Taking Care of Business.
Xander stepped off the plane and sighed. It was hot again. He walked down the ramp, running into Ray almost as soon as he stepped through the doorway. "Hey," he said, giving him a hug. "Why did you come to pick me up? I thought I was taking a cab."
"Oz had me bring these," Ray said, smiling at the man who had walked up behind Xander. "Are you him?"
The Agent nodded. "Yes, Mr. Kowalski. Thank you." He took the copies of the letters. "Have you checked Chicago recently?" he asked.
Ray shook his head. "Why? Something bad happening there?"
"Yes, sir, a few cops have been beheaded recently. One of them was your coworker when you were there." Ray looked at Xander, but the agent smiled and shook his head. "Sir, my foster brother is like you, and I noticed some things while I was researching to make this call. I've kept it to myself."
"Thanks," Ray said, leading Xander away. "Email us if you need anything else." He took the bag and the ticket stubs, leading his lover to the baggage claim. "That was odd."
"It was," Xander agreed. "He was on the flight I caught in Denver. Oh, and I got real feedback. The ticket agent hated it but she read the whole first book. Then she joined the hate group."
Ray snorted. "Figures." He wrapped his lover in his arms. "How was Danny?"
"Good. His favorite project is nearly done, but they're putting him on one with Blair where they can bring Dessie."
"That's good," Ray agreed. "He was happy?"
"Yup, and we're planning on traveling together next year sometime. They want to market crawl with me," Xander said with a smile. "We're thinking Turkey and the big market cities over there."
"Wow. I got to go play in Cairo's for three days," Ray told him. "Meth was very nice to me; he didn't snark once about all the time I was spending asking what things were." He gave him a squeeze. "As long as you're happy." He looked at the bag. "What's with this anyway?"
"It's something Danny gave me to check. A new form of metal, a new fabric, and a new stone."
"Cool. Guess I know what you're doin' tonight," Ray said, glaring at the bag.
Xander stopped them, turning Ray to look at him and giving him a kiss. "I'm going to be pounding you and Oz into the mattress for the next three hours then we're all going to take a nap and a bath. Then we'll see what we can get into together. I'm not heading downstairs for another day."
Ray relaxed. "Thanks, Xan."
"Hey, I like spending time with you. I only go play on my forge when you guys are too busy to play with me. Oh, and I got stuff to make the boys clothes too. And even a few dress patterns for D'Nalia."
Ray snickered. "I'm sure she'll be thrilled. She's been checking for fevers because the boys have been quiet and reading." They started walking again. "She said you can spoil them again in a few months, once they've gotten through all the books."
"Cool, I like spoiling people," Xander reminded him, leading the way into the baggage claim. "Here we are," he said, checking to see which carousel his luggage was coming in on. "The girls at the fabric store told me about a fabric convention coming up. It's in St. Louis this year."
"That sounds fun," Ray said, but his expression said he didn't want to go. "Maybe you and Oz could go."
"Maybe. He does still weave." He cheered when he saw his bag, reaching over to grab it then checking the tag and putting it back. "Not mine."
"This side's yours," Ray said, pointing at the one behind them. They turned around, watching the message board to make sure it was the one for Xander's flight.
Xander walked into the house and stopped. The furniture was overturned. "Hello?" he called.
"It wasn't us," Oz called from the bedroom.
Xander walked back that way, stopping in the doorway when he saw Methos tied to the bed. "Safety concerns?"
"Mariana tried to come snatch him," Oz told him, nodding at Ray to go in while he stole a kiss. "Have a good trip?"
"Decent one," he agreed. "There's a fabric convention coming up soon."
"Cool. We'll go." Oz looked back at the bed. "We had to sedate him. Richard dragged her out of here by her hair." He touched Xander's hair gently. "We're all fine. We have to straighten up and find all the animals."
"Did one escape?"
"We think one of the cats might have," Oz told him, "but we can't be sure. They're all hiding still."
"Okay, we'll go do a head count," Xander said, dropping his bags just inside the doorway. "Don't step on that one. It's got fragile stuff from Danny." He walked Oz into the animals' room and sat down, calling them to him. "Hi, guys," he said, petting everyone and doing a quick count. "We're missing Motocat."
"She's in with her Daddy," Oz noted. "Anyone else?"
"Um, Fluffy's not here," Xander told him. "You might go check the plantings next door." He finished his count. "And we're missing a ferret baby."
"All right," Oz said. "I'll check downstairs first, then the neighbors." He leaned down, kissing his husband gently. "We missed you, we didn't even cut into the treats." He walked away, going to look downstairs for the rest of the hiding animals.
Ray walked in and looked around. "Who?"
"Fluffy and one of the ferret kits, that's it."
"Got it," Ray said, heading out the door to go check next door in the elaborate garden, Fluffy liked gardens.
"Found the ferret," Oz called a few minutes later. "She was hiding under an overturned chair.
"Ray went out to look for Fluffy," Xander called as he finished his loving and handed out treats so he could go check that other one. He took the baby, who buried its head into his neck. "I know, it was scary," he whispered, sitting down to pet that one. "I'm sure it'll be okay. She won't be coming back," he promised the shaking animal.
"Found Fluffy," Ray said as he walked in, holding his dirty cat. "She was helping weed. Good thing we told the neighbor about her." He closed the door before anyone else could get out. "All accounted for?"
"As long as Richie's got his cat, we're all here," Xander agreed, standing up and going into the bedroom to lay beside their other lover. "Hey," he said, kissing Methos on the lips. "It's okay. I'll kill her for you if you want."
Methos turned his head, barely able to open his eyes. "She's Ray's first," he slurred. He smiled at the sight of his cat and his mate. "You're back?"
"She was helping weed," Ray said, putting the cat onto his husband's chest. He laid down on Methos' other side, cuddling up to him. "Did she say anything else?"
"Just that she's had a crush on him since the day he rode in, burned their village, then sat back and watched from a hillside," Oz said as he joined them. "Richard's taking care of her at the moment; I think he was thinking about mental help though."
"Oh, I think we can get her some mental help," Xander said coldly. "No one touches my family. It's time she learned that lesson too."
"Xander, you won't go fight her," Oz told him. "If anyone fights her, it'll be Ray or Methos."
"He can fight her for me," Ray offered. "I can't fight as well as he can."
"She's mine," Methos slurred. "I get her."
"Fine," everyone agreed.
There was a pause when everyone looked at each other. "I say we break out Oz's birthday treats. I could use some," Ray said finally.
"All right, I can do that," Oz agreed. "Fudge or cookie?"
"The fudge," Xander told him. "I could use something to eat."
"Fudge isn't food," Methos told him.
"I know, but neither was the food at the little place in the Denver airport that Danny and I ate at. It was really gross. It might have been okay if it'd been warm, but otherwise it was nasty."
"I'll bring you a sandwich too," Oz said as he walked out of the room. A few minutes later, he walked back in with his fudge monument and a sandwich for his love. "Here we go," he said, setting everything on the bedtrays they kept in there. He handed Ray a knife. "You get to cut."
Ray looked at it, then shook his head, handing off the knife. "I can't," he complained. "I'd feel like I was cuttin' another guy."
"Sorry," Xander said, picking at his sandwich. "I didn't know this was going to bother you guys."
"You want to cut it?" Oz asked, handing him the knife. As the blade got closer, he winced and turned away, not able to watch the visualization.
"Done," Xander said, finishing his chopping duties so no one would be able to say where it came from. He handed out small slices of fudge, smiling at his lover. "It's okay, I promise. I won't ever do that to you."
Oz kissed him on the top of the head. "I know you won't. I'd ask Strife to come fix you if you ever tried, even to Giles."
"Well, him...." Xander started but Ray covered his mouth.
"Henri sent him a copy of the third book," Oz told the other couple.
Methos shuddered. "He'll be here any day now to apologize."
"And then we turn him over to Richard in exchange for Mariana," Xander said.
"Not a fair trade," Ray said, nibbling on his fudge. "How did you do that without making it look like you took any off?" he asked.
"I shaved it."
"Oh." Ray put down his fudge. "I don't think I can eat it anymore," he said quietly.
"It's okay, it's just chocolate and marshmallows," Methos said, patting him on the back. "It's not a real dick. It's too big to be a real dick."
"I looked at the mold; it was modeled off a porn star," Oz told them all. He finished his fudge and picked up the statue, taking it back to the refrigerator. "I think the cookie one would be better," he announced, bringing it in. "Doesn't look so much like a human," he decided, putting it down on the tray.
"I can cut that," Ray agreed, picking up the knife and slicing down the underside. Xander shuddered this time. "What?" he asked.
"That would come under things you don't want to know about from when I used to work," Xander admitted.
"There's demons that are cookie colored?" Ray asked as he handed out pieces of the firm and chewy cookie.
"There are," Xander agreed, getting up and heading into his closet, going to get his scrapbook. It was one of the few things, besides clothes and tips, that he'd brought from Devi's brothel. "Want to see?" he asked, nibbling on a piece of cookie. "We did good," he said in appreciation. "That coffee sets it off very well."
"Let's see," Ray said, shifting so he could look down at the scrap book.
Oz moved the trays to the bedside tables, letting them curl up together. It wasn't that he didn't want to look, but he still felt strange thinking about other people sleeping with his husband. Xander looked up at him and he sighed. "Okay, I'll look," he said, curling up around Ray's back.
"My Ray," Methos mumbled, starting to fall asleep.
"I won't molest him," Oz promised, reaching behind himself to pat the tense stomach. "You rest and I'll protect him for you." Methos mumbled something else then fell asleep, snoring lightly.
Xander opened the thick book, smiling at the page he'd designed. "I did this scrapbook later, while I was trying to avoid Buffy asking questions and trying to still be there for her." He turned the first page. "It's like a little black book. I used the original pages to help me remember what each one liked."
"You really had a client list?" Ray asked.
"Yeah, ever since my first night on the job. Word spread that a new guy was there. They came, they spent a lot of money, and then they came back again." He pointed at the first demon, a blood red one with horns. "He's part of the middle ranks of demons. Hell born, called to this plane. He was stuck here and needed to blow off steam. He only came in twice." He touched the one next to it. "This one was one of my regulars," he said, letting Ray see them both. "He always liked me to talk to him more than anything." He turned the page. "See, cookie colored," he said, pointing at the right side picture. "He was strange though. He liked me to sing to him, and I sound horrible." Ray snickered. "You think I'm kidding?"
"No, I've heard you sing," Ray told him. "He really liked that?"
"He's an underground demon," Xander told him. "He couldn't really see, like a mole, but he could tell sounds. So I sang to help him locate where things were in the rooms." He grinned. "Devi always put him in a soundproof room so the other rooms' sounds wouldn't mess with him." He touched the one on the left. "This was Preston. He was my first client after Meth broke me in."
"What is he?" Oz asked, looking at the picture.
"He was human, a chaos sorcerer. He was the one that gave me the sword that I have in that one box. I was his second in the fight against the demon who killed his family." He turned the page. "Oh, this one was funny. That's my Sarthna demon buddy. He liked me to bark like a dog."
Ray laughed at that. "That's just strange," he complained.
"Yup but he paid well," Xander reminded him. "He's the one that got me into jewelry."
"How?" Ray asked. Xander never talked about that time in his life.
"He was an underground demon too, but he was a tunneler. He ran into jewels so he kept them, and his kind traded them among themselves." He swallowed. "He couldn't really pay in cash, so he brought in jewels to pay for his time and as tips. I came home with a lot of loose jewels, which is how I bought the first house."
"What did happen to your tips?" Oz asked.
"I put them into a special account," Xander admitted.
"Ah. That's cool." Oz looked over at his husband, who was looking a little guilty. "I don't mind that you kept some of your money from me, babe. I think it was a smart move. You've got to have some stuff that I don't have any say over."
"Thanks," Xander said, starting to relax again.
"How much are we talkin' here?" Ray asked.
"Xander was the highest paid person ever at that brothel," Oz said quietly. "He had people who paid ludicrous amounts of money for an hour of his time."
"Being the only pure human there made me really special," Xander explained. "Not to mention my natural skills and hormone problem. I used to string for the brothel for a few hours a night, sending all the horny people upstairs. I got a percentage of every person I sent up there, forty percent of my own dalliances, that's what we had to call them, and sixty percent if I took a call out of the brothel because that was more dangerous."
"Especially for you," Oz agreed, squeezing Ray. "I never asked. I've heard things, but I never wanted to know."
"What did you hear?" Xander asked.
"That the last dalliance you had before Meth paid a hundred grand for your time. You told me that one. That those tip boxes from your Sarthna buddy were extraordinary. Angel said that he's never heard of any of them paying that amount, even in apology." He swallowed, then gave his husband a look. "That was the reason Devi tried to get you that second time, when you were on your way to Vermont. You were the only one that could satisfy any demon and make them come crawling back for more."
"That's more my hormones," Xander told him. "At one time," he told Ray, "I attracted every half and full demon in New York. I was shopping at the time. I attracted enough attention that half demons that didn't know what they were came after me, and a lot of them were cops." He took a deep breath. "I was the reason Devi's was raided by the demon police, they thought he had an illegal use of beguilement going. When they were shown into the room where I was waiting, every single one of them fell to their knees because I'd been sweating. Then Devi came in and hosed the top ones down, and they warned Devi to keep me away from other people. That was in my third week. Devi paid a hefty fine each day I was there, but it was nothing compared to the money I was bringing him. He eventually had to go to one of the demon realms to talk to a judge to get a dispensation for the remaining time. He explained my hormonal problem and the judge laughed. So Devi tossed him one of my shirts, which, when unwrapped, caused the whole court to ask for my picture so they could find me and ask me for some of my time. Devi did more business that day than he had any other, and no one left disappointed, even the ones I didn't see because I rubbed myself against them and it was enough." He swallowed again, looking down at his scrapbook. "It wasn't fun, Ray, but I did find myself, and I made a hell of a lot of money."
"Was that one guy your biggest time?" Oz asked.
Xander shook his head. "Nope, not by a long shot. Even when discounting the Sarthna's times, I still had sixteen times that were bigger than that last dalliance." He laughed bitterly. "Those were put into a very special account and left there. Even the demon bank in LA doesn't know that the account holding those exists. The branch in New York swore to never disclose those three accounts." He closed the scrapbook. "So, no, that wasn't my largest paid time, and it wasn't my largest tip."
"So, you're sayin' that you've got money even beyond what Oz knows?"
"Even beyond what everyone knows," Xander corrected, running his thumb over Ray's bottom lip, smiling when it was sucked on. "Thank you."
"For what, babe? We knew beforehand, it hasn't affected us yet." Oz pointed at the book. "Not even seeing that would change our minds."
"Unless you looked like you wanted to go back," Ray admitted, letting the thumb go and taking a kiss. "See, it was only for six weeks. I can deal with that. I've done stupid things before too. You came out healthy and clean so it's no big deal."
Oz reached across Ray's body to hug his husband to them. "I have no problems as long as it stays in the past," he said quietly. "Even your money isn't that big of a deal for me."
"You know, it's funny," Xander said quietly. "I can sew all our clothes. I can make weapons and jewelry. I'm hell in bed. But I can't cook. I can't balance a checkbook. I can't even do things that most normal people would consider mundane." He looked at his steadying influence, relaxing again. "Not that being able to balance a checkbook is so great, but it's something I never really learned how to do."
"No one can do everything," Oz said wisely. "That's why people like you, who can do astounding things, have people like Giles, who worry about things like the checkbook." He leaned over and stole a kiss. "And why you have people like me, who like doing the mundane stuff so you can be extraordinary."
"You got one of those word-a-day calendars, didn'tcha?" Ray asked with a grin.
"When they first came out," Oz agreed. "Sometimes I like to use the words I know." He patted Xander's side. "I also get to teach some to him because his vocabulary wasn't all that comprehensive when we first met."
"You never said anything when we first met," Xander reminded Oz. "We were lucky to get six words out of you all day and only if you were talking to Willow."
"Yeah, but I was trying to fit into the persona," Oz explained. "I had created one that didn't need to talk or emote. It was easier not to get drawn into the high school thing that way. Then I met Willow," he sighed, "and all that changed."
"She drew you into everything," Xander said with a grin. "Slaying. Sexual tension. Dances. Research times."
"Lots of time to think," Oz agreed. "Did you know that I always had something else on my mind? Every time we kissed or cuddled, I was thinking about other things too. It was very odd to cuddle her."
"Do you still do that?" Ray asked.
"Nope. Right now, I'm wondering if Xander tastes like fudge or cookies, and if you would like to be sucked by him or me."
Ray leaned over and kissed Xander, tongue and all. "Cookies and either's good," he noted.
Xander looked at Oz. "I call it," he said, then shoved the scrapbook out of the way and wiggled down until he was even with Ray's crotch. "Naughty you, wearing so many clothes," he said as he undid the zipper. "Uh-oh, underwear too."
Oz mock-gasped. "Underwear, in this house? How shameful." He looked down at his husband. "We must do something about this," he said mock dramatically. The phone rang so he got it. "Yeah?" He frowned. "Are you sure that's wise? Oh." He shrugged and looked at Xander. "Richard wants to apologize. Can he come over?"
"Sure," Ray sighed, pulling back up his pants.
"Nope," Xander said, grabbing Ray as he stood up and dragging him into their sinful bathroom to have some time alone with him.
"Don't come over too soon," Oz warned their friend. "Xander just got home." He hung up and leaned back, smiling when the laughter started in the bathroom.
"Ray?" Methos asked as he started to wake up.
"Xander just stole him and is forcing him to have cuddles, and possibly sex, in the shower."
Methos smiled and tugged on the ropes. "May I have these removed?"
"Sure," Oz agreed, reaching up to undo one of the wrist straps. "There, you got the rest?"
Methos undid himself and rolled so he was resting on his best friend's chest. "Thank you," he said quietly. "Does he know?"
"Yup. They're planning on how to challenge her. Richard's coming over to apologize."
"Good. I did like the man."
"It wasn't his fault, Meth."
"I know, Oz, but it's hard not to blame him for her stupidity. He did bring her into our lives."
"Yeah, but he didn't mean to. He probably didn't have any idea that she was like that towards you. If he did, then we'll act."
Methos patted him on the head. "I'll act," he corrected. "You'll keep the boys out of the fight so it's fair. When I kill her, I want it to be a fair fight."
"Okay," Oz agreed. "But you get to explain to Xander that he doesn't get to kill her." Methos glared at him. "Hey, you wanted the hard job." He leaned over and sucked a spot on the older immortal's stomach. "The boys are in the shower, and Richard's on his way over," he said against the warm skin. "We don't really have time for this but you need to be relaxed." He slid the hardening cock out of the loose pants, sucking it down.
Methos arched up and grabbed Oz's head, pushing it farther down. "If you stop, I'll have Xander find something to invade your body," he warned.
Oz looked up, nearly smirking. "Are we talking like Yak? You used to threaten me with that during the fourteen hundreds. You need better threats." His head was pushed back down so he went back to his sucking. He was happy doing this. It wasn't his favorite thing, but it was close. He wondered what Xander was doing to Ray, but he figured it was probably something similar.
Richard stepped through the door and bowed to Xander. "I was very impressed with the cruelty that your mind could come up with. I never want to be on your bad side." He smiled. "With that said, Mariana has been sent away until she regains some sanity or humanity, either one. She's in South America somewhere. I dropped her off at the terminal almost as soon as we left...with enough money to get wherever she wanted to go and find a room." He nodded at Methos. "I told her not to come back until after you'd left the area again. She wasn't happy, but it was that or I took her head. I made that plain."
"Thank you," Methos said gently. He pulled Xander into his lap. "It saves us some difficulties."
Xander nodded. "It saves me having to take her head and presenting it to the big guy here," he said, patting Methos' thigh.
Richard smiled. "Yes, that's what I figured. It's why I sent her away. I don't want to lose her so soon, but I won't put up with that behavior." He looked at Ray. "I'm very sorry about her attitude."
"As long as it gets fixed so I don't have to fix it for her," Ray warned him. "Methos is mine and she'd better learn that fact. I will stomp her." He cleared his throat. "With that said, I have to go back to Chicago, I think."
"Why?" Oz asked.
"The agent that was on the plane with me said something about a few cops being beheaded," Xander said quietly. "Do you need us to come with you?"
"Nah," Ray said, giving him a grin. "I'm going to go back for a few days to make sure I'm not needed."
"All right," Methos agreed. "You'll call if you're going to be more than a few days or if you need help?"
"Of course," Ray agreed, leaning over to grab a kiss. "I'll leave tonight." He kissed Xander. "I expect you to watch my man for me. Keep him occupied and stuff." He stood up and looked down at Richard. "I expect you to not cause any problems. I really was starting to like you, and putting a cap in your ass would probably ruin my day." He headed back to the office to make his reservations.
Richard shuddered. "I've never met a tighter family. I congratulate you all, and I have no intention of trying to come between you."
"What about Giles?" Xander asked. "What are you going to do to him?"
"Whatever I need to so he'll realize what he's becoming. That is, if you'd still like me to take him on."
"Please," Xander agreed. Oz nodded his support. "I can't do anything about his magic; I can barely make a plant grow."
"You have some nature magic?" Richard asked, looking interested.
"When we spent the eight hundred years across the realmal boundary, he learned he had a small touch of a gift," Oz explained. "He's right, he gets tired if he does more than makes a plant grow a few inches."
"Xander, if I may, there's a tree in town that needs some help healing. I would like to evaluate you to see if you need more training."
Xander shrugged. "I can do that. I haven't used it in a while, but I'll do what I can."
"Thank you." He smiled at Methos. "You'll be welcome to come with us of course."
"Of course," Methos said dryly. "I have no gift or thoughts toward magic but I will watch you test Xander." He squeezed the young man on his lap. "Get up so I can go be with Ray." Xander stood up and Methos went back toward the office.
Xander stole the seat, curling up in it. "So, what's wrong with this tree?"
"It's a very old tree that was recently hit by lightening. There's a push to save it because of it's age." He got comfortable. "I'd like to see it healed also, if only to preserve one of the oldest things in this area outside of the land."
"I think I saw a newspaper article about it." Oz looked at Xander. "That would be an excellent thing for you to go visit and maybe offer them some money."
"Okay," Xander said with a shrug. "I was going to go do some charity work tomorrow." Oz stared at him. "What? They asked so I said I would. It's working with kids in one of the less prosperous neighborhoods who're in daycare. It's overcrowded, understaffed, and the kids aren't getting the education that the twins are. I wanted to help. No one should feel unwelcome in a school."
Oz moved over so he could grab his husband for a hug. "I know school wasn't fun or comfy for you, but you'll make it easier for other kids. Just no public speaking, okay?"
"Wasn't going to do that anyway. I saw that this one needed help so I called and asked them if I could come and help them, without the aid of pictures, and they got really happy." He shrugged. "That way the hate group can't get into them for me being near kids." He snuggled into the welcoming arms. "The woman sounded surprised that I asked for no photographs, but I told her that I didn't need the press, and she probably didn't want my hate group to come down on her. That made her a little unsure, but she said it was good for her." He grinned. "And D'Nalia's coming with me."
"Very cool," Oz agreed. "I'll be waiting here at home for you." He gave him another squeeze and pulled back.
"Hey, I was liking the hugging."
"Okay," Oz said, going back to hugging his husband. "Want to come over here and cuddle? My arms aren't loving the position," he noted after a few minutes.
Xander happily moved over and snuggled against his side. "How's this?"
"Good," Oz agreed, looking at Richard again. "So, how're the ferrets?"
Richard sighed. "I had no idea that they liked warm laundry enough to crawl into a dryer when I reached in to pull out a shirt the other day. I searched for hours for those two little mischief makers, and they were very arrogant when I did finally free them, though I do need to rewash that whole load.
Xander nodded. "Yup. Sounds about right. The babies used to try and follow Henri everywhere because she got into closets and the washer. We nearly washed one once."
Oz snorted. "Jedi crawled into Meth's jacket pocket and didn't come out until after Ray had put it into the washer. We were sick and she looked like a damp log of hair with a nose."
"She caught the sniffles," Xander reminded him. "We had the hardest time feeding her tea for the next few days."
Oz shook his head. "That was not a good week. She just wanted to be left alone and Xander didn't want to because he was still feeling a little icky. They fought over Jedi drinking the tea the vet had said we could give her. Jedi ran away for about a day, went home with Henri if I remember right." He patted the Xander gently. "He learned how to be sick without her."
"I found all the cuddly animals then," Xander said, stroking Oz's thigh. "He never begrudged me needing something to cuddle while he was hiding under the blankets to get away from me. That's when we learned how to cohabitate while we were sick."
Richard shook his head. "I'm glad that my life is boring. What you two have been through makes me very happy I'm a boring person."
"There's days when I wished we were more boring," Oz admitted. "It'd be so much easier if we were boring." He craned his neck as a large brown truck pulled up outside. "I think your fabric's here," he said, giving Xander a light shove.
Xander went to the door and opened it, smiling at the man getting out of the truck. "For us?"
"Sorry, sir, for your neighbor."
"Okay." He shut the door and looked at the living room. "Not for us."
"Then it'll probably be here tomorrow," Oz said calmly, patting the spot beside him but Xander grinned. "What?" he asked cautiously.
"You'll see." Xander headed down to his work areas, going to do something that he was sure would at least amuse his husband.
Oz shuddered once his husband was gone. "I have no idea what that was about, but I'm not sure I want to," he admitted. "That look on Xander's face usually means he's feeling in a mischievous mood."
"It's better than a mean or a spiteful one," Richard offered.
"He's never been either to me," Oz told him. "Chess?"
"If you'd like. I have nothing waiting for me at home, my scamps are asleep in the window." He pulled over the table that held the board, setting it up quickly. "Move first?" he offered.
"Love to," Oz agreed, making his first move with a knight.
Xander paced, he was waiting on D'Nalia to finish giving Oz his orders for the boys. He was nervous. What did he know about inner city and under privileged kids? Now, he was going to be doing his part to help them get ahead. It was an innate feeling that he had to give back to his town or city so he had decided on anonymously helping a small daycare that needed funds and people. It'd give them some good publicity after he was gone. As long as his hate group didn't get them for letting him near the kids. It wasn't like he was *like* the people he wrote about. He never had figured out why they didn't like him. He mentally shrugged and turned around to pace the other direction. Now he was going to help out most of the day, reading and playing with the kids. And he didn't know what he was doing. At least D'Nalia was coming with him. She was a mother, she knew about things like kids.
She cleared her throat, making him jump. "You can always just hand over a check," she suggested with a faint smile.
"No, I promised to stay and help them for a few hours." He handed over the keys. "You've just got to tell me when I'm starting to really mess up."
"All right," she agreed, leading him out to the car. "Where is this one?" He handed over the article. "Thanks." She made sure they were both buckled in, then started the car and backed out of the garage.
Xander swallowed hard when he saw all the little kids staring up at him. "Hi," he said, trying to sound cheerful. "Would you mind if we came and helped the nice people today?"
"Are you a funny guy?" one girl asked. "We don't need none of them here." The other kids nodded.
Xander relaxed, belligerent and stubborn he was used to. He was like that too. "Nope, I'm not funny, nor do I like kids as more than people to read to." He sat down facing them. "I'm here to help out the daycare workers because they asked. All I'm here for is to read to you guys, to help you paint if you're doing that today, and to play any games you guys want." He tugged on D'Nalia's pants leg. "That's what we're here for."
"Is she your woman?" one boy asked. "She's fine."
Xander snickered. "Nope, I don't have a woman, I've got a man."
"Oh," another girl said, nodding. "I know about people like you. Do you dance and sing or do you do other stuff?"
He laughed. "Nope, I don't sing, though I do dance." He pulled off his bracelet and handed it to her. "I make things like that instead of dancing and singing. And I make all my family's clothes," he said, tugging on his shirt.
"So, you dress the drag queens?" that girl asked, handing on the bracelet. "That's really chunky."
Xander lifted off his necklace and showed her the new pendant. "I made that too."
"Wow." She fingered the small carved pendant. "You're good."
"I bet he didn't do it," one boy said. "Who does stuff like that anymore."
"He's got everything set up in the basement," D'Nalia said as she sat down next to him, taking the bracelet back from the boy who handed it to her. "Thank you. He makes my boys sit and watch him pound out stuff. He's even made knives in the past." She pulled out the little knife-looking hairpin he'd made her. "He made this for me a few days ago when he was frustrated."
The kids all leaned closer. "That's a good weapon," one girl said, smiling at Xander. "You protect your family well."
"Thank you." He put his necklace back on, then dropped his bracelet back over his wrist. "So, what's first? Reading? Painting? Ball game?"
"Reading," one girl, one who hadn't said anything yet and had been hiding in the back row, said quietly. "I like stories."
"You would," another girl said. "You just like to hear other people tell you things so you don't have to think about your home."
"I feel that way sometimes too," Xander told her gently.
"Oh, yeah? What do you know about what we've been through," a boy challenged.
Xander lifted up the side of his shirt, showing off a scar that he'd gotten when someone had turned his stake back on him. "Quite a lot," he told the boy. "That's from a weapon fight. The other guy didn't like me, but I still ran him off." Well, technically, Willow had staked the vampire, but this sounded better. "My old home town was smaller than here, but it wasn't any easier. There was still a lot of poverty there too. My family wasn't one of the richest in town; as a matter of fact, I qualified for free lunches for most of my school years." The kids all nodded, they understood that. "Then I started to write, and I got better. That's how I got where I am today." He looked at D'Nalia. "Right?"
"Very true," she agreed. "Then he decided to hire me, and my twin boys who are four. He's really good about helping others; it's been his whole life since he got famous."
"What have you written?" that one little girl asked.
"Well, right now I'm working on a horror story series."
One of the daycare workers coughed. "I doubt they need to hear about that."
Xander grinned at him. " I know. I wasn't going to say more than that. I could read them some of the fantasy novel I've been trying to write for the last two years though. I left the fight scene at home."
He looked at the boss, who shrugged. "Can I read it first?" he asked.
"Of course." Xander readily handed it over. The man walked away to go read it. "It's not edited at all," he called after him. He smiled at the kids again, all of whom had moved closer. "What can we do until he's done?"
"Read?" the little girl asked, big begging look out in full force.
"Sure, go get a book," D'Nalia told her. "We'll even break up into groups if you want," she offered. A boy ran off to get a book too. "Okay, I'm going to read in that corner," she said, pointing to the right. "Xander, you take the left corner?"
"Okay," he said, moving over there. He accepted the stack of books with a grin at the girl. "Want to sit next to me or in front?"
"Front," she said, plopping herself down right in front of him. "That way I can see the pictures."
"Good job," a daycare worker said quietly as she sat next to him. "How about I help him?" she asked. The kids all nodded; she was their usual storyteller.
Xander walked in and sat down on Oz's lap, laying his head on his husband's shoulder. "Bad day?" Oz asked.
"Then why are you tired? And why do you sound scratchy? Are you getting sick?"
"Xander?" Oz asked when his husband didn't say anything else. "Didn't the kids like you?"
"The kids loved him," D'Nalia said as she walked in. "They had him reading stories all day. They even got part of that fantasy epic that he's been stuck on for years." She sank down onto the couch. "Where's the boys?"
"Our bed taking a nap with all the animals." Oz patted Xander's rear. "So, what happened?"
"The girl who begged him for all the stories couldn't see because she needed glasses. One of the boys wanted to know how many presents he made you to keep you here. Another of the girls wanted to know if he'd ever keep a mistress and what age he accepted people at." She grimaced. "But those were the ones whose lives've been too much already." She sighed. "The rest of the kids needed some attention so we gave it to them, and it was tiring."
"Ah," Oz said wisely. "But did you have fun?"
"Yup," Xander said, rubbing his cheek on the warm shoulder. "Lots of fun. Got feedback on the fantasy story. Read a lot today. Told the kids about the jewelry I made. Then the hate group showed up as we left and the parents were coming in, so I got to sign autographs and explain that the last book was because of a cheating lover." He lifted his head long enough to smile. "A lot of the mothers liked that." Then his head went down.
D'Nalia sighed. "The hate group tried to say that Xander had told the kids dark stories full of torture and the daycare workers got into it with them. Then the press showed up, courtesy of the hate group. The daycare workers, on the other hand, were very nice and told the nice reporters all about what Xander had told the kids and about how he had made a large contribution to their expansion fund. The reporter made a contribution on the spot and asked for an autograph. The fearful leader of the hate group got pissed and stomped off." She grinned. "It was just so pretty."
"At least it wasn't something bad," Oz sighed. He patted Xander's butt but the younger man didn't move. "I'd say someone else needed a nap."
"I think he's already visiting that land," she opinioned, looking at his face. "He did good; he only panicked there at the beginning, and then one kid asked him if he was a drag queen."
"Well, one kid asked if he had a woman and Xander said no, he had a man. Then another kid asked if he danced and sang. Xander admitted to dancing but not singing, and instead he made jewelry and clothes." She snickered at the look on Oz's face. "It was so cute though. They totally had him going for a few minutes. He was answering too many questions tactfully to worry about what the kids were going to do to him." She touched the knife in her hair. "They even liked my shiv."
Oz shook his head. "At least you two had fun while you did good work." He looked down at his husband again. "I guess we'll be here.
"I'll go start supper," she said, getting up to do that. "Soup and bread?" she suggested.
"Sure, or the pasta dish in the freezer," Oz called back. Xander shifted so he carefully laid down, letting Xander find his comfortable spot. This was the good life.