Spoilers for 'Oz comes back' ep. - starts not minutes after Oz leaves Willow at the dorms.  ~~~~ means waking dream sequence/mental visions.  // means Gods talking or telepathic discussion.  Consider the two Gods there but not tangible please.

General Spoilers for Season 4.


Xander listened to the outcome of his best friend's meeting with her former boyfriend and felt his stomach plummet.  He hung up on her, grabbing his jacket as he ran out the door, not even bothering to lock it behind him.  He ran to the boarding house he knew the slightly older man was at, bursting into the house and up the stairs.  He threw open the door, walking over to his new shocked friend, grabbing his arms to stop his packing.  "Don't leave," he begged quietly, panting slightly.

"What's going on?" a woman yelled, walking up the stairs.

"It's okay," Oz called calmly, looking into Xander's eyes.  "We're fine."  She stopped at the door, making a disapproving noise before leaving them alone.  "Why?" he asked calmly, still searching the dark eyes for the truth they always showed.  He pulled the younger man onto the bed to sit beside him, watching him blink.

Xander looked from the gentle gray eyes down to where his hands were holding on so tight, his knuckles were white.  "I'm...um...."

"Give me a good reason," Oz prompted.

"I...I want you to."  Xander stared at the hands now clenched in his lap.  "This isn't fair to you.  I'm gonna...gonna head.  Forget it."  He got up, heading for the door.

"I would if you really wanted," Oz offered as the defeated looking man's hand touched the doorknob.  "All I need is asked."

"I can't hurt you like that."  His whole body spasmed in pain for a second but he shook it off. "Write this time, 'kay?"  And he left.

Oz looked at the person only he could see in the corner.  "What did you do to him, Strife?" he asked coldly.

The dead Godling smiled gently.  "I'm saving him."  He pointed at the window, prompting the young mortal to go look.

What he saw scared him.  A soul-eater, a demon that ate souls like Xander ate fries - for about the same reason - was walking toward his friend.  His fear awakened a secret he had been keeping since before he was six.  Oz appeared behind his friend on the sidewalk, pulling the younger man behind him to shield him from notice until the demon had passed, not that she'd been paying that much attention to him in the first place.  He waved his hand in the air, ending up with a golden bow in it, an arrow already knocked back.  There wasn't much he could do, not with what his powers covered with his non-adult status, but he could make the demon attach itself to one person in a way that would eventually kill it.  He said a silent prayer of apology before letting the arrow fly, watching as she attached herself to Buffy's boyfriend, Riley, with an unexpected sense of irony.

Oz glanced around as he hurried Xander back inside, leaning against the door as soon as it was
shut.  "What did you do, Strife?" he asked again, his voice harder this time.

"I saved him and did what I had to do," the dead Godling said, holding up the soul he had stolen
from the young man.  "Relax, Bliss.  I've called Hades for dispensation."

A man in all black armor walked into the room through a wall.  "Strife, I told you not to cause
trouble," he said blandly, raising a hand.

"Wait!"  Hades looked at Oz, seeing his blond hair and wings and giving him a sad smile, as did
Strife.  "You can't take them."  He walked over to the elder God, hugging him as he whispered
one word.  "Please."

Hades petted his great-nephew's hair, looking at the dead God.  "There are only two options."
Strife nodded, walking over beside the semi-conscious young man.  "He has to agree," he
reminded them.

Oz got loose from the comforting hug, squatting down before his friend, who was sitting in a
corner.  "Xander?" he asked quietly.  The dull, almost lifeless, dark eyes focused on him.  "We
can fix this but you'll end up not alone."

"Stay?" Xander whispered.

"For as long as you want me."  He touched the younger man's forehead, letting him see all he did.
"Let them fix you?"  Xander nodded so Oz pulled them up, holding the firm body steady as Hades took the soul from the Godling's hand, watching as it was put back.  With Strife attached.  He held his friend through the tremors caused by the change, clutching him tightly to his body to give him the strength he needed.

"It's done," Hades announced, stepping back.  "They're merged."  He smiled at the pair of young
men.  "I'd have a long talk boys.  Oh, call your father, Bliss, he's worried about you and bothering
everyone for information."  Oz nodded so Hades left through the wall he had entered by.

"Um, okay.  I think wow is a little weak here, but wow."  Xander turned in the now loose arms.
"What was that?"

"Long story," Oz said with a hint of a smile.  "Come on, let's go walk in the woods while we
talk."  He took his friend's hand, heading out of the room.

Unfortunately, Giles was on the other side of the door for some reason.

"Oh, look, a Watcher," Xander said.  "Come on, Giles, I'm sure you already know what's going on so you can drive us."

"Yes I do," Giles said.

"Not really," Oz said at the same time.  Then he stared at the older man in shock.  "You do?"
Giles nodded.  "Yeah, a talk would be good then."  He tossed over the van's keys.  "You drive."


Xander looked at his friends from his position against the tree Oz had leaned him against.  "I think I need the words," he reminded them.  That made Oz smile, a real, true, rare smile.  "Wow.  I earned that?"

Oz nodded, looking into the younger man's eyes.  "Yup.  I'm just looking at the both of you."

"Then that voice isn't me cracking up?"  Both of the older men shook their heads.  "Good."

"Got to do the long story thing," Oz said, taking Xander's hand and leading him off into the
woods.  "When I was five and three-quarters, I was attacked by a demon like that one earlier."
He shook his head, he wasn't getting this out the way he wanted to.  He tried again.  "See, my other person is Bliss, son of Cupid."  He stopped them, looking into his friend's eyes again.  "Bliss had reached seventeen when he decided that it was time for him to learn life.  Your other person, Strife, was his best friend."

"Gee, he said mommy," Xander said, grinning.  "He's showing me." Xander closed his eyes.


Strife leaned his dead body against the wall by his friend, student, and man that made him
happiest.  "I found the perfect mortal life to put you in."  Bliss, who looked very much like Oz only with blond hair and a braid made up of the bottom row of the back of his hair, and with wings of course, turned to smile at him as he pushed his waist-length braid back over his shoulder and rang his fingers through the spiky top.  "He's younger but he'll need you to survive."  The cocky grin fell away.  "He's almost six and a soul-eater's going to get him," Strife finished quietly.

Bliss, God of Happiness, frowned, an unusual expression for him.  "Why him?"

"Because when he's old enough to catch up to you, he'll have a very... interesting life."  The dead
God smiled.  "And then I'll have some bodies I can inhabit to be with you."  The young man he
loved more than his former life smiled at him and blew a kiss.  "You'll like him, both the Fates
and I promise."


Xander opened his eyes, staring at his friend in open-mouthed shock.  "So Bliss took over your body?"

"Yeah," Oz said, starting them walking again, "but he asked Great Uncle Hades to put my soul
back.  So now we're together."

"Same as Strife and I are," Xander finished.  He stopped them.  "Okay, I can deal here but I'll
need some adjustment time."

"Why are you being so calm?"

"Because I know you, as Oz, wouldn't ever let anything bad happen to me."  He grinned suddenly.  "And Strife said to say the word 'finally'."

Oz kissed the younger man's cheek.  "Yeah, our other halves are pretty much together."  He
blinked as the slightly younger man stepped closer instead of moving away from him.

"Oz, are we...I mean..."  Xander stopped, running his fingers through his dark, sweaty hair.  "I
like you."  He saw the nod so went on.  "Like *that* like you but I'm confused here."

"Hey, when you're ready.  Neither of us are pushy and I'm sure the two Gods would just cuddle
for a while until you got used to it."  He smiled sadly at the sigh.  "Too much I guess," he said,
walking back toward Giles.

Xander spun his friend around, kissing him.  "I'm not sure enough that this is us and not them and
I'm *way* early on the thinking about this side still."   His friend nodded for him to go on.  "I
want, I'm just not sure of the why or how part."

Oz pulled Xander's head down, kissing him gently.  "When you're ready," he promised, then
possessed the full mouth like he had been wanting to.

Giles walked over to look at his charges and his voice broke the new couple apart.  "Don't mind me," he said with a small smile.  He looked directly at Xander.  "Just be careful how you use the power please.  Mischief can quickly turn deadly.  Even in your hands."

"Come on, want to go sit and think next to you."  Xander noticed the small, sideways look.  "Hey, thinking is necessary right now and I'd like to be more reclined and next to you to do it."  He shrugged, walking away.



Xander glanced at his friend, shifting closer to him.

"Pillow? I make a good one," Oz noted, still watching Voltron to give him time to think by
himself.  "And I'm flexible."

"Are you?"  That got a small nod from the older man.  "That's cool."  With that, Xander leaned
against the willing body, his head falling to the muscular shoulder indent when the arm went
around his shoulders.  He closed his eyes, mostly comfortable with the action.  "Okay?"

"Almost.  Move the rest of you closer."  He waited while the now-tense body moved closer to
him to relieve some of the pressure from the awkward position.  "Comfy?"


"Then we're fine."

Xander closed his eyes again, listening to the other thoughts running around in his head.  //This
calmness is you, isn't it?// he thought at the higher pitched voice in his mind.

//Yup, pretty muchly.  How you holdin' up, kid?// Strife thought back.

//I'm okay if you are.//  Xander risked a glance up at the man he was using as a pillow.  //So I
guess we should get to know each other better since this isn't a short term thing.//  He almost
grinned at the giggles.  //Cool, a sense of humor is a good thing in my body.  Giles mentioned

//Yes, Xander, I'm the Greek God of Mischief, second in command to Ares, God of Studs...I
mean War.//   They both smiled at that.  //I'm sure we'll get a visit from him soon though.  What
do you do?//

//I irritate people, or at least that's my theory on why everyone ignores me recently.//

//No, Oz's former girlfriend is just too tied up with her new life and woman to notice you, and the blonde is just a cunt.//

//Hey, no language like that in my head.  We call her what she is, permanently pms-y.//  Xander
snuggled deeper into Oz's chest.  //Think this is okay with him?//

//Oz went silent for almost a month when he and Bliss were joined.  I'm sure they're talking too.//

Oz snorted mentally. //I know Strife, he's trying to get Xander to move faster than he's ready for
to be closer to you.//

//No, Oz,// Bliss sighed, //he's not.  They're talking, the same as we did.//

//Can you hear them?//

//Almost.  They were discussing what to call your blonde friend earlier.//

//No, she's not.  We never connected on that level.  She's an acquaintance I help because it's the
right thing to do.//  Oz looked down at the man resting on him.  //We're friends.  That's a deeper
thing for me.//

//And the fact that you find him incredibly tasty?//

//Is a plus, admittedly, but if it comes down to it, I'd rather have the friend.//

//Oz, unless you hurt him, you won't lose him.  He's yours, all you have to do is reach down and
touch him.//  Bliss took control of their body, using the hand around the younger man's shoulders
to stroke through the dark hair.  //See?//

//Wonder if they realize we can hear them,// Xander thought.

//Only if we want to,// Strife told him.   //It's a perk of the powers.//

//But I don't have any and you were dead.//

//But we're living now and yes, now you do have some access to my abilities.  When I take
control of us, my power will be there with me and you'll feel it.//

//Will you be?//


//No, that's an Oz phrase.//  He grinned up at his friend at the little tug to his hair.  "Listening?"

"Only when it concerns us."


//So, Bliss,// Strife thought, //how much have you told Oz?//

"More than enough to never turn my back on you when you're feeling playful," Oz said dryly.

"Shoot," Xander muttered, rubbing his head on the nicely padded chest.  "I wanted to see that

"Then ask," Oz told him, dropping a kiss onto the younger man's head before going back to his

"Okay," Xander said with a small smile.  "Later, maybe."


Giles looked up from the book on his bed with a pleased smile as he felt the power in the room
shift, a clear signal that one of the Gods he prayed to was coming for a visit.  "M'lord," he said as
he rolled to face the God walking in.  "How are your relatives?"

"You know I don't pry," Hades said, "but they're fine."  He smiled at the mortal waiting for him.
He waved away his robe, leaving only his leather pants, and lay down next to the man on the bed.
"I've not visited you in quite a while, Rupert, how are you?"

"The same mostly.  Still out of favor with the other Watchers.  Still dealing with the randomness
of Buffy's mood swings."   He smiled at the God of the Underworld, this was a discussion they'd
had in the past.  "And you, my love?"

"Very bored," Hades said, smiling at his sensuous worshiper.  "For once this decade."

Rupert laughed.  "I'm glad, M'lord," he whispered as he ran a gentle finger down the bare chest.
"May I cure that problem for you?"

"As well as a few others."  He tipped the mortal's head up to look at him.  "I will you to watch
them, Rupert, as hard as you did that girl."

"As you wish."

"I know, but that's not why I'm here.  I have...other problems that require your special handling."
He moved the callused hand down to the bulge under his leather pants.

"A rather large one it feels like."  He rolled onto his back, his position.  "But that is why I'm here."

"As am I," Hades said as he rolled on top of his lover's body.  "It always stops me when I
remember you coming to me."  He kissed his mortal.  "Not many prayers come to me for
unselfish reasons."

"I've often wondered why," Rupert said as he relaxed under the talented fingers.  "You're an
inevitable presence we all have to face."  Hades pulled back to look down at him.  "You are, and
one that needs prayed to as a natural part of life.  As much a part of life as birth and love."  He
stroked his hand down the satiny cheek.  "We should all worship you as we do the others," he
finished quietly.

Hades smiled down at him, all the while undoing the laces on his pants so he was free of them.  "Now I remember why I like you, you're good for my ego."  They shared a light laugh.  He suddenly flipped over so he was lying on his back.  "Pleasure us, Rupert, you've earned a treat."  The bright smile was all he needed for an answer but he got so much more as the lips that comforted him with sweet words moved down his body.  He sighed as they moved down to his penis, swallowing him just the way he liked it. Wow, Giles is really talented since Hades never took off his leather pants.  Or are they kinky pants? ::smirk:: Ow ::beta rubs sore spot on head where Otter just slapped her.  Beta rolls eyes.:: alright already, sheesh The God's eyes slid closed as the multi-talented man worked him over in the way he'd been taught many years earlier when they first met.


//I love cartoons,// Strife told the other three people around him.

"Shh," Oz said.

Xander shook his head.  "I think we're too much alike already."  Oz grunted, poking him on the
nose.  "What're you doing?"

"Off button."

Bliss giggled.  //He has one?//

"Nope," Xander and Strife said together then laughed as Oz pounced to tickle him.  "Hey!"

"Quiet!" someone yelled from upstairs of Xander's basement.

"I need a real home," Xander muttered.

"We'll look tomorrow," Oz promised, using the younger man's chest as his pillow so he could
watch the anime festival on TV.

//Hey Strife,// Xander asked the Godling in him, //tell me more?//

//Sure.//  He projected an image in their mind of a young Bliss and him.


"Want to play," a toddler Bliss whined, pouting at the man only he seemed to see.  "I'll be good."

Strife, still dead, sat down across from the baby he loved.  "Nope, not gonna happen.  Your dad'll
*kill* me if you get loose again."  He tweaked the baby's nose, earning a giggle.  "He still
remembers the last time you got out and he had to fix it."

"But I'll be good," Bliss promised hopefully.  "We go see sitters?"

Strife cast his mind down to the mortal plane, looking for his charge's other sitters.  They could
control him and he was sure it wouldn't hurt to get out of the temple.  He tuned out the one
arguing with Ares before the baby picked it up.  Or so he had hoped until Bliss teleported down
to where they were, giggling just like him.  He followed just in time to see Ares recoil from his
grandson, and the bow he had made appear.

"Whoa, Bliss," Ares said, hands up in front of him to ward the baby off.  "Put down the bow
before you hurt someone.  Like me."

The blond mortal that had been being picked on by the God of War laughed.  "Hiya, Bliss," he
said, giving him a hug.  "Just don't shoot anyone this time, okay?"

"I'lus," Bliss chortled, making the bow vanish and squeezing him as only a God could, letting go at the moan of pain. "Gran'pa!"  Ares glared at him so he started to sniffle.  "No love me?" he asked, turning his big, wet, blue eyes on his grandfather, his wings twitching at the tips.

Ares relented finally, picking the baby up to hug him.  "Yeah, brat, I love you.  But I swear you're
really Strife some days."

The former God of Mischief frowned, but he knew the rules Hades had set for him to be with
Bliss.  No one would see him except his charge unless they needed to or wanted it more than their powers until Bliss was of an age to acknowledge him.  Whatever that meant.  "Bliss," he
whispered.  "Let's go play elsewhere.  Grandpa needs to go back to bothering Uncle Iolaus."  He
saw the beginning of an infamous pout.  "He'll be up to sit you later this month.  I promise."

Bliss giggled and popped out, bringing Strife with him because he was his.


Xander sighed.  //He was cute back then.//  He and Oz switched place so he was on top again.

//And a handful,// Strife added, the smile evident from the smugness of his voice.  //He always did me proud though.//  He started the scene again, this time with another winged God, an older one.


Cupid, God of Love, frowned down at the son he was clutching to his chest so he couldn't get
away while he talked to the local magistrate.  "I don't know how he gets the bow, or any arrows,
and especially not one that strong.  I've kept them all tightly locked away so he couldn't get to them after he got loose that first time."  They looked at the mortal his son had afflicted, watching him talk to his mare.  They both shuddered.  "I've tried to fix it, but not even I can break that spell."  He grimaced at his mother as she popped in.  "Find a cure?"

"Sorry," Aphrodite said with a small shrug.  "I asked Heph but he said he made those to be
uncounterable, which is a *real* bummer."  She sighed as she watched the man recite poetry to
his new love.  "We could bother Artie, have her turn him so they match species."  She snorted.
"I'd swear this was Strife's doing if he wasn't dead."

"Not even I'm *that* mean, I like horses," Strife muttered, hurt.  "Bliss, let's go see your other
favorite person.  Joxer's with Auntie Xena."

The baby giggled and teleported out of his father's arms.

Later that night, Hades summoned Strife back to Tartarus personally.  The first words out ofStrife's mouth were, "I didn't do it or even encourage him to do it."

Hades, the very serious God of the Dead, burst out laughing, rolling around on the floor of his


//Gee,// Xander sent, //that wasn't nice at all.//  He put his head down on the firm chest,
snuggling as hard as he could.

//Actually, Hades needed that laugh.  Unc had been *way* too busy for his tastes and he was feeling stressed.  But he did say my nature was tainting Bliss and that's why he was causing so
much trouble.//

//I was truly innocent until he taught me to be bad, Xander,// Bliss sent to the newly merged pair.
//I don't remember that one.  Did they fix it?//

//Oh, yeah,// Strife said with one of his trademark giggles.  //You convinced Joxer to use your
bow on his wife and the horse, and Artemis made them all werehorses after being plagued by
babysitting you for a week.//

Oz snorted something that sounded like 'that was mean', closing his eyes to enjoy his use as a pillow.

"Tell me that's not how Centaurs came to be," Xander begged.

//Nope, pre-both of us,// Strife said, //but the right Goddess.//

//Just don't tell him about Athens,// Bliss begged.

"Athens?" Xander asked with a devilish twinkle.

"NO!" Oz and Bliss said together.  "Not that one!"

Strife formed a new picture in their heads.

//Brat,// Bliss sent.

//Yes you were, but I still loved you,// Strife sent back with a blown kiss.

They all watched as an approximately five-year-old Bliss popped into a nice, peaceful
marketplace, looking around to make sure no one had followed him or had seen him yet.  He
poured the contents of a glass bottle down the well he had landed beside, and faded from view to
watch what happened.

//Where were you?// Bliss asked.  //Usually you were right behind or beside me when I was
causing trouble.//

The picture changed to show the inside of a dark, large, shadowy room.  "He has to know," the
Strife from then told himself.  He looked down, concentrating on becoming solid again.  "Ares!"
he screamed.

The God of War popped in, glaring around the room.  "Who called me!"

"Me," Strife said, walking out of the shadows.  "You've got to stop Bliss.  He just poured the
*pure* extract that Cupid coats his arrows with down a well in Athens."  The elder God's mouth
hung open.  "What?  I watch over him."

Ares shuddered.  "I used to wonder about why he did these things.  Which well?"

"Market.  He's still there."  Ares nodded and popped out but someone, or actually two someones
as he found out when he turned, popped in behind him.  "Cupid.  Hades.  It was an emergency."

Hades smiled gently at his minion.  "I know."  He patted the younger God on his shoulder.  "Very
nicely done, Strife."

Cupid just stood there, mouth open, the tips of his wings fluttering and showing his agitation.
"Strife?" he asked finally.

Strife nodded, grinning slightly.  "Yup, me.  I love the little fella."  He straightened up from his
customary slouch.  "Do you have a problem with me and him sometime in the future?"  Cupid
shook his head mutely.  "Then maybe you should go help Ares stop Bliss," he prompted.

Cupid popped out, nodding mechanically.

Hades looked at his Great nephew and shrugged.  "He'll get over it."  He held out a hand.  "You,
on the other hand, need to disappear before he comes around, at least for a while.  Which can also serve as punishment for the brat."

"Can I still watch him?" Strife asked as they faded out.

//Ah, yes, the longest year of my life,// Bliss sent to the others.  //No Strife to talk to, grounded to
Dad's temple.  Not even many mortal sitters.//

//Not after you drove Joxer temporarily insane,// Strife agreed with a mental snort.  //I think the
rest of your usual sitters decided they weren't strong enough after that.//

//Hey, if he had let me play with the shrunken people...// Bliss started.

"Shrunken people?" Xander asked, opening his eyes to look up at his friend's face.

"An 'I pissed off the wrong God' moment," Oz told him.  "Though, from what I've seen, if you put Gabrielle and Xena in the same body, you get Buffy."  They all shuddered.

"What're we going to do about her?"

"Not a clue, Xander, not a single idea."  He wrapped his strong arms around the fragile body.

//Bliss could curse her with happiness or I could do my thing,// Strife suggested.

"A slayer plagued by Strife?"  Oz considered out loud.  "Interesting way to need a new one."

"She'll get over it," Xander said.  "It's not like she pays attention to us."  He snuggled harder into
the older man's body.

//Easy, Strife,// Bliss cautioned, only to him.  //Doing her harm won't help your host and it could
cause more problems.//

//I know, but it sucks, to borrow a phrase from your Grandmother.//

//True, but her life is already ruled by chaos; and she's necessary.  Watching the last few girls has
taught me that much.//

//Point,// Strife conceded, //but not much of one.  I still want to hurt her.  Compared to some of
the past ones she may be a saint but she has no right hurting him this way.//

//She'll be judged in due time,// Bliss soothed.  //Hades'll have her in her punishment so fast no
one will be able to complain.//

//Not if he balances it against all the good she's done.//

//Strife, babe, you worry too much.  She'll be punished.  At the very least by finding out how
special Xander is.  Trust in Hades' power, Strife.//

//I guess.//


Strife took control of his new body and walked outside, going to enjoy his first night of freedom.  He took a deep breath and let it out slowly, grimacing at the bad taste to the air.  "Pollution," he muttered.  "Whatta waste."  He walked farther out into the yard, looking up and down the street to try and get a good feel of this new world.  He had to adapt pretty quickly and Xander didn't seem to know a lot about everything he needed to know about.  He considered the semi-demon stalking through the bushes then nodded and raised a finger to zap him, bringing his new tutor over.

"Tell me everything you know about this world."  Strife crossed his arms and canted his weight off to his left side, listening intently while the vampire spilled everything he knew.

***   CHAPTER TWO   ***

Giles looked up as the last of his helpers walked in. "Good morning, boys," he said with a smile.
"Have you worked things out?"

"With a few exceptions," Oz said as he sat down across from Willow and Tara.  "I don't want to
hurt what you two are building, but I want to stay."  He looked directly into Tara's eyes, she was
the one that would be hurt by this.  "She's yours and I'm happy for you."

Tara smiled shyly and nodded.  "Xander needs you now.  We'll be friends."  She hesitantly held
out a hand, which he shook.

Willow sighed in relief.  "Okay then."  She smiled at both of them then at Giles.  "Why'd you call
us all here?"

"Because I became suddenly special yesterday," Xander said, sitting at the end of the table.  "And
it could affect all of us."  He glanced at Oz, who nodded subtly.  "I have someone inside me

"Like pregnant, right?" Buffy asked sarcastically.  "'Cause the Hellmouth has possessed you or
something?"  She sipped her juice.

"No," Xander said carefully, "like there was some divine intervention to save me from the demon
you're sharing a man with."  Oz had told him about linking the demon to Riley, and he had
laughed for almost half an hour over it so he smiled now when she choked.  "It didn't get me
because someone else had taken my soul first, but when it was put back, they got stuck with it."

//Gee, you make it sound like a *bad* thing,// Strife sent.

//Who can hear you?//

//The same people who could last night.  But I, or Bliss, can broadcast to the group if we have to
without taking you over.//

//Sorry, I follow Oz's lead and observe,// Bliss retorted.

"Way cool," Tara whispered.  "Who is it? All Willow and I got was interference so they must be

Giles choked on his glass of tea.  "You cast to see what was going on?"

"No," Willow hurried to amend, "we were casting something already, together, when we got the
interference and went looking."  She looked at her oldest friend.  "So, give.  Who's your rider?"

//Do I tell her?//

//Yes,// Bliss and Strife said patiently.

"It's, um, Strife," Xander said quietly.

Tara gasped and fell out of her chair, breaking Willow's shock.  Giles rolled his eyes, taking
Willow's seat as she got up to help her girlfriend back to her chair.  Buffy just looked confused.

"Some of us need a lifeline here.  Is that someone we know or used to know?"

Riley coughed from the entry to the hall.  He had hidden here last night to get away from the
demon.  "Then who was the blond yesterday?"

"Bliss," Oz said.  "He and I have been together since a demon like that one yesterday attacked me
as a child."

"I wondered how you got here," Giles muttered, putting a book he had pulled earlier in front of
Buffy.  "Read this, you'll get it all eventually.  Tara, what sort of interference did you two get?"

"It was like static on a TV during a storm," she said, taking the empty seat, Willow moving to
stand behind her.  "We could do it, but the control was fuzzy and hard to keep."

"Um, Oz, Bliss..." Willow started then managed to get out, "What about the us stuff?" all in a rush.

"Think of it as a possession," Giles said kindly, patting her arm.  "They're both in there but Oz is
the dominant personality."  He looked at the youngest person present.  "Though Xander may have
a tougher time of it for a while.  Strife was a powerful God at one time."

"So he told me," Xander said with a secretive smile.  "But we'll be okay.  He thinks I'm good the
way I am."

"Give him time," Buffy muttered as she read.

Xander stood up, his chair tipping over.  "What's wrong?" he asked, his voice going up and his
stance changing to a more slouched, comfortable-with-one's-self position.  "Jealous?  You *had*
your chance and you threw away your protector."

Giles watched the change with some interest, and a lot of trepidation.  "Strife," he said quietly,
"not in my house please.  I have always honored all of you and I know the damage you can do."
The Godling looked at him.  "Please."

Xander shook, all of his body heaving at once, and he was back to normal.  "Sorry," he said as he
righted the chair.  "I'm gonna go for a walk."  Oz started to get up but he patted his shoulder.
"We'll be fine."  He walked out, not even slamming the door behind him.

Giles turned to his former charge.  "Buffy, your attitude has gone far beyond tolerable limits."

"Excuse me?" she interrupted.  "He gets possessed and I'm supposed to be *happy* about it?"
She snorted.  "I don't think so.  This used to be something that we'd desperately cure, not shrug
and throw a party about.  *I'm* not the one who's changed."  She stood up and stormed out.

Giles glanced at Oz, and he caught the look.  "Not my problem and I'm not dealing with her."  He
clasped his hands on the table.  "We decided on letting Justice take its course."  Giles nodded, a
sad expression on his face.  "It happens," he reminded softly.

"I know," Giles told him, "but I do wish I knew what was wrong with her."

"Jealous," Tara said.  Everyone looked at her.  "Or...or at least i...it looked like it."

"Could be," Oz said.  "Her designation as the 'special one' has been nibbled at since Willow found magic."  Willow nodded for him to go on.  "Now she's just above average in a group of special people."

Giles nodded with a small sigh.  "That very well may be how she sees it in her mind."  He looked
at the others.  "Let's give Xander some space to grow accustomed to this and not provoke Strife
again, shall we?"

Everyone nodded.


Xander wandered through the park, talking to Strife.  //I know you were trying to help, and I
appreciate it, but you can't attack her like that,// he told him, sitting down on a bench.

//Sorry, but I put with enough of that when I was fully alive and a God.  I can't stand to see others
hurt like that.//

//Where were you when all this started?//

//Watching over Oz.  You were never one of mine, the only time I used to see you was when a
follower picked on you.//

//So you saw me a lot then,// Xander said mock-cheerfully.  //Ya know, they were just as harmful
to me as she was just now.//  He listened to the rationale Oz gave for Buffy's recent behavior,
relayed through the two Gods.  //That's very true.  I used to be more than a gopher and their
punching bag.  Then Willow found magic, and she and Buffy got tighter so I was pushed away as
they got more special.// He shrugged.  //If it wasn't for Giles, Oz, and nostalgia, I wouldn't have
come home from my trip probably.//

//Then you wouldn't have us,// Strife reminded him.

//Yeah, but there are times when even that carrot might have been a fair trade-off.  Not that I
don't like Oz, and you and Bliss too, but I have to wonder what might have happened if I had
stayed gone.//

//I would be really lonely,// Oz said as he sat down next to him.  //But it could have been good for

"Or I could still be the loser she sees me as," Xander reminded him.

"You're not.  Not even close."  He turned to face the slightly younger man, stealthily covering his
hand on the back of the park bench.  "This is all her problem.  She's having a problem not being
the golden child and she's not used to being anything but special.  Only child, Slayer, and now
plain, old Buffy who's surrounded by special people."

"In other words, she needs to deal and move on to being normal," Xander summarized, "and I'm
an easy target because I wasn't joining their 'special girls' club so they're taking it out on me."  Oz nodded.  "I don't want to go back," he decided suddenly in a stunning moment of clarity.  "I'm
worth more than they think."

"Yes, you are, but this could backfire," Oz warned, squeezing the hand he held.

"Then I wasn't really needed."  He smiled at his friend.  "I'm not going to make you choose, Oz,
I'm not about that.  Be a Scooby."  He squeezed the hand around his then got loose and stood.
"I've got to look for another crappy job.  Go do the friend thing with Willow and Tara so they're
comfy with you around."  He walked away.

//Strife's good for him,// Bliss noted.

//True but I think he'll be disappointed for a while about them not missing him.//

//Their loss,// Bliss said calmly.  //Let's go find us lodging.  His basement's not good for any of


Xander looked up in shock as he heard Strife's name called, looking around for someone who
might know about them.  His attention kept drifting back to a dark haired biker who was staring
at him from behind mirrored sunglasses.  //Do you know him?//

//Give me control, that's Unc.//  Xander willed them to switch places so Strife got control of the
mortal's body, allowing him to walk over to the curb to admire the custom Harley.  "Cute," he
said with a small sneer, "but I liked your horse better."  The sunglasses came down to show
amusement in the black eyes.

"Get on," the biker growled, starting the engine.  He waited until the semi-strong arms went
around his waist before taking off, heading somewhere more private, out of town.

//Wow,// Xander sent to Strife as they approached the *big* house the biker was taking them to.

"Thanks," the other man said, shaking out his hair and changing his clothes with a thought.
"Ares," he purred, holding out a hand.

Xander found himself suddenly back in control, so he shook it, stuttering out his name.
"X...Xander.  Strife told me about you."  He looked over the hard body under the skin-tight black
leather, holding his drool in by force of will.  "So, why come to me?" he squeaked as he saw the
lust and amusement mixed in those captivating dark eyes.

"Well, you're family now, so I figured I'd welcome you and talk to Strife."

//Unc's decent to family, with others he's a grumpy puppy,// Strife sent with a mental grin.

Xander nodded, and they switched places again.  "Hey, Unc," Strife said, his voice going back up
to it's usual register as he gave the other God a hug.  "He's hands-off stuff.  Bliss and Oz agreed
we were theirs."  He grinned, looking over the *very* tight body.  "You've been working hard to
stay fit I see."

Ares smiled as he led them into a living room.  "Too many little wars that didn't need my personal attention."  He touched a piece of the mortal's dark hair.  "I see you chose someone like you."

Strife nodded.  "Very much alike.  We even like the same cartoons."  He grinned guiltily at the
older God.  "So, why the social visit?"

"Oh, just a warning everyone else forgot, on purpose, to give you.  The more you take over, the
more merged you become."  He snapped his fingers and a glass of tea appeared in his hand for a few minutes before he went on.  "Oh, yeah, the other part, almost forgot.  Your powers weaken him when you use them.  You'll eventually have his body for your own as your power converts his flesh to godly flesh, then he'll be the voice in the back of your mind."  He made the tea disappear, watching as his favorite Godling got it.

Strife's smile slowly turned into a frown.  "How do we stop it?  What about Bliss and Oz?
They've been together much longer."

"Bliss didn't really come out until yesterday and your powers are much more chaos based so the
process is sped up.  As for a cure?"  Ares shrugged.  "None that I know of."

//We'll talk later,// Strife told Xander, who stayed silent, so he turned his attention back to the
God of War.  "Why warn me? You're not *this* nice usually."

Ares laughed.  "Oh, Strife, it's good to have you back."  He punched the fragile shoulder, wincing
as it popped.  "Hey, sorry.  This is about your mother.  She's willing to destroy the world to get
you back so I'm doing this as a favor to myself.  Otherwise, I'll have to listen to her whine when
her plans fail and she gets hurt."  He pulled a small box out of thin air, handing it over.  "Yours for when you need it, as are the keys to the bike," he said, tossing them over too.  "Use the power of the card wisely."  He grabbed the soft, dark hair, pulling the God/mortal in for a punishing kiss.  "I'll be around," he promised then disappeared.

//Wow,// Xander said.

"Yeah," Strife muttered, touching his lips.  "Do you know how to ride?"

//Nope, but Giles does.//

//Doesn't help us being stranded out here,// Strife reminded his host.

//Will one use of your power hurt me?//

//Probably not.  Why?//

//Then...//  Xander stopped as Ares popped back in.  //Hi again.  Give us a ride home?//

"Sure, kid, didn't know neither of you could ride."  Ares snapped them both into more appropriate clothes as he made them appear on the bike.  "Back to Hades' consort's house?"

"He is?"  Both the God and the mortal asked together in awe.

"Oh, yeah, *long* history there.  Why do you think Hades hasn't been so pissed off recently?"


Giles smiled as he felt the presence of a God in the room with him but it fell away when he saw
the dark haired man standing next to him.  "M'lord," he said, bowing his head, "your presence..."

"Just stop," Ares commanded impatiently.  "We both know why I'm here."

Giles got up, offering him the comfortable chair.  "Please, sit, M'lord Ares.  How may I help your
favored nephew?"

The God of War smiled, or smirked really.  "First, you can stop the posturing.  We both know
you're not that nice and I get enough of that, even now."

Giles relaxed and sat down on the couch.  "Thank you, M'lord Ares, I was about to go into sugar
shock.  What may I do to help you?"

"Well," Ares said as he lifted a leg over the arm of the chair, turning sideways to watch the
candles he had lit.  "I had to tell them about their powers, how they eat the mortal part of the
body away with each usage, which I only recently found out.  The other's knew but were keeping
it from them."  He frowned and one candle's flame shot up.  "I need you to find a cure before I'm
forced to take drastic action."

"So they know that but not that they're bound for eternity?"

"Not unless Bliss or Hades told them, no," the God said with a scowl.  "It wasn't felt to be that
important."  He looked at the mortal man, seeing the sadness.  "Bliss is in the same situation.
They'll be together for eternity."  The man nodded absently.  "What?"

"The only real way to do this that wouldn't hurt them would be to grant the boys immortality
outside of their boarder's influence."  He looked up into the confused gaze.  "Remember what
happened the last time one of you did the same thing?"

"Oh, yes, my brother.  I remember him very well."  Ares shook his head but smiled. "Very well,"
he said with a light chuckle, "but would they be able to handle it?"

"The God's or the mortals?"  Giles smiled gently at the most unpredictable of the Gods.  "I'm sure
they'd accept the reality of it after a bit.  Especially if you didn't tell them before hand."

Ares closed his eyes, checking on the feasibility of the plan.  He swore lightly and his eyes
snapped open.  "Someone's already fixed it for Bliss."  He glared at Giles.

"I didn't know," he reassured, "but that would make it a bit easier, wouldn't it."

Ares glare turned into an appreciative laugh.  "Oh, now I see why Uncle Hades likes you so
much.  You just do what's necessary and worry about the consequences later.  I *like* that in a
mortal."  He turned a brilliant smile on the man.  "I'll consider it an option while you find a way to hold the dark haired one together for now."  Then he was gone, just as someone knocked on the apartment's door.

Giles got up to answer the summons of his door, smiling at the two young men he'd just been
discussing as he let them in.  "Is there a problem?"

Oz shook his head and patted Xander's back as he nodded.  "I, um, want to quit," Xander said
quietly, not looking at the much older man.  "I want to be friends with you guys, but not *her*."

Giles sat back down in his chair, absorbing the tingles of power the God had left in it.  "Xander,
I'm sure she'll see sense soon enough.  There's no need for you to quit the group."  The young
man looked up at him and nodded so he leaned back, ready to listen.  "Explain it to me then."

"Giles, I can't take the pile she's tossed at me.  I feel unwanted, like all this was a mistake
somehow."  He looked into the knowing green eyes, and shook his head at the worry there.  "I
want to stay friends, just not a Scooby.  Or at least not a full time member."

"We'll consider this a sabbatical," Giles said kindly.  "You'll become our back-up and source of
occasional help."  Xander nodded.  "You must promise to come see me still though?"

"We will," Oz said. "I'm taking his place on the full-time roster."  He stroked down the slumped
back some more.  "I do agree though, this new dynamic is hurting him badly."

Giles got up, coming over to sit beside the younger man.  "I understand, Xander," he gave him a
hug, "I really do.  It's put a strain on both of us."  That got a faint smile.  "Good.  Now what's up next for you two?"

"Better job," Xander noted.

"Housing," Oz added.  He looked at his friend.  "Together?"

"You're sure?" Xander asked, mouth open to say more but nothing came out.

"Yup, your basement's not good for any of us and I shudder to think about your parents and Strife

Xander grinned.  "Oh, yeah, that'd be *real* messy."  He impulsively hugged his friend before
pulling out a set of keys and handing them to Giles.  "Here, the dark and studly one, as my other
half calls him, gave us his bike but neither of us can ride."

Giles took the keys, putting them in his pocket.  "I'll teach you," he agreed.  "Is it still out front?"
Both young men nodded.  "Good, we'll start tomorrow then. Would you like some dinner? I was
about to microwave some chicken breasts."

"Sure," they said together.


Strife watched Buffy fight from behind a tree, noting the problems she was having.  When the
vampire was dust, he walked out clapping and leaned against the tree he'd been hiding behind.
"Your form stinks, my dear.  You need lessons."

"Xander," she said coldly.

"Not quite," he said, holding up a finger.

"Strife," she amended, taking a step back from him.

"Yup," he said with a grin.  "That's me.  Or really us, he's asleep right now."  He looked her over.  "I wouldn't do this normally but for some reason you're important to him, so I'll give you a warning."  He walked out into the moonlight, looking down at her.  "Lay off him," he tapped her on the forehead with each word.  "I'm not the guy to mess with; if you continue to hurt him, I'll force a switch in your appointed job."  She blanched.  "Good, I see you understand me."   He giggled his trademark laugh.  "Actually, Uncle Ares and I both like the next girl, she's got fire."  He turned, waving over his shoulder as he walked away.  "Duck!"  Then he made the demon Bliss had attached to her boyfriend, who had been stalking her all night, jump out of the bushes.  He giggled maniacally all the way out of the park.

He needed to go pay a visit to the other aggravation in Xander's life, his parents.  This was going to be fun, on a long term scale if he had his way.


Bliss stretched his wings as he got out of bed, smiling at the body glowing in the mirror.  "Time to go play," he whispered, shaking his head to bring his braid out.  He sent his mind out to the rest of the city, trying to find a place where he was needed.  He found a spot and brought his bow out, going to do his job.  And maybe, if he was lucky, he would run into Strife there.  After all, a demon bar was someplace that Strife would be.


Giles frowned at Xander as he walked into his apartment, making him sit on the arm of the couch.  "What'd he do?" the young man asked.

"He threatened Buffy."

//You did?//

//I was giving a warning, something I don't usually do,// Strife retorted.  //And she deserved it.//

//Not the point.  Buffy's essential to our survival.  Including yours now 'cause I can't fight.//

//I can.//

//I've seen you,// Xander reminded him.  //And you do the 'scream like a girl' thing better than I
do.//  He frowned.  //Just leave her alone before we both regret it.  'Kay, Strife?//

//Fine,// the God said with a sigh.  //Until she starts again.//

//No, if she does that, you let me deal.//

//But you don't do *anything*!//

//Yeah, I do, you've just never noticed the subtlety.//  Xander looked up at the older man.  "He'll
leave her alone, Giles," he promised quietly.  "We both will."

Buffy chose that moment to walk in, slamming the door behind her.  "I want to talk to you,
*Xander*," she practically spit his name, putting her hands on her hips as she glared at him.
"What's the big about threatening me?"

"Stop it," Giles warned.

"I didn't.  Strife did," Xander said calmly, "and we've talked."  He shrugged, standing up.
"Lesson?" he asked the older man.

"In a while," Giles assured him.  Xander nodded and walked out.

Buffy shrieked in outrage, following him, spinning him around by the arm she grabbed.  "Don't
you *dare* walk away from me!"

"Stop it," Xander said, getting loose.  "You don't have the right to question me anymore."

"Why?  Because of *him*?  I did some reading, he's not *that* bad or big.  He was a god and he got killed?  Sorry, not a power to be scared of in my book."

"No, because I'm not willing to listen to you anymore."  He turned, flinching as she kicked his
back.  He grabbed onto a short wall nearby to catch his breath around the pain, bending over to
make it easier.  "Feel better?" he asked from under his arm.

"Buffy!" Giles said sharply.  "Enough!  Go home."  He walked over to where the younger man
was but was pushed away.  "Xander?"

"I'm fine," he grunted, standing up.  He looked at his former friend.  "Bye."  He left them there,
waiting until he was out of sight to lean against a building and give into the pain.

Oz woke to someone knocking on his door at the boarding house, and he got up to answer it.  He
blinked a few times at the officer standing on the other side, waiting for his mind to engage.
When it did, he slumped against the door.  "Xander?" he whispered.

"Was apparently in a fight and he's at the hospital," she said, trying to calm him down.  "They
couldn't find a contact number for him but someone remembered you from a prior visit."  She
looked over his boxer and sock clad body.  "I'll drive you down when you're ready."

Oz nodded, pulling on the first clothes he ran into on the floor, following her outside.  He waited
until they were in the squad car to ask questions.  "What happened?"

"Someone reported him and a young woman fighting, I was sent to break it up."  She pulled out
onto the street.  "When I got there, he was around the corner, passed out."  She turned at the
light, heading the seven blocks to the hospital.  "He has some broken ribs, all in the back on one
side."  She nodded at the hiss.  "Can you get him to press charges?  Anyone who can do that is
really strong and shouldn't be allowed out to go hurt someone else."

"Probably not," Oz admitted.  //Bliss, can you hear them?//

//Yeah, Strife's ready to eviscerate her with his teeth.  Xander's still sedated, they had to go in and
pin one.//

Oz shuddered.  "I think I know who did it but they're a friend so I doubt he'll press charges," he
told the officer as she pulled up in front of the hospital. "Thanks," he called as he jumped out,
heading straight for the information desk.  "Xander Harris?"

"318, bed a," she said, smiling cheerfully, pointing down a hall.

He nodded, hurrying for the elevators.  When he walked into the room and saw Buffy standing
there, he lost it.  //Bliss, take over before I wolf out.//

"Get out," Bliss hissed, grabbing the blonde by her hair and dragging her out of the room.  He
pushed her against the nurse's station, hard.  "She's not to come back unless he asks for her," he
told the stunned woman, heading back into the small room, slamming the door.  //All yours.//

//And thank you for not turning fuzzy on us, that might have been bad,// Strife sent, his mental voice a little fuzzy and happy sounding.

Oz sat on the bed beside his friend, stroking across his cheek.  "Xan?" he called softly.  One
brown eye opened to look at him, then the other.  "Hey.  You okay?"

Giles cleared his throat, making Oz notice that he, Willow, and Tara were there as well.  "Four
broken ribs, one a compound fracture."  Oz winced, taking and squeezing the hand patting his.
"They've fixed the one and did what they could for the rest."

Oz nodded, looking back down at the injured man.  "When you get out, you're staying with me."
Xander grinned.  //You okay?// he sent through their inhabitors.

"Yup," Xander said, still grinning.  "Nice drugs and everything they give me."  He looked toward
the door then over at Giles, who was looking worried.  "Not your fault, G-man.  Totally her bad,
but I won't press charges like they wanted."

Giles walked over and leaned down to kiss his forehead.  "You're better than I am then, I'd have
put her in jail already."  He smiled weakly.  "I'll be having a long word with her later."

//Let Unc do it,// Strife sent to the former Watcher.  Giles' whole body spoke of shock.  //Yeah,
you can hear me when I want you to.  Same as through us, those two can talk to each other.//
Xander started to grin again, eyes closed now, but still clutching Oz's hand.  //Face it, Rupert,
you're not strong enough to take her on the way she needs right now.//

"I am," he whispered next to Xander's ear, "and she's my responsibility.  If I can't then I'll ask him
for some help."  He kissed the young man's forehead again and stood back up.  "He went for the
non-confrontational approach," he explained to Oz then he walked out of the room.

Willow and Tara shared the chair on the other side of the bed, holding hands, but Willow picked
up Xander's free hand, squeezing it gently.  "I'm sorry about the bads I did too," she said quietly.
"I never realized I hurt you, especially not how much."

"S'okay," Xander mumbled.  "Nap now, cry later."  He snuggled closer to the body now on the
bed with him.  "Night, Oz."

"Sleep, Xan, we'll figure this out later."  He stroked through dark hair, sharing a look with the
young women.  "All of us."

***  An indication of how much time has passed before this scene would be good, since you indicate quite a bit of it has passed.

Xander snuggled down onto the too-soft bed in Oz's room at the boarding house after coming
back from the bathroom.  "We need permanent housing.  That one guy takes forever in there.  I'm tired of waiting on him, my patience limit wore out last week."  He heard the quiet snort so looked up.  "Any luck on your end yet?"

Oz nodded, sliding down to hold the younger man, careful of his injuries.  "We can move in next
week or soon after.  They have to fumigate and stuff."  He dropped a gentle kiss on the pale
forehead.  "How about you?"

"I made a few decisions while I was sweating and panting in the emergency room," Xander
admitted, "and I made a few calls while you were gone."  He took a deep breath.  "I'm starting at
Adam's in three weeks when the summer term starts."  He buried his face in the welcoming shoulder.

"That private school?" Oz felt the nod.  "Didn't Buffy almost get eaten out there."

//Like that's a bad point,// Strife said.  //We went to look around the day after we got out and it's
really nice.  We even arranged to not live on campus with one little lie.//

"Lie?" Oz asked.

"Strife came out and told them we were...together."

"We are."

"In the if-it-were-legal-we'd-be-married sense," Xander corrected as he looked up into the grey
eyes he was coming to know so well.

"Huh, haven't gotten that long term in my thoughts yet."  Oz looked down at the shocked look.
"What did I tell you out in the woods that first day?"

"True.  Just as long as you're comfy with the idea."  The older man nodded.  "Okay.  They were
really nice too, especially since they're desperately looking for students after that frat went down."  He smiled weakly.  "I pulled in my old paystubs and the financial aid ladies gave me extra forms to fill out so I'll be getting money a month after I start.  They said it was to make sure I went to classes and stuff."

"Very well planned," Oz said, kissing him but not being demanding.  Until Xander rolled him onto his back to take control of the kiss, turning it deep and exploring.  "Wow," he said when he could use his mouth again.  "Maybe I should join you in classes there instead of UC Hellmouth."
Xander smiled down at him so he pulled him down for another kiss.

Until someone cleared their throats from the doorway, that is.

Xander rolled onto his non-recovering side, waving Giles in.  "Hey, what's up?"

"This came for you in the mail," he said, handing a large envelope over as he sat on the foot of the bed.  "I had no idea you were thinking about school.  I would have written you a letter of

"Have to do something to break the cycle of fast food," Xander said as he tore it open.  "Hey, my
schedule and stuff."  He smiled at Giles.  "Yeah, I'm starting in a few weeks.  I would have gone
to UC Hellmouth, as Oz calls it, but I figured that might cause pain."

Oz nodded. "Reasonable.  I'll be starting out there this term, but we'll still be here in town."

Giles nodded.  "Good.  Would you two like to have a small celebration?"  Both younger men

"Or we could combine it," Oz suggested.

"Yup, Oz found us an apartment."  Xander looked up at his future roomie.  "Why am I plagued
with Freshman English?"

"Because you're a freshman?"

"Point."  Xander looked at Giles again.  "Want to combine the two?"

"We very well could.  Or start with an early lunch for everyone then have a selected few over to
your place later in the day."

"Our place is a house that needs some work so we're getting three months rent off."  Xander
looked up at him, nibbling on his lip.  "Painting and stuff, nothing heavy."  He turned back to
Giles.  "Three bedrooms, combined living and dining room, kitchen with laundry closet.  All on
one floor except for the full attic."

"Where?" Giles asked, interested.

"Four blocks from your place."  Oz's face had a faint grin of pleasure at his success.

"Wasn't that the crazy cat lady that died's house?" Xander asked.

"Yup, but it's been fumigated and all the carpet ripped up.  Oh, and the landlady said she only had
116 cats, not the 200 and something the paper reported, even with the kittens."

"Any still around?"

"Two, she's taking care of them." He looked down at his friend. "Okay for you?"

"Yup, has a good garage for the bike and the van.  Oh, I sold my trashy car and put the money in
the account.  It should give us enough for food for a few weeks at least."

"Cool."  They both looked at Giles.

"I'll bring my grill and we'll cook on the back porch."


Willow lifted the last marble tile onto the table in the guy's vacant bedroom, looking around the
room.  "Wonder if I can use a corner," she muttered as she set items on the new altar.  She
stepped back to consider the placement, running into a soft body that turned out to be Oz when
she looked.  "Okay enough?"

"Very," he said, squeezing her arms.  "Tara's looking meaningfully at the kittens. You might want
to stop her before you have three cats."  She smiled and walked out as he lit the new candles.  "I
dedicate this room to you," he whispered, "so that you may hear our pleas and thanks."  He drew
a few symbols on the marble with a wax pencil then blew out the candles.  //Think they'll be
pissed?// he asked Bliss.

//Probably not, but I'd ask Giles how to do it right.//  They smiled as they watched Xander
carefully shift incoming boxes against the walls.  //He's feeling better.//

//And I'm happy about that,// Oz told him.  //Seems like we're forgetting something or someone.//

//Your father,// Strife sing-songed.  //He's told every God we've seen so far to have you call.//

//I'll go to the cyber-temples later,// Bliss promised.  //We'll show you and Xander both how to get to Grandpa's too.//

Giles patted Oz on the shoulder, both of them watching a sweaty Xander work.  "It's good he's
feeling better.  Much happier also."  He looked down at the younger man.  "I approve of what
you've done to help him.  Being together has done wondrous things for both of you."  He
squeezed the shoulder lightly then went to give Xander a break.  "You go rest.  Ribs take a bit of
time to heal, even yours."  He took the box from him, putting it down.  "Shoo. Go see Oz."

Xander shook his head as he walked over to where Oz was standing.  "I think you did good
getting us here."  The slightly older man kissed him, gently leaning them against a doorframe to
get more in-depth.  They pulled apart to the sound of applause.

"You could always stay and help paint," Oz offered and suddenly everyone went back to moving
stuff.  "You okay with that?"

Xander licked his lips to taste his roomie again.  "Yeah, this is friends."  He saw the small nod so
hurried on.  "There's a difference between friends and public, that's all I ask."

"Until you're comfortable," Oz promised, going out to help unload the van.


Giles handed the boys the first steak off the grill, watching as they cut a third of it off and laid it
on the altar.  "Eat," he said gently, "talk to your family later."  He led them back to the barbeque.

Willow and Tara were cuddling the kittens at the old picnic table that had been in the back yard,
cooing silly baby talk at them as everyone watched.  "We need pets," Xander decided.  "A dog."

"We get one and he's yours," Oz told him.  He sat down across from the girls.  "Adopting?"

Tara smiled at him, nodding.  "The tabby's Candle and the puffball here's Book."

"Good witchly names," Willow added, smiling. "They'll keep Ms. Kitty Fantastico company while we're at class."

Oz nodded.  "Xander wants a dog."

Tara practically bounced in her seat.  "Oh, I know one.  A senior, he's leaving at the end of the
summer.  His puppy's six months old and dorm and house broken.  I could call."

Oz relayed the information mentally, earning a happy, "Can we meet him," from Xander, who
was across the lawn.

"Sure," Tara called, heading inside with the kitten.

Willow was silent for a few minutes, clearly uncomfortable still with being alone with Oz.  "How's Xander adjusting to Strife?" she asked finally.

"Really well so far.  They've worked out the whole 'who's in charge' thing.  Strife agreed not to
hijack his body while he slept too often.  No real problems yet."  The cat hissed at him when he
looked at it.  "Easy, you're not lunch."

Willow nodded toward the doorway.  "Band people."

Oz turned, waving Devon over.  "Hey."

The lead singer of Oz's former band sat down, brushing his blond hair off his face.  "Killer place,
Oz, but I wanna talk to you."  He smiled at Willow.  "Cute pussy."

"Thanks," she said dryly, getting up to follow after Tara.

"So, you're back?" Devon asked.


"And you didn't come see me first thing?"

"Tried, you were busy with someone."  Oz shrugged.  "What do you want here, Dev?  I'm leaving
it up to you."

"Don't know yet," he admitted.  "We're discussing."  He looked over his former guitarist's
shoulder as Xander walked over with a dog.  "Yours?"
Wow, that was really quick.  Did Strife teleport the dog? ::smirk:: ow! Fine, whatever...grumble
"Possibly."  He looked at the dog, which instantly climbed on him to lick him happily.  "Hey,
yeah, I like you too."  He looked up at Xander, who was smiling.  "Ours," he said.  He got a
fierce hug and a kiss to his temple.  "Name?"

"He was Baby before."  He grinned at Devon.  "Hey.  You can have him later if you need him,
after he does the bandage switch thing for me."

"That's cool."  He scratched behind the dog's ears, dodging his tongue.  "Thanks anyway, but I
prefer human kisses."  He looked the puppy over.  "Big dog already."

"And he'll still be a lap sausage," Oz agreed.  "Do we owe money?"

"Nope, just a good home.  And his old owner made S... Giles laugh."  He saw the understanding look and relaxed.  "Something about the guy being familiar to him, and something about curly hair."

"Baby'll have that with us," Oz assured him.

//Got to rename it,// Bliss said.  //Arrow?//

//Slobber?// Strife suggested.

//I *like* it,// Xander told them.  //And he's my dog.//

//Ours,// Oz corrected.  //But his name's fine.//

//Fine,// the Gods said in unison, sounding like they were pouting.

"Oh, my, how domestic," Buffy's mother, Joyce, said as she walked out the back door.  She
hugged Xander and Giles, stopping to fend off the puppy's advance under her skirt.  "Cookies,"
she said, handing over a small box, holding the wet nose away from her thighs with her other

Oz groaned as he turned back to Devon.  "Welcome to our madhouse, want some lunch?"

"Sure," Devon said, smiling at his oldest friend for the first time.


Oz scratched the mutt in his lap's ears, glancing at the puppy next to him.  "Xan?"

"Hmm?" he said, looking up from his comfy reading spot across the older man's lap.  "Want me to move?"

"Only if you want to switch sides."  Oz looked down at the curious brown eyes that almost
matched their new dog's coat.  "We still have to do sleeping arrangements."

"I was leaving that up to you," Xander mumbled. He slid off the couch to look up at his friend.  "I
didn't mind cuddling with you for the last week and a half and I'm fine with the concept of
continuing.  Maybe not for more than the kiss and cuddle stuff but I'm okay for the sleeping stuff.
That is, if you are."  Oz nodded.  "Then we're okay with me taking lots of time?"

Oz nodded again.  "You're the newbie here."

"You're not?"  Xander looked really confused.  He saw the small head shake.  "I guess it's okay.  I
just thought..."  He shook his head, sitting on the couch and letting the dog inhabit his lap.
"Never mind."

"No, I'm not a virgin," Oz said gently, watching his friend pet their puppy.  "Does that bother
you?"  Xander shook his head.  "If it helps, it's been Strife inhabiting Devon all but one time."

The slightly younger man shrugged.  "It doesn't matter," Xander said quietly.  "I just supposed."
The puppy barked and headed for the door.  "I'll take him out."

"Be careful."  //Bliss, can you hear him? Is he disappointed?//

//He deserves privacy,// the God reminded him gently.  //Remember the confusion you felt at first?  It's much the same for him, only we're here to complicate matters.//

//But you had Strife to talk you through it, and Ares, but I don't remember my first time, I was
really out of it.  It just kinda happened.//

//Then Strife will tell him about them.  He was there for both of them if you remember.  I do
know one thing, he'll want to make it special.//

//I'll do my best,// Oz told him, closing his eyes and leaning his head back on the couch.

Xander wandered around the backyard, watching his dog mark his boundaries again.  //They must
think I'm a woose.//

//No, they're trying to put themselves back where you are.  Bliss's was a long time ago by your
standards and I used to inhabit Devon's body to be with Bliss.// tsk, tsk.  Remember what we were saying about you and names? He has a name so bloody well use it! Grumble, and I swear if you hit me again Otter I'll strangle you and never beta again. ::Otter grasps her chest with a gasp and collapses:: cool, I think I broke her  The God sighed.  //I doubt Oz remembers much of it but I could tell you about Bliss's first time later, when you're in bed.//

//Gee, an erotic bedtime story?// Xander asked.  He pulled the dog away from the flowers, pulling
him to the center of the yard to see if he still needed to do anything.  //That'd be okay, I guess.  As
long as he won't mind.//

//Flyboy told me to tell you.//

Xander laughed mentally.  //Where are his wings anyway?//

//He wears this special bag over them that make them disappear into a fold in space.  Oh, and
remind Oz later to get us all online so we can visit the cyber-temples.//


//Gods exist because people believe in us, or in the concepts behind our birthright powers. Ares
and Cupid both have cyber-temples to get more prayers, which helps determine how strong we

//Hey, if it works,// Xander said, walking them all back inside, taking the puppy to his new bed - a pile of doggy pillows and old, soft blankets beside Oz's bed.  He lay down, watching Baby
investigate.  "Oz, we're supposed to get online," he called.  Someone not-Oz pushed open the
bedroom door so Xander rolled off the bed, coming up with a stake.

"Easy," Ares said from behind him, making him jump.  He laughed lightly, hitting Xander across
the back, on his injured side unfortunately.  The God of War looked on in confusion as the mortal
fell to the floor gasping in pain.  "I didn't hit you that hard."

"Xander!" Oz said, running into the bedroom and falling down beside him.  "Dislocated?" he
asked as he felt down the breaks, glaring at the God of War at what he found.  "He had to have a
rib pinned two weeks ago, you dislocated it again."  He got up, helping him back onto the bed.  "Xan? Hospital?"  The younger man shook his head, biting his lip to keep from screaming in pain.

"Let me," Ares said, pushing Oz aside.  He felt over the breaks gently then suddenly pressed on an area until it moved with a sickening 'pop' and a scream from the young man.  "You'll be fine," he soothed, running a hand over the sweating forehead to put him to sleep.  Then he turned on Oz, his face showing his anger plainly.  "Who did that to Strife?"

"She did it to *Xander*," Oz told him, then let Bliss take control, realizing he was in way over his head.

"Granddad, it's handled.  Xander and Oz punished her by ostracism but he's right, this is about
Xander, not Strife."

"Who," Ares growled, "did this?  There's no difference now, Bliss, you of all people should know

Cupid cleared his throat, breaking the glaring contest between his father and his son.  "I'm sure
you two have handled it but Ares is right.  If whomever did this knew Strife was in him, it's an
insult we can't ignore."

//Drop it,// Strife snarled, taking control of his host's body.  "The kid wants to handle her and we
*will* honor his wishes."  He stared down Ares, his most supporting and loving family member,
who threw up his hands in disgust.  "If Xena had done this to me, you would have made me fix it,
both of you."  He turned the glare on Cupid, then went back to his Uncle.  "It's *his*, *Xander's*,
fight and you will both let him handle it!"

Ares patted his nephew's shoulder gently.  "Fair enough. You're old enough to handle this."  He
looked at his grandson.  "Neither of your choices are real popular with the rest of the family right
now but you are adults."

Cupid's mouth hung open.  "Excuse me?"

"Drop it, dad," Bliss threw over his shoulder.  "Your word, Ares.  We help her in her mission
even if we don't tolerate her personally."  The God of War nodded, smiling.

"I don't believe..." Cupid was stopped by Strife's ball of thrown power.  "Hey!  Easy on the
wings!  You should have learned that when *we* were together."

"Your word, father," Bliss said.

"Fine," Cupid spat, "your life, your choices."  He stopped after hearing a quietly spoken word
from Ares, walking up behind his son and hugging him.  "I miss you," he said quietly, kissing the
now blond hair.  "It's only natural for me to want to protect you so take care and we'll talk again
soon."  He let go, smiling at Strife.  "You're good for him, and he's good for you.  I'm not mad,
you're better for each other than we were for each other.  Just take care of them."  His wings
fluttered and he disappeared.

The young Godly couple looked at Ares, who was still smiling.  "Hey, you just proved you could
handle this stuff and us, and that you belong together."  He shrugged and popped out.

"Warn Giles," Strife whispered, laying back down and giving in to the pain again.

Bliss returned control to Oz, who picked up the phone and dialed. "Giles?" he said calmly,
"expect visitors."  Short pause.  "No, Cupid and Ares were just here and found out about the broken ribs."  Longer pause.  "No, he dislocated it then put it back.  An accident, but Bliss and Strife were sure you were going to get visitors."  He hung up, laying down to pull Xander against him to comfort them both.

Ares and Cupid popped into Athena's temple, side by side and glaring.  "What?" she scoffed.
"Kids screw up already?"

"No," Ares said in a voice that was too calm to be anything but scary to those who knew him,
"your Slayer broke ribs in Strife's back."  She sat up straighter.  "See, I slapped his back and it
unpinned so I fixed it and started the four breaks healing."  She was scowling by now.  "They said they wanted to handle it but you *will* fix her.  Or I will."

"Bring me my scrying mirror!" she yelled.  "Which one?" she asked coldly when it was in front of her.  "I've lost track over which one's alive right now."

"Buffy," Cupid said, equally as cold.

Athena watched her champion then clapped her hands, banishing the mirror.  "Discord," she
hissed, summoning her.  "What did you do to her?"

"Who?" Discord asked, checking her nails.  Until Ares knocked her to her knees.  "Hey!"

"Shut up!" Cupid yelled, sending his own bolt of power at her.  "Your interference is getting
dangerously close to my son and I will *not* allow it!"  He sent another bolt at her, making her
scream.  "You're damn lucky it backfired and hurt *your* son instead of mine."  He looked at
Athena. "You need to leash her anyway from Bliss's memories of the last few years."  He left
then, his anger coloring the air where he had been.

"He's right," Ares said dryly.  "Strife said she was more crabby than you most days."  He glared at
Discord.  "Your son was injured by your interference.  Do you feel better?"  He popped out,
leaving the two Goddesses alone.

"Leave," Athena growled as she stood up, "and never touch my champion again.


Giles flinched as he felt a God pop in behind him, putting down his glass of Scotch.  "Yes,
M'lord," he started then choked when he saw who it was.  "I'm sorry, Milady," he apologized,
bowing to her, "I was expecting your brother."

Athena waved a hand and the former Watcher was suddenly sober.  "Better," she said, taking the
chair she could tell other Gods had sat in.  "It's come to my attention that my champion seems to
be having problems.  Why?"

Giles swallowed hard.  "Buffy's attitude has slowly gotten worse as her term as the Slayer went
on, and all the mishaps she's faced haven't helped anything."  The Goddess nodded for him to go
on.  "I've tried to deflate her ego repeatedly but it gets harder each time she wins over a major
menace.  Frankly, I know some of it's my fault, she is like my daughter, but I can't seem to make
her see her attitude is her worst enemy."

"I will be reviewing her recent past," Athena told him.

"Please, Milady, use my memories as part of that investigation."

"You hope to temper my decision?" she asked, one perfectly manicured eyebrow going up.

"Yes, I do.  Her ego is proportional to her accomplishments.  Every menace she fights and
overcomes adds to her problem.  The Ascension, the second Slayer issue.  Angel.  All of it."

"Excuse me?  Two Slayers?  There is only one, by Godly decree."  She frowned.  "There was not
supposed to be an ascension either, not for a few more decades."  She looked him over.  "I will
use your memories to get to the bottom of this," she said as she touched his mind, none too
gently, making him pass out.

By the time she was done, she was well beyond anger.  "I will kill Discord for this," she vowed,
heading for her temple.

Discord's scream echoed across the sky as a lone peal of thunder.

***  CHAPTER FOUR   ***

Xander woke up and moaned at the pain in his back.  "Shh," Oz soothed, "I've got your pain meds right here."  He handed the pills over with a juice box so the younger man wouldn't have to sit up as far to swallow them.  He tossed the empty box so he could cuddle up with his friend and the puppy who had whined until he had been allowed up with them, humming quietly.

"S'nice," Xander mumbled.  "What is it?"  He yawned, petting the dog as he scooted back into the
older man's body.

"An old song Devon didn't like."

"I like."

"I'll play it for you sometime," Oz promised, kissing the pale and sweating cheek.  "I want to take
you to the hospital," he whispered, "you have a fever."

"I'll live."

"I'm not so sure of that."

"If it'd make you feel better, we can go to the Quick Care place," Xander offered.

"Okay, let me call someone to take care of Baby while we're gone."  Oz picked up the phone,
hitting the memory button for Tara's house.  "Hey, me. Can you puppysit?  I want to take Xan to
the doctor's."  He nodded and hung up after a few more minutes, after hearing the account of the
last night's activities and the visitor at Giles' house.  //Bliss?//

//It was Athena,// Bliss said quickly.  //Discord is responsible for most of the current problems with Buffy.  Giles okay?//

//He's fine.  Ready to scream like a little girl with worry over her.// Oz shifted, pulling Xander tighter against him carefully.

//Athena won't punish her, just stop my mother,// Strife said quietly.   //But the overactive
problem that's been going on will be stopped.  When Discord stops promoting the chaos around here, it'll go back to normal levels.//

Xander grunted.  "Whatever, just want less pain."  He carefully sat up, looking down at Oz.
"What happened to Giles?"

"Athena read his memories and wasn't real gentle with him.  He has a killer migraine."  The
younger man nodded so he slid off the bed.  "I'm going to warm up the van, you relax until Tara
gets here.


Xander's muffled scream brought tears to Oz's eyes as he held him.  The doctor stepped back
from the gurney, looking at them.  "All back in place," she said kindly.  "I'll leave some
prescriptions with the nurses."  She walked out to give them some privacy.

Xander caught his breath, taking the foam ball out of his mouth.  "Oww," he whispered.  He
looked up at Oz.  "I love you, you know that right?"  The older man shook his head.  "I do.  Only
you could have kept me here and calm for that."  He hugged the trim waist.  "I want to go home
and cuddle," he whispered.

"Home is good," Oz agreed.

Xander waited until they were in the van to get his thoughts out.  "I mean it, not just about the rib
thing."  His friend nodded, starting the engine.  "I meant all of it."

Oz turned to look at him.  "I figured that out when you came to stop me from leaving."  He saw
the small blush start so leaned over to gently kiss him.  "There, darker reds look better on you."
He backed the van out of the parking space, heading home.

It was Xander that noticed the differences about home first.  "No bike," he said, pointing.

Oz shuddered as he parked.  "Bliss feels some major power."  He looked at the younger man,
seeing how the pain medicine was about to knock him out.  "Stay, I'll help you out."  He slid out
of his seat, quickly walking around to help his friend climb down, steadying him as they walked
inside.  "Give us a sec," he said as they walked past Cupid, "you can have your son after I get him
settled down."  Xander was laid on the couch, falling asleep on the soft pillows that were
suddenly there, and Oz let Bliss take over his body again.

"Hey, Dad, probs?"

"A few minor ones," Cupid said as he led him to the altar room.  "How is he?"

"It didn't go in right last night and popped back out this morning.  The doctor just put it back in
the right way and doped him pretty well.  What's up and who else was here?"

"Your grandmother and Ares were both here.  He took the bike for a ride to get away from her,
and took the dog with him so the witch could go before we tainted her."  His son nodded.  "You
and Strife have both been summoned home to answer questions."

Bliss shook his head.  "He can't travel, the medicine's put him to sleep."  He glanced toward the
living room. "I can come for a while if someone fairly decent stays with him but he won't be able
to use his powers while he's under that drug."

"Your calendar mentioned school?"

"Yeah, he starts tomorrow and I start next week."  He frowned.  "Snooping?"

"No cable yet," Cupid reminded him.  "The more flexible of us have accepted modern reality but
some, like Hera, fondly wish for horses again and all the problems that mortals had when we
were at the peak of our powers."  Bliss snorted.  "My opinion too, but we still have to live under
their rule."

"So be it then.  Get someone reasonable to Xander-sit and I'll justify my existence."

"How about a healer?"

"We just came from one."

"I'll stay," Ares said, walking into the room trailed by Baby.  "It's not like I was summoned too."

Bliss nodded.  "Let him sleep, there're juice boxes in the fridge if he wants a drink, he won't have
to sit up as far to have it."  He searched his back for the ripcord to the bag that covered his wings
while he talked.

"Here," Cupid said, turning him around and making the bag and the shirt covering the fragile
wings disappear.  He watched his son stretch them in pleasure and sigh.  "You need to let them
out more often."  He looked at the now jean and sneaker clad, shirtless body and shook his head.
"You can't go like that, we'll stop at home on the way up."  He waved at Ares.  "Later."

Ares rolled his eyes after they had disappeared.  "He is too much like his mother some days," he
muttered as he walked out to watch his nephew sleep.


Bliss walked into the meeting of the Gods, bowing at the couple on the raised dais.  "You
summoned?" he asked as he took his appointed seat.

"What took you so long?" Hera snapped.

"Strife's mortal host had to go back to the hospital about an injury.  I had to get him settled for
my absence."  He looked around casually.  "He's fine, by the way, in case someone else cared."

"Of course we care, sweetie," Aphrodite said, leaning closer to pat her grandson's arm.  "Was it

"Broken ribs.  One popped back out after Dad left.  He's heavily medicated on our couch."  He
turned back to the elder Gods.  "Why was I summoned?"

"Your involvement with the mortals has gotten too deep," Zeus said.

"I may be bound to my host, as is Strife," he said, pausing until the gasps of outrage died down,
"but the Fates had me do this."

"We are well aware Strife asked for you," Athena said dryly.

Ares popped in with Strife, who was definitely in control.  "Yes, he did, and he would like to say
something in his own defense before you crucify him."  He shook his head at the glare from Bliss.  "I did all the work and he woke up naturally," he said as he handed him over.

Bliss helped Strife into his seat, standing behind him, hands resting on the lightly trembling, bare
shoulders.  He blocked the ever-present breeze from them, doing his best to soothe his friend.
"You're sure?" he asked quietly.

"Yeah," Strife said weakly, his normally high-pitched voice wavering with pain.  "I'm going to
make this fast because we both need sleep, but what I asked the Fates was 'Bliss wants to go to
the mortal realm to live life, do you have a suggestions where'."

The youngest Fate stood up.  "He speaks the truth, this was destined by us all."  She smiled at the
young couple.  "As they were."

"Thank you," Bliss told her.  He looked at the other Gods.  "It's true, Strife has been mine since I
was born.  He's always been there as my happiness.  He maneuvered it so he took a host that I
cared greatly for already; both of my selves love both of his selves.  Accept it now or not."  He
shrugged, looking directly at Hera and Zeus.  "Yes, I am *way* involved with the mortals, but
that's the nature of my powers, and I have learned a lot from them, including things we've
forgotten."  He squeezed the shoulders he held lightly, earning a moan.  "If you'll excuse us, he's
more important to me than your persecution."

Bliss sent them home, putting Strife back onto the couch, right on top of Giles as it happened.
"Hey."  He shook out the injured man's medicine, handing it over.  "Let me get you something to
drink," he said quietly, getting up and running into Tara, who handed him a glass of water.
"Thanks."  He handed it off, watching the pills be swallowed.  "Sleep, Xan, I'm here," he
whispered, covering him and making sure he was comfortable before turning back to their
visitors.  "What's going on?" he asked as he sat in front of the couch.

"Tara told us who she was relieved by and we thought it best to come check on you," Giles said,
sitting in the lone chair and accepting the puppy up into his lap.  "My, you're friendly, aren't you?"

Bliss gave control back to Oz.  "Very.  Sorry, they decided to ask awkward questions.  Thanks,"
he said, taking the refilled glass from Tara and sipping at the water.  "Bliss told me earlier that
Athena had a discussion with Discord and life was going to slow down again.  Something about
Discord making the Hellmouth problem worse and causing the whole Faith problem?"  Giles
moaned, holding his head.  "You okay?  We have some decent pain killers around right now."

"No, I'm fine, I just never put her and the chaos we see together."  He looked over the redhead's body, staring at the wings that were lightly fanning the man behind him.  "How long have you had those?"  The younger man looked confused so he pointed at the glistening white wings.

Oz looked at the one that had tucked around his arm.  //Bliss, something you wanted to tell me?//

//Not really.  We're merged right now so I can keep an eye on Strife.  One never knows what
drugs can do to one of us.  So they're out right now.  Problem for you?//

//No, I just never considered having wings.  Fur and teeth, after the fact, but never wings.//

Bliss chuckled. //Get used to it, we're getting closer now and we'll end up this way eventually.//

//Okay.//  Oz shrugged, focusing on everyone else again.  "Bliss is still out to watch over Strife."

Giles nodded.  "I just wondered."  He leaned back, getting comfortable as he petted the dog.
"You certainly do make one feel better," he told the puppy.  Baby barked, wagging his tail.

Bliss looked at the dog critically then made Oz choke on his laughter.  //Joxer?//

Tara rubbed her forehead.  "Was...was that h...him?"

Oz nodded, turning inwards again.  "That's your old sitter?"

//Yes!// Bliss sent out to them.  //Come 'ere, Baby,// he cooed and the puppy scrambled off Giles'
lap to scamper over, his whole back end moving with his tail as he walked, ending up in Oz's lap.
//Yes, such a good boy, yes,// Bliss said, petting him.  //Such a good guardian, yes.// Baby barked,
lapping their face happily.

"Hey," Xander mumbled, fully himself again as he reached under a wing to pet his dog.  "Strife
said hi too, yeah he did."  Baby barked again.  "Shh, we'll play later.  I need to nap."  He gave him one last scratch under the chin and withdrew his hand from under the wing, brushing the soft
feathers, making Oz jump.  "Sorry."

"S'okay," Oz muttered.  "Didn't know they were that sensitive."  He turned his head to look at the
other man.  "Sleep, Xan, you need it."

"Yup, even if your Grandfather did start the breaks healing faster."  He looked at Giles.  "You

"I'm fine," he said warmly.  "Go back to sleep, Xander, we'll be more quiet."  The younger man
nodded and put his head down, quickly starting to snore again.

"So," Oz said, "what else is going on?"

"Tara and I decided to room," Willow said, taking her hand to hold.  "We'll be in her room, which is nice and roomy."  He nodded.  "I'll tell Buffy later at our full Scooby meeting tonight."

"I'll be there," he promised.

"Xander?" Tara asked quietly.

"Starts Adam's tomorrow and he's decided to take a break from the gang."  Willow frowned, her
eyes getting big and wet looking.  "He said he felt like an outsider so he's concentrating on school.  He'll still do the friend's stuff and helping when he has to but he's backup from now on."

"Gee, an almost direct quote," Xander mumbled.

"Everyone will be there tonight," Giles said quietly.  "Do bring him if you're able.  And the puppy
by all means so he and Riley have something to do besides snipe at one another."

"Sure."  He glanced over his shoulder at the sleeping man then at the clock.  "He should be in the
middle of a dosage so he'll be awake."  He looked down at the pet in his lap.  "We'll go visit
tonight and you'll find more people to worship you."

"Um," Willow started, "since we're discussing rooms and stuff tonight, what about you two?"

"We live here but she's not welcome unless it's an emergency.  I refuse to let her hurt him again."

Giles nodded.  "Then we won't give Buffy your address."  He stood.  "We'd best go so you
can both rest.  I'm sure you both need it."  He smiled at them.  "After dinner?"

"Sure, around seven or so."  Oz watched them leave then looked at the big, liquid, brown eyes
staring up at him.  "So, are you Baby or Joxer?"  The dog barked after a second's pause.  "A
preference?"  The whip-like tail started thumping on the floor.  "Baby it is, for now," he decided,
then had to defend himself against the tongue.

Eventually, Oz and Baby settled down on the floor in front of the couch to nap beside Xander.


Xander woke to a warm tongue bathing his face and grunted at it.  "Baby, not now," he mumbled,
pushing on the soft fur.  Then he realized the fur was longer and not as soft as it had been last
night so he opened his eyes to find it was Oz licking him.  "Gee, you don't look like our dog," he
said, sitting up carefully, "but if you want to keep licking me, I won't complain."

Oz gave him a swift kiss.  "Just getting you up so we can go to Giles'."  He stood up, looking at
the younger man.  "But if you really want it, I'll tongue bathe you later."

Xander nodded frantically.  "Oh, yeah, I'm okay with that."  He accepted the help up, pulling his
roomie in for a sweet kiss.  "I don't know if I should bow and pray to you for all you've done for
me, or if I should cling and never let go because of all that I feel."

"You can worship my body," Oz suggested with a hint of a smile.  "When you're ready of course,
but I'd like that."

"Sounds like a reasonable compromise to me," Xander said with a grin.  He stretched carefully.
"How long before we go?"

"You have enough time to go to the bathroom and brush your teeth."

Xander nodded, heading for the bathroom.  When he came back, he took control of the leash,
clipping it on the puppy's collar.  "Let's walk," he suggested, "it's not that far and I'll be sitting all
night with Baby on my lap."  His friend nodded so he started for the door, patting down his
pockets for the important things.  "Keys?"  They were handed to him after Oz locked the door
with them.  He linked their free arms, starting down the small walkway to the sidewalk.

Oz got loose, looking at the younger man.  "Thought you wanted to hide it."

"Friends do that stuff," Xander reasoned as he continued walking.

Oz stopped them, shaking his head.  "No they don't.  They don't wrap around each other."  He
glanced around to see who might be watching.  "Mixed signals, Xan."

Xander looked at his feet and nodded.  "Sorry."  His face was tipped up for him.  "Sometimes I
want to yell it and sometimes I want to hide.  I'm mixed up right now."  He got loose of the
tender grip, heading toward Giles' again.  "Coming?"

Oz caught up, nudging the younger man's shoulder with his.  "It's allowed.  Strife's enough to
make anyone freaky."

"Hey!"  He turned, seeing the smugness.  "Okay, enough of that.  Pick on Xander time is later
tonight."  He smiled gently.  "I don't want to hide it but I've heard so many bad things about being
out that it's scary."

"Well, scary is your cousin so I doubt you'll have to worry."

//Have you *seen* Demios recently? // Strife asked them.  //He's scared of his own shadow.  Kiss
him, other half. //

Xander grinned lecherously, glancing sideways at his friend.  "Okay," he said, suddenly pulling
Oz's head around to swiftly kiss him.  "Better."   He started walking again.

Oz stood there, shocked, mouth open.  "Xander!"  He hurried to catch up.  "Wow."

"Yup. I'm good at that.  Had lots of practice with Cordy."  He tugged on the leash as Baby
headed for the street.  "No."


"No, Baby.  He was going to investigate his first pothole."

"Okay."  Oz led the way to the door, knocking as Xander stopped to let Baby mark the
ornamental bushes.  "He drinks too much."

"I'm sure he's fine," Giles said as he opened the door.  "Come in, all of you."  He patted Xander's
shoulder gently as he walked past.

Baby barked, growling at Buffy.  "Shh," Xander said, pulling him into his body.  "Shh, Baby.  No
need to protect here."  The puppy stopped growling and looked up at him.  "No, this is a safe
place, Giles guards here."  He petted through the soft fur.  "Good boy to protect, just not here."
He sat down on the couch, letting the puppy up into his lap.

"Not sure he's that smart," Riley said, walking over from where he'd been talking with Willow.
"Dogs are only supposed to understand about seventy words."  He let the puppy smell him
before petting him.  "Hey, there, fella."  He sat down too, and the dog wiggled over onto his lap.
"Hi, yes, hello," he said, letting himself be licked, much to the disgust of Buffy, who's grossed out expression said it all.

"He's real friendly," Oz said.  He looked at Tara.  "A very good fit in our house.  Thanks."

"He's happy, that's what's important."  Tara waved at Xander.  "You okay?"

"Yup, I should even stay awake now."  He smiled at her.  "Thanks for giving us him.  He's a good

"Then I'm happy.  And...and if you need a puppy-sitter again, he can come play with our kittens."
They nodded so she went back to her reading.

"So, why are we all here again?" Buffy asked, crossing her legs and turning to look at her

"We have to get plans set up for summer and fall terms," Giles reminded her gently.  "Many
students travel during the summer break."

"Oh!" Willow said, pulling an envelope out of her back pocket.  "I got offered a summer job."
Tara smiled at her.  "I get to help at the zoo.  Learn about the animals."

"Cool, just don't suck one into you," Xander told her.  "I'm starting summer school tomorrow at
Adam's and I'll be going both sessions."

Oz looked around at the others.  "I start summer school next week."  Tara nodded, apparently she
would be with him.

Buffy shook her head.  "I have to go do the parental visit thing for three weeks, otherwise I'm

"That begs the questions of housing," Giles said.

"Mom's, or I guess anyway."

"I talked with her earlier this week in a store, she'll be traveling with an exhibit this summer.  You might want to ask before you make that assumption."  Buffy nodded, heading for the phone.

Riley cleared his throat, looking over his shoulder.  "I don't have any concrete plans. I'mwanted by the remains of the Initiative so I can't start school, or work."  He shrugged at Xander's upset expression.

"We need to get him some new information," Xander said.  "That way he could hide in plain sight without people tracking his social security number or other personal information stuff."

"Let me ask," Oz said, "I may know someone."

Everyone looked at Buffy as she slammed the phone down.  "I need to find a job," she said
calmly.  "Mom's turning off the house so I can't stay."  Giles patted her shoulder.  "I'll start
looking tomorrow.  That'll give me a month."  She sat back down, looking at the table.

"What about your dad?" Riley suggested.

"He lives in LA," Willow said.  "Long commute if we have problems."  She looked at Giles, who
nodded.  "Um, since we're doing bad housing news, I have something to add."  She glanced at
Tara for strength.  "I'm moving in with Tara in the fall, into her dorm.  There's more room and we
get along well enough still, and...and we have the kitties to provide a family for now."  She saw
the hurt in Buffy's eyes.  "Hey, we'll still be buds, just not roomies."  She took Tara's hand, their
first real, physical statement of their togetherness before the group.  "We're really close and we
want to give us a good shot."  She looked at Oz for support, desperate to not be doing this alone.

"Hey, it's the only way to know if you really work," Xander said quickly.  "See if you can love
them in spite of their quirky behavior-type stuff."

"Snoring kills relationships," Oz agreed.

Willow groaned.  "I fixed that problem and you promised not to joke about my snacky-snoring."

Tara squeezed Willow's hand.  "It's okay, I snore too."  She looked around.  "They're right
though, quirks can kill non-love pretty fast."

Giles nodded. "Very true.  A bit sad really but unfortunately true nonetheless."  He looked
around.  "Has everyone gotten their schedules worked out for the next term?"  Everyone but
Buffy nodded.  "You've not?"

"I meet with my advisor in two days, she'll tell me what to take."  He nodded.  "So, any other
planning that needs done?"

"We'll need plans for while you're gone," Oz pointed out.

"For patrol at least, even if it's slow," Xander added.

"A reasonable course of action," Giles agreed proudly.  "We'll need work and school schedules
from you all so we can arrange things most efficiently." Oz handed over a copy of his and
Xander's schedules.  "Thank you.  Girls, when you get one please.  And Tara, if you'd like to go
out on patrol with us, I'll make sure you're with a group of experienced fighters."

Xander cleared his throat.  "Hate to say this but I can't fight anytime soon.  It'll take six to eight
weeks for my ribs to heal completely and I'll need a few weeks of light duty after that."  He
blushed slightly at the heated glare Buffy sent him but it was something that needed to be done in
front of the group.  He couldn't back off without an explanation.

//Unc started them healing faster,// Strife reminded him.  //Maybe a month and some light duty.//

"Sorry," Xander corrected in the silence left by his statement, "Strife reminded me that someone
started them healing better so I'll need a month off."  He and Giles shared a look and the older
man subtly nodded, agreeing to keep him off the active rolls like they had talked about earlier in
the week.

Giles made a note on the papers in front of him.  "We'll work around your injury."

The whole room stayed silent for a few more awkward moments but Baby barked to break it up,
jumping down and heading for the door, rear wiggling as his tail wagged.

"Sorry, overactive puppy bladders," Xander excused, getting up and taking him out.

Riley walked out after him, shutting the door behind himself.  "What happened anyway?  No one's said anything to me about you being in a fight."

"Broken ribs.  Got into a fight, normal," Xander explained curtly.  He looked down at the dog.
"You didn't want to go, you wanted to play, didn't you?" he asked, watching the dog sit in the
middle of the courtyard, staring at the stairs down into the common area.  Xander looked up as he
heard a familiar engine come down the street.  //Taking it back?// he asked loudly.

Ares walked down the stairs, handing him the keys and freezing Riley at the same time.  "No, I
needed to talk to you."  He frowned at the apartment's door.  "Strife's powers are eating your
mortal body faster than we thought so we need to fix the problem sooner."  He pulled a small vial
out of a non-existent pocket on his leather pants.  "You'll have to take this while Strife's more
absent than not from you."

Xander looked at the liquid.  "What about Oz?"

"He's covered already."  He handed over the vial, pushing the fingers closed around it.  "This isn't
what we wanted for you but it's the only way."  He turned to go.  "I'll put it back, I'm escaping
Hera's wrath over you two."

Riley blinked as soon as the God of War was out of sight, then he looked down at his watch.
"What happened?"

"Nothing," Xander said, leading them back inside.  He caught Oz's eye as he sat down, frowning.

Riley walked in after a few more seconds.  "Thought I heard something," he explained.

Giles cleared his throat.  "If there's nothing else, I'd say you could go."  Buffy was the first one
out the door, dragging Riley after her, talking about bathing.  Willow and Tara left together, after
stopping to quickly pet Baby.  "What did he say?" Giles asked after it was just the three of them.

"He said Strife's powers were eating me faster."  Xander got up to sit at the table with his roomie
and the former Watcher, putting the vial on it.  "He told me to drink it, that it'd fix me."  He
looked at the now napping puppy.  "Riley didn't see him."

Giles looked at the vial.  "We had been discussing ways of stopping the process for you, Oz,
you're already fixed."  He put it back down.  "Did he give you a time to take it?"

Xander shook his head.  "Just that Strife needed to be mostly absent."  He picked up the glass
tube, weighing it in his hand.  "So, do I?"

"No," Cupid said, popping in and taking it from him, handing it off to Giles.  "It would separate
your soul from your body, giving it totally to Strife."  He and Oz shared a look.  "We're fixing it
another way."  Then he was gone, leaving only the three feathers that had fallen from his wings.

***  CHAPTER FIVE   ***

"Oh, Unc," Strife called softly, taking the lid off the vial.  He and Xander had worked out this
plan late last night, not telling Oz or Bliss so they didn't have to hear the fit.  He put the vial to his lips as he felt the power signature of the only family he really had ever had, drinking it as soon as Ares materialized.

"Strife!  No!" he shouted, taking the now empty vial and breaking it.  "Why can't you follow

"Because I like the kid, he's a lot like me."  He punched his Uncle on the arm, simply grinning at
the glare.  "It was water," he said quietly, "but I suggest you never do it again."  He stepped back,
holding out his arms.  "Just think of us as two Strife's for the price of one."

Ares shook his head, punching the tree Strife had been leaning against, leaving a dent.  "I just
wanted you back.  The family's *so* much worse now.  I get no respect, even after I saved them
from helping some very bad people."

Strife patted the elder God's bulging arm.  "I still respect you, Unc, and you're not gonna get rid
of me that easily again."  He leaned against the tree.  "If you gave the kid a chance, I'm sure you'd
like him as much as you do me."

Ares shook his head.  "That wasn't my idea, it was your mother's.  But since you asked, I'll give
the kid a chance to make me like him," he agreed finally.

"Thanks," Xander said, having taken control again.  "It means a lot to both of us."  He stared to
walk away but the God of War stopped him.

"You...just take care of Strife.  Got me?"

"Hey, we're out of the fighting for a long time and we both agreed not to jump in between Buffy
and her Midol."  He shrugged at the small laugh.  "I'm not that dumb or suicidal, really, Ares."
Xander got loose from the hands on his arms, walking away.

"I'll be watching," Ares called before he disappeared.

"Really," Xander mumbled, "couldn't have guessed that."


Bliss looked up from rebraiding the bottom his hair.  "Hey, help?"  Xander nodded, walking up to where he was leaning over the sink, taking up the braid and finishing it.  "Thanks.  How was your secret meeting with Ares?"  Their eyes met in the mirror, the God's telling the young man that knew and understood why he had done it that way.

"Fine.  He really misses Strife.  The family's avoiding him so he's been hanging out with Strife's

Bliss hummed.  "Discord and Ares getting close is never good.  Was she the one that gave him the vial?"  Xander nodded.  "Figures."

"She wants her son back," Xander said.  "I'm sure your father's felt the same way."

"True, but if I remember right, Discord's not a candidate for Mother of the Year.  Not that Cupid
is perfect but at least he tries to remember things like Naming Days and other important events."
Bliss turned to look at the younger man, turning back into Oz, noticeable because the blond hair
and braid turned back to it's usual short, red, spiky strands.

"Just be careful."  He gave Xander a short kiss.  "Come on, I'll help you rig something to carry that heavy book."

Xander followed the slightly older man out to their living room, watching him weigh the
textbook.  "I could always not carry it."

"Some teachers get pissy about that."  Oz looked from the book to Xander and back.  "Try it
normally the first day and ask if you really need it.  English isn't an automatic 'have it at class'
subject."  He rubbed down the nearest arm.  "How you feel?"

"Safe and comfy."  He leaned into the touch.  "You?"

"I've been fine.  I'm not heading into new territory."  Oz noticed the small frown so clarified his
statement.  "College is a big change for many people."

"I thought you were talking about us."

"No, that's on top of college."

"Oh."  Xander shifted so he was looking at his friend.  "Are you gonna be disappointed if I'm not
all A's?"

"No," Oz said gently, pulling the younger man against his side to cuddle.  "I expect you to do
your best and to ask for help when you need it."  He squeezed him lightly.  "I bet you could even
get Giles to tutor you if I'm too busy."

"I was hoping it'd be easier."

"The longer summer classes over the shorter period may be good for you, less to remember for
shorter times."  Oz slowly petted through the dark hair.  "Regular classes can be a little tougher, a
year of high school work in sixteen weeks or less."  Xander shuddered.  "But the teachers are
professionals and they want to be there, as do most of the students."

"I guess it'll be okay then," Xander whispered as he closed his eyes, listening to his friend's body
work.  "I like this," he whispered.

"Yeah, this is good for me too," Oz said, relaxing.


Xander yawned as he woke up.  "Did I miss bedtime?"  He looked up to see the small nod.  "Why
are you reading my textbook?"

"I tested out of Freshman English so I was curious," Oz said as he put the book down.  "Nap

"Yup, you're very comfy."  Xander looked around.  "Puppy?"

"Went out.  He's been running through the kitty door."  He leaned down for a small kiss.  "Hasn't
gotten stuck yet."  He took a longer kiss, blinking up in shock when he landed on his back.
"Didn't like?"

"Wasn't me," Xander said, looking around. //Strife?//


"Shit!" Xander said, pulling Oz up and putting him behind him, away from the woman popping in where they had been.  "Um, hi," he said carefully.

"Quiet!  I wish to speak with my son!" the dark haired woman said, glaring at him as she adjusted
her short black leather skirt.

//Your mother perchance?// Xander asked dryly.

//Yup, taking control.//  Strife shook his head, looking over her.  "Mom.  You haven't changed

She stood, glaring at him now.  "Home!   Now!"

"No."  He dodged the thrown ball of energy.  "Yay, I'm not leaving Bliss."   He reached back and
took Oz's hand as they switched over so the mortal wouldn't be harmed.  "We're together, deal
with it."  Her eyes narrowed and her nostrils flared as she gathered more power.  "Sorry, but I like it here with him."

"We'll see about that," she promised, leaving the same way she came in.

"Now it's time for intervention," Bliss said, squeezing Strife's hand. His lover smiled.  "Hey, we
can hold up against her, we have so far."  They walked together into the altar room, lighting the
candles and bowing before it.  "Hear us," Bliss whispered, "protect us."

"Please," Strife added.  "Hear us, great Hera, matriarch of our family.  Protect us from my
mother's wrath."

"Hear us, Zeus, patriarch," Bliss said.  "Protect your family as you have for ages untold."

Both of them spun at the heavy clapping.  "Ah, family," Ares said.  "They're listening but I
believe this is a test."  He smiled at them as he wrapped his arms around their shoulders.  "What
did she do?"

Bliss turned back, bowing as he blew out the candles, sending silent thanks.  "Just said that she
would make me come home," Strife said, watching his lover's actions.

"She was very pissed," Bliss added, hugging his lover.  "Are you bored?  The last time you made
visits like this you were going for world domination."

Ares gave his grandson a dry look.  "Funny."  He looked at his nephew.  "I can muzzle her, if...."

"If?" Strife asked.

"If the kid dedicates himself to me."

"Nope," Xander said, taking control.  "I'm pledging to Bliss."  He smiled at the god in question as
one wing came up to brush his face.  "Thanks."  He turned back to the God of War.  "I can do it
after Bliss and Strife," he offered.

"Doesn't work that way.  See, I need followers and you, as a mortal, can only pledge to one God,
even in you do things under more than one's domain."  He looked at his grandson.  "While I
applaud your love, I need you more."

"Let me guess, you only get terrorists these days?" Xander asked, grinning at the heated look.
"So start a school or a cult or something."

Ares shook his head, putting his arms down and looking at him.  "Can't.  That takes too much
energy to constantly manage.  I can't do that and guide wars."

"Cyber-temple not working?" Bliss asked.

"Not well enough.  I'd like to do something like Cupid has and set up a secret temple camouflaged by a business, but I can't find one."

"Huh?" Xander asked.

"Dad has a temple in Vegas behind a popular wedding chapel.  He set it up so each marriage done by his priests and priestesses acts as a prayer."

Xander nodded slowly then looked at the God of War.  "Gun shows."  Both gods looked at him.
"They travel, have many violent people, and some extremists but hey, and you could have each
entrance and/or sale like Cupid does marriages."  He shrugged then gasped as he was hugged
hard by the elder god.  "Breathe," he moaned and was let go.

"I like you," Ares said with a smile.  "That...was worthy of Strife."  He left in a flash of light.

Xander looked at Bliss.  "Wow."  He watched the blond hair turn red and the wings disappear,
grinning at his Oz.  "He hugs nice."  He hugged the older man.  "But I prefer your arms."

Oz smiled.  "Anytime, just ask."  After a few minutes he pulled back.  "Bed?"

"Sure."  Xander led them into the bedroom, going to his pile of still packed laundry.  He started to frown after the second minute of fruitless - or bottomless - searching.

"Sleep naked," Oz said from the bed, turning off the lights.  He watched as the shadowy form
slipped out of his clothes and walked to the bed, careful not to trip on their dog.

Xander slid into the bed, cuddling immediately and nuzzling the soft neck.  "Night."

"Night," Oz whispered.


Oz frowned at his bed partner as he woke up clinging to the edge and blanketless again.  He
pushed against the rubbing body, grunting as he was enfolded and full-body nuzzled by the
younger man.  "Xander," he whispered.


"Time to get up."  Xander grumbled.  "No, you have to go to class.  Get up and surrender the

"Sorry," Xander mumbled as he covered the older man.  "Sleep, pretty."

"I will once you're at class."  Xander climbed over him, heading for the bathroom, allowing Oz to
roll onto his back and hog the blankets.  "Gee, we do still have a whole bed," he muttered.  "No
one ate it."

Xander walked back in, falling to his knees to hunt for clothes.  "Wha's wrong?"

"Nothing," Oz said quickly.  He watched the younger man get dressed, shamelessly observing
what would soon be his, he hoped.  "Have a good day," he called after him, rolling over to have
the bed all to himself.  Well, him and the dog.


Xander dragged himself into Giles' at the end of his first day of class, falling onto the couch with a groan.  Oz's note had said to meet him here but where was everybody?

"How was your day?" Giles asked as he walked down from his bedroom.  The young man's head
lolled on the couch, rolling to look at him.  "Ah, a normal first day then.  Don't worry, you'll get
used to it again."  He patted the dark hair in passing.  "Is there some reason you're here?"


"A note?"

"On the door.  Oz said he was here."  Xander looked around.  "But I guess that should be in the
past tense."  Giles looked confused.  "No Oz?"

"No, I've not seen him at all today."  He walked over to the couch to sit down.  "Did it give you a
reason?"  He frowned at the head shake.  "I'll call him in a bit."  He got comfortable.  "How was
your class?"

"Okay, but the teacher hates me already."  He shrugged slowly, his back sore from his backpack.
"Told me I should be in English for Non-Americans."  Giles rolled his eyes.  "She did.  She asked
me what a verb was so I told her, and she said that was an elementary school definition, even
though that's what it said in the book."  He shrugged carefully.  "So I quoted the book and she
gave me a scary look worthy of you on a coffee binge.  I ignored her the rest of the class."

Giles patted the younger man's shoulder gently.  "I'm sure it will get better soon."

"Yup, just as soon as she flunks me for not writing up to her standards.  We had to write an in-class essay today and it was *mine* that she picked out to pick on in front of the class."  Xander settled deeper into the couch.  "She hates me," he repeated with a yawn.

Giles stood up.  "Rest, now, worry about her later," he said quietly, taking the backpack and
motorcycle helmet from the young man to lay aside.  He waited until Xander was asleep before
heading for the phone.  "Oz?   No, he's here.  Said something about a note you left him?"  He
shook his head.  "You might check it, he said it told him you were here."  He looked toward the
couch with a fond smile.  "No, he's resting.  His teacher was most rough with him."  He hung up,
walking over to gently cover the sleeping man.


Oz walked into Giles' apartment, handing over the note he had left with a shrug before he bent
down to his friend.  "Xan...der," he called softly, drawing it out.  The younger man looked at him,
blinking.  "Come on, you can nap at home.  I'm sure Giles would like some privacy."

Giles stopped Xander from standing up, handing over the pink paper.  "Was this what you saw?"

Xander looked at it in confusion, shaking his head.  "No, it was on notebook paper in blue ink.
'I'm at Giles', meet ya there.  Oz'."  He looked at his roommate.  "We have pink paper?"

"Gift."  Oz took the note, looking at the dark ink scrawled across the paper then down at
Xander.  "Wasn't me."

Giles sat down, looking up at Oz.  "Could it have been a practical joke?  One of the neighbors
who might object to you living together, or one of the children that live around you perhaps?"

"Or some other mean person?" Xander suggested.

Oz shook his head.  "I've been home all day, mostly with the doors open to air out the cleaning
fumes."  He looked at the door.  "Xander, want me to drive the bike?"

"You need another helmet," Giles reminded them.  "It's not safe otherwise."

"I'll walk," Xander said, standing to stretch.  "Take my pack?"  Oz nodded and headed out.  He
waited until he heard the bike pull off.  "You're thinking something," he accused the older man.

"I do a lot of that," Giles said with a faint smile.  "Go home and play with your dog."

Xander waited until he was alone on the sidewalk to ask. //Strife, you've been too quiet.  What's

//Your teacher needs an enema to clean her brains.//  The God yawned over their bond.  //This
was more my thing than hers.  Look for the pattern.//

//Gee, don't we sound like the people on that show Willow likes to watch?// he asked snidely.

//Hey, I *like* Profiler.//

//Let me guess, Oz got you started on it?//

//And taught me to be calm.  I was much more rowdy when I was your age.//

//And that was *how* long ago?//

//Hey!//  Strife snorted. //Point but still.  We age differently.  When we talk about being teens,
that's an approximate age or development thing.  Bliss was an infant for *centuries*.//

//So you guys just spread your lives out over a longer time?//

//Many of us chose to stop aging at some point.  Ares chose his late twenties.  That's when most
of the Gods choose to stop.  Still close to peak performance but old enough not to be teen's


//Yeah.  I chose my early twenties.  Many of my worshipers were kids so I had to relate, but I
didn't want to be sixteen forever.//

//So you were gonna be twenty-one forever instead?//   Xander stopped as he walked up the
sidewalk to his and Oz's house, catching the puppy as he jumped around him.  "Hi, Baby, yes, hi," he cooed, petting his dog as he walked inside.  "We had an escapee," he called as walked through the door.

"Good, you caught the sock thief."  He scratched behind the mutt's floppy ears.  "No more socks
for you.  We need to get you toys."  Both Gods laughed at that.

"Oh!  Can we?"  Xander let Baby go, hugging the slightly older man's back.  "Hi," he said softly.

Oz turned around, hugging him as hard as he dared.  "Hi," he said after a small kiss.  "Bad

"Hates me."

"Hmm, should fix that.  You're not hateable."  He led the way into the kitchen, opening the last
can of dog food that had come with the puppy.  "Supper?"

"Hopefully not that," Xander said with a grin as he leaned against the door frame.  Oz rolled his
eyes.  "I can kinda cook if you want though."  He looked at the cabinets that still didn't have
doors.  "Pasta or breakfast cross-dressing as supper.  You pick."

"Cross-dressing breakfast."  Oz watched Xander move around the kitchen, sitting on the
table to rest.  "We painting this weekend?"

"If the weather's okay."  Xander whipped the now-cracked eggs in their one bowl, adding chunks
of stuff he had been tearing up.  "Ham, bacon, green peppers, and cheese okay?"


Xander poured half the mixture into the frying pan sitting on the stove, turning on the burner
under it, then turned to look at his friend.  "What else was there to do?"

"Paint the faux shutters, clean the siding, do the grass, plant the tulip bulbs she gave us for the
walkway."  He looked around the kitchen, surveying what he had done earlier.  "We need to paint
the cabinets and doors then rehang them too."  Xander nodded.  "Think that was it."

"Tiles in the second bathroom?"

"Forgot about that, and working on the poor wood they uncovered when they tore up the carpet."

"We buying materials?  'Cause my check won't be in for a month."

"Nope, just give lists for approval and she'll buy."

"Okay."  Xander turned back to the stove, turning the cooked semi-omelet onto a plate.  "Come and get it."  He poured his own, watching it cook.

Oz patted Xander's back as he walked behind him, leaning against a closer counter to eat.
"S'good," he said, mouth full.

"Thanks.  Another almost skill I acquired."  He turned his own eggs out, turning off the burner
before eating.  "Not too bad," he agreed after the first bite.  "Curtains?"

"Found a few decent ones at Goodwill.  We'll put them up later."  Xander nodded.  "What
happened in class?"

Xander headed over for his bag, pulling out the tape recorder that had been a present from
Willow, rewinding it and setting it to play on the table.  After the second assault of student
bashing he turned it off.  "That was the first few minutes of 'trash Xander' this morning.  There's
more later when we turned in an in-class assignment."

Oz shook his head.  "We'll just have to make her like you.  Everyone else does."  He watched the
younger man's face briefly change to sadness then back to a bland look.  "All those that matter
do," he asserted quietly, walking over to touch his arm.  "You grow on people."

"Not a weed," Xander mumbled, putting his plate in the sink.  "I've got to write something for
class," he said as he picked up his bag and headed for the living room.  He spread his things out
on the coffeetable, settling down on the floor to work.

"Want help?"

"No thanks."

Oz waited, watching him write furiously for a moment then stop, and the sudden restarts that kept happening.  "You could use my computer," he offered after the fourth paper ball went flying, both of them watching Baby play with it.

"No, she said it has to be handwritten because it says more about us."  Xander stretched,
groaning.  "I've almost got it the way I want it.  Thanks though."  He bent back down over his
papers, going back to his paper rewriting.

Oz waited until the younger man was done to look over his shoulder.  "Want a test read?"

Xander leaned back against the edge of the couch.  "Wouldn't matter, she wants it from the heart,
whatever *that* means."

"Honesty.  True to feelings and stuff."  The older man picked up the paper, reading the short
essay and was amazed.  "This is good," he said finally, handing it back.

"It's a rewrite of the earlier essay," Xander said quietly, his eyes closed.  "She told me to rewrite it until it was right so I could get credit."

"Can I see the original?"  It was silently handed to him and he quickly read through it.  "Xan, I'm
stunned.  This is great."  He handed them back, watching the small pleasure of the compliment
quickly fade.  "She's an idiot, it was great."

"Maybe, but you don't give me grades."  He lifted himself up onto the couch, cuddling the older
man's still body.  "I can fake interest for six weeks."

"You shouldn't have to."

"Yes, but sometimes the real world makes you do things or act ways you don't want to so the
waters don't drown you.  Like dealing with idiot managers or people who think they know but don't."

"People who say things just to be mean?"

"Yup, just like her...them."

Oz pulled the relaxed body tight into him, squeezing gently.  "You don't have to associate.
Willow would understand and accept."

"Not the answer," Xander mumbled.

"So what is?"

"Waiting it out."  He looked up.  "I don't like the ego monster that's taken Buffy over any more
than you do, or Giles does, but eventually she'll figure it out."

"Only when she's alone."  Xander shook his head.  "Yeah, it will be.  Until she wakes up one day
and realizes she drove everyone away, she won't change."

"But if we leave, she won't last long enough to see it."

"Maybe, but I don't think she's that dense."  Xander gave him a disbelieving look.  "I don't.
Everyone has their area of genius, her's is just hidden a little deeper."

"If you say so," Xander said tiredly.

Outside the front door Willow's hand stopped before it could knock and she turned to look at
Buffy, who had begged and pouted until she had agreed to tell her where Xander lived now.  The
Slayer's face showed sympathy but no sign that she knew they were talking about her.  Willow
shook her head, walking away.  She didn't want to be there when they told her and if Buffy
couldn't understand it yet, then she wasn't going to explain it to her.

Buffy knocked on the screen door, backing away from the small, growling, furry form on the
other side.

"Down, Baby," Xander said, walking toward the door.  "Buffy," he sighed, no emotion in his
voice.  "How did you find our house?"

"I made Willow tell me," she said, pouting lightly.

"Is she all right?" Xander asked, just a little on the snide side.

Baby started to growl again.  "He needs muzzled," she told him, ignoring his comment.

"No, he's fine," Oz told her as he walked up behind his roommate.  "He's doing his job.  What's

"Can I come in?"

"No," Xander said.

"Paint fumes," Oz covered.  "You being woosy could be bad."

She frowned then shrugged.  "I just wanted to make sure Xander was okay.  He seemed really
quiet last night."

"Pain pills," Oz said, rubbing the younger man's stiffening back gently in the mostly dark hallway.  He ignored Bliss' comment, not wanting to give in too much to his mean side.

"We're fine," Xander said cheerfully, acting very well.  "Anything else?"

"No, but do you know where Giles is?"

"Think he had 'plans'," Oz said, shrugging.

She nodded and sighed.  "Whatever.  I guess I'll go patrol then."  She walked away, shoulder's
slumped, leaving guilt in her wake.

Oz closed and locked the door, pulling Xander to him.  "You deserve an award."  He kissed him,
taking his time to be gentle.

"Isn't that a *re*ward?" Xander asked with a small, naughty grin.  Oz thought for a second then
nodded.  "Just making sure, 'cause I like rewards better."  He kissed the older man, holding both
sides of his head so he couldn't get away.

"Tell ya what," Oz panted.  "Help me hang curtains and you can have nakedness as a reward."

Xander shook his head.  "I'm not a naked boy."  He relaxed into the arms wrapping around his

"Then how about I get a reward for my cleaning by having you naked with me on the couch?" he
asked quietly into a pinkening ear.  "Are you comfy with that step?"

Xander shrugged.  "Last night was okay."  He pulled off his outer shirt, heading for the chair the
curtains were laying across.  He turned to find Oz standing behind him.  "Come on or no reward."

Oz nodded slowly.  "That was quick."

"Ah!  But I *know* you won't do something if I'm uncomfortable."  He got up on a chair,
clipping the first section of curtains to the pull rod.  "Okay, feed it slowly."

Oz handed him a few sections at a time, keeping an eye on his friend - and hopefully lover soon -
and his progress.  That's how he was able to catch him when the chair started to tip.  Xander
blinked his big, chocolate eyes at him in surprise.  "Careful."

Xander nodded.  "Yeah."  He got off the chair, looking around.  "Um..."

"It was just a safety thing," Oz soothed.

"No, I liked.  Tons."  He looked at the slightly older man.  "Really liked."

"We can cuddle," Oz assured him with a small pat to his arm.  "Want me to finish?"

"No.  No, I can do it."  He climbed back up on the chair, picking up where the material had come
free.  When that side was done, Xander started to move the chair but the warm hand on his back
stopped him.

"Let me get the stepladder."  Xander nodded so Oz headed for the spare bedroom, coming back
with the folded wooden device.  He steadied the younger man as he climbed up with a hand on
the tight rear.  What he didn't see was the happy, almost dreamy, smile Xander wore.  Until he
came down and kissed him, pulling them tightly together and clinging.  "Wow," he whispered.

"Yeah," Xander said.  "That's what I felt too."  He moved the stepladder to the next window,
starting the process over.  Still with Oz's hand on his rear, just for safety's sake of course.  He
completed that window and stole another kiss before the next.

"We need more windows" Oz said after another round of working/kissing.

"We have three bedrooms and a kitchen."

"But not enough curtains."

"Who said those were about curtains?" Xander asked, looking down with a little grin.  "Did I say
they were about curtains?"  He backed down the stepladder, kissing Oz again, deeply probing the
older man's mouth.  "See," he whispered as he pulled back, "no curtains."

"But if we don't hang them then the neighbors will start warning their kids about us."

"Point."  Xander went back up the stepladder, quickly finishing the last set in the living room.
"Done."  He hopped down, pulling his friend in for a spectacular, vision spot-inducing kiss. "My reward."  He headed for the couch.

Oz opened his mouth but closed it, heading for the backyard to see what the screaming was
about.  "Baby!  Let go of him!"  The little kid from next door ran home crying as soon as his
sleeve was free.   Oz pointed the puppy inside, waiting on the parent.

"Is your dog okay?" the child's mother asked.  "Benny was tugging on his ears so I guess the nip
was reasonable but it didn't get him."  She looked really worried.

Oz nodded, reaching over to shake her hand.  "He's fine and as long as Benny's all right, we're all
good."  She nodded, hurrying home.  Very quickly the neighbor's house rang with yells at the

Xander walked out to the back door, shivering.  "Kid okay?"

Oz nodded, turning to find the younger man shirtless with the button on his jeans undone.  "Baby
just caught his shirt."  He walked back inside, closing the door behind them.  "My reward?" he
asked as he looked over the pale chest.  "You need sun."

"I'll get some this weekend," Xander promised.  He shivered at the casual touch to his bare
shoulder.  "Couch?"

"Sure."  They walked back to the newly darkened living room, each sitting at an end of the sofa,
watching tv.  "Cuddling doesn't work without touching," Oz pointed out during a commercial.
He watched the other man's body gradually shift closer, clearly insecure with this new
development.  "No touching if you don't want it," he assured, trying to calm the virginal fear.  He
instantly had a lap full of soft hair, but it was the wrong hair.  "Baby," Oz sighed.  He shifted the
puppy around, lifting an arm for the younger man to crawl under.  Soon his body was snuggled by both of the hairy heads in his life.

"Comfy?" Xander asked softly.  He looked up to see the nod.  "Okay."  Oz lifted his arm to let
him sit back up.  "Thanks."

"S'okay.  You'll get used to long term cuddling."  He looked down at their dog, noticing his
stomach-up sprawl.  "You'll be like this someday soon."

"Fur covered?"  Xander grinned at the groan, kissing his roomie's cheek.  "Pretty soon," he


Oz came back from the bathroom, looking down at the body sprawled across their bed in his
sleep.  He shook his head, able to admire the view but unable to sleep on five inches of mattress
again.  "Xander," he said quietly.  The younger man rolled onto his side with a happy smile so Oz
crawled in behind him, pulling the unresisting body into his arms, and placed a gentle kiss on the bare neck.  Xander flipped over, cuddling him hard, burying his head in the warm space between Oz's shoulder and neck with a sigh.  "Night," Oz whispered.

"Night," Xander mumbled.

*** Chapter Six   ***

Oz woke up in a scary position, most of him hanging off the bed.  Backwards.  He could feel the
edge of the mattress under his arm and thigh, but just barely.  The only reason he was still actually on the bed was because Xander was clinging to him.  He scooted forward, ending up on top of Xander when he flipped onto his back.   Xander whined as he tried to move so Oz leaned down to brush the younger man's forehead with his lips.  "Hey," he said when the brown eyes opened to look at him.  "Time to get up."

Xander looked at the clock then back to him, glancing down at where he was pulling his friend's
naked body tighter against his, blushing.  "Sorry."

"I'm not.  At least I'm not hanging off the bed."  He nodded at the head shake.  "Sorry, but you
steal the mattress and the blankets."  He got up, wiggling slightly to get traction.

Xander hissed.  "Oz!"  He pulled him back down,.  "Was nice and we have ten minutes."

"What I want to do to you will take more than ten minutes," he said gently.  "Go get ready for
school."  Oz managed to get up this time, getting out of the younger man's way so he could get
up.  "We have time," he reminded.

"Yeah, but I'm the kid that unwrapped all the presents a week early."  With that, Xander headed
off to start his day.

Oz smiled to himself.  He could wait long enough.


Xander chewed his lip as his English teacher looked from him to his paper and back.  "Better, but
not much," she said, picking up a pen to mark a grade on it.  "By now you should be able to do
better."  She brushed some of her dark hair behind her ear.

"*What* am I doing wrong?"

"Your sentence structure is awkward.  Your phrasing is overly descriptive and wordy.  The
pacing and flow feel odd."  She leaned back in her chair, running a hand over her silver leather
dress and her blonde hair.  "How do you feel about that?"

"I feel like you're being mean to me on purpose."  He leaned forward.  "I showed it to a few other
people, one who has a Master's in History, and they thought my original was great and this one
sucked."  So he lied, he would show them to Giles tonight.  But Oz, the one important person in
his life, had liked it.

She laughed lightly.  "And where did this person go to school?"

"England," he said coolly, "guess that kinda makes him more of an expert in English, huh."  He
stood up.  "Any other stuff you want to add to the pile of 'ask me if I care what you think?'"  She
shook her head, still smiling.  "Good."  He walked out, heading for his God-given bike.  He
swung his leg over the light-sucking black body, pulling his helmet off it's strapped down spot,
strapping his backpack down in it's place.  He had just started the purring engine when he felt the
body behind him.  He pushed up the visor on his helmet, looking back to see his benefactor.

"Drive," Ares told him.  "Head for my house."

Xander backed the bike up, putting back down his visor, and wisely did what the God of War
said.  Soon they were at the cliff-side house, lounging in deck chairs.  "What's up?" Xander said

"No one's heard from Strife recently," Ares said carefully, not wanting to get the God of Mischief
pissed at him again.  "I was wondering if there was a problem."

Xander turned control of his body over to his other half, who's first act was to yawn.  "Hey, Unc.
Just catching up on some sleep.  My system's still out of whack."  He slumped a little, curling up
so both feet dangled over the chair's arm.  "His English teacher knocks me out with every word,
I say there's something strange about her."

Ares frowned at him.  "No one's heard from you in days and your excuse is a long nap?"  He
raised a hand to blast him but remembered the frailty of the body he was in the last second.  The
energy bolt destroyed an antique lamp instead.  "Why don't I believe this?"

"For the same reason Joxer's our dog?" Strife guessed.  He giggled at the glare.  "You didn't send

"No," Ares said patiently, or as close as he ever came to it, "I didn't even know about the dog
before I came to get you for the meeting."

Strife righted himself, leaning closer.  "He makes a good dog, very faithful guardian.  And he's
still as cuddly as ever."  He winked then had to duck another energy blast.  "Easy!  Xander can't
take those like I did."

"I doubt he'd enjoy them as much either," Ares remarked dryly.   "Have you seen your mother?"
The young God shook his head.  "Neither have I and that bothers me."

//Tell him about the note thing,// Xander called.

"Wasn't her," Strife said quietly, talking to himself literally.  "I can sense her easiest of all the
Goddesses.  Some other one did it, not Mom."


"There was a false note left for us that sent us to Hades' consort instead of home.  I sensed a
Goddess but I'm not sure which one, I'm not back up to full abilities yet and what I have is a little
on the chaotic side when I'm not in control of our body."

"Still have it?"

"Nope.  Disappeared after we read it."

"Hmm."  Ares frowned at the view surrounding them.  "I'll check around.  No one messes with
my family."  He stood up, ruffling Strife's hair.  "Go home. Listen to your prayers.  Get stronger."

Strife stood, hugging his Uncle.  "Thanks for not getting between me and Bliss."

"Hey, my grandson deserves happiness and you're the one who does it for him."  He saw the pain
flow across the expressive eyes of the returned mortal.  "Strife deserves happiness too," he added,
shaking his head at the exuberant hug and renewed happiness of the mortal his nephew was bound to.  "That kid needs a hobby," he muttered as he and the house disappeared.

Xander drove back to town, heading to Giles'  to make good on his lie.  He walked in carrying his
backpack, stopping for a second when he saw Buffy.  "Giles, can I have your honest opinion on a
few things?"  The former Watcher nodded, accepting the 2 essays the younger man had hastily
pulled out.  "See, my teacher thought they were crap but Oz thought they were good, or at least
the original was."

Giles read them quickly.  "I think the original was fine generally, a few odd parts but that's how
you speak also."  He handed that one back.  "You say she liked the second?"  Xander nodded.
"Then I have serious doubts about her ability to teach an English class.  The second is lacking life, style, and any semblance of decency as a paper."   He handed it back.  "I realize you were trying to please her but it was a waste of paper.  It reminds me of some of the worst Greek poetry I've ever read actually."

Xander smiled, putting them back.  "That's what I told her you'd say."  He got a confused look.
"I told her about this meeting before the fact."  He hurried on at the beginning of the frown.
"That's that same thing Oz said but I thought she wouldn't give much weight to his opinion."

Giles reached over to pat the younger man's hand.  "Next time, don't lie.  Show me first.  I'm sure
I'd help and give you many suggestions on how to shut her up."  He glanced at where Buffy was
snacking and watching them.  "Did you need some other help?"

"Nope, you validated my goodness.  Happy training."  He stood up, rezipping his backpack.  "Oz

"As far as I know.  He called earlier to ask about wood finishing since he found out I fixed all the
damage I did in my," he cleared his throat, "altered state."

"Cool.  Yell if you need him."  He headed out the door.

Buffy snorted quietly.  "Give a guy a motorcycle and he's a movie star," she muttered.

Giles slammed his hands on the table.  "Enough of that!  Your attitude has gotten egregious and I, for one, can't take any more of your comments.  You're as bad as Faith recently."  He saw her
flinch.  "Go home and consider your reactions regarding your friends, who hopefully can and may forgive you someday."  She got up and stormed out, pouting as she slammed the door.  "My, that did feel good," he told himself.  "Shouldn't hold that in anymore."  He opened a book, going back to his reading.


Xander walked into his house, nose wrinkling at the disgusting smell coming from the kitchen.
He waved at Baby, who was hiding underneath the coffeetable, and went to stop whoever was
stinking up the house.  "Willow," he said, coughing at the smoke coming from the pot she was
stirring, "why are you trying to kill Oz and my puppy?  They've both been good to you and Tara."

She frowned at him as she turned, waving the spoon she'd been using in the pot.  "I couldn't do
this at home, now could I?"  He nodded frantically.  "No, I couldn't.  This would drive Tara

"So you came to poison us with your evil stepmom impersonation?"  She nodded, giving him a
bright smile.  "Just vent it outside, maybe it'll make the 'its' leave us alone."  He headed for the
backyard.  "Oz hiding out there?"

"No, he went to talk with the landlady about paint and stuff."  She grabbed him as he changed
direction and walked past her again, hugging him but being careful not to squeeze his healing
shoulder and chest too hard.  "I'm happy you found someone good.  You make him happy too so it's all good to us."  She let him go, watching his retreat to go hide with the puppy.

Xander sat down on the couch after opening a window, absently petting the furry lap muffin.
//Strife?// he asked. //You are really quiet.  What's up?//

//I'm trying hard not to come out and wreck your body when I use it.// There was a small pause. //Who's Anya?//

//Shit!  Forgot to tell her!//

//Uh-huh,// Bliss sent. //Oz wants to know how you forgot to dump your girlfriend.//

//Easy,// Xander sent, //I haven't seen her since before I ran to stop Oz that night.//

//Ah,// Oz said as he walked in the door. //I thought maybe it was avoidance or something like a
safety net.//   He sat down next to his roommate.  "You realize you'll have to choose?"

"I already have," Xander said quietly, looking down at the dog.  "I thought my actions would
have told you that."  Oz tipped his head back up, making Xander look at him.  "I chose you.  I
love her, but it's nothing like what I'm feeling right now.  I mean, this is a big step and all, and I'd
have to be pretty sure of what I felt before I did this, even though I was acting on instinct at the
time, I wouldn't have come over if I didn't feel a lot and..."  Xander looked back down.  "I chose

Oz leaned closer to the younger man.  "I know, I just needed to hear it."  He saw the small nod.
"You're not the only one who's insecure here, Xander.  What I've had before was never
permanent."  The younger man turned to look at him.  "It was nice but not real.  We have real."

"I guess," Xander said, blinking.  "I'll call Giles later and have him call when she shows up."

"I'll go if you'd like."

Xander shook his head.  "No, I need to do this myself."  He lifted his hand so Baby could jump
off them, he'd been wiggling and tensing, a sure sign of puppy activity.  "This'll be weird though,
first time I broke up with someone."

"Just be gentle.  Even Anya would appreciate that."

Willow popped her head out of the kitchen.  "The explosion's nothing," she said and withdrew
back into the kitchen.

"Explosion?" Xander and Oz asked together.  They both winced at the loud 'pop' and shook their
heads at her 'shoot' and foot stamp.

"Didn't work?" Xander called.

"No."  Willow walked out, sitting down in the lone comfy chair.  "It was supposed to turn puke
green and fizzy."

"What did it do instead?"

"Turned light pink and laid there."  She pouted for a few seconds then got up.  "I'll just have to try it again."

"No!" Xander said quickly, walking over to top her from heading back into the other room.
"Why don't you take it to Giles'?  I'm sure he could even tell you what went wrong."  She started
to shake her head so he put his hands on either side of her face to stop the motion.  "You know, it
could just be us screwing it up, me especially," he explained quickly, trying to get her to not look
too deeply at the rationale.  "Strife's powers would probably mess your spell up just for fun so
you should go to Giles', where he won't be able to get to you."  He nodded at her hesitation.
"That must be it, you haven't killed a spell in months so it must be me...us, it must be the both of
us, so you should go to Giles'."

She thought briefly.  "Yeah, that must be it.  It was working before you got back."  She punched
his arm.  "Meany."  Xander let her go and she went to gather her pot of botched spell and the rest
of her components.  "I'll see you guys later.  Maybe Strife won't get me over there," she called as
she headed out the door.

All four people in the house sighed, even the intangible Gods possessing the young men.

//Quick save, other half,// Strife said cheerfully. //That smell was about to make me run back to

Oz snorted.  "We should warn him."

"Probably," Xander agreed, sitting back down to cuddle with his friend, neither reaching for the
phone before turning on cartoons.


Giles walked into the young men's house, heading for the backyard, where he could hear the dog
barking.  "After all I've done for you two, you'd think you wouldn't be that cruel to me," he said
as he walked out onto the lawn.

Xander turned his head, doing his best to look innocent but his smile ruined it.  "Us?"

"Yes, you."  Giles took the free chair, watching Oz and the puppy play.  "Sending her over to
cook that horrid spell at my flat."  He smiled slightly.  "Though I can understand why.  That
explosion took the paint off the ceiling."

Xander put down his glass of water.  "Didn't work here.  Only got a loud 'pop' and pink stuff.
Smelled worse when it was done right?"

"Truly."  Giles smiled at Oz.  "I should make you two paint my kitchen for sending her over."  He
grunted as Baby, a very heavy puppy, jumped into his lap.  "Hello, had enough play?"

"Yup, he's a happy boy," Xander said as he reached over to grab the whip-like tail before it could
hurt someone.  "Be nice or go play."  Baby barked, settling himself into his petter's lap.

Oz shook his head, grabbing his lover's glass to finish the water.  "Sorry about that, smell got to
us."  He gazed meaningfully at Xander, who blushed.  "Favor," he prompted.

"Oh, yeah.  Giles, if you see Anya could you call us?  I need to talk to her real badly."

"Of course.  She was actually looking for you earlier.  Seems you moved without telling her or
something."  He gave him a hard look.

"Mostly," Xander agreed.  Giles frowned at him.  "That first night was the last time we were at
my house.  I've been with Oz ever since so we haven't met."  He grimaced.  "Not that I'm looking
forward to seeing her but I have to.  It's only fair."

"And necessary," Oz added.  Giles looked at him, his face showing his confusion.  "He never told
her about this."

Giles' mouth fell open.  "Xander!  How could you!"

"Accident!  Not intentional."

The former Watcher shook his head.  "I'd suggest an open area, one never knows how she'll

"Who?" Buffy asked as she walked around the house.  She stepped away from Baby as he started
to growl.  "Want to lock him up?"

"No," Oz said.  He got up, bringing the glass inside, walking around her and leaving a clear space.  "Why?"

"Because he'll bite me."

Xander glanced at Giles, who simply petted Baby, silently agreeing to referee.  "What's up?"
Xander asked to break some of the tension, and to get her to leave sooner.

"Can't I drop by to say hi?"  Xander continued to look at her with his blank, bland look.  "Okay so I dropped in to see what was wrong with you.  You've been freaky and cold recently and I want to know why."

Xander caught Oz's warning look from the doorway.  "I'm fine," he said, shrugging.  "No
problems here."  She started to frown, crossing her arms across her breasts.  "What?  I'm
supposed to be nice to the person who sent me to the hospital for emergency surgery?" he asked
calmly, keeping his voice level.  "Do I look masochistic?  No," he said, standing, "don't answer
that.  You wouldn't know what I was."  He walked past her, giving her a wide berth.  "Forget the
address, Buffy, don't make me move."  He walked past Oz, slamming the bedroom door behind

Oz took a deep breath before he walked out.  She looked at him, silently tearing up.  "I agree."
She started to cry.  "Hey, he could have put you in jail.  You and Faith could be roomies."  She
ran away crying heavily.

Giles coughed lightly.  "A bit harsh but I believe she heard it this time."  He put Baby down on the grass and stood to walk over to the young man.  "We can only hope it got through."  Oz nodded.  "I believe I should go home, let you soothe Xander however you feel best.  Should I give Anya your phone number?"

"Please."  He patted the older man's arm as he walked past, whistling softly for their puppy and
herding him back inside.  "Xander, want to go to the pet warehouse?  Baby could use some toys
and a bigger bag of food."

"Sure," Xander said from the bathroom, water running for a few more minutes.  He came out, his
hand wrapped.  "Home depot too?"

Oz simply nodded, ignoring the bandage for now.  "Could.  I need wood filler."  He grabbed his
keys and the leash on the way to the garage.


Xander finished installing the new mirror on the medicine cabinet, stepping back to survey his
work.  He jumped at the light pat to his lower back.  "Look okay?"

"Fine," Oz yawned.  "Privacy?"  Xander blushed and left him alone so he could go to the
bathroom.  When Oz walked out he found his lover curled up under the covers, ready for bed.
"No teeth brushing?"

"Did it already."  He held up the blanket so the older man could get in with him.  "So, I'm a bed
hog?" he asked lightly.

"Yup.  Woke up this morning and was hanging off the mattress."

"If you'd cuddle, I wouldn't pursue," Xander suggested.  "I start out okay when you first cuddle."

"So sometime during the night I let you go and you come after me?"  The younger man nodded.
"I'll try to remember that."  Oz flipped off the lights, snuggling down as he pulled Xander closer.
"Naked?" he asked, a little surprised.

"Yeah.  We did okay last night so I thought it'd be okay."  He knew he was blushing, he could feel the heat of his face.  "Night."  He placed a swift kiss on something that felt like a chin.

"Xander," Oz said softly, "can I touch?"

"Touch?" Xander squeaked.  He closed his eyes and nodded then he felt a finger running down his cheek, gently tracing the bones.  "That's nice."  The finger moved down his jaw and onto his
throat, making him swallow hard as it teased his adam's apple.  "Never knew that was so
sensitive," he whispered, smiling as a small kiss was placed on the bulge of his vocal chords, just
a press of warm lips to his skin really. The finger went down to his shoulder, just barely touching
as it traced the profile of the bones.  "Hmmm."

"Want the lights on?" Oz asked gently, his finger stopping on it's way back up the younger man's

"No," Xander said hesitantly, "I'm, um, I'm not ready for that much info yet."

"Okay."  Oz moved his finger down onto the quickly rising chest.  "Relax," Oz whispered. "It's
just me.  I won't hurt you."  He felt the nod so drug his finger over the upper chest area, staying
away from the little mounds that marked Xander's pectorals and breast area.

Xander shivered.  "Like this."

"Good. More?"

"Sure."  Xander tensed, waiting for the move lower but it never came.  "Oz?"

"I refuse to do anything that makes you that uptight."  He rolled over, shifting back into the arms
that automatically went around him.  "Night."

"I'm sorry," Xander said after a few minutes of silence.

"Don't be.  You're just not ready yet.  It'll happen."

"But I wanted it.  I was just scared."


"Because no one's ever done that for me before, never been that gentle."

"That's unfortunate," Oz said, flipping over.  "I'm not going to hurt you."

"I know."

"Then why tense up?"

"Because...I don't even know," Xander said.  He flipped over, snuggling back into Oz's waiting
arms.  "I feel comfy like this."  His breath caught as the finger came back, this time dragging
across his stomach with light pressure.

"I will always be gentle," Oz said into the younger man's ear.

"Thank you."  Xander pulled the moving hand back up his chest, putting it back where it had been before they had talked.  "Please, Oz?"

"Sure."  He went back to his in-depth learning of the younger man's body, noting all his reactions,
where his touch caused tremors, where no response was given, where Xander's chest arched up to
meet his fingers.  Each section's reactions were stored for future reference, for when Xander was
ready to look at him as they touched.  "Sleep," Oz whispered, stroking soothing circles over the
fluttery but tense stomach.  "We can do more tomorrow."  Xander nodded and soon he was

*** Chapter Seven ***

Oz woke up and he was again on the edge of the bed, but he wasn't hanging off it.  In fact, he was
using Xander as a pillow, the younger man's stomach like a wave under his cheek.  Then he
realized one last fact - he had been stroking Xander in his sleep.  His hand was curled around a
very hard cock, still now but he had no doubt what it had been doing before he woke up.

Xander moaned, "Morning."  He stilled as he realized what was going on below the sheets,
blinking up at the ceiling.  "Um...."

"Sleep," Oz told him, removing his hand.  "Apparently I sleep grope, sorry."  Xander nodded, not
looking at him.  "Freaked?"

"Not by you.  My head yes, but not you."  He looked at his friend.  "I liked that."



"Good.  It's a good when a future lover can touch you and you like it," Oz explained, getting a
small nod in response.  "You should get up."

"I'm not so sure of that."

"I am."  Oz looked at the clock and winced.  "Never mind, we forgot to set the alarm."  He
watched as his roommate looked at the clock and groaned.  "Sorry."

"S'okay.  Now I don't have to get up though."

"Knock-knock," an unfamiliar female voice called.  "Like, anybody home?"

"Aphrodite," Oz muttered.  He and Xander shared a look, both moaning before getting out of bed
and putting on robes and boxers.

Xander headed for the coffeemaker, flipping it on to watch as last night's preparation paid off in
dark, steamy liquid.  He poured two cups before heading out to the living room.  "Want some?"
he offered the blonde, scantily clad woman on their couch.

"No thanks, sweetie."  She smiled at him so he sat, handing Oz his cup.  "Very domestic."

Oz finished his first swallow, calming his newly found caffeine habit.  "Yup."

Xander looked at their visitor, checking out her clothes, which were basically pieces of gauze
over a string bikini, and her whole semi-relaxed attitude.  She shifted when he continued to watch her.  "Problems?"

"No, Strife, just checking up on my baby, little Bliss."  She smiled at Oz, who shook his head.

"We're fine."  He let Bliss out.

"We're fine," the God of Happiness repeated, shifting so one of his wings would lay more
comfortably as he drank more coffee.  Aphrodite's lips pursed.  "What?  We just got up.  We'd
still be in bed if it wasn't for you."

"Who can sleep on a day like today?" she asked, waving a hand to make the curtains open.

Xander looked outside and shrugged.  "Normal for here."  He frowned as another woman started
up their sidewalk.  "Landlady."

The short, thick woman patted her grey bun back into place before she knocked.  Bliss waved the
door open before turning back into Oz.  She walked in, looking around.  "Just wanted to check on
your progress."

Xander nodded.  "Go ahead.  Let me finish my morning habit and I'll be right with you."  He and
Oz shared a look as he finished his coffee, getting up to head into the kitchen.  "Sure you don't
want anything?" he asked the Goddess as he disappeared.

"No thanks."

Xander found the landlady in the spare bathroom, looking at the two new rows of tile.  "He did
those yesterday but he needed something to cut them so he could finish."

She handed him an odd looking set of shears.  "Here. This should do it."  She examined the new
mirror then headed for the bedrooms.  "Who's she?" she asked casually.

"Oz's grandmother."  He nodded at her shocked look.  "She was here before we got up 'cause I
forgot to set the alarm."

The landlady nodded, turning to frown at the altar she had just caught sight of.  "Nobody told me
you were one of *them*."

"We have a Wiccan friend," Xander covered, not sure what Oz had told her.  "It's a prayer altar,
she has another for ceremonies so they won't be interrupted."  The landlady was still frowning as
they walked into the kitchen, where Oz had done the most work.  She nodded at the doors on the
cabinets, smiling faintly at the replaced tiles on the walls, and ran a finger over the counter top,
quickly wiping it off on her jacket.

"We'll be painting this weekend," Xander told her, "and rehanging the doors.  You'd have to ask
Oz beyond that.  I do the big stuff and the electrical and plumbing," he amended when she looked
at him.

"That's fine.  I just wanted to see how you two were getting on."  She smiled.  "Would you like to
come to church with me this week?"

"No thanks," Xander said quickly.  "I have a major paper due Monday and Oz starts school then
so we'll be working hard to get everything done so we can do only little stuff next week."

"Forgot about that," Oz said as he walked into the kitchen.  Xander handed him the funny looking shears.  "Ceramic nippers.  Thanks.  I hope to have the bathroom floor done this week and all the painting done this weekend."

"I'm pleased, but don't forget to pay your rent."

Oz frowned.  "You said three months off for fixing things."

"No, I didn't."  She walked past him, leaving them alone.

"So," Xander said.

"She said three," Oz said.  "I'll go talk to her later.  What was that about Willow?"

"She gave the altar a dirty look so I explained it as Willow's prayer altar."  He shrugged.   "She
thinks we're cultists."



"Cult means a small religion.  We fit."  Oz led the way back to the living room.  "Sorry.  Why

"Because I wanted to see how you two were."  She looked around.  "Where's the cutesy puppy?"

"Hiding in the bathtub," Xander said.

"He doesn't like the landlady," Oz explained as he sat on the couch.  The Goddess nodded wisely.
"So, why the impromptu visit?" he asked again.

"Can't a grandma come visit her cutesy baby?" Aphrodite asked, pinching Oz's cheek.  "Everyone
else has popped in."

Xander and Oz shared a short look/silent discussion and Xander went to get dressed.

Oz looked at the Goddess of Love, frowning.  "What?"  She just smiled.  "All of you have started
to pop in every few minutes and I'd like to know why."

"I was just worried about how you're doing, sweetie," she said, patting his face.  "I mean, this is
all a big switch for you and everything."

"Bliss and I have been together since I was six."

"Really?  Well I guess that's okay then but I still worry about you."

Oz checked the door to make sure no one was around before going on, and of course the landlady
was eavesdropping.  "Privacy," he suggested.  She waved a hand and he could barely see
shimmers in the air from the corner of his eye, the shield she had put up.  "Aphrodite, Bliss and
Strife have been together since he was born.  Bliss' first memory is of Strife looking down at him."  She shuddered.  "No matter how much you disapprove of Strife, he's ours.  Permanently."  Oz got up, stepping away from her.  "Much as we love the visit, you can't break us up.  If he dies, I'll follow.  If he's hurt, we'll feel it."

Aphrodite waved her hand and the shimmers disappeared.  "If you say so."

"We do," Strife said, pulling off his shirt as he walked out, having taken control of his host's body again.  "You can't rip us apart, 'Dite, not even if you don't bless our relationship.  There is no God strong enough to take them from me."   She shook her head, popping out.  "Guess we know who left the note," he said.  He glanced toward the door, sending bees after their snooping landlady, who screamed and ran away cursing them.  "I'm not leaving," he said.

"Good," Oz said, patting the uncovered stomach.  "Want to tile or paint?"

"I'll take the fake shutters," Xander said, taking control again.  He picked up the cans the older
man had separated out, and the other things he needed, heading out into the sunny afternoon.


Xander looked over his shoulder as he felt someone pop into Giles' apartment behind him.  "Hey," he told Discord.  "Your son's napping, let me get him."

"No, I want to talk to you," she said, walking over to sit beside him.  She smiled, trying to appear
sexy.  "We should get to know each other since you two will be together for a long time."  She
shifted closer and he moved away.  "Oh, come on, I'm not *that* mean," she purred.  "For now."

Xander stood up, backing away from her.  "I'm sure you're not but I'm with Oz."  He took another
step back.  "Wouldn't that be like incest or something anyway?  Something socially unacceptable
in today's times?"

Giles cleared his throat from the kitchen.  "Discord, as much as I honor and welcome you, this
was your son's decision.  He started this by removing Xander's soul and asking Hades to fix it this way."  She started to growl so he hurried on.  "As much as you love your son and desire his
company, they are bound eternally and you would only hurt Strife if you harm Xander."  She
popped out with a flash of blacklight.

"Okay, that makes two Goddesses we've pissed off in two days," Xander said, sitting back down.

"Two?" Giles asked, bringing the young man a drink.

"Aphrodite.  She wasn't happy that her grandson was being corrupted by Strife."

"Ah."  Giles wisely left his comment there, going back to the kitchen.

Anya walked in, frowning at Xander as she shut the door.  "Where have you been?"  He patted
the couch beside him so she sat down.  "And what's wrong with you?  You're different."

Xander turned to face her, putting down his glass of water.  "Anya...."  He stopped, considering
what to tell her for the thousandth time.  "I've been possessed recently and it's not going to go
away."  Her frown turned into a scowl.  "I'm a host now and my other half showed me what I
really wanted, who I really wanted."  He took her hand.  "But it's not you."  She gasped.  "See,
Oz and I are a lot a like and we like each other, a lot, so we're together now."  She shook her
head repeatedly.  "Yes, Anya, Oz and I are together.  We have been for a few weeks but I haven't
seen you to tell you."  She started to tremble and cry.  "I'm really sorry, but I love him, more than
I ever thought I could.  He's given me a reason to move on with my life.  I'm sorry, I really am."
He kissed her hand, letting it go.

"You don't love me?" she asked pitifully.

He shook his head.  "Lots of great sex and buying you things isn't love, he showed me that.  Love
is...is a deep *ache* when you can't see them.  Love is a reason to keep fighting when you're so
hurt and tired you want to give up.  Love is something so special I can't define it."  He smiled.
"And I found it.  I want to stay friends, but I don't love you."  She got up and ran out, and he
looked at Giles.  "There wasn't a better way to do that, was there."

Giles shook his head.  "No, you were kind and gentle but there was no way to make that an easy
task."  He looked at the clock.  "You should go before she comes to her senses and comes back

"Yeah, Oz is opening stew."  He stood up.  "Thanks for refereeing, Giles."

"Anytime," Giles said once he was alone.  But he was smiling, he was really fond of that couple.


Anya burst into Willow and Tara's room, slamming the door behind her.  "I need the token," she
said.  The witches looked confused.  "The one D'Hoffryn gave Willow.  I *need* it."

Tara held Willow's hand to stop her from moving.  "Why?"

"Because I *need* it!"  When they didn't give in she ran from the room.

"Oops," Willow whispered, "guess she heard about Xander."  Tara nodded, concentrating on the
door until it closed, earning a bright smile and a small kiss from her girlfriend.  "Good job,"
Willow told her, cuddling up to lay beside her and read again.


Oz silently opened his arms as Xander walked in, accepting his slumped body on top of him on
the couch.  He patted the trembling shoulders, soothing his friend by being there.


Buffy's scream woke Oz later that night, making him look around in confusion.  He got up,
walking out to the living room to join Xander at the window.  "Strife?" he asked.

"Nope, Anya," Xander said.  He pointed at the demon presently pulling the Slayer's hair.  "I
should go stop her.  Someone gave her her powers back."

"Let him, she'll respect an order from Strife."

"Point," Xander said, shifting control to the Godling.

Strife walked out, slamming the door behind him.  He casually knocked Spike off him and headed for their ex-girlfriend.  "Anyanka!" he said sharply.  She looked up and snarled.  "Leave here."  He stood his ground as she let Buffy go, walking up to him, trying to intimidate him on the way. "Plague these people no more."

"Strife," she said, sounding pleased.  "I wondered what was wrong with him.  Here, let me
remove your problem."  He backed away from her hand, and the jewel now embedded in the
palm.  "Oh, come on, he *can't* be making you happy."

He said a silent apology to his host before sending a bolt at her, hitting her on the forehead.  "Go
away," he said.  "Last warning."  She ran away, as did the neutered vampire, but when he turned
he saw the real reason.  "I had it," he told Ares, who had been standing behind him.

"I'm sure," the God of War soothed, "but why hurt your *mortal* host more?"  He popped out.

"Like I needed the reminder," Strife muttered, going back inside.  He hugged Oz then headed for


Spike ran into Giles' house, the Watcher still hadn't restricted his access again.  "The brat's
become powerful and his girl's insane," he panted.  Then he noticed the man sitting on the couch
and ran out once he recognized him.

"I'd say Anya's a demon again," Giles said, finishing his tea.  Hades smiled as Giles fell to his
knees before him.  "But I'm sure they can handle it for now."


Strife looked around the bedroom and sighed.  He hadn't given control back to his host yet so he
was *very* bored.  And a bored God of Mischief is to be placated.  He looked at Oz's body and
shivered at the memories he had of inhabiting another man to be closer to him, but he knew Bliss
and the boys would never forgive him if he indulged his desire for the tight body.  He got up to
look in the mirror, wincing as he saw the plainness of his new body.  Not a single piercing, tattoo, or real, likeable, scar.  He got a very wicked smile and conjured his effects from home that Ares had packed for him, looking over his meager possessions from the last time he had been alive - conjuring up the money and jewelry he needed would make this feel less inflammatory and erotic for him.   He dismissed the knives with a shake of his head, hiding them behind the dresser for now.  His former clothes called to him but he doubted Xander's body would fit into them since he was heavier and his leathers had been skin-tight before.

Then the idea popped into his head.  He called his small box of jewelry to him, pawing through
the former offerings to make him go away until he found the perfect bauble.  With a thought he
disappeared from the house in Sunnydale, heading for a little place he knew near Cupid's temple
in Vegas.


Xander woke up, grunting in pain from having laid on his back for too long.  "Ugh."  He opened
his eyes to find Oz looking down at his bare body, chewing on his bottom lip.  "Hungry?" he
suggested.  A hand mirror was given to him.

His scream woke the neighborhood.

It was almost an hour later that Xander stopped stuttering.  He closed his mouth and eyes,
screeching for the guilty person in his mind.  //STRIFE!//

//What?  It's just a tattoo.  Okay and a piercing or two,// he conceded.

//I *liked* my body the way it was!// Xander argued.  //I don't like pain.  Not any of it.//

//*Sorry*,// Strife mocked. //I missed my body.  And I like pain, it clears my head and helps me focus.//

//Gods, Oz is still staring like I'm a freak, he'll make me leave now,// Xander babbled. //He'll send me away in disgust because I'm suddenly a freak and he has enough of that in his life.//

Strife listened to the circular thought for a few seconds more before cutting in.  //No he won't,//
he said calmly.

//Yes he will.//

//No, Oz and Bliss both know I like pretty things decorating my body, Oz is just shocked, and I
think if you actually looked, you'd like them.  There's nothing that's not in a private place.  I sped
the tattoo's healing so you could shower normally.  Now get over it, I *like* them.//

//How can you like that,// Xander asked weakly.  //It's disgusting.//

//Hey, dragons need love too, and they happen to prefer blondes.// Strife sniffed. //I just wanted
this to feel more like my body, Xander.  This is me.//

//All right.  It's done, we'll have to move on.  Just no more.  At least not without consent.//

//Fine,// Strife agreed.  They both focused on Oz again, watching him look at the small silver ring
around Xander's cock that was attached to the ring piercing his ball sac with a little chain. //Gee,
maybe he likes it.//

Xander blinked, looking up at his friend, who tore his stuck gaze from his cock to meet his eyes.
"Strife?" Oz asked softly.   Xander nodded, grimacing.  "How's it feel?"

"Really weird considering it wasn't there yesterday," the younger man said.  "But he won't do it
again," he assured quickly.  Oz simply nodded, his eyes opening wider as the tattoo caught his
attention again.  "I'm sorry if you're freaked," Xander said quietly.

"No," Oz mumbled, shaking his head.  "Not that."  He touched the inked-on maiden hesitantly.
"She, um, kinda looks, well, like me."  Xander groaned.  "No, no, that's good because the dragon
kinda looks like you."  Oz swallowed hard, getting off the bed.  "I'm going to make coffee," he
said, as he backed out of the room.

Xander rubbed his face tiredly as a note and a box appeared beside him.  He opened the note,
laughing mentally as he read Ares' 'welcome home' message.  He opened the gayly wrapped
present, snorting as he saw the wallet and money inside. //Gee, free gifts?// he sent.

//Unc has always been *real* generous with me,// Strife sent.  //Can we go shopping so I have
some 'me' clothes?  My image needs work and I can't be me if I have to wear your clothes to work in.//

//Let me ask Oz,// Xander sighed. //Bliss?  Is Oz able to think yet?//

//Not really, he's a little stunned.  Why?// Bliss sent back.

//Because Ares sent us presents and pain-boy wants to go shop for clothes.//

Oz walked in, taking the box to look inside. //Strife, were you more than his helper?//

//He gave me rewards when I was good,// the God of Mischief purred, //but otherwise...yeah.//
He cleared his mental throat. //Ares liked me and he's coming to appreciate Xander too.  He just
wants to make sure we're secure.//

//And then some,// Xander sent, handing Oz the note. //We could buy puppy toys though. Baby's
about done with his rawhide chew.//

Oz handed it back.  "Whatever.  We need to visit the cyber-temples first."

Xander got up carefully then grinned.  "Hey, it doesn't hurt."

"Now," Oz amended.  He headed for the living room and computer.


Xander ran an appreciative hand over the leather jackets, breathing deeply.  "Any suggestions?"
he asked Oz, who was watching.  He pulled out a bomber jacket, handing it to the slightly older
man.   "Here, you need."  Oz didn't take it.  "To ride with me," he suggested.  His friend took it,
heading for the mirrors to try it on.

//Oh! Get the black one,// Strife sent, grabbing the one that sparkled at him.

Oz looked at his image, silently praying. //Ares, please don't take him from me.// The God of War appeared behind his image but not in the store itself.

"Relax," Ares purred, rubbing a hand over the leather jacket.  "But get the red one instead."  He
smiled as the image changed.  "Strife deserves some spoiling, so does his host for that matter.  I'm not *stealing* him."

"And what happens if he pledges to Bliss?" Oz's image asked.

"Okay, then I would be pissed, but I'd forgive him eventually."

"After you take it all back and destroy both of them?"

"No, because Strife could have all of this with his power."

"Which would permanently hurt Xander," Oz reminded.

"Which is why *I'm* giving it instead.  Believe it or not, kid, I'm not that hard to get along with."

"Xander can't fight," Oz pointed out.

"Hey, either way, I win," Ares said, breaking the spell on the mirror.

//Gee,// Xander sent, having listened to the whole conversation through Bliss, //that could be a
scary thought.//  "Here," he said, handing over a coat like Ares had chosen.


Xander looked around Giles' apartment, frowning when he didn't see the older man.  He
jumped as the door closed behind him, staring at the Goddess in front of him.  There was
something familiar about her....  "Athena," he said respectfully.  "I'm sure Giles just stepped out."

"I know, I needed to talk to you."  She patted his shoulder as she walked past him.  "I wanted to
talk to you about Ares and what he plans for the both of you."  She sat him down in a chair she
pulled out at the table.  "You should ask what he plans for you before you decide to take anything
from him."  He nodded, brow wrinkling in confusion.  "Ares, well let's just say he never has pure
motives.  Most of his followers end up dead at a young age because of what he plans."  He
nodded again, starting to get the point, and he subtly sent a warning to Strife.  "Now I, on the
other hand, am over your friend Buffy and all the other Slayers and defenders of the world."

"And you want me," Xander said, figuring the end gambit out.  "Truly, m'lady, I like helping your
cause but I promised my mate.  I'm pledging to Bliss."

She hissed then went back to her sweet, seductive smile.  "I understand that, but he doesn't need
followers.  His powers don't require them.  Neither do Strife's or Discord's.  You need to ask
which God can do the most for you and keep their promises."

Strife snatched control.  "Pretty words, Auntie, but how many times have you left your followers
to die over some insignificant oversight of theirs?"

"Strife," she hissed, "you cannot interfere with this.  You, of all of us, know how Ares is."

"Yeah, he kept you from granting wishes to some very bad people who were looking to
destroy the world."  She growled.  "Hey, I've watched all of this play out and you're not getting
him.  The prophecy is nothing when you look at the future you would bring."  She left in a cloud
of disgust.

"Prophecy?" Xander asked, retaking control.  A scroll appeared on the table so he picked it up to
read it.  Or attempted to read it since he didn't understand the symbols on it.

"Put it back," Giles said, taking it to read as he walked in.  "Sorry, thought it was something else."  He sat down hard when what he read registered.  "Oh, dear Gods," he swore.  "Xander, sit."

"Is this about the bidding war over me?"

"Yes, I'm afraid it is."  He pointed to some of the symbols on the scroll.  "It says here that one
partly mortal follower will decide the future of them all."


"No, the Gods.  You see, apparently there's a growing chasm between the two factions about who
has control over the mortals."

"The old and the new?"

"Mostly, yes, but I do believe some of the older ones are on the younger's side.  Cupid, I believe

Ares clapped from the chair in the corner.  "Ah, Rupert, thank you for explaining it."

"He, on the other hand," Giles said, plainly disgusted by the interruption, "is on neither side."

"I'm not real well liked," Ares agreed, getting up and walking over.  "Actually, it may not be
Xander's choice but Oz's, though no one realizes that."

Bliss popped in glaring at his grandfather, wings fluttering to keep him in the air.  "He's not
supposed to know.  It invalidates his choice."

"It's not him," Ares countered.  He looked his grandson over.  "Still haven't seen Artemis?"

"That's where I was going."  He held out a hand to his lover and friend.  "Xander?"

"Sure."  He hopped up.  "Giles, just figure it all out and I'll listen."  He touched Bliss' wingtip and
they both disappeared.

Ares shook his head, looking down at his Uncle's lover.  "He has to understand before he
pledges."  He left.

"So do I," Giles muttered.  "I'm not letting him make a choice that will ruin his life.


Xander gaped as he looked around from his cherished position in Bliss' arms as they flew toward
their destination. The temples were a beautiful sight in the sunrise-like conditions, each shining
out into the pale light.  Each of the gardens they flew over were preserved at the perfect moment,
each bloom at the open stage.

"Air Happiness will be landing in a second," Bliss told him, slowly floating down and letting his
companion off.  "Auntie Artie!" Bliss yelled as they walked into the temple hand-in-hand.

A Goddess dressed in animal skins, skimpy animal skins, came out to meet them. "Bliss," she said, smiling and hugging him.  "You've grown."  She glanced at the man with him.  "Why are you here?"

Bliss stepped back and turned back into Oz, who let the werewolf out.  Then they went back until
it was Bliss again.  "I have some control but it still comes out when we're angry."  He pulled
Xander closer to him.  "I also need to know what to do about this one and Strife."

"Ah, so *that's* who's hiding in him."  She led them to a workroom, picking up a bottle from
between bows and arrows being mended.  "Drink it on the mortal realm on the full moon as a
mortal.  The potion will allow you total control over the wolf."  She turned to Xander, looking
him over after handing off the bottle.  "He could be one of Strife's children," she said in

"Mine and Ares lineage," Strife said, coming out.  "I'm ducking Mom."  Artemis, Goddess of the
Hunt laughed.

"She's tried to kill Xander already so Strife could have his body," Bliss said, very serious.

That sobered the Goddess, who looked over her assortment of potions and weapons, and sighed.
"I don't have a thing."  She turned to look at them.  "Unless he's willing to be immortal, you're
both out of luck."  She turned back to her great-nephew again.  "Werewolves aren't immortal but
they live a *long* time."  She looked at Xander, who was back in control again.  "Short of you
biting him or him eating the Fruit of Life," she pulled a piece out of the air and handed it to him,
"eat, it'll reverse the damage already done to your body, he's stuck."

"Could he?"

"Not after Ares gave one to Xena when he went back to fix the Eve situation.  Zeus forbade it
without his permission."

Xander's shoulder's slumped.  "So what do I do?"

"Ask whichever God you pledge to for immortality.  It's the only way to keep you as part of that

"Not quite," Hades said, popping in.  "There's another way but it means he's going to screw the
prophecy."  She smiled, waving him on once she understood what he meant.  "There's another
version of immortality, but it's not permanent."

"Isn't that the heads-chopping kind?" Bliss asked in disgust.

"You mean that show was *real*?" Xander asked, mouth open in shock.

"In a manner of speaking," Artemis said, "and they're Ares' by nature but they can't pledge to him alone, those are the rules we set to keep him from some masses of power."

"So, I can have Bliss and him?" Xander asked.  The other Gods nodded.  "I guess that would be
okay.  I'm not going to run into another one immediately, right?"

"Possibly ever," Hades said.  "The last one died six hundred years ago."

"Wouldn't that restart the cycle or whatever?" Xander asked.  Hades nodded, still smiling.  "So
what's the catch?"

"Wouldn't invalidate the prophecy," Bliss noted.

"It's like becoming undead, only being warm with a pulse," Hades said.  "With none of the
drawbacks except the fighting for survival."

"Except Buffy?" Xander guessed.

"Yes, Slayers would react to you.  Other undead and demons would try for you in a dominance
battle.  You'd have to learn how to fight."

Xander looked at Bliss, who smiled and shrugged.  "Well?"

//Do it,// Oz sent. //It's the only way I can see so far.//

Strife came out and popped them all to Ares' temple, where he was lounging, playing with a ball
of energy/fire in the air.  "Unc!"  The God of War dropped the ball and swore as the fur under him caught fire.

"Strife!" he yelled.

"He'll be yours and another's," Hades told his nephew.

Ares mouth fell open for a second then he gathered himself.  "You really want that, kid?"

"Is there another way?" Xander asked, taking control and walking forward.  "I *need* Bliss and
Oz more than my normal life, and this looks like the only way to us."

Ares shrugged.  "Go ask your mentor if he can train you first then call on me."  He sent them both back to Giles', who jumped in surprise.

"We found a way to fix me," Xander said, hugging Giles, "but I'm supposed to ask you to teach

"Please tell me you're not a demon," Giles said.  Oz shook his head, looking at the sword on the
wall.  The older man's eyes followed and he blanched.  "Surely there's another way," he protested.

"Going through Zeus for the Fruit of Life," Oz agreed, making the older man frown.  "Or I could
bite him."  Xander handed him the bottle Artemis had given them with a small smile.  "Thanks,
want to do this soon."

Giles frowned at the table.  "Xander, if you choose this you will essentially become a living
vampire.  Not allergic to sun, or needing blood, but your soul is gone."  That dampened the
youngest man's happiness.  "We could trap your soul but you may not be able to do what you
need to in order to live."  He looked up at the man in question.  "I'm sure if you asked Zeus would consider granting your plea.  You still have time."

"Fat chance," Ares said, popping in.  "He doesn't like Strife."

"What do I do, Giles?" Xander asked quietly.  He looked at Oz, who shrugged.

Giles' whole body relaxed at once, by force.  "Give me enough time to get the soul restoration
spell ready," he said, looking at Ares, who nodded.  "Xander, go get your hair cut, I'm not sure if
it will ever change again and I don't want to hear you complain about it for eternity."

"It will," Ares said.  "He'll still do the normal human things, just with the extra bit."

Xander pulled Oz up into the bedroom. " I need your opinion," he pleaded, hugging him.

"We'll be fine," Oz said, moving them to the bed to lay together.  They both needed the comfort
touch could bring.  "I'm not leaving and the wolf won't react."  He kissed the sweaty forehead
then the lips.  "Relax, you're mine no matter what."  He pulled the younger man closer, cradling
the trembling body.  "At least you won't be furry."


"You could still go that way," Oz offered.  "It's not that horrible."

Ares walked in, cracking his knuckles.  "He found it."  He walked over to the bed.  "Quick and
painless, I promise."

Xander bit Oz's neck, tensing up as his head was grabbed.  He didn't mean for his teeth to rip open the tender skin, he didn't even realize he had.

With a loud 'snap' it was all over.

*** Chapter Eight   ***

Xander woke up, licking his lips.  Oz handed him a glass of water and helped him sit up.
"Thanks."  He sipped it slowly, looking at his friends, and at Oz's bandaged neck.  "Did I hurt
you?" he asked, touching it.

"Yup, but it's all good," Oz assured him.  He took back the glass.  "How do you feel?"

"Normal."  Xander got off the bed, stretching.  "Everything's the same?"

Giles shook his head.  "No, both spells worked."  He brushed over the damp lips with his thumb.  "As did Oz's blood."  Xander's mouth fell open.  "You swallowed with your last breath."

"So I'm an immortal werewolf?"  Oz nodded, laughing at his expression.  "Okay, as long as I have Oz and Bliss for a long time."

"And then some," a voice said from the corner.  Artemis walked over and kissed both their
cheeks, whispering, "Control," to both of them.  "Consider it a wedding present," she said before

Discord popped in, eyes bulging.  "NO!" she shrieked.  "You can't do this to *my* son!"  She
raised a hand to hit Xander but Ares and Cupid stopped her, taking her away in a flash of light
and a few dropped feathers.

Oz groaned. "No, not molting," he said.  "He's rotten, he becomes a sexual predator then."
Everyone cracked up, leaving the two men alone.


Ares blinked into Giles' apartment, scowling.  "It didn't work, I can't get a line to him."  Giles
dropped the plate he had been drying, turning pale.  "Exactly."

"Then it must be Oz's blood," he muttered, reaching for a book.  "But I felt his soul leave."

"Oh, he was dead," Ares said, "but I healed him.  He's still mortal though, that part didn't take."

"Well, at lease one part did," Giles said absently while he read.  "Though your sister Artemis may
have noticed."  He looked up.  "I'll tell them if you wish, m'Lord Ares."  The God of War shook
his head.  "What would you have me do to fix this then?"

"I don't know, but check him for me before you say anything.  I want to know which God
interfered."  He left and all the candles in the room lit then went out as another God popped in,

"No, he's not changed, he's a carrier but he won't change."  She looked at the books on the table
and frowned.  "Some other God has helped him but it wasn't me."  She made a different book
appear.  "For Bliss' mortal half."  She left.

Giles leaned back, shaking his head.  "Strife!" he called.  The God of Mischief popped in.  "I'm
not causing an inconvenience am I?"  Strife shook his head, sitting on the back of the couch.
"None of the spells we cast worked."  That got a small nod and the hint of a grin.  "And neither
did Oz's blood."  He tapped the book.  "Artemis sent this for Oz though."  Strife, and the book,
disappeared without a word.  "Why do I think he knew," Giles muttered, going back to his dishes.

Xander landed in the kitchen with a sigh, handing over the book.  "Artemis left it.  Oh, and he

"Whatever," Oz said, flipping through the book.  "Needed this."  He headed for the living room.
"Come sit."

"Not the dog," Xander called, bringing out two glasses of milk and sitting beside Oz.  The older
man took one, draining it quickly.  "So what happened?"  Xander drank his own milk slowly, not
wanting the headache from the cold.

"You prayed."  Oz put down the book before turning to look at his friend.  "Right before you
died, you prayed to one of us, silently, and they fixed you."  He grabbed a small kiss.  "I"m not
sure, it's real subtle so Bliss can't tell.  Just start sending dedicated prayers that way so it stays

"But I didn't," Xander argued, putting his glass down.

"Yes, you did, even if you didn't know."  Oz kissed him again.  "Want to do more?"

"Could," Xander said as he took off his shirt.  "Would be the first time in the light."  Baby rushed
to the door and barked happily, a sure sign one of the neighborhood kids was out there.  "He can
go out for a little while," Xander yelled, then listened as the screen door opened and shut.  He
looked back at his boyfriend, flipping open the button on his jeans.  "Is this okay?" he asked as he
shifted closer.

"As long as you're comfy," Oz told him, pulling him in for a kiss.  Their bodies molded together,
bare chest against clothed one, knees sliding between each other to allow the bodies closer.  They
pulled back to breathe, looking at each other.  "Can I touch?" Oz whispered.  Xander nodded,
staying still so the hands could meet his chest.  "Want it?"

"Yeah," Xander said as he pushed the hands against his chest.  "Please?"  The older man nodded
so Xander watched Oz's face as he ran his hands over him.

Oz looked up, stealing a kiss.  "Still okay?"  He got a nod so moved his hands from the young
man's chest to his stomach.  That got a soft moan so he spread his hands out, rubbing gently.

"Kiss?" Xander whispered.  His consciousness was stolen as his boyfriend kissed him, the hands
on the bare part of his body never stopping.  He pulled back to pant for a second then dived back
in, letting his own hands roam under the older man's t-shirt and over his back.

Oz groaned, pulling Xander's hands to his own chest and showing him how to touch him.  His
breath caught at the hesitant touch over his nipples, pushing the fingers harder against them.
"Play," he whispered.

"Tell me what you want."

"More."  Oz moved the younger man's fingers for him.  Xander repeated the motions then
grunted, putting Oz's hands back on his own chest.  "Liked?" Oz asked, following the motions he
had set on his own body.

"More," Xander demanded, controlling their next kiss while playing with the older man's chest.
He leaned back, lying down, pulling Oz with him. His hands bunched up the thin t-shirt, giving
him free reign over the bared flesh, allowing their stomachs and chests to rub.

Oz let him play for a few more kisses then pulled himself up to sit across the splayed hips.
"Wow."  Xander grinned, tugging at the t-shirt.  "Slower?"

"Why?" Xander groaned, succeeding in getting the t-shirt off his lover.  "Want more?"

"How far is more?"  The younger man stopped to look at him.  "Serious, we're both wired but
how much farther are we going?"

Xander sat up, groaning.  "Why are you responsible-guy?"

Oz gave him a small kiss.  "Because I refuse to push you before you're ready."

"So you want to slow down so I don't regret it?"  Xander frowned at the nod.  "But I was doing

"But I was ready to strip you and have you take me."

Xander nodded.  "Okay, point.  I'm not ready to do more than grope."  Oz nodded with a small
smile.  "I'm sorry if I went too far," he whispered, smoothing over the relaxed shoulders.  "We

Oz nodded, still smiling.  "We're fine.  Just set some limits."  Xander looked confused so he
leaned down, rubbing their groins together.  "Limits, Xander, so we don't end up too far."

"Um, limits, okay.  Touching?"  Oz nodded.  "Chest?"  That got a nod too.  "I liked the rubbing
thing," he admitted with a smile.

"Feels good, but clothed or naked?  Naked feels better."

"Clothed?  For now?"

"Okay."  Oz leaned down for another kiss, laying across the larger body.  He teased the soft skin
with his fingertips, earning caught breath and a moan.  "Just ask and I'll stop," he reminded.

Xander shifted his hips up, wiggling out from under his friend, putting him onto his back.  "Better for me this way," he said, diving in for another kiss.  Someone knocked on the door and they both groaned, pulling back and straightening their clothes.  They headed for the door together, both frowning at Giles, who was standing on the other side.  "You had to interrupt?" Xander asked. He looked behind him at the woman standing there.  "No, she's not coming in."

Oz opened the door.  "Go out back, we'll be there in a sec."  He waited until they were alone
again before hugging his lover tenderly.  "We'll be okay and I'm here."

Xander nodded.  "Good, I'll need it later."  He rubbed over his stomach.  "I'll get drinks."  He
followed Oz to the kitchen, stopping for glasses of ice water, then headed out into the backyard.
"What's going on?" he asked after sitting in the lounger, putting the cold glass on his cock to calm himself down.

Giles cleared his throat.  "Buffy has asked me to talk to you about the split you seem to be
causing."  He gave the younger man an apologetic look.  "I've also been asked if I could cure

Xander stood up. "I'm fine and healing.  I'm not the one who put me in the hospital."   He glared
at Buffy.  "You don't have to worry about it, I quit."  He looked at Giles.  "Strife and I are both
fine, don't worry about that either."

"As I have been told," Giles said quietly, reaching over to touch his bare arm.  "Do you know
how or who?"

Xander shook his head.  "No, but I'm happy and *no* one's messing with it this time."  He looked
at Oz.  "I'm going to go paint the bathroom."  Oz nodded and he went inside.

Oz looked at Giles.  "He's really fine.  Strife's even been quiet."

"I've been going out at night," floated out from the house.

Bliss sighed. //Let me.// He took control, leaning forward to let his wings settle comfortably
around him.  "Slayer, there's nothing you can do about us.  We're Gods, you're a mortal, and we're
soul bonded."  He let his wings fold around his arms and chest, looking at Giles.  "He's fine, fully

Strife walked out, glaring at Buffy.  "I painted it so we don't have fumes."  He sat in Bliss' lap,
cuddling up to him.  "Buffy," he said coldly, "you will leave my mortal half alone.  He is no
longer your concern."  He looked at Giles.  "What did Unc want?"

"For me to make sure you were really fixed and truly all right."  He smiled at the pair.  "He
worries about you."

"We're good," Bliss said softly, rubbing over his lover's back to keep him calm.  "Oz will continue to aid you, Slayer, but Xander has decided to rejoin life."  He kissed Strife's cheek.  "What color did you paint it?"

"The one on the cans, gross as it is."  Strife grinned.  "Can I fix the furniture?"  Bliss shook
his head.  "Ah, come on," he whined.  "It's not suitable."

"It's not ours."

"Can I fix the rest?"

"If it works," Bliss agreed. "The chemicals for the floor sicken all it touches."  He looked into
Strife's eyes, joining their hands, and they finished fixing the house up with a thought, all the
remodeling was instantly done and finished properly.  "There," he whispered, "better?"

"Much."  Strife looked at Giles and grinned.  "So much easier than ladders and rollers and

Buffy shook her head.  "This is why...."  She stopped as someone popped in behind the cuddling
couple.  "Um, hi.  And you are?"

"Goddess Athena," Giles said, bowing to her.  "I was attempting to show your Chosen One that
Strife was not harmful to her."  Strife snickered.

Athena snorted.  "That would be doubtful."  She looked at the boys then slid her gaze over to her
Chosen One.  "Do I need to deal with her myself?"

"No, Goddess, I have it.  The new one will be here soon?"  She shook her head.  "I understand,
I'm sorry I disappointed you."  He looked down at the ground.

"You didn't.  I fixed the problem."  She looked down at Strife, frowning.  "I will you both to help
her, the boys are important to the cause."

Strife shook his head.  "She broke our ribs, Athena, purposely using her gifts against my mortal
half."  She frowned.  "We will aid her if we need to," he conceded at the end of the staring

"You will help her if I say so," she said firmly.

"I will not put him into more danger.  We'll be there when we're absolutely needed."  He
shrugged.  "I won't put him in danger for you."

Athena flashed out after another glare.  Bliss sighed, hugging him.  "I'll take your place and call
when I need you."

Strife nodded, settling back into him.  "Giles?"

"That would be more than acceptable."  He stood up, walking over to look down at the couple.
"I've made my feelings known already on this subject."  He looked back at Buffy.  "Come, we
need to have a talk."

"Only if you fix Xander," she said, crossing her arms over her chest and not moving.

Bliss rolled his eyes and wiggled his fingers at her, sending her away.  "She's locked in your
closet," he told Giles.

He laughed.  "I'll go deal with her in a moment."  He patted Strife's hair.  "If either of you need
my help, simply ask and I shall help."  They both nodded.

"Tell Unc to come here if you see him," Strife said with a grin.  "I think it's time he gets better
acquainted with Xander."

//Hey!// Xander called.

"Quiet," Bliss whispered.  He looked up at Giles.  "We know, we accept your help.  Call on us if
you need it."  Giles nodded, leaving.  "Naughty," he told his lover, nipping his ear.  "Showing
off."  He saw the grin start.  "Such a naughty little boy."

"The same could be said for you," Ares said dryly from behind them.  They looked up at him.
"Who fixed you, Strife?"

"Don't know," Strife said with a shrug.  "Did you want me to do something?"

"Yeah, get your stuff out of my temple," he growled, "and act like a God."

"I have been," Strife retorted.

"Have you answered your prayers?"

"Nightly, Unc."

"Are you sure?"


"Then why are you still weak?"

"Gee, I guess dying does that."  He didn't see the wince, having returned his head to Bliss'

"No ambrosia," Bliss reminded them.

Ares growled.  "You *will* fix that part."

"Mortals," Bliss reminded him.

"Not anymore."

"Point, but no."  Bliss looked down at the mortal in his lap, kissing the returned Xander gently.
"You okay?"  The young man nodded looking up at Ares.  "He's not going to hurt you, don't

"I know," Xander whispered.  "Please don't be mad at Strife, he's just trying to protect me."

Ares leaned down, patting his head condescendingly.  "I'm not trying to hurt you, I'm trying to
help Strife."

"But Strife is me."

"I know that."

Xander got up, looking at him.  "Then why are you trying to force things on Strife that will hurt
me?"  Ares frowned.  "Won't ambrosia hurt me somehow?  Or do something to change me?"
That got a nod and a tolerant look.  "Then why force Strife to take something into our body that
would harm it?"

Ares opened his mouth, then closed it for a moment.  "Good point, but it's what we eat.  He needs
it to get stronger."  He smiled suddenly.  "Then you'll be around forever."

"No," Bliss said, looking up.

"Shut up," Ares told his grandson.

"No," Bliss said, getting up and facing off with him.  "Ambrosia could harm both our hosts.  You
remember what happened, same as the Tree of Life."

"Leave your Uncle Hercules and his new madness out of this," Ares said, holding up a finger
in warning.  "You know better than to mention him to me."

Xander shook his head.  "Ares, just drop it.  Strife's really strong and he's okay."  He stepped
between the two gods.  "Relax, he's fine."

Ares looked at the mortal.  "He's still weak."

"He's fine," Xander repeated, touching his chest.  "Strife's fine and he'll stay fine.  There's no bad

Bliss hugged the mortal, pulling him to rest against his body.  "Grandpa, we're fine.  We're both
strong and healthy, and happy."  He smiled.  "Just be supportive and happy for us."

"I am happy for you," Ares said gruffly, playfully punching Xander's arm.  "I just want you both
to be strong enough to do everything you need to do."  Bliss nodded.  "Shoot me, I worry."

Xander grinned.  "I'd worry about Strife too."  He pulled up his shirt to show off his tattoo and
the more-recent navel ring, something that he had woken up to two days earlier, and the God of
War laughed.

"Oh, you should have seen his body before..."  He stopped and Strife came out, giving him a hug.

"I don't blame you.  I never have and I won't," Strife whispered in his ear.  "My dying wasn't your
fault."  He smiled as the super-strong arms wrapped around him.  "See?  I'm back and I'm okay."

"Yeah, you're okay," Ares said quietly, letting him go.  "Enough of this.  You two need to do
stuff."  He left.

"I never thought I'd see that," Strife whispered, turning to hug his lover.

"Was pretty mushy for him," Oz said, returning.  He snuggled in harder.  "Wondered what a Strife hug was like."

"It's only gentle with you," Strife said, kissing his nose.  Oz snorted in amusement.  "I'd never hurt you.  You're too good for either of us to ever be rough with you."  He kissed Oz, turning control back over to Xander during it.

"Definite difference," Oz noted.  "Let's go inside."

They walked inside, Xander going to lock the front door, heading to meet his friend at the foot of
their bed.  "Cuddling?" Xander asked hesitantly.

"If you want," Oz said, heading into the bathroom.  He was finishing up his nightly routine when a naked Xander walked in looking down at the ring around his cock. "Prob?"

"Yeah, I can't get it off."  He looked up.  "It's not tight, I can wiggle it and clean under it, but I
can't get it off."

Oz sat on the toilet, after putting the lid down, and turned Xander so he could look at the silver
ring, sac piercing, and the chain that connected them.  "Little clasp under the chain.  Spread your
legs."  Xander braced his hands against the wall, eyes closing at the feathery touch, the first touch
of another guy's hands on that part of his body.  "Just me," Oz whispered to relax him.  He caught
the chain's clip with his thumb nail, working it open, his knuckles rubbing against the hardening
flesh.  "Just relax," he whispered.  "Almost done."

Xander nodded, swallowing hard.  "Oz?"  He got a hum for an answer.  "Um, I ... I like."

Oz smiled at that.  "I noticed."  He got the clip undone from both ends, laying it on the empty
soap dish next to the sink.  "Okay, gonna do the cock ring."  Xander nodded, breath catching.
"Just relax, I'm not going to hurt you."

"I know."

Oz ran his fingers over the simple silver ring.  "Really nice work, custom?"

//Heph made it for me,// Strife sent. //It was a present from Unc; it's godly so it can be cleaned
under but I have to purposefully remove it to get rid of it.  The clasp pulls to the right.//

Xander stiffened and trembled as the ring's clasp was worked on.  "More?" he panted.

"Anything you want," Oz reminded him.  He got the tiny clasp undone, sliding the ring down the length of the shaft by fisting around the hard cock and sliding his hand up.  He heard the little whimper from both Xander and Strife so rubbed some more once the ring was safely out of the way.  "Okay?"

"Stop and die," Xander groaned.

//So nice,// Strife whispered. //More, Oz, please.//

Oz stroked the younger man gently, trying hard not to scare him.  He pulled his hand off to lick it, playing his wet palm over the leaking head.

Xander turned, pressing himself into his lover's body as he hugged him, breathing hard.  "Want to
watch you," he whispered.  He pulled Oz's hand back up, putting it back around him.  "Please?"

Oz watched his hand work the younger man, studying his response.  He watched the pre-cum run
out, bending to touch his tongue to it, just a little, feathery touch, and Xander exploded.  He
licked the white, ropy cum off his lips, closing his eyes to savor the flavor.  "Nice," he said at last. He wiped some off his cheek, standing up to run the dirty finger over Xander's bottom lip.  He watched the first hesitant taste, then the smile, then he held Xander tightly as his face was licked clean.  "Liked?"

"Not bad, but I need a comparison," Xander said as he licked over the older man's cheek and chin.  When he was done, he pulled back.  "What do you taste like?"

Oz dropped his boxers and sat back down.  "Why don't you find out?"

Xander fell to his knees, licking over the warm chest that he had touched earlier, stopping to kiss
the nipples, licking and sucking them when his head was held there.  He nipped each one, looking up as he pulled one away from the chest with a small grin as he let it go.  Oz grunted, rubbing over his cheeks.  He moved lower, lapping broadly at the fluttering stomach, earning a laugh and a pet through his hair.  He stopped as he got close to the older man's cock, considering what to do.

//Just lick it for now, it's a good start,// Strife told him, sending pictures of him doing it to
someone else.  Xander followed along, pushing Oz's chest so he leaned back to give him better

"Gently," Oz told him.  "Real sensitive there."

Xander looked up as he licked over the tip, nodding.  "I figured that out."

//Just do what you like to have done, Xander,// Bliss sent.

"Shh," Oz said. He looked down at his lover, playing his hands through his hair.  "Be gentle with
me and we'll be fine.  Do what you want to, explore."

Xander nodded, going back to his licking. //Tastes different, deeper somehow,// he told Strife.
He sucked on the head, just simply nursing on it.  Oz grunted so he eased off on the suction,
and he got a relaxed body above him. //Got to figure this part out.//

//Just relax and take in more of it,// Strife sent. //Just suck gently.  Like someone would do for

//No one has.//

//Damn, we've got to fix that,// Strife said, resonating sorrow. //Everyone deserves to have a
decent blow once in their life.//

Xander snorted, moving his head down farther, taking more of the cock in to suck.  He felt the
little pull to his hair so he eased off the suction.  "Sorry," he mumbled as he pulled back.  He
looked up.  "I don't know what to do."

"What did your girlfriend's do for you?" Oz asked gently, pulling him up to sit on his lap.

"Nothing," Xander admitted with a blush.  "Cordy was all about kissing.  Faith was a ten second
thing and she did all the work, just a strip and climb on thing.  Anya wasn't a fun thing, she just
attacked me and ... and did what she wanted to with my body."  His blush got deeper.

//Going to hurt them,// Strife sent. //No real lover would ever do that.//

"Calm down," Oz told him.  "We'll do this together.  You can do whatever you want to do with
me.  Just experiment until you've figure it out."

"But I'm hurting you."

"Not that much, you just have to relate how gentle you are with yourself to being gentle with me."  Xander nodded, sliding back down to his knees, and going back to his tasting.  "Good," he
encouraged.  He grunted as he was sucked hard again, tugging gently on the dark hair.  "Slower,"
he suggested.  "Like a tootsie pop."  He was licked and sucked on again, one hand coming up to
play with the rest of him.  Oz started to get into the rhythm when it changed suddenly, going to an odd jerky rhythm.  "Um, Xan?  Pull off for a sec."  The younger man gave him a sorrowful look as he looked up at him.  "Two things?  Teeth hurt, and rhythm is everything."  That got a nod.  "Okay, want to try it again?"  Xander shook his head and Oz's stomach started to feel like it was going to drop.  "No?" he whispered.

"I obviously can't do it right," he said, curling up against the wall.  "I should stop before I really
hurt you."  He looked at the red, swollen cock.  "I can't hurt you, Oz, and I won't."

Oz nodded, moving to sit on the legs he made spread out.  "Wasn't that bad," he told him, kissing
him.  "First times are never perfect and we all made mistakes.  I about bit the guy off."  That got a small smile.  "See, you were doing okay, you just needed to be gentler with me.  I'm a fragile guy."

Xander hugged him, pulling Oz closer into his chest.  "I'm sorry, I just don't realize how much
pressure I'm putting on."

"Then we'll practice it.  I'll give you as much practice time as you need."  That got a small nod
against his shoulder.  "Would you like to just try your hand?"  He picked up one, licking over it to ease the painful friction that had been building, and put it on him.  "There, just like that," he said, squeezing the hand as hard as he liked, moving it across his flesh.  "Like this."  He let Xander take over, closing his eyes and relaxing against him as he got into it.  "See, nice."

"Very," Xander admitted, speeding up a little.

"Slower," Oz told him.  "I like slow and gentle."

Xander slowed back down but his hand got a little tighter, earning a grunt of pain.  He dropped
Oz like it had burned his hand, hugging him. "Sorry, so sorry."

"Shh," Oz said, squeezing him.  "Not a big.  We'll work on it."  He looked around.  "Would you
watch me?  Learn from what I do?"

"Could, but not sure it would cure the too-hard problem," Xander mumbled from Oz's shoulder.
He was pushed back.  "If you want."

"I wouldn't mind."

"Yoo-hooo!" a familiar female voice called out.

Oz hid his face, shaking his head.  "I'll kill her," he muttered, standing up.  He looked down at
Xander.  "She'll come looking if we don't show up."  He got up, wrapping towels around their
waists and they walked out.   "I'm going to beat you with an ugly stick," Oz warned Aphrodite
with a glare.  "Bad timing sucks."

"Sorry, sweetie," she said, kissing his cheek.  "Just popping in to see how you were."

"Much better before you popped in," Bliss said, coming out.  "Grandma, you have the *worst*
timing of anyone on Olympus."  Xander tugged his braid.  "She does.  I was enjoying you."  She
blushed.  "Go away," he told her, waving her away.

Xander headed into the bedroom, going to hide under the covers with the dog.

Aphrodite smiled at her grandson.  "I'm sorry, baby, if I interrupted something but your father
wanted you."

"Go away," Xander begged loudly from the bedroom.  "Please?"

"Am I interrupting something?" she asked with a frown.  Bliss nodded, crossing his arms across
his chest.  "Ooops, sorry.  Go back to cuddling with him."  She left.

Oz took control again, heading for the bedroom.  "Sorry about that, but I'm sure she didn't do it on purpose."  He slid next to the two lumps of blankets, hugging the bigger one.  "Really sorry."

"S'okay," Xander said from his hiding place.  "But I can't..."

"Me either," Oz assured, squeezing him.  "Let me climb in beside you and we'll cuddle and nap,"
he promised, sliding under the blankets and turning off the lights with a touch of Bliss' power.

They curled up for the rest of the night, neither wanting to go any farther than holding each other anymore.

*** Chapter Nine ***

Xander checked his connection with Strife again to make sure the God of Mischief was asleep,
then logged onto Cupid's cyber-temple, typing out a quick prayer for guidance.  Before he could
hit the enter key he felt someone flash in behind him.  "Cupid," he said, turning to look at him.
"Thank you."

"Erase it so Bliss and Oz don't know," the God of Love suggested with a smile.  Xander did as he
was told and logged off the computer, turning to face him again.  "Good boy.  Now what did you
need my help for?"

"I...um, I don't know how...."  He swallowed.

"You don't know how to make love to my son and you need some help learning because Strife
isn't helping?" Cupid suggested, still smiling.  Xander nodded, blushing.  "Ah, virgins, always my favorite subject."  He patted the couch beside him.  "Come here, I'll show you the easiest way.  No touching, I promise," he assured at the apprehension.  Xander came to sit beside him and he wrapped an arm around the mortal's shoulders.  "Let's go to the temple," Cupid said as he popped them away.

Xander blinked as he looked around the inside of the temple, noticing all the soft materials, all the pillows.  "Wow.  Very comfy looking."

"Yeah, well, since I refuse to live on Olympus most of the time now, it's home."  He pointed at a
couch.  "Sit."  The mortal did so and he walked over to the mirror on the wall, turning it so it
could be seen better from the couch.  "There," he said, walking back over to sit next to the man
who might as well be his son-in-law.  "Just relax and watch," Cupid said, pointing at the mirror
and making a picture appear.  "This is a nice, young priestess that came to me recently.  She's
taking her own lessons."

Xander nodded, wiping the drool from his mouth as he watched her learn how to suck a cock, a
little rod tapping her butt each time she got too hard.  "Um, did she learn it?"

"Very well," Cupid said with a smirk.  "She's got the same problem you do though, she has this
strong suction that's enough to injure someone."  He changed the scene.  "See how she's sucking
on her own finger?  Well, she learned how to do it gentler by that."

Xander sucked on his own finger, trying hard to remember how hard he had sucked on Oz last
night.  "But it feels okay," he said, looking up at the Love God.

Cupid frowned at the mirror.  "Let me into your mind for a few seconds, maybe I can fix this the
easy way."  Xander nodded, closing his eyes.  The God put his hands around the dark hair, going
down into the deep mind, purposefully turning away from the bad things he saw and focusing on thoughts of his son and their last night together.  "Mother," he muttered.  He found what he wanted, shaking his head.  "Well, its a common problem, but it's something you have to cure for yourself."  Xander looked down.  "Hey, no big," Cupid assured him.  "Everyone has that problem sometime."  He tipped the boy's head back up to make him look at him.  "The excitement you feel for him is a good, but you're getting too excited and that's why you get so tough with him.  That and a problem of Strife's but I'll talk with him tonight."  He saw the small nod.  "Okay?"   That got a bigger nod.  "Now then, I have a few things I could give you to help you learn how to love him better, but I truly think that you two need to work things out between yourselves.  Each lover is different."  He popped a small book into his hand.  "This is for you two, just to teach you the basics.  Not the positions, but it's a how-to manual for taking Oz and letting him like it."  He smiled, hugging the mortal to him.  "You'll do fine, Xander, just relax."

"Thanks," Xander whispered, hugging him and taking the book.  "I think it'll help."  He looked
up.  "Were you...."

Cupid shook his head.  "No and I can't tell who did it either."  He shrugged.  "Wasn't me or Bliss,
or mom actually."  He ruffled the dark hair.  "Just remember the one rule, gentle is best."

"Gentle is best," Xander repeated and got a nod for it.  "Thanks.  I'll...I'll, um, tell you how...."

"No big," Cupid assured him.  "You and Bliss are happy, same as you and Oz are.  I have no
problem as long as my son's happy."  He gave him a hard look.  "He'd better stay happy too."

"Of course," Xander said quickly, grinning.  "As happy as I can make him."  He got another pat.
"Thanks, you're a good daddy."  He stood up. "Can you..."  He found himself back in his living
room, looking at Ares, who was tapping his fingers on his thigh.  "Hey," he said, sliding the book
under the chair's cushion so it wasn't seen and sitting on top of it.  "Strife's napping, let me get

"No, I wanted to talk to you."  He leaned forward, and the book appeared in his hand.  "Hmm,
didn't know you were a virgin too."  He looked up to see the blush.  "Hey, no problem with you
being one, but you could have come to me, I broke in most of the virgins on the Mount."

Xander shivered.  "Strife told me that but I really like Oz and..."  He looked hopeful.  "I'm not
insulting you, right?"

"No," Ares said with a tolerant smile, "not at all.  Oz was broken in by someone else too."  He
popped the book back where it had been.  "If you'd like, you could ask me some questions too."

"I know, but I'm not even sure what to ask."  He pushed himself to the floor, pulling his heels up
against his rear and putting his chin on his knees.  "I just seem to have this too hard thing going."

Ares laughed, smiling.  "Oh, you're not the only one.  That's actually a very common problem.
You can't figure out how hard you're sucking because it feels different on you?"  Xander nodded,
blushing again.  "This is no reason to be embarrassed, it's a reason to think differently.  Close your eyes."  Xander did, trusting him.  "Think of Oz's body, and think of it hard, you on your knees in front of him."  He saw the small nod and his smile got brighter as he saw the rest of the young man's body react to the image.  "Now think of putting yourself around him, but think of his cock as something soft and flaky."

"Like an eclair?"

"If you'd like.  You're trying to suck hard enough to get the filling but not to ruin the pastry
around it.  You can use your tongue to lick off the chocolate but not your teeth because that will
tear the pastry.  You can suck, you can swallow, you can move it in and out of your mouth or
your throat but you can only suck hard enough to gently extract the filling."  The mortal shivered,
swallowing hard.  "Good, now think of this image every time you go down on him."

Xander opened his eyes, looking up at the God of War.  "Wow."  He smiled at the answering one.
"That's, like, the most perfect thing I've ever imagined."

"Wait until you try it," Ares said quietly, still smiling.  "I'm pretty sure he'll like it."  He started to fade from view.

"Just one thing," Xander said, making the God of War come back.  "Can you do something about
someone's bad timing?"

Ares laughed.  "Oh, definitely.  I'll have a talk with her husband about her leaving Bliss and you
alone."  He popped out, leaving Xander to think about what he wanted to do to Oz later that


Xander had locked both the doors, and was now on his knees before his lover, rubbing his cheek
against his stomach.  "Can I?" he asked as he tugged playfully on the zipper.  Oz nodded, still
reading.  "You could pay attention," he suggested.

"Will in a minute, let me finish this paragraph.  Have a daily quiz."  He highlighted a few more
lines as his pants were pulled off him, finally tossing down the chemistry book.  "Okay, what did
you want to try?"

Xander went down on his lover, eclair image firmly in his mind, and started to suck him gently,
using his tongue to lick off the imaginary chocolate.  He heard the groan so stopped, pulling back.  "Not nice?" he asked.  "Still too hard?"

Oz shook his head.  "No, fine," he groaned, pushing the dark head back down.  "Whatever you're
doing is good.  Real good."

Xander grinned as he worked back over the damp flesh, trying to take it in deeper.  The book had
said something about allowing Oz into his throat so he tried to take more in but his gag reflex
came out to slap that down quickly.  He moved back up to the head, swirling his tongue around it
like the book had said, tasting the pre-cum just starting to come up.  "Oz," he asked, pulling back
for a breath, "okay still?"

"Very, more," he pleaded, pushing him back down, head resting against the back of the couch
with his eyes squeezed tightly shut.

Xander's ego inflated as he went back to work, his mouth filling with the earthy-tasting flesh,
suckling gently as his tongue played with the spots he had found earlier.  He could hear the small
groan, feel the fingers going from his cheek to feel what he was doing to his hair to rub his scalp,
could taste the older man getting ready to blow.  He swallowed the spit in his mouth,
unconsciously putting extra suction on the cock in his mouth, and a moment later he heard the
scream that meant Oz was coming. He swallowed as fast as he could, pulling back some to keep
Oz from pushing too far into him as he thrust to get it all out.  Xander cleaned off the limp flesh,
making sure he got all of the cum he could, savoring the flavor that was so different from his own.  He sat back on his heels, looking at his lover.  "That was okay, right?"

"Yes," Oz said, pulling him up for a kiss.  "Very okay.  Very good."  He laid the younger man
under him.  "How?" he panted, closing his eyes.

"I asked a question," Xander whispered, rubbing Oz's back to soothe him, big grin on his face.
"Wow.  I liked that," he admitted a few minutes later, after inspecting his mind.  "I really liked
doing that."

//Good thing,// Strife said dryly.  //What was that thing with the eclair?//

//Just something someone told me.  Now quiet so I can give thanks.//   He closed his eyes and
sent a prayer of thanks at Cupid and Ares for helping him, relaxing after he was done.   //Wow,//
he said finally.  //I made love with Oz.//

"Sorta," Oz said, looking up.  "How did you do that?"

"I asked a question and read a book," Xander said, grinning and rubbing through the sweaty red
hair.  "Was it really good?"

"Was excellent," Oz assured him.  He kissed him, slowly exploring his mouth.  "You deserve
another reward for learning that so quickly."

"How about you touch me?" Xander suggested with a small grin.  "I think I deserve rubbies for

"Yeah, you deserve lots of rubbing for that," Oz said, sitting up and pulling off his shirt.  He
pulled Xander up too, taking off his shirt and tossing it on top of Baby, who had come out to
investigate the noises.  He growled, shaking it off, and barked at them.  "Shh, Baby, just liking
Xander.  We're okay."  The puppy barked once and headed for the kitchen and his water dish.

Xander shook his head.  "Our puppy is a little too much like us," he whispered, kissing his lover.
"Gonna touch me?"

"Wherever you want," Oz assured him, pushing him back down to tug on his jeans.  He ended up
standing up to get them off him, then sat back across his hips.  "Okay, where would you like

"Wherever you'd like to touch me," Xander offered. He waved down his body.  "I'm so yours it's
time to buy me a tag."  Oz snickered at that.  "I should have a tag, and it should say 'property of
Oz and Bliss' on it.  Maybe a tasteful little gold one?"  He screeched as he was tickled.  "Oz!  No
fair!"  He wiggled under the hard body, eyes closing as his cock rubbed against the older man's.
"Oh, Oz!" he yelled for a different reason, grabbing his hips to repeat the action.  He didn't see the satisfied smile before his lover bent down to tease his nipples with his tongue, or before Oz's
hands decided to play across his stomach, all he could see were the sparks of colors behind his eyelids as Oz rubbed against him.  He panted, grabbing the hips harder to control the rhythm, taking his pleasure from the simple actions, the sliding, the rubbing, the wet friction that was building between them as they both got closer to their peak.  Xander came, shooting off with a whimper and a whole body tremble, grabbing Oz to pull him down on top of him.  "Oz," he
whispered, rubbing over his back.  "Thank you."

"Welcome," Oz whispered, pulling himself back up to stroke himself.  "Look at me," he said,
making Xander watch him.  "See how I'm doing this?"  That got a frantic nod.  "See me doing this then."  His hand started to move faster, adding just a little twist near the end of the outward
stroke, his own eyes closing as the feelings built, eventually coming on Xander's stomach with a
moan and a grunt.

Xander sat up, kissing his lover.  "Gods, I love you," he said, kissing him.  "Did before but now
I'm *so* sure of it."  Oz pulled back to look at him, hurt showing through his eyes.  "Before, I
was worried if I could love you fully, like you deserved, but now I know I can.  And I know that
enjoy all the parts of it, not just the cuddling and necking stuff."  Oz nodded for him to go on, the
hurt still there.  "See, I had the feelings, that's why I stopped you, but I wasn't sure if they were
real feelings or just imaginary feelings."

Oz snorted, hugging the younger man.  "They're real, I promise.  But it's good that you know
that too."  He pushed the younger man back onto the couch.  "Now shh, I need a nap."  He
cuddled on top of the messy flesh, holding Xander close to him.  //You worried me.  I thought
you were making love equal sex,// he sent after a minute.

//Nope, sex is just a part of love.  Just a little fraction of it,// Xander sent back. //I love you, Oz,
all the way fully love you.  Willing to go shout it out at the quad of both colleges sort of love.
The kind where if I was being really fast-me I'd be hopping up right now to buy you things to show you how much I love you and want you to stay.//

//Not leaving,// Oz reminded him.  He pulled his head up.  "I'm not leaving.  Not ever."  Xander
nodded.  "No, really.  I'm ...not...leaving," he repeated slowly.  "No matter what."

//Does that mean you don't want presents?// Xander sent with a small grin.

//Only if you want to buy them for me.  I don't need them to stay, Xander.  Presents aren't a
reason to stay, no matter what Anya thought.//

//I know,// he admitted quietly.  //I have a lot to learn about real relationships and stuff.  If you're
patient, I'll be a good boyfriend though.// He gave Oz his most hopeful look.

"Shh, I'm patient and I'm here for a long time," Oz said, hugging him.  "Never leaving.  Not even
if you get scared."  Xander nodded, squeezing him hard before closing his eyes.  //Bliss?//

//Post-coital naps are the norm across cultures,// the God of Happiness reminded him.  //He'll be
fine, he just has to unlearn a lot of stuff.//   He sent soothing thoughts at Oz, making him nap too.
//Strife?// he mind-whispered. //How much does he have to unlearn?//

//Ask your dad, I felt him in here earlier.// Xander shifted, frowning in his sleep. //But I'd say

Bliss thought quietly to himself for a while, until the young mortals were fully asleep.  He nudged Strife and they got up, cleaning the men up with their wills as they took control and dressed each other.  They both popped to Cupid's temple in Las Vegas, landing in front of him.

Cupid waved his fingers as he munched on his ice cream bon-bon.  "What's up?" he asked, waving the mirror away.  He smiled up at them when he caught the scent of sex on them.  "Guess the book worked."

Bliss sat down beside his father.  "He came to talk to you?"

"He did, was *real* embarrassed, stuttering and all, but we talked.  Why?"

"'Cause that's a strange thought," Strife said, falling into the chair and putting his feet up.  He
looked over his shoulder as he felt Ares walk in, nodding at him.  "Did he talk to you too?"

"Well, I was waiting on him and forced the discussion, but I guess it helped since he said it did."
The God of War ruffled his nephew's hair, smiling down at him.  "It's the same thing I told Cupid
once, relax."

"Huh, the pastry thing?"  Ares nodded with a tolerant smile.  "No wonder it worked, that would
be a good trigger for him to use."  He looked at his son.  "Bliss, what's bothering you here?  The
fact that he sought a higher authority or the fact that it was me?"

"Both," Bliss said with a small frown.  "It weirds me to think that my lover discussed our sex life
with you."

//Had to,// Xander sent. //It's not like I knew what to do or how to not hurt you guys.//   He
forcefully took control of his body back from Strife.  "I really didn't know any of it, Bliss.  I've
never even considered being with a man before Oz and I wasn't sure that I could go this far with
him."  Bliss nodded, giving him a small, sad smile.  "It's not that I don't love you guys, it's a doubt in my mind about whether or not I love you enough to give myself to you in such a situation."

Cupid swallowed his most recent bon-bon with a nod.  "It's always mentally heavy the first time.
Even your's," he said with a tweak to Bliss' wingtip.  "You stressed over it for months if I
remember right."

"Yup," Bliss said, getting up and going over to where his lover was sitting.  "We understand what
you're feeling, but it feels strange that you went to my dad."

//Reverse the situation,// Oz suggested.

Xander shuddered.  "Can we please leave my parents and the thought of sex alone?"  Cupid gave
him a knowing look.  "No, it's not that I don't accept that they have it, they do but not together,
but I really don't want to go into the discussion of sexual questions and my parents.  That can be
our one forbidden topic."  He looked at Bliss, begging him to understand, and got a nod.  He
patted his lap.  "I'll tell you sometime," he promised quietly, hugging his lover to his chest.  "We
okay with me having to ask questions?"

"Hey, if you're okay with it," Oz said, taking control and kissing him.  "I would have had I been
sober and aware of what I was going to do it."  Xander frowned.  "Was before I met you," he
promised, stealing a kiss.  He looked up at Ares.  "Pastry?"  Cupid sent the theory to him, making
him shiver and cling to Xander's body.  "Now I know why you did it like that.  Keep those
thoughts," he whispered, kissing him.

"Hey, some of us aren't getting any," Cupid told them, interrupting the couple before they could
start making love again in front of him.  Ares gave him an incredulous look.  "What?  Just because I'm the God of Love doesn't mean I get any."  He held up the bon-bon container.  "Want one?"

Ares sat down beside his son, taking one of the ice cream treats and eating it.  "Why didn't you
tell me?"

"Because I didn't want everyone to get involved in it," Cupid said, shrugging.  He leaned against
his father's shoulder.  "I just have to find a good lover and keep them."

Ares patted his son's leg.  "I'll help if you want.  Male or female?"

"I'm on the verge of not caring," Cupid whispered, watching his son be happy and nap off his
prior exertions.  "Though I like women better.  My last one left two weeks ago."

"We know a few," Xander said.  "Two, witches that are together for a little while and Buffy."  Oz
shifted in his lap so he rubbed down his back.  "She could use a lover with a strong leash."

Cupid smiled at him.  "You're right about Tara and Willow, they won't stay together forever.
They'll go back to the 'friend's stage of their relationship, just gradually fading out the sexual
part."  Xander shuddered.  "Weren't you into her at one time?"

"Yeah, but she's like my sister," Xander explained.  "I don't know what I was thinking."

"Hormones," Oz muttered, leaning up to blindly kiss him.  "Shh."

Xander soothed him.  "Sorry, Oz, sleep babe."  He looked back up at the Gods of Love and War.
"You both deserve good lovers, ones that make you happy."  The Gods nodded, smiling at them.
"We should leave before Baby gets into trouble."  Ares waved them away, and they wound up in
the scariest of all places, a burning house.  "Damn, Oz!" he yelled, getting up.  His lover got to his feet and headed for the kitchen, then the bedroom, getting what they needed while Xander got the leash on Baby and grabbed the bike's and van's keys, and the wallet Ares had given him, and led him out of the house.  He walked out into the arms of Giles, who took the dog and kept Xander from going in after Oz.

Oz jogged out, directly into Willow's arms, clinging to her.  When he saw Xander, he pulled him
over, hugging him too.  "Got what we had sent somewhere else," he whispered, kissing his cheek. "We'll be okay."

Giles took the keys from Xander's limp hand, handing the dog's leash to Tara and went to get the
bike the God of War had given Xander out of the garage before it too could catch on fire.  He barely managed to get it out before the roof caved in, just about the same time the Fire Department showed up, and the Gods of War and Love, both of them, showed up.

Cupid hugged Oz hard, clutching him to him, Ares doing the same for Xander, while Aphrodite
looked at the crowd.  She saw a few smug faces, but Giles' hand on her arm stopped her from
going over and beating them senseless.

"It wasn't them," he told her.  "If you check, I'm sure you'd find they were just happy about the
development.  Buffy was with me when it happened."

Aphrodite shook his hand off.  "Doesn't matter, she still deserves punished."

"No," Xander said, looking at her, "not unless she did it."  He stared her down.  "Strife wants to
take care of her himself."  She nodded, pushing back some of her hair.  He pulled away from
Ares, letting Strife take over.

"I don't know who did it, but you can beat them later.  I think I know who would know."  He
nodded at Oz, who nodded back, not moving.  "Come on, he's safe and we're fine.  Let's go find
out who did what."  Ares simply waved him on, walking behind him as he headed for Buffy, who
tried to get away from them.  "Spike, if she runs, your chip stays," he warned, making sure the
vampire caught her.  He stopped in front of Spike, focusing on him.  "You know who I am," that
got a small nod, "I want your oath of loyalty to both of us."

"Freely given," Spike said, handing Buffy over to Ares.  "I had nothin' to do with this bit of fun.
This was his ex."


"No, not the boy, Bliss'."

Cupid frowned at the vampire.  "Bliss didn't have one."

"She said she was his," Spike defended, backing away.  "Some dark one, even more dark than my
Sire, the pouf, when he lost his soul.  She had help, but it was all her idea."

Strife patted his head.  "Relax, we're just lookin' for the truth."  He turned to look at Cupid.
"Take care of Oz for me until we're done with this."  Cupid nodded, backing away, knowing
better than to argue with Strife when he was set on doing something.  He looked at Ares.
"Mine," he said.

"If you can handle it," Ares assured him, "but it's our right to take some vengeance too.  This is
our family."  He looked around.  "Do you feel your mother?"

Strife turned toward a tree across the street, making himself invisible to the mortals around there
as he walked over to his mother.  "You did this," he told her, not even bothering to ask.  She
shrugged and he pushed her into the tree.  "You'd harm both of us?"

"I wanted you back, Strifey," she said, trying to be nice to him.

"If you kill my host, I'm as dead as he is," he informed her.  "And Xander is as protected as Oz
and Bliss are.  If you don't believe me, I think we could make sure of it."

She shook her head and looked over his shoulder at Ares, who was stalking over to them.  "No,
I'll leave them alone," she promised once she saw the rage in his eyes.

"Yay," Strife said coldly.  He looked at Ares.  "I'm going to have a talk with Grandfather.  Ya

Ares shook his head.  "No, this is your duty, I won't interfere, but the mortals she made do it are

Strife shrugged.  "Whatever.  If they could do this they don't warrant our protection."  He turned
back to his mother, using his strongest grip on the back of her neck and teleporting them to
Olympus, directly in front of Zeus and Hera.  "I want her dealt with," he said, pushing her to the
floor.  "She just tried to kill me and Bliss."

Hera gasped and looked at her.  "Discord, is this true?"

"I wanted my son back," she said, trying to get up, but Hades held her down with a lightening
bolt.  "Hey!  He's my son."

Athena walked in, one perfectly formed eyebrow going up.  "So you decided to do more than
interfere with my Chosen One?"  She looked at Strife, who was smudged with ash.  "What

"We came back from visiting Cupid's temple to a burning house."  Everyone gasped.  "And what
*Discord* doesn't seem to understand is that without our mortal bodies we aren't living."

"So you're saying, in essence, that she tried to kill two Gods tonight," Athena said.  Strife nodded.  "I can agree to that interpretation."  She looked at her parents.  "We all knew what was going to happen to those two, and how they were bonded."  She looked over her shoulder as Ares and Cupid popped in.

"How're Bliss and Oz?" Strife asked, his face showing worry.

"Rupert has them," Ares told him.  He looked at his parents.  "The boys deserve the same
protection as the other Gods, even though they're partially mortal in form."  Zeus shook his head.
"You'd protect a demi-God bastard and you won't protect your own full-God offspring?" Ares
shouted, pulling power to him.

Hera raised a hand.  "The boys have a point.  The Gods knew what they were getting into when they joined with the mortals and they are both adults now, though we still treat Bliss as a child."  She nodded Cupid to come forward.  "Is your son truly all right?"

"He's fine, Grandmother, very shaken and hurt but he's physically fine."  He looked at Strife.  "I
agree with him.  They deserve the same protection as any other God.  They're the same as us, just
having two forms, one a mortal one."

Strife turned back to his grandparents.  "If you don't punish Discord, I will," he promised.  "She
won't be a Goddess for very long."  He looked down at his mother.  "Any woman who would
kill her own child is no longer human or godly and needs ta be punished."

"I didn't know," she said, finally getting up.  She stared at her son.  "As far as I knew, if I
destroyed the mortal you'd be back."

"Mother, without Xander's body, I'm still dead," Strife said quietly.  "Same as Bliss is without
Oz's body."  Cupid groaned.  "If you checked you would have known that."  He turned back
to the head of Olympus.  "Deal with her or I will."

Zeus stood up.  "Very well.  Discord will be punished as every other God who's tried to destroy
another God has been."  He stared down Strife.  "Your position is no longer valid up here," he
said raising a hand.  Strife stood there, not backing down.  "You're not afraid of losing your
powers?" he asked in surprise.

"Why should I be?  You knew I was going to die and you did nothing, this is much less of a
tragedy than that was."  He shrugged and looked at Hera.  "You both knew what really would
start off the Twilight and you still let me die."  He turned, walking away.  "I'm gone," he said,
disappearing.  He pulled his special boxes out of Ares' temple, shrinking them so they fit in his
pocket, and was leaving when he felt someone pop in behind him.  "I don't want to hear it," he
said, turning around to find Athena standing there.  "You too?" he asked coldly.

"I didn't find out until later," she said, holding out a hand.  "I may not like you," she added when
he didn't take it, "but your life was necessary to the health of us all."  He shook it with a small nod and walked around her.  "Strife, Ares is presently chewing Zeus out, you should go to him."

"If Unc wanted me, he'd call.  I'm going where I'm truly needed."  He disappeared as he walked,
ending up at Giles' apartment.  "Hey," he said, leaning down to kiss Oz's cheek.  "They'll deal
with her."  He felt Buffy in the apartment and turned to look at her.  "Ya still want to hurt us?"

She shook her head, not moving from her spot on the couch.  "No, not really.  Giles fixed my wrong thinking."

Strife nodded, helping Oz up.  "Come on, we can go find somewhere comfy to sleep tonight."

"No, we're fine here," Oz said, looking at him.  "Giles will protect us."  He ran a hand over the
tense cheek.  "We can stay," he whispered.

"And we'll bring the wrath of the others down on them," Strife said sadly.  "Neither of me want
that."  He looked at Giles.  "We won't let you be hurt."

"That's my job," Hades said as he popped in.  He smiled at the couple, pushing Oz back into the
chair.  "Sit, nephew.  No one will come after you.  Ares and Cupid were put in charge of her
punishment."   Strife didn't move so he pushed him into Oz's lap.  "I said sit," he said kindly.  He
looked at Giles.  "Did you call on me?"

"No," Giles said with a smile, "but I am, as always, glad for your presence."  He reached down to
pet the puppy laying at his feet.  "He's a little singed but he's basically fine," he told the returning
Xander.  Baby barked and walked over to sit with them.

Xander picked up Baby, cuddling him between he and Oz.  "Yeah, we're fine," he said, giving Oz
a little kiss.  "I'm so sorry," he whispered.

"Wasn't you," Oz assured him, rubbing down his back. He stole a quick kiss.  "It's handled, let me be the strong one."  Xander relaxed into his body, letting Oz be the dominant and strong one for now.  "Hades, what about everything Bliss sent?"

"It's safely at Cupid's temple and none of it was even singed.  He asked me to tell you that since he's busy."  The God of the Undead walked over to sit on the couch beside Giles.  "Are you both okay?"

"Little smoky," Oz said, patting Xander's head.  "He's fine too."

"Good," Ares said, popping in behind them.  He reached down to touch both of their heads,
closing his eyes.  "Sleep," he whispered.  When the mortals were out, he looked at Giles.  "You
couldn't stop her?"

"Anya is a demon again and we all tried."  He waved at Willow and Tara, who were in the
kitchen.  "The three of us working together couldn't stop her."  The God of War nodded, looking
at his Uncle.

"It's being handled," Hades told him. "She's been recalled and will not bother anyone again.  She
confessed to how Discord had her set the fire."

Ares relaxed.  "As long as she's been dealt with."  He looked down at the couple.  "As long as
they're safe."

Hades got up, walking over to stand beside his nephew.  "You're not going to lose Strife again, I
promise you I won't accept him back into my domain unless I'm forced to."  Ares nodded,
disappearing.  Hades turned to look at his lover.  "Get them settled, I'll see you soon."  Buffy
choked.  "Personally," he told her, "not professionally."  He too disappeared.

Xander and Oz continued to cling to each other.

*** Chapter Ten ***

Xander looked at the woman across the cafe's table, frowning.  "You can't blame us because
someone burned the house down."

His landlady smirked.  "Actually, I can.  It was your girlfriend..."

"Ex," he corrected.  "And it doesn't mean she asked us to do it or even told us she was going to.
We never got any threats from her."

Their landlady shrugged.  "I'm sorry, but my lawyer assured me I can hold you responsible."

Oz walked up to the table with the Detective handling their case.  "I seriously doubt that."  He
waved the Detective to sit down first.  "I'm sure you know Detective Munch."  She nodded, her
lips thinning.  "When I asked him, he said we weren't being held responsible."  He sat down.
"And I talked to a lawyer, who also assured me we couldn't be held responsible. Something about
abused spouses and direct correlations."

Xander coughed.  "It may be more of a direct one than not," he said, pushing over something that
Giles had given him, a very nice brochure from a group for sexual counseling.  He looked at the
Detective.  "She can't do this, right?"

"She can try but I think the judge would laugh her out of the courtroom."  He looked at her.
"You really don't want to be embarrassed that way, do you?" he asked with a small, malicious
smile.  She shook her head, her face going blank.  "Good, I didn't think you wanted to hurt these
two."  He patted Oz's shoulder as he stood.  "I'll see you later, I have paperwork I need to do."

Xander looked at Oz, who rubbed over his leg.  "Okay."  He looked back at their landlady.  "I
think we're done here.  You're going to leave us alone."  She nodded, getting up and going away.

Oz switched sides of the booth, putting down the brochure.  "Anya?" he asked, tapping it.
Xander nodded.  "It's true, but I'm not sure that I want you to go get help for it.  She won't ever
hurt you again."

"No, I think we'll be okay.  I'm sure you won't do what she did."  Oz shook his head.  "Then we're

"Very.  The van's insurance will pay for it to be replaced.  She's got the house's insurance so she
can buy another place.  We're all fine."  He took Xander's hand, squeezing it gently.  "We're
okay," he told him quietly.

"Well, then I have another bit of good news," Willow said as she sat down beside them.  "I found
you guys a temporary place until you can find a better one."  Both guys looked at her.  "What?"

"Why were you doing that?" Xander asked.

"Because I like you guys and Giles is tired of watching you two neck."  She grinned at her ex-
boyfriend.  "I think this'll be okay.  Little dark and gloomy, not a real cheerful place but it'll do for now."  They nodded so she passed over a piece of paper, getting up.  "I told them you'd come by to look at it."

Oz looked at the address and nodded slowly.  "Know this place, belonged to a Goth chick that
played in a band that went up against Dingoes."

"Speaking of bands," Xander said, "are you going back to them?"

"Maybe, not sure yet."  He looked up.  "Why?  Problems?"

"Not really, I know you miss your music."  Xander picked up their joined hands, kissing the back of Oz's.  "Go back to them, Oz, you miss them."  He let the hand go.  "Come on, let's go
look at this place.  Maybe it'll be okay enough."

Oz stood up, putting money down to pay for the coffee.  "Okay."


Xander looked around at the dark purple walls the next day, blinking at the glowing shapes in the
blacklight.  "Gee, um, okay," he said, turning to look at Oz, who was holding his head.  "New
light bulbs?" he suggested.

"Could," Oz said, closing the closet door.  "Really bright red," he noted, pointing at the door.  He
looked at his lover and shook his head.  "No."

"No," Xander agreed.

They looked at the landlord, shaking their heads.  "No," they said together.

He laughed, waving at the door.  "That's okay, I can understand that.  I think I know someone
else who'd like it more."  He waited until they were outside and the door was relocked.  "But I do
know of a place for you.  Nice little complex, has a gym and a pool?"

Xander looked at Oz, who shrugged.  "Wouldn't hurt to look."


They walked around the beige, open rooms, holding in shudders.  "No life," Xander whispered to
Oz, licking his ear subtly at the same time.  "Need a more us place."

Oz nodded, turning to the manager.  "Sorry, but we're college students and we need something

"Republican," Xander finished.

Oz looked at him and nodded. "Exactly."

The manager shrugged.  "Okay.  Whatever."  He waved them out, locking the door behind them.

Xander picked up one of those free 'getting rid of everything' papers, the ones that list all sorts of
stuff for sale and sometimes apartments too.  "Huh, Oz?" he called, catching up to him.  "Check
this out?" he said as he got onto the bike.

Oz looked at the paper and nodded.  "Two or three in there.  We'll call when we get gas," he said,
putting the paper into the saddlebag.  "Put on your helmet."  He started the bike after the strong
arms went around his waist.


Xander looked at Giles, who was helping him look at places since Oz was still in class.  "So?"

"Well, it looks sound enough," the older man said, looking at the odd colors of paint on the walls.
"I'd think that you'd need to repaint though."

Xander nodded.  "Point."   //Strife?//

//Hate it.//

Xander shook his head.  "Okay, one no vote," he muttered.

Giles looked at him.  "Oh, him," he said in sudden understanding.  "Can he pass along..." he
stopped, looking at the landlord waiting on them.

Xander nodded. //And?//

//I think death was mentioned.  By Oz. Something about headaches too.//

Xander shook his head.  "Nope, I don't think Oz would like this place."  He waved at the landlord
as they walked out.  He picked up the letter off his seat before he sat down, opening it. Then he
laughed.  "Gods," he said, looking up.  "Meddling good guys," he said, handing Giles the paper.

Giles looked at it and smiled.  "Of course."  He started his little car, pulling away from the curb.

Xander looked around the apartment, snorting internally. //Strife?//

//Looks okay to us, I've already asked Bliss.  Oz's answer was 'whatever, as long as it's not pink'.//

Xander leaned against Giles' side, looking around him at the landlord.  "I think my friend will like this too.  He'll be done with class...."

"Got out early," Oz said, walking in.  He looked around.  "Okay by me."  He took the lease,
signing it and handing it to Xander, waiting on him.

//Hey, Unc,// Strife sent as Xander signed his name. //Thanks.//

//You're messing with Hades' love life, which is never a good idea,// Ares said, walking back
out, still keeping the illusion that he was Oz on.

//I'll get you for this later,// Xander sent.  //Send you nice prezzies.//  He heard the mental laugh
so handed the lease back.  "Okay, now what?"

"Now I need your deposit.  I'll have someone come repaint tonight."

"No need," Xander said.  "We like this color."  He touched the dark gray textured wall treatment
as he pulled out his wallet, handing over a check that appeared in it.  "Here, what we discussed."

The landlord took it and nodded, digging out the keys to hand him.  "That was easy," he said,
leaving them alone.

Xander looked at Giles.  "Was easy, but we had some people on our side," he said casually.  Giles smiled and hugged him.  "So, want to help us move in?"  The things Bliss had saved from their last place appeared around them.  "Never mind."

"I believe you two will still need a few things," Giles said, steering him back out to the car.   He
had been asked to keep both young men out of the apartment for a while before they moved in by
Aphrodite, she had said she wanted to gift them by decorating a little bit.


Oz followed Bliss' directions, ending up on his doorstep at the same time as Xander.  He took the
extra set of keys from the full hands, leading the way up to apartment 4b.  He opened the door
and stopped, whimpering.

Xander looked over Oz's shoulder and blanched.  "Someone came in and defiled our new place,"
he said, looking at his lover.  "It was really pretty and gray earlier."

Oz shook his head, letting Xander inside.  He turned at the sudden dropping and breaking of glass
from the kitchen, hurrying in to see what was wrong.  He stopped when he saw the lacy pink
curtains and the open cabinets stocked with health food.  "I'll kill her," he said, tipping back his
head.  "Grandmother!"  Cupid and Aphrodite popped in at the same time, his father going pale at
the decorating job.

"Son, I'm sorry," his father said, pulling his mother aside.  "Mom, these are guys.  Guys don't do
pink, or lacy."

Xander came back to himself, pulling his gaze away from the soynuts that were in the place where he had put the chocolate sauce earlier.  //Strife?// he squeaked mentally.

Strife took control and looked around, frowning at his aunt.  "Ya had to go and upset him like
this?" he asked.

"I just made it pretty," she defended.

"'Dite, pink does not live in guy's homes.  It's a rule of life."  Strife looked in the bedroom and
shook his head, closing the door, keeping Oz from going in there.  "Don't.  Just don't," he said
quietly.  Baby barked from his basket, whining when everyone looked at him.

"Oh, see, the cutsie puppy likes it," she said, pointing at his pink ribbon collar and the tapestry
blanket with flowers on it.

Oz shook his head, letting Bliss take over. //Please fix this,// he begged mentally.

Bliss came out and looked around then looked at his grandmother.  "If I begged, would you undo
it?" he asked, giving her his best begging look.  "I had plans for this space and you've traumatized Oz and Xander."  She pouted, her lip trembling.

"Oh, *stop* it," Ares said as he popped in.  "You're broadcasting all the way to Olympus."  He
recoiled at the sight of the decorating Aphrodite had done.  "You're trying to kill them?" he asked
coolly.  She turned her pout on her.  "Oh, don't even," he mocked.  "Pout at me and I'll give Heph
a commission."  She, and everything pink and lacy, disappeared.  Ares took a deep breath.
"Better," he said, nodding at his nephew.

Cupid looked around the gray walls.  "Little bland but otherwise okay."

Bliss snapped his fingers and the decorations from his room at Cupid's temple landed in the

"As if," Strife said, snapping his own finger and the jeweltones he liked appeared beside the bright fruit colors Bliss had imported.

Cupid pinched the bridge of his nose.  "I have a headache now."  He looked at them.  "Guys,
neither of you are colorblind."

"Son, it's not worth it," Ares said, rubbing his neck.  He looked at the furniture, changing its color
so it was all solid black or solid gray.  "That should help them some."

"Hey!" Bliss and Strife said together.  Cupid and Ares wisely left.

"I like tangerine," Bliss said, pouting.

Strife shook his head.  "Not a chance.  It gives me nightmares."  The pout went up a notch.  "Hey,
we lived with your stuff forever."  He snapped his fingers and the furniture changed to the heavy
wood style he preferred, soft and deep but still very comfortable.  "Just try it," he asked, sliding
up to Bliss and wrapping him in his arms to kiss.  "I think you'll like it."

Bliss shook his head.  "I liked my stuff."

"But I need more structure."

"But mine was more comfy."

"No, mine is."

Giles walked in during their 'no mine'/'no mine,' debate.  He looked at the furniture and rubbed his forehead.  "Boys," he said quietly, making both of them look at him and the nauseating
rearranging of the furniture stopped.  "Thank you.  Maybe we should pick some common
ground."  He walked over and sat in a chair, smiling as it enveloped him comfortably.  "This feels

"I used to relax in that chair after doing Ares' bidding all day," Strife said, grinning at him.  "See,
it's comfy," he told Bliss, leading him over and laying him on couch.  "See?"

"Yup, comfy," Bliss said, wiggling.  "But I liked my couch because my wings would fit on it and
we can cuddle on it."  He winked and his tangerine-colored couch came back.  He looked at it
then at his lover.  "It can be a different color as long as it's not blood red or black," he offered.   It
turned deep sapphire blue.  "Okay, I can live with that."

Strife sat up, pulling Bliss with him.  "I guess I can live with some of your colors, as long as it's
not yellow or orange, they're depressing for me."  Bliss nodded, fixing the pillows to be a lighter
blue, a bright, tropical color.  "Okay, I like that one," Strife admitted.

They kissed and the rest of the apartment sorted itself out instantly, including the food in the
cabinets disappearing and new food that they could eat being put in it's place.  By the time they
pulled back, everything was perfectly in place and set up for them to live there.

Giles smiled at them, his gray chair now being tropical blue.  "Very nicely done," he congratulated them.  He laughed as he suddenly found himself on his own couch in his apartment.  "Boys," he said, shaking his head, tipping his head to get a kiss from the God walking in.

"If you insist," Ares said, kissing Giles hard.  Until Hades cleared his throat, giving his nephew a
pointed look.  "Bye," he said, popping out.


Oz walked in with the laundry, one hand curled into a fist.  He set the basket down, sitting beside
a studying Xander.  "What're these?" he asked, handing them over.

Strife came out at the sight of the little wooden boxes, counting them.  "One's missing," he said,
searching for it.  He looked really upset when the missing one came up out of the laundry.  "It got

"All of them did," Oz told him, stroking down the side of his face.  "But whatever's inside may not have."  He carefully handed them over, watching as they ended up around the room as normal
sized trunks.  "Wow.  What're they?"

"My stuff," Strife said, getting up to look inside them.  "I just hope nothing got wet."  He started
at the one that was cracked, wincing as he pulled it open and looked at the things inside.  "Yeah,
this one did."  He waved his hand and almost everything was back to normal.  He quickly checked the other ten of them, not finding any other water damage.

"Wow," Oz said, picking up a piece of music.  "What's this?"

"Special," Strife said, walking up to sit behind him and look at it.  "It was a present from an
admirer."  He traced over the music.  He felt something happening in the ether so held onto Oz,
blinking as he felt a small time switch happen.

"Huh," Oz said, looking around.  "Was that what I thought it was?"

"Yeah," Strife said, grinning.  "Someone felt sorry for my poor stuff so they made sure you found
them before they got wet."  He put the box of jewelry back, laying the other stuff on top of it.  "I
have something to show you," he whispered, calling a small box from another one of them over to him.  "This was mine," he said, opening it.

Oz looked at the small, loose jewels laying on the velvet and reached for one.  "Can I?"

"No," Strife said, "don't touch.  These are real special to me.  They were a gift."

"From?"  He didn't get an answer so turned to look at the God.  "From a lover?"

Strife nodded.  "Yeah.  From a lover that I couldn't get along with.  We were great for about a
month then we started to fight.  No matter how often we got together or how hard we tried."  He
closed the box.  "Never touch those, okay?"

"Sure," Oz said, turning the key on the box and handing it to him.  "I won't touch.  Were pretty
but I love you more than pretty things."

Xander came back.  "Even more than my prettiness?"

"No, you're the one pretty thing that I love more than Strife," he told the younger man, kissing
him.  He pulled back to look at him.  "Let Strife come back for a second."  Strife came forward
and Oz kissed him.  "I know about you and Cupid.  It's not a big to me or Bliss and we won't
touch the pretties he gave you.  Put it somewhere safe," he whispered, knowing that the God
would want to.  It wasn't that Strife didn't trust him but there were some things that were special
enough for him to hide from everyone.  The box disappeared and in their place was a bigger one.
"What's this?" Oz asked, touching the soft wood.

"My favorite things," Strife said, opening it.  He showed the little bits of things off.  "Silly huh,
keeping the little things."

"No," Oz said, kissing him again.  "We all have little things that mean a lot to us because of the
memories they evoke."  He leaned against the God.  "Want to tell me about them?"

"Some other day, Oz, really."  He fingered a bit of twisted string.  "When we have more time."
He started to close the box but Bliss came out and touched the same bit of string.  "Hey," he said

"You kept it?" he asked, turning to look at the God that had basically raised him.  Strife nodded,
not looking at him.  "I think that's sweet, and good."  He kissed his cheek.  "I love you too, ya
know."  His wing came up and fluttered against Strife's back.  "Always the mushy, sentimental
guy," he whispered, moving the box out of his way to steal a kiss.  He ended up straddling Strife's lap, kissing him hard.  "Want to move our hosts along?" he whispered mid-kiss.

"No," Strife said, pulling back.  "Xander still needs some time, and simply holding you is way
beyond my expectations."  He licked over the pouting lips.  "Soon enough, Bliss, we have time."

"Yeah, we have time," Bliss said, coming back in for a kiss.  By unspoken agreement they faded
back, leaving their mortal hosts kissing.

"Huh," Oz said, pulling back.  "Missed these this week."

"Paper," Xander said, grabbing Oz's head to pull it closer so he could kiss him again.  "Want more this time," he whispered.  Oz nodded, clinging to him as they kissed, working his way inside the tight t-shirt.  Xander used Strife's powers to strip them both, then to pop them onto the bed, landing on top of his lover's slight form.  "Hmm, what to do with you," he said, leaning down to nip at the pulse he could see.

"Xander," Oz panted, pushing him away a little.  "Let me?"

"Let you what?" Xander asked with a small grin.  "I've already told you I'd let you do anything to

"I want to touch, and maybe grope."  Xander nodded so Oz raised a hand, stroking down the
younger man's back, teasing down his spinal column before he ran into his cheek cleft.  "Want to
touch here," he said as he slid a finger down in between the tensed cheeks.  "No farther unless you want it."

"I thought..."  Xander shook his head.  "Okay, I trust you to stop when I'm uncomfy."

Oz nodded.  "Of course, all you have to do is tell me."  He teased the clenched opening with his
fingertip.  "Relax," he reminded.  "Just touching."  Xander nodded frantically.  "Then it's okay?"

"Good, very good, please do more really quickly before I change my mind and chicken out."

Oz snickered, gently pushing against the hole, ending up with his fingertip inside his boyfriend
after a few seconds.  "There," he said, pushing it in a few more centimeters.  "How's that?"

Xander nodded, latching onto Oz's mouth, having to bend his neck at an awkward angle to do so.
"We need stuff, right?"

"If I want to go farther inside you, yeah," Oz said carefully, "but we don't have any of it here."

"Can we improvise?"

"I don't want to rush your first time, Xander," Oz said, pulling his fingertip out and pushing
himself out from under his lover so he could look at him.  "This isn't something that has to happen right now.  If you can't wait that's good, but doing it because you might change your mind is bad."

Xander sighed, adjusting himself so he was lying cuddled across Oz's body.  "It's not that.  I know that if we wait too much longer, I'm going to do something stupid and you'll ..."  Oz laid a finger over his lips.  "It's true, I'm good at making people disgusted with me."

Oz shook his head, replacing his finger with his lips.  "I'm not going to be disgusted with you,
Xander.  I'm not like that.  Even I was a virgin once."

"But I'm still scared."

"So was I, that's why I was drunk," Oz said dryly.  "Not my most favorite non-memory."

"I'm sorry," Xander said, giving him a hug.  "I wish yours had been as special as you want to
make mine."

"I do too," Oz said softly, hugging him back.  "I'm making up for it now though."  He tipped
Xander's head back up.  "That's why I'm not rushing you."

"Can you rush me a little?" Xander asked, giving him a small smile.  "I would like to be rushed
some.  Maybe sometime in the next few days?"

"We could," Oz said hesitantly, "but we need to do some preparation first.  I need to open you
more and things."  He frowned at the nicely wrapped gift basket that landed on the bedside table.
"Which one do you think that belongs to?"

"Your father," Xander said, able to read the card.  He smiled.  "It's something to help make the
first time really special, spoiling-type stuff."  He grabbed the large basket, pulling it over.  "Bath
stuff and candles.  Oh, and lube," Xander said, tearing into the wrapping to free the bottle.  "See?" he said, holding it up.

Oz shook his head but he was laughing.  "Yeah, it's a first time gift pack."  He put the basket on
the floor, taking the lube to shake the bottle.  "You're sure?"  Xander nodded so he pulled his
boyfriend back down and squeezed a little out, coating his finger.  "Relax," he whispered, sliding
the finger back into the hole he wanted to be in.  He waited as the younger man tensed and
relaxed again before doing more than just holding his finger in there, working the lube around the
soft muscles.  "You know, I'm ready to do this tonight," he whispered, "it's become an ache to be
in you now."

Xander looked up, giving him a small smile.  "I'm a craving?"

"A very intense craving," Oz agreed.  He moved his finger, starting a gentle thrust, which made
Xander go limp on top of him.  "Liking?"

"Very much," Xander murmured, snuggling his head on Oz's body.  "Can we keep going?"   He
looked up.  "I would like some more."

"We'll go as far as we can," Oz told him.  "I doubt I could get you stretched enough tonight to let
me into you."  Xander nodded, putting his head back down.  "Some other night, I'll let you into
me, okay?"

"Yeah," Xander said, licking the skin he was laying on.  "You taste good.  It's almost as good as
chocolate and just as addicting."  That made Oz laugh.  "You are."

Oz sat up, staring down at Xander.  "I think I know who helped you."  Xander rolled his eyes.
"No, really, and what you said is just kinda typical for him."


"Him," Oz said, nodding.  "We need to talk to your parents."

"Oz, definite mood killer," Xander said, pushing his boyfriend back down and crawling on top of
him, giving him as deep and passionate of a kiss as he could.  "Think about that later," he
whispered.  "Think about my virginity now and how to cure it so I can scream your name again."


Xander knocked on his back door, walking into the kitchen where his mother was with Oz right
behind him.  "Hey, got a few?"  He sat down, looking at her, clutching Oz's hand under the table.
"Why aren't we religious?"

She dropped the spoon she was cleaning, looking at them.  "Why?" she asked carefully, looking
him over.  "You look strange."

Xander let Strife out, watching through his eyes as he considered the mortal's mother.  "Dion," he
sighed, shaking his head.  Strife stood up, walking to stand in front of her, showing more of his
Godliness than usual.  "Understand better now?" he asked her.

"Yeah, I do," she said, looking down.  She checked the living room quickly and sat with them at
the table.  "Your father took me away from Dionysus.  I was one of his high priestesses."  She
smiled at Strife.  "I made a choice and it wasn't the right one, son, but I had to."

Xander turned back, sitting down across from her.  "Why?"

"Because I was pregnant.  Not with you but with another child."

"Ah, Helena," Bliss said, coming out.  "I've seen her, used to play with her all the time.  She's
pretty cool."  He looked Xander's mother over.  "Was it him that interfered?  Xander's been
helped by a God and we don't know who."

"No, it wasn't him.  I don't know who it was.  Though it could have been his grandfather."  She
blushed lightly.  "Who I don't even know.  My mother was a priestess and I was conceived at a
festival.  Same as both of mine were."

"That's why we don't have more kids," Xander said softly, taking her hand to squeeze.  "Is that
why Dad hates me?"

"More than likely," she said grimly.  "He hated what I was doing so much that he kidnapped me.
We'd been dating for almost a year and he decided I was in a cult so he kidnapped me.  Dionysus
came to me one night and asked if I wanted help.  I told him I was in love."  She laughed without
feeling.  "What an idiot I was."  She looked at her son, reaching over to take his hand.  "You are
the only good thing that's ever happened to me, you and your sister.  Go be happy and, if you'd
like to, talk to Dionysus.  He's the only one who knows who your grandfather is."  She stood up,
heading back to the stove.  "Your father doesn't know you left, I'd leave before he comes home."
She turned and they were gone, but there was a box in the middle of the table.  "My Lord," she
sighed, smiling as she touched the soft fabric wrapping the box had around it.  "Thank you, Lord
Dionysus, for forgiving me."  She opened it, smiling at the pictures inside and starting to cry.

Bliss looked at Xander, who was shocked to say the least.  "Come on, let's go face down Dion.
He's usually not doing much this time of year."  He grabbed the mortal's hand, bringing him to
Olympus, right in the middle of a vineyard.  "Uncle Dion," Bliss yelled.  "Can we talk to you?"

A young looking man walked between the bushes, looking them over.  "Bliss, who's your friend?"

"This is Xander, Xander Harris."  Dion nodded and smiled.  "He holds Strife and his mother was
one of yours."

"I recognized the name," he said dryly, looking Xander over.  "You look a lot like your father, my
boy."  He waved toward a tent at the end of the row.  "Come, share libations with me."

They walked down there in silence, Xander looking around at the fantastic and never-ending
vineyard.  "This is wow," he said, smiling at the God who could have been his uncle.  "Very
wow."  He took a glass of water, sipping it to make sure it wasn't alcoholic.  "Thanks."

"You're welcome.  I had my doubts that you would drink after the example of your father."  He
smiled at Bliss.  "What brings you up to me?"  He pushed some of his blonde hair over his

"We need to know if you helped him with the problems that Strife was causing him.  Not that we
want anything else done, we just need to know who to pray to."

Dionysus looked him over then shook his head.  "It wasn't me, but he does look like his father."
He waved a hand and a plate of rolls appeared.  "Eat, child.  Your mother's found favor with me
again when she confessed it all to you.  She'll be safe."

Xander picked up a roll, nibbling on it.  "Thanks.  No one deserves to have my father."  He took
another sip of the water.  "So you didn't help me?"

"No, but I would say he did.  Have you pledged yet?"

"Nope, but I want to pledge to Bliss.  Every time I think about it though, Athena or someone
pops up to stop me from saying the words.  Ares doesn't even think it's me that's making the
choice, he thinks it's Oz."

Oz turned back, frowning at him.  "I would fit," he admitted, "but no one's ever considered me in
the running."  He shrugged.  "I'm not going to pledge to anyone outside of my father or Strife.  I
don't like most of the other Gods, well except Artemis.  She's proven herself to be pretty cool
toward me."

"I'd heard," Dionysus said softly, "that someone helped you by stopping what Strife's power was
doing to harm your mortal body.  Are we still not sure who did it?"

"No one's sure who did it," Oz told him.  "Bliss's father and Ares have said that they didn't.
Aphrodite didn't.  Artemis didn't, and we know Athena didn't."

Xander sat up suddenly.  "*That's* who my English teacher reminds me of."  He looked at Oz,
mouth open.  "She's Athena."

Oz frowned then chuckled. "It would explain the problems she has with your structure."

"Giles said it sounded like the worst Greek poetry he's ever heard," Xander added.  "I think I'm
going to talk to her during my final tomorrow."  He leaned back, smiling and relaxing.  "Sorry,
one of the great stresses in my life is Freshman English and I think she's the teacher."

Dionysus snorted then started to giggle. "It could well be, she's been complaining that she was
bored."  He wiped his eyes.  "Oh, I'd like to see you confront her."  He looked him over, smiling.
"If you'd like, you could come to the next festival, meet your sister."

"I'd like that," Xander agreed with a grin.  "Can Oz come?"

"Oz or Bliss may come, or they may switch in the middle since everyone now knows about them
and you."  He reached a hand over to Xander, shaking it.  "Welcome to the family, Xander, it's
good to finally meet you.  I've watched over you but I never allowed myself to get close.  Your
mother was one of my favorites and I was none too kind when she left me for him."

"She was young and stupid," Oz pointed out, changing back to Bliss.

"But some people say that about us too," Bliss added with a shrug.  "Let's go to the rest of
Olympus.  I want to talk to Ares."

"Really?" Xander asked, changing into Strife.

"Why do ya wanna talk to Unc?" Strife asked him, winking at Dionysus.  "I'll be on my *best*
behavior if he shows up at Revel," he promised and waved, teleporting out.

"Show off," Bliss muttered, stealing a roll and taking off as well.

Dionysus smiled, tapping the table a few times.  "They'll certainly shake up a few of the old
things," he told himself.  "It's good to have them both happy and here."  He got up, waving the
tent away so he could go back to tending his precious grapes.


Strife popped onto his Uncle's lap, giving him a hug, getting pushed to the floor for it.  "Didn't
you like it?" he asked saucily.

"Yeah, but your host isn't into me," Ares pointed out dryly.  He nodded his grandson in when he
popped in further down the hall.  "What's up?"

"We think we know who did it.  Oh, and Xander's mother was one of Dion's priestess'es," Bliss told him, making Ares laugh.

"Gee, not funny to me," Xander said, coming back.  "My father stole her."  He pouted at Ares'
shocked look.  "Yeah, her."

"We all heard him cursing your father," Ares said, still chuckling.  "You're lucky you didn't
end up an orphan."

"I wasn't born then," Xander told him, standing up.  "Anyway, Uncle Dionysus, if I can be that
bold and I guess I can since he seemed to like me, said I should look into my father.  That I was
created during a festival but that my mortal father isn't mine."

Ares' mouth fell open.  "Really?"  Xander nodded so the God of War looked him over, licking his
lips.  "I have no idea who that would be."

"Dion said he looked a lot like him," Bliss offered helpfully.  "And that he was up here as one of

"That's not much help," Ares said slowly.  "He looks a lot like a few of Strife's kids and a few of
mine.  Or even a few of..."  He hopped up, grabbing Xander and teleporting both of them to
Aphrodite's.  "Is your husband in?" he asked.  She shook her head.  "Where is he, the forge?"  She nodded, still looking confused when they left her alone.  Ares took them to the forge, waving
away the smoke that they found themselves in.  "Heph," he called, walking toward the red light.

Xander pulled away, shielding his eyes from the burn of the molten metal.  "Hey," he said softly,
almost hiding behind Ares' bulk.

Hephaestus dropped his hammer, glaring at Ares and the young man behind him.  "Oh, my," he
said when he had gotten a good look at Xander, limping over to lift the boy's face to look into it.
"You're Strife's host, huh?"  Xander nodded, giving him a big-eyed look.  He looked up at Ares.
"Finally figured it out?"

"Dion did," the God of War said dryly.  "Kept telling him he looked a lot like his father."

"Is he..." Xander started to ask.

"No, I'm your great-grandfather," Hephaestus said, pulling the boy in to hug.  "We went looking
for you but we could never find your mother."  He pulled back.  "She was one of the priestess'es

"One that fell out of favor because she was kidnapped and chose her mortal husband over him,"
Ares told him with a smirk.  "We've got to introduce him to Helena soon."

"He said I could come to the next Revel and meet her," Xander said, grinning up at Ares, much
more comfortable now.  "So, did you help me?"

"No, but I do know who did."  Hephaestus waved a hand and some chairs appeared.  "Not many
people know that I have a daughter, or that she chose a mortal that was given immortality to be
with her.  Or that she has a son."

Ares snorted.  "Let's leave Iolaus out of this, all right?  I'm still pissed at the brat."

"You would be," Hephaestus said dryly.  "Anyway, my grandson was immortal also and he went
to all the revels, he was real wild.  Even wilder than Bliss may have turned out if your other half
hadn't been there."  He smiled at Xander.  "We knew he had fathered a child, but we could never
find him.  Though, Iolaus seemed to think he was in a certain area."  He looked over the boy again, waving a hand over his head.  "He's definitely of the right lineage.  I should call Autora and ask her to come here."

"You called, Pops?" a young woman asked, pushing her red and blonde hair over her shoulder.
She smiled at Xander, then sat down next to him, hugging him.  "Grandson, finally."  She looked
up at Ares and winked.  "Thanks for taking care of him for us."

"Me?" Ares asked as innocently as he could before disappearing.

"Oh, he did, did he?" Hephaestus said, glaring at his daughter.  "When did this happen?"

"I had Ares looking for him and when he found out that Dion was watching a little kid he told me
he'd watch him too.  Seems my grandson likes to get into fights."

"Only for a worthy cause," Xander said, pulling back.  "Okay, this is way strange.  First I find out
that my mother is only really unhappy with her life and not with me.  Then I find out I have
grandparents and stuff."  He looked her over. "Did you help me with the Strife's powers

"No, I did," Hephaestus said with a small cough.  "I didn't want Ares to know about it though,
he'll never stop bitchin' about it."  He stood up, heading back to his forge.  "Do you work with

"Not sure what I do yet," Xander told him, "but it looked really hot and sweaty."

"Oh, it is," Autora said, taking her father's seat.  "I work with littler things, things like small
daggers that are only three inches long and jewelry."  She winked at her father.  "I heard you were
with Bliss, where's he?"

"Back at Ares' temple probably," Xander told her, still looking around.  "Can I be confused?"

"Sure.  It's all a bit much."  She kissed his cheek.  "No one outside the family knows I exist so it's not a big for you right now.  No major family holidays to celebrate or the like.  We're just happy when we get together."

Aphrodite popped in, glaring at Autora, then softening her gaze when it fell on Xander.  "So he's
the one?"  Her step-daughter nodded.  "Cool beans and all that, but Hera's about to toss fits for
him being up here and not as Strife."

Strife came out.  "Better?" he asked dryly.  He looked at Hephaestus then at Xander's
grandmother, who looked a little younger than his host did.  "We'll have to tell her something."

"I don't exist officially," Autora reminded him, standing up.  "Dad?"

"I'll admit to helping him."

"Huh, very challenging," Bliss said as he popped in.  "We're all wanted in Council.  Hera's about
to burst this time."  He took Strife's hand, taking him with him.  "We'll talk later," he promised,
sitting beside his lover, on his father's bench since he hadn't shown up yet.


Hera glared at them.  "What have you two been up to?"

"We've been solving the mystery of his childhood," Bliss told her calmly.  "Xander's mother used
to be one of Dionysus' and he just found out this morning so I took him to meet the guy.  He
seemed really happy to see us."

"Oh, I'm sure he was," she said, her voice dripping sarcasm.  "And the other meddling you've been doing?"

"Oh, stop it," Hephaestus said as he appeared behind his wife.  "He came to see me because I'm
the one who meddled and saved him from Strife's powers."  All the other Gods gasped.  "Yeah,
me.  Because, unlike some of you," he looked directly at Athena, "I don't have a stake in who he
chooses, if it's even him the prophecy's about."

Bliss cleared his throat.  "It has come to my attention that I could be the prophesied one instead of him," he mentioned softly.  "If so, let's clear this up now."  Oz was let back out.

"Hey.  There aren't many of you that'd I'd pray to.  Artemis because she helped me with my furry
and drooling problem, Ares and Cupid because they've been so cool to us, Aphrodite because
she's been interrupting us and I've been begging her to stop."  He looked at her.  "Please stop."

"Sure, kids.  I'm really sorry."  She gave them a small shrug and a smile.

"That's okay, I know it's your innate nature to cause that sort of mischief," Strife told her, "you
almost got given my job once."  He kissed Oz's cheek.  "Go on.  Sorry."

"No big.   The one I'm pledging myself to is going to be Cupid, because his son is part of me and
he's been the coolest to us, and Strife 'cause he's ours, ya know."  Cupid coughed from his
position behind them.  "Sorry, want your seat back?"

"Nope, you're good.  And thanks."  He smiled at them.  "I'll gladly accept."

Xander took control back.  "To settle the matter of who I'm praying to on a long term basis?
Well, let's just say I've always said I would pray to Bliss, and I will, but I think I should choose
another to do long term.  And it isn't Athena, no matter how pushy she's been about me being part
of her Chosen One's helpers.  Or Ares, 'cause even though he's cool and all, I don't want to fight."
He gave Ares an apologetic look.  "Sorry, man."

"It's okay, kid.  I kinda expected this."  Ares got comfortable on his bench, reclining a little.  "So,
who besides Bliss are you praying to?"

"I think it'd only be right to pray to the guy who helped me, even though I don't fall under his area
at *all*, and to my lover's father, because he's helped me tons."  He took Oz's hand.  "So, I'm
choosing two.  Bliss and Cupid, with Hephaestus being prayed to on a regular basis but I'm not
starting to do metal work."

Aphrodite clapped her hands, giggling.  "So *cool*, you two!"  She hugged each of them, then
her son.  She turned to Hera, who was now very pale.  "I guess the prophecy's been settled."  She
waved and disappeared with a, "Later, gotta go have fun."

Hephaestus smiled at Xander.  "I accept, but do it once a month or so.  I'm not used to getting
prayers anymore and I'd get a swelled head."  He left in a shower of sparks.

Ares started to laugh, standing up.  "Oh, boys, you just royally destroyed some Gods' plans.  I'm
proud of you both."  He walked over, standing in front of Xander.  "You're still praying to me?"

"A lot.  After all, Strife is still part of me and always will be. And you're a good guy, no matter
how hard you pretend not to be sometimes."  He hugged the God of War around his stomach.
"Thank you.  For everything."

"Hey, no big," he said, waving it off and disappearing.

"He's gotten very mushy recently," Oz noted.

"You do that to him," Cupid reminded him.  "Bliss is his favorite grandchild."  He looked down at Xander.  "We'll be talking about proper prayers."

"Sure," he said, nodding.  "Just as long as I have time to get used to it before you get pissed."

"Nope, not getting pissed.  I'm sure you'll remember it when you have time."  He waved a hand
and left them alone.

Bliss came back out, taking Xander's hand and pulling him along as he left for their apartment.
"Whew," he said as they landed on their couch.  "Way strange day."  He changed back into Oz,
cuddling up to their lover's body.

"You can say that again," Xander said quietly.  "A very mind-blowing experience."  He looked at
the clock.  "Do we have time to do stuff?"

"Sure," Oz said, looking up.  "What sort of stuff?"

"The sort of stuff you were teaching me the other night?" he suggested with a naughty grin.  "I'd
like to have you in me for a change.  No more teasing, Oz, want you now."  He leaned down,
kissing his lover deeply, making sure he knew what he wanted.  "Now," he repeated between
kisses.  "Right now."  He groaned as he felt the air displacement that meant they were getting
visitors.  He looked over Oz's shoulder at Bliss' father, giving him a smile.  "Hey, Cupid."

Oz tipped his head back, nodding at him.  "Hey.  Problems?"

"Instructions," he said with a smirk.  "Before you do something and waste the energy."  He
walked around to sit next to them, pulling Xander over onto his lap and Oz to cuddle under his
arm.  "Okay, guys, here's the deal, I'll accept prayers from you in the heat of the moment.  All you
have to do is to think my name while you're going off and we'll be fine.  I'm not going to be mean
if you miss a few times, or even if you don't get any for weeks on end, though I may come check
on you just to make sure you're okay in that case.  I'll also accept desperate pleas and regular
prayers from you, but the other type gives me more energy because it's felt more.  Got it?"  Oz
nodded.  "Just remember to think my name before you come and I've got a channel set up to send
that prayer to me."  He handed Xander back.  "As for all the popping in to check on you, this will
be the last time you'll be seeing me tonight, and probably for the next few weeks."  He grinned at
them.  "Ares found me a honey."  He waved and popped out, leaving them alone on the couch.

"Huh.  Wanna try that," Oz said, standing up and carrying Xander into the bedroom, tossing him
onto the bed.

"I love your furry side because you can do things like that," Xander said from his reclined
position.  He patted the bed beside him, giving his boyfriend a happy smile.  "Come on, Oz, you
promised to make me give you more tonight."

Oz stripped himself, staring into the warm chocolate eyes.  He knelt on the bed, leaning down for
a kiss, working the buttons on the younger man's shirt so he could get him free too.  "If you want
more," he said finally, after not being able to get the buttons undone, "you gotta strip for me."

Xander hopped up, turning and stripping, humming under his breath as he moved to the music,
tearing his shirt off himself.  "Strife sealed it so you would have to tear it.  He really has this
fantasy where you rip his clothes off and take him over a washing machine."

"Not today," Oz told him, holding out a hand.  "Today is bed and then a long bath."  He undid the
jeans, tugging them down until they were pooled on the floor.  "Step out and lay across my lap."
He settled himself, pulling over the virgin basket to take out the lube.  "This is the stuff I'm using
to slick you up so I can get in there.  Okay?"

"Felt fine last night," Xander told him, laying across the spread legs and getting comfortable.
"Just be gentle with me."

"I'm always going to be gentle with you," Oz reminded him.  "If I'm not, I expect you to
complain."  He spread a little of the gel on a finger, opening the cheeks up to slip the finger inside his boyfriend's body.  "We'll do this part first so I can take you when it's time, okay?"

"Yeah, feels good," Xander said, grinning at his lover.

Oz worked a second finger in, stretching him easily, working the tight muscle as well as he could.  He switched to a thumb and a finger, slowly moving them apart so he could get more distance out of the hole, using his other hand to stroke down his boyfriend's back.  "There," he said finally, pulling his fingers out.  "All done."  He wiped his fingers off, letting Xander roll onto the bed.  He gave him a gentle kiss, half-laying on top of the firm body.  "So much better."

"Yeah, much better," Xander murmured, letting the next kiss end all thoughts in his mind.  "Want to touch you," he said, rolling them over, landing on top of Oz so he could touch as they kissed.  He started a gentle massage of his lover's chest, working all the soft muscles until he decided to play a little, tweaking a nipple.

"Hey!"  Oz mover the fingers, kissing them.  "Gently."

"Sorry," Xander said with a grin, bending down to lick the bud he had just pinched.  "Better?"

"Much," Oz sighed, pushing the head down against his chest.  "I like that lots."

"Okay," Xander said, shifting over to the other side, letting his fingers play with the wet nipple
while he made the other one just as hard and achy.  "How's that?" he asked, looking up.

"Good," Oz told him, rolling them onto their sides, wrapping himself around his lover's body.
"You don't have to ask.  If you're not doing good, I'll let you know."  Xander relaxed, leaning into
his neck to breath and lick.  "Oooh, really like," he hummed, tipping his head back.  "Yeah," he
whispered, rolling onto his back as the tongue moved across the vulnerable part of his throat and
down onto his chest.  He worked to get Xander back onto his back so he could bring him back to
the place where he'd want to go farther but he was being held firmly on his back.  "Need to..."

"Shh," Xander said, licking over the moving lips.  "I'm doing good and I'm ready to move on
already."  He grinned at the small amount of surprise in the grey eyes.  "See, I knew you'd be like
that."  Xander sat up, rubbing down his hard cock. "See, more than ready for Ozes."

"Yeah, you are," Oz said, pulling him back down to kiss.  "Wouldn't you like to be mindless when I enter you though?"

"No, I want to feel it all.  The little pain, everything."  He grinned, linking his hands behind his
boyfriend's head.  "I want to feel it all, not be in a need-haze.  Please?"

"Sure," Oz whispered, scooting down to spread Xander's legs so he could reach where he needed
to go.  "Grab the lube for me?"  The tube was handed over and he squeezed the last of it out to
coat himself.  "You're sure?"

"Yup."  Xander pulled his knees back, leaving himself open. "I want this, we can cuddle later.
And the second time is always supposed to be better."  He winked at the groan.  "It is."
::Beta rolls eyes:: goddess they talk a lot when they shag.  Sheesh boys, shhh, get it on all ready
"I'm sure it will be," Oz told him as he lined himself up and started to push in, watching Xander's
face for any signs of pain.  "Okay?" he asked when he saw the wince.

"Just a little pressure," Xander admitted.  "Go faster?"

"No, not faster," Oz told him, pulling back to start pushing from beginning again.  "Relax," he
whispered, leaning down to nibble on a sensitive spot he had found on Xander's chest.  The act of
his lover arching up into his mouth made his anus open fully for him, letting him slide in.  He
pulled back, watching the slow smile appear.  "Ready?" he asked, pushing in a little more, pulling out partway to thrust in again, moving slowly to make sure nothing went wrong.

Xander groaned, grabbing Oz's hips, pulling him closer.  "Want you buried in me.  Now, Oz, please?"

"Sure, babe."  Oz finished sliding in, resting there.  "Just let it happen now," he murmured, leaning down to kiss the spot on his lover's chest again, earning a moan.  "See, can still be good."

"Didn't say it wasn't going to be good, just that first times usually have all these expectations."
Xander pulled Oz's head down, kissing his forehead.  "This is the bad part of this position, right?
The not being able to kiss you?"

"Yup.  We could switch, let you get on top."  Xander shook his head.  "No?"

"No, still not sure I can be rhythmic."  Oz smiled at him, starting to move, just gently pushing in
and out in shallow strokes.  "Oh, like those," he commented, wiggling to make it go deeper.
"Come on, Oz, more, please," he begged, pushing his hips up.

"Shh," Oz told him, "we'll get there."  He pulled back further, starting a harder stroke.

"OZ!" Xander yelled, writhing under him.  "Yeah, come on, more!" he commanded.

Oz shook his head, biting the firm stomach.  "No yelling in my ear."  He slammed in once, and
Xander screamed lightly and came.  "Huh," he said, relaxing on the heaving chest.  "Good to

Xander lifted his head, looking down at his lover.  "Wow."

"Good to know, huh?" Oz asked, looking up with a smile.  "Feel better?"

"Much," Xander said, nodding, pounding his head on the pillow.  "Can I have more?"

"Yeah.  I'd like to give you more, but only if you promise not to scream again."  Oz lifted himself
up, stroking gently because he knew the hole would be tender.  "Ready?"
Well sheesh Oz, when they scream it's *usually* considered a good thing.  Demanding much. ::beta ducks Otter's whip:: all right, all right
"Yup."  Xander wiggled, earning a head shake.  "Just wanted to get closer."

Oz pushed in as far as he could, resting there.  "Like this?"

"Yeah, I like that," Xander said with a contented smile.  "I like that a lot."

"I like it too," Oz told him, lying back down on Xander's chest again.  "How about we stay like
this until you're ready to go on?"

"Please."  Xander pulled the blankets up over them with Strife's powers, snuggling in with Oz.
"I'm sorry you didn't get off."

"This was about more than that," Oz told him, not lifting his head.  "This was about the closeness

"Like an inner and full-body cuddle?"

"Yup, just like it," Oz told him.  He closed his eyes, smiling.

Xander watched his boyfriend nap, goofily grinning.  "Night," he said, wrapping his arms around
the tight waist.


Ares frowned at Cupid as he walked into his temple.  "What?"

"Did you check on them yet?" he asked with a silly grin.  "They're so *cute*!"

"You sound like your mother when you say that," Ares told him dryly.


"You do."  Ares pushed himself upright, giving his son a bland look.  "What's wrong?  You only
come to me when you have a problem."

"Athena's pissed at him," Cupid told him.  "She just laid into one of my priests about Oz and

"Ah, so you're *not* killing her by being *here*?"

Cupid nodded.  "Basically.  I figure you're a good person to make my mind go other directions."  Ares laughed.  "Thanks, dad, really.  I needed the support."

"Oh, it wasn't that."  He shared the prayer he had just heard from Strife.  "The boys are being

"Told ya so," Cupid smirked, crossing his arms over his chest and canting his weight off to one side.

"Don't stand like that, you look like a cleaner version of Strife," Ares growled, relaxing again.

Cupid looked down at himself.  "I do not.  And I'm just as bad as Strife is, when I want to be."

"I'm sure you are," Ares told him gently.  "Any word on how Dion's going to deal with the kids?"

"He's considering Xander just like his own."  He shrugged with a small grin.  "Of course, his half-sister is his, but let's just pretend she's not around.  He loved the kid's mother, he'll be accepted."

"By everyone except the older Gods," Ares reminded him.  "We've got to fix that.  I won't have
Strife snubbed."

"Or Xander?"

"Or him, or even Oz.  I want to know who names their kids Oz."

"It's a nickname.  His real name's Daniel," Cupid reminded him.  "We'll be okay.  Between our
two lines and Dion, no one would dare snub him."

"Oh, they'd better not," Ares vowed, clenching his fist and squeezing out a flare of fire.  "They'd
better not."


Oz woke up, rubbing his face on the hard stomach. "Wow, like this," he said softly.

"Me too," Xander told him, stroking through his hair.  "But I have to get up and go take my
English final."

"Point," Oz groaned, pushing himself off the warm body.  "Coming back?"

"In about an hour."  Xander rolled over, kissing his lover gently.  "I'll be thinking of you while I'm gone.  And when I get back?  Let's just say I'm going to make you scream like I did last night." He gave him another little peck, then threw himself out of the bed, heading for the bathroom.

Oz grinned, rolling onto his back to look up at the ceiling.  "Thanks, guys, it was perfect."  He
sent a silent prayer to Cupid in thanks.  He watched his boyfriend walk out, staring at his bare
body as it was covered, watching until Xander left to go take his test.  "Absolutely perfect," he
sighed, closing his eyes.


Xander glanced up as he wrote, smiling as he sent a mental thought winging toward the Goddess
he knew was sitting at the front of the room. //Goddess Athena, forgive me for not living up to
your standards, even though I know this is English and not Greek.  I have tried my best and I
would settle for a 'C', or even possibly a 'B'.// He glanced back up again, seeing her frowning at
him. //I have tried, Athena, I really have, but we're having a problem with the transfer to this
century's English.  Oh, and who wrote the Iliad?  You only assigned that to three of us and I
wasn't one.//

The teacher cleared her throat.  "Looking over the test," she said, looking around the classroom,
"I noticed that I included a question that was unfair to some of you.  Forget the question about
the Iliad."  She looked back down at her sheets.  "Continue."

//Thanks be to the Goddess Athena,// Xander sent to her, //for helping me do well enough to get a

//'C',// she sent back.

//You were gauging me on people like Homer.  Which isn't real fair.  I should be in the same
category as the other students, most of us are lowly freshmen who have suffered through high
school English with teachers who didn't care.//


//I'll settle for that, but only if you decide that we're not Greek and that you should be teaching
Masters and Graduate courses.//

//I tried, they wouldn't let me.// She looked up at him. //Fine, you did try and you suck up very
well for a man.  You may have a 'B'.// She pushed her auburn hair behind her ear, going back to
her grading. //Only if you answer every question on that test.  Except the one I said to leave

Xander mentally cheered, going back to his test, almost groaning when he saw the last one, but
working it out with Strife before he wrote anything.  He got up, handing her the paper with a grin, and walked out. //Praise to the Goddess, but I'm going to go home and get full and inner body cuddles from my honey.//

Strife snickered in his head. //Good job,// he sent. //Very good job.  I'm real proud of the way you
handled that.//

//Thanks,// Xander sent back with a smile.  "Hi."  He waved at a kid he almost knew as he walked past, heading for his bike.  He climbed on, pulling on his helmet when he felt a warm body land behind him.  "Ares," he said, turning around.

"Head home."

"Yours or mine?" he asked as he started the bike.

"Yours."  Ares wrapped his arms tighter around the mortal's waist. //Strife, you in there still?//

//Yeah, Unc, probs?//

//Not really, just making sure.  We've decided that we're going to teach them all about what you
guys can do and let you guys make your own decisions.//

//So *cool*,// Xander sent to the God of War. //Does that mean I don't have to cook again?//

"Concentrate on driving," Ares grumbled.  "We'll talk when we get there."


Oz looked up as Ares walked in behind Xander, raising one eyebrow and waving his cup of
coffee.  "Want some?  How'd the test go?"

"I'm getting a 'B', 'cause I made valid points," Xander said, sitting down to cuddle into his side.
"Ares said something about wanting to talk to us."

"Yeah, well, we've decided to push for Bliss to be considered an adult God so you guys won't
have any more problems."  He crossed his arms, glaring at them.  "That means a lot of
responsibility for all four of you."

Oz lost control to Bliss, who jumped up and threw his arms around his grandfather's chest, giving
him a hard and long hug.  "Thank you," he said, smoothing his wings around the God of War's
body.  "That is such a great prezzie."

Cupid popped in, giving his son a bland look.  "Well, technically you are the same age as an adult
and you've proven yourself capable of handling the responsibility.   So we're going to give you full adult status."  He waved his hand over his son's head, watching the glow critically as it grew
brighter.  "There, all done.  You're allowed to use your full powers now, son."  He took his son
from his father's arms, giving Bliss his own hug.  "I'm very proud of the way you've handled this,
son, and I'm very proud you're so good."  He let Bliss back up, looking down at him.  "Just be
careful and call on us if you need advice or help for something you can't handle.  I'm only in
Vegas and your grandfather's in Montana somewhere."

"Yes, well away from civilization," Ares told him, "but I'll still come if you need me."  He chucked Bliss' chin, then turned his smile on Xander.  "You know, this means you don't have to hold back anymore either.  You can do things like add on space and never bother with shopping again."

Strife grinned at his Uncle.  "Thanks, man.  I'll be careful about how I do it so I don't draw
attention to myself."  He winked at Cupid.  "We need more space," he decided.  "And I need more 'me' clothes."

"Xander's going to kill you," he warned.  "He didn't want you to decorate him any more than you
already have."

"I'll *ask* first," Strife said in disgust.  "The guy's gotta live a little, ya know?"

//No!// Xander sent. //No more tattoos, no more piercings, no more decorations.  Take it out in
your clothing.//

"Oh, I think I can do that too," Strife said softly, grinning.  He smiled at his Uncle, who was
staring at him.  "What?"

"Nothing.  Just wondering how long it was going to be before you get into so much trouble I have
to intervene."  Strife just cackled, and Ares shook his head, disappearing.  "Whatever."

Bliss looked at Strife, grinning.  "More space?"

"Temple-like or otherwise?"

"I think we need real, comfy space, not cold and airy space."

"It can be comfy and still have a temple quality," Strife complained.

Xander wrested control, glaring at his chest.  "No."  He looked up at Bliss.  "If we're going to add
on space, Oz and I want to plan it.  And we'll want a comfy nesting space.  One that Baby will like."

Bliss nodded, turning back into Oz.  "I could handle comfy nesting space."  He looked at an
unused wall, letting Bliss know he wanted the door there.  He pulled Xander up, walking into
their new space hand-in-hand, looking around the open hall.  "Way frigid for us."  He sent a
thought to Bliss, and the marble walls now had tapestries hanging off them to block the draft and
there were floor to ceiling curtains over the windows and doors that looked out on Mount Olympus.  He turned to look at his boyfriend, who was concentrating on making warm, soft couches appear.  "Yeah, like those," he commented, going to sit down.  "Art?"

Strife came back out and winked, waving a hand so that four abstract artworks showed up.  He
giggled and went back to Xander, who frowned and shook his head.  "As long as we can have
some other, nice and warm art I'll be okay with his abstract stuff."  He snuggled back into Oz's
side.  "You think I could learn how to really get into Strife's powers soon?  I'd like to play with them on a higher level."

Bliss came back out, taking his hand.  "Sure, Xander, let me show you how."  He concentrated,
showing by sending mental pictures so that the young man knew how to get into Strife's powers
without asking him.  "What else did you want in here?"

"I want some nice, warm artwork, stuff that makes you feel calm."  He pointed at a thinly covered
spot on a wall, making a picture of a landscape appear.  "I like things like that, they're comfy and
happy for me."

"Cool with me," Bliss said with a shrug, moving the picture so the nail wouldn't have to poke
through a tapestry.  "How's that?"

Xander nodded, smiling at the God of Happiness and giving him a kiss.  "Pretty good."  He
ruffled a few of the feathers behind his arm, tickling his lover.  "I like you too."

"I'm glad," Bliss told him, gently tweaking his nose.  "We'll do good together."  He let Oz back

"I'm satisfied for now," Oz said, cuddling with his lover, just watching the fireplace that appeared
with a bow on the mantle.

Someone knocked and walked in, Giles giving them a bright smile.  "I had heard that you were
granted adult status," he said as he sat down and handed over a gift.  "This is for you, to mark the

Bliss came out and carefully opened the present, earning a snort from both Xander and Strife.
"Ohh, cool," he said as he pulled out the bottle of brandy.  "How old?"

"Close to two hundred years and still good from what I've been told."  Giles looked around the
space.  "This is very cozy."  He saw Xander's smirk.  "And I see someone's very pleased with

"I passed my Freshman English class," he said, grinning.  "The teacher and I talked.  I'm going to

"Then I'm very proud of you also.  You handled that in a very mature manner."  Giles leaned over, patting his leg.  "I'm going to go back and give you two time to celebrate.  If you need me, call on me.  I'll be home for the rest of the week as far as I know."

Xander leaned closer to Bliss, whispering something in his ear.  The God of Happiness nodded,
giving him a kiss.  "We've got a present for you too but it's not come up yet.  You'll get it in a while, it's being sent directly to you."

Giles stood up, pulling Xander up and into a hug.  "Thank you, my boy, but it wasn't necessary."
He gave one last squeeze and let him go.  "I don't need presents to make me like you, nor do I
need them to be happy for you."  He smiled at Bliss.  "I'll leave you alone to celebrate however
you wish."  He headed for the doorway.

"We're going to have a cookout," Oz called as he came back out.  "Our kitchen, tomorrow night."
He wrapped an arm around Xander's body, pulling him closer.  "Be there and Buffy can come as
long as you have her on a leash."

"Thank you," Giles said from the doorway.  "I'll tell her."  He waved and left, leaving them
looking at the fire.

"I think that was my good deed for the week," Oz joked.

"Nope, you're the original good," Xander told him, snuggling in harder.  "Can we do the whole
you in me so far I feel cuddled thing again?"

"Sure.  We'll need a new tube of lube though."  One appeared next to them on the couch.  "That
better have not come from a store, Strife."

//Me?// he asked, trying hard to sound innocent.

"No, we can make new tubes or we can buy them, we do not steal from people."  Xander frowned
down at himself.  "No more stealing or no coming out to play for you."

"Just no more tattoos," Oz pleaded softly. "I'm still weirded over your stomach one."  He rubbed
over the t-shirt covered spot.  "It's kinda strange to think of myself being nibbled on by a dragon
that looks like you."

"I'll protect you from big, nasty dragons," Xander promised, snuggling in harder.  "Maybe we
should just stay here.  I'm way comfy."

"Me too," Oz decided, not moving further than putting his feet up.


Xander crawled into bed beside his boyfriend, nuzzling the tender spots on Oz's neck to wake him back up.  "Can I have cuddles?" he asked with a shy smile.  Oz lifted his arm, letting Xander crawl up to lay on his chest, but Xander had other ideas.  He wiggled his way up the bare body, grinning at the raised eyebrows.  "I want to try it again.  Please? So I can make it good for you to make up for you not getting off last night?"

Oz groaned, pulling himself up until he was propped up on the pillows.  "I was fine and happy
with what went on last night, Xander.  You don't have to make up for anything."

"Yeah, I do," Xander told him, sneaking a kiss as he straddled the waiting lap.  "And I want to
make you scream like I did."  He held the cock still, squeezing it lightly as he slid down it's semi-
hard length.  "Oh, really like," he murmured as he made it all the way down, pulling Oz up to hug
him.  "Like this and I want to see you get some pleasure too."  He rode the hard cock, all while getting the cuddles he craved.

"I'm getting plenty," Oz whispered in his ear, shifting some.  "You have to do all the work this
way," he reminded after they had cuddled for a few minutes.

"Yup, I know, I was savoring."

"Ah."  Oz's eyes closed as Xander pulled up, coming back down quickly.  "Take your time, it's all

"I know, but I'm still anxious.  It's a near-virgin thing I guess."  He blushed lightly, hiding his face in Oz's neck so he could nibble on it as he rode his lover gently.  He growled as he started to get closer to his completion so Oz made him pull back from his neck, kissing him.

"Slow down," Oz reminded him.  "I take a lot longer."  He shifted so he was more directly under
where he was being pulled up into the tight body, pushing up a little.  "Oh, yeah," he sighed as the muscles squeezed around him, helping now.  Xander growled, nipping his shoulder, but he batted the head away from his skin.  "No biting."

Xander pulled off, panting as he looked into the deep grey eyes.  "How?  I want you to finish first.  I want you to make me messy."

Oz snorted, and nodded at the bed.  "Want kissed or just taken?"

"Oh, um,..."  He shrugged.  "Whatever works for me right now."

"On your side," Oz told him, curling up behind the body that had just flopped down.  He slid his
lower body between the spread thighs, making sure Xander was going to be comfortable before
he inserted himself again.  "How's this?" he asked, starting a slow, tender rhythm.

"Good," Xander panted, pushing back, only to get fully surrounded by Oz.  "Oh, cuddles during

"Beauty of this position, but your leg's going to fall asleep soon.  Tell me and we'll try it another

"Okay.  Please more?"

"Sure."  Oz started moving just a little faster, adding a little push up at the end, which sent Xander back into growls, or giggles when Oz rubbed his hands over the younger man's ticklish spots. Which made Oz laugh.

Which is how they came, Xander giggling from being tickled and Oz because Xander clamped
down on him so nicely.  Oz rested his head against the back of Xander's neck, taking slow, deep
breaths.  "Wow," he said softly.  "I'm definitely liking this."

"Me too," Xander said.  He groaned as the cock filling him slipped out.  "You mean it can't stay?"

"Nope, sorry," Oz said, pulling himself from around Xander's limp body.  "It can't stay in if it's not hard."  He saw the sad look.  "All you have to do is ask and it'll be back in you, babe.  Trying to keep me out of your body will be a lot harder than living with me in you."  He brushed down a
soft cheek.  "You shaved for me?"

"I wanted cuddles too," Xander said as he rolled over on top of his boyfriend's body, rubbing his
cheeks against the soft chest.  "See, cuddles are essential to Xanders getting a nap."

"Ah.  Well, Xanders can cuddle all they want.  That's another try to stop me from doing it thing."
Oz wrapped himself around his lover's body, holding on tightly, one hand smoothing down the
soft back.  "Love you," he whispered.

"Love you back," Xander said into his chest.  "Can I go scream it at the top of my lungs in both of our quads?"

"No.  But you can write mushy poetry if you want."

"Okay, mushy I can do.  As long as it doesn't have to rhyme."

"Nope, rhyming optional."  Oz yawned, smiling at the poke he got.  "Hey, I don't poke you."

Xander lifted his head.  "Wasn't that what you were just doing?"

"Okay, point.  But no poking me."  Oz poked him back.  "I retaliate."

"Hmm," Xander said, pulling back, only to pounce on his boyfriend's body to tickle, poke, and
torture him, all while holding him down.

Oz shrieked, writhing under the talented fingers.  "Stop it, Xander!" he finally said.

Xander stopped, giving him an innocent look, which was ruined by his smirk.  "Said I wanted to
make you scream."
Oz groaned, pulling his boyfriend back down to hold.  "Sleep, Xander.  All Xanders need naps so
they can be poked again."

"Oooh, okay," he said, snuggling right in and closing his eyes.

Oz smiled as the snores started almost immediately, wrapping himself firmly around Xander's
body so he could get to sleep too.


Giles was caught lecturing Buffy as the door opened for them, but he quickly turned to give
Xander a smile.  "Hello," he said, handing over the requested package of buns.  "I hope those are
what you wanted.  Buffy, do go put our jackets in the closet while I help in the kitchen."  He
handed it off and headed in to where he could hear Oz humming to himself.  "Are the girls not
coming?" he asked.

"Later.  Tara's not feeling great.  Something about stomach pains."  Oz lifted up a spoonful of
barbeque sauce.  "Taste?"

"Oh," he said, licking his lips off.  "That's spicy."

"It's going on bland meat," Xander told him.  "Thanks for stirring that for me."  He took control
of the spoon back, tasting it himself, by dragging a finger over the back of the spoon.  "Could use
some salt."  The shaker was handed to him so he put a little in.  "There, perfection," he said,
bringing the pot over to where the ribs were waiting on him, pouring the sauce liberally over the
meat.  "There, goes in the oven," he said, handing it to Giles, who was in front of it.  "Make sure
it still says 300, I like to slow cook them for a little."  He turned back to the bowl of salad things
that landed in front of him.  "Thanks, dear."

"Welcome," Oz told him absently, making hamburgers.  "Buffy, come do these," he called,
handing the bowl of meat and the tray for the burgers over.  "About normal size, ignore Xander's
monster one on the bottom."  He spun to grab a falling bowl, handing it to Xander.  "Next time,

Buffy stared at them as she pounded out balls of hamburger, then looked back down at what she
was doing.  "Guys, can I please apologize for my brainlessness?"  Xander stopped to look at her,
hands on his hips.  "I'm really sorry about all the stuff I said to Xander and what I did to him."

Xander nodded but Strife hijacked his body, glaring at her.  "No more problems from you, missy,
or you're not going to like it," he said in his trademark whiny voice.  "I mean it."

"Yes, Strife.  I'm sorry, I was mentally absent for way too long and I'm really sorry."  She looked
up into his eyes, seeing the approval there.  "Thanks."

"You're welcome," he said, patting the back of her head hard.  "Don't do it again, or else."  He
shook his head as Xander forced his way back to the surface.

"You're forgiven, as long as you know why you did it and the behavior won't be replicated,"
Xander told her.  She nodded, giving him a small, hopeful smile.  "Then we're okay.  Finish the
burgers, we need to cook them."  He turned back to his salad, pushing Oz out of the way with a
hip nudge.  "My job.  Cook."

"Why?  You're the hot one," Oz muttered, going back to the stove to start the vegetables.

Xander just grinned.

Buffy finished the burgers, handing the platter back and washing off her hands.  "Can I take the
tour, guys?"

"Sure, just watch out, there's a step down behind the door with the curtain," Oz told her, not looking back at her.  He did wink at Xander, who nudged him again, this time in play.

She walked through the apartment, admiring the stylish furniture that complimented the young
men so well, ending up standing in the curtained off doorway, mouth open in shock.  She walked
down to sit on one of the couches, sinking down into the soft surface and became instantly calm
and sleepy.

That's how Oz found her half an hour later, snoring loudly into the couch.  He called his camera
to him, taking a picture before waking her.  "Hey," he said, kicking her foot and making the camera disappear.  "Food time."

Buffy yawned, blinking at him.  "Sorry, very comfy."  She stood up with his help, grunting as he
pulled on her arm.  "I like this," she sais as she looked around.  "Whichever of you did it has great taste."

"We did it together," he said as he walked her back into the rest of the apartment.  "She was
napping on the cuddle couch."

"Ah, my favorite nap spot too," Xander told her, holding out her chair.  "We just heard from Will
and Tara, they'll be over in about an hour but they said to go ahead and eat.  So eat."  He took his
seat next to Oz, holding hands on top of the table, ignoring the looks their joined hands were
getting from everyone else.

"So," Buffy said, wiping off her mouth after taking a bite of burger.  "What's next for you guys?"

"Freshman biology," Xander said.  "Oz?"

"I have finals next week, same as Tara does.  Then I get to take a Lit class and a philosophy

"Then we get to solidify what we have because we're going to be together for a *long* time,"
Xander added.  "Philosophy?" he asked.

"Of art."

"Oh, I remember that class with dread," Giles said with a smile.  "I don't believe I understood a
single word the teacher said on the subject."  He wiped his own mouth.  "This is an excellent
dinner, boys, a very good job."

"Thanks," Oz said.  "Didn't want more cases of food poisoning from my own cooking."  He
picked up some of the vegetables, nibbling on it.  "Eat, Xander, or no playing later."

"Cool," Xander said with a grin, tearing into his food.  "Can we..."  He stopped when he
remembered there were people around. //Can we do it again, like last time?// he sent instead.

"Sure," Oz said, squeezing his hand.  "I liked it the last time we played like that."   He took
another bite, getting up to answer the door when the doorbell rang.  "Hey, you're earlier than you
thought," he told Tara as she walked in.  "Willow?"

"Is trying to get the cat to stay in the car."   She walked in, waving at everyone.  "We just got
kicked out."

Xander hissed.  "Why?"

"Because the landlord wouldn't wait for a week until Willow got her paycheck."  She sat down,
frowning.  "We're a week ahead and she's going on vacation so wanted our next month's rent
now, but Willow won't be paid for a few days."

Willow walked in, carrying the cat.  "Sorry."  She looked around.  "Where's Baby?"

"In the bedroom," Buffy said, pointing.  "He was lounging on the bed last time I saw."  She
waved at the cat.  "Where's the kittens?"

"My house," Giles sighed.  "They were fighting horribly so she left them with me for a few days
so they could have a few nights of rest."  He looked up, patting Willow on the arm.  "I'm sure
you'll find something soon."

"Yeah, you have until the end of the month," Buffy pointed out.

"Not really," Willow said. "We were just packing.  She wanted us out before she left on
vacation."  She sat down in an empty chair, looking around.  "Looks great, guys."

"Thanks," Xander said. "If you don't mind boring, there's a nice apartment complex outside of the
college.  It's the same as we pay here and it's all beige, but it's got a pool and gym."

Tara brightened up.  "Really?"  Oz nodded.  "Do we need referrals?"

"You could get one from the dorms," Oz pointed out.  "Or from Giles if you needed to."

"Coolness," Willow said, letting the cat down and picking up the plate of burgers.  "Who made
the ribs?"

"Xander," Buffy said, putting down her own.  "Way spicy as usual."

"It's good like that," he said, giving them a pout.  "If you don't eat it, Oz'll have to watch me eat
them tonight for a snack."

"Not a chance," Oz said, handing the plate of ribs to Willow.  "Eat them.  I don't allow snacks in

She giggled.  "Okay.  And yeah, I remember what his ribs were like."  She nibbled a piece of meat that had fallen off.  "Oh, more garlicy this time."  She took a few extra, passing the plate on.
"About medium by our taco sauces," she told her girlfriend.  "Not too bad."

"My stomach's still hurting."  Tara took the bowl of vegetables, giving Oz a little smile.
"Thanks."  She dished out some, and took a burger since Xander was holding out the plate to her
with his big, begging eyes.  "I'll try," she admitted, taking a bite.  "Wow, it's not hurting," she said after swallowing.

"Power of suggestion," Xander told her with a wink.  He looked down the table at Giles.  "You'll
never guess who my English teacher was."

"Who?" Willow asked.

"Athena."  Giles spit his water across the table at Buffy.  "Sorry," Xander said, using Strife's
powers to bring napkins from the kitchen.  "Knew I forgot to put something out."

Oz shook his head, getting up to get the water pitcher. "You okay?" he asked Giles as he refilled
his glass.

"Just a bit shocked.  She was teaching at a local college?"

"Why was she teaching freshmen?" Willow wanted to know.

"She said they wouldn't let her teach graduate classes yet."  Xander shrugged.  "She wasn't too
thrilled about some things going on over there.  One morning, we had a rant about how egotistical the males in the English department were.  Apparently they decided she was supposed to be coddled."  He smirked.  "I think Strife went to pay one of them a visit last night."

//Shoot, spoil the surprise, why don't cha,// Strife sent to the group.

"Was it supposed to be a surprise?" Buffy asked, looking at him.  "That's a neat trick by the way,
can you two do that too?"

"We can talk with each other but not with everyone else," Oz told her.  "Bliss can broadcast too."
He took a bite of his burger, humming.  "Oh, perfectly done," he complimented.  "Just the right
side of rare.  Thanks, Giles."

"You're welcome.  I am rather handy with the grill."  He smiled at the boys, then turned it on the
rest of the group.  "Since we have good news, I'd like to mention that the Watcher's Council has
decided to take me back on.  They reconsidered their position and said that I could come back but
that I wouldn't get another girl."

"Hey," Buffy said, frowning.  "You did good with me.  I've lasted this long, through a lot of stuff,
and I've been good recently.  They shouldn't penalize you for the stuff I did."

"No, dear, it wasn't about you, it was more about Faith.  They took both Wesley and myself back
because the other Watchers training girls were getting stuck.  Most are becoming more like Faith
than they were Kendra and they needed our input."

"Oh."  She nodded.  "So no little Buffy?"

"Not unless you're going to have a little Buffy," Willow said, giving her a grin.   "And if you do,
I'm not letting you break my hand."

Tara pinched her lightly.  "Shh, if she has a little Buffy, I'm sure she'll break Giles' hands."

Buffy nodded.  "Yup, or Xander's.  I wouldn't break Willow's fingers, then she couldn't work on
the computer anymore and find us stuff."  She grinned across the table at Willow.  "I'll take pity
on you for that part.  Otherwise, you or Giles is going to have to coach.  You're the only ones that
won't pass out."

"I do hope this is just hypothetically speaking, Buffy.  Having a child would be most disastrous for you.  There's no way you could do your job with an extra twenty or thirty pounds of water and

"Oh, and the backaches," Willow chimed in.

"Or the morning sickness," Tara added.

"Cravings in the middle of fighting," Oz reminded.

"Or, hey, early labor while fighting.  I can just see you going into labor as you're fighting
someone.  Let's hope it's someone like Spike, he'd just stop and laugh at you."

Buffy glared around the table.  "It wasn't a thought, okay?  It was a joke. *Joke*, Giles, really.  I
don't want to be a mother for a few more years."

Giles wisely just turned his face away from her and went back to his meal.  "So, girls, where are
you staying tonight?"

"Your guest room?" Willow asked timidly, giving him her version of begging eyes.  "Please?  Just for three days?"

"I guess," Giles sighed, nodding.  "As long as you take the kittens with you when you leave."

"Of course," Willow said quickly.  "They're going to start making peace and everything, and they'll come back with us."  She grinned at him.  "Or don't you like them snuggling up with you?"

"Yes, well, as long as I'm alone it's fine, but I've not been alone recently and my guest has not
been too fond of the kittens sneaking up on him.  They have this nasty habit of kneading his back at just the wrong moment."  He looked at Willow, who blushed.  "Good, I see you get my meaning. "

"Yeah, I just thought they only did that to us."  Willow gave him a small glance and went back to
her food.

Oz nodded at Giles.  "If you have to, you could use the expansion gift we seem to have.  Before
you get overrun."

"Oh, I doubt we'll be overrun," Giles said, giving Willow one last hard look.  "Three days?"

"Yup, just until I get paid.  And by then, we should have our damage deposit back.  If not, then
we'll figure out who to go complain to and we'll just pitch fits."

Tara leaned over, patting Willow's hand.  "It's okay, Will.  We'll be fine."

"Yup, you'll be fine," Xander told them.  "I'm sure your landlord isn't going to stiff you.  No one would dare hurt Willow."  Giles stared at him.  "They wouldn't.  It's just going to cause more problems than it's worth."

"I suppose it would," Giles said quietly.  "I suppose it would."  He picked at his vegetables. Then
he cleared his throat.  "Buffy, when are you going to leave for your father's?"

"Sure, just remind me of the exile I have to pack for still," she complained.  "In three days.  Oh,
and Mom suggested that I finally get around to telling my father about all the Slayage stuff.  She
said he's ready, whatever that means."

Giles coughed, looking at her in surprise.  "She did?"  Buffy nodded.  "I see.  Then maybe your
first day with your father we should discuss some things with him.   I do have the Slayer's manual
and all, not that we've ever used it with you, but it might be a comfort to him."

"Oh, I so doubt that.  He's going to freak and die, I know he will."  She dropped her fork.  "I
know that he's going to have a heart attack and die, right there on the spot.  And it's going to be
my fault this time."  She looked at Giles.  "You're really going to help me tell him?"

"Of course," he said confidently, reaching over to squeeze her hand.  "It can't be much worse than
telling your mother was and she seemed to take the news really well."

"Huh," Oz said, leaning back.  "We could give him a demonstration."

"Just call up a vamp?" Buffy asked, nose wrinkling.  "He's supposed to be here at three."

"If you wanted to, I'm sure you could have the talk, then offer to give him proof while he and
Giles talk.  Dusk's at seven.  Just go find a nice little lair and go fight."

"Could backfire," Tara said.  "There could be no active lairs or there could be too many in a lair."

"Or we could just take him down to Willie's," Willow suggested.

"Last six nights, Willie's has been empty.  I swung by there on patrol and there wasn't a horned or
slimy thing to be found."  Buffy frowned at her plate.  "When did I eat all of you?"

"Go ahead and have some more," Xander told her, passing the plate of ribs to her.  "You need
energy to face your father and to plan on how to deal with him."

"Could tell him a..and offer to let him meet you..your ex," Tara suggested shyly.

Willow clapped.  "Yeah, that's *perfect*!  Angel would do it for you."

"I could ask," Buffy admitted, just a little happier.  "Maybe it won't be that bad, I mean, it could
be worse and Mom might have told him."

"From what you've said she's said, it's entirely possible that she had has told him sometime in the
recent past," Giles told her.  "In which case, he's just waiting for you to confess it to him and to
heal the rift between yourselves."

"Or to put me away because he didn't believe her," Buffy pointed out.  "My father's not into
trusting stuff without proof."

"Then you'll ask Angel," Xander said reasonably.  "All he has to do is go all 'grr' on him and scare him and have you step in between to stop him."

"Or even to just talk to him," Willow pointed out.  "Angel would just have to go to feeding face
and then tell him everything."

"Point," Oz noted, "and the best idea yet."  He looked at Buffy, who was nibbling on a rib.  "Call
your ex tonight and ask for his help."

"I will," she said, licking her lips off.  "Thanks, guys."

"You're welcome," Willow and Tara told her together.  Then they giggled.

Giles smiled at them.  "I'm glad everything's back to normal."  He turned his smile on the two men at the other end of the table.  "Yes, everything's back to normal again," he said as he watched them kiss. He looked over at the girls, watching them kiss.  "Maybe better than normal after all," he said quietly, dishing himself out some more food.

The End.