Screw the Rules, I'm Going!
Xander looked up as someone tapped on his workroom door, smiling at the man walking through it. "Hey, Jack, what's up?" he asked, giving him a little hug, remembering that Jack was not used to male interaction like that.
"General Hammond okayed Daniel to go back to where we found those first pieces," he said, pointing at the pieces Xander was working on. "We found a few more." He pulled out a large bag and handed it over. "Some of them are really small."
"Yeah, but I guess we'll have to get this one to work before anything else can be built," Xander said with a grin. "Thanks. Why else are you here?" he asked with a smirk when he saw how uncomfortable Jack was.
"General Hammond has our whole team on downtime and I've to come take over for Mayfield until this base's real commander gets out of the hospital." Xander looked concerned. "Heart attack a few months ago."
"Been there," Xander sighed. "Recovery sucked." He looked at the box. "Is that the metal?"
"Yup. Sam wanted you to work with it and show her how."
"And they wanted you to look over a substitute we made of the energy stuff."
"Cool, you guys figured out how to make it?"
"Almost," Sam said from the doorway, giving him a smile. "We found one that works, but it's much more volatile. More like nitroglycerine." She leaned against the doorframe. "So, will you work with me?"
"Sure. Um, have you talked to...." She nodded. "Cool. And did they figure it out?"
"They said something about smelting that I didn't understand. I really don't deal in metals," she admitted.
"That's cool. Do you have the evaluations? I might be able to read them."
She laughed. "Yeah, we do." She waved at Jack. "I'm going to take over Daniel's office space for now."
"There's an empty place on the other side," Xander offered. "She stormed out yesterday because of Mayfield. *Major* argument."
"We know," Jack told him sourly.
"That's why we're here," Sam told him. She smiled as Daniel walked behind her. "Hey, you taking over your office?"
"Just for a few minutes," Daniel told her. He stuck his head in the room. "Mayfield just left. Teal'c gave him the orders and watched him pack to make sure he didn't take any of the reports with him."
Jack smiled at that. "I'm sure he was thrilled," he said sarcastically. "Okay, everyone get settled in."
"Xander, can we steal one of the lamps?" Daniel asked, pointing at the two military issue ones sitting in the corner.
"Sure and I've got an extra one under the counter," he offered, pointing. "Sam, Oz is at home setting up my forge right now, so let me make sure it works and then we'll invite you up for supper and work. 'Kay?"
She nodded. "Yeah, that'd be great. I'll go find the chemical analysis of the energy metal." She headed for Daniel's office, taking one of the lamps from him.
Jack listened. "Eww," floated down the hall in Sam's voice. "Who can work under these lights!"
"That's why we have lamps," Xander called. He looked at Jack. "So, now I answer to you?" He nodded. "Cool. I may need to take a few days off this to work at the forge with Sam. Where are you guys staying anyway?"
"There's room here for base personnel," Jack told him.
"No cheap motel this time?" Xander said. Jack shook his head. "Crap, that sucks."
"We took over the house above this and are using that for bunking down," Jack told him, giving him a smile. "How's it going?"
"Well, I've got the second ring together, but there's a bunch of stuff that I'm not sure where it goes. I sent the second ring to Sam yesterday, but I guess she didn't get it."
"No, it went to the people who tacked the first one together," Sam said from the doorway. "When's Oz getting back?"
"He won't be coming in today," Xander said with a faint shrug. "Where's Blair?"
"He'll be down in a little while. He had to get supplies," Jack said, grimacing at Sam, who was smirking. "Wipe it, Carter," he warned. "Those two are going to drive us all into old age very quickly."
"Some of us faster than others," Daniel said from behind her, smiling at Jack to take the sting out of his comment. "Blair'll be down in an hour or so. How's it going?"
"Not great. There's a bunch of pieces that I don't know where they go. The other one I saw had covers both ends, but that wouldn't account for all these extra pieces." He looked at the pieces Jack had brought him. "Unless there's some sort of strings inside to help resonate." He shrugged. "I'm about lost."
"Just don't get too upset," Sam warned. "Janet said he might still be itching," she explained at Jack's confused look.
"Yup, very muchly," Xander agreed. "The base doctor had to give me tranqs to help with the first minutes of gelling the last time I got frustrated." He looked around her at Daniel. "How's the baby ferret?"
"Dessie's fine," Daniel told him, coming in and showing pictures of his and Blair's ferret.
"Dessie?" Xander asked.
"We argued about his name for days but since he kept heading right for our sociology books to snuggle up with, we named him after Desmond Morris."
"Ahhh, how cute. I caught one of his lectures on TLC the other day, one of the ones on human sexuality using animalistic drives."
"Yup, that's Dessie," Blair said as he walked in. He handed Sam the box he had been carrying and gave Xander a hug. "Hey, you. How's it going?"
"Frustratingly," Xander told him. "I've got extra pieces." He glanced at Daniel and Blair's smile got brighter. "Congrats," he whispered as he gave Blair another hug. "So, what're you guys doing here?"
"We're all here to work on this project," Sam said, handing the box back to Blair. "Any idea how long it'll take to set up the forge?"
"It should be set up by tonight, but it'll take me most of a day to make sure it heats up right. Come out tomorrow night and we'll work on the metal stuff."
"Thanks, Xander." She left the men alone.
Blair rolled his eyes. "The military works on a timetable," he reminded the younger man.
"They all do," Xander agreed. "So, Jack, what else can I help you with today?"
"Just with the lamps and to help Sam." He waved. "I'm going to go survey the wreck Mayfield left."
Daniel closed the door behind him. "Xander, are you just frustrated because you have these extra pieces? Or is it the whole 'weapon' thing?"
"Both," he admitted, "but the extra pieces part is getting bigger every minute I try and figure out where they go." He pointed at the bag Jack had handed him. "I'm guessing some of these are the missing pieces from the rings and handle, but I have no idea where the others went."
"Well, I've got tape of the chamber where we found it if that'll help," Daniel offered.
"Yeah, it might," Xander said, frowning slightly. "Were there any drawings?"
"There were, but they're very faint."
"Which would suck if it's the instruction manual," Blair pointed out.
"True," Daniel agreed. "Xander?" he asked when he noticed the young man was playing with the necklace he always wore. "What's up?"
"I'm thinking that as a template, this piece sucks," he told Daniel. "I've been trying to remember everything about the one I saw and I'm coming up with blank spots."
"Try relaxing about it," Blair suggested.
"Hypnosis?" Daniel suggested.
"No, I need to sit down and create," Xander said, standing up. "I'm heading home, guys, tell Sam to come out tonight if she needs me." He left in his haze, going home to create something new.
Oz looked up as Xander walked through the house and out onto the back patio, getting out of his way when he saw the look on his face. "I'll go get you some water," he said quietly, not wanting to break into his creating trance. He hurried into the house for the rest of everything that they would need for Xander to create something. He'd seen this state too many times to not understand it.
He grabbed the phone on his way back out, dipping the bucket into the pool for water for the forge. He put everything down and called the resort in Las Vegas, where Methos and Ray were helping Giles. "Hey, he's in that state again," he reported to Giles, who was very interested in it. He snorted and hung up, going to get the videocamera to make a record of this. But he couldn't find it. He eventually gave up and went back to guard Xander while he worked, trusting Henrietta to take care of anyone who came to the door. He watched as the forge started to burn, impressed with the ease Xander handled this skill. It'd been a long time since they'd done this.
He jumped as the phone rang, answering it. "Yeah?" He smiled at the voice on the other end. "Yeah, he's back in one of those states," he told Ray. "Fully down, didn't even hear the phone ring." He looked at Xander, who was coaxing the fire a little higher. "Yeah, we're fine," he told Methos, who took the phone. "Yup, one of those." He smiled. "Yeah, I remember when Jace went into them. You think Heph's helping him?" He nodded. "Makes sense to me. Especially when you count the other stuff he did when he was in this state." He watched as Xander tossed a block of the energy metal in there. "No, Xander!" he yelled. "Not that one." But he couldn't move. He had to watch as the fire grew and spread as the metal liquified. "Oh, hell," he muttered, then remembered about the phone. "He tossed in a block of the energy metal," he told Methos. "Yeah, that stuff. It's liquified around the stones and coals. No, he wanted a coal one. We agreed on using the clean coal, but yeah, he did just put one in there." He watched as Xander stirred it around. "No, it's not flaming," he said, getting up to look at it. "The stuff spread around the coals. Xander, is that going to keep it hot?" His mate nodded absently. "Yeah, that's what he said, Methos." He sat down, watching as Xander put in a chunk of the silver metal to heat. Then he watched as Xander pulled it out and started to chisel into the soft metal. "Huh. It's some sort of sign. All right." He hung up and tossed the phone back toward the chairs, not noticing when it hit the pool.
A few hours later Daniel, Blair, and Sam all walked out to come join them, Sam staring at the block Xander was carving.
"When did he get near the gate?" she asked Daniel, who had spent more time with him than she had.
"He didn't," Daniel said, coming over to look at what Xander was working on. "They are the chevrons."
Oz pulled them away. "Give him a few more. That's his second one and the first one took almost this long." He waved Blair over. "Hey, how's it going?"
"They're happy together," Sam told him, sitting down next to him. She caught the block Xander sent over his shoulder, looking at the chevorns on the block. "Is this an address, Xander?"
He shrugged as he used a clean cloth to wipe off the second block. "Not a clue, Sam," he sighed. He picked up one of his picks to make a few final scrapings in the points, then tossed that one at her too. He wiped off his hands as he turned to look at them. "All I know is that I had to come do that."
"Oh." She looked them both over. "Well, did you know *why* you had to make them?" He shook his head. "All right, I'll send these home tonight," she said, standing up. "Oz, can I use your office? Daniel said you had a good scanner."
"Sure, let me get you logged on," he said, leading her into the house.
Daniel looked over at Xander. "What else have you *had* to create?"
"Well, there's been a few pieces of jewelry," Xander told him, thinking about it. "About eight from what Oz said."
"Nothing else?" Blair asked.
Xander shook his head. "Not a thing. I don't do more than jewelry and the occasional dagger. Boot knives are bigger than I usually do."
"Huh," Blair said, looking at Daniel. "If I were to ask if I could hypnotize you, maybe to find out a little more about those, would you let me?"
Xander nodded. "As long as Oz is here. I don't want to go under without him."
"Hey, it's all good with me," Blair agreed. "Got something to do it with?"
"We've got *lots* of jewelry, pick something," Xander offered. He smiled at Oz as he walked out. "Blair wants to hypnotize me to see what I was thinking when I was working."
"If it works, okay," Oz agreed, taking off Xander's keystone necklace. "Here, use this. It's our version of the keystone that controls the Hellmouth." He sat behind Xander, holding him tightly. "Just relax," he said quietly, "and watch Blair."
Blair wrapped some of the chain around his finger around to shorten it then started to move it. "Watch the chain, Xander. Relax." He shifted a little closer, watching as his newest subject started to relax under his careful care. "Just a little farther down," he coached. "Relax a little more for me, Xander, okay? I need to get you to the point where I can talk to you and have you tell me what you were thinking while you were creating."
"I had pictures that popped into my head," Xander told him in a little boy's voice. "Just a few of them, but they appeared."
"All right, that's good," Blair said, smiling at Oz. "Do you know where they came from?" Xander shook his head. "Okay. Did you get any other pictures?"
"A really pretty ring. Oh, and a light holder as a peace offering."
"That's good," Daniel said. "Do you know what those symbols meant?"
"They're somewhere that I don't have to go to finish the weapon," Xander said innocently. "I make jewelry and pretty things."
"I know you do," Daniel said, looking at Oz, who shrugged. "Do you know where the symbols came from? What place they go to?"
"Nope," Xander said, grinning. "I just know that I can go there. That I need to go there."
"All right. That's good. I want you to come back now," Blair said, reaching over to rub Xander's arm. "You do that very easily," he said when Xander came back.
"Yeah, they do that at the spa to relax me," Xander told him. "So, when can we go?"
"Xander," Daniel said gently, "you can't go. Even if it's a real spot, you can't go."
Oz snorted, backing away from Xander. "I'm staying out of this," he said when Blair looked at him. "Blair, want to help me with supper?"
"Sure," Blair said, standing up so he could follow Oz inside. He knew a wall of stubbornness when he saw one, he'd run into many times in the past with Jim.
"Will be going just as soon as I make a prezzie for them," Xander said, standing up and going back to his forge. "And if you try to keep me from doing this, then I'll go around you," he said without looking at his friend.
Daniel's mouth fell open. He'd never run into this attitude before. "I'll call Hammond," he said carefully, not promising anything as he stood up and walked back into the house. Maybe the General would be able to talk some sense into the younger man.
Xander smiled as he tossed a block of metal into the forge, watching as it heated. "Yeah, I know what to give them. We have to prove that we're ready to talk to them." He flipped some coals over the metal, waiting patiently while it heated.
General Hammond smiled as Xander walked in with a small bag tied to his belt. "How goes your project?" he asked kindly, waving Xander at a seat. He wondered why no one had told him that the boy had come in, but that was all right, he could talk some sense into the boy now.
"It'd go better if I understood why there were so many extra pieces, but now I know where I have to go to find that out."
"Xander, you can't go," Hammond told him gently.
Xander just gave him a gentle smile. "I'm sure, but I'm still going. Otherwise, you guys will never prove that you're ready to talk to them." He stood up. "I'm going now, Daniel's running this way and so's Jack. They can go with me, Sam's waiting on me so I'd better go join her." He smiled at the General again. "We'll be back in a few minutes, I promise." He walked out of the office and the General found himself pinned to his chair.
"What the... Let me up!" he yelled.
"It isn't him," a dark voice said as a dark haired man appeared. "Now, if only you humans hadn't believed the lying bastards maybe none of this would have happened."
"Who are you!" Hammond yelled.
"One of the people who Xander anchors for," Ares told him, then disappeared, at the same time as the Stargate fired up.
By the time the General got out of his office, the gate had closed. He looked down at the computer, frowning at the symbols on it. "Where does this go?" he demanded. The guy just looked up at him and shrugged. "Well, find out!"
"Yes, sir," the man said smartly, working to figure out where it was.
Xander looked around the chamber they found themselves in, nodding in appreciation at the subtle colors the marble was accented with. He lit the metal on his brazier, holding it out to the person coming towards them. "We come in peace and hope to talk to you about an alliance," he told the man.
The man smiled at Xander, taking the small gift. "So, you've found that already?"
Xander looked up, smiling at the God who was standing in front of him. "Yes, Hephaestus, we've found it, but we're working on making it for ourselves as I found it across the realmal boundary." He bowed again and pulled his second gift out of the pouch. "I also have a gift for you, made without your help," he said, handing the cuff over. "I thank you for all your help while I was learning and hope to serve you while I do what I enjoy."
Hephaestus laughed in joy at the light cuff the man had made for him. "I accept your offer. Come, talk to me and the people I chose to help." He limped off in the direction he had appeared from, leading them into another room. "These humans are ready for you now," he announced, and the people around him cheered. He turned to smile at Daniel and Sam. "Welcome to Atlantis, young ones."
Sam blinked a few times. "At..Atlantis?"
Hephaestus nodded, still smiling. "I saved the artisans and scientists that I could and put them here, where they would be safe from the test we allowed for you." He waved a hand at the empty couch in front of his throne. "Sit, please, and discuss with us." He looked at Xander. "You, take the warrior and go home. Your mate will not be happy and neither will the Gods you anchor for."
Xander grinned and impulsively hugged him. "Thank you, Hephaestus. You were a very good teacher and I hope to make you proud with my jewelry. Feel free to pop in anytime and tell me if I need to worship you." He stopped for a second. "Oh, when I threw some of that into my forge, it wrapped around the coals and heated them much faster, and kept them hotter, than I thought was possible. The intense heat liquified it instantly instead of letting it burn."
Hephaestus nodded. "Good. I'd always thought that this might have a use in that area. Go home, young man, before we get invaded by Strife."
"Sure." Xander waved at all the gauzily-clad people. "Bye. Be nice to them. Should I send the other one?"
"Sure, why not," Hephaestus said. "And the other warrior. You can even send this one back once you're home safely."
Xander nodded and turned, jogging back to the gate. "Home?" he asked Jack, starting to push in the symbols backwards from what they had been to come here.
"The sun over the pyramid," Jack said, grabbing Xander's arm as the gate opened. "We are going to have a *long* talk, young man," he promised as he dragged Xander back through the gate. He found Blair and Teal'c at the bottom of the ramp. "Give me a second and then we've been invited back there." He looked around but Xander had disappeared. "Never mind. Sir, we've been asked to come back with these two? It's not a dangerous situation but I will be talking with Xander," he promised.
"Good," General Hammond called down. "You'll be able to show me where he lives. Go and give me a very good report, SG-1." The microphone clicked off.
Jack nodded his people through the gateway. "It's Atlantis," he told Blair before they left.
No one saw Teal'c go pale but cross anyway.
Xander reappeared on his couch, smiling up at Strife. "Thanks. It's worth the price."
"Oh, I'm sure they'll make you pay," Strife promised. He rubbed his chest. "You and Unc Heph make pretty things," he said before leaving him alone to face Oz.
"I'm home," Xander called. No one answered him so he went looking for Oz, who was sitting in his office. "Sorry, but I had to," he offered hesitantly.
"That's what I suspected," Oz said, not looking up from his programming. "Who was it this time? Ares?"
"Hephaestus. He helped me learn by giving me those trance-like states." Oz looked up at that. "I made him a prezzie after he called me to come to him, that's what those blocks were."
"Ah." Oz leaned back in his chair. "You do know that General Hammond's going to be pissed, right?" Xander nodded, leaning against the doorframe. "As long as you're prepared to deal with the consequences."
"I am," Xander agreed. "He called and I had to answer, Oz."
"I doubt they're going to understand that, Xander. Probably none of them are very religious and they believe the old Gods are aliens."
"Well, the old positions were stolen by the aliens, but the Gods used it as a test. I asked Cupid about that and he let me see it in a dream. Everyone decided it was time for these guys to know the truth."
"So, what, it's *your* job to tell them?" Oz asked hotly. "You, who still itch whenever you get too excited?" He stood up. "Xander, this wasn't *your* job!"
"No, it was," Xander argued. "Hephaestus called to me. Not to Sam, not to someone else, who can make horseshoes, but *me*, Oz. I had to lead this time."
"That's nice," Oz told him. "You deal with the General by yourself then."
"I had planned on it," Xander said coldly, going out to work on his forge. At least there he could work out his frustration and not start screaming.
Oz flopped down into his chair, staring at the doorway.
Xander looked up as he felt someone walk out onto the patio, but he kept banging on the dagger he was working on. "If you want to yell, do it fast. I'm pissed enough right now not to do anything but this."
General Hammond sat down next to Xander, looking down at the thing he was working on. "That's very nice, son," he congratulated.
"Thanks," Xander said. "And if you're here to bitch, don't. Hephaestus called me not the other way around."
"I know, he told us that." He shifted. "Can you stop that for a few minutes so we can talk?"
Xander hit the blade one last time and put it back into the fire to reheat. "Sure, you've got about five or so until I need to pull it out." He looked at the General. "If there had been more time, then I would have done it the right way," he promised.
"I know," General Hammond said, giving him a smile. He pulled something out of the bag he had been carrying, handing it over. "Was that what you were trying to build?"
Xander looked it over, nodding. "Yeah, that looks a lot like it." He carefully handed it back. "Did he give you that?"
"No, but Dr. Carter found one and asked." He put it back in the bag. "They did say it wouldn't do what I wanted it to do." Xander looked a little relieved at that. "They did give us ideas to help ourselves with the problem you were trying to solve."
"So I'm off the hook?" Xander asked.
"For remaking that, yes," General Hammond said. "For using the stargate without permission, no."
"Gee, but I kinda expected that," Xander said with a self-conscious grin.
"How did you get there so fast?"
"I had Strife help me. He heard Hephaestus call me and he's Strife's favorite uncle so he agreed to help." He gave the general a pitiful look. "I'm really sorry, General Hammond, but I was doing what I had to do. The portal was only open for a little while."
"As they told us, which is why you're not in a brig at this moment." He smiled at the young man, reaching over to pat him on the shoulder. "Don't worry, you're not in trouble for it, we're actually kind of thankful for it. The ideas we've gotten have breathed new life into some of our scientist's plans. In other cases, it made them abandon other things and start work on some of these newer ideas." His smile got brighter. "You are being kept on the register as a civilian helper, but I think we'll only need to come to you for presents and the like." He stood up. "What's that going to be?"
"A bodice knife. I can't make anything bigger than a boot knife and the ones I've made haven't been that sturdy. That silver-like metal is stronger when it's smaller."
"All right, son. Just remember, you can't say a thing about any of this. Though, I'm sure that you'll be seeing Daniel and Blair sometime in the near future. You have a... unique way of looking at things."
Xander grinned. "That's just the way I am," he said saucily. "But anytime I can help, just yell our way. I'm sure Oz will be finished being pissed sometime in the next century or so." He looked over at his knife, shifting it in the coals. "Oh, did you need the passes back?" he asked, but the General had left.
General Hammond knocked on the office door, walking in when Oz grunted. "Mr. Osbourne?" he asked, sounding serious.
"Are you taking him to jail?" Oz asked, leaning back in his chair after saving his program.
General Hammond smiled. "No, he was right. The portal would only have opened for him, it was keyed to him because he was the one who was called." He held up the bag. "We found a version of the weapon he was building but it wasn't really what we wanted. It's best used in breaking down buildings that were already partially destroyed." He looked around the office. "Not only is he not in trouble, but we're putting him on our books in case we need a special something made as a present. He found us a very important ally so we're overlooking the tossing aside of protocol."
"I'm sure he'll like that," Oz told him. "Have you yelled at him yet?"
"No, and I didn't feel the need to. He was right, we needed to listen to him, even though he broke so many rules as to pass Colonel O'Neil in that one area." He stepped in and closed the door. "He didn't do anything wrong, son, he's done everything right, what he had to do. If he hadn't, we wouldn't have been able to contact Hephaestus for another five hundred years, when they were willing to judge us again. But he thinks that you're mad at him for it."
"No," Oz sighed, "I'm scared for him. And sometimes of him. He's gotten so *strong*," he whispered, looking at his hands.
"I guess he has. He's went from someone who needed you for everything to someone who has many skills and wants to be with you anyway. You've got one chance, son, and I'd suggest you use it wisely before he takes off on you." He opened the door and left them alone, going to the base in town to give some new assignments.
Oz got up and walked out to the patio, going to sit beside Xander and watch him pound on the dagger he was working on. "Gonna shove that in me?" he asked quietly, still watching Xander work on the blade's edge.
"No, I just felt like pounding something instead of carving," Xander said, not looking at him.
"Oh. I'm sorry you know."
"No, I didn't know."
"Well, that's because I'm an ass," Oz said, taking the hammer and putting it on the concrete. "I'm scared, Xan, I feel like you don't need me anymore."
"Well, I don't," Xander admitted. He turned to look at his mate, running his thumb over the lips Oz had just wetted. "Not like I used to at least." He gave him a smile. "Just because I'm not dependant on you doesn't mean that I don't need you with me. Let's face it, I'm a pretty pitiful Xander without my Oz." He gave him a hopeful look. "Just because I don't need to cling to you," he said when Oz hadn't said anything for a while, "doesn't mean that I don't want and need you beside me. I need you to watch over me. I need you to ground me. And hey, I even need you to just be there and hold me. You're part of me and I want, no need, it to stay this way."
Oz nodded. "So you're not leaving me?"
Xander snorted. "Why would I leave and where would I go?"
"To work with Daniel?"
"Not. God, can you see me working for the military, Oz?" He chuckled, pulling his braid around to play with. "I'd have to cut this first and you know I'm not willing to do that, not unless you get really pissed with it."
"No, I love that you grew it long for me," Oz said, reaching over to play with it too. "I'm glad you're not leaving me," he said quietly. "I need you too, Xan."
"And I love you, Oz, but you can't worry like this. Remember me, guy with big ideas and not a lot of common sense when I'm working on them?"
Oz tugged on the braid. "Don't say things like that about yourself. You're brilliant. You recognized the potential of that metal right off, especially to what you do best."
"Think up strange stuff?"
"No, the forge and making stuff," Oz said, pointing at it. "I've never seen anyone who used it in their forge to help maintain the temperature."
"Hephaestus gave me that idea," Xander told him. "Not mine."
"Maybe not, but you figured out how to use it best. He didn't give you that. You've done a lot of stuff that I never expected from you, not the nice little hedonist that I first took up with." He leaned in and gave him a kiss. "Finish the dagger and come inside?"
"I'm working on the design today, I'm going to decorate it tomorrow," Xander said, picking it up and tossing it into the pool, a great cooling area. "I'll work on it tomorrow," he repeated, leaning into Oz's body to kiss him again, laying his mate back on the concrete to have his way with him.
"It'll rust," Oz gasped.
"I'll clean up after this by diving in for it," Xander said.
Oz rolled him over, licking over the bare chest. "I love it when you're sweaty. This used to be my favorite time, after your workouts, when you were just sweaty and smelly." He rubbed his cheek against the soft skin. "When all I can smell is pure you."
"Shh," Xander said, laying a finger across his lips. "Just enjoy it, Oz. I remember you liking me sweaty. I'll even spar with you tomorrow to get more sweaty if you want." Oz looked up and grinned as he licked over a damp nipple. "Hmm," he hummed, "nice Oz." Oz nipped him. "Good Oz." Oz bit him on the nipple. "Great Oz!" he shouted, arching up into his mate's body. "More, Oz!"
"Yes, dear," Oz sighed, liking this part too.
Methos walked into the house, following Ray, who headed immediately for the pool area to see the new forge. They let Giles make his own way in. He smiled when he saw Xander hard at work on something, walking over to sit next to him. "That's pretty," he said quietly.
"Shh," Xander said. He chiseled the last few marks he wanted, finishing the vine he was working on, then put it into the bucket of water next to him to rinse it off. He pulled it out and wiped it off, looking at it in the sun. Then he smiled at Methos. "Since I made him a nipple ring, I thought I'd make you something equally as useful," he said, presenting the newly finished dagger to him. "It's a bodice dagger, but I think you could probably use it somehow."
Methos looked it over, misting up as he saw all the work that had went into it. He looked up at Xander, pulling him in for a deep kiss. "Thank you, whelp. I'll cherish it." He held it up for Ray's inspection. "He made this for me."
"He takes good care of us," Ray said, smiling down at them. "He made me use your gift."
"Oh, where?" Xander asked happily. Ray slowly pulled off his shirt and showed off the small blue stone set in his nipple. "Wow, he made you get a nipple ring?" he asked, reaching up to touch it. "Does it feel okay?"
"Does now," Ray admitted. He sat down beside Xander, giving him a hug. "You were right, I like it. It's still pretty tender," he warned as Xander reached up to touch it again. He slapped the hand when it was tugged on. "Not yours," he protested.
"Sorry, Ray," Xander said, sucking on his injured fingers. "But you like it?"
"Yeah, I like it lots."
"And it matches his eyes," Methos said, giving Xander a smile. He looked over as Oz and Giles walked out to join them, holding up his new dagger. "Xander made it for me."
"Cool. I was wondering how he was going to decorate it." Oz sat down beside him, looking at Ray's bare chest. "You need some sun to set it off," he advised.
Methos coughed, breaking everyone's stare at his Ray's chest. "So, what happened with the program?"
"He got called, made a new ally, is being kept on to make prezzies," Oz said simply. "We're forbidden to talk about it."
"All right, I can accept that. As long as Xander's not in trouble."
"Nope, not in trouble," Oz told him. "How's Daniel?"
"Danny's fine. We saw him this weekend for a day or so for some training," Ray told him. "He thinks he wants some sort of battle axe because it'd be useful."
"But very hard to hide," Xander said with a frown.
"And he found a way to explain his not aging for a while," Ray added. "He said something about a spring on one of the places they've went that retarded aging. Said he took a few sips of that."
"A good cover story for most everyone," Methos agreed. "He'll be up next weekend, if you don't mind of course, for a bit more training. He and his teammates are coming to the base in town for a week of scientific meetings for him and Dr. Carter."
"That's cool," Xander said, smiling at him. "Can I help with the lessons?"
"If you'd like," Methos agreed. "Are you thinking about offering him your first sword?"
"Thinking about it," Xander agreed, reaching over to touch Oz's hand. "It's a good sword."
"I've got sixteen of them somewhere in the attic," Oz said. "I'll bring down my stash and see if there's something there that he might like besides a small axe."
"I've sent for my extra ones also," Methos told him. "We'll compare what we have and swap a few." He hugged Oz, putting his dagger under his belt. "How have you been?"
"Pissed but we worked it out," Oz told him.
"Oh, dear," Methos sighed, looking at the other couple. "You worked it out?" Xander nodded. "It's all better?"
"Yup, Xander still needs me, if not the way he used to, in an even better way."
"Good," Giles said, breaking into the conversation. "Xander, may I look at what you took out of that lair?"
"Sure. Oz has been cataloging for me, you'd have to ask him what was what."
"You can help me if you want," Oz offered. "I've still got most of it to do."
"I'd like that," Giles told him. "I'd be very interested in seeing what Xander had learned how to make."
"He made me this," Methos said, pulling out his dagger. "He just finished it as I sat down."
"Well, I still need to put on the maker's mark," Xander admitted.
"Can you do that now?" Methos asked. He hadn't seen his favorite student yet, and there was a chance that Xander would be his to teach again.
"I'll have to heat the metal and the stamp. Shouldn't take me too long." He took the dagger back and put it into the coals, searching for his maker's stamp and putting it in there beside it. "I'll wrap the handle tonight," he told Methos.
"All right, I'll sit and watch you. Can you make larger ones?"
"I never learned how," Xander told him, pulling out the dagger but leaving the stamp. He clamped the dagger down then grabbed the stamp and swiftly put it in the clear spot he had left for it. "There," he said, unclamping the dagger and swishing it through the water. He dried it off and handed it back in the towel. "I've only really worked with this metal," he told Methos. "I was starting to learn how to work with steel and iron, but I never got to it due to an attack. I'd like to try though. Maybe start with something simple?"
"I've done some," Methos admitted, "but it's been a *very* long time. We'll see what we come up with together, all right?" Xander gave him a smile. "Now then, what did we have planned for tonight?"
"Another conditioning treatment," Xander said glumly. "My hair still feels like nasty wool and it's forever tangling."
"We got him a new treatment from the spa," Oz told him. "It seemed to work for a while the time before last."
"About three showers worth," Xander protested. "Is it that mud stuff that they said wouldn't come out of my hair and took three people to rinse out?"
"No, this one's an oil treatment. It's supposed to help rebuild and strengthen as well as make your hair softer." Oz ran his hand over the braid. "I get to help him work it into his hair," he told Ray, who sulked. Ray *liked* to play with Xander's hair.
"Okay, but I get to help rinse it out and brush it afterwards," Ray demanded.
"Sure," Oz agreed. "By then, my wrists should be pretty sore." He looked at Giles, who looked a little left out. "Sorry, but the pastime of playing with Xander's longer hair is a demanded treat."
"Not with how it is now," Xander said. "It is not play-worthy."
"I think it is," Methos disagreed lightly. "I'd like to help Oz if I may."
"Sure, and Giles can help Ray rinse it out," Oz agreed, looking at Ray, who shrugged but was still looking happy.
"I fear this is a ritual I never understood," Giles sighed, smiling at Xander. "I would be honored to help you with your hair. I've never seen it down before."
"I get to braid it tomorrow," Methos said.
"No braids tomorrow," Oz told him. "I want it loose. You can brush it though. I forget time when I start to play with his hair and I've got to finish that program within a month."
Giles reached over to touch the end of his hair. "I'm sure it's very addictive," he said, letting it go, still not understanding the treat it was to play with Xander's hair. He coughed as he looked at the forge. "Are you going to shut it down for the night?"
"It's been staying on," Oz told him. "The energy metal we found bonded with the coal and it's staying at a constant temperature, even when we tried to dump ice in it one afternoon. We mostly cover it since we can't turn it off and bring all the little things over to the new locking cabinet," he said, pointing it out where it sat embedded in the wall nearby. He got up and closed the cover, making sure all the coals were away from it, then gathered all the tools up and brought them over to lock them up. "There, now you can't work tonight, you'll have to enjoy yourself."
"But, Oz, I wanted to finish that one ring tonight," Xander told him.
"Do it tomorrow when you and Meth can bond over the fire." He tugged Xander up and wrapped him in his arms. "Come on, I've got to brush out your braid before we can start working the oil through your hair."
Xander looked over at the other three men. "Come up and talk to us?"
"Of course," Methos said, standing up quickly and helping Ray up. "I'll brush and Oz can work the oil through, and Ray and Giles will tell you stories." He followed Ray in, looking at the white streaks through the dark sable hair. "Are those permanent?" he asked, touching the swinging braid.
"'Fraid so," Oz told him. "All the new growth has it too. Maybe in a few years, it'll stop growing out white."
"But I don't look twenty-one anymore," Xander pointed out. "No one cards me anymore."
"Yeah, lookin' twenty-five must be a lot easier," Ray agreed, pinching Methos' rear as they stepped into the upstairs hall.
"Why, Ray, whatever did you do that for?" Methos teased.
"Because I like your butt. It's nice," Ray countered with a leer.
"We have lube if you guys wanna play," Oz offered. "I can take care of his hair and Giles can entertain him." Methos gave him a dirty look. "Okay, whatever floats your boats, but Xander still can't get excited."
"Why not?" Giles asked, opening the bedroom door for them.
"Because the itching comes back," Xander told him. "I can get mildly excited but I'm still at the 'lying there and taking it' stage."
"Which suits me just fine," Oz told him, kissing him on the cheek. "Oil's in the wooden box on the main dresser," he told Ray as he walked Xander into the bathroom. "Strip, babe."
"But, Oz," Xander complained, giving him a lightly panicked look.
"Xander, we have seen it all before," Methos reminded him as he walked in. "Please, strip. I don't want to imagine getting the oil out of those pants."
"Um, but I don't want to," Xander said.
"Just do it," Ray told him, trying to figure out what this was about. He remembered something was different the last time he had played with Xander but....
"Dear heavens, is that what I think it is?" Giles asked, bending down to get closer. "Why would you put a tattoo there."
"Wasn't optional," Oz told him, pushing Xander until he was sitting down. That was not a happy memory and it's one he would rather live without.
"But that's a harem slave's tattoo," Giles protested.
"Yeah, and I got it when I was kidnaped the last time," Xander countered, sounding a little frigid. "Unfortunately, it's a little hard to get it off of there."
"I...I'm sorry, Xander, I had no idea," Giles said, taking the few steps to give him a hug. "How did that happen?"
"Easy, they killed me and they took him," Oz told him. "It only took me two weeks to track them down but by then, they'd already tattooed him and he was not happy. Matter of fact, neither of us want to remember that, 'kay, Giles?" he asked, also sounding a little cold.
"I'm sorry, boys, I had no idea that something that horrid had happened to you while you were across the portal."
"Yeah, well, they're dead now," Xander told him. He looked up at Methos. "Undo my hair? Please?"
"Of course," Methos said, coming over to start trying to unravel the long braid and the twisted knots that made up part of it. "When was the last time you combed this mess?"
"Day before yesterday," Oz told him. "I couldn't get a comb or a brush through it this morning. Hence the oil treatment today."
"It might be better to oil it down and then comb it out," Methos suggested after breaking off part of a strand. "It's breaking, Xander."
"It's been breaking," Xander told him. "That's why we've got to condition it."
"Anti-tangle spray?" Ray suggested. "I know you had some."
"I did buy some more," Oz said, going to find it under the sink. He came back up with a nice white bottle and handed it to Methos, going in search of the ever-moving large tooth comb.
"Jedi had it I believe," Giles told him. "She was playing with it."
"Ah," Oz sighed, going in search of the even more elusive mamma ferret, she, who like the force, was everywhere. He found her dragging the comb into the playroom and took it from her, giving her pets when she protested. "We've got to do your other daddy's hair," he told her. "We need this more than Rocky does." He jogged back up, handing it over too. "She likes to give that to Rocky to play with," he told Giles.
"Somehow they got it out of a closed dresser drawer," Xander said, frowning up at his mate. "How did she do that anyway?"
"Not a clue," Oz told him, bending down to give him a kiss. "Just relax, he doesn't pull your hair like I do."
"Will we have to wash it out before we put on the oil?" Ray asked.
"Probably," Oz agreed. "You calling washing rights?"
"Yeah," Ray said, grinning. "Can I?"
"Sure," Xander said, smiling at him. "I like it when you wash my hair. You do the scraping nails on my scalp thing really well." He looked up at Methos. "You okay with that?"
"It's fine with me if Ray's comfortable with it," Methos agreed, working on one of the bigger knots. "Xander, this is horrible. Did you not get this one out sometime in the recent past?"
Oz looked over and shook his head. "I couldn't work through it. And I don't let Xander do his own hair unless there's no other option." Giles stared at him. "What? I *like* playing with Xander's hair. It's very calming."
Giles nodded. "I'll take your word for it."
"You'll see," Oz threatened. "You won't want to leave his hair alone either. Even when it is dried out and knotted all to hell it's still a rare pleasure to play with his hair."
"Gee, thanks, Oz," Xander said, smiling up at him. "I love you too." Oz kissed him while Methos pulled on one of the worst knots, trying to get it free. "Oww!" Xander complained.
"I'm sorry but this is horrible," Methos told him. He worked another section free, putting it off to the side so he could work on the higher knots in a few seconds. He growled as he continued to be thwarted, finally conquering the knot. "Pernicious bit," he noted as he started to work on one of the higher knots.
"You say some of the cutest things about me," Xander said, tipping his head back.
"I like to make you think and expand your vocabulary," Methos said with a smile. It was an ongoing joke that Methos was always going to be teaching Xander something, this was just another episode of it.
"Meth, leave him alone," Ray sighed. "He's very well educated already. You wanna teach something, teach me how to do that without pullin' his hair."
"I'm going to teach you something," Oz said, letting Xander go and running after him, pouncing him out by the bed to tickle him until he screamed.
"Ah, home," Xander sighed, grinning at Methos again. "Feel like it to you?"
"Definitely," Methos agreed. "How are we going to leave this place in a few years?"
"Easy, we move Henri and the animals with us and we come back after another fifty," Xander said smartly. "I asked Oz and that's what he said."
"Ah. Any idea where you'll be moving?"
"Not yet," Xander told him. "I know we're staying somewhere in the region until we can find a new guardian for the Hellmouth."
"Good idea," Methos agreed, working on another knot, one off to the side. "So, no idea where you want to move to yet?"
"Not yet," Oz said from the doorway. "We were thinking East Coast this time."
"How about Middle America?" Ray suggested.
"Missing Chicago again?" Xander asked, holding out his arms for a hug.
Ray walked over and gave the requested hug, grinning up at his lover. "Not really. But I'd like to go visit sometime soon."
"Canada?" Oz suggested.
"It's cold up there," Methos protested.
"Not all year long," Ray said, giving Methos his own version of begging eyes. "Montreal's pretty."
"So's the capital," Xander added. "We had to stay there overnight on one of our trips through Canada."
"When were you in Canada?" Ray asked.
"On our year-and-a-half jaunt around the globe," Oz said, looking down at his lover. "You really want to live where there's snow?"
"I liked Vermont," Xander reminded him. "And Ray and Meth can go somewhere warmer for a few months after Christmas."
"Those are very good ideas, but it's cold up there, whelp," Methos reminded him. "I prefer warmer climes, like the ones I lived in for centuries."
"You mean you didn't go hang with the Vikings?" Xander asked innocently.
Methos looked over at Oz. "I will kill you if you told him that story."
"Not me," Oz said, giving him a smile.
"Amanda did," Xander said, giving Methos a sweet smile. "She said you were so cute while you were drunk and telling it to her."
"Ray, remind me that the next time I see Amanda I want to have a long discussion with her at sword-point."
"Sure," Ray said, nodding at Oz. "I think they could bond over sleeping on the couch if that happened."
Oz nodded. "I can see that." He looked at Methos. "We like Amanda, remember. She's just like that."
"Yeah, Amanda's supposed to tell embarrassing stories about the people she likes. She was probably meant to be a court lady at one time."
"Nope, gutter snipe commoner," Ray told him. "She became a court lady during her training." Methos looked at him. "What? She told me about it one night while she was lost in her memories. She misses her first teacher."
"I wish I knew mine," Methos muttered, combing through Xander's hair to make sure all the knots were gone. He found a little one and quickly worked it out too. "There, all done." He stepped out of Ray's way, letting him take Xander into the shower to wash out the detangler. He looked at Oz once the water had started, glancing at Giles, who was sitting at the vanity watching the shower. "What about...."
"It'll be fine," Oz promised. "Giles, any idea where you want to move when we have to leave here?"
"No, though I had thought to spend most of my life at the resort," he said, giving them a smile. "I'll come and join you wherever you go of course, but that's a lot like home to me." His smile got brighter as he looked at Xander. "You could both come and live with me for a bit."
"Yeah, and I could go play baccarat," Xander sighed happily as Ray worked the shampoo into his hair. "You have great fingers. You should work at the spa instead of the women who do this there."
"Thanks," Ray said, kissing him on the shoulder. "I'll think about it." He finished getting the ends soapy and started moving up the long length, taking his time with the delicate strands.
"Ray, remember, you get to do that later," Methos called, frowning at the shower door then at Oz.
"Xander, come on, let's get this into your hair. Remember, we've got to put it on still and heat it up."
"Coming," Xander called, bending down so Ray could get his scalp. "We need to put a bench in here," he decided.
"Yes, dear," Oz called, stripping and getting in to help Ray with the hair. This was his job after all.
Methos looked over at Giles. "What else did you have planned? Even Jace had to take a vacation from her places at times, just to make it seem like she died and came back as her daughter."
"I realize that," Giles said, giving him a patient look, "but I'm at that age where I could be late thirties to early fifties if I stretch it."
"Ah, so you're counting on time being on your side then?" Giles nodded. "Never count on time, it's a fickle creature, Rupert. It tends to go much faster when you're not paying attention to it." He picked up the oil packages and looked at the directions. "We have to heat up the oil so you have a few more minutes," he called, running hot water into the sink so he could soak the packages to warm the oil. "Rupert, would you mind going down for more towels?" he asked, noticing how small the pile was for three men, one that needed two for his hair alone.
"Of course. Has Henri done any laundry recently?" he called.
"No, I did," Oz called back. "It's folded on top of the dryer."
"All right, I'll be back in a few moments with towels." He walked out, going to warm the towels up for his lovers.
Ray peeked out of the shower. "What's up?"
"He's feeling out of place again," Methos told him, coming over to steal a kiss. "Is he almost done?"
"Maybe," Ray said with a grin. "You said we had five more minutes." He pulled back in and shut the door, going back to playing with Xander and teasing Oz.
Methos shook his head and went to check on the oil.
Methos looked up from his stroking of Xander's hair, smiling at Ray as he brought in a tray with coffee. "Thank you, Ray," he said, taking his cup. "Where's Oz?"
"He and Giles are goin' over what Xander brought back. Giles' found a few things that are enchanted."
"So did I," Xander told him, looking up with a grin. "Can I have one?" A cup of cocoa was handed to him. "Thanks, Ray."
"Welcome." Ray snuggled up beside Methos on the couch, resting his head on his lover's shoulder. "Methos, are we leaving again?" he asked quietly.
"Not for a long time, unless you want to travel some more." He looked down, smiling at the content look his lover had. "Did you want to stay for a bit?" Ray nodded, giving him a sleepy smile. "Then we'll stay."
"Cool," Xander said, looking up to grin at him. "Are you guys curling up with us again tonight?"
"I think that Giles wants some of you himself, imp."
"I think he's going to be in his own room," Ray said quietly. "He and Oz were talking about that. It's been too long and he's not fully comfy yet with being back."
"That's okay," Xander said. "I'm irresistible, he'll be back soon." He bent his head back down, urging Methos to start carding his hair with his fingers again.
Methos smiled down at the obvious begging and started to work through the hair again, sipping his coffee with the other hand. Ray took the hand from Xander's hair and held it instead, smiling at the hurt look the younger man gave him. "Mine. Go get Oz to play with your hair."
"Okay." Xander got up, giving them both a kiss on the cheek. He padded out of the room, searching for his Oz. He found him in the craft room and flopped down with his head in Oz's lap, silently begging for some attention.
"Dear, that's one of Rocky's moves," Giles said, giving him a smile.
"Nah, it's a Xander move now. This is 'I want petted'." He stroked through the dark hair. "Want Giles to try this?" he asked his younger husband. Xander shrugged and shifted over, letting Giles play with his hair.
"I see why you like this so much," Giles said, watching his hand move through the soft strands.
"Yup, do it all day long sometimes." Oz looked down at Xander. "You settled in there?" He got a happy nod. "Okay. Where's Meth and Ray?"
"Ah, a fine pastime," Giles said, smiling down at his lover. "Will you give me some space for a few days, love?"
"Sure," Xander agreed, tipping his head. "Scratch there?" he asked. The short nails worked over his scalp for him. "Thanks."
"You're welcome." Giles picked up another artifact and looked it over, continuing to absently card through the soft hair.
Oz and Xander shared a smile.
Oz looked up from his typing, smiling at the housekeeper. "Hey, Henri, what's up?"
"I don't want to do this," she said, walking in and handing over an envelope, "but it's time for me to move on and let someone younger do the job."
"What?" Xander asked from under the desk, his head worming it's way into Oz's lap. "Not gonna happen. You can have a young helper, but you're staying!" His head disappeared again.
Oz looked up, giving her a semi-grin. "I agree," he said, leaning back and starting to play with Xander's hair again. "If you want a helper, then that's cool with us, Henri."
"Oz, this house is a disaster if I don't take care of it every day and it's getting to be too much for just one person."
"So find a helper and train her," Oz suggested.
"You're not leaving us," Xander called.
Henrietta shook her head but she was smiling. "Where will I find a helper, boys?"
"Classifieds?" Oz suggested lightly. "That's how we found you."
She shook her head. "I'll try, but I won't promise anything, and if I can't find anyone then I'm going to have to let you find someone else." She smiled at the head coming up again. "Xander, you shouldn't do that in polite company and not around women," she chastised gently.
He grinned at her. "That's okay because you're family now."
She shook her head and walked out, leaving them to their play.
Xander looked up at Oz. "Crap," he whispered.
"We'll get through this too, Xan. She's been with us for about eleven years now." He ran a hand over his husband's cheek. "We'll deal."
"But I'll miss her."
"This is the immortal life, Xander. You lose people you care for," he reminded quietly. "And if you're lucky, you make friends that are like you." He leaned down and kissed his mate. "Will you be okay with this?"
Xander nodded. "I knew, but I didn't expect it'd be this hard," he complained.
"That's why some immies never let anyone get close to them, they can't stand losing others."
"I know why they do that now," Xander told him pitifully.
"It'll be okay," Oz promised. "We'll make it a nicer transition." He pulled Xander up and settled him in his lap, cuddling him. "I promise, we'll make it as easy of a transition as possible. We'll do everything we can to ease the pain of losing people we like."
"Does that mean we can have a housekeeper all the time?"
"Sure. I was planning on it." He squeezed Xander. "Have you thought about where you want to move next time?"
"Not yet," Xander admitted. "Somewhere nice? Maybe a suburb of somewhere bigger so we have more options but aren't in the city?"
"Sure. That'd work for me and Meth."
"And I could still keep my forge?"
"Can we have a gym nearby?" he asked nicely, patting his expanded stomach.
"Yup, I'd like that idea. Or maybe just a home gym?"
"Are we getting a house like this one?" Xander asked, putting his head on Oz's shoulder.
"Maybe something smaller than a castle," Oz said dryly. "Somewhere comfy and cozy but with enough space." He rubbed over Xander's still-flat stomach. "Who do you want to have as a gateway guardian?"
"I was going to let Angel find someone," Xander told him, kissing the neck beside his face. "I think he could probably find someone pretty decent."
"I can agree with that," Oz noted. "He might even already have someone in mind." He stroked over the soft skin, enjoying himself. "Do you want to travel to some of the places first this time? Check out the locals and stuff?"
"Please," Xander requested. "Otherwise, we're moving to somewhere like here."
Oz snorted. "I don't think there's anywhere like Sunnydale, Xander."
"But we'll be back?"
"Yup, we'll be back." Oz gave him a squeeze. "I've got to get back to work so we can afford to move," he noted.
Xander slid to his knees and rubbed his cheeks across his husband's thighs, trying to tempt him to quit working for a while.
"Xander," Methos called from the hallway. "Time to go work on the forge."
"Oops," Xander said, hopping up and giving Oz a deep kiss. Then he jogged out of the office. "Got to change and braid my hair," he called.
"Don't you dare," Methos called, following him up to his room.
Oz shook his head and started an internet search for places to move to.
Xander looked at the metal Methos had gotten for him, turning it around in his hand. "Iron?"
"Not quite. More of a mix. This is what most people are making horseshoes out of these days." He took the piece of metal. "This will probably take more heat to melt than what you're used to."
"All right," Xander agreed, tossing it onto the coals, blowing some air to heat the coals back up a little. "The energy metal is really good at keeping the fire at a constant temperature."
"What one?" Methos asked, looking at the built-in thermometer. "Oh, that might be enough," he said when he noticed how hot it was. "Did the other metal need that high of a temperature?"
"No, but I've found that if I cover it for a while with the heat-tile lid then the temp goes up," Xander told him. "It's a really strange metal mix that makes up that energy metal. I can't bank the fire more than it is now."
"Xander!" Oz called, running out waving a piece of paper. "Here, yours," he panted, watching his husband read the news release.
"They credited me!" Xander squealed, hugging both of them, waving the paper. "Ray, they credited me!" he screamed. "Henri!"
"You make a lot of noise," Henri called. "What happened?" She walked out, smiling at the picture the boys made together. "What happened now?"
Xander bounced up and handed over the paper, still squealing. "They credited me!"
She put a hand on his shoulder, holding him down and still while she read. "I see," she said, handing it back and giving him a smile. "Very good work, Xander. Very good work." She kissed him on the cheek. "Are they going to be able to use it?" He nodded. "Very good work then, boys. I'm glad that you found that metal while you were away." She sighed heavily.
"What's wrong?" Xander asked, leading her over to one of the chaise loungers and sitting her down. "Henri?" he asked when she didn't answer. He checked her pulse, frowning. "Methos, I think she needs a doctor." She weakly pushed him away. "Now," he said frantically.
Methos got up and walked over, coming to check her over. "Call an ambulance," he ordered Xander.
Xander ran inside, his happiness forgotten at his favorite person's illness. "This is Xander Harris," he said once someone picked up, "we need an ambulance. Yes, now. No, I think it's her heart!" He gulped. "I... Address? You guys have been here before! Why don't you remember!"
Ray took the phone from his hands. "Hey, we need an ambulance at the old manor house above the housing development. Yeah, that one. No, cardiac," he said, looking at Xander, who was so frantic he was nearly crying. "Yeah, hurry up. I think it's a real emergency this time." He hung up and gave Xander a hug. "I'll go get the gate, you go cling to her and get in Meth's way." He let Xander go, turning him back toward the patio and went to do what he had said he was going to do, then he had to hide.
Xander fell to his knees beside the chair, staying out of Methos' way. "She needs to go to the place I did," he said, taking her hand to squeeze and kiss the back of it.
"We'll tell them," Methos promised, looking at Oz.
"He hasn't been good in crisis for a while now," Oz said, coming over to sit next to Xander. "Henri, can you hear me?" She weakly tried to pull her hand back. "We're going to have you sent to a special cardiac hospital in LA, don't worry about anything. Xander went there when he had his, before we were married, and they were really good." She tried to mumble something but he didn't hear her. "What was that?" he asked, leaning closer. The whisper he heard made him smile. "I will, I promise. He won't fall apart and smother the animals." He patted his husband on the head, pulling Henrietta's hand out of his as the paramedics ran out onto the patio. "We want her to go to the cardiac care hospital in LA," he told them. "We've had to go there and we want them."
The lead paramedic nodded as he took out his stethoscope and listened to her chest. "Yes, sir, we'll note it in the records." He moved the stethoscope. "How long has she had a heart condition?"
"Not at her last physical," Oz said, pulling Xander up next to him. "Not that she told us anyway. She goes to Doctor Canbraan in LA for her work physicals."
The second paramedic made a note of it. "Thanks. Do you have an emergency contact number for her?"
"We'll do that," Xander said firmly. "She's like family to us. We're basically her family."
"Yes, sir," the second paramedic said, backing off. "Do you want her to go to Carter Cardiac or the old one?"
"The old one was where we went," Xander said firmly.
"We want the best for her, so whichever's best," Oz joined in.
"The old one it is then," the first paramedic said, putting up his gear and picking up his microphone. "Sunnydale, this is unit two. We have a cardiac patient in arrest, vitals stabilizing on their own. Employers want her transferred to LA for cardiac care." He listened then nodded. "Will do. Please bring the 'chopper in." He hung up and looked at Oz. "We'll bring the life flight up onto the front lawn to take her faster." He grabbed an IV kit and tore it open, uncoiling the cord so he could start the saline drip. "Mr. Harris, please hold her arm down?" he asked. He shared a look with Oz, giving him a smile.
Oz nodded, appreciating the skill the paramedic had with panicking people. "He's good when it takes action, but the waiting stuff is not with him," he said quietly. He stroked over Xander's back, trying to keep him calm. "She's going to go to the best," he promised his husband. They both got up as the second paramedic unfolded the gurney and they put her on it, walking her out to the front lawn. Within a few minutes, the helicopter arrive and she was brought over, the paramedics sharing information. They gave them the thumbs-up sign before closing the doors.
The second paramedic came over and smiled at them. "If you want to follow her, I'd go soon," he advised. "It's a long trip."
"Not with the way I drive," Oz told him, patting himself down for keys. Methos threw them from inside the house. He gave his best friend a smile and hurried Xander over to the car, making sure he was in before pulling out of the garage.
Oz paced as they waited, glancing up at the clock every few minutes. "What's taking them so long," he muttered, getting out of a nurse's way as she walked past them to talk to someone else.
Xander jumped up as a nurse walked towards them. "Is she okay?" he asked, grabbing her to make sure she couldn't move before telling them something.
"Xan, let go," Oz said, coming up behind him. He laid a hand on Xander's back and stroked it in gentle circles. "Let her go and she'll tell us."
The nurse smiled at them. "It's better than the shaking we get sometimes." She pointed at the chairs, sitting down in one with Xander and Oz sharing the one beside her. "She's fine, though she's going to have a long recovery. She had a few blocked arteries and we've angioplastied them. Do you know what that is?" she asked.
Oz nodded. "Very familiar with it, fortunately Xander didn't need it when he was here."
"I'm glad about that, especially at your age. Do heart conditions run in your family?"
Oz frowned. "She's our housekeeper, but she's like our family."
"She's been with us for eleven years," Xander said, looking mournful. "We love her like a grandmother."
"She doesn't have any other family that we know of," Oz told the nurse.
"Oh. Then how...."
"We're paying for it," Oz told her. "Well, our insurance is, but we're covering her as an adopted member of our family."
"I see," the nurse said, smiling at them. "Would you like to go see her? We're moving her up to her room right now."
Xander nodded. "What sort of recovery is she looking at? Rehab, diet modification like mine was, less stress?"
"All of the above," the nurse told him. "Come on, let's get you up to see her." She looked over Xander's outfit of old, worn, soft jeans and a ripped tank top. "Didn't take time to change?"
"Why would we?" Oz asked, standing up and forcing Xander to. "We got him to put on shoes in the car." He led his lover after the nurse, accepting the room number from her at the elevator. "I don't think they like semi-family," he said once they were alone in it.
"Probably not," Xander agreed, clutching Oz's hand. "But that doesn't matter to me, she's more important than their rules are. Henri's family to me."
"Of course she is," Oz said, stepping off the elevator first. He smiled at the nurse. "Room 432?"
"Down the hall and to the left," she said, smiling at them. "She's fine if she's up here, boys."
"She's like family to us, and we're the only family she has left," Oz told her. "After eleven years, she's like our grandmother."
The nurse nodded. "I can understand that. Did you want to give us your number in case of emergencies?"
"You go see her, I'll do this part," Oz said, making Xander let go of him. He watched as his lover walked down the hallway, looking at the room numbers. He looked at the nurse. "Is our relationship going to be a problem?"
"Not a bit," she said cheerfully. "It's the family that you like that makes you want to get better, whether they're chosen or genetic." She passed over a form. "Here, fill this out and we'll get everything into her chart. And do you have her insurance card?"
"I gave it to the people in the ER," Oz said as he filled in the blank spots. "Extra phone number slots?"
"Put it in the notes and mark what sort of device it is," she advised.
Oz quickly wrote down every method of contact that they had so that no matter what they would be found. He handed it back with a smile. "Anything else?"
"Do you know who you handed her insurance card to?"
"The person who tackled us as we walked in. Something like a receptionist."
"Ah. Yeah, I know who to call to get this fixed."
Oz pulled out his wallet and put down his unlimited card. "If there's a problem, we've got it," he told her seriously. She stared at the card. "Anything else?"
"Can I get the number, just in case?" He shrugged so she copied it down onto the form. "Thanks. Just around the corner and I'd say your man's probably gotten in a lot of cuddles by now."
"Yeah, he likes to hug her," Oz said as he turned and walked away, tucking his card into his back pocket. He tapped on the door before walking in and found Xander curled up beside the sleeping older woman on the bed. "Hey," he said quietly. "She needs some space."
"Nonsense," Henri muttered. "I'm good with him being needy." She held up an arm and got a hug from him too. "Thank you, boys, for taking care of all this for me."
"Hey, for you, we'd do a lot more," Oz told her.
"Yup, we'll be here during your recovery and everything," Xander promised.
"As often as we can unless we have to make a run for it due to the press," Oz amended.
She smiled up at them. "Good. That makes me feel even better." She yawned and patted Xander on the head. "You should get up before you give Oz the wrong idea, Xander."
Xander snorted. "He knows I love you but not that way," he said as he climbed off the bed, careful of her tubes. "How's that?" he asked after tucking her in.
"Much better. Go home," she said firmly. "Those cats and ferrets will have the house in a shambles while I'm gone."
Oz shook his head. "No they won't. We can stop that much and keep it kinda clean."
"No, you will hire another housekeeper," Henri ordered, breaking into Oz's carefully thought out speech. "You will hire someone to take over for me, that will become my helper when I get back, and *she* will take care of the house. You will take care of each other and the animals. Do not confuse the two. Xander can't dust worth a damn."
"Hey," Xander pouted.
"Save it for Giles, who's probably already cleaned up everything in the house," Oz told him, giving him a smile. "We'll do what we can to find you a helper," he promised her, leaning down to kiss her cheek. "You need to rest and we'll be back tomorrow."
"Evening," she requested. "After they've done all those horrid tests."
"Mine were all 'let's look at the pretty picture' ones," Xander offered.
"Oh, I've got those too," she noted. She smiled at him. "You go home and cuddle your Oz, Xander. You need it right now and that's why he's there." She lowered the head of her bed. "Now out, so I can get some rest so I can come home sooner and play with Ribbon."
"Yes, ma'am," Xander said, leaning down to kiss and hug her again. "You rest. They've got our numbers and so do you." He walked around the bed and took Oz's hand, waving as he was led out. They stopped at the nurses station. "If she so much as belches, we'd like to know," he told the nurse.
She smiled at them. "We understand that. Did you fill out the form?" Oz nodded. "All right, if anything happens, we'll call right away, all right?" Xander nodded. "Good. Now go home and think positive thoughts while you de-stress." She watched them go, shaking her head mentally at the antics of family.
Oz opened the document to send in a new classified ad, typing quickly.
"Deja vu," Xander complained, lounging in the chair across from the desk.
"Yup, but she ordered us to find her a helper." He finished and read to his husband. "Looking for a housekeeper to help ours, who's just gotten injured. Not a temp. position, will become a helper to her when she comes back. Gay couple with many animals in large house."
"Put the last sentence first," Xander advised. "Gay couple living with many animals in large house seek a housekeeper to help ours, who has recently been injured. Not a temporary position, will be kept on after she comes back as the assistant housekeeper."
"Sounds good to me," Oz said, correcting it. "There. Sent." He clicked on the mouse and read the error message that came up. "Okay, that sucks," he said, picking up the phone and dialing the number on the screen, backing it up so he could read what they had planned. "Hi, I need to place an employment ad and I got an error message from your webpage. All right, ready? Gay couple living with many animals in large house seek a housekeeper to help ours, who has recently been injured. Not a temporary position, will be kept on after she comes back as the assistant housekeeper. Yeah, no, a heart attack. No, not injured on the job, she had blocked arteries."
"We still need to call the contact number for Henri's neighbor so he can watch her place," Xander reminded him.
"Do that in a minute, come look for the number," Oz said, then listened to the guy reading his ad back. "Yeah. Sure, 555-3945, cellphone."
"Mine's good too," Xander offered.
"Nah, I'll take the calls. You forget your phone too often." Oz leaned back so Xander could dig in the file drawer. "Yup. Thanks." He hung up, picking up the other line that had just beeped. "Osbourne Concepts." He sat up suddenly, blinking a few times. "But you said she was all right." He looked at Xander, putting a hand on his arm. "Sure, we'll be there within two hours. Thanks." He hung up. "She had another one, they've moved her down to Intensive Care. Find that number quick." He got up and went to find Methos, who had taken all the car keys to make sure they didn't go make a nuisance of themselves.
"Hola," Xander said, dialing the number he found. "This is Xander Harris. Please, my Spanish sucks." He smiled at the young voice on the other end. "Hi, this is Xander Harris, Henrietta's employer. No, in the rush yesterday we forgot to call and ask you watch her apartment. No, she's had a heart attack. She's in the cardiac center attached to UCLA." He frowned. "Really? She never told us about him. Can you tell him? Yeah. No, tell him not to worry about that, we've got her medical bills covered, she's on our insurance and we'll cover it all." He swallowed. "No, she never told us," he said quietly. "Tell him we're very sorry for not calling yesterday, but we forgot in the rush of getting her to a decent hospital. It's up beside UCLA, the big stone building with the cancer center on one side and the cardiac center on the other. No, we'll meet him there. She's just taken a turn for the worse." He hung up and took a deep breath, going to find a decent shirt, which was in the living room in case they needed to leave in a hurry. "Come on, Oz, we need to meet her husband down there."
"She said she was widowed," Ray said as he walked in with Oz.
"Well, she's not. He was there. Her neighbor's boy passed on the message for him, he translated for his family too." He took the keys from Oz's hand and headed for the car. "Come on, Oz." He looked down, then tossed them over his shoulder and grabbed the spare set from hood of his sports car. He slid into the driver's seat, starting the engine as soon as Oz got in. "She never told us," he said as he backed out, heading down the driveway at a gentle coast. As soon as he got onto the main road, he sped up, heading for the interstate.
"She said she was widowed," Oz said with a shrug. He petted the animal that crawled into his lap. "Hey, George, Ribbon," he said after looking down at her. "Oh, well, we'll see him once we get there. And no tickets, Xander."
"Bite me," Xander said as he pulled onto the interstate and passed a cop, speeding up.
"If you start a high-speed chase, I'm going to spank you later," Oz promised, checking his seat belt then putting George on the floor. "Get somewhere safe, guys. Daddy's in a speed demon mood."
"Yup. We'll be there in an hour."
"Xander, it's a two hour trip!" Oz complained, grabbing the 'oh, shit' bar above his head as the car sped up again. "At least it's not rush hour," he muttered, giving his lover worried looks.
Xander walked into the hospital, smiling at the nurse. "Can we bring in her cat? She snuck into the car."
"I'm sorry, sir, but animals aren't allowed in the hospital without prior permission." She looked at the chart in front of her. "Who are you here to see?"
"Henrietta, she's in Intensive Care."
"Not a clue," Xander admitted. "We've known her for eleven years, we stopped being on last name basis years ago." He gave her a confident smile. "She was in 423 until earlier if that helps."
"Yes, it does," she said, smiling back. "Second floor and to the right. But it's a family only ward."
"We're her adopted family," Oz said as he walked in. "Second?"
"Yes, sir," she said, watching them leave. She could let the nurses up there decide if they were allowed.
Xander stepped off the elevator and immediately headed for where he could hear screaming in Spanish. "Shut up," he said quietly as he walked in. He kissed Henrietta's cheek. "We're sorry, we thought you didn't have any more family so we didn't get around to calling your neighbors until this morning. Forgive us?"
"Of course," she said, patting his hand. "Technically, he's not my husband, he's my boyfriend." She smiled at Oz, who was pulling out a ball of fur from his jacket. "You snuck her in?"
"Yup, she's not allowed in otherwise." He looked at the boyfriend, holding out his hand. "Oz."
"Martinez," he grunted, ignoring the hand. "What are you doing up here, this is a family-only floor."
"This is the family I chose," she said firmly. "Get over it."
Xander patted the back of her hand. "Maybe you shouldn't get upset," he said.
"Xander, dear, did you drive?" she asked, having looked at the clock on the wall. "There's no way you made it from home in an hour."
"Oh, no, we did," Oz told her. "And yeah, he drove." He looked at her boyfriend. "We are sorry we didn't call yesterday, we didn't know you existed." He looked down at Henrietta. "Decided not to tell us?"
"No, dear, there's some things that a lady needs to keep quiet." She smiled at the ball of fur that was curled up on her stomach. "Are you car sick, little one?" she asked, petting through the soft fur.
Martinez started to reach for the animal to move it but he found Xander grabbing his hand. "It shouldn't be in here, it's not good for her."
"Love and calming things are always welcome in here," he told him. "Same as they were when I was in that bed." He looked out at the hall, then nodded that way. "Let's go have a talk, shall we?"
"No violence," Oz warned absently, sitting down beside the bed. "So, does he treat you good?"
"No," she said bluntly, "but he's not as big of an asshole as some I've dated." She stared down at her cat. "Don't worry, Oz, he won't be staying if he becomes more than loud."
"Good. 'Cause I have no doubt Xander's about to give him an etiquette lesson." She looked shocked, then shook her head and started laughing. "At least he won't kill the guy for screaming at you like that. Oh, he said you're like his grandmother."
She snorted. "I have no doubt of that, Oz. Really." She pulled Ribbon up to hold her closer. "Such a pretty little one."
Xander led the way into the waiting room and shut the door behind them, giving the other man a look. "You had no need to scream at her like that. It won't help her if you're like that."
He snorted. "What do you know about her? You didn't even know about me."
"She's like my grandmother, I doubt she would have told us about you, or any of the other men she's dated, because she knows we'd descend on him and hurt him if he ever hurt her." He looked the other man over, crossing his arms. "I do not want you bothering her. If you want to scream at someone, go find a mirror and yell at yourself. Even though we forgot to call her neighbors last night, you never called us to see if she was all right." Martinez snorted again. "Good, that's what I thought. I think you'd better leave before I make sure of it. And before you say a word, we'll have your stuff packed for you. There's a *lot* of people who would like to have your position right now and there's a few more that'll gladly take mine."
"And who are you? Some rich *fag*?"
"Well, gee, I'm not a bundle of sticks but thank you." The guy sneered harder. "Yes, I am gay, and Henri knows that. She's known since she interviewed with us."
"You're going to hell," Martinez said jovially.
"Not before you get there," Xander said calmly. "After all, it's not like you follow *every* rule in your religion. That makes you a hypocrite in my book, and we'll see you there. What I am is nothing at all like a man who disrespects a woman who's in Intensive Care. You have two choices," he decided. "You can be respectful or you can leave. How you leave is up to you."
"Like you could beat me," Martinez muttered, lunging at him.
Xander put him on his back and put a foot in the middle of his chest, leaning down to talk to him. "Maybe Henri didn't tell you this, but I am a trained bodyguard. I am also very well trained at hurting people. You've got two minutes to say your goodbyes and tell her you're leaving. I'll have someone come help you pack." He got off him, watching impassively as the other man got up.
"I won't be beaten by you."
"Yay, bring it on," Xander offered, waving him on. He did a perfect heel strike into the man's stomach, knocking him backwards, then punched the man while he was trying to breathe. "Get it now?" he asked coldly.
"Um, sir?" a nurse asked, opening the door.
"He was just going to break up with her and leave, and he's not coming back. Is he?" Xander asked, walking away before getting an answer. He pulled out some change and headed for the payphone, calling Angel's office. "Hey, it's me. Do you have Henri's addy? Because her boyfriend's moving out today. Yeah, please, and have Wes pack her some stuff for a long stay. Have the neighbor help if you need to." He smiled and hung up, heading for his Oz. "Henri, I'm sorry to have to tell you he's leaving."
She smiled at him. "Did you hurt him?" she asked sweetly. Xander gave her his best innocent look. "Xander, that was very bad," she said quietly, losing her smile.
"He attacked first," he told her, sitting on the end of the bed. "All I did was warn him that he would never yell at you like that again. He disagreed. He attacked and I put him down." He shrugged. "I'm sorry if this pisses you off."
"No," she sighed. "I know you're just being protective." She looked at the hospital gown she had on. "I was going to ask him to pack me some things."
"Wes is going to help him pack and I asked him to get the neighbor to help him get you something to wear," Xander told her. She looked up at him. "I can call him back if you want," he told her.
She sighed and shook her head.
"I think she was hoping for more tact," Oz told his husband.
"I was tactful, just ask the nurse that kept him from getting up a second time." Her mouth fell open. "He started it, all I did was warn him not to do it again." He stood up. "I'm sorry if I upset you, I'll go wait in the car."
"Get back here," Henri said firmly, pulling him down for a hug. "I know you wanted to protect me, but he wasn't that bad," she told him quietly.
"Henri, he was screaming in an Intensive Care unit at a woman who just had another coronary. He was an asshole." He stood up, giving her a smile. "Let us find you a nice man. We're very good at matchmaking."
She shook her head, rolling her eyes. "This is why I haven't introduced you to any of my paramours."
"We realize that, but Xander's right. If he had the disrespect to yell at you while you were lying there, then you don't need him."
She waved a hand. "Whatever, I'll yell at you once I'm out of here." She looked at the monitors beside her. "I have no idea why they put me down here. It was only a minor MI."
"There's no such thing as a minor MI," Xander countered. "And we're very happy that they moved you down here." He kissed her cheek. "Better this than dying upstairs, okay?"
"Definitely," she agreed, smiling at them. She noticed the nurse at the door. "These two are my adopted, overprotective grandsons," she introduced with a smile.
The nurse smiled at them. "I can understand that. By the way, Mr. Harris, please no more violence against the other visitors. Even though we did appreciate you telling him not to scream on the ward. And what is that?" she asked, looking at the furry lump.
"That's her cat," Xander said happily. "She couldn't have it at her apartment so it's been staying with us."
"She's not supposed to have animals. Next time, don't let us see it," she warned, coming in to check the machines. "If you're very good, you might get to go upstairs again soon," she said, smiling at Oz. "Are you two real family or adopted?"
"Adopted," Xander told her. "She's our housekeeper and semi-official grandmother."
"Ah. Well then, I should tell you that it's not technically visiting hours, but we'll make an exception since she just got down here. We did get her chart, which has the sixteen numbers and email addresses on it, and we'll take good care of her for you."
Oz grimaced. "Are you kicking us out?"
"No, visiting hours start in another half an hour. We're more than willing to make exceptions for things like this. As a matter of fact, we have list of stuff she can have if you'd like to go fetch them for her."
"We've got someone getting her clothes," Oz told her.
"I'll get the rest," Xander said, standing up. He took the list and blew a kiss at Henri. "Get better sooner. The ferrets miss you too."
Everyone relaxed once Xander was gone. "He's very energetic," the nurse noted.
Oz nodded. "Definitely. It's all about his worry though. This is him in hyper-worrywart mode."
The nurse chuckled. "We've seen other cases of that, don't worry about it. Just ring for us if you need anything," she said then left.
Oz shook his head. "Think this is bad, this is where Xander came after he had his coronary. They had to handle a sick, but hyper him for two days."
Henri shuddered. "They must be very patient."
Oz nodded. "Definitely."
Xander frowned as he tried to concentrate on his work, but his mind kept working over the problem of what to do with Henrietta. Technically, she was a senior citizen now, and he wasn't so sure she wanted to come back to work. During their last visit, she had said she was enjoying doing nothing. His frown deepened as he carved another line into the bracelet, connecting it to the earlier one.
"That's pretty, who's it for?" Ray asked, startling the younger man. "Sorry. For Henri?" he asked as he sat down.
"Yeah, for her." He handed it over, watching as Ray examined it. "I'm going to set a few dangling jewels on the hand-side. Like it?"
"Very much," Ray agreed. "So, what's the thought of the day?"
Xander shrugged, taking the bracelet back so he could work on it some more. "A lot of them," he said finally.
"Thinkin' about Henri?"
"Yup. She said she's enjoying the vacation."
"Oh." Ray moved closer, wrapping himself around Xander's seated body and putting his chin on his friend shoulder to watch him. "Am I in the way?"
"Nope, Oz does the same thing sometimes." Xander poked a hole for one of the tiny set jewels he had ready, threading the setting through it. "I want her to be happy."
"But you don't want to lose her?"
"How about you ask her," Ray suggested. "Give her a choice. A nice retirement fund if she wants to or a raise when she gets back?"
"Could," Xander said, brightening a little. "Think she'll like it?"
"I do so I'm sure she will." He kissed the side of Xander's face. "Feel better?"
"Nope. We still haven't found a replacement yet and it's starting to worry Oz."
"That's normal. How long did it take you to find Henri?"
"Later the night we put in the ad. Someone let the ad slip to one of the carriers who liked Henri enough to tell her."
"Cool. But no new offers?"
"We've had one, but it was by a professional service and they wouldn't do things like play with the animals. They even said it'd be better if we left while they worked."
"Which sucks," Ray agreed. "Now what?"
"I want to make Henri comfy in her old age, and I'm not sure that I should offer it to her or not. She might get really upset with me."
"Or not. Have an account set up in her name and give it to her, telling her it's for whenever she's ready to retire." He hugged as Xander considered the idea.
"Point," Xander conceded. "I'll do that today. How much?"
"That I don't know. Enough to be comfy for sure, but I'm not sure how much that might be." He stood up. "Want me to go ask Oz?"
"No, I want to do this and I'm not sure that he realizes that Henri's thinking about retiring or not." He looked up. "Just between us?"
"Sure." Ray ruffled Xander's loose hair and went back into the house, going to find his own mate to get a cuddle. He whispered Xander's idea into his lover's ear, getting a hug in return.
"I'm sure he'll do the right thing," Methos said gently, pulling Ray around to hold him. "What do you think about this one?" he asked, pointing at the city.
"Flagstaff? Isn't it desert there?"
"It's foothills. It gets cold, it gets warm, but it's more of a temperate climate as opposed to something like Delaware."
"Who wanted Delaware?" Ray asked, his nose wrinkling. "Are there cities in Delaware?"
"Dover," Oz said from the doorway. "Did you help straighten out Xander?" Ray nodded. "Cool. Do I need to get involved?" Ray shook his head. "All right, I'm going to go clean up after the animals. Someone decided to play with the water dispenser and knocked it over." He left them alone.
Methos smiled at Ray. "If you'd like, we can go visit Flagstaff and check it out."
"Sure," Ray agreed, giving him a smile back. "A weekend? That way there's still surprises?"
"Of course," Methos agreed, giving his lover a squeeze. "We'll go next weekend. All right?"
"Definitely. But we'll leave on a Thursday so we have more cuddle time."
"That'd be fine, dear one." Methos shut down the computer, taking his Ray somewhere more comfortable to hold him.
Xander walked into Henrietta's room, giving her a weak smile. He closed the door and walked over to sit beside her. "I heard what you said the other day," he told her, putting an envelope into her hands. "For whenever you're ready to retire."
She opened it, looking at the forms inside. "Xander, what is this?"
"A retirement fund," he told her, relaxing. "I'm not saying it's time, I leave that up to you, but we don't want you to have to work until you're eighty unless you want to." She looked at him in shock and he gave her a sad smile. "We still love you, but I know what it's like to do the same thing all the time without thinking about the future."
"But..." she started, but her mouth hung open.
"So, whenever you're ready to leave us, you won't have to worry about anything." He laid a hand on hers. "And there's something else I want to give you, a prezzie for making it past thirty days." He pulled out the small silk bag, handing it over too. "That's for you."
She opened it, expecting another shock. Instead, she pulled out a delicate bangle bracelet with hanging stones on the bottom. "Oh, my," she said, trying it on. "It fits. A little loose but it's comfortable."
"I had to guess at the size," he admitted with a shrug. "And we're not running you off, Henri, but you did say you were enjoying your vacation."
She stopped him by pulling him over for a hug. "You are a very dear boy, Xander, but very odd. Of course I'm enjoying my stay without work. It's nice not to have to clean up your own room." She smiled at him, patting his cheek. "But I'm not ready to retire yet."
"Then that's yours for whenever you are. This way, you can volunteer somewhere and do something that you love instead of having to worry about paying rent and things."
"Well," the nurse said as she walked in. "Oh, that's nice, dear." She looked at the bracelet. "Must have cost your boy here a pretty penny."
"He made it," Henrietta told him. "He's a very gifted jewelry maker," she told her nurse. "And he's just done something so sweet I want to kiss him. He's funded my retirement, whenever I'm ready of course."
The nurse smiled at Xander. "Need a daughter?" she joked.
Xander shook his head. "My Oz said no kids."
The nurse laughed and made a few notes on the chart before leaving them alone.
"Really, we won't push but we don't want you to have to work when you're ready to go travel or to go take classes that you like or whatever."
"But it's so much."
"Maybe, but I figured it this way. If you had been being paid a decent amount by all your employers, then you might have started saving back when you were first married around thirty." She laughed at that. "So you might already have that much if you included interest and stuff. I made this so that it does all the stuff for you. It's a secured investment, no risk involved. Not stocks or bonds, but CD's which roll over automatically if you don't withdraw them and put the interest money into an account." She smiled at that. "So, poor rate of interest but no risk, and you'll be able to decide when you're ready to move on and enjoy being single and pretty."
She pulled him down and kissed him on the cheek. "You are a sweet boy, Xander, but I won't need this for a few years yet."
"Ah, but we'll be moving in the next few years so that'll work out just fine, unless you want to come with us." She shook her head. "Meth is insisting on Flagstaff or somewhere warm like that."
"No, dear, I doubt I'll be moving with you. I might come along to get everything settled and train a new housekeeper, but I won't move permanently from LA, this is my home."
"Perfectly understandable," Xander told her, giving her a brighter smile. "And the new housekeeper?" She nodded, looking interested. "No one's answered the ad."
"Oh, no," she sighed, looking at her bracelet. "When did you make this?"
"Over the last few days." He touched one of the stones. "Watch out for this one, the round holding it on has broken twice so far. I took it to my jewelry store to have someone there fix it, so this time it might stay on, but just be careful with that one." He kissed her on the cheek. "I should let you rest, I bribed the nurse so I could come in a little early. Oz'll be in soon though and I'm supposed to be getting more stuff for the forge so I can work on that too." He patted his pocket, the one with the CD for the jewelers, so he could set up the showing Oz was demanding. "I'll be back by tonight. You consider what you want to do with your retirement."
"Oh, I think I might find a nice little place and volunteer," she said, watching him go. She went back to staring at her bracelet. When Oz came in an hour later, she showed it to him, making him smile and check it for her. She didn't tell him about the retirement fund, not wanting to get her favorite boy in trouble.
Xander sat across from the Branchson's head people, watching as they looked over the few pieces he had brought to show them his work. "So?" he asked once the magnifying glass was put down.
"This is very good work," the head jewelry designer said, smiling at him. "You're a credit to us all, Xander."
"Thanks. I got a lot of training while we were traveling," he said with a blush. "Oz wanted me to show a few pieces off."
"That would be fine with us. Were you interested in selling any of them?" Xander shrugged. "I see. Are these personal pieces that you were interested in showing?"
"No." He clenched his hands on the table. "See, when we went across a realmal boundary the last time, we found ourselves somewhere very ancient but very nice. I learned over there how to make jewelry, from one of the masters. I also learned how to use a forge from him," he said wryly. "But, while we were working selling jewelry, most of the pieces I had made were on commission for the people of this little town." He pointed at the red river stone bracelet. "Things like that were requested by the people we got to know. Then they got attacked and wiped out."
"Ah. So you probably have a story for every piece that you've done," the head jewelry designer said wisely.
Xander nodded. "Yeah, I do. Most of it was already paid for, and we looked for relatives for over a year, but we never found any."
"So this is orphan jewelry?" Xander nodded again. "Then you're feeling emotionally attached to it?"
"Yeah, I think so," Xander told him, looking at him, seeing the remembrance of pain in his eyes. "You too?"
"I used to consider each piece I made as 'mine', that I was just doing this to make presents."
"Which is what I do now," Xander agreed. "See, I knew I could come to you with this."
"I'd say show them and then wait and see if anyone asks," the lead sales associate said, smiling at Xander. "You've seen us doing shows before, we were doing one when you first came in here to check on some of your stones," she said, having fond remembrances of dealing with Xander for all those years. "We can put them on show and if anyone asks, we can get in touch with you."
"I..I'd like that," he decided quickly. "How many did you want?"
"How about the orphan pieces and you write a story with each?" she suggested mildly. "That way, you can start to excise those ghosts."
"Sure," he said, relaxing. These guys were good and they were going to honor his wishes. "That's about twenty pieces, but I have to finish two of them still. The last time they were being worked on was before the attack and they were improperly cooled. I'll have to rework them totally."
"That'd be fine," she agreed. "Bring them to us in a few weeks?"
"I think I can have at least one of them done by tomorrow," he said. "I've been working on it for a few days now, remaking it totally."
"But it will take us a few weeks to do everything to set up a show," the head jeweler noted. "Take three weeks and get everything ready. Did you need something to put them in?" He looked at the bags. "These are very nice."
"Thanks. That's what I had available over there to put them in." He accepted the bags back, stuffing them into his pockets. "Did I need to sign a promissary note or anything?"
"No, you're a partial owner of the store, we can do that when you bring everything in."
Xander grinned and stood up. "Thanks, guys." He left them alone, heading back to the hospital.
The head jeweler looked at the woman beside him. "All artists have exceptionally vivid imaginations. His seems to have sparked with the story about the village."
She just smiled and stood up. The man had *no* idea. "I'm sure it'll be fine."
Oz walked out with their investment binder, sitting down beside his mate, who was sewing little bags. "When did we take out a million?"
"When I gave it to Henri as a 'whenever you're ready' retirement account."
"Oh." Oz looked at him. "That little?"
"I put it in CDs," Xander said, finishing off that bag and cutting it free so he could look at it.
"That's pretty. Which one's going in it?"
"The fire opal." Xander kissed him gently. "I thought a million might go far enough for her. She's not going to suddenly buy a mansion and try to live like a movie star. A million should last her at least ten years."
"Good point," Oz agreed, kissing Xander. "You do very good work, love," he whispered against the lips, taking the bag and stuffing it into the binder so they could both be tossed away. He laid his husband back on the fabric beside him, enjoying this moment alone.
TO BE CONTINUED...