Gods, Why Me?
Xander looked around the field he found himself in. A ship had dropped him off here, wherever here was, and left again. His groupie had said she'd be back in a few days and he should have changed his mind by then. Unfortunately, she had found his sword, and had taken it with her. So here he was, on an unfamiliar planet, without any weapons, without any crutches, and without any sign of other life forms. He looked at the trees around the edge of the clearing, judging how useful they were going to be to him. He really needed something to brace against, his thigh was killing him and he doubted there was any advil anywhere near him. He forced himself to stand up and hobble over to the nearest tree, testing the nearest limbs to make himself a cane. He finally found one that might hold his weight so he snapped it off longer than he needed, leaning on it. "Okay, I can do this," he told himself. He looked around the clearing, knowing he had to take care of the necessities from his time across the realms, but he didn't know how to make even a tent from the trees nearby, that had been Oz's thing. He saw a flash of something and headed for it, at least investigating it would keep him occupied for a few hours. He really didn't want to start thinking about Oz, or about the trouble the woman would be in once Oz got her. Or when Nethisha got her. Or when Sam got her. Or especially when Strife got her, though that one might be fun to watch at least.
On the other side of the clearing he found a small, rundown house. Which surprised him. "Hello?" he called.
"Greetings," a wispy voice said from behind him.
Xander turned his head, looking at the very thin body, one he could see through. "Um, I'm in trouble, aren't I?" The ghost nodded.
Oz paced back and forth across the width of the throne room. "How long before they bring her in?" he hissed. "It can't take them that long, you guys have got really fast ships and she was heading back this way."
Nethisha's first wife pulled him into her arms for a hug. "They've captured her, but it's still going to take an hour until she gets here." She sat him down on the steps leading up to the throne. "You must stay calm. If you react like this, she'll never tell us anything. She's not scared of you. My wife will have her flogged for this."
Oz smiled slightly at that. "She enjoyed those stories, didn't she?" he asked lightly.
The first wife nodded. "Very much. She thought the author must have had a very vivid imagination to think up such ideas." She sat beside him and pulled him against her side. "Oz, you must stay calm. Killing her won't tell us where he is."
"I can get someone up here to make her dead body talk," he suggested.
She shook her head. "No, you can't do that. It would horribly upset some people to think that some of your kind can do that." She gave him a squeeze. "Think instead of reacting. I know you want to go after him, but she wouldn't have dropped him off anywhere that would harm or kill him. She wants him too much for that. Why she turned back, I have no idea." She looked up as her wife walked in. "Any word?"
"The Marine that caught her is within constant contact range," she reported. "The young woman has refused to say anything." She sat down on Oz's other side, giving him a hug. "I would ask that you let us question her," she said quietly. "I know you want to...rip into her?" Oz nodded at the phrasing. "She will tell us, even if we do have to ask for a strong telepath to come have a discussion with her." Her face hardened. "This does not bode well for our meetings."
He patted her on the knee. "She's not the first one to want Xander enough to take him. We just usually deal with them in a scary fashion back at home." He stood up. "I need to go make a report to our boss. I'll be back within an hour." Both women nodded. "I won't let the other diplomats make anything of this," he promised, walking away. He walked back to the portal, thinking the whole way. He found a gateroom full of soldiers, all with their guns pointed at him. "Sorry," he muttered, pointing his bracelet at them and using his identity code. They all relaxed when they got the okay from the control room. "Is Hammond available?"
"No," one of the senior soldiers said. "He's still in meetings with the President." He stepped out of Oz's way. "What's wrong?"
"The woman who took my husband has been captured." He sat down on the ramp, looking at them. "I want to kill her so I'm taking a break before I lose my temper in a permanent fashion on her."
The soldier nodded. "I'd be pissed too, sir. Were you going off base?"
Oz stood up. "Yes." He nodded as he walked away, going to go hit the car set aside for their use. "Are our friends still in town?"
"Mr. Ellison is," someone yelled after him.
"Thanks." Oz walked down the halls, running into Charlie. "Hey. Tell Hammond they caught the woman but she's dropped Xander off somewhere. I'm going to go hit a tree." He continued to walk, going to sign himself out of the base and go somewhere more calming. He really needed calm. His beserker rage was just too close to the surface at the moment.
General Hammond took the whispered message well, he just shook his head. "That boy'll be the death of his mate yet," he sighed.
"Problems?" the President asked.
"They've found the woman who took Xander but she's dropped him off somewhere. They're going to be questioning her as soon as she gets back."
The President nodded. "How is Richard doing?"
The General thought for a moment, then got that he was talking about Oz. "He's going to go find somewhere calm. His temper is legendary from what I hear, but this is going to be hard on him."
The President nodded. "I can understand that." He looked at his staff. "Anything we can do?"
The General smiled and shook his head. "Nethisha loves that boy, she'll do everything in her power to get him back. I think we can trust them with this for now."
The President smiled. "Good, I like that they like us so much. It makes good sense to make treaties with friends."
"Sir?" Sam asked. "What's going on?"
"Mr. Harris was kidnaped as we were walking back to the portal by one of his self-described groupies. Apparently she wanted to marry him but he had told her no." Sam nodded.
"She's dropped him on another planet," General Hammond told him. "They've caught her but we don't know where Xander is yet."
"And Richard is?" Josh asked.
"Xander's husband," Sam told him. "He's a beserker from the reports. Xander told someone to leave his Oz, he uses the name of his dead husband interchangeably for some reason, alone because he was a beserker and going ghetto was the least of their worries. The cop didn't listen and lost his badge three days later from their complaint." He looked at the President. "Should we worry?"
"No," the President said. "Queen Nethisha will look out for them. Like the General said, she loves those boys, she'll find Xander, if only so she doesn't have to console Richard." He clasped his hands together on the table. "These are good and decent people. I think we can trust them to not only protect our people but to make sure that they're not harmed in the future."
The General nodded. "I agree. In the least, those cats will go after her once she's back at the palace. They love Xander for giving them the ferrets."
"Did you talk to any of these cats?" CJ, the Press Secretary asked. "They sound fascinating."
"They are," President Bartlett agreed. "I did talk to one of the little ones. She jumped into my lap and demanded to be petted, told me she was a ferocious hunter and deserved it for taking care of a guard who nearly stepped on the ferret Skip. The Queen laughed and said that my family had to have a very interesting life."
Charlie blushed. "Sir, I really think next time your wife should go with you."
The General patted him on the shoulder. "Don't worry, son, they won't force the issue and I'll try to straighten it out for you." He saw the confused and curious looks. "Their version of secretaries and assistants are usually second husbands. Apparently Nethisha or one of her wives asked him about their relationship," he said delicately.
"She thought he was my husband," the President said blandly. "She took the news that this was his job fairly well, then asked her second husband to politely ask the two Anthropologists to attend her to explain more of our social structure to her. I told her it was an understandable mistake as we spent all day, every day together. She laughed and said she didn't spend that much time with her favorite wife or husband."
Charlie's blush just got brighter.
Oz tapped on the motel room door, sighing when Steve opened it. "I had hoped Ray and Meth were here," he said as he walked inside. "I need someone calmer."
Steve got Oz sitting on his bed, looking down at him. "What happened? Did negotiations break down?"
"Worse, one of Xander's groupies kidnaped him, took him off planet, and put him somewhere before coming back for whatever reason. We have her and no Xander."
Steve shook his head. "Oz, you should have known this was going to happen, Xander draws women like that."
Oz gave him his drollest look. "I know. These all knew he was untouchable though, this one got a major obsession going before we could stop it."
Steve nodded. "He draws them, Oz. I'd be chaining him to my side or to the house."
Oz smiled at that. "Ares gave us a leash and harness the last time he got into trouble," he admitted. "We were showing the Prez around the market when he was taken."
"Was the President hurt? This won't affect things, right?"
Oz shook his head. "We were on the way back." He sighed. "Where are Methos and Ray? No offense, but I really don't want to think about the negotiations. Jack can take those over for now."
Steve smiled. "I know I'm not the most comforting person," he agreed. "They're in town, they've rented a small apartment." He picked up the phone and dialed the other couple, knowing they would handle this best. "Can you get them across?"
"I don't think Hammond will complain too much," Oz said, leaning back on the bed and covering his eyes. "I really want someone else to deal with this for me," he said quietly.
"So call on Strife, Cupid, or Ares," Steve said, turning to listen to the voice on the other end. "I'm sorry to wake you, Methos, but Oz is here and there's been a problem. No, of the Xander's been kidnaped sort." He laughed. "Yes, that sort. No, he's not on the planet anymore. No, Oz is here and he could really use you two. Yes, I'm still at the motel in the same room." He hung up. "He said to give them an hour to get dressed and pack a bag." He sat beside Oz on the bed, patting him on the shoulder. "It'll be okay, Oz. Methos can fix nearly anything. He's got a lot of experience."
Oz snorted. "Ya think?" he asked sarcastically. "Five thousand years should at least give one experience, but I want to know when I get it. I'm close to three thousand and I don't have it."
Steve patted him again. "It'll be okay," he repeated.
Xander turned to look at the ghost. "Tell me there's someone else here," he pleaded.
"I'm sorry. I was dropped off here many years ago and told I could plead with a passing freighter if I really wanted to get away from her before she came back." He pointed at the house. "Can I ask a favor, would you bury me? I'll stay around, but my body's laying in there over top of my passage money."
"Sure," Xander said calmly, limping toward the small house. "How long have you been here for?"
"Oh, maybe a few hundred years," he sighed. "I've been very bored."
"My Oz will come for me," Xander told him, trying to convince himself.
"Is Oz your wife?"
"My husband. We're soul-bound," Xander said sadly. "We're diplomats from a new world. We don't have space travel like you guys do." He cheered himself somewhat. "Nethisha won't let me stay here. She likes me."
"Is she your sponsor?"
"Sorta, she's a Queen," Xander told him, pushing on the door to the house. "This is in good shape."
"It should be, it's rated to stay up for fifteen hundred years." He saw the 'huh' look and smiled. "This is a sectional house, it's for colonization, the first houses to be put up. You expand on them to make real homes."
"Oh. That's kinda cool. I guess it makes sense." Xander looked at the body, then around the small front room. "Do we have a shovel?"
"I must say, you're taking this very well," the ghost said as he floated/walked over to a closet. "The survival supplies are still packed in here. I never really needed any of them, she left me with some food."
Xander hobbled over, opening the closet to dig out the shovel. "I deal with demons all the time. A ghost is weird but not too out there."
"Not too strange," Xander corrected. "I've never talked to a ghost before, but you're probably going to be the only company I have until someone comes for me."
"And if it's her?" the ghost asked.
"Then she's dead and I'll be teaching myself how to fly," Xander said coldly. "I'm sure I'll run into habitation somewhere and be able to send Nethisha and my Oz a message." He found the shovel and stood up, looking down at the body. Then he grabbed a blanket. "I'm sorry if I offend you because I don't know your burial rituals," he told the ghost.
"Being buried will be good enough. I figure you'll tell the people who come for you about me and they'll take my remains home for a real burial."
Xander nodded. "Good plan. Want to come keep me company? I hate being alone."
"Of course. I've been bored."
Methos pounded on the door, pushing Steve rudely aside as soon as it was opened. "Who took him and why are you here instead of getting him back?" he demanded.
"He's off planet," Oz said weakly. He lifted the arm off his eyes. "He's off planet, we have the woman who took him in custody, and she's going to talk one way or another. We're just waiting on that." He held up his arms and Ray slid into them, giving him a real hug. "Thanks."
"Of course we're comin' with you," Ray told him, giving him a smile. "We want the chance to beat this ho too."
Methos smiled at his Ray's tactic. Giving Oz support would make sure he wouldn't lose his temper soon. "Have you called to get us permission yet?" Oz shook his head, rolling so he was lying on top of Ray's comforting body. "Then I'll do that."
"We have an anomaly too," Oz said quietly. "We're not healing right."
"Excuse me?" Ray asked.
"Xander's had a torn muscle in his thigh now for over a day, and bruises for two, our time. Even I'm not healing that fast," he said, showing his own bruises from practicing with Danny. "We don't know why."
"We'll deal with that when the time comes," Methos said after some thought. "Maybe we'll work on that problem while we're waiting for the obviously suicidal woman to talk." He picked up the phone and dialed the base. "General Hammond please," he said calmly. "Yes, I know he's in a meeting, he's expecting this call. Do you think I care?" he asked coldly. "Then get Colonel O'Neill on the phone instead," he suggested. "Yes, he'll know who this is, tell him it's about Xander." He tapped his foot impatiently. "Jack? It's Adam. Yes, Oz is here. Has she talked?" He grimaced. "How much longer before they get back?" He checked his watch. "All right. May Ray and I come wait? Because otherwise Oz will lose his temper and she'll be dead before she can say a word." He smiled. "I tried, they said he's in a meeting and can't be bothered with this matter." He looked at the phone number. "Yes, that's here. We'll be waiting." He hung up. "He's going to go interrupt the meeting." He laid down beside Oz, holding him too. "I'm sorry I reacted so strongly, but we will get him back."
"Yeah, and if there's one thing Xander does real well, it's survive," Ray pointed out.
Oz nodded, letting himself be comforted for now.
General Hammond met the three men at the portal, smiling at the other couple. "I've just been handed a message. She's back at the palace and Nethisha all but killed her." He handed over the note, nodding at the portal. "The same rules apply to you two. If this works out, we'll probably be adding you to our roster of diplomats too, just to make it all legitimate." He waved a hand at the open portal. "You should go, the cub that came here impressed many people but she's already went back."
Oz nodded his thanks and headed up the ramp, letting the other two get their unremovable bracelets attached to their arms. He walked into the back of a guard, frowning at her. "Come to find us?" he asked her.
"Yes, sir, the Queen would like you to come back to the palace to witness the interrogation." She looked at Ray and Methos as they walked through. "More diplomats?"
"We're Xander's other husbands," Ray told her, shaking her hand. "I'm Ray, this is Adam. We're here to wait for him. We've been lonely."
She nodded. "A dynamic man like Xander must thrill you, I'd miss him too if he were mine." She ignored the soft growling Oz was doing. "Come, I'll fly you all to the palace. I'm sure the Queen would want to see you all." She led the way to the flying cart, waiting until they were all on to take off. "We think we may have narrowed it down to a section of space," she told them as she flew them. "The Marine reported he had checked her flight logs but she had erased the actual destination."
"How many planets does that leave?" Methos asked.
"About sixty solar systems in that section of space, fifty-two of which have habitable planets."
"That could still take days," Oz told himself.
Ray put a hand around Oz's waist. "He's survived longer than a few days. Remember, Xander is well trained to survive. You made sure of it." Oz nodded giving him a hug. "We'll find him, and then we'll do this woman as an example."
The guard looked at them. "You want to punish her in your courts?"
"No," Oz said, shaking himself. "What he means is that the last three people who have kidnaped Xander, and still been in possession of him when we got there, died." The guard frowned. "We don't expect Nethisha to do that to her, but a suitable punishment would appease our lust for justice."
The guard nodded. "Very good. I've heard that you're still a very violent race. I'm glad that not all of you are that way."
"No, not all," Ray said quietly. He looked at Methos, who shrugged. "I used to be a cop."
"A cop?" she asked, landing them in the palace's garden. "Is that like what I do?"
"I arrested the bad guys," Ray said with a faint grin. "Lots and lots of bad guys."
She nodded. "My sister does that job in the market. She serves with the unit that got the ferret." She looked at Oz. "You have no idea how much delight that animal has brought when they're up for inspection," she said dryly. "Everything goes missing."
"At least none of them have went into the market to find things," Methos told her, smiling at Oz. "I can just see Jedi doing that. She did manage that one time in the market in Miami."
Oz shook his head. "Don't remind me. That was as close to shoplifting as I'd like to ever come." He stepped off the cart, heading up to the palace, his men following him. He smiled slightly at the First Husband. "Is she here and talking?" he asked him as they walked together toward the throne room.
"She is here," he agreed, "but not talking. She's stubbornly refused, basing it on the old laws that said Xander is now married to her because he had no woman to speak for him and she had successfully kidnaped him."
Oz nodded. "She tried that with us, I told her the First Wife spoke for us. She said it didn't count because it wasn't his mother or aunt."
"Does he have a mother?" the First Husband asked. "We could solve this if you could get her up here."
"She's a vindictive bitch," Oz told him. "She'd sell him just to make him suffer." He walked into the throne room and right up to the woman, hitting her and knocking her down. "I tried to tell you," he warned, staring down at her. "Where is my mate? If you don't tell me, I'm going to ask for permission to *question* you myself."
Nethisha cleared her throat. "Before you go that far, introduce me to your friends," she suggested mildly.
"We're Xander's other husbands," Ray said, bowing to her. "We were lonely and wished to come wait for him with Oz."
"I had no idea your people are so liberal," she said with a smile.
"We're not, but that doesn't make our bond any less true," Methos said gently. "Oz and Xander's marriage isn't recognized by our people, but we have had a ceremony and are bound together. In the city of Boston as a matter of fact."
"Is that near New York?" Siblinth asked absently from a seat off to the side of her mother's.
"Just above it," Methos said, bowing to her. "If you're going to be coming down there, I would be happy to show you some of our American cities. Boston is one of the oldest we have."
She nodded. "I would like that." She looked at her mother. "Am I going?"
"That is the present plan," Nethisha sighed. She got up and walked down to hug Oz. "I promise you, she will talk. There is no need to become more violent, we have our own means and none of them leave a mark."
"But leaving the marks is the satisfying part," Methos told her. He pulled Oz over, hugging him tightly so he couldn't hit her again. "He apologizes for his behavior, but he is quite upset. Never has Xander been taken this far from him before, not even when his other mate had him."
She nodded. "I can see the cause for his worry. We are narrowing it down from the information we're getting from her ship."
"The guard that brought us mentioned fifty-two possible solar systems," Ray told her. "I had no idea that there were that many habitable places in the universe. Our people are just now looking for other habitable places outside of our solar system and they seem to have to go a long ways away and hardly find anything."
She smiled at him. "There seems to be pockets here and there. We know he's in a clump of solar systems that are marked as possible for colonization. Most of them are even along some of the trade routes." She looked at Oz. "You have a wonderful taste in husbands. We are asking for help from the shipping merchants also. If anyone saw her course, we'll know within a day."
"And how long to get there after that?" Methos asked.
"As it took her less than a few hours, it should be about the same," Nethisha told him. "A larger ship would take longer, but not by much. We'll be taking my private ship on the search and it can get to the outer planet of this pocket in about four hours."
"So the search is the real time?" Oz asked, looking hopeful. "Xander can last for a few days."
"Yes, I'm sure he can," she assured him. "You have done a marvelous job of helping Xander find himself and training him to become self-sufficient."
"You've been places where you had to camp," Ray reminded Oz. "He can do that, even with an injured thigh."
"There's a chance there would be housing," Siblinth said, getting up and walking over to them, putting her notepad aside. "Many of those planets had an experimental colony house put on them to gauge the effects of the atmosphere and environment on a theoretical colony." She smiled teasingly at Methos then turned to Ray. "Xander has spoken of you two to those of us who are very loyal to him. You must be Adam, who was helping teach him how to make us beautiful stuff, and you must be Ray," she said, mixing them up.
Ray shook his head, giving her the same sort of smile. "You've got us backwards. I'm Ray, he's Adam. I just watch him make the pretty stuff, like you do."
She laughed. "Yes, it is most arousing." She looked at the woman on the floor. "Mother, should I make the report to the Empress that we have her and need a telepath for questioning?"
"Please," Nethisha said quietly, watching her heir walk out of the throne room. "She is quite competent."
"She is," Oz agreed. "In a few decades, when you retire to spend some time enjoying the cats, I'm sure she'll be a good Queen." He gave her a hug. "Don't worry, we'll watch out for her when she's on our planet. Even if we're in another city, we'll have someone watching over her for you."
Nethisha smiled. "Thank you." She looked at Methos. "Are you the one Xander said taught him many things when he was younger?"
Methos nodded. "I am. I taught him to enjoy himself and the things around him. That was before he was with Oz. We had broken up at that point and I had my Ray." He ran his hand through the back of Ray's currently red hair. "Xander pulled us together after he and Oz got together."
Oz smiled at Methos. "He taught me long before he met Xander though. We both wanted you to come into our relationship. You added some stability when we needed it in the early times."
"A release valve?" Nethisha suggested.
"Exactly," Ray said, giving her a very slight smile. He really didn't want to come onto her. "Xander and Oz used to have some pretty bad fights. Oz used to be much more possessive and careful of Xander's safety."
"Yes, and then he learned how to fight," Methos sighed, rolling his eyes.
Nethisha laughed. "I'm sure you worked it out."
"Yup, but I have a leash for Xander sitting at home," Oz told her. "He's wearing it just as soon as we find him. I'm not letting him out of my sight for *weeks*."
"Good," she said firmly. "I'm sure you'll both need the time." She looked at the other couple. "And the two of you can come and tell me stories?"
"Sure," Ray told her. "Methos studies history, I'm sure he can find something. All I have to offer is stories about some of our criminal element as I used to arrest them."
Methos caressed the back of his husband's head again. "You know about much more than that, my Ray. You have the stories of our travels."
"Point," Ray said with a grin to his mate. Then he kissed Oz on the cheek. "Come on, let's get you home so we can drop off our bags. We'll eat and cuddle then come back to check in."
Nethisha smiled. "Thank you. I'm sure we'll have information from her shortly." She watched as they led Oz away, turning to look at her husband. "A very interesting dynamic."
"And not totally true. They're part of Xander and Oz's relationship, but they have one of their own. More of an intertwined set of couples." He stepped in and kissed his wife slowly, making her moan. "I'm sure it was just because they didn't know how to explain it to us though."
She nodded. "Probably. Has the daughter found anyone to blow this one's mind apart yet?"
"She has. They're on their way. The Empress is sending her second wife, who is much stronger than I am."
"And if we can't, then we do this the hard way," Nethisha agreed with his silent comment. "Xander will last that long, he's proven he's very resourceful." She looked at the woman on the floor again, sneering at her. "For your punishment, I should make you marry a human," she swore. "As you like them enough to kidnap one and enact the oldest marriage laws we have."
"Maybe one of the diplomats," he husband suggested lightly. "This group seems quite decent most of the time. Still horribly formal, but very controlled. Their lead male is quite a strong man, maybe she would enjoy him."
"Yes, maybe," Nethisha said, smiling cruelly down at the woman she wanted to beat.
Xander leaned on his shovel, looking at the shallow hole he had managed to dig in the last few hours. "How's that?" he asked the spirit.
"That would be fine, thank you." He smiled sadly as his body was shoved into the hole and arranged. "Hopefully those who come to rescue you will take me back to my people." He watched as Xander sat down to fill back in the dirt with his hands. "Is this some strange burial ritual?"
"No, this is my thigh is killing me and I'm tired," Xander admitted as he continued to throw in the dirt. "Sorry, I guess I'm still a little cranky. I was having such a good day until she did that."
"It's understandable. I would have been having a wonderful day myself if I hadn't been with my betrothed when I was kidnaped. I suspect it was something of an honor to be taken like that, but I liked most of my life. Now look at me."
Xander looked him over, noticing the sunken cheeks and stomach. "You're too thin but I know I saw food in there."
"I was doing fine for the first three days," the ghost said as he mimicked Xander's position on the ground. "She had to go back and file the paperwork I suppose. She left me a signaling beacon, which I used at the first opportunity. The freighter didn't even inquire, it just kept going. I used it on the second ship, but I was very weak then. They sent down a scout, but he left before coming into the house, where I was passed out."
Xander shook his head. "I wouldn't have stopped."
"I know, but they were on a long trip and another person wouldn't have helped them any. So they left," he sighed, his breath barely blowing Xander's hair. "I faded away, hurt by their callus disregard of my situation."
"And so you died," Xander finished. The ghost nodded. "Sounds reasonable to me. Does this signal still work?"
"The charge on it died after the second use," the ghost told him. "You might be able to fix it."
"I'm not that technologically advanced," Xander said, thinking as he tossed more dirt onto the bones. He caught sight of his bracelet, his signal to say he was him back through the portal so he wouldn't get shot. He stuck his arm up in the air and set it off, then checked his watch. "I'll do that every six hours," he told the ghost. "It should last that long."
"What sort of signal is that?"
"It's one back to our home world. My mate wears one just like it, only with a slightly different code built into it."
"Then they'll know it's you," the ghost said happily. "How long do you think it will take him to find you?"
"It depends on how soon they find the bitch that dropped me here," Xander said quietly, staring at the bones. "It could be a few days or it could be hours. We didn't travel that far from the world I was on."
"Which one was that?"
"I'm not sure," Xander said with a wry grin. "We can't pronounce it."
"Tdnthsh probably. It was renamed right before I was kidnaped. I spent hours mapping our position by the stars," he said, looking up. "I could never figure out where I was." He looked down at his former body. "Hurry up and I'll walk you back to the house. There's food rations in there for tonight."
Xander forced himself to stand up and shovel the rest of the dirt into the hole.
Oz listlessly groomed his kitten while they were waiting on the summons, ignoring the comforting people around him. He wanted his Xander back, damn it! Why were they making fun of his need? Xander was the one who kept him sane, kept him from getting into a really bad fight and losing. Now he was gone and Oz was going to end up jumping one of the immortals around him if they didn't leave him alone. He glared a warning at Ray when he got patted on the head again.
"Sorry, Oz," Ray said, sitting down to help him groom the cat. "How you holdin' up?"
"I'm cranky," Oz told him plainly.
"Oz, don't be like that with us," Methos ordered quietly. "It's not our fault."
"Yeah, but it's not mine either!" Oz pointed out harshly.
"We're sorry, Oz," Sam said, giving him a bright smile. "I'm sure we'll know something very soon." She and her crew left, leaving them to soothe Oz's nerves.
Methos sat down beside his best friend, offering him some silent comfort. "They didn't understand," he said finally. "They can't understand what Xander means to you and I." He gave his husband a fond look. "Even Ray doesn't understand what it means to be the stability that you cling to so the world has meaning for you again." Oz relaxed against him. "Even if we have to search every planet, we'll find him, Oz. I swear, I won't rest until he's come back home." Oz relaxed fully, sliding into his side. "Would you like to rest while we wait? Gather some strength for the search?"
"I wouldn't be able to," Oz said quietly. "I keep seeing him being horribly alone and tortured."
"I'm sure he's fine," Ray said, snuggling into him. "C'mon, Oz, I'll hold you for a few minutes. We'll rest." He helped Oz onto the bed and held onto him tightly.
Xander laughed as he gathered small teal peppers, blue things that might be edible, and a few pieces of fruit. "How long did it take you to decide what was edible?" he asked his ghostly friend.
"A few years. It gave me something to do." He pointed at some snails. "If you gather their sap, dry it out and then reduce it over heat, you get bouglanth."
"Eww," Xander said, shuddering. "We were told it was *sap*, like tree sap!"
"I'm sorry," the ghost said, giving him a smile. "How much have you eaten?"
"A lot," Xander said, shifting his make-shift carrysack across his back. "Are there any known side effects, other than gas pains?"
"Not that I know of," the ghost said, leading the way back into the house. "Okay, the trick to those peppers is to *not*cook them. They become *very* hot that way." Xander groaned. "Trust me, you can eat them raw, they're very soft and tasteful. I spent a lot of time eating them when I was at home. They were a treat back then, newly bred."
Xander tossed his sack onto the table and sorted out his food. "Do we have a knife?" He got a head shake so patted himself down, coming up with his pocket knife. "Ah-ha!" He sat down with a sigh of relief, the pain was off his thigh for a while. "So, what do I do with these? I have no real talent for cooking."
The ghost floated over and looked down at him. "I had servants," he said with a shrug. "All I know is that you can eat the peppers whole. The blue things are usually sliced and presented pleasingly with some rolls, and the fruit was usually eaten whole." He sat down across from Xander, watching as he watched as the young man cut everything up. "What do you do at home?"
"I make jewelry and I sew, and I spend a lot of time being pampered by my Oz." He gave him a sad smile. "I'm going to be miserable while I'm here. I hate being away from Oz." He went back to his chopping. "We've tried to be alone for a while, but I hated it each time." He licked his fingers off, including the cut he had just received. "Is there clean water?"
"There is," the ghost said, pointing at the tap in the wall. "It should be hooked up still, but I'd let it run for a while to clear out the pipes." He watched as the young man got up to go run some water for his dinner. He hoped the boy's Oz came soon. He wouldn't want the young man to share his fate, he was very nice.
Oz blinked, surprised to be waking up. "I fell asleep?"
"For nearly an hour," Ray whispered from behind him. "You didn't even dream that we could tell."
Oz rolled over, giving his friend a hug. "Thanks for holding me."
"Hey, always welcome," Ray said with a grin. "Methos is down talking to someone in the market about the stuff you guys have been eating. He thinks he's figured something out about your diet."
"Besides the fact that it's treat heavy?" Blair asked from the doorway. He smiled at Oz. "I just called up there, the telepathic inquisitor has arrived. Still no news. The First Wife sent the girl flying across the room with a slap when she got in." He nodded behind him. "I'm going to go get a snack, want some?"
"Please," Ray told him. "Maybe something light but sturdy?"
"Please," Oz agreed, closing his eyes again. "I'll be down soon."
"Don't worry about it, Jack's got it," Blair said, then he left them alone.
Oz looked up at Ray. "Can I do this for a while longer?"
"Sure. I'm comfy, you're comfy. It's all good as Xander would say." He kissed Oz on the forehead.
Blair came running back in. "Nethisha just called, they're starting to do it the hard way, you're to report in the next hour with clothes for the both of you, with your other two too."
Ray slid out of Oz's arms. "Okay. We can do that." He grabbed their bag and went to get some clothes for Xander and Oz too. "Come on," he said once they were packed, getting Oz up and moving. "Let's go search for the Xander."
"Fifty-two planets?" Oz asked quietly. He caught a flash of light around his hand and looked down. "His signal bracelet," he said quietly. "He's got one." He hurried out, making Ray keep up with him. They had something to go on, it would help. He had hope.
Nethisha showed them to their room on the ship, giving Oz a pat on the back. "Relax, we've input the code from your bracelet and we've told the Empress' shipper's office about it. If anyone's seen it, we'll be told while we're on the way. Relax for the next few hours until we get to that section of space."
Oz nodded. "I'll try." He walked in and tossed the bag into the closet, falling back into Ray's arms for the comfort. He found himself starting to drift off to sleep again almost instantly.
Methos gave Ray a secretive smile and removed the small skin patch they'd had the Queen put on Oz. "Thank you," he told her, walking her to her suite. "How long are we estimating this to take?"
"We'll start at the outer limit of her path and move backwards. That narrows it down to about thirty systems." She patted him on the arm. "Even if it takes more than a week, he should be fine. None of those planets are on the 'hard living' list. They should have plentiful food and my daughter did an exhaustive search for which ones had been tested for colony worthiness. Those will have a house there and possibly even some crops planted as a test." She kissed him on the cheek. "If you need more help with him, just ask," she said quietly, going into her room.
Methos went back to the room he'd be sharing with Oz, closing the door gently and sitting down for takeoff. "A week possibly," he said quietly. "But a few of the planets have a house and a some crops planted to test their worthiness. We've narrowed it down to thirty systems."
"Better than fifty-two," Ray pointed out.
"Yes, and we'll be narrowing it down farther fairly quickly I hope," Methos said, grabbing onto the sides of the bed as the ship rocked. Then there wasn't anymore movement. "Was that all?"
"They're very advanced," Ray reminded him with a grin. "This ship was built for official comfort, I doubt the stresses of taking off and landing were wanted."
Methos shook his head, but he was smiling. "I think it wouldn't be wanted either." He nodded at Oz. "Are you all right with him? I was going to pull out that book and start it over again, maybe I'll find an answer to the problem Xander and Oz have been having."
Ray shrugged. "I'm happy to be an Oz cuddle toy and pillow. It's my second favorite spot in the whole world, right after being yours." They shared a kiss. "Go study."
"I'm going to do it here," Methos said as he grabbed their bag and pulled out his book. He felt a little dizzy so sat back down quickly. He cleared his mind as he started to read, falling into the text.
Xander laid down on the hard bed, curling around the blankets. It was warm so he didn't need them, but he couldn't really sleep alone, he was too used to sleeping on top of Oz's chest to sleep flat anymore. "This is not good," he told himself. "One day down and how many to go? If it was just a matter of finding a friendly demon I could be home right now. I might have to go back to Colorado and come over again, but it would be really nice if I could open a portal to home. Or even see Lissa or Strife right now. They'd probably laugh, but at least they'd give me a hug and make me feel like Oz was on the way." He turned over, bringing his lump of blankets with him to continue to cuddle. "It only took her a few hours to get me here, how much longer will it take Oz?"
"Xander, did you want to talk?" the ghost called through the door.
"No, I'm fine."
"Are you sure?"
"All right, I'll be out here looking up at the stars if you need me."
Xander felt horrible but he didn't get up, he'd explain to him tomorrow. He just needed time to sulk. Surely the other man remembered having days like that. He almost forced himself to get up, but he didn't. He put his wrist up and pushed his bracelet's button, sending his code out into the stars. Maybe someone would see it this time.
A freighter communication director looked up at her captain. "Sir, we're getting some sort of strange code from a vacant planet," she reported.
The captain leaned over her shoulder to look at it. "I've never seen one like that. Report it to the head office and keep going. If it's anything they'll know and send on word." He went back to his seat and sat down, watching the stars go by. "Those sort of things happen in this area of space," he told her. "My grandfather told me that he once encountered something like a dead signal out here, it was something coming off a star. Drove his com people crazy for months every time they came past here."
She nodded and made the report, then went back to scanning for other ships.
Oz woke up as he heard the door open, giving the woman standing there a blank look. "News?"
"Some," the First Wife said, coming in and shutting the door. "There was a report of an anomalous signal from our target area. It doesn't narrow it down much, and there's been signals like this reported before, but it does give us a more specific direction."
Oz nodded, giving her a small smile. "Thanks. How far does this narrow it down?"
"To about twenty-six."
"So, half of where we started," Ray said, giving Oz a squeeze. "How long before we get there?"
"A few more hours." She looked down at Oz. "If he's not there and this is one of those anomalous signals, then we'll be starting back this way and working our way out. But there is good news," she said with a smile. "The Empress has authorized two Marines to come help us search, we'll be meeting up with them at the signal's interception point."
"Which'll cut the search time down even more," Oz said, starting to look happier. He got up and gave her a hug. "Tell Nethisha she's a great woman for me. This means a lot to us that you'd help us this way." He climbed back in next to Ray. "I'm going to be in here, otherwise I'll be in the way."
She nodded. "We understand. When you're ready, there's an observation lounge over the bridge and you can find us up there. We'll send you food in a while, when we eat." She nodded at the other two men and went back to her wife's side. "Oz looks decimated," she said as she curled up against her wife's stomach.
"He loves Xander very much," Nethisha said, running her fingers though her wife's hair. "Did he give you a hug?"
"He did," she said, smiling up at her wife. "He was very grateful for the news, but his younger husband is still holding onto him."
"Ris, this is very odd to me, but we will get through this."
"A little challenge is better than a major crisis," Ris reminded her lightly.
"Yes, and thank all the Goddesses and Gods that it's not a major crisis. The alliance could be in real trouble if we don't find Xander quickly. The humans are being quite understanding."
"They're probably watching us for our reaction to the crisis," Ris said quietly. "We would be doing the same."
"Yes, but those diplomats aren't throwing a fit like ours would. I don't understand the humans some days."
"Maybe they think Xander is expendable. They are overcrowded."
"Yes, they are," Nethisha said, giving her wife a squeeze. "Then again, Xander is unique but this is a secret project. I'm sure the diplomats are going to be giving our daughter problems soon."
"Probably," Ris agreed. "She's strong, she'll deal with them and make them see we're doing all we can."
"Hopefully that nice General won't have to decapitate anyone."
"I don't think they do that anymore in the military. I think they've moved past that punishment."
"Pity, it's very useful."
Siblinth looked down at Sam, Jack, and the lead diplomat Webb, and nearly sighed. "My mother said that they've gotten a clue about the area, but they're still traveling to there. They are sending back regular messages." Sam and Jack both nodded, looking happy. Webb did not. "I'm sorry I can't give you more, but I can only tell you what I know, and I'll send messages as soon as I know." Sam and Jack nodded again.
"What will happen to this woman?" Webb asked haughtily.
Sam glared at him. "They're doing the best they can. The punishment should be *after* we find out how massive the crime is. Let's concentrate on getting Xander back before we hang her up by her ..."
"Breasts?" Jack suggested. Sam glared at him. "It would be a suitable punishment in my book," he said with a shrug. He looked up at Siblinth. "I think there's a misunderstanding though. Someone told us that the court will be closed, even to the victim."
Siblinth sighed. "It's closed to all outside. There will be a person there to give Xander's side of the story, they'll be spending some time with Xander to get his full story and all his impressions." She shifted in her mother's throne. "The court has three judges, all three are telepathic. Xander's advocate will also be telepathic, that way she'll be able to give Xander's full story and impressions. This woman will be allowed to defend herself, and she will have the right to an advocate of her own. There is no one else allowed in the court during the proceedings. That is the way our judicial system is set up."
Webb nodded. "That's perfectly understandable. Is there a way we could watch, say on a camera of some sort?"
She shook her head. "Cameras are not allowed. Nothing said in the court is allowed out into the rest of the world so we don't influence public perception. The judgement will be stated for public consumption, as will the charges against her, once it's all done with."
"But her family..." Sam started.
"Will have to wait as you will," Siblinth told her. "No one is allowed in the court, that way nothing said in there can get out. It saves...face I believe is the phrase?"
"Honor maybe?" Webb suggested. She nodded. "So that no one will know exactly what the victim went through and their reputation isn't affected by it?"
She nodded and grinned. "Exactly, you do understand!"
"Mostly," he agreed. "What sort of punishment is she looking at?"
"For the kidnapping charge, quite some time in our version of prison. Xander may be a male but he is a diplomat. Her taking him endangers our burgeoning alliance." He nodded so she went on. "If he is harmed besides the kidnapping, then she may be looking at other charges."
Webb nodded, looking relieved. "Thank you for clarifying that." He glanced at Sam. "May I speak with some of your lawyers? I work with military lawyers at home."
"We do have a legal minister on the negotiations team," Siblinth told him. "She and Oz have had quite a few discussions. Are you bringing up another lawyer?"
"I'm trying to get one of the ones I deal with up here," he told her. "She's one of the toughest lawyers I know and I think she could deal with this rather well. We're waiting on security approval."
Siblinth laughed. "You make so many things complicated," she told him.
"Our whole system is twisted and complicated," Jack told her. "Just to get to Sam's position, you have to prove you can kiss ass and prove that you don't do it all the time so you can make the hard decisions."
Sam rolled her eyes. "I never had to prove I could suck up to my superiors, sir. I had to prove I wasn't smarter than them, it made them mad."
Siblinth giggled. "Really?"
Sam nodded. "Unfortunately so. Human men can be intimidated by overly smart women, especially when they're looking at having to serve under you some day." She looked at Jack. "Of course, some men are just scared of scientists."
"I'm not *scared* of scientists, I just don't like them," Jack told her, patting her on the shoulder. "They seem to mess up my life a lot." He looked over at Webb. "Want us to walk you back? I'm going to go give Hammond an update."
Webb nodded. "Please. I need to call my mother." He bowed to the Crown Princess. "Thank you for explaining this to us."
"I would like to meet an average mother when I come down to set up formal diplomatic missions. Do you believe your mother might talk with me?"
Webb shrugged. "I can ask. She's usually very happy to brag about me," he said, giving her a faint smile. He bowed to her and followed Jack out.
Sam looked up at the Princess. "His mother is one of our upper class," she said once the men were gone. "There are many types of mothers. Even some in the military. If you asked, we could set up interviews with quite a few of them, and arrange for you to go tour schools to look at average children of many social classes."
She smiled. "I think I would like that. It must be very different to provide such different people with their life's work."
"Sometimes," Sam agreed, bowing to her. "I'm going to go back to our house and wait for more information. Please call on us if you need us." She headed home, running into Jack outside the palace. "She wants to talk to a lot of mothers and tour schools," she told Webb.
"We can do that. You think she'll be disappointed?"
"Why not, we are," she said, walking on. "I'm going home. Please make sure we get some more nuts, sir."
"Sure, Carter," Jack called after her. He shook his head. "After a year and a few months, you'll start craving nuts and chocolate too," he assured the diplomat. "Come on, let's go make a report." They walked toward the market, the shortest way to get to the portal home.
Xander walked out to the garden area, smiling at the ghost. "I'm sorry."
"I figure you were trying to soothe yourself," he said softly.
"I was," Xander agreed. "Well, technically I was sulking."
The ghost nodded. "I did that for my first few days too," he agreed. "It's very cathartic."
Xander smiled. "I knew you'd understand." He shot off another signal into the sky. "Any idea if there's been any ships coming past?"
"No, unfortunately we don't have the technology for that now that the signal beacon is dead." He looked over at the slumped form. "I'm sure it'll be sometime in the next week. Even if they have to do a planet-by-planet search of this region it shouldn't take more than a week." He grinned. "And if you're here more than three weeks, then you officially own the planet by our rules."
Xander groaned and laid down on the ground. "That would really mess up my taxes. Oz!" he called. "Hurry up!" He sent off another signal. "I don't want to own a planet."
The ghost laughed, rolling around on the ground beside his new friend.
"My Queen," a voice from down on the bridge called up. "We're within range to start scanning the first planet. The Marines have made contact and they're taking the outlying planets since they have the faster ships."
Nethisha got up and walked over to the railing, looking down at her Captain. "Thank you, dear. I'll inform our guests." She turned but her First Husband was disappearing down the hall to go talk to them. "He likes them," she noted to her First Wife as she laid back down in her arms.
"He does. There aren't many men around the palace that stir his intellect." She smiled at the hallway as her husband came back. "They're not coming?"
"Oz is resting again. Adam said he would come out in a few minutes." He snuggled in with them again, resting against his main wife's stomach. "Do you think they'll be added to the negotiations?" he asked casually.
"I'll try and get them added," Nethisha agreed, stroking through his hair. "Would you like to have your brothers come stay for a while again?"
"No," he said with a grin. "My brothers are all too busy helping their wives to come and spend time lazing around the palace with me." He kissed her on the stomach. "Thank you."
"You're welcome, love. Anything for you, you know that." She smiled at Adam as he walked in, followed by Oz. "If you'd like, we can have dinner brought in here," she offered. She looked behind them. "The third one?"
"He's taking a shower," Oz said, snuggling into Methos' arms. "Ray very gently handed me to him and told him to keep me company." He sat down in one of the other marshmallow chairs, pulling Methos down into his side. "So, we're there?"
"We're where they picked up the signal," the First Wife told him. "We're almost at the first planet we're going to be scanning."
Footsteps came up the stairs from the bridge and the woman was frowning. "My Queen, we have found the source of the signal. It's not him but it is a shipwrecked colony ship."
The Queen frowned. "Report it and wait for orders from Central Planet." She looked over at Oz. "It's a temporary delay. We have many ships that can come and help them, most of them are larger than ours."
Oz nodded. "I understand."
"We'll even continue to scan the nearby planets," the First Husband said quietly.
"The Marines will also be scanning some of the planets farther out," Nethisha added. "We're not stopping our search, Oz."
"No, it's okay. A whole planet of people that are wrecked is probably more desperate and have been out here longer. I can have patience."
Nethisha smiled at him. "Thank you, Oz. It will only be a few days delay at the most, our ships are very fast and Central Planet is close enough to get large ships here in less than two days."
"The Empire's that big?" Methos asked.
"It is," Nethisha said lightly. "It goes on very far. We're near the center of the Empire. There's planets that it takes weeks to get to each way."
"What rate of speed do you travel?" Ray asked as he walked out. "We have a TV show, don't know if you've heard of those yet, where the ships travel at exponentials of the speed of light." He sat down between Oz's thighs, resting against his stomach like the women were.
Nethisha got up and looked over the railing. "I was just asked a technical question, could I have someone to come up and answer?" she asked politely.
A young woman walked up the stairs and stopped, looking at them. "I'm the Engineer, my Queen, how may I help you and your guests?"
"Do you know what a TV show is?" Ray asked her. She frowned but nodded a little. "Well, I asked about something that one of ours has. The show, a work of futuristic fantasy, has ships moving at exponentials of the speed of light and I was wondering how fast we were going."
She smiled. "I can answer that, though I'm not sure how the ...show did it."
"With an anti-matter vs matter engine," Oz told her. "The reaction gave the power."
She shuddered and wrapped her arms around her chest. "That sounds incredibly dangerous." She shook her head. "We use a sonic wave system to propel us. Our cruising speed is..." She frowned and looked down over the railing. "What do they use as the steady rate of light?" she asked in the native language. "The humans have a fantasy story with a funny engine and they wanted to see how we do it." Someone yelled something up a few seconds later. "Thank you." She turned back to Ray. "We go about three times the speed of light, as you put it, at cruising speed, which is our most usual speed. During emergencies or battles, we go about 60 times that."
Ray nodded. "That's really cool. Thank you." He looked at Methos. "Did you pack my books?"
Methos groaned and nodded. "I've got all three of the ones you threw into the bag."
"If you'd like, I brought some of the books in the first series," Ray offered.
The Engineer smiled. "I might look at that later. It sounds interesting." She nodded at the Queen and went back down to her work.
"Is this a popular show?" Nethisha asked. "It also has books?"
"It's not one series, it's a set of series all spun off the same idea," Ray told her, rolling onto his side so he could look at her. "The first series was less technical but the later versions of the series, set later in time, are more technical and more exciting with more species included. I'm a fan of the later stuff but not really the early stuff."
"The series' have been turned into books and added to," Oz added. "Each part of the series has their own series of books associated with it. We even have fan conventions where the fans get together and celebrate the series while arguing about which series within the universe is better."
Nethisha smiled brightly. "I would like to know more about this."
"We can get you all the books you want," Adam told her. "I'm sure there's at least one person on the base that has the full set of books and possibly tapes."
"How would you watch those?" the First Husband asked.
"We could import a tv and vcr," Oz told him. "As long as we can rig up a power source, we can do that. The General would probably like that quite a lot. Star Trek is our largest source of futuristic fiction and what a lot of people hope our future is like."
"I would like to see that," Nethisha told him. "When we get home, we'll beg the most amusing General to get it hooked up for us."
Oz grinned. "Cool. We'll arrange it. Just don't let Webb laugh about it. He's the sort that doesn't really believe in science fiction."
Ray looked up at him. "Was that the stiff guy we nodded at as we ran past?"
Oz nodded. "Yup, he's the head diplomat. He works with the JAG office in DC and with the State Department."
"At least he's used to dealing with unfamiliar situations," Ray said, snuggling in. "Is he helping Hammond too?"
"He didn't know about the project. He told me he laughed when he first was briefed that he was coming over, he said he thought it was a joke." Oz stroked through Ray's hair. "He actually walked out of his boss' office and went to file a complaint about the joke his boss was playing on him. Then someone from the Prez's office came and told him that it wasn't a joke and that he was coming over here to deal with a problem."
Ray looked up and grinned. "Is he good?"
"He's very competent but he's not happy. He's out of his element in a lot of ways. He even said that he's having problems keeping his focus because he's distracted."
Nethisha laughed. "He is a bit stiff for our tastes but he is decent and he does keep his people in line."
Oz nodded. "Besides that first day, we haven't had to ride any of the diplomats." She looked interested. "One of the male diplomats got there after Sam had finished her 'they don't want humans' speech and he propositioned a woman. Sam grabbed him by his hair and I got to yell at him. Webb arrived while we were fixing the situation and straightened everyone out real fast."
She straightened up a little bit. "Good, then I like him even more. Did you yell at him?"
"And hit him a few times," Oz agreed. "He deserved it. We planned Sam's speech very carefully. She even showed up in native clothing to shock them into proper behavior."
The First Wife smiled. "That was an inspired plan. It would let her know who was going to be a problem. Fortunately we haven't had any problems from them yet. They're very professional."
"That's the criteria they were picked by," Oz told her. "Professionalism and the ability to deal with strange situations."
"It worked," Methos said, stroking over Oz's arm. "I'm sure we can keep them in line very well, even if there is a problem. I met one in the market and she was pleasant but very distant."
"Yes, we've met her," the First Wife said dryly. "Very formal and stiff."
"She's not going to unfreeze," Oz said sadly. "She sees this as an assignment and she's the sort that the job is more important than anything in her life."
The First Wife shrugged. "She does good work and does it easily. We are pleased with that."
"Is there any area that we still need people?" Ray asked.
"There is but we're moving slower in those areas," the First Wife told him. "A legal representative isn't really needed yet. We will have to start teaching Siblinth how to deal with the diplomatic situation she'll have when she comes to New York."
"How long will that be?" Ray asked.
"Within a year," Oz told him. "We're setting them up for introduction in about a year and then about six months later to set up formal diplomatic quarters in New York to talk to the other countries. Xander's officially up here to chronicle some of their stories to put them into the mainstream of science fiction, get people around their surprise and paranoia."
"Why would they be paranoid?" the First Husband asked. "We're very nice people."
"Because some humans have decided that any aliens would want to kidnap them and use them for experiments," Ray said dryly. "There's even stories now about people being abducted and given..." Methos put his hand over Ray's mouth.
"Some people are paranoid because they like to think that they're the top species in the universe," he explained.
"And there are some who really believe that they've been abducted and forced to endure sexual experiments," Oz finished.
"It's a strange dichotomy," Ray agreed. "Some people think aliens can be good guys and we can be friends. Some people think that they're going to be coming after them for being humans. I guess that's why Xander's up here, to get some good information of your history into our world."
"Yup," Oz agreed. "He's sent back three novels worth and his editor was kinda excited. He thought they were different enough to sell pretty well. It'll eventually come out that Xander was getting inspiration for them but not that we were here already."
Nethisha nodded. "That sounds most reasonable. Maybe the paranoid ones won't cause too many problems."
"Hopefully not noticeably," Ray told her. "They're more underground and subversive."
The Queen nodded. "I can see how that would work best to spread fears." She looked at Oz. "Should I be the one to make first contact? It might help."
"It could," Oz agreed. "Webb is the best person to engineer that. He's got the contacts to make the first official meeting go smoothly and look good to the general public, even the ones who don't believe in aliens."
"There are people like that?" the First Husband asked. "They think that they're alone?"
"They do," Ray agreed. "Some of it is religion saying that their God made the Earth from nothingness. They say that he only created Earth."
"There's even some who believe that things like our landing on our moon wasn't real because God wouldn't let them off the planet," Adam told her. "They're a very small minority."
"Then there's some who believe that it might be possible but not very probable."
"And there's some that believe, or want to believe, so strongly that they go looking for you guys," Ray finished. "Like a lot of things on our world, it's all mixed up and confusing."
Nethisha looked thoughtful. "We'll arrange this meeting carefully then. It would not due to make a lot of your people upset."
"They'll get over it," Oz said blandly. "They'll see you're not bad, going to kidnap and enslave them, and it'll all be okay after a few months. Humans are nothing if not adaptable."
She laughed. "Good, then we'll start planning it now." She rang a bell and a waiter walked in with a tray of food. "Eat, you all could probably use the food."
Xander sighed as he sent another signal into the air. "Three weeks," he said glumly, laying back in the garden. "I'm going to kill him."
"No you won't," the ghost sighed. "You won't kill him. You'll kiss him and hold him tightly because he is coming."
"Then what's keeping him?" Xander asked angrily. "He's never taken this long before to save me."
"Maybe the woman is being stubborn. They can be that way," the ghost reminded him, sitting beside him on the ground. "She might have even given them the wrong coordinates."
"Maybe," Xander agreed, going back to his depressed state. "It's still been three weeks."
"He'll be here soon," the ghost soothed. "Why don't you gather some of those new herbs and see if we can make a soup with them? That will take some time."
"No offense, but I don't really feel like soup. I feel like eating pitiful food." Xander rolled onto his stomach and looked around the garden. "What else haven't I tried?"
"The little blue balls," the ghost said, pointing. "They look ripe finally."
"What are they?"
"A berry. It makes you hyper and gives you energy."
"We have something like that. Do you dry it out and steep it?"
"No, we eat it whole and then shudder from the taste. It's horrible but it works." He watched as Xander sighed and put his head down to rest. "Xander, you have to get up or you'll end up like me."
"No I won't."
"Yes, you will. Trust me, I was there for a few weeks myself."
Xander turned his head to look at him. "I'm semi-immortal. The only way I'm dying anytime soon is by someone taking my head off."
"Oh." The ghost looked startled. "Are all your people like that?"
"No. Just a very few of us." He went back to watching the plants grow. "Most of us don't even know about people like me."
"And your Oz?"
"I'm this way because I'm soul-bound with my Oz. He's naturally like that and I picked up on it when we were joined."
"Oh. Well, that's very interesting. I won't tell anyone that comes to pick us up of course. I doubt you want this spread around." Xander shook his head. "At least you'll be around for a while, no matter where your Oz is."
"He'd better be on his way here," Xander said lightly, rolling onto his back, sending another signal into the sky. He jerked as his bracelet zapped him. "Ow!" He lifted it as far as he could so he could look under it. "You're not supposed to shock me." He tried it again but he got shocked again. "Sam, I need you to come fix this!" he yelled.
"Tell me more about your world," the ghost suggested. Anything to get Xander's attention back towards staying alive. No matter what sort of far-fetched story he told about his life expectancy, no one was immortal.
"Well, my life is really different. I'm wealthy, which a lot of our people aren't. I write, which isn't real common either. Neither is being gay or being with a few men." He sighed. "Neither is worshiping multiple, old Gods." He sat up, looking around. "My Gods. They could get to the house. Maybe they can get here." He forced himself to get up and head into the emergency supplies. His thigh was better but still twinging when he stood up or sat down. He found something like a candle and pulled it out, lighting it on the fire he had finally managed to start on his third day there. He put the candle on the table and prayed as hard as he could, hoping that one of his Gods would hear him and tell Oz where he was. Or even that any other Gods might hear him; Lissa had been really nice so far, maybe she or her mother would hear him.
Oz sat up, feeling something strange, but shrugged it off.
"What's wrong?" Ray asked, stroking across Oz's flat stomach.
"Thought I heard the Xander praying for me to hurry up," Oz said, rolling into Ray's body to hide his face in the welcoming shoulder.
"Maybe you did," Ray suggested. "We are all bound in strange and unusual ways. No one's sure whether or not we can send stuff to each other in times of really bad stress." He gave Oz a hug. "Who was he praying to?"
"Not a clue," Oz sighed. "I only heard the 'make him fucking hurry up' part."
"Hmm, maybe it was a dream then," Ray said quietly. "Xander doesn't usually swear." Oz nodded, letting himself relax back into sleep. Ray told himself he'd talk to Methos about this when his husband got back from his turn at watching.
Strife ran into his Uncle's temple, panicked. "Did you hear that?" he asked, eyes wide. "Xander's stranded somewhere."
Ares nodded. "I heard." He looked at his nephew's outfit of hawaiian shirt and ugly plaid shorts, raising one eyebrow. "Have you tried to get to Oz?"
"They're not home," Cupid said as he appeared, blatantly ignoring Strife's off-duty outfit. "I tried at the house off-world, they're not there. Ran into Blair, who said Xander had been kidnaped and they were searching for the planet he'd been dropped off on."
Ares glared at his two boys. "Oh, really?" he said dryly. "And the woman who took him?"
"Won't talk, even under mental assault," Cupid said darkly, starting to frown. "They've tried *everything*, Pop."
"Then maybe we should offer to help," Ares said as he stood up. "Strife, go put on clothes." His nephew disappeared. "Where did he get those?"
"Out of Xander's old clothes," Cupid said, glaring at the spot Strife had been in. "I'm going to burn them."
"Suits my mood. Let's go offer our services," he said, walking down off his dias, disappearing into the ether, only to reappear in Nethisha's throne room. He stared at the girl sitting on the throne. "The last time I saw you, you were older," he noted.
She laughed. "I'm the Crown Princess. My mother is still looking for your follower." She bowed deeply. "You would be Lord Ares I presume?" He nodded. "How may we serve you, Lord Ares?" She giggled as Strife and Cupid appeared behind him. "I have heard many great stories about you all."
"How's the search going?" Strife asked. "We just got a desperate plea from Xander to make Oz hurry up."
She hopped up. "Can you pinpoint where it came from? We know which region he's in but not the exact planet, that's what's taking so long. We've been over almost every planet out there and haven't found anybody."
"Want me to make the bitch talk?" Strife asked in his usual delicate fashion.
Siblinth giggled, they were so funny. "We've done everything short of ripping her head into little pieces and she refuses to tell us. Fortunately she didn't get a chance to file the paperwork for claiming Xander as a foundling husband." Cupid shuddered. "Lord Cupid, we did stop her."
"Sorry, just thinkin' about Oz's reaction to that," Cupid said lightly. "We can rip into her if you'd like."
"I can show you where she is, and would be grateful of any help you might give, but it might compromise the case against her." She sat down, her eyes going a little wide, as a woman appeared behind the group. "Lady Artten. It is a pleasure and.. and an honor to see you here. How may I help you?"
The woman walked forward, staring at Ares, stopping in front of him with her head tipped off to the side. "You're that human's God of War?" she asked plainly, her voice mellow and deep.
Ares smirked. "I am. Are you the one here?" She nodded. "Would you like to help me pull the information from this woman's mind so we can find Xander?"
"No, but my daughter would," Artten said gently. "Lissa is most worried about him and Grethen is barely controlling her rage at the moment." She heard a little moan from behind her but ignored it. "We fear for some of the mortal's lives if Lissa really loses her temper. The last time she0 set off a civil war that the planet never really recovered from."
"Please, Lady Artten, I will show you personally where this woman is hanging. The courts can not refute your interference." She stood up again. "Please, follow me and I'll send down refreshments if you're going to be a while." She led them to the back of the palace and down to the jail, but picked up the ferret and cubs that were guarding her cell door. "They miss Xander also," she explained to Strife, who was petting Skip. "Lethshan has had to order the cubs to not bother her over Xander."
Strife nodded, grinning at her. "I can see that, we feel about the same." He zapped the door and walked in, grinning maniacally at the woman in the chains. "Hey, toots, we need to talk," he said in his usual high-pitched voice.
"And it's gonna be a *long*, *involved* discussion," Cupid added as he walked in, popping his knuckles. "You took something of ours."
Ares and Artten walked in together, holding hands as they put them on the woman's head. She screamed obscenities but they continued to pull information from her mind. Artten stepped back, considering the woman. "You know," she said quietly, "I find it quite strange to receive a prayer meant for another God. I've gotten one from their worshiper because of you. I find the mortals interesting but I do not wish to interfere, now I am forced to because his prayer was sent to me also as it bounced around. This displeases me." She crossed her arms over her chest and glared at the woman. "I will have them deal with you fairly but you will confess or I will be back." She nodded at Ares. "A pleasure to meet my counterpart. Maybe one of the diplomats will call on me so we may have a formal conference." She nodded at Siblinth. "Thank you for your hospitality, your Ladyship. I look forward to seeing how you lead."
She disappeared and Siblinth leaned against the wall. "Did she tell you where she left him?" she pleaded. "Xander and Oz both must be going insane."
"They've been keeping Oz drugged," Strife told her. "He's near to losing his temper and he's a beserker." She looked clueless. "That's a bad thing," he explained. "Means he can't control it, there's a little switch in his mind that flips when he's fighting and he starts on automatic but he doesn't really connect with the outside world."
"Xander was keeping him from fighting," Cupid sighed. "Ray?"
"Ray," Strife agreed. "I've been getting prayers from Methos." He looked at his Uncle. "Now what?"
"We have a planet," Ares announced. "She had a faster ship than you thought." He looked her over. "A map?" he suggested.
"Bring me a map!" Siblinth screamed out the door. "She gave up Xander's position."
Her younger sister came running with an interactive map, handing it over to Ares with a moony look. "Here you go, sir. Are you here to help rescue him? We love the Xander, even though he is a human and not appropriate company for a respectable young woman." She glared at the chained woman. "Shall I call the Minister of the Courts?"
"Please," Siblinth told her. "Tell her that the rescue is almost complete." Her sister gave Ares one last adoring look then disappeared. "She's young," Siblinth explained. "She has a thing for very strong men and women. My mother should take advantage of that when choosing her first spouses."
Ares laughed. "I get that a lot." He traced a route on the map under her careful watch. "She went this way and ended up somewhere around here," he said, pointing at a clouded space on the map. The clouded area expanded, becoming a larger display. "Cute and useful technology," he congratulated as he touched a planet. "Look around here. Her mind said she knew that the cloud confuses instrumentation."
"How did she know about it?" Siblinth asked. "That area is forbidden because it wipes computer data out." She shook her head. "No wonder her computer didn't have the final destination on it."
"Her mind showed her grandmother doing the same thing and she thought it was romantic. Her grandmother died coming out of the cloud when her ship was attacked." He handed over the map. "Hopefully this will help." He gave her a steady look. "How was he taken?"
"He was walking his leader back to the portal with Oz and she knocked him cold." Siblinth shrugged. "Oz only waited long enough for Jack to get there from around a corner then took off after her, but she knew the market better and got off world before he could get to her."
Ares nodded. "That's reasonable." He looked at the body on the floor. "And now?"
"Now, she'll be charged with kidnapping in our courts, Lord Ares. She will spend a long time in our prison as Xander is an ambassador and a favorite of my mother's."
"Yeah, but will she *suffer*?" Strife asked.
"Our prisons aren't meant to be cruel, but she will learn her lesson in near solitude. She will only see the attendants and will be forced to consider her actions. She'll probably be in that little room for a good ten years."
Strife sighed. "Not sufferin' then. Oz'll be upset but I think we can keep it okay."
Cupid nodded. "He'll just want her punished. As long as she's not running around he'll let the court handle it." He looked at his father. "Home or the house here to wait?"
Ares leaned closer to Siblinth. "Think of me when you get news," he ordered in a steady, low voice. "I will know as soon as Oz has him back."
"Why couldn't you go to him?" she asked.
"Too big of a jump," Strife explained. "Getting up here is hard enough but getting somewhere we don't know and so far away from our home and our worshipers is even harder. I can't do it."
Ares shrugged. "I might be able to think to Xander, but I couldn't get there." He looked up and sent a thought winging out to his worshiper, who was getting more and more violently inclined the longer he stayed by himself. "There's a ghost there," he said dryly. "I caught Xander thinking about him." He shrugged. "Think of me," he reminded her, then they all disappeared.
She slumped a little in relief. It was disconcerting to deal with Gods. She grabbed the guard with the communication device and called her mother, waiting the small time lag for a confirmation reply.
Xander jumped up when he heard the message, smiling his brightest at the ghost. "They heard! They heard and Ares made the bitch tell them where we are. We're in some dense cloud that makes computers burp."
"Oh, no," the ghost sighed. "The computers die whenever they neared the cloud if you're right." He floated into the house. "What will we do?"
"Oz is coming," Xander said firmly. "They're getting better coordinates right now." He looked around. "This is good. Oz is coming. My mates are with him. We're both going to be saved."
"Xander, they can't get through the cloud. The ship will be destroyed."
"The one that brought me here wasn't," Xander pointed out. "Or yours."
"Yes, but coming in and going out are two *different* things. Coming in, the ship will only be minorly damaged, they can ride the magnetic streams in. Going out, they have to fight it. They can't get in here or else the ship will quit working." He stomped his foot. "We're not saved, we're doomed!"
"You don't know my Oz," Xander said, storming off into the bedroom and slamming the door. He leaned against it. "Oz will come," he reminded himself. "I will get off this planet. Even if I have to build my own ship." He walked over and laid down, it was a good time for a nap.
Oz jumped as he heard the message, running to the door. "They made her talk," he called as he jogged toward the bridge. "Ares made her talk."
Methos caught him, making him stand still. "How did you find out?"
"I heard him trying to calm Xander down. Xander's ready to get really violent on that woman. It's a tricky thing but they know where he is."
Nethisha sat up and tugged on Oz's pants. "Did he pass on this information?" She stood up as she heard a beep of incoming communication. "Is that my daughter?" she called down.
"Yes, my Queen," the Captain said. "They do have coordinates and it's a very tricky situation. They're in a magnetic cloud formation. If you wish, I could bring the map up." She shook her head. "We'll be moving closer soon and figure out how to get to him on the way."
"Thank you," she said, nodding at her. She turned to look at Oz. "You heard a message for Xander?"
"They're soul-bound," Ray said as he walked in. He hugged Oz. "I forgive you for the knee to the nuts."
Oz shook himself free. "Remember when Giles took Xander?" Nethisha nodded. "We told you then that we were bound soul-deep, that's why he had that blade he used on our third husband. Apparently Xander is in enough emotional turmoil that I'm able to barely hear things from him when I'm in the right state. I sorta heard him praying the other day but I thought I had dreamed it because I was nearly asleep."
She smiled. "We have people like that, Oz. Don't worry about justifying the skill." She winked at her First Husband. "Our cats are not our only telepaths, are they, Thoren?"
"No, my Queen," he agreed, smiling back at her. He looked over at Oz. "I'm a very weak one. The telepathic inquisitor that came to help us was much stronger than I ever will be."
"Did Ares say anything else?" Methos asked.
"Yup, that he and their Goddess of War had done it together and that he was burning some of Xander's old, bad looking clothes because he caught Strife wearing them. Something about plaid and bright prints."
"Artten and Ares got together?" Nethisha said, looking a little faint. "My poor daughter."
"Ares didn't say that they fought," Oz offered. "I'm sure she's fine. Ares doesn't blindly attack, especially not when he can charm in these situations."
"I was thinking of my younger daughter," Nethisha told him. "She likes strong men and women, prefers them to look and act very strong. She must be a puddle right now." She walked away, probably going to call her daughter.
The First Wife smiled at them. "Ares is big?" The three humans nodded. "Then our younger crown princess will be begging to worship him as he needs it." She winked at them. "Do you think he'll mind?"
"I'm not sure, he's still got Jace," Oz noted. "She's Ares, Cupid, and Strife's woman. Xander took over her spot as priest to all three of them."
The First Husband laughed. "I just caught the image of Strife from their mind." He touched his wife's hand, sending it to her.
"You can get Cupid's and Ares' from me if you wish," Oz offered. "I'm not sure how you do it, but hey, I'm all for spreading out their worshipers. It'll be less time Xander can torment them by getting into trouble." That got a laugh and the First Husband stood up, coming over to gently touch his forehead. "The winged one is Cupid," he said quietly.
The First Husband rushed back over and shared this information too. "I know," she told him, patting him on the hand. "Cupid is quite cute." She looked at Oz. "Your secret is still safe within our family."
Methos groaned. "You knew?"
"I told her because of Giles," Oz told him. Ray looked at him. "She needed to know and I trust her not to use the information."
"You both also?" she asked.
"I am," Methos admitted, shooting Oz with a glare. "Ray is like Xander, bound to me, and them," he said, pointing at Oz. "It's a rare occurrence but we've learned how to live together as one rather strange family."
"Except for Giles," Ray pointed out. "If I see him, I'm gonna cold cock him."
"Agreed," Methos said, giving his husband a smile. "I'll hold him if you wish."
"What did he do this time?" Oz asked.
"He called in every favor he had to have some help getting around the blockage of his powers," Methos said dryly. "He's managed to get about as much access as Xander has. Nearly none." Oz shrugged. "You expected this?"
"He's going insane being able to feel but not touch it. I expected him to make a try. As long as he can't do *much*, then we'll probably be okay with it."
"He's much less powerful than Xander is," Ray told him. "He can barely light a candle."
"Then I'm good with it, as long as you're curing his mental problem."
"Richard has been working with him every few days. Giles has now come down to the level of 'I'm a powerful force of the universe' and has relinquished the title of God."
"Hey, baby steps and all that," Oz noted, giving him a hug. "Thanks for watching over our problem baby for us."
"Anytime, Oz, you make my eternity a less boring place."
The First Wife laughed. "I bet. What does Xander do to it?"
"Bollixes it all to hell," Methos told her in that same dry tone. "I had been looking forward to slipping back into obscurity again but he's forced me to stay at the forefront of all this." He sat down, pulling Oz down onto his lap. "I suppose it could be worse, Xander could want to be a famous celebrity. Then I would have to live in the limelight."
"Eww," Oz told him. "I wouldn't let Xander do that, even if he wanted to."
"Thankfully, he hates that sort of attention these days," Ray said as he snuggled into them. "So, what's up with this problem place?"
"There's a magnetic particulate cloud around it," Nethisha said as she walked out. "The girl's grandmother did the same thing and she thought it was *romantic*," she told her family as she took a seat. "We may have some trouble getting to him, but our ships are better than that girl's was, so maybe not much trouble."
"Will being forced to wait in there hurt?" Oz asked. "If this cloud hurts computers, will it block a scan?" She nodded. "Then how do we do this? Do I go down in a smaller ship?"
"No," she said firmly. "A smaller ship won't be able to make it through the cloud and land, much less come back out."
"Think of it like that surfing stuff Daniel was telling me about the other day," the First Husband suggested. "Much easier riding it one way than fighting it the other." He looked at his wife. "Will putting ourselves in a hold pattern inside while we search for Xander hurt us?"
"It won't," the Captain said as she came up the stairs. "We found a partial stream through the cloud. We can ride a full one in and use that partial one to help us come out. You'll have about six hours before we have to leave." She looked at Oz. "We can barely scan, we found heat signatures all in one spot."
"Would landing help?" the Queen asked.
"It might," the Captain offered. "We could if you wanted. It would give us more time to map out the fluxes in the cloud." She bowed to them. "We'll be there within an hour, Central time." Then she left them alone.
Nethisha sighed and reached for the bell. "I suppose we should eat and tell them to prepare something for Xander, just in case he's not had much that's edible." A waiter came running in with a tray, hurrying to feed them all. "Make a larger dinner," she ordered. "We're almost ready to pick up our friend."
"And secure yourself for a rough landing," Oz told him as he grabbed one himself.
"It shouldn't be that bad," Nethisha told him. "More like flying sideways." The waiter whimpered lightly. "Yes, we're going into the cloud; don't worry, we have enough backup systems to fly us home blindly if we need it, even if we were all unconscious." He nodded and left the tray, going back to the kitchen to spread the news.
"I miss our housekeepers," Oz told Methos.
"They're fine, Oz, and they loved the birthday presents."
"Do they cook for you?" the First Wife asked.
"Sometimes," Oz told her. "Sometimes it's just like hanging out with a friend, and one has twin boys. But they never bowed and ran from us, even during big dinners."
"You aren't a queen," Ray pointed out.
"True, but I miss people being informal with me. Even the servants at the house are very scared of us it seems."
"You're getting a vacation soon?" the First Wife asked.
Oz nodded. "We're getting a week off, Earth time, shortly after we get back. Xander and I have a new property that we'd like to go see and we're going to spend some time in our real house in Sunnydale."
"Oz, you might want to reconsider that," Methos said quietly. "Sunnydale has changed since the last time you were there."
"What did they do to the house?" Oz asked, looking up at his teacher.
"Nothing, other than trying to buy it. No, the area itself has changed. There's a great deal of pollution now where there wasn't before."
"Yeah, you've got real smelly air there now. That's why D'Nalia took the boys and ran to Florida. That new company is really doin' a number on Sunnydale."
"Then I guess we'll have to work on getting them gone," Oz said dryly. Methos sighed. "Non- visibly of course."
"Of course," Methos agreed. "Hopefully they'll give up easily, before Xander has to spend all his money to buy them out and shut them down."
Oz snorted. "He doesn't really like that approach since all the stuff with Wolfram and Hart. But you never know, he might go to the Hellish lawyers for some help against these guys."
"One never knows about Xander," Methos agreed wisely. "He is a very complex man."
"Yup, that's my baby," Oz said lightly, stuffing his mouth with a sandwich so he couldn't make himself any more morose.
Oz walked off the ship, heading toward the quickening signature he could feel. He walked into the house and slammed the door, then into the bedroom and slammed that door too. He kicked off his clothes as fast as he could and pounced on his husband, happy to have him back and to himself. "You're wearing a leash," he said as he lubed his husband's body for his entry. "I'm not letting any of those women near you ever again." He inserted himself.
"Can't I have a kiss?" Xander begged lightly.
"And then some, babe." Oz gave him a powerful kiss, remarking him. "You're not getting out of my sight for a very long time."
"Okay," Xander agreed, pushing up against the hard body. "More? I'll be good."
Ray stuck his head in the door. "It wasn't your fault. It was hers. We'll talk when you're done." He closed the door and went to help Methos gather things. "Do you see the ghost?" he asked finally.
"Yes, I was trying to ignore it," Methos sighed. He looked at the ghost. "Are your remains still here?"
"They'd better be, Xander just buried them three weeks ago and there aren't any large predators or scavengers on this planet." He smiled at the woman walking through the door. "Sister!" He held out his arms for a hug. Then he realized what he was doing and settled on smiling at her. "Sorry, I'd hug you but I can't quite do that in my present state."
Nethisha's First Wife shook her head and turned, heading back to the ship. "Nethisha, my brother's body is here," she called as she walked onto the ship.
"Fortunately, we had the forethought to bring suitable covering in case something had happened to Xander. Did Oz find him?" The First Wife smiled and giggled. "I see. It's a good thing we landed then." She turned to look at the Captain. "Would you please offload the burial coverings? We just found a body."
"No, we just found his ghost and he said Xander had buried him," the First Wife countered.
"Really? Well, I would expect no less from him, Ris. He is that sort of man." She hugged her wife. "At least you'll be able to explain to those four about your people's time codes."
"Yes, they would understand." She nodded at the Captain's guard to follow her. "Where is it?" she asked the ghost.
"Out past the garden," he said, floating that way. "Not even a happy noise?"
"Very many happy noises, but it would be inappropriate," she reminded him. "Even saying your name is now forbidden. I'll give your remains to our mother."
He bowed deeply to her. "That's all I expected from you. Thank you, sister."
"Welcome, brother." She followed his floating body to the grave, letting the guards dig it up. "We'll be storing it in the hold," she ordered, following it back to make sure it was properly stored for transport.
Oz rolled off Xander, panting as he stared up at the ceiling. "I'm not happy that you were taken. I'm kinda angry at the both of us that this happened. But I'm still not going to let you out of my sight for the rest of our time together."
"Okay," Xander agreed. "But I'm not wearing the leash."
"How about the harness?"
"Not even the pretty one Ares gave us?"
"Definitely not." Xander rolled over, resting on top of his husband's body. "I'll let you come to work with me if you want," he offered quietly.
"Wasn't even considering staying away."
"I'm not becoming a diplomatic wife."
"Also wasn't even considering that."
"Good." Xander snuggled in. "Can we nap?"
"I think we should probably get back to the ship. They're waiting on us."
"Oh, crap, the ghost," Xander said, starting to get up.
Oz putting him back down. "I heard Ray say something about it. But we should get up." His hand started to wander down his mate's back. "I heard your prayer to Ares."
"Really?" Xander asked, arching up into the hand. "Ummm, like that."
"May we come in?" Methos called loudly from the other side of the door.
"Sure," Oz said, his hand continuing on its sensuous journey back towards the wet, open hole. "Hey, everything ready?"
"Nearly. Nethisha and her husband are wandering in the woods." He smiled at the hand's movements. "Is everything all right again?"
"Yup, I'm working on our miscommunication problem."
"Miscommunication problem?" Xander asked.
"I'm still pissed about you getting kidnaped."
"I was unconscious," Xander pointed out.
"Yup, I remember quite well, but I think we need to work harder on your hormone problem."
"Hey, there's only the one way that we know about. The other people around us right now don't understand it or celebrate it."
"We're still going to ask," Oz said firmly.
"Okay," Xander sighed. "Can we go back to the old way of wearing it out?"
"Yup. Was planning on that. I'm not going to let you get out of bed any morning without enjoying myself with you anymore." His fingers found its target and Xander moaned as they slipped inside. "Wanted to join in?" he asked Methos, who was still watching his hand.
"We can wait until we're on the ship," he said with a smirk. "Xander, I did need to ask you something. Have you seen anything *peculiar* around here?"
"Besides the snails that boulganth comes from?"
"Snails?" Oz asked. Methos and Xander both nodded. "They said it was sap."
"What exactly did they say?" Methos asked, leaning against the wall.
"That it was the stuff that ran down the trees."
"Ah, but the snails snack on the sap of certain types of trees," Xander told him, lifting his head. "You dry out the slime, then you boil it down and redry it. The ghost told me."
"Also, it inhibits our healing abilities," Methos said quietly. "I found a book in the marketplace about making it and it's even mentioned in there that people with 'healing abilities' are inhibited when eating a lot of it." He looked at Xander. "Which I believe you do."
Xander groaned and put his head down onto his husband's shoulder. "No wonder my thigh still aches. How much longer?"
"A few more weeks, maybe a month at the most to sweat it all out." Methos smiled at Xander. "Do you really want to eat more of it anyway?"
"No," Oz groaned. "Never again." His fingers started to tease again. "How long do we have?"
"Maybe a few minutes," Ray called. "They're back."
"All right then," Oz said, pulling out his fingers and wiping them off on the sheets. "Xander, get dressed."
"My clothes are pretty torn," Xander said as he got up, going to find his rags. "Did you find my sword? She took it."
"It's in custody as evidence," Oz soothed, patting him on the back. That sword had been a wedding present to them from Angel and his crew, Xander loved that blade. "We'll talk to Nethisha about getting it back as soon as we get home." He wrapped Xander in his arms and picked him up, carrying him out to the ship.
"Is he still hurt?" Nethisha asked.
"Just a little," Xander said with a teasing grin. "He's spoiling me this time."
"I told you I'm not letting you out of my sight." Oz carried Xander into their room on the ship.
Methos stopped beside the Queen. "Xander wanted to know about his sword. He said she took it off him."
"It's in custody," Nethisha told him, taking his arm and leading him onto the ship. "It is being held for him but may be called back for the trial. She might even demand that it be destroyed."
"It was a wedding present," Methos told her. "He got it when he married Oz from a few of his friends."
"I'll see what I can do to get it back for him," she agreed, leading him into the ship. "Are we all back?" she asked the guard.
"All but your wife's brother's spirit. Is he coming?"
"I think he'll be with his body," Methos told him.
Oz came jogging out and whispered something in the Queen's ear. "Of course," she agreed, watching him run out. "He needs to gather something from the garden. It should only take him a few moments." She jumped as Xander yelled. "What is that?"
"Xander," Methos said dryly. "I believe my Ray is reacquainting himself with Xander."
"Ah, you're a noisy lot," she said, looking pleased. "At least it's not a long flight home. Otherwise I might have to go enjoy my spouses as well." She walked away, going to check on her spouses, and maybe make some noise of her own.
Oz came back a few minutes later, a small bag in his hands. "It was that important?" Methos asked him as they walked back to their room.
Oz opened the bag to show off the contents. "Very important," he said with a wink, walking in to go share his Xander with the Ray.
Methos shook his head, going in to wait his turn.
To Be Continued....