog. "Make nice with the others, okay?" He stood up and let his animals deal with it. He did remember to move the cages out of the way before taking his bags to the master bedroom. He stopped when he saw the dress laid across the foot of the bed, frowning at it. "I didn't know that any of us wore those." He shrugged and set his bags inside the door. D'Nalia would tell him what was going on as soon as she got home. He went to fix himself something to eat, hoping that the house at least some decent spoiling food. He settled on some wine and cheese, D'Nalia had imported salad stuff. He settled in to wait.
The boys ran through the door, stopping when they saw all the animals. "Xander!" they yelled in unison, running for the downstairs.
"I'm in the office," Xander yelled.
The twins ran in and hugged him, then went to tell their mother, who was impersonating a mule of burden. "Xander's home!" they shouted.
She dropped most of the beach stuff on the floor and headed for the office. "Hey. I'll move my mother's stuff out of the main bedroom."
"She still here?"
"No. She forgot some stuff." She leaned against the door frame. "What happened?" she asked when she noticed the glass of wine.
"Public perceptions." He finished his wine and held out the glass. "Want to go shopping for real food later?"
She walked in and took the glass. "The boys need to eat salad."
Xander grinned at her. "I don't, but I'll only be here for a few days. I miss the house in Sunnydale and Micah said that the pollution was gone." He stood up. "Chinese for dinner?"
"Sure," she relented. "It has vegetables." She frowned at his back. "Henri's in Canada," she called after him.
"I know, I emailed her after I got the new keys."
D'Nalia sighed. This was going to be a bit awkward. Only the animals seemed to really be comfortable with them coming back, they were all curled up together in the living room.
Xander looked up as he walked out of the airport, sighing at the dirty air in LA. "Gods, it just gets worse," he muttered as he walked over to the man with his name on his sign. "My car?" he asked. The man nodded. "Cool. I sent the animals ahead." He slung his bags into the back and climbed in after them. "Sunnydale."
"You sure, sir?"
"I live there. Haven't for a few years, but I'm quite sure my house is still there," Xander told him. "Why?"
"Big bust up that way," he said, his Mexican accent coming out thickly. "Lots of cops, many bad guys."
"An industrialist?" Xander suggested hopefully. The driver shrugged. "Wonderful. The phone work?" He got a nod so he picked it up and dialed Seth's number, he was still in Sunnydale. "Cops?" he asked. He pulled the phone away from his ear at the squeal. "Not deaf," he noted. "Cops?" He listened then smiled. "Good job. Nope, heading home now." He hung up. "Sunnydale," he said firmly.
The driver nodded and pulled out into traffic. This would probably be a very good tip.
Xander got out of the hired car and looked at the front of his house. Yup, it looked all right. He grabbed his bags and paid the driver, then headed for the door, which opened under his hand. "Hello?" he called.
"Seth sent me," Spike called from the kitchen. "Make sure it's still standin' an' all." He held out a bottle of beer. "He said you'd probably need it," at the questioning look. "Animals are in their room. He brought 'em up last night." He smiled. "Back already?"
"Yeah, I ran into a publicity problem." Xander hopped up to sit on the bar, sipping his beer quietly. "Everything okay in town?"
"As quiet as you'd like it. No real bad problems since that nasty bloke got taken away last month."
"Then who were the cops busting?" Xander finished off his beer and tossed the bottle into the sink so he could rinse it out later before tossing it into the recycling bin. "Any more?"
"Sure. I stocked the important stuff. Microwave sandwiches. Beer. Nuts. Chips. Lager. Whiskey."
Xander chuckled. "Thanks, Spike, it's good to know that some things are solid and unchangeable." He hopped down and walked over to the refrigerator, pulling out another beer. "Oz'll be home in about six months." He turned to find Spike giving him a funny look. "What?" he asked as he popped the top off.
"You don't smell," Spike said, sounding unhappy. "You on a downward swing?"
"Nope, mostly controlled now. That's part of why I had the publicity problem." Xander sipped the beer slowly. "Will it cause a problem?"
"Nah, mate, no problems. Probably fewer problems." He shrugged. "Gotta get home. Seth worries." He rolled his eyes. "Your bro's a very unusual vamp, mate."
"It runs in the family," Xander told him. He walked the vampire out, then leaned against the closed door. "Alone again," he sighed. "Ah, shit."
Cupid watched Xander listlessly pound something out on his forge and sighed. This was bad. Xander wasn't happy, he wasn't feeling good because he had nothing to do, and even worse, Oz was going to be more than six months. He looked over at his partner in crime and shrugged. "Can we give Xander something to do?"
"Have him help ya pick out the anniversary prezzie," Strife suggested, not looking up from his Hustler Comics magazine. "Thirty-five hundred years is a long time and he's got good taste."
"Yeah," Cupid said, starting to smile. "Yeah, I like that idea." He flashed down and landed behind Xander, pulling him into his arms. "Can I ask you for a favor?" he asked, looking his most pitiful.
Xander's heart melted and he hugged the Love God. "Anything for you guys, you know that."
Cupid mentally cheered. "Cool. See, Mom and Hephie's thirty-fifth hundred is in a month and I absolutely *can't* find a prezzie for them."
Xander grinned. "I could probably make her something. Jewelry?"
"Yeah, that'd be cool. Something original, but totally mom? Maybe something so kick ass that she'll squeal about for decades?"
Xander's naughty nature started to come forward. "Oh, I have *just* the idea," he told the God, picturing it in his mind.
Cupid's mouth fell open. Xander could do that? "Whoa, dude, that's kickin'. She'd *love* that. The squealage would be epic. Can you?"
"With a little help," Xander agreed. "Pink, right?" Cupid nodded. "Done. Give me a few weeks." He gave the Love God a squeeze. "Thanks." Then he sat down and looked around at his working materials.
Cupid went home, sitting down to watch the immortal again. At least Xander was occupied, even if that design was a bit much.
Xander looked up at the sky. //Mighty Hephaestus, hear my prayers. I've been given the best task in the world and I'd like your blessing on the monumental piece of jewelry I'm making. It's very ornate, very pretty, and very much for your wife. Please don't let me screw this up. Please don't hurt me for making Cupid's prezzie for him. Please don't tell your wife that I'm the one making it. Oh, and by the way, could I please have your wife's measurements? It's kinda important to the project.// He pulled out his remaining other-realmal metal and examined it for flaws. "Yeah, this'll be kick ass," he told himself, starting to work a small piece off so he could heat it. He looked over at the bright flash and smiled at the measurements that had been written down for him. //Thank you, Great God Hephaestus, I hope that my present pleases you both. And please don't tell your wife. I think Cupid wanted her to think he had found it for her.// He picked up the measurements and went inside while the first chunk of metal heated, going to find his dummy.
Yeah, this would be killer.
Xander trotted into his jewelry store, he owned about ten percent of it, and smiled brightly. "I need pink stuff," he told the saleswoman, the one he liked to deal with. He slapped his drawing down on the counter and leaned down. "I've got sixteen, but I don't have nearly enough pink stones to finish it off."
She looked down at it, then at him, looking a little scandalized. "Who's this for?"
"One of my best friend's mom. It's her anniversary." He grinned. "And I don't want any of those lab created pink stones either. I want to make this *special*."
She looked down at the drawing again. "I'd say it will be. Let me check what's in the back." She headed into the back room and to the Manager. "How many pink stones do we have? Mr. Harris is here with an ornate project that needs real, valuable, pink stones. It's a present for a friend's mother."
The Manager shrugged and pulled over his inventory books, flipping through. "We've got six pink diamonds. How many does he need?"
"He says he has sixteen of the stones he needs, and his drawing calls for at least fifty." He opened his mouth. "It's definitely something I'd cherish if I were the recipient."
The Manager pulled out another book and looked through it. "We have someone who has a lot of pink diamonds in their personal stash. I'll call them and see if they're willing to sell. Any particular size?"
"I think the drawings called for around a half carat. Let me go ask." She walked back to the doorway. "What size did you need, Mr. Harris?"
"Um, half carat would be great. One really distinctive piece for the front of the bottom, maybe heart shaped? All but one of the stones I have at home are pink diamonds. The other's one of those lab created ones that I'll only use as a last resort. Oh, and do you still have some of my excess metal stashed here?"
"We do," she told him. "I can pull some of that out for you. How many did you need?"
"Fifty to be safe. I really need thirty-five, but I'd rather have a few extra ones in case those don't quite fit, ya know?" She nodded and disappeared again, and Xander went window shopping through the store while he waited.
She walked back to the desk. "Fifty to be safe, half carat is good, and he needs a very distinctive piece for the center. He'd like a heart-shaped one."
The man smiled. "That we can do. Tiffany's is putting up a very unique stone in an auction. How long do we have?"
"Three weeks," Xander called. "I need to have it finished by then." He stuck his head in the office. "I looked at the Tiffany one and it was kinda okay, but I'd like something flashier. I saw one I liked but it went up at Christies last month."
"I know the one you're talking about. May I see the design?" Xander trotted in and handed it over with a grin. "Oh, my," the Manager whispered. "Will this woman appreciate it?"
Xander nodded. "Definitely. Pink is her signature color and she's very into that sort of naughtiness. Which is why I got asked to make the prezzie," he admitted happily. "We have a lot in common." He pointed at the lines of chains. "See, I'm going to use some of that really soft-feeling metal to do the chains and supports. I've found a good fabric to line the few parts that need it. Now all I need are the stones."
"I'm sure it will be a very beautiful present," the Manager said. "Why don't you go get some of your metal while I make a few calls?" The saleswoman and Xander walked out into the store and he shook his head. "That boy and his ideas. At least he'll pay for them, even if it doesn't work out." He picked up the phone and dialed the number for his contact with the pink diamonds.
Xander trotted into the house with Wesley right behind him, a very good bodyguard when one had a bunch of diamonds. "Go find food," he told Wesley. "I'm going to go sort these on the workroom floor." He headed back to his workroom, going to lay out the design. He already had the outfit mostly done, all he had to do was set the stones and do a few last connecting chains. He got a brilliant idea and searched through his fabric stash, coming up with the roll of silver velvet. "Yeah, that'll go," he told himself as he sat down, starting on everything. Once he had everything sorted, he sat there and stared at the mostly constructed garment. "I'm missing something," he muttered. He got up and went to dig through his collection of jewels, tossing one onto the pile of pink diamonds, it would be an unexpected addition. He came across the plastic box of rubies and pulled them out, considering the male half of the pairing. A similar idea hit him for a present for Hephaestus, more like the God of Fire.
Wesley walked in an hour later and smiled at the absolute concentration Xander was showing to his work. He had often wished he had that sort of skill and focus. He would be a much better fighter if he had shown that sort of focus in his physical studies. "Xander, may I help?" he asked quietly, not wanting to intrude.
"Yeah, pet a ferret," Xander said absently, handing the one in his lap off. "She's cranky and wants to eat one of the rubies that I'll need."
Wesley took the ferret, carefully cradling it in his arms. "You're very pretty," he told her as he started long strokes down it's back. "Shall we go check on the other animals? Make sure they've got food and the like?" The ferret squeaked and burrowed into his arms. Apparently it liked that idea so Wesley carried it into the animals' room. He quickly found himself mobbed and happily let the animals play with him.
Xander had just finished the wrapping on his present when Strife appeared. "Hey," he said, holding it out. He slapped the fingers trying to rip open the gold paper. "I spent two hours wrapping that. You can wait."
Strife frowned. "I don't wanna wait."
Xander grinned. "Then take the image from my mind." He leaned closer and Strife sucked in a breath. "You think she'll like it? And Hephie?"
Strife grabbed Xander and crushed the boy to his chest. "If she don't, I'm stealin' it. That's a great prezzie." He let his friend go, grinning at him. "Did ya make anything for the Bliss guy?"
"Sure did," Xander said, pulling over a smaller box. "Since he said he wants to marry this girl, I made them both heart-shaped pendants that'll grow with them. Adding a few links won't be that hard." He held out the box but Strife wasn't taking it. "Not going to deliver it?"
"You were invited," Strife reminded him lightly.
Xander looked down at himself, then at his God. "But I'm not dressed for it and the animals will be left alone!"
"Yay." Strife looked to his left as Cupid appeared. "That is one kick ass present," he told him. "Dress the anchor and let's go."
Cupid waved a hand and Xander was dressed in his favorite black velvet pants and a skin-tight black t-shirt in a shiny material. Even his shoes were changed to the sandals that made the boy moan when he walked. "Good. Let's go." He took the larger present and grabbed one of Xander's arms, letting Strife get his other side. "Close your eyes," he warned.
Xander squeezed his eyes shut and the world fell out from under him. A few heartbeats later, he was back on solid ground, and he was ready to fall over and kiss it. "That sucks," he said once he was sure he wouldn't throw up. "How do you stand it?"
"It's not a big for us," Cupid told him. "C'mon. The Bliss guy's at Hera's and I've got to drop this off for the party." He shook the present and frowned. "It rattles."
"Yup, it does," Xander said with a naughty grin. "But I'm sure she'll like it. D'Nalia did when I did the final fitting on her. I was nice, I even took out the vibrating stone because it got a bit intense." Strife stared at him. "What?" he asked innocently. "I wanted to make her something that would make her squeal, that's what Cupid asked me for."
"This I wanna see," Strife told Cupid, trying to take the present from him.
"Nope, you gotta wait if I do," Cupid told him. He led the way into the temple, smiling at Hephaestus. "Hey, present from us," he said, holding it out.
Xander looked over Cupid's shoulder. "For both of you, I got to wrap it."
Hephaestus smiled at the boy. He knew *exactly* what was in the box, and his wife was going to be thrilled. "Thanks, boys. Where's Bliss?"
"Hera's. He and Migrid went over there to play," Cupid told him. "I guess we should go pick him up."
"Give it a few, sweetie," Aphrodite suggested as she walked into the room. She squealed and ran over to give Xander a hug. "You are such a great guy," she told him. "You give a girl a rush of power like a mule's kick and you do it often enough to make it addicting." Xander blushed. "So, where're the hubbies?"
"Well, Giles was apparently taken over by Discord," Xander told her. "And Oz is still working on that diplomatic project. He won't have a break for another week." He got free of her bouncing and grinned. "I got a prezzie for Bliss because he asked for one for the wedding. Can I give it to him?"
"Sure," Aphrodite said, waving a hand. She saw the golden present and started to smile. "For us?"
"For your anniversary," Cupid told her, giving her a hug. "From us."
She took the present and flew over to a couch so she could sit with Hephie and open it. She handed over the tissue-wrapped bundle with his name on it and came to the silver velvet cloak, pulling it up. When she heard the rattle, she opened it, and her squeal echoed around the room. "Oh, so great!" she screamed, jumping up, holding the new garment.
It was silver chains, pink diamonds, and not much else. It started with a thin collar in a herringbone pattern and stones, moved down to some very delicate looking chains, which were holding up a set of cups for her breasts, again pink diamond studded. Every few inches a pink diamond was set into the chains with a flat backing, and there was a cluster of four of them just large enough to cover each nipple. Attached to that were four diamond studded chains leading down to the bottoms, which had a large pink diamond heart in the center of it. She examined it carefully, but all the chains were really soft feeling. The clasp on the back of the collar and the tri-clasp on the back of the g-string panties were both done so she could easily get into them. It was so her! She shook it some, smiling at the jingling sound.
"'Dite, there's something else in there," Hephaestus told her, holding up his own chain and ruby outfit. It was just bottoms, but around the edges were cascades of rubies made to look like the falling sparks of a fire. "This is great, Cupid." He smiled at Xander. "Excellent work. I never even knew you were making me anything." He stood up and walked his wife into the bedroom. "We'll be right back," he promised.
Xander nodded at the box. "Take her the cloak, it looks excellent together," he told Strife, nudging him to make him go. Once his friend was gone, he turned his truly naughty look on Cupid. "I put one of the vibrating stones in there... in just the right spot."
Aphrodite shrieked in the other room, and Cupid's mouth hung open. "Dude, you rock," Cupid whispered in awe.
Aphrodite walked out, making a minor adjustment to one of the free floating cups supporting her breasts, the chains holding them up were just sturdy enough to allow her to jiggle but not bounce. "Xander, you are a naughty boy," she praised, kissing him on the cheek.
"Did you see the loose stone in the bottom?" he asked. She shook her head. "Hey, Hephaestus, there's a removable jewel in the bottom of the box, it needs to be put in," he called.
Aphrodite headed back into the bedroom. Xander counted down. Aphrodite's scream of pleasure shook the temple.
Strife came back out, wiggling a finger in his ear. "Xander, you just made yourself a friend for life. How did ya know where ta put the jewel?"
"See, I had D'Nalia model it for the final fitting," Xander explained as Aphrodite came out, obviously with the vibrating stone in by the way she was walking. "She wore a leotard under it, but she helped me find the spot where the vibrating stone would do the most good." He gave the Goddess of Love his most innocent look. "That's okay, right?"
"Yeah, sweetie, that's great. Hephie even promised to take out the extra two links you left in down there in case it was in the wrong spot." She carefully walked over and gave him a kiss. "You so rock," she whispered in his ear.
"Put on the cloak and let's go," Xander prompted. "I wanna give Bliss his pendants."
"In this?" she asked.
"Hera will crap bricks," Hephaestus noted as he walked out in his own bottoms. "It fits great, kid."
Xander grinned. "Cool. And why can't you show up wearing whatever you like? You're covered. You're sparkly. This is a happy occasion." Unlike Cupid, he was pretty sure Bliss was serious about marrying Migrid.
Aphrodite grabbed her cloak, made one for her husband, and created a pair of lace-up sandals to go with her outfit, then she walked Xander out to the street, leading the way to Hera's temple at a slow stroll. "Sure, babe, we'll wander around in this. It'll cause, like, so much envy in some of the other Goddesses." She gave him a little nudge. "Why did you include a tuning fork?"
"Because that one stone vibrates differently with different stones, and with a tuning fork it's a high, fast vibration. Oh, and we found out that music will make it vibrate too."
She giggled. "I'm sure it will, sweetie, I'm sure it will." She smiled at her husband. "The same as I'm sure we'll be getting a *lot* of usage from this new outfit." She tapped politely on Hera's door, smiling at her. "My boys had Xander make me this, isn't it killer?" she asked as she walked inside the temple.
Hera stared at the jewel and chain outfit, her eyes starting to cross. "It's definitely you," she said finally. She noticed the one Hephaestus was wearing and smiled. "I see he made one for each of you." She laughed at the blush her son was showing. "It's an interesting attire." She stopped, hearing something. "Who's vibrating?"
"Oh, Xander put in a stone that vibrates when it's near other stones. Or music, or tuning forks. Or I guess anything that'll cause a vibration." She leaned a little closer. "He set it just right," she confided with a grin.
Hera simply nodded. "Excellent. Happy anniversary, Aphrodite and Hephaestus." She smiled at Xander, remembering who he was quite well. "Shall we go see Bliss? He and Migrid are sitting in my atrium."
"Cool beans," Xander said, pulling out his other present. "I made something for them."
Bliss looked up as everyone walked in, smiling at his grandmother in her sparkly new outfit. "Hi. Can we do this now?" he asked Hera. "Her mommies should be here soon. We called them. We waited real long time."
"Do what, sweetling?" Hera asked, sitting down in front of them.
"We marry each other," Bliss sighed. "We talked about this."
"Son, are you serious?" Cupid asked. Bliss nodded with his most exasperated look on his face. "Okay," he said slowly. "Hera?"
She considered the young couple. "There is a bond there already," she admitted. "Migrid, did you accept his promises?"
Migrid smiled her most charming. "Of course. We love him." She hugged Bliss, until her mother flashed into the temple. "Mommy! Just in time to see me married!"
"Excuse me?" Grethen said, looking down at her daughter. "Married? As in for real?" She looked at Hera, who shrugged. The Goddess of Grief sighed and tipped her head back. "Artten, I need you!" she yelled. "And my mother!"
Artten, the Goddess of Godly Combat and War, flashed in a few moments later, followed by an older woman in teal breastcups and a gold two-panel skirt. "What's going on now?" Artten asked, looking at the gathered Gods and Goddesses. She looked at her daughter. "Were you naughty?"
Migrid laughed. "No, Momma. I married!"
Hera looked at the older Goddess. "I assume you're that pantheon's Goddess of Marriage?" The older woman nodded. "Is this typical in your pantheon?"
"No. Yours?" Hera shook her head. "Then we'll examine this bond together." They looked at the children, taking the one that wasn't theirs to look at. Both Goddesses looked at each other and sighed. "It's partially done," the other Goddess announced.
"Goddess Metchan, may I present you with a gift for the couple?" Xander asked, holding it out. "I made it for them because Bliss has been saying he was going to marry Migrid for the last few months."
She accepted the gift, as was standard in her pantheon, and scanned it. "I will give it to them," Metchan agreed. "It is most fitting for children their age." She smiled down at them. "In our family, there's many customs. Are you willing to learn them, Bliss?" He nodded, smiling up at her. "And will you teach Migrid yours?"
"We will," Aphrodite assured her. "Are we going to finalize it?"
"It's already there, they just lack the formal ceremony," Hera told her. She frowned when her daughter-in-law shifted and the vibrating increased. "Shouldn't you change?" she suggested.
Artten looked at the outfit. "Are the chains smooth?"
"Like silk," Aphrodite said, moving closer. "Feel?" She smiled at Hera as the chains from the collar were touched by a callused finger. "That one stone *is* removable," she admitted. "Hephie, would you please take it out for me?"
"Sure." He moved closer, wrapping their cloaks around them so he could do it with some privacy. He smiled at the Goddesses as he came out with the stone, holding it out to his wife. "Cross your legs," he advised gently. He tucked the precious stone into his own outfit, then quickly removed it when it started to vibrate for him.
"There's a pocket on the inside of the cloak," Xander suggested. He smiled when Hephaestus looked at him. "I anticipated her wanting to carry it around so she could liven up boring meetings."
Aphrodite snickered as she dropped the jewel into the pocket she found up near her left breast. "Thank you, Xander. That was very thoughtful of you." She smiled sadly at the children. "How will we arrange for living quarters?"
"They'll stay with us part of the time," Cupid told her, looking at Artten. "I trust you to look after my son when he's up there."
"We trust you to look after our daughter when she's down here," Grethen agreed. She looked at Hera, then her mother. "Shall we finish this?"
"Hey, they'll be the bridge when your people come down here," Strife said.
Hera smiled. "Very true. Metchan? I know nothing of your customs."
Metchan moved in front of the two children. "Bliss, do you believe you will love my granddaughter to the best of your abilities?" He nodded. "Out loud, please."
"I love her and I'll try to keep loving her," Bliss replied seriously. "To my wife, I will follow and heed all her customs. From the family giving us the presents and opening them for us, to allowing them to be nosy and pop in all the time."
Migrid looked at her grandmother. "I'll do my best to love him, Grandma, and we'll try to be happy together." She smiled at Bliss. "I'll even try to learn about his ways, like how they open presents themselves and do a lot more for themselves than we do."
Metchan looked at Hera. "That's all we demand, though we do have a time limit that demands them to renew their vows periodically."
Hera looked a little startled, she'd never thought of that. It was a very interesting idea, and one that might solve many of the modern problems the mortals were having. "Really? How long?"
"The first term of marriage is a year. If they don't renew their vows, then the marriage is annulled. After that, they can petition for it to be permanent or for one, five, ten, or twenty years. How do you do it?"
"Our godly vows are usually binding until death separates them, or they petition me to personally annul it." She smiled. "Though, your way makes more sense." She smiled at the children. "We will follow Migrid's way of dealing with marriage. You will have a year to see if this marriage suits you and then you may renew it with us in a more permanent fashion." She clapped her hands and a small chalice appeared. "Sip only," she warned, holding it so Migrid could sip it. "With this ambrosia, I gift you with the powers of this pantheon as well as your own."
Artten created a small grape-looking thing and held it out to Bliss. "Eat this and join us as your wife joins you." Bliss slurped it out of her fingers and munched happily, smiling at her. "Good boy." She sighed as she looked at Cupid. "Did you want them first or us?"
"I think we should take them first," Hera suggested. "If they're going to be a bridge, they should be able to help us deal with the formal setup of the embassy down here."
Xander cleared his throat. "If I may? What about Meseir? Could he travel with them and act as a chaperone?"
"Who is Meseir?" Hera asked.
"Our God of Protection," Grethen said, smiling at Xander. "A very wise idea. He would be impartial."
"He's a doggie," Migrid told Hera. "He bites the bad guys for us and they run away screaming. He's nice though, he plays and loves everybody!"
Hera smiled down at the children. "I think that would be an excellent idea then. It would ease the worry of both sets of parents. I'll set Ares to teach the Hounds of War to watch over them also while they're here."
Artten smiled. "I'm rather surprised he isn't here."
Hera chuckled. "We thought the children were joking."
"Ah." Artten took her wife's hand and lifted her head up. "All Gods aligned to us, hear us. Our daughter Migrid has made a marriage of alliance with Bliss, son of Cupid, of the Sol's Greek pantheon. All will hark to this union and accept it as we do!"
Hera cleared her throat. "Gods and Goddesses of Olympus, hear me. Bliss has been joined in marriage to Migrid, Goddess of ...."
Grethen smiled sadly. "We don't know. All our other Gods were known at birth, but her affinity has never shown up."
"Goddess of our new allies," Hera finished. "This trial marriage will act as a bonding to our two pantheons and *ALL* will respect and honor it!"
Zeus flashed into the room. "Don't you think he's a little young for that?" he asked, seeming to be kind. He couldn't be sure if Hera was in one of her moods or not. He smiled at Migrid. "I'm sure you're a very nice Goddess, but...."
Bliss pulled his wife behind him and glared at his great-grandfather. "Mine!" he shouted. "You no take!"
Zeus looked at Hera, who shrugged. "They did it on their own," Hera told him calmly.
"I see." Zeus nodded, then he noticed the strangers. "And you are?"
"I am Grethen, Migrid's mother."
"I am Artten, I bore Migrid and am her other mother."
"I see." Zeus found the lone mortal and frowned at him. "Don't we not like you?"
"No, some of us like him," Aphrodite told him. "He's an anchor, he's supposed to stand up to you." She ran a hand over her new outfit. "He's cherished by mine and Ares' Houses."
"That's nice," Zeus said, still frowning at Xander. "And what is your part in this?"
"He's one of the diplomats that introduced us ta that pantheon," Strife told him. "Unc!"
Ares appeared, running a hand through his sweaty hair. "What? I was in sword practice with Jace." He looked down at Bliss, then at his mother. "I heard. What did you need?"
"We'd like for your hounds to give them some extra protection, Ares," Hera said lightly. "They're sending a protector with Migrid, but I thought it'd be nice to add to it as they're so young."
Ares shrugged. "Okay. I've got a few new ones in training. It'll be good practice to guard and hunt them down." He looked at Zeus, then around the room, nodding at Artten. He finally stopped at Aphrodite, Hephaestus, Cupid, Strife, and Xander. His mouth opened a few times, then he licked his lips. "Your doing?" he asked Xander, pointing at the unusual outfits. Xander nodded, beaming happily. He licked his lips again. "Good work. I'll come see you later about making something for Jace." He looked at Aphrodite's outfit again. "Nothing that...ornate, but something nice." He shook his head and looked at the children again. "Want to hold the reception at my temple?"
Bliss grinned at him. "Sure! You make good ice cream!" He bounced, hugging his wife to him. "We go with you?"
"Sure. Let me warn Jace." Ares looked toward his temple as a scream floated out, then shrugged. "She's in the shower. Come on, I'll take you two personally so the bigger Gods can talk." He held out a hand and both children took them, then they disappeared.
Hera smiled at the foreign Goddesses. "Please, come celebrate with us. Any little details can be worked out there." She took Zeus's hand and disappeared. They didn't have to worry about word of the party spreading, any party was nearly instantly known about on Olympus and everyone would show up soon enough.
Strife grinned at Xander. "You wanna stay?"
"No, I wanna go home and be with my furries and wait on my Oz," Xander told him, giving him a hug. "Thanks for letting me make the present."
Strife blew a kiss. "Dude, we couldn't have picked a better person with an arrow." He sent Xander back home, letting him land on his bed.
Cupid grinned at Strife. "I bet you're getting a power boost," he accused in a teasing manner.
"Who, me?" Strife asked, then he disappeared.
Aphrodite took her husband's arm and sent them both to Ares' temple just the way they were. The other Goddesses were gonna be *green*!
A few minutes later, Discord's voice floated out on the air. "Damn, girl! I want one of those!"
Strife yelled, "It's a Xander creation. Just wait until you see the removable jewel."
"Well, shit! He hates me, I'll never get one of those." The sound of happy vibrations and a trilling scale of happy squeals. "I want one!" Eris complained.
TO BE CONTINUED...