Visiting the Buddies.

Methos finished helping Queen Nethisha into her human-style dress, considering how the fabric laid over her own breast cups. "It looks good enough." He handed her a jacket, a hat, and a pair of sunglasses. "There you are, it should be fine, even if home is a bit bright for you." He walked her out of his and Ray's room, letting Sam get a look first.

"Looking good," Sam told her, holding out a hand. "Come on, let's get you onto the base. General Hammond will need to approve your visit to Earth." She smiled at Methos. "Thanks for the help. I have no desire to keep up with current fashion."

"We only do it ta help Xander," Ray noted from Oz's room. He followed his mate down the stairs. "Want our help sneakin' her onto the base?" he asked Sam at the front door.

She shook her head. "I think he's expecting this." She let the Queen get onto the cart taking them to the portal first, following her security guard. "We'll be back in a few days, maybe with the Xander." She waved as they took off.

***

General Hammond looked up as someone tapped on his door. "Come!" he called, closing the file he was working on. The woman standing in the doorway was unfamiliar to him, but she looked like someone.... Sam walked in, leading the woman inside. "Captain?" he asked.

"Sir, Queen Nethisha would like permission to go talk to Xander. She thinks she can make him feel better and make him come back." She helped Nethisha into a chair. "You don't have to wear the glasses in here," she told her. "That's sun protection for when you go outside."

The General looked at his subordinate, almost in shock. "She wants to do what?"

Nethisha took off the sunglasses and looked at the General. "I think I can solve some of the problems he had when he left," she explained quietly. "He was feeling very....upset?" Sam nodded at the word choice. "Upset about what some of our people were thinking in regards to him and his training." The General nodded, he knew exactly why Xander had left early. "It's been very lonely up there without him. The diplomats aren't nearly as effective, or as efficient, as he was when he was up there with them. We'd like him back."

The General leaned back and considered the situation.

"Sir," Sam said before he could say anything. "You did say that we were going to bring Siblinth over to check out our atmosphere. Nethisha herself can do that, and she's brought one of her bodyguards with her, she's waiting out in the hall. We know where Xander is."

He nodded. "I have the local base watching over him. He's in Sunnydale. He left for about a day, but he's back home now." He looked at Nethisha. "You do know that if you have problems, it could wreck this whole process?"

She smiled. "I know. I also know quite a lot about your world. I know how overcrowded it is. I know how pollution is killing many of your people. I even know that someone with more sensitive mental skills would find your world uncomfortable." She leaned forward. "Consider this a trip to make sure that our physiology is compatible with your atmosphere. I'd even consider a more formal meeting if it'd make you feel better."

The General waved a hand. "Not my area. I'm going to have to call and ask for permission though. It'll take a few minutes."

"May I take her and her guard down to the commissary?" Sam asked.

"Dismissed," the General said, starting to smile. He looked at the Queen. "I'd probably be doing the same thing after nearly two years with Xander," he told her. She laughed as she walked out and he grabbed his special red phone. "This is General Hammond, I have a report to make," he announced when it was answered on the other end. "Yes, sir," he said with a smile. "Yes, sir, just as you expected, but it's Queen Nethisha herself, sir. Yes, sir, he's in Sunnydale. Yes, in California, sir. With a bodyguard." He laughed. "Yes, sir, she even offered to make this a semi- official visit if you wanted." He sighed. "Yes, sir. I'll call someone from over there to escort her. No, sir, she's here right now. I was going to send Captain Carter with her. Yes, sir. I can do that. I'll call ahead to the base there and have them ready for a tour from your Chief of Staff." He hung up and groaned. This could get very bad if something happened. He pushed a button on his phone. "Get Captain Carter and her guests up here as soon as they're done eating," he ordered his secretary. "They've been approved." He let the button go and tapped his fingers. He really wanted more guards for her than just Captain Carter, not that she couldn't defend both women very well, but it was just too much to chance. He pushed the button again. "Get Oz or Adam back over here to go with them." He let it go and leaned back to relax for a few minutes. "This could either go very well or very bad," he told himself. "Better safe than sorry." He flipped open the folder and got back to work.

***

Xander opened the door, frowning at the woman standing there. "Nethisha?" he asked.

She pulled him into her arms and gave him a hug. "We missed you."

He got free and let her, Sam, and their guards into the house. "Want something to drink?"

"Do you have any of that beer stuff?" Nethisha asked. "I found it quite enjoyable on the plane."

"Yeah, I think so. Sam?"

"Water?"

"Yeah, got that too." He headed into the kitchen, coming back a few minutes later with tray of drinks for everyone. "Tea?" he suggested to the guards. "It's sweetened." He still looked confused. "Why did you come here?"

"Because you weren't at the dinner last night and I didn't have time to tell you about my second grandchild." She smiled at him. "We missed you, silly."

Xander grinned. "I miss you guys too." He was pulled up by her guard and sat next to her instead of across from her. "Thanks," he squeaked as the Queen snuggled into his side. "But what about ...."

"They've figured out that life is much more boring without you there. And Oz is miserable," she added as his confused look started to return. "Silly boy," she chided gently, kissing him on the cheek. "We all missed you. Even the diplomats have forgotten how to have fun." When he still looked confused, she sighed. "Xander, will you please come back?"

He nodded. "If I'm allowed."

"You're allowed," Sam said before sipping her water. "Everyone wants you back. You seemed to create a balance for the more serious discussions."

He nodded again. "Okay, but it'll take me a few days to pack everything up. I mean the animals and everything."

Sam snorted. "Have one of the housekeepers come take care of them for the next month or so. Oz said that you're almost done." Xander looked at her. "They can take care of them, right?" He nodded, starting to look dumbstruck. "So let one of them come take care of the animals. You'll be back in a month for a break."

The military guard shrieked and moved away from the ferret trying to crawl up him. "You've got big damn rats! New York sewer rats!" he yelled in a strong Southern accent.

"It's a ferret," Xander said dryly. "They only bite when you scare them." He put a hand down and sucked through his teeth, making a whistling noise. The ferret came running over for head scratches. "They're not rats, they're possum and skunk cousins," he educated. "They're mostly friendly. They even like to cuddle." He pulled the ferret up and let Nethisha pet her. "This one is Marykins, named by one of the boys."

"Boys?" the guard asked, starting to calm down.

"One of my housekeepers has a set of twin boys. They named this whole set of babies." He handed Nethisha the ferret. "I have dogs and cats too if you'd like to go look at them." The guard shook his head. "Okay, but fair warning, they're all cuddly and you're in the direct sunlight." He looked at his buddy again. "I can call Henri now, but she won't get here for another two days."

"That's fine," Sam told him. "We're staying on base tonight." He gave her a dirty look. "She's got a meeting tomorrow and it's more secure."

"She's staying here tonight," Xander said, starting to pout. "I've got a wonderful set of guest rooms, as you know, and it's all but impossible to find the road up here. She can go to the base tomorrow." He stood up. "Let me go get the rooms ready. I'll go get dinner tonight."

"You take care of this house by yourself?" the Queen's guard asked.

"Not usually," he said with a grin. "Our housekeepers are at the other houses." He stood up. "Wait here, or go out by the pool. The pollution problems are almost gone." He hurried up the stairs to make sure the guest rooms were ready for habitation. This was so important, he didn't want to mess this up. Oz would never let him live it down if he screwed this up. He patted a wrinkle on a bedspread down nervously, wondering where they were going to get dinner from. He picked up the phone and dialed Spike and Seth, they never cooked, but Seth liked to eat mortal food. "Where do you order from?" he asked when it was answered. The connection was hung up. So he tried again. "Get my brother Seth on the phone now," he ordered. He looked up as the military guard walked in. "Hold on, trying to find a good restaurant." He smiled. "Seth, where do you order from? And that minion was really not nice, he hung up on me." He laughed. "Good food? Like human food?" He nodded and grabbed the pad beside the phone, writing down the information. "Any suggestions? No, you can't come up. Because I can't let you. Because I'm going to get into trouble if you do," he sighed. "Trust me, you'll know *all* about it in a year." He wrote something else. "Thanks, bro." He hung up. "I haven't been back long enough to know where to order from," he explained. He stood up and smoothed out the bed again, and the paper went into his pocket. "This is usually Sam's room when she's here. You can have the one next door. Nethisha can have the one at the other end of the hall, it's really nice and connects with the other room through the bathroom." He walked away.

"Sir, I don't think that ordering out is that good of an idea."

Xander smiled at him. "I can't cook," he admitted. "The last meal I tried to cook turned ribs into jerky." The soldier winced. "So we're ordering out. I'll let you go get it if it makes you feel better though." He headed to the other end of the hall to check on those rooms. He ran into Sam on the stairs. "Your room's ready. Put Nethisha in the guest suite at the other end." He hugged her. "I'm going to get you for dropping in like this," he whispered in her ear. Then he trotted down the stairs to go talk with his other guests. He found Nethisha near the pool, looking suspiciously at the water. "We swim in it," he told her. She gave him a disbelieving look. "Really." He stripped down to his thong and climbed into the shallow end, holding out his hands. "Come on, I'll show you if you want."

She sat down on the edge, smiling when he took off her shoes. "You don't wear those?"

"Not to swim. It makes it really difficult. That's an advanced skill." He tossed the shoes aside and nodded at the guard. "You can come in too if you want, just to make sure she's safe." The guard took off her shoes too. "Strip down some more, too many clothes can make you drown." The guard got down to her breast cups and underwear before climbing in. She stood beside Xander, mimicking his position.

Nethisha stood up and stripped down too, then sat back down and let the two people she trusted help her into the water. She squealed as it rushed over her body, but calmed down when she realized she could stand up too. She shrieked as Xander tipped her back. "What are you doing?"

"Showing you how to float, it's a basic skill in swimming." He grinned at her. "I'm not going to let you go. Your guard's right here too." He braced her better as she relaxed. "Just float. It's very comforting."

"Xander!" Sam yelled from upstairs, the window opening and her head coming out. "What are you doing?"

"She wanted to know what the pool was for," he called back. "She's safe. I was a certified lifeguard." He turned his attention back to the woman in his arms, who was smiling with her eyes closed. "This is called floating," he explained. "Later we can work on actual swimming." She opened her eyes to look at him. "Swimming is an intentional moving through water in a direction. Floating is laying there and going wherever the water's current takes you."

"Oh." She shifted and he helped her stand up. "Do all humans know how to do this?"

Xander shook his head. "Nope. Not everyone lives near water, but I'd say at least three-quarters of us do."

"Probably closer to half," the soldier said as he walked out. "Sir, may we please get her out of the pool? We don't know how the local water will act on her system."

Xander handed Nethisha out, letting her guard get out ahead of him. "It should be fine. Sunnydale had an air pollution problem, but the water's pretty clean." He walked over to the cabinet between the chairs, pulling out towels for them all. "Can you show them to their rooms? I'm going to call for dinner."

"Nothing too spicy, sir."

Xander grinned. "I was going to get a good selection and let them pick through it. Nibbling is better in situations like this, that's what they did for us." He headed into the house.

Nethisha's guard looked at her Queen. "Do you feel all right?" she asked.

Nethisha smiled brightly. "I feel wonderful. That was a most stimulating feeling, almost like being weightless." She wrapped the towel around herself and followed the soldier into the house. "Do our rooms have a bathing chamber?" she asked.

"Yes, ma'am," he replied. "You're going to be sharing one with your guard. That way she can come to you if you need her."

"I usually sleep on the foot of her bed," the guard told him.

"Our beds are probably shorter than yours," he told her. "I'll show you." He let them into Nethisha's room, opening the bathroom door for them. "This is the bathing chamber, ma'am. Through the other door is your guard's room if she wants her own." The woman opened the door hiding the toilet and looked at him. "Not that one." He slid open the door to the other room, smiling when she walked in. "Xander should be back soon. Can I show you how to operate anything?"

"I've got it," Sam called as she walked in. She walked into the bathroom and smiled at him. "Don't worry about it." He gave her a small, grateful smile and left the women alone. "Okay, so, separate rooms or not?" she asked.

The guard smiled at her. "I think we can figure things out." She pointed at the door for the toilet. "Waste reclamation?"

"Waste, yes, reclamation, no. We have special processing plants for that stuff." She pointed at the shower. "This is to get clean, or to wash off the pool water." She pointed at one. "That one's cold, the other's hot. The little pull knob turns it from a bath into a shower and the lower pull knob blocks the drain." She stood back up. "Unfortunately, ours don't move the way yours do," she explained.

Nethisha smiled at her. "That's all right. We've actually been places where our bath was in a smaller container."

"With a sponge," the guard agreed.

Sam chuckled. "Oh, I've been there too. But this is much nicer." She bowed. "I'm down the hall if you need anything. I dropped your extra clothes on your bed, Nethisha." She backed out and walked away.

"They make things seem so complicated," Nethisha sighed.

"Well, she did have a point. We wouldn't have wanted to blunder into things we didn't understand," the guard told her. "You never know, some aliens might not have waste functions like we do." She checked around the bathroom, opening the drawers to find the stocked supplies. "I wonder what these are?" she asked, pulling out a little foil square. "Condom?" she read.

"Ah, a human method of birth control. I had wondered." She snatched it and opened the foil, after some struggle. She held it out, watching as it was unrolled. "How do they use that?"

The soldier tapped on the main room's door. "Ma'am, dinner is in about an hour if you wanted a nap," he called.

"Can you please come explain this to us?" Nethisha called. He walked in and grimaced when he saw what she was holding. "It was explained to us that this was a method of birth control, but how do you use it?" He blushed a bright red. "Should we ask Sam? Or Xander?"

"What?" Xander called, walking in. "Oh, a condom." He leaned in and whispered in her ear. She looked enlightened and nodded. "That's how you use those. We have a female version too, but it's harder to use and I don't understand that one at all. You'd have to ask Sam." He patted the soldier on the back. "Don't worry, man, I wrote porn for a living for a while." He smiled at Nethisha. "You've got about an hour before he can go pick up dinner if you want to nap or bathe. I'll be downstairs if you want me, with the animals." He bowed. "Did you need anything else explained to you?" She shook her head. "Coolness. Later." He walked out, dragging the soldier with him.

"Thank you," the soldier said hoarsely. "I don't think I could have explained that. I didn't listen very well when I learned as a young man."

"For many guys, it's almost instinctive," Xander reminded him. "Sorta like how you can't explain how to pick up a glass." He shrugged at the confused look the soldier had on his face. "You might not want to go into my writing room. It's got some very...pornographic images in it." He walked away. "I'm going to clean litterboxes."

The soldier looked after him. This was their favorite diplomat?

***

Nethisha leaned over and picked some of the beef off Sam's plate to taste it. "That's interesting," she said as she grabbed her glass of wine to drink some. She winced. "That didn't taste that good together."

Sam grinned. "I know. Xander's spoiling me by giving me this. He knows it'll ruin my figure." She held up her glass of tea. "This goes much better with what I'm eating. The wine probably was chosen to go with the rest of the meal."

Xander nodded, his mouth was full. "Definitely," he said once his mouth was clear. "I picked it just for our stuff, though I think beer goes better with that jerked beef." He wrapped a noodle around his fork. "Eat, guys, I'm not going to have leftovers." He ate the noodle.

Nethisha leaned back on the couch, eating more of the assorted foods on her plate. "Is this common fare?"

The soldier snickered. "No, ma'am, but we didn't want to pollute you with fast food."

Xander glared at him. "No, it's not usual, but neither is fast food. We'll do the more usual stuff tomorrow." He smiled at her. "Before your meeting, we'll let you pick what you want to taste. We have *some* groceries in the house and I can almost bet Sam can probably cook something." Sam raised an eyebrow. "I can't cook," he reminded her. "You banned me from the kitchen in the off-world home." She nodded. "So, you get cooking duties tomorrow."

"Sir, I could probably do some of it," the soldier suggested. "My mother's an excellent cook and she made all us kids learn because otherwise we'd starve once we were on our own."

Xander smiled at him. "Okay. Have fun. We have a fully-stocked kitchen with everything you should need, unless you need something in the food department. There's not much in there."

"What's this pizza stuff Oz was talking about the other day?" Nethisha's guard asked. "He made it sound quite good."

Xander nodded. "It is. We've got one frozen in the freezer. It's not as good as the ones Oz likes, but it's decent enough. I'll bake it for a snack." He pointed at the fettuccine alfredo. "Want more of that?" Nobody said anything so he took some more, leaving about a serving. "So, who's coming tomorrow?"

"Someone in the Chief of Staff's office," Sam told him. The soldier looked at him. "He helped escort the President around when he visited Nethisha's people," she told him. "He's got the security clearance to know."

"Is it that older grumpy man or the younger one?" Nethisha asked. "I quite liked talking to both of them."

"We're not sure yet. There's a problem with the schedules so they're sending whichever one can get free," Sam explained. She yawned. "I think I'm going to go to bed early," she announced. She tucked her jerked beef back into the container and got up to put it into the fridge. "Yell if you need anything," she told them as she started up the stairs.

Xander smiled at Nethisha. "Did you need anything for your room?"

"Just a little help with the lighting devices. They don't seem to work the same way." She scraped her plate. "Remind me that I want to bring some of our own food down when we come. There's some things we could add to the native diet that might be of some pleasure."

"Those little bland things would be nice," Xander told her. "They're good for everybody."

"Good point," Nethisha's guard agreed, smiling at him. "Maybe we'll host a feast or something once we're all settled in."

"That's not such a bad idea," Xander said thoughtfully. "It might solve a lot of worries if they see you're like the people they're used to." He shrugged off his thoughts. "We'll deal with it when it's time." He stood up. "Not to be a bad host, but I'm tired too. I'll see you in the morning." He walked away, heading up to his room.

Nethisha smiled at her guards. "I think this will be a most profitable and exciting excursion."

"Probably," her bodyguard agreed. She took the rest of the alfredo dish for herself. It was quite good, if a bit rich.

***

Xander smiled as he opened the door for the Deputy Chief of Staff. "Hi," he said, allowing him into the house. "Good trip?"

"Long trip," he corrected. "I had to fly commercial." Josh looked around the house. "This is nice."

"Thank you. It's been a great place to live." He waved toward the living room. "Nethisha's not up yet. Apparently they came over just as their sleep cycles were about to hit."

"So, most of the day?" he guessed.

"Probably," Xander agreed. "Can I help you with their official premiere? I've got a few contacts and can plan things really well."

Josh shrugged and pulled out the folder with all the plans. "We have them landing in New York one night, about dark, and asking for certain people to come talk to them."

"Make it the police chief or whomever first," Xander suggested. "Let him calm some fears. They've got to know something's going to happen."

Josh nodded and made a note. "We hadn't thought about that. It would help control the panic." He read over the plans. "Have them send for an official?" Xander nodded. "That's good. Then maybe have him announce that they'd like to open official diplomatic missions?" Xander nodded again. "That's good. Of course, the Mayor of New York would want to get in on it."

"And he probably will, but have him do it in the morning, with the President." He looked at a nearby calendar. "Won't we have another one by then?"

"Yes, and President Bartlet's going to be there, but he's also going to be briefing this new one about the upcoming event." He smiled. "We've met with both possible candidate's camps and explained that there's things that the President will have to tell them before they take office. They agreed, though they probably think it's something more minor." He shrugged. "They'll find out."

"Can you have Hammond in the group of military personnel?" Xander asked. "She knows him, it'll calm her people down if he's there."

"We'll have to have a few military liaisons," Josh agreed. "We can sneak him in as an assistant to one of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. They'd probably agree readily, especially once they found out what was going on."

"He's going to be briefing for *days*," Xander noted with a grin.

"Yes, he will," Josh sighed. "We'll all have to talk to him. I'll have to brief the new Chief of Staff and his deputy about this if the President doesn't." He put down the folder. "Then we're stumped. We don't know what happens next."

"A picnic," Xander suggested. Josh opened his mouth. "No, listen. This way, people can get a good look at them, watch them eat and everything, and nothing that's said can be totally private. A picnic in the middle of the park with the world leaders and the press."

"Or a dinner," Josh agreed. "But that would take some doing."

"Not if you do it as a picnic, then you could get *someone* to make the food. You could even brief them the night before. Oh, they have a problem with some of the berries and citrus fruit. And peanuts, but not peanut oil. The nuts make them high."

"Good to know," Josh said with a smile. "Then what would you do?"

"The usual speeches?"

"We counted on them."

"After the picnic. This way everyone would be clear about what was said and the press could go over their tapes of the event and get lip readers to work on it. Oh, Nethisha and her daughter both still have to struggle for the right word on occasion. That might want to be taken into account."

"But they both speak English?"

"Almost everybody we've run into speaks some," Xander told him. "But I would definitely put an open, food, meet-and-greet event before the speeches. That way the politicians would have something to say," he noted dryly."Is there going to be a new Mayor of New York?" Josh shook his head. "You might want to warn him about time issues then. He was on the news last night for over half an hour and all he said was we'll be the world's most popular city again, the tourists will come back.'" Josh laughed. "Maybe a speech writer for him?"

"Maybe," Josh agreed.

"Okay, then we have to narrow it down to the guest list."

"The new Prez and his staff. Our Prez and my boss are going. I might be there. Our communications person is going because she's got the clout in the news outlets." He looked up.

"That leaves military people, New York people, and press." Xander leaned back, getting comfortable. "Can you pick who to bring? Maybe warn them not to freak and say stupid stuff?"

"We can try," Josh agreed. "Most of the military leaders won't be diplomatic though."

"Then we'll set them with the military liaison so they can be paranoid together," Xander said dryly. Josh snickered again. "The New York Mayor, your boss, both Prez's, and the higher people sitting around Nethisha and her group. I still say something like a picnic. Otherwise you'll get people who'll claim that they're being mind controlled."

"That's true," Josh sighed. "Out in the open would be better. What if it rains?"

"They've got force fields and we've got tents. It should be okay. Have you picked a landing spot?"

"Central Park."

"Make it a clearer area, or put one of the clearings near there. Somewhere innocent but that will allow only a *certain* amount of people into the area."

"We've figured out here," Josh said as he pulled out a map. "There's a clearing on the other side of a line of trees that's just about as large. It's not near the water so the environmentalists can't complain."

Xander stared at the map, then nodded. "It'll also allow you to limit the number of people around the ship itself. Who are you letting know before hand?" Josh tried to look clueless. "Oh, please. Someone has to get there first."

"We're thinking NBC because our Communications Director likes them. If not, maybe a CNN affiliate."

"NBC is good. Which brings up another point. I have a small contact with the Leno show." Josh's mouth fell open. "It would allay fears. Nothing harmful would ever go on the interview circuit. Have her do Walters the same morning?"

"I like that," Josh agreed. "I'd have to get permission."

"Hey, my phones and email both work. Oh, need anything from the kitchen? I need to talk to my editor today and I usually do that in the kitchen so I have something to do while we talk."

"No, thanks. Which way to the office?"

"This hallway to the left," Xander said, pointing at the hallway. "The second room with all the books." He stood up in one fluid motion. "If you say it's okay, I'll get Leno tonight." He headed for the kitchen, going to make himself some nibbles while he talked to his editor about the latest book.

Josh headed for the office, peering into the rooms. One of them made him blush, and one of them was filled with animals begging for attention, but they were all nice. A few of the puppies followed him into the office, helping him call the White House.

***

Xander leaned on the kitchen counter. "Really, it's Xander Harris. Yeah, he'll know," he sighed. "Just put it through." He tapped his fingers, waiting while they got Jay. "Hey," he said happily. "How would you like the biggest exclusive of your life?" He laughed. "No, I'm not coming out as straight. I'm talking really big. Like national level big." He smiled. "Thought so. Because I hate that other guy and it's important that we show that this person is harmless. No, Jay, it's not some sort of animal/person hybrid." He looked at Josh, who shrugged. "I'm not on speaker, right?" The phone clicked in his ear. "Have you read my newest ones?" He grinned. "Thanks. How would you like to talk to someone about them?" He laughed, putting the call on speaker. "Really, Jay, honestly."

"You're joking, right?"

"Not joking. Just save a day sometime in the week after October eight. One whole show saved. You'll want it open."

"Xander, this is really risky."

"Hey, you could always do a backup show. We know you have at least one set of complete interviews that were never used," Xander reminded him. "Put me on there if you want."

"I've been meaning to write and ask. As retold by you?"

Xander snorted. "I can't claim to have written them, Jay. I just wrote them down in English."

"That's for real?" Jay breathed. "No way. This is some elaborate joke."

"It's not," Josh said quietly, coming closer. "Mr. Leno, this is...."

"Josh Lyman, Deputy Chief of Staff," Jay finished. "I've heard you speak before. This is for real? Like really real?"

"Definitely real," Xander agreed. "And they're very harmless. And kinda funny sometimes, but really nice. We'd like for you to start them off because you're so good at interviewing people who haven't had that experience before."

"We're planning on having one before you, but not in your market," Josh added.

"Barbra gets them first?" Jay asked. The sound of flesh hitting flesh. "Of course she would. They're women-run." Tapping fingers. "They'll agree to come on?"

"It's a wonderful thing," Xander agreed. "I know the Queen. I think she'd enjoy it. She's always looking for really fun and exciting experiences. We might even be able to get them to bring one of the cats."

"*Telepathic* cats?" Jay asked, sounding shocked. "Will it transmit?"

"Probably not," Xander admitted. "But they're very impressive. About the size of a mountain lion. Pure black with one exception."

"Leave the animals. And you're coming too," Jay said firmly.

"Cool with me," Xander agreed. "I plan on being around for a lot of it. Oh, and if you have doubts after the eighth, come see me." He hung up. "So?" he asked Josh.

"We can't openly show you," he warned.

"I'm going to be listed as part of the human people's welcoming crew. I've already arranged that part with your Prez." His grin got brighter. "Have sunglasses there. Nethisha's very sun sensitive. Oh, they're allergic to coconuts too. It's a hive sort of allergy, even when eaten."

"Good to know," Josh said, making notes in his file. "Well, we've got everything planned. How much longer do we have?"

"Six months, our time, to get everything done. Can you convince Barbara Walters to free up a space?"

"I think she'll come to us," Josh said knowingly. "I can call her though."

"My phone is yours to use," Xander said, moving away from it and heading for the fridge. "We've got tea if you want some."

"No thanks."

"Human tea, not off-world."

Josh smiled at him. "I'm fine. I drank a lot of water on the way over and I just had lunch." He called CJ Craig, their Communications Director. "Hey, it's me. We've got everything set up, including a spot on Leno a week after they're back. Can you get Walters for us for that same day?" He laughed and put her on speaker phone. "Seriously. How harmful can she be if she's on Leno?"

"It was my idea," Xander called.

"Who's that?"

"Xander Harris," Josh told her. "Nethisha's sleeping. It's their sleep cycle right now."

"That's right, it's three of our days to one of theirs."

"And about two and a half hours," Xander added. "But they'll probably sleep one day out of every three." He carried over a plate. "Josh thought that Barbara Walters would kill for her chance."

"She would," CJ agreed. "What do we tell her though?"

"Tell her to save a day about a week after the eighth," Xander suggested. "That there's an exclusive interview, followed by Leno, with the world's biggest story. But you can't brief her until the eighth."

"I could do an interview now," Nethisha suggested as she walked down the stairs. "Xander, your beds are very soft." She kissed him on the cheek. "It was very different."

"Did you sleep all right?" he asked, looking her over. He motioned her over and helped her button the shirt correctly. "I always start at the bottom," he suggested quietly. "And we don't want you to do one yet. Wait until you're officially here."

She nodded. "That makes sense. But I really could do with something more to do while I wait on you."

Xander kissed her on the cheek. "It's up to you, Josh," he said as he handed her his tea. "Did the animals bother you?"

"No, they were quite nice. Almost as nice as sleeping with the cubs." She looked at Josh. "Is everything set for us to come down?"

"Nearly. We've got a full set of plans, if you like them then they'll be set."

"Wait, I need to know," CJ reminded him. "What did you plan?" A door slammed on her end. "We're alone now. Go ahead."

"We planned on the space already. Xander suggested that the first official meeting take place outside so no one could be accused of brain manipulations."

"Eww," Nethisha put in. "We'd never do that."

"Yes, but humans can be paranoid assholes," Xander reminded her. She smiled and patted the side of his face. "This way there can't be any major difficulties for you from people like that."

"Hold on," CJ told them. "Let me go get Leo into this." She put them on hold and the music started.

A few minutes later, someone picked up. "Hello?"

"We're on hold for CJ," Josh told her. "Official business."

"Thank you, sir. Just checking." She put them back on hold.

A minute after that, a gruff voice came on the other end. "That was fast work, Josh. What did you plan?"

"Well," Xander said, grinning at Josh. "How about a diplomatic picnic?"

"It was suggested that there are paranoid assholes on this planet by an inhabitant and rightly pointed out that it would relieve some accusations."

"Good point. Can we do that?" Leo asked.

"It'd probably be better," CJ put in. "We could wait to brief a chef."

"We'd like to bring down some of our own foods," Nethisha put in. "For our first official banquet or whatever?"

"That would be great for the second or third day," Leo said, his voice turning away from the speaker. "CJ?"

"Third day. Have them land one night, ask to speak to someone that night. Next day is the official meetings. Second day, let everyone cool down and regroup, brief and worry, then the next is the official banquet from their side. Outside?"

"We could," Josh agreed. He looked at her. "What sort of setup would you need to cook for roughly a hundred people?"

"A large oven and my chefs," Nethisha said with a shrug. "I don't cook."

"They bake, they boil, and they pit barbeque," Xander told him. "Probably all of those for this sort of event." He looked at Nethisha. "Are you bringing a supply ship too?"

"It might be for the best, have it openly in orbit?" she suggested.

"That would be best," Leo agreed. "We can set that up. Even on a rush basis that shouldn't be too bad. Food Network would let us use their staff?"

CJ made a choking noise."They would," she agreed when she quit coughing. "It's a good idea too. The chefs could talk food and we'd be able to put them forward to say nothing went wrong. Just not Emeril, he'd steal the show."

"Or the arrogant guy," Xander put in. "He's mean." He looked at Josh. "But the Good Eats guy is science guy and Mario is probably around. Along with a lot of the better known chefs."

"True," CJ agreed. "And if we taped it, then it could be shown later."

"My head chef might not like that," Nethisha put in,"but I can make her see sense about it. She's very shy," she explained at Josh's look. "She became a chef so no one would have to see her working."

"Oh." He nodded. "We have some chefs that are nearly celebrities but we'll try to keep them away from her." He turned back to the phone. "We figured out that we'd have to brief the top police in New York a few days before, that they'll make first contact and ask them what they want. Then have their Commissioner ask for higher people. Sneak Hammond into the Joint Chief's staff people so he can brief them and be there in case there's any problems. Our Prez, the new Prez, you Leo, me possibly, and whomever the new Prez wants to bring. Let the second day deal with the other world leaders, which will give us enough time to talk to them. Third day for a banquet from their side and more discussion for the next few days. The last day of the first week, Barbara and Leno."

"Leno?" Leo asked. "You got her on Leno?"

"No, I got her on Leno," Xander told him. "He's a really nice guy and he's good at interviewing people who haven't done a lot of it." He looked at Nethisha. "I'll show you his show tonight. He's the only one who interviewed me about my earlier books. He's a nice guy."

"I know he is," Leo agreed, "but Leno?"

"It'll prove they're not here to take over," Josh explained. "No one harmful would ever go on Leno."

"Good point," CJ agreed, sounding like she was smiling. "It's not a hard week, it should be fine. There's enough space in there for emergencies and meetings."

"I really could talk with someone while I'm here," Nethisha offered again.

"I'll set it up right now, if Mr. Harris will lend us his home," CJ told her.

"Sure. I need to clean a room and the animals' room, but it should be fine." He looked at Josh. "I have an illusion to put on too," he mouthed. Josh nodded. "Call her up and send her. Want me to call Jay and ask him to come up too?"

"No, that's okay. Let him be surprised. People will believe Barbra more," Leo told him. "Jay will meet her that day."

Xander patted Nethisha on the arm. "It'll be okay. Just one more day."

"Can you teach me more of this swimming?"

"Of course."

"My Queen," her guard yelled.

"Down here," she called back. The guard came running down. "I came down early," she admitted with a smile. "Xander's going to teach me more about swimming."

"Yes, my Lady," the guard agreed. "We should probably eat first though."

"If you eat first, then you can't go in for an hour," Xander told them. "It can cause stomach cramps." The guard nodded. "Then go ahead and raid the fridge. We don't stand on ceremony around here."

"Don't cook?" Leo asked, sounding like he was smiling.

"I once turned ribs into jerky," Xander told him. "We ordered out last night." He looked at Josh. "Is that all that we needed to do?"

"As far as I know. Can you guys think of anything that we missed?" Josh asked.

"Not a one," Leo admitted. "You did good, kid. Stay there until Barbara leaves." Their end hung up.

Josh turned to look at the women raiding the refrigerator. "Try the cheese," he suggested. "It's subtle, but good." The block of cheese was pulled out and Josh nodded Xander off to the side. "What else did you need to do?"

"I need to clean the animal room, put on my illusion so I look like I've aged some, and clean a room for their use. The rest of the house should be all right and my housekeeper is coming tomorrow if we need that long."

"Good. Go do that." He watched as the younger man left. "So," he said, smiling at the women. "Are you excited about setting up a new diplomatic mission?"

"Yes," Nethisha told him, smiling back at him. "It's very interesting, how you humans interact. Somewhat backwards, but entertaining." She handed over some bread.

"Use the darker, smaller loaf," he suggested. "It has a better flavor." He walked over to help them. "Do you get bored up there?"

"Sometimes," she agreed.

The guard nodded. "There are times when everything is the same. It's part of the reason why we've had so many problems with our fertility rates. After a while, everything's the same so why do it." She handed out a small basket of strawberries. "Can we eat these?"

"No, Xander said you were allergic to them," Josh told them."You could probably try one though, split it in half." He watched as one was split, a very ripe berry, and eaten, both women smiling. And then becoming blotchy.

Xander walked in, his hair now having some more silver in it and his face having a few more wrinkles. "Couldn't resist the strawberries?" he asked with a grin. "I feel the same way." He stole one to nibble. "Let's get a good lunch together. Sam and her buddy should be back soon." He took control of a knife, slicing up the bread for small sandwiches.

Josh watched their easiness together and marveled at it. He wasn't that comfortable with anybody.

***

Xander opened the door with a smile. "Hi. Right this way, Ms. Walters," he requested. "I'm Xander Harris and this is my home. Just ask if you can't find something." He showed her into a sitting room. "Would this room be all right for the interview?"

She smiled at him. "Just fine." She turned as Josh walked up behind Xander. "No one would tell me what this was about." She looked at Xander, then at Josh, and caught the clue. "Those people are *real*?" she asked. Xander nodded. "I get first interview?"

"But it can't go out yet," Josh explained, waving at a couch. They both sat down. "The Queen of the planet that's coming down is here right now making some last minute plans for her official debut. She requested an interview now, for whatever reason, but you'll be doing another after they've been here for a week. That same day, she'll be doing Leno and you'll be free to put the story out."

Barbra Walters looked around the room. "That's wonderful," she said finally. "Thank you for trusting me."

Xander coughed. "I'm really sorry, but I need the ferret," he said, nodding at the one trying to attack the reporter's feet. "She's being naughty, she likes shiny things."

Barbara picked it up to look at it. "Don't do that. It's not polite." She handed it back. "I don't mind animals."

"That's good, because we've got close to thirty of them running around the house," Xander quipped. "The door closes though." He got out of the single crew person's way, letting her set up the equipment. "If you need anything, I'll be down the hall."

"Freeze," she ordered. "You knew about this. I'll want to talk to you too."

Xander nodded. "Okay. Can we do mine out by the pool?" He smiled and walked away, going to check on Nethisha, who was putting back on her normal clothes. "She's here," he announced as he tapped on the door. The guard answered it, in her usual outfit. "No medals?"

"They're heavy and only for show,"she told him. "We were told to appear as our normal selves."

"That would be best," Sam agreed as she walked up behind Xander. "Have you been asked anything yet?"

"No. But I already know what I'm going to say." He gave her a hug, and the ferret baby. "Here. I'm going to go put on a different shirt. This one looks nasty, it's got a spot." He went to his room.

Nethisha walked out, adjusting her right breast cup. "All right," she announced. "I'm ready."

"Bathroom?" Sam asked with a smile. Nethisha headed that way, her guard with her, just in case.

***

Barbara walked out onto the back patio and looked around. "This is a wonderful house," she told him, sitting beside him.

"Thanks," he said with a grin. "It's everything I ever wanted." He turned to face her. "What can I answer for you? Without violating any confidences?"

She laughed. "I'm sure that will come up. Let me get the cameraman." She looked him over. "Is that an illusion?" He nodded. "Then we'll have to use a filter, just in case." She stood up. "Do they all dress like that?"

"Nethisha's from the dominant race in the Empire that her planet belongs to. That's how her people dress. There's others for the other races. Including one that doesn't wear anything except hair ornaments."

She laughed as she headed back inside, coming back with a cameraman. "All right," she said as she sat down next to him. "Let's start with how you met them."

"I was picked actually," Xander told her, getting comfortable. He smiled as one of the ferrets came running up with a brush. "You don't mind if I take care of her, do you?"

"No, go right ahead." Barbara watched as he brushed the little creature. "How were you chosen?"

"Someone else that had worked with them came to me. They knew me before she had contacted them and he knew that getting some of their history out would help when they finally came down. I happened to be between books and I'm a big fan of Nethisha's people now that I know about them."

"They said that they have some practices that could be questionable," Barbara noted. "Can you elaborate?"

"Well, we know that people will object because they're headed by women. Or because they believe in multiple marriages with both sexes."

"Yes, she told us about that. What about the slavery issue?"

"I've seen *one* the whole time I've known Nethisha. They really don't use it that much. But you've got to admit, as an alternative to the death penalty, it's effective."

"True," she agreed quickly. "What do they do?"

"All of us that have met her had it explained to us. They do things like park work. They prune bushes and pick up trash." He sat up, putting the groomed baby down. "Go play," he told her. "And not in the pool." The baby squeaked at him and headed over to investigate the cameraman. "You might want to remove her," he suggested. "She's teething and cords are attractive." Barbara reached over to grab the ferret, putting it behind her. "Thanks. All my animals are like my kids." He grinned. "Basically, it's one of three alternatives to the death penalty. They could be sentenced to slavery, to life in prison, to banishment to a non-core world - that means one where there's almost no people and you'd have to make do with yourself -, or there's the death penalty. They've had sixteen death penalty cases in the last year. Their definitions are different than ours, but most of theirs would be the same as ours if we were them."

"I heard something about spousal abuse?"

"Yup, serious spousal abuse. A little slap is counted as something less than a death penalty offense I think, but the major abuse is a death penalty crime. As is child abuse. As is murder, genocide, and intentionally using whatever mental skills you may have to kill or harm those around you."

"There are telepaths?" Barbara asked.

Xander nodded. "A few. They've got a very strict code of ethics that they live by. Most of the ones that I've heard of work in the court system." She opened her mouth. "None of them would intentionally scan you, it's not who they are."

Barbara nodded. "I know that people will have some trouble adjusting to them. Can you give them any ideas how?"

Xander smiled. "Are you showing this in its entirety?"

She nodded. "Yes, we'll only edit it for commercials. In cases like this, not even my editor will be able to edit it. We'll lock the tape so it can't be fixed."

"Thanks. The best advice I can give people is to relax. They're nice people. A little different, but they're great men and women. If you take the time to listen to them and get to know them, you'll like them. Even the most paranoid need to know that they won't force anything. They want to be friends." He shrugged. "I found them really nice and ready to bend over backwards to make friends. They won't put up with the paranoid fringe, those who'll try to harm them because they're not from here, but they'll protect themselves from them. Their ways are almost intuitive once you understand who and what they are. No other funky advice to give." He shifted slightly, his hip was starting to hurt. "Anything else you wanted to know?"

"Why did you put the as retold by' on the newest books?"

He grinned faintly. "Because I only wrote them down. They told the me the stories and I worked to get them out to the public so there would be some understanding once they got here." His grin got brighter. "Maybe there'll be an I saw that in a book' moment and everyone will read them to gain a better understanding before the panic starts."

"Did they get to see the finished products?"

"All but the last one. I was running on a short deadline," he admitted. "There are points where I took literary license, and they saw those, but I had to fight my editor. He had a problem with their names," he confided, leaning a little closer. "Now we've got six volumes of some of the most important points in their history on our shelves and hopefully it'll help people understand them a bit better." He leaned back, waving a hand around. "And if there are people who don't like it, yay."

"What if, as you call them, the paranoid fringe come for you? This is a wonderful house."

Xander nodded. "It is, but it's just a house. I think we'll probably get some warning if they're coming for us. At least if they go through LA or enter the town. If worse comes to worse, we have an exit strategy in place." He looked at her."You?"

"I've always got one," she agreed with a smile. "Mr. Harris, you're a very unusual man." She stood up. "It's been a lovely day at your house. Thank you for letting me have access to her." She nodded at her cameraman. "I'll make sure this tape makes it out in its full form. Anything less would be lying." She walked away, her cameraman following her. She stopped at the doorway. "That's a wonderful room by the way, the one with the tapestries."

Xander's grin was the brightest he'd had all day. "That's my writing room," he told her. She laughed and headed back inside.

Josh walked out, smiling at him. "Good job." He sat down on the lounger next to him. "We'll make sure it gets out in the full form. She's good for that. Not even her editor, if he becomes paranoid, can fix that tape. CJ would have his liver for breakfast and Barbara would have him blacklisted." He patted Xander on the arm. "I think we'll get out of your hair and let you get back to traveling with her."

"Okay," Xander agreed. "Henri's showing up tonight. We'll be leaving on a flight tonight, back to the base."

"Base?" Barbara asked from the kitchen window. She peeked out it. "Off the record?"

Josh looked back at her. "That's classified, but we've had a military liaison watching over the meetings since they started." He stood up and walked over to the window. "You can't spill that though. The project's too classified for anyone to know."

She nodded. "Is it that one in Colorado?"

Josh shrugged. "I don't have high enough clearance," he told her. "Not even the *President* has high enough clearance, he only knows about this project because it's part of his job."

She whistled. "Then I won't mention it. But I want the full story some day." She closed the window.

Josh looked at Xander. "Are you packed?"

"All packed and ready. There shouldn't be many problems on the way back, unless someone gets drunk on the plane." He straightened up. "I only have one small bag. I can get more clothes once I'm up there. I left my husband with some money."

"Good." He nodded. "I'll see you at the official debut." He walked back into the house and left behind Barbara and her crew.

Xander relaxed some in the sun. He didn't get to do this often anymore. Maybe once this was all done, he and Oz would go somewhere sunny and just sit there.

***

Xander and Nethisha walked through the portal and were mobbed. "Hi," he said, hugging Oz. "It went okay." He took the kiss he deserved. "Everything's set for the debut."

Oz sighed. "Not worried about that. Was worried about you." He squeezed his husband. "Are you all right?"

"Just fine," Xander agreed, following him to the cart that would take them home. He waved at the Queen as she and her family took off. "She was interviewed by Barbara. We got her on Leno. It should go okay."

Oz snorted. "Picket-carrying idiots aside?"

Xander nodded, smiling at him. "Yup." He stole another kiss. "I missed you."

"Good." Oz spanked him. "We'll deal with that once you tame the Ray and the Methos." They landed in front of the house and got off, letting the cart go back to it's hire spot. As they walked inside, Ray pounced them, bringing them to the floor right inside the doorway. "Anxious?" he asked.

Ray looked up and nodded. "I missed him. Haven't had any from him in a while." He licked up Xander's exposed neck. "You mind?"

"Yes, he's mine first."

"There's enough to go around," Xander reminded them. "I haven't had real sex in over a month." Both men smiled at that. "I'm all yours."

"Yes, you are," the Military liaison said from his spot on the stairs. "After you debrief with me. Then they can have you."

Xander looked up at him and waved. "Hey." He smiled. "Give me a few to get cuddles then I'm yours for an hour. That'll give these two time to get ready for me." He nipped Oz on the neck. "And I do mean ready for me," he whispered in his mate's ear, making him shiver. He pushed himself up, kissing Ray so he could stand up. "Let me tell the nice General and then we'll play," he told Ray. "You've got me for two whole days before Nethisha wants to see us." He winked and walked into the living room, flopping down into one of the chairs.

"What would you like for dinner?" Methos called as he walked out of the kitchen.

"One of your infamous backrubs?" Xander asked with his naughtiest grin.

Methos leaned down and kissed him hard. "Done." He walked back to his cooking, adjusting himself slightly.

"Don't even expect one from me," Jack said from his seat under the windows.

"Wouldn't dream of it," Xander quipped. He smiled at the General. "We've got everything planned for her official debut. Everything went well. Barbara liked her a whole lot. She promised to show both tapes in their entirety."

"Lyman let her do an interview?" the General asked. He sat down on one of the marshmallow chairs. "Why?"

"She pressed the point so we got Ms. Walters to agree to holding it off until after they're down there. I did a short one. We got her on Leno too, he seemed kinda skeptical but that's okay. I told him he could come up after they land if he had any questions."

Oz sneezed. "Excuse me?"

"I said he could come up. I didn't want to mislead him but all he knows is that it's a big story, has to do with my books, and that it'll happen around the eighth of October."

Oz nodded. "Okay. But you have to deal with him if he does come."

"Sure. I'm sure we can find something to talk about." He grabbed his husband and pulled him down into his lap, nibbling on his neck. "Nethisha and her guard both really like beer. We'll have to monitor that problem."

The General cleared his throat. "Did they try anything else out?"

"They want to bring some of their food down. They're hosting a banquet on the third night for whomever wants to show up. Josh and I thought that their veggie that has the same mouth-feel as a water chestnut would go over great." He looked at Oz. "Nethisha tried swimming, she's really good at it too. I showed them the internet and Sam came down to help them surf. It went okay." He nipped Oz hard, making him groan. "This naughty one told them about pizza and the only pizza place in Sunnydale is really crappy."

"We left one in the freezer," Oz reminded him.

"We ate that one. The house needs food," Xander sighed, putting on an act. Oz tickled him for it. "Anything else I can tell you?" he asked before he lost his breath and squealed.

"No, go have fun, boys," the General told them. He watched as they ran up the stairs, someone's shirt already flying off. He shook his head. "Kids," he muttered to himself. If he had their energy, he'd be getting more done. At least they were doing stuff with it. It appeared that everything would go all right after all.

TO BE CONTINUED...