(things start getting weird) Heads A'Talkin'
Xander looked around the empty house and sighed, following Oz out to his old van. "It's all empty," he said.
"Not quite," Richie said, walking out with some familiar boxes. "You were keeping some stuff in the floor safe." He handed them over. "We'll be up tonight. You guys get settled in and I'll even stop off for dinner."
"Thanks, man," Oz said, leaning around Xander to look at him. "Meth give you the directions?" Richie nodded, flicking his earlobe. "Oh, forgot about that," Oz said as he put back in his illusion- holding earring. "Thanks again." He honked and drove away slowly, letting Xander stare at his house. "We'll be back sometime," he promised. "It's not a leaving for good thing."
"Yeah, but it's still a leaving," Xander sighed, laying his head against the window. "How far is this place?"
"Not far. A little over an hour." Oz turned onto the main road, heading away from town. "Why don't you take a nap?"
"Because then I'll never be able to find my way back there again?" Xander suggested, looking over to give his lover a weak grin. "Or is this some secret and you're going to have to blindfold me soon?"
"Nope, not a secret," Oz said quietly. "I wanted to show it to you before now, just never got around to it." He reached over, taking Xander's hand to squeeze. "Even Giles will be back."
"He couldn't stay," Xander reminded him. "It was awkward and bad."
"I remember." Oz pulled over to the side of the road and pulled Xander into his lap, giving him a hug. "I'm sorry, babe, but he wasn't ready to come back yet. If he had been, he wouldn't have been so antsy the night he was around us." He rubbed down the silk shirt his lover wore. "He tried, which is what you wanted, right?"
"Yeah, I guess." Xander got back into his seat and buckled himself up. "We should go. Meth and Ray are waiting on us."
"Okay. Want to stop and get something on the way? You didn't eat breakfast."
"Sure." Xander laid his head against the glass, watching the road as Oz pulled back onto it.
Oz looked at the box Xander was holding in his lap. "What's in that?" he asked finally, pointing at it.
"The jewels that we thought were too dangerous to leave in the safe with everything else." Xander opened the wooden box, showing off the few jewels that were inside. "The humming one and Giles' magic crystals and things."
"Ah." Oz leaned his head on Xander's shoulder. "You haven't even asked a question yet," he said quietly. "Not wondering about anything in here?"
"I'm trying to absorb all this stuff before I do that." He pointed at a head on the wall before them. "What's that though?"
"Not real sure," Oz admitted as he considered the scaly and obviously lizard-like head. "It was here in the house when I bought it."
"Oh. When was that?"
"Sixty-three. I've been in and out of California since then and I liked this spot." He shrugged. "The old owner joked about it being a demon he killed."
"Maybe," Xander said, leaning further into Oz's body. "One never knows."
"We're not on the Hellmouth anymore, Xander," Oz reminded him. "No more demons here. We're very safe."
"Sure. And none live anywhere else like LA, right?" He looked at his lover, seeing the frown, so gave him a kiss on his nose. "Sorry, but they're everywhere, babe. We've got to face that fact."
"They're still not here in this town," Oz said firmly. "Never seen one yet, and I've been back since meeting Buffy."
"Yup. This is where I came to all those times I left town for a few days."
"Kinda. It's my living scrapbook." Oz waved a hand around. "All this means something to me or is a part of what I've been. If I forget, then I'm doomed to become the guy I once was."
"Which would be horrible," Methos said from the chair he had been reading in. "Xander, you would not believe the amount of brooding Oz can do when he sets his mind to it."
"Don't even go there," Oz warned. "I will tell Ray about your trip across Europe in the eighteenth century."
"He's already told me," Ray put in. He looked up, giving Xander a naughty grin. "I made him regret it too, he'll never do it again."
"No, love, no more whoreing trips across Europe for me," Methos sighed, going back to his book. "It's not like I could do that now anyway."
"I heard that," Ray reminded him.
"What?" Methos asked, looking up and giving him a bright smile. "I didn't say anything."
"Of course not." Ray looked over at Xander. "So, what's up with those ones anyway?" he asked, pointing to the box.
"One of them is supposed to be a crystal that sorcerers can store blood and power in," Xander said, holding it up. "This one," he put the first one back and held up another one, "hums. I'm not sure why but it hums in a certain key whenever it gets near other stones." He picked up one of Giles' crystals and the jewel started to hum loudly. "See?"
"Neat," Ray said, giving him a smile. "So, whaddya gonna do with them?"
"I've been told that the humming one can never leave my hands," Xander said as he put them all back safely in the box. "I guess we'll have to find a safe place for it somewhere around here while we're here." He bent down and shoved the box under the couch, giving Ray a grin. "That should do it."
"That oughta do it," Ray agreed. He looked over at his lover. "Why are we all in here?"
"Because Methos doesn't like this house," Oz told him, shifting until he was lying with his head in Xander's lap. "He's actually said he hates this house a few times."
"It's cold and imposing," Methos told his lover. "I hate the way this house makes me feel so small and isolated." He looked at the head over the fireplace. "And there are too many strange things here for me to be comfortable for very long."
"Strange stuff?" Ray asked, looking interested. "Like ghosts and things or other sorta strange?"
"Both," Oz said, looking up at him. "But don't worry about the ghosts, they just walk through the halls sometimes."
"Wow," Xander said, grinning down at him. "Really?" Oz nodded. "Very cool. Did something happen to them here?"
"Nope, they just wander through the halls." Oz shrugged. "Not a clue, man. I've researched and nothing tragic ever happened here. No dead bodies in the house at all before the ghosts."
"So maybe it's something else," Xander suggested. "People out of phase with our reality or something. Like that book with the two planes but one was twisted so it was out of phase with the original one."
"The Anthony series?" Xander nodded. "That would be cool," Ray admitted. "Hey, maybe we can go to that place insteada here."
"No," Methos said semi-firmly. "We're not traveling across dimensions, Ray. You are not to leave this plane."
"Not without you," Ray told him.
"Not at all," Methos said, glaring at him. "Not at all, Ray; repeat that please."
"Yeah, whatever." Ray turned to look at Xander again. "Wonder if there's any hidden rooms."
"Possibly," Oz said, pointing at the fireplace. "There's a big space behind that wall but no reason for it."
"So we gotta find the book or whatever that opens it." Ray smiled at Xander. "Gives us somethin' ta do."
"True," Xander agreed. "We'll go look for it tomorrow?" Ray nodded and picked back up his book. Xander looked around the comfy but formal room. "Where's Richie? He should have been here by now."
"He probably stopped off to get a drink," Methos muttered from his chair.
"He coulda gotten a ticket," Ray suggested. "He was drivin' Xander's sports car."
"He probably stopped off to check on Steve," Oz told them. "I'm sure he's fine."
"He'd better be," Xander said, frowning at the fire. "I don't want to lose any more friends." He looked down at Oz, stroking across his cheek. "We need to go back to Vermont soon too."
"Yup, after our vacation here?"
"Okay." Xander smiled at him. "Relax. This is your house. We'll take a break here for a few weeks."
"Why not stay here longer?" Oz suggested, sitting up to look at his lover. "We could stay a few months."
"Because I like my house too?" Xander suggested gently. "Because I want to go back to Sunnydale sometime?"
"Point," Oz agreed, "but we don't have to set a definite date."
"Yeah, I guess," Xander said, going back to staring at the lizard head.
Methos looked over at Oz and subtly shook his head. Oz nodded and let the subject drop.
Xander and Ray wandered through the formal ballroom that separated the formal dining room from the living room. "Who built this house?" Ray asked out loud, looking up at the ceiling. "And who writes all the way up there?" He pointed at the pretty script that flowed across the width of the room.
Xander looked up. "When the song is so beautiful it hurts, you've found the right spot," he read, then shook his head. "Not a clue. Maybe the former owner was into pain and stuff." He followed Ray into the formal dining room and out through the wall of glass, into the unsculpted gardens. "Natural at least," Xander noted as he looked around. "Not too many fussy plants."
"I really don't like formal gardens," Oz said as he walked out of the house.
Ray and Xander shared a look and Ray walked away, leaving them alone. "Oz," Xander said, pulling him into a hug, "why are you stalking me today?" Oz groaned but gave his shoulder a kiss. "No, seriously here. You were waiting on me when I got out of the bathroom, you were following me around earlier as I explored. And now you're following me around the garden. I really don't like being stalked." He let his lover go, looking into his eyes. "Do you think someone's going to steal me from here? With Ray and you here?"
Oz nodded. "Yup." He got free. "Basically." He walked back inside, slamming the sliding door.
Xander looked down and shook his head. "He worries too much," he told himself. He strolled over to where Ray was sniffing an unusual bloom, giving him a grim look. "He's scared someone's going to snatch me."
"It's sweet," Ray pointed out.
"And very annoying. He wouldn't even let me go the bathroom by myself. I found him waiting outside the door." He looked toward the house and caught sight of his lover standing there watching them. "Enough is enough," he decided, but Ray grabbed him. "What?"
"He's feeling vulnerable. This is his treasure, same as your house was to you, and you aren't enjoying it."
"I'd enjoy it a lot more if I didn't feel like everyone was watching me to make sure that I wasn't going to explode or something."
"Point, but ya gotta admit, Oz has a right to worry about ya. After all, who was kidnapped recently?"
"Point, but still!" Xander complained. "I'm not going to suddenly leave him. No one's going to touch me here," he waved his arms around to encompass the house and gardens. "Even if his worst enemy felt like coming for me, he couldn't get in."
"Yes, but he doesn't understand that in his heart. In his brain maybe," Methos said as he joined them, "but in his heart you're fragile, precious, and all too apt to be stolen." He gave Xander a kiss on the cheek and whispered, "I never did get around to telling him about New York and your trials there with the kidnappers."
"No one's going to steal me from here," Xander sighed, rolling his eyes. "I doubt they'd be able to get through the front door with all their body parts."
"That may be so, but that's not how Oz's inner worrier is seeing it happen," Methos reminded him. "He's very possessive and you've proven yourself to be a desirable target for kidnapping. How scared do you think he is right now? And for the record, this house usually calms him down greatly."
"A lot I guess," Xander said. He looked over his shoulder, but Oz was gone. "But it's not right! I'm not going to be stolen here."
"So let him figure that out for himself. Let him be your shadow for a few days, Xander." Methos squeezed the young man around the shoulders. "Let him work it out of his system. Otherwise, you'll wake up some morning with a locator on your body and chained to the bed." He let him go, walking over to give his lover a hug. "You, my dear little innocent one, will stay out of trouble also." He winked at Xander. "And try to keep him out of it too." He left them alone, going back to his seat in the sun.
"Me, trouble?" Xander asked, grinning at Ray.
"Yup, you. You get into a lot of it," Ray reminded him, walking away. "Come on. Maybe we'll be able to sneak away and get ice cream."
"I doubt it," floated over from Methos.
"Sundaes," Oz called from the kitchen.
Xander followed Ray back into the house, going to help Oz with the sundaes.
Xander walked around the formal ballroom, looking up at the ceiling, tracing the words mentally. There was something strange about this room and he was determined to figure it out.
"Xan," Ray said as he walked in with the wooden box of Xander's. "Oz said you had to move this." He handed it over. "He's still cleaning and he almost vacuumed it up."
"Okay." Xander tucked the box under his arm and continued to walk around the room. He heard the stones inside the box start to hum and frowned at his friend. "You don't think..." he said quietly.
"Hey, it's a strange stone and it does sing," Ray pointed out. "With you two, I'd bet yes." He held the box while Xander got out his humming crystal, watching as he walked it around the room. He sighed as Xander disappeared through the wall between the last bench on the side next to the living room and the windows. He was just about to call out to Oz when Xander reappeared. "So?" he asked expectantly.
"It's a blank room," Xander said, nodding his head at the wall. "Come on." He grabbed Ray's hand and tugged him through, watching him look around the room.
Ray stopped in front of the fireplace, the only piece of furniture in the room. "You were right, it's empty." He winced as he crystal started to hum again. "Um, Xander, can you not do whatever you're doin'?"
"Sure," Xander said, stepping closer to him, and the humming calmed down. "Guess we know what the words on the ceiling in the ballroom mean," he quipped, giving Ray an uneasy grin. "Wanna find out if it's right?"
"No." He glared at his friend. "Let's go, before Oz finds out you're missin'."
"Oh, come on," Xander whined. "I want to explore. I'll be safe enough with you." He held out a hand and started to pout, complete with begging eyes. "Please, Ray?"
"No," he said, but it was weaker this time.
"Please?" Xander begged. "Then we can come back and tell everyone about what we've seen." He turned up the level of his begging, making the other man wilt. "Please?" he asked quietly.
"Sure." Ray grabbed the box tighter and took Xander's hand, following him around the room. They did find the place where the humming was so high-pitched that it hurt, but none of it really sounded beautiful to either of them.
Xander finally stopped and held the crystal out at a wall, smiling as the pitch of the hum changed, turning into something more musical. "See," he said, grinning at Ray. "Come on, I want to go explore." He pulled his friend through the wall and out into ... the house? "Huh," he said as he looked around. "This is really strange."
"Yup," Ray said, following Xander out through the wall. He noticed something once they were in the next room, a weapon's room as it happened. "The house is backwards!"
"Yeah, it is," Xander said, brow wrinkled in confusion. "Why is it backwards?"
"Don't know, let's go find out why we're here." Ray took the lead, taking Xander's hand to make sure that the younger man couldn't get lost without him knowing about it. They stopped in the living room, staring at the ass end of the dragon whose head was back in the original house. "It ran through a portal and got stuck?" Ray suggested lightly.
"Sounds okay to me," Xander quipped, getting free and walking over to touch the tail wiggling in the breeze. It twitched and he jumped, running back to Ray's side. "It's not dead," he noted. "Really not dead."
"We can feed it when we get home," Ray told him. "Come on, let's go find out what's goin' on here." He dragged Xander away from the disturbing sight and up the stairs.
Oz looked up from his book, staring at the ghostly figure in front of him. "Xander!" he yelled, hopping up to try and grab him. His hands passed through the wraith and then it disappeared. "METHOS!"
"What?" came the grumpy reply as the older immortal walked down the hall. "What's happened to your pet this time?"
"He's not here. He was a ghost." Oz pointed at the spot. "Right there. I couldn't touch him."
"I'm sure he's here in the house somewhere," Methos said calmly. "Go search for him, maybe it's some sort of special effect from somewhere." He took a deep breath as Oz ran past him, taking a moment to clear his mind before going to search for his own boyfriend. After all, if Xander was in trouble, Ray was sure to be in it with him.
The key crystal led them to the ballroom, and Xander peered hesitantly inside before he allowed Ray to walk in. On the wall, there were mirrors and doors now instead of the benches. "Guess this is the doorway room," Xander said as he walked toward one of the doors.
"Nope," Ray said, catching him. "Not goin' anywhere without me. And we're not gonna go through any portal without one of the fighters with us."
"I can fight," Xander sniffed, looking hurt.
"And I can brawl, but I'm gonna bet a sword'd come in handy if we cross over." He looked at the wall they had come through. "Come on, let's go get Oz," he suggested, trying to pull Xander with him.
"No." Xander got free and glared at his friend. "I can explore without him. I don't get into random trouble if I can help it."
"I don't." Xander looked around, grinning at the one where someone was staring at them. "That one looks harmless," he suggested, pulling Ray with him. They stepped through the mirror, bumping into the man on the other side. "Sorry."
Ray grunted and looked around. "Xander, no, we have to go home. Oz won't like this!" He used all his weight to tug Xander back through the mirror. He was spun around by his friend so he glared at him. "We are gonna go home now. There is somethin' goin' on here that I can't deal with and I'm not gonna risk you getting lost just because you wanted to have some Oz-free fun!" He dragged Xander back through the wall into the empty room, heading for the corner that they had originally walked through. "This had better be home," he muttered as he pushed Xander through, following behind him. Or at least he tried to. "Um, okay," he said, looking around. "Xander?"
Xander's arm came back through the portal and he grabbed the hand, allowing himself to be pulled through. "Sorry, didn't know this had a clause."
"There's always a clause," Ray reminded him as he dragged Xander back into the main ballroom. He confiscated the stone and went to find someone responsible to give it to. "Methos!" he yelled, running into him in the hall. "Keep this, Xander can't have it, he can not go exploring." He walked past his lover, heading up to their room, muttering the whole way about curiosity and people who didn't *look* like cats.
Xander gave him a small grin. "I wasn't getting into trouble, really I wasn't." He heard footsteps coming down the stairs and winked at Methos, running for the outside.
"Come back here!" Oz called, walking after him. "Running won't save you this time!"
Methos looked down at the stone. "What trouble have you gotten that boy into now?" he muttered, heading back to the kitchen and the meal he was preparing.
Oz caught up with Xander just as he put the bowl of meat down in front of the head over the fireplace. "It's dead," he reminded his lover.
"But the other half of him was on the other side and it wasn't," Xander told him, turning and giving him a smile. "It's a great house, Oz, but the other one was opposite and it had *doorways*."
"No." He sat down, patting the cushion beside him. "Now, please," he ordered gently.
Xander sat down on the couch but as far away from Oz as he could. "I didn't get into any trouble."
"Doesn't matter. I don't need you disappearing like that on me."
"But I was good. I even listened to Ray." He didn't mention fighting with the detective about coming back, he knew how that would go. "And the dragon was asleep, not dead. It's tail twitched."
"Ah, beef," the head mumbled in a British accent that would have impressed Giles, inhaling the meat. It looked at Xander. "Can't I have a virgin? Cows taste funny to one such as myself."
"Those are in short supply in this age," Oz told him, going a little pale once he realized what he was talking to.
"Sorry, man, but virgins are more rare than you are," Xander told him as he stood up. "I could continue to feed you, for as long as I'm here anyway." He smiled at the dragon, getting one in return. "Is cow okay? Should it be chicken or something."
"No, beef is preferable if I can't have a succulent virgin." The dragon sighed. "You have the key, don't you?"
"Yup, or at least I guess so since I went to that other house and found your back side."
"Did it look okay?"
"Very. Your tail twitched when I touched it."
"I thought someone had touched me. That's why I came out of my trance." He looked down at the bowl. "Could I have some more please?"
"Sure. How much more would you need?"
"About fifteen of those an hour to be perfectly honest, but just another one tonight would be most generous," the dragon said, snorting a small cloud of smoke at Xander. "For a gatekeeper, you're very unusual."
"It's Oz's house, I just have the key," Xander said quietly as he took the bowl and headed for the kitchen.
"Wait for me," Oz said, hopping up and running after him. He sat down at the bar around the kitchen and put his head down. "I thought this place was normal," he sighed into the tiles. He looked up at his lover. "You are getting rid of that stone, Xander."
"Na-uh. The one who gave it to me said I had to keep it in my possession. I'm not giving it away. And besides," Xander said, bringing the refilled bowl over to him, "it's not like strange stuff doesn't happen everywhere." He walked around the end of the bar and back to the living room, giving the dragon a smile as he watched him eat. "So, how long have you been hanging around here?"
"Only with you around," Oz muttered to Xander's back.
Xander snuck into Methos' and Ray's room, grabbing the jewel before anyone woke up. Or so he thought, until he felt someone grab him and follow him through to the blank room. "Hi, Ray," he said, giving him a bright grin. "I was going to check on the dragon's backside for him."
"Uh-huh. Sure ya are," Ray said, looking around. He held out a hand. "Give me the stone."
"Nope. Mine. I was given it." His grin got mischievous. "You could come with me again."
Someone pounded on the wall.
"Let's go," Ray said, making a snatch for the stone, but missing and falling into the fireplace.
Xander looked at the hole Ray had fallen through, biting his lip. "You okay in there?" he called.
"No. Go get someone to pull me up."
Xander walked out and ran into Oz and Methos, giving them embarrassed looks. "Ray fell into the fireplace and he needs some help." He drug the older men through the portal, watching as they helped the detective out of the hole. While they were busy with Ray, Xander stepped slowly backward to the corner, disappearing as fast as he could, hopefully before anyone heard the stone go off. He patted himself on the back as he walked out of the empty room, heading out to explore the rest of the house.
Oz looked over his shoulder then down at Ray. "That's the gateway?"
"To the other house, yeah. It's a gateway itself."
"Ah." Oz stood up, walking over to investigate the corner. "Solid."
"You need the stone to pass through any of the gates," Ray told him, settling himself in Methos' lap. "He said he was going to check on the dragon's butt for him."
"And I believe him too," Oz said darkly, pounding his fist into the wall. "How many keys do you think there are?"
"Probably not many," Methos suggested. "I bet that if you look back through all that junk that the man you bought the house from left, you'd find something about this."
"I should have made him put that stone somewhere safe," Oz muttered as he headed for the entry wall.
"You can't," Ray called, just as Oz ran into the wall. "You need the stone for that too."
Oz growled but sat down to wait, staring at the corner.
Methos hugged Ray close to him, hoping to keep Oz from paying attention to them. He really didn't need to help Oz wear off some of the anger he was feeling. No immortal healed that fast.
Xander danced around the rooms, smiling at all the accumulated stuff. Lots of stuff. Swords and shields, armor and pieces of things he couldn't identify, even a few things that he'd bet Giles would be thrilled to see if he could bring them with him. He walked into the ballroom, looking at all the mirrors, smiling as he saw one open. He walked closer, watching the people inside, his eyes narrowing as he saw someone sneaking up behind the guy in the crown with a knife. He grabbed a short sword, the only thing he knew how to use, and lunged through the gateway, piercing the assassin through the stomach. "It's not nice to sneak up on people," he admonished.
"Guards," the man in the crown yelled, bringing a bunch of men running. "Seize them both!"
"Hey, I saved you." Xander glared at the guards. "I'll leave then." He walked back through the gateway, dropping the sword as he walked out of the room. "I have better things to do than to listen to people whine because I saved them," he told himself. He never saw the worried faces trying to get through the gateway.
Oz checked his watch again, then growled as Ray sat down next to him. "Where is he?"
"He's wandering the house," Ray reminded him. "He's not dumb enough ta walk through somewhere and get into trouble." He got stared at by both immortals. "He's not. Not without someone there anyway." He shrugged before giving Oz a hug. "He's fine. He's probably found a room full'o stuff and he's busy digging through it." There was no way he was telling Oz about their trip through one of the mirrors, he liked his head where it was.
"I'm going to spank him," Oz said quietly. "And then I'm going to leash him to the bed so he can't do this again." He looked at the fireplace. "No dragon in here?"
"Nope, just the front out there and the back in the other house."
"Methos," Oz said suddenly, sitting up straighter. "I want you to take that stone *far* away from here. Give it to someone you trust and let them keep it."
"It was put into Xander's custody," Methos reminded him gently. "I doubt the demon who did so would appreciate that gesture."
"He's dead," Oz said calmly.
"Yes, but that stone is best placed with someone who knows what it's for. We don't know how many other houses like this there are, or even if the key is specific to this house." Methos moved closer, giving his student a slight smile. "You'd be the best one to keep the jewel from him, Oz. You're the one who he'd respect the 'no' from."
Oz snorted. "He doesn't take orders from me. Or listen to me when I say things like no." He looked around the room again. "You'd think that someone would have brought something in here to do, or read."
"Or a chair," Ray put in. "The floor's cold."
Xander dug through the pile of swords and shields, stopping when he came to a box like the ones he had back at Oz's side of the house for jewels. He sat down, carefully so he wouldn't sit on a sword point, and opened it. He smiled when he saw the pendant resting on the velvet, and the bracelet tied up under it. He put the key closer to them but they didn't hum together. He considered the stones for a few minutes then decided to put them on. He whistled as he threw the box aside, going back to his digging. He came up with a pretty sword and tucked it into his belt, he could get someone to teach him how to use it later, and a set of three very unusual daggers, which also went into his belt. He stopped when he reached the mosaic on the floor frowning in exasperation. "Why are there only three daggers. That doesn't make a lot of sense." He got up and picked up his key stone, walking back toward the portal to Oz's house. He left his stone on the floor behind him and slowly reached his hand out toward the wall, whooping when it went through.
Oz looked up as he felt the air start to stir, so he was the first one up when the hand came through the wall. Unfortunately, Methos beat him to it. They disappeared together, Methos coming back with Xander after a few minutes. "Your imp," he said, shoving him toward Oz. He handed Ray the key stone. "Keep this until Oz is done with the boy."
"But I was good," Xander protested. "I found a room full of swords and shields, that's where I got these," he patted his new weapons. "And I stopped an assassination. I deserve kudos for that."
Oz growled and pushed Xander toward the wall, not even feeling Ray grabbing him to let him through. He walked his lover up to their room and locked them inside, glaring at Xander. "You shouldn't have done that. I refuse to let you out of this house until I know that you're not going to be kidnapped, killed, or otherwise inconvenienced." He started to pace.
Ray looked at Methos and nodded back the way they had come, both of them going back into the bare room and through the portal.
Xander watched his lover pace and sighed, rolling his eyes. He got in Oz's way, catching him and giving him a kiss. "Shut up." Oz glared at him. "I'm not your slave, I'm your lover, and gee, believe it or not, I do have a brain. I don't naturally get into trouble and I was being good. It's a neat place and I think you'd like to come explore it with me."
"I don't want you going back there, Xander. There's a reason the key was separated from the house and I'm pretty sure that you're proving what it is." He looked at the weapons the younger man was still carrying. "Those are pretty."
"And they were just sitting in a pile on the floor," Xander told him. "I couldn't find another dagger." He touched one, then brought it up for Oz to see. "See, pretty, and it needs to be taken care of. They were just left to rot, Oz, something really bad."
"Yeah, well, it doesn't excuse you going over there without telling anybody."
"If I had told you, would you have let me?"
"No," Oz snorted.
"That's why I didn't tell you." Xander walked back over to the bed and sat on the side of it. "I'd be happy to have you come explore with me though. That is, if you could unbend your security stance long enough to do that."
"Xander," Oz started, then shook his head. "No. I don't want you over there. There's a reason the key was separated from the gateway. I don't want to violate whatever rule that you just broke."
"Yay," Xander said dryly, clapping. "And the Oscar for over-acting goes to..." He waved a hand at Oz. "Feel better now?"
"No. You're taking this way too lightly, Xander." Oz walked out of the room and slammed the door, locking it from the outside. "I'll be back in a minute, I need a beer."
"Pain in my ass," Xander muttered, stripping and getting into bed, making sure all his new toys were carefully hidden from Oz's frustration. He had just covered himself up when Oz came back in carrying a small tray. "Gee, I don't need a beer," he said.
"Not alcohol," Oz said, kicking the door shut. "I talked to your scaly friend and he said they were separated because there's a few dangerous people who have been sent through the portals and no one wanted them to get out because the owner of the house was sympathetic."
"But you need a key to get through a gateway," Xander reminded him.
"A key can be made. Someone almost got out sixty years before I bought the house. That owner went mad when the house forced him to kill the guy and hide his body. He disappeared through the portal and never came back."
"Wow." Xander took his glass of soda, sipping it slowly. "The house protects the gateway?"
"Apparently. The dragon said he almost got through a second gateway but he got stuck. He dropped his stone as he walked through." He reached over and brushed down Xander's face. "I don't want you to get stuck, babe, and I don't want you to get hurt."
Xander put down his glass and took off the pendant, putting it around Oz's neck. "It's a key stone. We need to check it to make sure, but I wasn't touching the big stone when Methos grabbed me."
Oz picked up the stone to look at it. "Why isn't it humming?"
"Because keystones don't hum with each other apparently. I guess that's how we find the other stones." Xander gave him a kiss. "Feel better?"
Oz nodded. "Yeah, now I can come find you, but I still don't want you going over there. Who knows what sort of dangers are over there. Or there could be hidden portals that you might fall through. There's all sorts of dangers that you might not appreciate because you're exploring." He looked around the room. "Where's your sword, I wanted to look at it again."
Xander pointed at the dresser. "In the shirt drawer. I didn't want you to take it away from me so I hid it."
Oz gave him a short kiss. "I'm just going to look at it, babe, not steal it. I'm not that mean."
"Would you teach me to use it?"
"We'll see." Oz got up and retrieved the sword, bringing it back to the bed so he could examine it. "It's a light one," he said, taking a few practice swings. "Obviously some rich boy's first sword." He looked at the carvings, nodding. "A very good one to learn on." He handed it back to Xander, one hand under the blade and the other under the pommel. "I can teach you with that one. The daggers I'm not so good with but otherwise, it's all good." He got a relieved smile. "Why do you insist on worrying me?" Oz asked quietly as he laid down beside Xander, pulling him into his arms. "I had no idea what condition you were in or if you were getting into trouble. I didn't even know if you were going to come back or if we were going to be stuck in there forever."
"You could come with me next time," Xander suggested, letting the sword drop to the floor on top of his clothes. "I'd like to explore that place with you. It's *amazing*!" He got a squeeze and relaxed again. "Please?" he whispered, clinging to his lover's body.
"Fine. We'll go tomorrow." Oz closed his eyes as he was cuddled harder. "Is that what you really wanted?"
"Well, I want you to relax about me more," Xander said, letting him go. "No one's going to steal me again, Oz, I promise."
"I *do* know that," Xander countered before Oz could finish his protest. "That guy kidnapping me was a fluke. He knew I hung out with an immortal but not which one you were. Even he knew he was an idiot by the end of the first night. If he could have backed out of his plan, he would have sent me home. He called me whiny and spoiled."
Oz snorted. "Only sometimes."
"When it's a good idea," Xander agreed with a grin. "He was so sorry he had kidnapped me he told me so. He was going to apologize to you when you got me back for having a lover like me."
"Oh, that would have gotten him hurt. Wonder why he didn't?"
"Because there were five of you there?"
"Point. We are an intimidating group." Oz pulled Xander back into his arms to hold. "I need to be security minded right now. Can you understand that?"
"Yup, but it doesn't mean I can't protest being put in pillow stuffing."
"True. I would like for you to let me be worried though. I do it very well."
"Yeah, real well. I was suffocated by you stalking me all over the house, Oz. You went way too far."
"I'm sorry, babe, but I needed to feel that you were safe and the only way to do it was to follow you around and be overbearing."
"Why do you do things like that?"
"Because I love you?" Oz suggested mildly.
"Oh." Xander sat up and looked down at him. "You do? This isn't just a case of lust and liking?"
"Well, it's those two but I think the like is starting to mutate. That's why I followed you to Vermont, silly." He lunged up and grabbed Xander, pulling him back down too. "There, much better."
"As long as this grip is a cuddling thing, it's a good, Oz, but don't stifle me. I can't live like that."
"Then I won't," Oz promised gently. "Bop me when I do it."
"Cuddles?" Xander asked.
"Of course." Oz gave him a squeeze and then shifted so Xander would be more comfortable. "Better?"
"Yup. Perfect." Xander checked around. "Speaking of purrs, where's the cats and Rocky?"
"Down in the kitchen. They like to look through the glass doors."
"Oh. Cool I guess. I was missing the whole claws in my toes thing."
"Yeah, me too. But they'll be up later to do it and wake us up." Oz yawned. "We'll go explore the day after tomorrow. After we get some more information from the head in the living room."
"I wonder if we could free it."
"No." Oz reached over and turned off the lights. "Night."
"Hmph," Xander grunted, thumping Oz's chest into the shape he wanted to sleep on.
Xander looked up at the head he was standing in front of. "Well, what would get you through the portal? Preferably backwards, since you'd make quite a panic."
"I'm the only one here?" the dragon asked.
Xander nodded. "Definitely." He looked around for Oz then leaned closer. "Do you know why there's no furniture in the blank room?"
"Because it would distort the sound waves that the crystal produces and you'd end up somewhere else."
The dragon shook his head to stretch his scales. "I wish I hadn't dropped my stone. I'd like to be home right now."
"Where did you drop it?"
"In the middle of the portal. It's a blue stone if that helps."
Ray looked up from his lounging on the couch. "Saw that in the fireplace's hole. It's embedded now."
"Ah. Thank you, kind one," the dragon said with a small, curt nod. "Could I trouble you to retrieve it so I could go home?"
"If we can get one thing clear," Xander said, frowning up at him. "If you come through this way, we'd have to kill you before you made it out of the house."
The dragon snorted. "You couldn't. You're not a fighter."
Oz pulled his sword as he walked in. "Looks can be deceiving," he reminded their houseguest.
"Oh." He looked Oz over, noting how comfortable he was with his sword. "You really are a fighter, aren't you?"
"Since long before this house existed," Oz told him solemnly. "If you tried to come back this way, we'd have to kill you. We'd hate to lose such an entertaining being, but we'd do it easily."
Xander smiled at Oz. "How did the key get into the hands of a demon?"
"A what?" the dragon asked, turning his attention back to Xander. "Those are myths."
"Not in this realm," Oz told him. "The one that gave him the key was an underground demon. He dug it up somewhere."
"That must have been my back-up stone," the dragon sighed dramatically. "I could take it with me."
"Nope. Ours," Xander told him, walking away from him before he could get steamed again. "I was told I couldn't give it away."
"But it doesn't belong to you," the dragon tried to reason.
"Yeah, it does. He found it buried and gave it to me for a service I preformed for him." The dragon snorted and he glared at it. "Trust me, you wouldn't have been able to do it for him." He put his hands on his hips. "I refuse to touch that stone unless I get your *word* that you're not coming through this way."
"I may need to so I can turn around," the dragon tried.
"If you can't back up, you're not gettin' out," Ray said, not looking up from his magazine. "Xander, do you think this would look okay on me?" he asked, showing off one of the pictures.
Oz looked at it then at Ray, then shook his head. "Not really. Meth would kill us if we let you get that."
"But it's cute," Ray said, giving him a mild pout. "Okay, it's a little bondagey, but I could live with that."
"Nope. Methos would kill us," Oz told him again, turning back to the dragon's head.
"For what?" Methos asked as he walked in. He looked at the picture his lover was holding up and shook his head, glaring at the much younger man. "If you got something like that, I would feel obligated to teach you a lesson by tearing it off you and making sure that you felt chastised for wearing it in the first place."
"I could do that," Ray said with a grin.
Methos looked over at Oz, and his sword. "Are we airing out the metal?" he asked dryly.
"No, just making sure the dragon knows that he can't come this way."
"All right then," he said, grabbing Ray's foot and pulling. "Come, let's let these two handle the dragon. I'm sure they have it well in hand."
"Yup, get him someplace safe," Xander said over his shoulder. He grinned at Methos. "Can I have a reward later?"
"If you'd like," Methos agreed with a smile.
"See," Xander said, grinning triumphantly at Oz. "He said I deserved one."
"I told you that we'd see," Oz said firmly. He reached out and grabbed Xander's arm, tugging on it. "We'll consider freeing you later tonight, after we've done some checking through a few sources." He walked Xander out, leading him into the kitchen. "So, do we?" he asked.
"I'd say no at this point," Methos said, flipping a perfectly made crepe. "What possible benefit could it have? You could always call Giles at Joxer's and ask his opinion if you wanted, he'd be the perfect person to ask about the portal and freeing the dragon." He slid the crepe out onto a plate and poured batter for a second one. "What sort of filling would you two like?"
"Cheese," Xander suggested. It was pointed to so he went to cut some up. "Oz, can I say that your house is really fun and all, but I like mine better?"
"Sure," Oz agreed, not showing his hurt. "I guess the strange stuff is a little much."
"Nope, your house is *big* and drafty," Xander explained, looking up at his lover. "Our house was nice and small, and intimate. I liked our house. It had comfy furniture that I could cuddle up with you on. It had lots of things that this one doesn't. Including Maise's." He went back to chopping up some cheese. "I like this place, but it's too much for me."
Oz nodded, his face starting to show hurt. "So you want to leave?"
"Well, I'd like to catalog what we've got on the other side, but I'd like to use this as a vacation house." He looked up and saw the hurt look, and then he tried to stick the knife in the cutting board. He yelped as he got his hand.
Oz was beside him instantly, holding his hand under some cool running water. "You didn't have to hurt yourself, I'm not that upset," he said quietly.
"It wasn't that. I was trying to put it down to come talk to you." Xander reached down with his good hand and patted Oz's wet one. "I like your house, but I like *ours* better. I like how small it was. How we had quirky rooms." He leaned over to kiss the immortal's cheek. "I'm sorry if I upset you. I might come to love this house, but not this trip."
"You really want to go back to Sunnydale?" Oz asked. Xander bit his lip as he nodded. "Then we'll go back. But you're right about something, I'd like to catalog what's on the other side of the portal. We might find something useful." He pulled the hand away from the water, looking at the wound that was glowing blue and growing back, but without the usual immortal sparks of quickening. "I'd say you're going to be fine," Oz told him, looking up into his deep brown eyes. "You really don't like my house?"
"It's nice, but it's too formal. I want something simple and little. With a pool." He gave him a shy smile. "I like being in a little space with you."
"Then we'll go back to your house."
"Our house," Xander corrected. "I got it for us. All three of us, but the two of us are good there too." He gave his lover a shy look and held out his arms for a hug.
Oz sighed and stepped into the waiting arms. "I love my house, that's why I bought it."
"Yeah, but think about something. For as long as this house stands, you're going to be the guardian of the gateway. Do you really want to do that for eternity?"
"No." Oz pulled back. "Do you think that's my lethargy to leave?" Xander nodded. "Yeah, it does make sense. I don't want to sell it though."
"So keep it for a few more decades and then sell it. If we have to, I'll help you find another house that you'll love just as much for when you need alone time." He let Oz go. "Or we could find a house we love together and hope that Giles does too."
Oz shook his head. "I want to move back to Sunnydale eventually. Just not at this moment. I'd rather everyone forgot who I was first."
"Oz, it's Sunnydale. Everyone's probably already forgotten. It's not like they remember anything about the ones we lost to the creatures."
"True, but I'd still rather have a little time free of doubting it."
"Okay, we're going to have to stay here for a little while anyway." Xander went back to chopping up his cheese, shooting Oz a small grin. "What are you going to eat today?"
"You," Oz said, pulling Xander away from the chopping block and pinning him to the refrigerator. He latched onto the pouting lips, holding him in place with just his lips. "Did you have an objection?" he asked when he pulled back for breath.
"No objection," Xander panted, pulling Oz back in for a kiss.
Methos looked over at Ray, shaking his head. "Would you like a cheese crepe, dear?" he asked, holding up the plate, but it was snatched from his fingers. "Xander, food and sex don't mix, especially not cheese crepes."
"Yay," Xander said, pulling back to nibble on his lunch. "Great, thanks," he said, tossing the plate back at the immortal as he pulled his lover out of the kitchen, taking a bite as often as he could.
Ray cut off a bite of his lunch and picked it up. "He'll need his strength," he said before taking a bite.
Methos could only agree. He'd felt that energy and drive before. Even if he never did again, he remembered quite vividly what it was like to be with Xander. He flipped his own crepe over, considering what he wanted to fill it with.
Xander looked around the house, sighing because everything was boring now. The little girl had left two days ago and now everything was kinda gray. Giles, who had been called by someone to help them deal with her, had left shortly after she had, so he was very bored. He looked over as Oz and Methos walked in with their clipboard. "How's the census going?" he asked, pulling Oz down into his lap to get a kiss.
"Good. We have one room left." Oz stole one last kiss and stood up. "All we have left is the room of swords and we need an extra hand. Up for it?"
"Maybe." Xander took Oz's held out hand. "Okay." He followed Oz through the blank room and the gateway, going to the room of swords and armor. They sat around the room, sorting out each sword by looks and characteristics. Xander passed the swords off to Methos, who recorded their ages or period of make, and if he could their makers. The swords went into holders and were put against the wall.
After about three hours of that, Xander started to look around for something more exciting to do. He caught Methos' amused expression and nodded outside, getting a nod in return, so he escaped. He wandered into the room with all the gateways, looking at the open ones to see what was going on. It was better than reality TV. He sat down in front of one, watching the courtesans work their magic in the obviously tense room. He was inches away from the mirror holding the gateway when Oz walked in and pulled him back. "What?" he asked, not looking up.
"Don't want you crossing." Oz sat down beside him, looking at the same mirror. "Tense situation?"
"Very. There's a war being planned and the Arch-Duke, that guy right there," he pointed at the guy in the funny colored robes and the huge hat, "is trying to gain favor to lead the army." He looked over at Oz. "There's a lot of tension and the courtesans are doing a *great* job with easing the stress."
"Cool. That was their first job description, even before they slept with the proper people." He reached out to touch the cool hand. "You okay?"
"Yeah, I'm just wondering what I would have been doing if I had been born back then." Xander went back to watching the mirror. "Can they see us?"
"Only if we get too close."
Xander nodded, staring at the people. "Would I have been doing that?"
"Maybe," Oz agreed. "It would have depended on where in the social order you were born and who found you before you reached your majority." Oz squeezed his hand. "Relax. You won't have to sleep with anyone you don't want to."
"Oz, why wouldn't I have to? I can run in different circles now, even though I never pushed it. I could be part of the idle rich, playing games with the idiotic sons."
"Nope." Oz scooted closer to him. "As soon as someone found out how you made your money, and they would because they'd look, they'd shun you. You'd end up doing that job." He pointed at the mirror in front of them. "Do you really want that?"
"No," Xander said quietly, "I'd like to have my own life and enjoy it. Can I do that?"
"I don't see why not. What would make you happier?"
"I said we could," Oz reminded him. "Where would you like to go?"
"There," Xander said, pointing at the mirror.
"No. It's too dangerous."
"So? You can fight. I can fight somewhat. We'd be fine."
"No," Oz repeated. "We can't go through the portals. It's too dangerous."
"I went through one," Xander admitted.
"You did what?" Oz asked, staring at his lover. "Where? Which one?"
"The one over there." Xander pointed at the mirror. "I stopped an assassination. I was good, I came back when something happened."
"Now, Xander," Oz said quietly. "I know you know how dangerous that was. Why did you do that?"
"Because I wanted to stop him from dying. It was the right thing to do."
"No, it wasn't. It was a bad thing. Someone there could have stopped it. You shouldn't go through those. You don't know what'll happen." He squeeze the hand he held again. "If you want to travel, I'll take you anywhere you want, but not through those." He leaned into the warm body. "Do you understand?"
"But I didn't get sick."
"No, but you changed an event in that time line. You don't know what you changed, or how you may have ruined their lives." He looked into the deep eyes but didn't see any understanding in them. "Xander, have you heard of the Grandfather paradox?" The young man shook his head. "If you go back and you kill your grandfather, would you exist?" Xander shook his head. "Then how did you do it?"
"Oh," Xander said after a few seconds thought. "So I could have changed the lives dramatically and started a paradox?"
"Or you could have changed it so much that their lives will never be the same. You don't know what stopping the assassination did to their lives. It could have been planned."
"I've known some cultures that had planned assassinations to make sure that the ruler didn't get too old or insane. It was planned by the higher-ups but not the people, so the people could riot and get mad at someone."
"Oh." Xander leaned into Oz's body. "Did it work?"
"It did for them. At least for a while, until they were taken over. Did you understand the point?"
"Yup." Xander looked down at his key stone pendant, touching it. "It'd be the same as going back in time and screwing something up there."
"Yeah, it could be," Oz said, pulling his lover into his lap with a grunt. "Nothing's certain when you go through portals like these. You could end up going somewhere other than where the portal shows. You could end up being captured and tortured or sold. Or you might end up somewhere nice and comfy. You can never tell."
"Can we leave here and travel?" Xander asked quietly.
"Definitely. Just tell me where."
"Okay. We'll start on this coast and work our way around?"
"Sure." Xander gave him a hug. "Thank you, Oz."
"Hey, I like to spoil you."
"Hmm, does that mean we can go shopping before we travel?"
"Sure. We'll drop your stuff back at *our* house and then we'll hit LAX and go somewhere."
"Oh, train? I liked the train. As long as we can get a sleeper."
"You'll love the European ones more then. They're a lot different. You get a whole compartment to yourself."
"Cool. Can we?"
"Yup. As soon as we get this done." He stood up, pushing his lover up in front of him. "Come, let's go finish sorting these swords." He looked around but Xander wasn't in the room with him anymore. He slowly turned to the mirror and went pale. "METHOS!" The older immortal came running, sword in hand. "Good, cool. Got to go get him." He took the sword, blocking Ray from coming through with him. "Mine."
"Yeah, but you need stuff," Ray reminded him, holding out a bag. "I grabbed this because I thought he might have gone across."
"I pushed him accidentally," Oz admitted, looking inside the bag. "Oh, jewels. Good, they're currency most anywhere." He jiggled the bag, nodding. "We're doing okay here." He took the sword Methos handed him, handing him his back. "Thanks, guys, we'll be back soon." He stepped through the portal and went directly to his lover's side, knocking two guards out on the way. "Xander," he said quietly as he knelt beside him, smiling when he got looked up at. "You okay?" he asked as he helped him up.
"Yeah, big ouchies on my head," Xander said, rubbing the back of his head. "I think I tripped." He looked around the room. "I'm in trouble, aren't I?"
"Yeah, we kinda are," Oz said, looking around. He pulled Xander up behind him, switching his sword to the hand he fought best with. "We're peaceful, it was an accident that brought us here." He nodded at the man in the big hat that was coming toward them. "Hi."
"How did you comest here?" he demanded regally.
"Through the portal," Oz said, pointing his sword at it. "We'd like to leave before we have a problem though. We're not supposed to be here."
"Leave them," a bored voice said from behind them.
Xander turned and smiled at the man, who gasped. "Um, am I in trouble for saving you?"
"No, young man, you are not," the King said, walking down to shake his hand. "I thank you for saving me." He smiled at Oz. "Is he your guard?"
"No, he's mine," Oz said, bowing slightly. "Xander, come back here," he ordered, pulling him closer. "We technically guard each other." He held onto the belt loop on the young man's jeans. "We really shouldn't be here."
"If you could find the portal, you are free to leave," the King said, "but we've researched past occurrences of people coming through the portal you speak of and they couldn't return for a few days if they didn't pass back through in under five minutes."
Oz looked at his watch then walked toward where the portal was, dragging Xander with him. They ran into a solid wall of air. "Nope, we're past time. How long?"
"Three days is the usual, though it has been up to thirty." The King clapped his hands. "Music for our new friends." He waved an older woman over. "Mother, this is the man who saved me and his ... what position do you hold within his household?"
Oz stopped Xander's explanation with a hand over his mouth. "We're bonded together. I'm his protector and he's mine."
"You're shield brothers?" the mother of the King asked them.
Oz nodded. "Close enough." He held out a hand. "Oz."
Xander grinned at her. "Xander," he said, doing the same.
She shook them both. "I am known as Victoria. Shall I show them to a room?" she asked her son.
"Please, mother. This party is about to end." He walked back to his throne and sat back down, returning to his bored demeanor.
Xander and Oz followed the older woman out of the meeting hall and up a flight of stairs. "He did something bad?" Oz asked quietly after stopping her on the stairs.
She smiled and patted the side of Xander's face. "Whether or not it was bad doesn't matter. What matters now is how well you guard him, young Oz. There are those that already would have him put to death for saving my son." She turned and continued up the stairs. "Come, we'll get you settled for the night and we'll see you in the morning. I'll have my maids bring something more appropriate up for you to wear." She looked at Xander's outfit and shook her head. "Not even the peasants wear cloth that coarse."
"We were sorting swords and armor," Oz explained, walking into their room first. He held out a hand, allowing Xander to come inside. "Could we talk with someone about getting semi- permanent clothes?"
"Tomorrow. I have a seamstress." She looked at the bulge in Oz's pocket. "Did you bring a pet?" she asked, delicately pointing at it.
Oz pulled the bag out and opened it to let her see inside. "No, I stopped to get some supplies otherwise I would have been right behind him."
She smiled brightly at them. "Good. People like you shouldn't toil under some Lord." She left them alone, closing the door behind her.
"I'm sorry," Xander and Oz said together, both waving the other off.
"I pushed you," Oz told him.
"Actually, I kinda took a step forward as you helped me up and got sucked through," Xander admitted with a head scratch as he looked around the room. "I thought I had more clearance to the mirror," he said when he looked back at Oz.
"So, in other words, Fate got us?"
"Yup, pretty muchly," Xander agreed, leaning closer to give him a kiss.
Oz backed away. "Not here. It's not acceptable and we don't want to change their opinions of us." He looked at the bed, then at the floor, shaking his head.
Xander sat on the end of the bed. "Forgive me if I'm wrong, but wouldn't shield brothers be sleeping together? I mean, weren't they basically married?"
"In our realm, yeah. Here? I'm not sure."
Someone tapped on the door and Oz reached over to open it, nodding the servant inside. "Sires, I was asked to come answer a few questions and to make some plans for your morning." He bowed to Xander. "They had thought that the King was mad with grief," he said quietly. "You saved him from the machinations of the Arch-Duke."
Xander smiled kindly at him. "I couldn't do anything less. I basically bumbled into it." The servant smiled. "Are you here to help us or to get information?"
"A little of both," he admitted with a grin of his own, "but mostly to help you. Are you really shield brothers?"
"Yup," Oz said. "We're not sure if it means the same thing here as it does at home though."
"It means men that have pledged to each other..." He saw the nods. "Ah, yes, the other part of the pact. It's not enforced here but it's also not talked about. It's best to keep it out of the common view."
Oz nodded. "That's what I expected. It's not always accepted in our realm either." He looked over at Xander. "What do you need?"
"Bath. I feel sticky from cleaning the swords."
"Did you really come through the gateway?"
"I'm the owner of the gatehouse we were working in," Oz told him quietly. "Xander possesses the keys."
"Wow." He looked around. "Sires, a bath would be most generous of you, but it's not the norm here."
Oz shrugged. "We've been cleaning swords all day, we're sticky and stink of metal polish. Would that be a good enough reason?" The servant nodded. "Good. While we're here, can we at least have two buckets of water a night? I'll warm it up on the hearth if I have to."
"Of course. You bathe every day?"
"It helps keeps sickness away," Xander told him. "We were trained to be this way."
"Oh. That's interesting." He bowed to them. "I'm Andral. Ask for me if you need anything else."
"Clothes in the morning," Xander said, looking at Oz. "Will we get stuff I won't itch in?"
"Probably. Looking at the robes the others were wearing, we should be able to get something decent for you to wear." He looked at the boy. "We'll probably want to go to the market tomorrow to gift our hosts with something. Could that be arranged?"
"Most definitely. Will you require a helper?" he asked, plainly begging.
"Sure. We probably could. We're not familiar with the money system after all," Xander said wisely. "We'll need someone to show us where to exchange what we have for money from here."
Andral nodded swiftly. "I can do that. There's a good money changer in the village." He backed out of the room. "I'll get you your water as soon as possible." He let the door close behind him.
Oz leaned over behind Xander, running a finger up and down his lower back. "You did that very well."
"I've been dreaming about doing something like this since I was a little boy," Xander said, stiffening as the finger hit a sensitive spot. "Don't do that."
"Okay." Oz kissed the spot. "We'll get baths and then go to bed." He sat back up as someone knocked. "Come in?"
A man in an old, mended robe walked in with a tub, followed by Andal. "Your bath, sires," he said, bowing to them. "Will there be anything else?"
"Just save a little of it to drink," Oz told him. "We'll be fine otherwise."
Andal held up the basket that he had taken off his back. "There's a small pitcher in here." He nudged the other servant out and winked, leaving them alone.
Xander walked over to the basket, looking inside it. "Gee, Oz," he said, turning around with the vial of oil that had been inside. "They know what we need."
"Servants can be like that," Oz explained, getting up to put the warmed water into the tub.
Methos looked up from his position in front of the mirror, giving his lover a pitiful look. "They're gone."
"I think it's on some sort of rotation," Ray said as he sat down next to him, handing over a plate of food. "Sometimes the mirrors are workin' and sometimes they're not, and sometimes they're on different mirrors. I can't figure out a pattern though."
"It must be some form of alignment problem," Methos said thoughtfully, looking back at the mirror he was guarding. "How long do you think they'll be there?"
"Not real sure, but I found blankets so we can nap down here if ya wanna." Ray reached over to steal a bite of food, grinning when his hand was stopped and kissed. "I only wanted a nibble."
"You have it," he said, handing it back. "I'm not hungry."
"It won't be that long, Methos, I promise," Ray soothed, putting the plate in his lap so he could wrap his lover in his arms. "They'll come back. Oz is too clever to let anything happen to Xander and that boy could bullshit his way outta anything that might hurt Oz."
"True, but I still worry. You know what happens when Oz fights."
"Yeah, but I doubt he's gonna have reason to be fightin' like that over there," Ray said quietly, hoping he was right. "The picture showed a ballroom scene. Sorta like what woulda been held in here."
Methos turned his head, giving Ray a light kiss on the cheek. "I'm lucky to have you, aren't I?"
"Yup, and don't you forget it either; otherwise, I'm gonna teach Mutley to lick you awake every morning."
"No, please, not *dog* drool," Methos sighed dramatically, leaning into the warm body. His hand snuck down to steal a piece of meat, slowing savoring the taste once he fought off Ray's hands.
Methos woke up on the third day and blinked as he saw the mirror opening. His gurgled squeal brought Ray instantly awake and sitting up next to him. He smiled as he saw Oz walking up to the portal, waving at him. Oz gave him a faint smile and held out a hand, and the man that took it caused the World's Oldest Immortal to almost faint. Xander stepped through first, turning back to help Oz through, then they both waved. Xander hopped back through to take three bags and then ran back through the portal as it started to close again.
"Whew. Almost didn't make it back," Xander said, grinning at Oz. "Then what would I have done without my fiercest protector?" He ran a fingernail across Oz's chin. "I'm ready to go home and stay there for a while. You?"
"Definitely. Still want to do Europe?" Oz led him over to the blank room, checking to make sure that Xander still had his key stone on, then they walked through, holding hands as usual.
Methos clambered up, narrowly missing Ray's hand, and ran after them. Or at least he tried and ran into the wall. He looked over at Ray, who was pointing at the stone. "Come on, then, let's go see what the imp's been up to."
Xander stuck his head back through the wall. "Get the bags, please? I have prezzies in there for you two." He disappeared again.
Ray stood up and grabbed the bags Xander had dropped after walking through, having to fight the mirror for a strap on one bag. He finally got it free, almost falling on his rear at the same time, and handed two over to his lover, making sure he had the stone in one hand and Methos' hand in the other before they walked across.
"Well?" Methos asked as soon as he walked through the other side's wall. "Where were you?" He looked at Richie, who was standing in the doorway. "When did you get here?"
"We've only been on the other side for three days," Methos protested.
"Time must run funny," Oz muttered as he came up for air. "Xander, babe, give out prezzies so we can go play some more. Now, or no topping."
Xander shivered and grabbed the bags from Ray's hand, pulling him down onto the floor. "We'll write you a report later," he said as he dug, pulling out four wrapped bundles. "Here, these are for you four, they're written on." He grabbed a vial of oil he had pulled out and followed Oz out of the room at a run.
Richie shook his head. "Where'd you guys come from?" he asked, pointing at the wall.
"It's a long story," Ray said quietly, standing up to hold Methos, who was still staring after the couple in shock. "Didn't Xander look great?" he asked Richie, hopping to get Methos snapped out of it.
"Yeah, really great," Richie said, looking behind him and licking his lips. "You wouldn't think that he'd be the leather pants type, especially not that tight. And did he put on muscle since I last saw you guys?" He turned his attention back to find Ray holding Methos back. "What's wrong with the old guy?"
"I'll kill him for corrupting Xander," Methos was growling, trying to get free.
"Gee, looked like the other way around," Richie said, walking in to look at his friend. "You've got to calm down, old fart, it's not good for you to get this excited at your age." He barely had time to wink at Ray before he found himself down on the floor with a pissed off immortal kneeling over his chest. "Yes? Can I help you?" he asked smartly.
"Don't *ever* say that about Xander again," Methos hissed. "I will not allow it!"
"Sure, whatever," Richie said, wiggling and rolling until he got free. "Whatever you say, old fart. Hey, Ray, should I vacate my room for a bit?"
"Nah. Go eat. Or go talk to the dragon. He's usually entertaining."
Richie shook his head once to clear his ears. "Dragon? You mean the head over the fireplace?"
"Yup. If he likes you, he'll talk to you. Oh, and tell him Oz and Xander are back. He'd like to know that since they're thinking about freeing him."
Richie nodded slowly like he wasn't too awfully sure of the detective's sanity. He walked out of the room and went into the living room, coming back a few moments later very pale. "It talks," he said, pointing. "It talks and it's *British*."
"Could be worse," Ray said with a grin, "it could be German, or Russian."
Richie leaned against the wall, not aware that he was slowly sliding down it. "Yeah, I guess." He looked over at Methos. "Wasn't your life uncomplicated and normal a few months ago?"
"Yes, but that was before I met Xander," Methos said dryly. He reached a hand down. "I apologize for attacking you, oh irritating one, but I'm very protective of Xander." Everyone looked up as a shrill scream floated down the hallway. "Even when he makes noises like that one."
"Was that him or Oz?" Ray asked, staring at the ceiling. "Oh, hey, look. The words changed."
"When the blockage is removed the swing will change," Methos read, then shook his head. "No more cryptic than the last one, but then again it didn't appear until he brought Xander here." He wrapped an arm around Ray's waist and led him from the room. "We'll tell them about it later, after we get an account of their time away from us."
"Okay." Ray grinned slyly at him. "Wanna go make some noise of our own? I wanna try it on that bench in the garden."
"Only if you're under me," Methos growled, leaning over to nip him.
"Sure." He pulled his lover out to where a peculiar bench sat, one with holes all through it.
Methos tapped on the couple's door, holding up a tray when it popped open, trying hard not to watch Oz's naked rear as he trotted back to the bed. "Ray thought you might need some refueling." He walked over to the bed at the twin grins and laid the tray between them. "There, now where were you and do I have to go clean up a mess?"
"Nope, to the second one," Oz said, looking over at Xander. "Did you catch the name of the country we were in?"
"Nope, I was having too many problems at first and then it became a little less important."
Oz nodded, turning his attention back to Methos. "We're not sure about that one part." He smiled at the groan. "What? We were busy fighting a war and helping the King keep his throne from the guy who killed his family instead of him." He shrugged at the incredulous look, picking up Xander's wandering hand to give the back a kiss. "He's a very good courtesan and political mover. He smoothed over a lot of burnt feelings by being himself."
Methos shook his head and walked out, slamming the door behind him.
Oz looked over at Xander. "Think he believed it?"
"Nope. But I can prove it," Xander reminded him, looking down at his chest. "Why did I scar? You don't."
"Yeah, but we like you just the way you are, scars and all." Oz leaned down to lick across the chest-wide scar, a proven ticklish spot on his baby's body. Xander shrieked and wiggled to get away. He looked at the bowl of berries that Xander was threatening him with. "And? You'll have to clean it up and we won't have the bed anymore."
Xander looked at the bowl then at his lover, reaching into it to plop one of the plump blueberries into Oz's mouth. "Then I'll just have to occupy you some other way," he said with a wink.
"Dance for me?"
"Ohhhh," Xander said with a shiver. "I like doing that. Where's the clothes?" He looked around. "We don't have the bags."
"I can fix that," Oz said, stealing a berry as he got out of bed and walked to the door. He opened the door, sticking his head out. "Ray, we need our stuff!" he yelled.
"I could dance for everyone," Xander suggested slyly. "Make poor Methos pant and attack Ray?" He grinned at the head shake. "C'mon, I could teach Ray how to do it. You could even watch the lessons."
Oz wiped off his suddenly sweaty brow. "Yeah, okay. I like that idea." He took the bags, nodding Ray inside. "Xander wants to show off a new skill. He's even offered to teach it to you if you'd like." He looked inside the first bag, tossing it away with a muttered, "Formal clothes." The second got tossed to the naked man on the bed. "Don't ever do it in your leathers though," Oz warned. "I won't be responsible for that." He gave Ray an expectant look.
"Oh, I thought you meant in here." Ray gave Oz a small grin. "Not in here?"
"Nope, we're gonna get you laid *real* well," Xander said as he slid into a pair of pants under the covers. "Go get everyone and we'll be down there in a minute. Not in the living room. I'm not trusting that dragon after the last one we met."
"You met," Oz reminded him. "I only met him at the end of the sword. You were his ..." he coughed, "house guest."
"Yeah, blame me for being kidnapped," Xander said, standing up. He smiled at Ray. "Go get Meth and join us in the dining room?"
"Ball room, there's plenty of room for you in there." Oz opened the door, pushing Ray out of it when he still appeared to be stuck. "You know, maybe you should put on one of the formal robes until we get down there. Don't want Methos to be stuck on the stairs and miss this." He walked over to the first bag, pulling out a light blue robe. "Hmm, mine."
Xander walked over to the third bag, pulling open the top and dumping everything out. He frowned and picked up the broken little vial. "We broke it," he said, holding up the ends. The vial had been a special present from the King's mother, a special oil that the first smell of had driven Oz wild. They had almost scandalized the entire Court and the visiting dignitaries that were there to try and get peace.
"I'm sorry," Oz said, walking over to give him a hug. "What soaked the scent up?"
Xander picked up a blood red robe. "This. I think." He smelled it. "I can't tell."
Oz sniffed and got hard. "Yeah, that's it," he groaned. "Put it on and let me grab some shorts. I'm not going to be able to make it much longer than your first turn." He grabbed a pair of boxers and pulled them on, straining to get it on over his rigid cock. "Okay, let's go. Maybe someone's got a cold drink."
Xander grinned at him as he did the robe up at his navel. "Maybe. Or else you'll be giving people a show too," he said with a wipe down the side of Oz's face. "C'mon. Let's go *tease*."
"This is gonna be good," Oz murmured as he followed the robed body down the stairs. They found everyone in the ballroom and Oz sat down in the empty chair, getting comfortable for this. He'd seen this performance before and it was something. Xander had found another way for his GHSness to come out and it was *good*.
Xander took off his robe, smiling at Ray as Methos almost fell out of his chair. He looked down at his barely covered body, then back at his friends. "What?" he asked innocently. He started to stretch backwards, ending up in a perfect backbend. Oz clapped. "Thanks, babe, but I need to concentrate. I'm going to do the abridged story version instead of one of the parts of the story." He popped back up and twisted, going into his mind where the music was. It's too bad he couldn't have recorded some of it, but where they had been didn't have tape recorders or CD's yet. He started a slow movement of his hips, just barely moving them. Then all of a sudden, he leapt up and came down, moving and swaying to a tune only he and Oz had ever heard. He heard the gasps as he went backwards again, his sweat making the formerly transparent pants clear. He kicked over, slowly doing a handstand, just like his teacher had taught him. He smiled in remembrance of his teacher's joy at finding such a supple body. He continued over, ending up in a split, then bending forward to touch his forehead to his knee. The beat in his mind changed, so he rolled onto his side, kicking up into a feet-splayed stance, his hips moving again as the rhythm start a slow, almost sensuous beat. He moved to stand in front of Oz, swaying gracefully, his arms over his head as his flat stomach rippled. He smiled down at his lover as his cum exploded out of him, turning away from him and going over to dance in front of the other couple.
Methos grabbed Ray's hand and squeezed it as Xander moved over. The dance was almost a belly-dance, but it was much more athletic, made for the male form instead of the female form. The immortal could feel himself grow harder as he got caught up in the hypnotic motion of the young man's hips. He felt his hand squeezed so he stopped leaning forward, but he couldn't take his eyes off the stomach flowing in waves, the sheer coordination that Xander now had. Whoever had taught him this had definitely found Xander his ultimate weapon - his body.
Methos looked over at Ray as Xander flowed backward, giving the tight body an appraisal. "Do you want to learn how to do that?" he asked his lover, who nodded frantically. "I'll let you learn, but you're going to be forbidden to put on a show for anyone else."
"Hey, not an issue," Ray said quietly, eyes stuck on Xander where he had went back into a perfect backbend again, holding it for a long time but still doing the same stomach movements. "I'll never be able to do that," he whispered, pointing.
Methos' breath caught as he saw Xander. He reached out to touch him, but he was too far away. Suddenly, Xander surged to his feet, his whole style changing. His dance now looked more aggressive, more of a fighting style than anything else. The young man came down out of a flying kick, landing in a split, both arms upraised and his wrists crossed. He slowly got to his feet, trudging along behind an imaginary keeper, then he threw himself to the floor. It aroused every protective instinct in Methos' body, he wanted to *hurt* whomever had done this to poor Xander. Then the boy started to dance again.
Slower this time, the moves becoming even more hypnotic. No one could take their eyes off him. Every bit of Xander was swaying now, bringing imaginary people to him, tossing them away after dancing with them. Until one imaginary person made him throw his head back. He danced that way, his arms flung out, his knees bent, little cooing noises coming from his throat.
Methos wasn't aware of the hand on his cock, he was too engrossed in Xander and his story. Very quickly, Xander surged up against his imaginary friend, beating him down onto the floor then dancing over him. He smiled as the grinding actions started again, the dancer moving his hands over his stomach, then he turned and walked away unfulfilled. Xander stood in front of him again, his clothing hiding nothing, his attitude much more aggressive now. And it turned the older immortal on. Xander was showing them his power, his strength, how much he could do for them, but only if he wanted to. He wiggled his way over to Oz, leaning down to kiss him, and they could see that his back was doing the wave-like motions now. Every muscle had been finely trained to serve it's master and he was showing them how good he could be.
Xander straddled Oz's lap, shimmying just for him now. His hips went back to their side-to-side grinding action, his body moving up and down over the lap but never quite touching his lover. Oz groaned and reached out for him, but Xander moved backwards, hopping into a series of back flips, ending up leaning against a wall as he panted. "Whoo!" he shouted, jogging back over to hug Oz. "I didn't lose it!"
"Nope, you didn't lose it," Oz said, pulling him down. "Do some more of that."
Richie broke the mood by coughing and standing up, then he ran from the room.
Oz looked over at Methos, who was ignoring them because of the head in his lap. "Got a problem there," he said quietly, pointing at Ray's erection when he finally got his teacher's attention.
"I'll deal with that in a few moments. Xander, could you teach Ray to do that?"
"Sure!" He grinned. "Anytime. I know fourteen different stories in that dance series and another series too." He looked down at his lover. "He's forbidden me to do those while I'm wearing my leathers though. Just because it caused a little riot and orgy." He lunged down, stroking himself against Oz's cock, making him groan and come again. "There, feel better, babe?" he asked, giving him a kiss.
"Yeah, much," Oz sighed, pulling Xander in for a hug. "The other series is much more sexually oriented. It's the filler stories of the guys he was dancing with." He weakly patted Xander's butt. "I'm ready for a nap, and Methos would like privacy. Bed?"
"Sure. I'll drag Ray down to practice later." Xander got up and pulled Oz with him, helping him up to bed.
"I like how the guy's invigorated by sex," Ray said, pulling off of his sucking duty. "Can I learn both?"
"Yes," Methos moaned, pushing his head back down. "You will."
Ray smiled, he had always enjoyed getting his way. Now he'd have a foolproof way to do it.
"Three months!" Ray asked, stepping back from his teacher. "You learned all that in three months?"
"Yup. Well, actually, we were there for three months, I learned it all in under two. I needed something to do after being kidnapped by a dragon and his human." He shrugged at the incredulous look. "It was part of my fight training. Oz agreed I could do it." He waved a hand down his toned, fit, taut body. "I was good at it."
"Obviously. I couldn't *wear* Meth out earlier. Will ya teach me all of it?"
"Sure. Acrobatics, fighting stuff, or the dance stuff first?"
"I'm not too good on the gymnastics stuff, so how about the dancing stuff? Something that I can go upstairs and make my lover pant with maybe?"
"Sure. Where is he anyway?"
"Taking a call from Joe, something about Macleod. I think he got free or somethin'." Ray shrugged when Oz stared at him. "Sorry, go ask the older guy."
"I should," Oz agreed, but he sat down. "I want to watch this though." Methos walked in and sat beside Oz, whispering in his ear. "Son of a bitch," Oz muttered. "I knew his contrite attitude was too good to be true."
"Problems?" Xander asked as he started to stretch. "Should I go get my sword too?"
"No, we're safe in here," Methos told him. "Sword?" He looked at Oz. "You're teaching him how to fight?"
"The dance is a fighting style," Xander told him as he popped back up. "My teacher thought I was going to be pretty good with some more practice."
"He found the perfect means to teach Xander how to fight," Oz explained. "He did much better than I expected in those three months."
"Three months? How much could he have learned?" Methos asked dryly.
"A lot," Oz said in an equal tone. "Much more than I expected but he's able to win a fight against someone."
"Someone of our class or someone of under a year's practice?"
"Both. His teacher was training a King's son, and it was necessary training. Xander learned all he could in between teasing the higher-ups into a better mood."
Xander sighed. "Oz, I was doing what was best for the Kingdom. The war could have been much worse if I hadn't taken up a position in the Court."
"As in Judiciary?" Ray asked.
"No, as in of the King." Xander pointed at the wall. "Go stretch, I don't want to hear you complain about cramps later," he said, doing a dead-on impersonation of his former teacher. He missed that guy sometimes. He shrugged it off and went back to his stretching.
Methos leaned back in his chair, his arm across the back. "Well, I must admit, it looks pretty."
Oz tossed his sword over, he had expected this. "Do the second kata you learned," he ordered.
Xander hefted the familiar weight, starting the swift, graceful movements as soon as he was told what to do. He stopped about half-way through, tossing it back, then pulled one of his daggers out, finishing it with that since this was all close work. This one was all about being less than six inches from your opponent and he didn't trust himself not to stab Ray. He finished to clapping, bowing to Oz and Methos. "Not that hard. Even you learned that one, Oz."
"Yup." Oz put his sword on the chair beside him. "Teach him, he's stretched enough. We want to watch this."
"Yes, please," Methos said, giving his lover a smile. "If you learn something magnificent, I'll gladly give you a reward."
"Oh, you're gonna do that anyway," Ray told him. "Or else you can get up here and do this."
Xander nudged him. "Don't worry about it, he'll be impressed no matter what you do." He smiled at Methos. "After all, he wouldn't want to start to undervalue you again. Would he?"
"No, he wouldn't. One attack of the peachskin thongs was enough," Methos agreed.
"Good," Xander purred, still smiling. He turned to Ray, winking at him. "I'd hate to have to find a worse torture. Though," he stopped to think, "I do have a few tricks I could train Ray to do."
"No," Methos said quickly, "you will *not* corrupt my Ray any farther. Not unless you want to have some more payback, Xander."
"Me?" Xander asked innocently. "Corrupt him?" He grinned at Ray. "Have I *corrupted* you, Ray?"
"Yup, but all in a good way. Let's do this. Before you two get into another play fight."
"Okay. Do this." He took up position on the floor, one arm stretched out over his bent knee. Ray mimicked him. "Now stand slowly." They both did, then Xander had to brush the hair out of his eyes. "Okay, now do this," he instructed after getting back into position, twisting his hips in a circle while barely moving the rest of him. "Follow it with this." He did a sideways step.
Ray did it then got back down on the floor to put it all together. Methos clapped when he was done. "Thanks," he said with a light flush. "That wasn't too hard."
"No, but that's the first part of an invitation dance." Xander did the next few steps, having to stop when Oz rushed the floor and gave him a kiss. "Gee, not part of the program," he murmured as he stole another one. "Naughty you, go sit down."
Oz trudged back to his seat with a leer for his old friend. "He said it was an invitation."
"Yes, but if you continue to rut on the floor, I'll never get to see the whole invitation so I won't be able to respond to it," Methos said, smacking him on the arm. "Sit still and act like the celibate priest you once were."
"Oz was celibate?" Ray asked. "When?"
"When we first met. It was all part of the duty." Methos waved a hand at them. "Continue."
Xander turned Ray away from them so he'd quit blushing. "Okay, now we're going to do something to tack onto it." He slowly did a complicated series of arm movements, all meant to entice a lover to him. "Okay, now do it with me."
Methos watched as Ray did the complicated steps, trying very hard to ignore the hardness starting to spring up. As soon as Ray was done, he hopped up and dragged him from the room. "Only with me," he told him over and over as he pulled the younger man up the stairs, ignoring Ray's smile.
Oz looked at Xander, giving him a few claps. "Yeah, I think that went well. Want to help me go shopping?"
"Clothes or food?" Xander asked as he strolled over to sit in his lover's lap. He stole a light kiss. "I could use some food."
"That's where I was going. Go put on clothes, and not the leathers, and we'll go."
"Okay." Xander got up and sashayed from the room, teasing his lover as only he could.
Oz groaned and followed him up the stairs. They had time.
Xander looked around the chip aisle, trying to decide what he wanted for a snack. "I used to miss having these," he said as he touched a bag. "Now it's kinda different some how."
"Yeah, I know. Want ice cream?"
"Oh, I have *so* been craving ice cream." Xander jogged down the aisle, going to grab some ice cream from three aisles over.
In the fruit aisle, Methos' head snapped up as he felt another immortal walk into the store. He handed Ray the tomatoes he was choosing then slowly walked over to where Oz was, hand on his sword as he scanned the thin crowd. Oz was looking around, but gave him a nod. They walked forward together, but just as quickly as it started, it stopped.
Oz ran toward the frozen aisles, searching for Xander. "He's not here," he called, waving Methos over.
"Someone stole him?" Ray asked. "How many times does this happen to the guy?"
TO BE CONTINUED...