Giles frowned at the candle making catalog, handing it over to Xander as he walked into the house. "Why do we keep getting that one? None of us do that."
"I do," Xander said, heading for his private room, locking himself inside. He ignored the knocks, pulling out the latest batch of candles to look at them, smiling at their perfection. "And the ribbon trick worked too," he said, grinning.
"Let me in," Oz called. "I'm tired of knocking."
"Then go read," Xander called back. "I'm busy."
"Doing what?" Giles called.
Xander walked over to unlock the door, staring at them. "You didn't want to listen to me so I'm doing it on my own." He shut the door again, going back to his new hobby, and if he got good enough, job.
Giles looked at Oz, giving him a confused look. "What didn't we listen to?"
"Maybe that's part of the problem," Oz noted, trying the doorknob, going inside the room to look over Xander's shoulder. "Candles?" He picked one of the ones with ribbon wrapped just under a thin, top layer of wax to look at, holding it up to the light. "Neat trick." He put it back in it's place, looking around at all the shelves filled with candles. "What's up?"
Xander looked up at him. "I said I wanted to start another business, so I am. When you two didn't want to listen to me, I went ahead and started it on my own." He turned his chair so he could look at both of his lovers. "So far, I've been making about a ten percent profit out of doing it as a craft. Tomorrow, I'm going to let someone else look at them to see if they're good enough for their standards."
"Xander, what about when you can't meet a deadline?" Giles asked. "Or when your shipment of materials is late? Starting a business is a serious matter, not something to be played with." He looked around at the candles. "Though your stock does seem to be impressive at the moment."
"If I need to, I can expand my production. I did all this with eight molds so far." He looked at Oz. "If you'd like to help, I would appreciate some new molds." He looked back at Giles. "So far, I've not only kept up with demand, but I've managed to build up an inventory besides that."
"Novelties are cool," Oz pointed out, "but tastes change."
Xander reached behind him and picked up a candle to toss at Giles. "What is that?"
Giles looked it over, shaking his head. "It's working quality." He handed it back. "Have you been selling to other sorcerers?"
"No, Willow has. I make them, she takes them to her friends who all need them. I'm a lot cheaper than some other places are."
"And they're good?" Oz asked. "They like them?"
"Very much. Even Buffy and Sileya have been helping me by taking molds apart for me." He waved a hand around. "I've been doing this for around two months now. Willow and I have been going to the local craft shows and things, I'm getting a really good reputation there, though I have been asked about colors so I've been looking into all natural dyes."
Giles nodded once then looked at him. "Why didn't you tell us about this? We would have supported you with it."
"I tried," Xander reminded patiently. "You ignored it or brushed it aside. I even left my books lying around and no one's asked me about them except Sileya. Oh, and she's going to be in late tonight, she and Homer are out doing something."
"That's fine, don't change the subject," Giles said. "When did you broach this subject?"
"Gee, the last time was about a week ago. You and Oz continued to argue about which Beatle was the best. I also talked it over with Blair and Sam the night the hunters came. I mentioned it the next morning and I never got a response besides 'later'." He gave his eldest lover a bland, unimpressed look. "So?"
"I'm impressed that you went ahead and did it," Oz said, looking around. "I want to sit and watch you during break."
"Okay." Xander looked at Giles, giving him time to think.
"I wish you had told us what you were doing instead of just hinting about wanting to start a business," Giles sighed, looking at the ribbon candles. "Those are extraordinary. Are the ribbons natural?"
"Yup. Pure silk. Everything's natural. It's beeswax with a few additives to make them harder. I checked with the local magic shop to see if those would be okay for working and they said it would be fine. As a matter of fact," he said, looking at his watch, "I have a meeting with her tomorrow because she called and wanted to see a few."
"Willow brags well," Oz pointed out. "Word of mouth got Microsoft started too." He looked at the flower candles behind him. "Do those float?"
"Or sit in a dish, yeah." He picked up the catalog, handing it over. "They make all sorts of molds but some are really cheesy. I don't want to do Santa Clauses. Or skulls." He watched Giles walk over to look at the shelves full of candles. "I'm doing the basic shapes with additions for right now. I have done some that are colored with the usual dyes, but those aren't for working, the dyes aren't natural at all. But I think I did find a place that makes all-natural dyes. An Indian company, working out of somewhere near Seattle. Or at least that was a recommendation I got from the list I joined."
"List?" Oz asked, looking down at him. "Some of these are cheesy, you're right." He handed the catalog back. "Mailing list?"
"Yup. I'm on two of them, and they're both low volume, but that's why I've been taking over your laptop so often."
"Okay." Oz looked at the floral candles again. "They scented?"
"The flower ones all have different scents. I carved a code on the bottom to tell me which scent they are." He watched as Oz picked one up to show him. "That's rose oil."
Oz handed it to Giles. "Could you work with that?"
"Most definitely, some spells do call for scents to be applied and a scented candle would be appropriate." He looked the candle over and sniffed it. "Hmm, just like Mum's garden roses." He handed it back, watching as it was put on the shelf. "You're really doing fine with this venture?"
"So far," Xander said. "I am making the more usual candles too, that's what the bookcase behind the door is full of." He watched as the door was closed and the shelves full of brightly colored candles were exposed. "Those are like any that you can find anywhere. I make them about the same price as those others, so I'm making about an eight percent profit. The handmade ones are usually a lot more expensive than I've been selling them for so I'm making a ten percent off them." He gave Giles a slow smile. "Want to help me too?"
"I'd like to try one first," Giles said, looking at the candles behind him, picking out a plain one. "Let me try to work something with this one and let's see how good they are first before I start to help you." Xander nodded. "I can just have it? That should mess with your profits."
"I set aside a candle from each batch, right now, for a tester. I know magic users are really picky about their stuff so I made sure I had enough for samples. That's a soft burning one, it won't last as long as some of the others, it's got a real soft wax that'll burn fast."
"That's really smart," Oz told him, giving him a pat to the back of the head. "Does Blair know you've started this or was it just talking?" He moved out of Giles' way as he walked out.
"I sent them a flier with all I could do for right now. Sam called and placed an order, just a few of them. Then Jim's wives all got together and made an order, with him groaning in the background." They shared a light laugh. "They were really happy. They like the scented ones. That's why I started the rose ones, even though they're really expensive to make. It seems like his wife, the pathologist one, uses them when she's working so the body's smell doesn't leak out too far."
"That's real practical, as long as it won't hurt what she's doing," Oz said, sitting down in the free chair. "Buffy helped?"
"Some. She held molds while I filled at first. Sileya's been placing a small order with mine, she's been making herself meditation candles. Willow got the first natural one I made that I thought was good. She told me what was wrong with it and I fixed it. Then she started doing happy dances all over her apartment. She and Tara have been responsible for others wanting to use my candles." He grinned proudly. "I even got an email order the other day. One of the people on my candle list wanted to see my stuff so I sent him a few. I got back a message about how it was nice packaging, it seems the box got a little warm on it's trip but only one of the candles was warped slightly. He said it was now curved near the top."
"What about the rejects?" Oz asked.
"It's okay. Even with those, which we burned in here to check things, we're still doing okay. It took me a few weeks to get it just right but I'm doing good now. As long as I stick to the small scale, it should be fine."
"Not planning on expanding?" Oz asked.
"I'd just like to get to a stable point and expand what I'm doing range-wise. I'm experimenting right now with scents and ribbons," he said, pointing at the ribbon woven ones, "and forms. I'm not ready to think about expanding out to make this a full fledged business." He looked up as Giles walked back in. "Good?"
"Very good quality," Giles said, putting the burnt candle on the desk. "I'm very proud of you, Xander. I just wish you had forced us to listen."
Xander grew very still. "I shouldn't have to remind you that I'm here and I have ideas, Giles." Giles' face fell. "The very fact that I've been burning wax in here for two months should have prompted you to ask, even if you didn't want to listen to me."
"I thought you were using the candles to hide some other smell," Oz said with a shrug. "I was trying to figure out what it was."
"Nope, just doing my thing." He stood up, facing off with Giles. "Not once did you ask why the whole house smelled like wax. Or why any of my shirts had wax drips on them when you did the laundry. Or even why the kids were constantly peeling wax from their hands."
Giles nodded, looking very sad. "I've been neglecting you again."
"No, you've been over-focused again," Xander corrected. "But you didn't seem to care or want to know."
"Daddies," Miri called, running down the hall. "Me go play?"
"Where?" Xander asked.
"Take Buffy with you."
"'Tay." She looked at the candle. "Bad one?" she asked, pointing.
"No, sweetie, your Daddy Giles wanted to try one out. That's what that one is."
"Not to go play with the pony. Later." She nodded and ran back out, heading for where Buffy was lounging in the sun. "She's been taking the used ones over to show her pony and they seem to be migrating to Mr. Anderson's. But I haven't heard a complaint yet." He looked at Giles again. "You ready to ask me yet?"
"Yes, if you're willing to let me," Giles said, pulling his lover to him in a hug. "I'm sorry I've been so wrapped up in Sileya and my job, I had no intention of ignoring any of you."
"Yeah, well, it's not just me," Xander pointed out, pulling back to look at him. "Even Miri was wondering why you didn't read stories to her anymore. She was really upset with Sileya for stealing you from her."
Giles closed his eyes and nodded. "I'll try to correct that, maybe have Buffy work more with her."
"I could work with her," Xander said.
"Or I could," Oz added. "We both used to help Buffy spar."
"That's a good point," Giles sighed, smiling at them. "I had forgotten what sort of group effort Buffy's training had been. I'll let you take some of the work off my shoulders, with great pleasure. I'd like to have one night where I wasn't doing anything for a whole hour."
"Expect Miri to be clingy for a while," Xander cautioned. "She thought you were going to leave." Oz gave him a dirty look. "She did. She asked me if he was leaving one day. Actually, she thought Sileya was here to take you away, she was going to go beat her up if that was the case."
Giles gave him a smile. "I'll have a talk with our daughter tonight when she gets back." He looked out as Miri came in crying. "What's wrong, precious," he asked, heading out to meet her on the porch. "What's wrong?"
Buffy cleared her throat. "Mr. Anderson said the pony was sick. He was going to have to get rid of all of them because he was retiring but that one was probably going to be put down. Seems she's really old and is starting to have bad health." She walked up to pat the top of Miri's head as she walked in to hug Xander. "Mr. Anderson's son in Texas wanted him to retire down there on his ranch."
"Me no pony," Miri cried. "Me want pony!"
"Miriam, it's sick. You can't play with it anymore," Giles told her, sitting down to hold her. "It's very sick and very old. Eventually everything has to pass on from this world, it's the pony's time."
Xander sat down next to them. "Miri, remember when we had to talk about why the kittie died?" She nodded, pulling her thumb up to suck, knotting her hair in her fingers to play with while she sucked. "Well, sometimes when animals and people get *really* old, they start to get sick. And when people get *really* old, they start to die. It's the way of life."
"Like in the Lion King," Buffy added helpfully.
"She's not old enough for that one yet," Oz said.
"We watched it last night," Buffy defended.
"She going to die?" Miri asked her. "Like old daddy lion did?"
"Yeah, sweetie, but she won't die in a stampede like he did," Xander told her gently. "In your pony's case, it's just time for it to be old and pass on."
"Many peoples say that when a spirit passes on, it comes back as another life form," Giles told her. "Maybe your pony will come back as a new foal this year." Xander shook his head frantically. "No, it's the truth."
"Me have foal?" Miri asked.
"No, you can't have a foal," Oz told her, reaching over to hug her. "We don't have the space for foals."
"Me have foal, me no have pony so me have foal." She nodded, then looked up at her Daddy Giles. "Me foal?"
"Dear, someone else will have the foal, it'll go to be with another little girl to make her happy."
"No, me foal," she said stubbornly.
"No, sweetie, we don't have things set up for horses yet."
Buffy coughed. "It could be. It's not that hard from what Sam was saying." Everyone glared at her. "Sorry." She pushed herself up with a grunt and a groan, heading out to the trailer she was staying in until her mother got back. "I'm going to go hide."
Oz shifted closer, pulling Miri into her lap. "Sweetness, the point was that even if your pony dies, it won't be forever. That it'll come back to make some *other* child happy."
"No, me be happy, me pony," she said weakly.
Xander took her back, hugging her gently. "Miri, everything has to die sometime, it's just your pony's time." He looked down in her deep brown eyes, so much like his own. "It's really old and it's made a lot of people very happy in it's long life, but it can't keep going. It's starting to hurt a lot now. You don't want it to hurt, do you?" She shook her head. "So we'll let you say goodbye to it before it dies and then we'll let it go in peace."
She wiped her eyes. "Me die?" she asked, sounding scared.
"No, sweetie, you're not going to die. Not for a long, *long* time. Your time's not going to be up for *years* yet. Not until you're *way* older than the pony," Xander explained to her. "People live a lot longer than ponies."
"Way longer," Oz agreed. "Like sixty years more than ponies," he told their daughter. "Animals have shorter lives because they spend so much of it making us happy."
"Me no die?" she asked, sounding a little happier.
"Not until you're *really* old, like over a hundred," Xander told her. "And by then, you'll feel like your pony and death won't be so big of a scary thing."
Giles stood up. "I'll take her over to say goodbye to the pony," he said, holding her when she was handed to him. "You did that very well, Xander," he said with a small smile. "I'm doubly proud of you today." He walked her out of the yard and into the woods, heading for the neighbors.
"Wow, that's one talk I didn't expect soon," Xander said, resting against Oz's shoulder. "I'm really sad too."
"We all are," Oz told him, rubbing down his lover's back. "We'll get through this, don't worry."
Giles knocked on Xander's door, walking into his room. "How are we doing?" he asked, looking around at the candles littering the desk. "Problems?"
"Heat's too high," Xander grumbled, putting the misshaped candles aside. "I've got to get a fan or something in here." He looked up, seeing the bothered look. "What happened?"
"I just talked to my boss," Giles said, closing the door and sitting down in the free chair. "He was most displeased that we were promised a gift from a local family and apparently they backed out because I was there." His lover got up and came over to sit in his lap. "Thank you, dear, but this wasn't about that. The person in charge of acquisitions called them back to see what was wrong. It wasn't even about me. They didn't like the way the display had been set up, my boss arbitrarily decided it was my fault."
"So your boss is just a dick where you're concerned?"
"Basically," Giles said with a slight smile. "He's trying to make my life difficult because he doesn't like me." He hugged Xander as tightly as he could. "I don't know what else I could do if I lost that job."
"Hmm, teach?" Xander suggested.
"I could. I haven't looked into that. Of course, I've never done it before so I have no idea what I could teach." He looked at the candles that were badly malformed. "It's not hot in here, why did they melt?"
"I don't know. For the last two days, everything I've pulled out was melted looking. I even tried leaving this batch in there longer. Nothing's working." Xander closed his eyes. "I don't know what's going on but I'd like to. First my accident, then the problem in the hospital, now this? It's like someone has it in for me." He looked down at his ankle, which he had wrapped that morning after falling down the last few stairs. "I'm not usually this clumsy and I haven't ever had this problem before. I want an explanation."
"As would I." Giles looked toward the door as it started to open. "Yes?" he asked before he saw who it was. "Oz, how was your day?"
"Okay until I got home. I figured on doing some laundry." He tossed something at Giles, watching as it was examined. "Found that in the bag we got from the club. Laying in between two pairs of pants." He walked in and shut the door. "In the bag with it were condoms and lube."
Xander took the sex toy to look at, grimacing. "It's not mine," he said, handing it off. "I wouldn't ever use a pink one and the only one I have of that size is upstairs in the closet." He tossed it toward his desk, watching as it rolled off, then turned to look at Oz. "I don't know how it got in there, Oz, really." He stood up, going back to his own chair.
Oz nodded slowly, looking around the room. "It really isn't yours?"
"Not at all."
Oz pulled a paper out of his pocket, handing it over. "I think that's yours."
Xander looked at the credit card slip. "I lost that card a month ago." He looked up. "I reported it and everything, Oz. Right before this." He handed it back. "I buy all my toys off the webpage for the store, not in the actual store, so I don't have to deal with nosy people."
Oz sighed, leaning against a bookcase. "I know that, but it looks bad, Xander."
"Hey, you know I'm not cheating. You guys were there and everything. I *insisted* you guys come to the club with me when I was working. Would I have done that if I were cheating?"
"No," Oz agreed, "you wouldn't have. But if it wasn't you, then who was it?"
"I don't know," Xander said, shrugging. "I never touched anyone else there." He looked at the toy again. "I wouldn't even buy one of those; it's gross feeling."
"That's because it needed cleaned," Giles said, looking from one to the other. "Did you find anything else in there?"
"Just an extra roll of condoms at the bottom."
"Those were mine," Xander admitted. "I used them so I didn't get an itch from my thong. The inside material was scratchy so I put on a condom under it. You both saw the rash."
"Okay, I do remember that," Oz said. "What about the stuff that wasn't yours in the bag?"
"Two thongs in a smaller size than you wear. One was very familiar but I can't place it's owner. The other still had tags on it."
"Still aren't mine, but if I could see them, then I could tell you."
"It's in the washer," Oz told him, no inflection in his voice. "I want to trust you, but it looks really bad from where I'm standing, Xander."
"Hey, it looks bad where I'm sitting and I *know* I didn't do anything." Xander hopped up. "I want to see the rest of this stuff." He headed for the closet the washer and dryer were sitting in, stopping the washer to search for the thong, pulling it out and holding it up to the light. "Chastity's?" he asked, looking at it closer.
"Problem?" Giles asked him, frowning at how closely his lover was examining it.
"Yeah, there are two that are really close. One has Snoopy in the center and one didn't have a center figure." Xander took his glasses from Oz, blinking to let his eyes adjust. "This was Grayson's. Chastity's had Snoopy in the center." He tossed it back in the washer, putting down the lid so the machine would start washing again. He turned to look at Oz and Giles, giving them a shrug. "I don't know. I can't explain it away. I don't know why it's in there since I didn't put it in there. I wouldn't have asked Grayson to touch me at all considering the rumor was that he was HIV positive, and I sure as hell didn't have sex with him."
Oz sighed, patting him on the arm. "It's just something that needed to be talked about. We know you're not cheating, Xander. I just needed to know for sure."
"In other words, you didn't trust me because you found that stuff, even though everyone in that club had access to my locker when I wasn't there."
"Apparently there's some doubt in Oz's mind that we're together for the long run," Giles said, looking at both of them. "I've wondered that myself on occasion. I know that Xander's innocent in this case, but it still would have set off that worry, brought it forward in my mind."
"In this case?" Xander asked coldly. "What other cases have there been?"
"That's not what he meant," Oz said, trying to calm him down.
"No, I know what he said and Giles always says what he means." He looked at his eldest lover again, glaring at him. "Do you actually think I'm going to start cheating on you? When my whole life's wrapped up in this house?" He got free of Oz's hand, glaring at him. "I thought you knew me." He walked out the back door, heading for his car.
"Where are you going?" Oz called from the back door.
"Wherever. I'll be home when I'm calm." Xander got into his Explorer, slamming the door. He started the SUV, backing down the drive. He drove down the road toward town, not sure where he was going.
Oz walked back into the house, shaking his head. "We royally screwed up and it's my fault."
"We all have had that worry," Giles soothed, pulling Oz into his arms. "We'll talk about it when he gets home later."
"Daddies?" Miri asked, looking around the door before walking in. "What's wrong?"
"We just were talking about something, being loud," Oz told her, getting down on her level. "Daddy Xander decided he had to go out for a while. Did you hear us?" She nodded. "Are you okay?"
"You okay?" He nodded. "Then me fine." She hugged him. "Me have san'wich?"
"Yes, dear, you may have a sandwich," Giles told her, heading for the refrigerator, stopping when he saw the sandwich on a plate in there. "Is this one yours?" he asked her.
"Wanted cold one," she said, taking the sandwich, leaving him the plate, and heading back up to her room. "Me go play."
"Okay," Oz called, watching her until she turned into the family room. He looked at the plate. "I feel like that right now," he noted.
"Empty and cold?" Giles put the plate into the sink, turning to lean against the counter and look his lover over.
"Yeah, exactly." Oz walked outside, heading for the porch swing.
"Me too," Giles sighed, slumping a little.
Xander walked into his old job, nodding at the bouncer. "Hey, boss in?" he asked.
"In his office."
"Thanks." Xander headed back there, knocking before walking in. "Hey, got a question." He was waved inside. "Who packed my bag for them? We found someone else's thong and equipment bag in my stuff."
"As far as I knew, they packed it themselves. Do you know whose stuff it is?"
"Grayson's. At least the thong was. And there was one with tags on it. And an *equipment* bag."
"Ah." The strip club's manager leaned back in his chair. "Do you think they stole it?"
"No, I know they don't do that, but I don't know how it got in there either." He looked down at his hands. "If they're here, I'll give it back to him. It's in the washing machine right now but otherwise it was just sitting in the bag." His manager shook his head. "Grayson's gone?"
"He left for LA. His lover's in treatment down there. I could mail it to him if you want me to."
"Please. And tell him I don't know how it got in there too." He rubbed the back of his neck, trying to get the staring feeling to go away. "Did they pick up my last paycheck too?"
"Nope, wasn't cut yet." He tossed over an envelope. "The new one was Chastity's by the way. He was looking for it the next day."
"Hey, I still don't know how it got in there. All my stuff was in my bag in my locker, except the stuff I was going to use that night, my lip liner and that stuff. My oil bottle was out too I guess." His former boss nodded. "I don't think that they stole them."
"Neither do I. I don't think that your lovers are like that at all." He shrugged. "It's not a big deal. Bring them back tomorrow night and I'll send them to their rightful owners."
"Want the equipment too?"
"Sure, if you don't want it."
"I wouldn't use that sort of toy. It's pink for one and for another it's got the worst feel to it." Xander stood up, heading for the door. "Thanks. When tomorrow?"
"I'll be here before we open."
"Um, I'd have to have the kids with me that early. I don't want them to know this place exists."
"I'll be here after dark," the other man said with a big grin. "I can understand you not wanting your kids here."
"Cool." Xander walked out, waving at the guy on the stage, someone he had worked with, and headed out to his SUV. Which he found with a flat tire. He frowned, going back inside to the payphone to call his auto club.
Oz walked out onto the porch as Xander walked up the back stairs, looking at the bags he was carrying. "What's that?"
"Mine," he said, heading into the house. "I have to go give that stuff to my old boss tomorrow night." He walked up the stairs, heading to the bedroom on the other side of Sileya's, the other diagonal door. He walked in and kicked it shut before anyone could ask him anything, putting the bags down on the bed. He walked back to the door, opening it and heading down to what had been their room, going in to take some of his clothes down to his new room.
"What are you doing?" Giles asked from the bed, rubbing Blair's back.
"I'm moving down to the other end room. I knew I wasn't going to cheat, you should have too." He looked at the pile he was creating, nodding, closing that drawer to get into another one. "We'll talk about this in the morning." He picked up his clothes, heading down to the other room, tossing the clothes onto the bed too, turning and pushing Oz out so he could close and lock the door. He looked at his bags, sliding down to lean against the door, postponing making up the bed.
Oz walked into their bedroom, his mouth open. "He left?"
"For now. He did say we would be talking soon," Giles said, holding up their son. "Please put him back down for me, Oz. He's finally asleep again."
"Sure," Oz said, giving Blair a kiss before putting him in the crib. He walked back over to the bed, lying down in Giles' outstretched arms. "This is my fault."
"No, whomever put those things in his bag are at fault." He gave Oz a small squeeze. "I'd rather have talked about this before he made this rash decision but it's now on him to come to us."
"No, it's up to us to fix it," Oz corrected softly. "I'm not going to stay like this, Rupert, not even close." He looked up. "I can't be torn like this."
"Then we'll fix it in the morning," Giles whispered, clinging to his lover to soothe the pain in his own chest. "I won't let this continue."
Sileya walked down to where Xander was sitting, looking at the candles he was pulling out. "Those are way bad. What's wrong? Did you lose the magic touch?"
"Yeah, apparently," he said, tossing the candle away with a grimace. "I don't know what the hell is going on anymore." He looked up at her, squinting in the light. "What's up? You look bad."
"And I feel like it." She sat beside him. "Every time I walk into the house, I get frostbite. I was wondering if part of this tiff of yours was about me."
"Nope, not a bit," Xander said, standing up and brushing himself off. "It's all about me." He patted her on the head as he walked past her, heading out to the barn. "I'm going to check on the kittens."
"Buffy said she found them hunting behind the trailer last night," she called after him. She waited until she was alone to give the house an evaluating look. "This can't keep going. Three weeks is too long." She stood up, heading in to find Giles, who was usually in the library. "Hello," she said, tapping on the door.
"Back here," Giles called.
She walked around the low bookcases that split the room, sitting down across from her teacher. "What's going on?" she asked with the bluntness that only a fifteen year old could use.
"It's nothing," he assured her, looking up.
"Apparently it is something. Your daughter came to me last night for a bedtime story because she said she wasn't going to talk to any of you again until you quit being so cold." He looked up and glared at her. "See, it is my business. You three fighting is screwing with my chances of living. It's messing with my training and my schoolwork. And my friendships. Xander was the one I could talk to about things that worry me and now I can't because you three are fighting." She leaned back. "Why don't you tell me about it and I'll be an impartial sounding board?" she asked, going back to her more formal, clipped voice. "I'm actually very good as a counselor."
"We have a pair of those," Giles said, going back to his book. "I'm sorry you're feeling inconvenienced, Sileya, but this really isn't about you."
She tapped her fingers a few times and stood up. "Fine, whatever, but I won't let you destroy him, Rupert, he deserves better. He's the one that's been encouraging me the whole time I've been here." She walked out, leaving him alone.
Giles put down his book, taking off his glasses to rub his eyes. "I'm sorry, dear, but I can't help it, this was his choice." He jumped as someone pounded on the door. "What?" he asked, heading over to see who it was.
"Buffy's in labor," Oz panted. "Xander took her. He left a note on the door."
Giles pushed past him, heading for their cars. "Sileya, please watch the children for us," he called.
"Whatever," she called.
Buffy screamed at the nurse, demanding drugs, and Cordelia stared at her, giving her a bland look. "Why are you doing that?" she asked when the Slayer came out of her contraction. "Mine aren't that bad."
"Shut up," Buffy growled, picking up a roll of tape the nurse had left, throwing it at her roommate's head. "Little Miss Perfect, 'I'm not in pain'. I don't want to hear it!"
Doyle walked in, followed by a nurse. "Let her check ya over," he soothed, heading to Cordelia's side since she was panting. "That's it, just breath through the pain, princess. It'll stop soon."
"No it won't!" Buffy yelled, grabbing her stomach as another one started. "Damn it, kill me already!"
Doyle looked at the nurse, who shrugged. "She's having light labor so far," the nurse said. "I think I'll call someone to get her medication." She hurried out, leaving him alone to deal with it.
Doyle picked up the phone, wiping Cordelia's forehead off as she came out of the pain.
"Who you calling?" she asked, taking a cleansing breath.
"Angel. She needs someone of her own." He put down the phone when he didn't get an answer. "No one home." He looked over as the door opened and Xander walked in. "She needs to hurt ya for a bit."
"I know," Xander said, leaning down to kiss her forehead. "It's okay, Buffy, the nurses were calling around to get you drugs." She nodded, clutching his free hand. "See, I'm here, you'll be okay. I promise."
"No I won't," she complained, looking at her stomach. "This is worse than every bruise I've ever gotten in a fight. I want my mother!" She growled and clenched her teeth as another pain started.
"Buffy, listen to me, try to relax." She glared at him. "No, the more you tense up the worse it hurts," he reminded her. "Remember when you and Spike used to fight, if you anticipated the punch and tensed up it bruised. When you relaxed and let the fight flow, it didn't hurt until later?" She nodded, panting hard. "Okay, I want you to try and do that now. You're anticipating the pain. You still got *hours* of this." He sat on the side of her bed, smiling as she moved to rest against his chest. "Want me to sit behind you?" She nodded, panting, coming out of the contraction. "Okay, sit up for me, Buffy, I'll sit back here and give you shoulder rubs." He kicked off his shoes, planting himself between her and the pillows, letting her relax back into his body. "Shh," he said softly, right above her ear. "Just relax and let the pain flow. It's like water. You're getting a medium stream right now." She shook her head. "Yeah, you are. Think about when you have to start pushing."
She groaned, turning her head to look up at him. "It's not going to stop, is it?" He shook his head, both of them looking over at Cordelia as she screamed for the first time, bringing a nurse running. "Is she okay?" Buffy asked, grabbing Doyle as he was pushed out of the way.
"Baby shifted, he's spikes out right now," he said quietly. "The baby's afraid and that's an instinctive response." He rubbed Buffy's stomach, watching as Cordelia was prepped for transfer. "Can I go with her? Hold her hand?"
"Sure. Come on," one of the nurses said, grabbing him and dragging him out of the room.
Xander looked down at Buffy, nodding. "You don't want that to happen, Buffy. Relax into the pain."
"You can't be on the bed," the nurse said as soon as Cordelia had been taken out of the room.
"It's keeping her calm, get over it," he told her coldly. "Don't tell me how to coach her. We're doing what works." He looked back down, taking her hands as she started to clench them, entwining their fingers. "Come on, relax into the pain, just like a fight. The first pain is that unexpected hit when they tag you back."
"No, hurts," she moaned.
"I know, but there are things that hurt more. Really." He didn't look up as the door opened, focusing on her. "Come on, relax and let the water/pain flow."
She nodded, closing her eyes, giving his hands one last squeeze. "I'll try," she promised.
"That's good," Giles said softly, coming over to rub her stomach. "Where was Cordelia headed?"
"Baby was spikes out and it was hurting her. She hadn't screamed the whole time until a few seconds ago." Xander looked at the nurse. "She may be having the same problem. That's the pain she's in. They have the same father."
The nurse nodded and left.
Oz walked to the other side of the bed, taking one of Buffy's hands to hold. "We doing okay?"
"Fine. Xander's a big help." She smiled up at him as her forehead was wiped off for her. "Thank you."
"Welcome," Xander said, giving her a little squeeze. "Do they have an estimate of how much longer you'll be in labor?"
The nurse walked back in with orderlies. "Not long. If it's a usual problem in the father's family then we're going to take it by caesarian." She waved at the bed. "One of you want to come hold her hand?"
"Xander! I want Xander." He nodded, sliding out from under her. "Thanks," she said, giving him a small smile. "Tell me how Cordy's doing?"
"She's doing fine," Xander told her, following the nurse out. He waited until they were alone in the hall to stop her. "You understood?"
"We've seen that problem here before." She led him into a room, handing him a bag of blue things. "Put these on over your clothes. You'll be behind the sterile draping." She watched as he opened the bag, helping him into the protective gear. "There, let's go get the baby out."
"Can I find out how Cordy's doing? It'll give Buffy hope."
"It's the same doctor. We only have the one here tonight." She waved him into the room Buffy was being wheeled into, showing him to his seat. "You sit there, don't touch anything green." She nodded at the doctor and backed away. "They have the same donor," she explained. "She's been in massive pain from light labor."
"That's fine," he said, sitting down in between Buffy's feet. "Let me check to make sure the baby's not crowned." He hummed and nodded, standing up and heading to her side. "We'll be fine. Just a few more minutes, Ms. Summers, and you'll have a baby."
"How was the other woman?" Buffy asked, lifting her head, but Xander pushed her head back down. "No, I need to know Cordy was all right."
"She's fine," the doctor said. "These children are from the same donor?" Xander nodded. "Is it that young man with the other woman?"
"No, he's a friend and coworker of hers," Xander said, taking Buffy's hand. "He's watching as your stomach's cleaned off for him."
"We're just doing the iodine treatment now, Ms. Summers. Relax please."
"I'm trying but it's hard," she complained. "That tickles."
"I'm sure it does," he said condescendingly.
Xander raised an eyebrow but went back to talking Buffy through this. "I'm going to do for you what everyone does for me. Close your eyes." She did. "Now I want you to picture a garden, you're sitting in the middle of a flower bed." She nodded, squeezing his hand. "In front of you is a big, huge rose bush that's overgrown. I want you to map your strategy to tame that beast." She smiled. "Okay?" He looked down at where her stomach was.
"Almost ready to cut," the doctor told him.
"Okay, Buffy, I want you to pick the first rose. You're picking only the ones on the branches that you'll be cutting." She nodded, then screamed as the doctor did something.
"Just a little pressure," he assured her.
"It's a thorn," Xander whispered in her ear. "It did the finger prick thing like they do when they check your blood sugar. Every pain you feel is the thorns as you're taking off roses and cutting limbs." She nodded, squeezing his hand hard.
"For someone whose had drugs, she's still very touchy," the doctor noted.
"No drugs," Buffy called.
"I'm sorry you feel that way," he said, shaking his head.
Xander frowned at him. "What she meant was that she didn't get any. She's been begging for the last hour." He went back to where Buffy was sweating. "Come on, Buffster, you can do this. Nothing's beat you yet. A six pound crying lump isn't going to do it."
She laughed. "I'm glad you're so sure of that," she said hoarsely. "Make it stop?"
"Shh, pick another rose," he told her. She nodded. "Lick your finger off, taste the blood you just got off." She started to relax again. "That's a girl. Now I want you to cut the branch it's on for me."
"Still got a rose," Buffy mumbled through her gritted teeth. "Make him stop, Xander, please?"
"I'm about to remove the baby," the doctor told them, waving a nurse over. "Here, take it."
"See, almost out," Xander told her, wiping over her forehead. "Just a few more roses. Put them in a basket so you and Miri can arrange them later."
"Blair too," she said, squeezing his hand again, wincing when she felt the bones shift. "No more, please?"
"Just a second more. The baby's stuck to you," the doctor said. He looked at the nurse, who shrugged. "So, what was the father?"
"Artificial insemination," Xander said. "They shared donors." He kissed her cheek. "Got a few baby spikes in there, just a few more roses, Buffy."
"No more roses," she groaned, lifting her head and glaring at the doctor. "Get ... the ... HELL... out... of... my... body. NOW!" she screamed the last word at him, trying to get him.
"It's out," the doctor said, handing the baby to the nurse. "Let them see it please."
Buffy flopped back down onto the bed, sighing. "No more pain," she said with a smile. She waved at the child. "You're staying in my room, kid. I'm not trusting you to the nursery."
"I'm afraid it's against..." The doctor stopped as he head someone growling, backing away from the bed. "I'm going to close her up. Of course the child can stay with you. Both yours and the other woman's can." He waved a hand for something. "Sutures, now," he demanded.
Xander took the baby, looking down at it. He rubbed down the soft hand, making soothing little purring noises. The baby's spikes retraced and he started to coo. "Hey, a little boy," Xander said, tipping him down so Buffy could see. She snored at them. "Okay, not an interest right now I guess," he said with a shrug. He looked at the nurse. "Keep him calm and comfy and it's all good," he told her, handing the baby back.
"If you say so." She hurried over to the table against the wall, doing what she had to do.