Domestic Bliss

The doorbell interrupted Xander's sleep. Still in a drowsy haze, he pulled on sweatpants so he wouldn't be answering the door completely naked. He had learned his lesson about that a few years ago. It had taken them over a month to convince that delivery driver that they didn't need pizza every night. He wondered who it could be. It was Tuesday, delivery day for their weekly cd, book, and movie shipment that made living in their tiny village possible, but it wouldn't be the Federal Express driver. She knew the combination to the lock on the porch door (it may be a remote town, but there were still occasional security issues at the house), and she always just left their packages on the porch. He glanced at the clock. Eight in the morning? It wouldn't be FedEx. Even if Jan was not on the route, her replacement wouldn't have made it to the house this early. Oz must be out on his morning run with the dog. Xander smiled at the thought. Domestic bliss -- a cozy house, a friendly dog, an affectionate cat. Heaven. Even if Oz was crazy. Running every morning? No sane person would do that. And scratch the house comment. It was a home. They even had a bread machine. He made a mental note to try to figure out a recipe for herbed sourdough. Who would have ever imagined that this would be his life? Making fresh bread to go with the fresh pasta and sauce he was going to make later that day?

Finally, after tripping over the dog's latest rawhide bone and stepping on several shredded fur mice, he made it to the door. He hit the lock release for the porch door and opened the door to the house itself. And stared in shock at his visitor.


The older man shrugged. "I was in the neighborhood."

Xander blinked. "You just happened to be in a remote town in the mountains, two states away? And you just happened to find... um, my house?"

"Well, yes, sort of." He held up a book. "I happen to have connections."

Xander turned his stunned gaze from Giles to the book in his hand. Zombie Jamboree by Harris Daniels. "You know."

"It wasn't very hard to figure out. At least for me."

"I need coffee." He moved to the kitchen, dumping a healthy amount of ground coffee into the filter basket. As it brewed, he pulled a bag of bagels from the breadbox. "Want one?" Giles shook his head. "Are you sure? They're the best bagels you're going to find around here." Finally, Giles relented. "Toasted? Butter? Cream cheese?"

"However you're having yours."

"Toasted with butter it is." They were silent as the coffee brewed and the bagels toasted. Finally, breakfast was ready, and they moved back to the living room. "So you know." Now Xander sighed and took a seat on one of the overstuffed armchairs, rubbing his face. "Does anyone else? I mean -- Well, you know what I mean."

Giles shook his head. "And I wasn't planning on telling them. But I did want to let you two know that I knew."

"And you didn't feel like writing."

"Well --"

He was interrupted by a bounding black labrador and a panting redhead, back from their morning run. The dog trotted on to the kitchen. "Hey, you're up." Oz blinked. "And Giles is here. Why is Giles here?"

"He --"

Now Giles interrupted Xander. "As it turns out, I'm your editor."

"What?" Two voices, both raised in shock.

"Like I said, I have connections. After Xander left, an old friend asked me to help her out and read a manuscript, checking it for obvious errors since I was the only one she could think of with a solid background in the occult with enough time on his hands to help her with this. And then she asked me to do another. And then another. And then before I realized it, I had a job. A career, really. Most of the books and stories I dealt with in the beginning had some pretty glaring holes, but then I began working on one that had no problems in that area whatsoever."

"What --" Oz began.

"Dreamland." Pieces were falling into place for Xander. The first editor had sent the manuscript back with notes all over it, lambasting the two for supposed inaccuracies despite the fact that it a very thinly veiled account of Xander's experience during his sophomore year of high school when nightmares became real. But they had changed not a single word and resubmitted it, and the second editor had merely made a few spelling and grammar corrections. Suddenly, Xander realized why that second editor had no issues with the story itself.

Giles nodded. "It seemed extremely familiar when I began reading it. I knew what was going to happen, but it wasn't a predictable story, so there was something more than just being able to figure out a routine plot. There was a reason it was familiar to me. Then one day I was going through some of my old journals, and I realized what it was. And then there was the book about the costume ball. I remember that Halloween well. And the others."

Xander sighed. "We didn't mean to invade --"

"No, it wasn't an invasion." Giles began pacing. "It was, if anything a tribute. At least that's how I chose to see it." He stopped, turning his attention to Xander on the armchair -- and Oz, now curled up on Xander's lap, running his fingers through Xander's hair. "And now I see why you've dropped out of sight."

Oz stood. "It's not how it looks."

"It's not?" Now Giles smiled softly. "It looks like you had some problems, Oz, so you moved to a remote area and cut yourself from all contact from your past. Then months passed, and somehow Xander found you, and the two of you grew closer despite the distance. Then he moved here. Finally, you began writing horror and fantasy novels together, using your lives in Sunnydale for inspiration and your combined names for a fairly unoriginal pseudonym. And at some point after Oz came up here, the two of you began a relationship that I am not going to mention to anyone after I leave because it is obvious that it's something you don't want publicized. And I'm not going to mention that I've seen you because it's clear you don't want anyone to know. Am I close?"

Xander nodded and opened his mouth to reply, but Oz spoke first. "Except I found him. I'm going to go now. I need a shower and clean clothes." He gently kissed Xander's forehead on his way out of the room.

"So how long have you two been married?"

Giles' voice brought Xander's attention to the platinum band on his finger. Xander smiled. "Since just after I left Sunnydale and moved up here. Seven years ago. We found a house to move into, and we did this corny commitment ceremony thing. It was fast, and it was silly, but it was right. There I was, nineteen, not even acknowledging that I was attracted to guys, and I suddenly had a husband. Who was my best friend's ex-boyfriend. But I've never had any regrets. I know, it's not legal, and if this got out, we would probably be raked over the coals for being immoral and evil and wrong. After all, a good chunk of our fan base is unable to vote, and heaven forbid that someone should be willing to admit that they're attracted to someone they're not 'supposed' to be attracted to." Xander sighed. "You can hate whatever group you want for no apparent reason, and people barely blink, but say you love someone of the same sex, even if it's one of your best friends who you've known for years and who you trust with your life, and forget it. Instant condemnation from people who don't even know you. But this -- us -- it feels right. No matter what anyone else thinks. Forever." Xander stopped his tirade, probably deciding that Giles was not someone that needed to be convinced. "But I know what you're going to ask next, and that's not why we keep our identity quiet. Oz and Xander aren't in hiding, but everyone thinks 'Harris Daniels' is a pen name for some middle-aged woman who wants to appear to be male for the purpose of selling more books, so revealing the fact that we're a couple of young guys would ruin the mystique. It wouldn't matter if he and I were just two buddies writing or if it was just one of us doing this. These authors have to be women pretending to be men. In this case, she's two men pretending to be a woman pretending to be a man." He grinned. "Are we living some weird version of Victor/Victoria or what?"

"So this secrecy is just to keep the fake name thing quiet because you want to keep writing?"

Xander shrugged. "Pretty much. Okay, so we're in this little bitty hidden town, but we're here because, well, it's pretty here. And we like it here. And people who know us -- basically, everyone in this town -- are aware that we're married. To each other. And it's not an issue, except when someone new comes to town, mistakes us for just roommates, and decides she can make a move on one of us. But, yeah, we keep things quiet where the books are concerned. It keeps us in the lifestyle to which we've become accustomed. I don't mean the gay lifestyle, whatever that is. As if there's any such thing. I mean no worrying about getting days off together, no getting up early unless we want to, no dress code to complain about, no worrying about what other people's business goals are."

Giles smiled. "Sounds familiar."

"That's true." Xander frowned thoughtfully. "We have a symbiotic relationship now, don't we? I mean, you and us. Us as in Oz and me." Giles continued to smile, nodding at Xander. The younger man's casual use of the word 'us' was going to stick in Giles' head for days to come. "You rely on us for work, and we rely on you to make us look good so we can give you more work." Xander stretched and downed the remains of his coffee. "Anyway, he and I are together in a way that I don't think I could ever imagine before with anyone. I don't know what I would do without him, and I don't think he knows what he would do without me. Two halves of a whole or something."

"And that's what matters, isn't it?" Giles sighed. "So should I tell you about Willow?"

Xander shrugged. "If it involves her coming back in our lives, it might be a good idea. Oz still feels weird about that. It's strange. He's okay with living in the middle of nowhere, being married to another guy, and spending three nights each month in a cage due to lycanthropy. He finally worked through that mess. But the fact that Will and I were best friends gets to him sometimes. Guilt because he can be with me but not her. And the whole lack of closure thing bothers me."

"Well, would it make you feel better to know what she's up to?"

Again, Xander shrugged. He really wasn't sure if he wanted to hear this. When he left, she was still devastated by Oz's departure. But then again... "It's probably a good idea. I mean in case she tortures you and finds out about Oz and me."

"Actually, there's another way she would find out." Giles removed his glasses and rubbed his eyes. He was preparing for a long, tiring conversation. "But I think we should wait for Oz to rejoin us. It's something that concerns both of you."

"Giles, please? I need to know now. I need to know if I have anything to worry about. And I need to find out without Oz here with me so I know what I'll have to deal with. She was still a mess when I left."

The older man put his glasses back on and observed a very nervous man staring at and twisting his wedding band on his finger. "No. You don't have anything to worry about. Shortly after you left, she began dating someone from high school. Apparently, she tutored him during senior year, and he developed a crush on her, but she paid no attention to him when Oz was still around. Then she finally recovered from... that, Buffy urged her to follow her own advice and reconsider nice guys. And so she and Percy have been dating ever since."

"Just dating?" Xander blinked. "They've been dating for as long as Oz and I have been married?"

Giles nodded. "I don't think she's ready for marriage."

"Does it have anything to do with..." Xander's eyes drifted down the hall toward the bathroom.

"No. Actually, I think she just wants a boyfriend -- someone to talk to, but not someone to live with. Marriage involves responsibility, cooperation, and compromise, and that's not something she's willing to accept."

Xander chuckled. "Yeah. I can believe that."

"Believe what?" Oz wandered back into the living room, rubbing his hair with a towel as he walked.

"Willow not wanting to be responsible or compromise."

"Ah." He tossed a ball of fabric at Xander. "Put this on. You're distracting me. And don't even start with the 'Is that a bad thing' routine. Because right now, yeah, it is." The affectionate sarcasm did not go unnoticed by Giles. Oz sat not on Xander's lap, as Giles realized he expected, but on another chair. "So what is she up to now?"

Giles smiled. Oz's voice held mere curiosity, as if he was asking about whether a certain restaurant was still open -- and not faked distance, as if he was trying to put his partner at ease. This detachment was real. And when Giles glanced at Xander, he watched the tension drain from the brunette's body and a relieved smile spread across his face. "She's a game designer. Computer games. Mostly horror and fantasy. Just like you use your past for your books, she uses it for her games. And there has been talk of having her design a game to go with one of your books. And before you ask, no, she doesn't know that it's you. I don't think she's even read one of them, but her company is interested in them."

"Our books?" Confused, Oz turned to Xander. "Did I miss something? I thought the agreement was no game tie-ins."

Xander nodded, equally confused. "Yeah, that's the deal. And that's how I would like it to stay."

"Me, too."

"That's what I expected." Giles jumped slightly when a very happy dog rested its head on his leg. "But I was told to ask. That was the deal -- I could have your address if I could ask about your feelings regarding changing the contract and allowing game tie-ins. I did, so I held up my end of the bargain. And now I have to ask who this is." Gingerly, he scratched behind one canine ear, jumping when the animal sighed.

The two younger men laughed as one. "That would be Diane." When Diane sighed again, Oz couldn't resist one more remark. "You found her happy spot, Giles. You have a friend for life."

"So I see." He attempted to pull his hand away from the dog's head, but she just shifted position and forced him to keep contact. "I suppose I'm lucky she's not trying to climb up on my lap."

"Yeah, you are." Xander stood, reaching for the animal's collar. "Come on, you're bothering Giles. Time for you to go outside."

"Xander, it's all right."

"No, it's not. Another five minutes, and we're going to have a puddle here. I heard her drinking after she got back from her run with Oz. I'll be right back."

Giles watched Oz watching Xander, contented smile on the redhead's face. "You're happy." A statement, not a question.

"Yeah, I am." Oz turned his attention to Giles. "There was always something off with Willow. But then I started writing to Xander after I left, and things started falling into place. And then he came up to visit when the photo place closed down, and... I don't know. A little voice inside my head told me to not let him go? I decided to do the exact opposite of what I normally would have done? Anyway, two weeks later, he moved up here, and we did this." He held up his hand with a ring that matched Xander's. "So here we are." He pulled his hands back to his lap, rubbing and gazing at the band for a long moment. "So how are Cordelia and Anya?"

"Fine. Did you know that both of you do that?"

"Do what?"

"Stare at your rings and twist them when you mention a former romantic interest of the other person."

"Oh." Oz pulled his hands apart and sighed. "I guess we don't think there's closure."

Giles nodded. "Well, here's closure. Cordelia married a very nice half-demon that she met when they both started working for Angel."

"Half-demon?" Oz's mouth quirked into a grin. "Oh, don't tell me. Doyle." Giles nodded, and Oz chuckled. "How did that happen? I met him that time I went to give Angel that ring. Doyle makes Xander look like a fashion plate by comparison."

"Hey, I resemble that remark." Xander returned, carrying the coffeepot and a mug. "Here." Oz accepted the mug. "Giles? Refill?"

Giles nodded his head. "Thank you. As I was saying, Cordelia married someone that she wouldn't have even glanced at a second time if she had still been in Queen C mode. They're expecting their third child in a few months."

"Third child?" The thought of a pregnant Cordelia made Xander grin.

"The first time around, she had twins."

"Oh, man. Cordelia, pregnant with twins? I would have paid good money to see that."

Giles pulled out his wallet. "I thought you might." He smiled as Oz and Xander leaned against each other, examining the photographs. Then he cleared his throat, preparing to address a potentially thorny issue. "And Anya."

Xander frowned, handing the wallet back. "Don't tell me. After I left, she went to Willow for help with that whole vengeance thing and got her powers back because she was even worse the second time around."

"Not quite." Giles stood and paced. "Actually, not even close. After you left, she devoted herself to helping Buffy and me. She apparently forgot her obsession with you. And as it turned out, she's a very intelligent woman, and her knowledge about demons is unsurpassed." His words sped up as he continued. "Because of her age and background, she has been instrumental in coming up with obscure bits of information that saved the day more than once, and she shows no signs of pulling away from the fight."

Oz and Xander exchanged an amused glance. "Um, Giles, is there something you would like to tell me about you and my ex-girlfriend?"

The older man froze. Then he turned to Xander, now sitting in an armchair with Oz sitting on the floor in front of him, head rolled forward while Xander kneaded his shoulders. And Xander was grinning at Giles. "Well, I think the conclusion you just jumped to would be the correct one."

"Good." Now Xander frowned. "Laura! Stop that." Giles looked down and found a cat grasping his pant leg, first stretching and then reaching for Giles' hand. "I'm sorry, Giles. She can be too friendly sometimes." Xander grabbed a plastic spray bottle from the end table.

"No, that's okay." Giles bent over and picked up the cat, cradling her like he would a baby.

Oz and Xander exchanged another amused glance. "So, Giles, was it a girl or a boy?"

"A girl. Jocelyn Marie. She's beautiful and smart, just like her mother. She's starting kindergarten this year, and she's only four." Giles stopped turned to Xander. "Wait. How did you know?"

Xander shrugged. "Just a guess. Come on, Giles, you're talking about how wonderful Anya is and then you're holding our cat like an infant. Even I can pick up on that." He sighed. "Okay. So we've covered just about everybody. But we've missed --"

"Buffy." Now Giles sighed, releasing the cat and pulling a videotape from his jacket pocket. "I thought you would want to know about that. I brought this so you could see for yourself."

Cautiously, Oz stood and accepted the videotape. Then his eyes fell on the case, and he stared at the cover. "Uh, Giles? This says it's that new John Woo movie that hasn't even been released in theatres yet."

"Yes. Yes, it is." Giles grinned. "It seems that Buffy was in Los Angeles, fighting some creature with Spike and Angel, and a stunt coordinator saw her. One thing led to another, and now Buffy has a high-paying career as one of the most in-demand stunt women in the business." He tapped the videotape. "Except in this movie, she has a substantial speaking part. So now she's branching out into acting. We keep telling her that she's going to end up known as the American Michelle Yeoh. And as her advisor, I received an advance copy. So I'm giving it to you."

"Wow." To Giles' surprise, Oz hugged him tightly. "I love John Woo." As an afterthought, he added, "And it will be nice to see Buffy in action again." Giles gazed uncomfortably at the redhead still clinging to his chest.

Xander removed the tape from Oz's hand. "Sweetie, you're getting drool on his shirt. You can watch this later, okay?" As if he were a toddler getting chastised by his mom, Oz nodded and pulled away from Giles. "I'll put it with his other movies." Task accomplished, Xander turned back to Giles. "So. Two more to go."

"Ah, yes. Spike and Angel." Once more, Giles sighed. "Well, short version, they're living in Los Angeles in a house much like this. Except it's an underground apartment, and they're detectives, not writers." He stopped his list of exceptions there.

"Wait." Oz frowned. "Let me get this straight. Spike and Angel -- well, aren't straight?" He began laughing once more. "Well, I knew that about Angel, but -- Spike?"

"Hey. Angel can be fairly persuasive." Xander flushed. "I mean, do you think we would be here if..."

"Ah. Point taken." Oz grinned. "Maybe I should send him a thank you card." Xander turned even redder, and Oz's grin grew wider. "I could ask him if he's the one who taught you to --"

"Oz." Xander's voice was almost pained.

"Xander." Oz's voice softened an amazing amount. Giles felt like a voyeur. "I know. I'm sorry. I know that the chance of you and Angel happening is about the same as the chance of me and Angel. I just..." He rested one hand on the side of Xander's face, brushing his thumb against Xander's lips, and Xander opened his mouth and caught Oz's thumb with his tongue.

Suddenly, Giles realized he had stumbled across a very old issue for the other men. And a familiar foreplay routine. He cleared his throat. "Yes. Well." The two pulled away sheepishly, as if they had forgotten he was there. He realized that they probably had forgotten about him. "I think my time here is up."

"What? You're leaving already?"

Giles turned to Xander, surprised at the disappointment in the brunette's voice. "Yes, I have a conference call in a little while. I have to report the bad news about the games." He glanced at his watch. "In twenty minutes, to be precise."

"But you're staying in town? Will you be here tonight?" Giles nodded. "Come back for dinner? Please? Say, sevenish?"

Giles paused, pulling on his jacket while considering the offer. As if afraid to give Giles a chance to refuse the invitation, Oz spoke up. "He's a good cook. He has to be for me to allow him to mess up my kitchen."

"Hey. You didn't mind that time I made that Greek chicken thing."

Giles recognized that tone of voice. It was old married couple. He turned to see Oz standing in front of Xander, being held firmly in place by a tight hug, head tilted to one side so Xander could trail kisses along his neck. "Hmm. You're right. But I think this is why it wasn't an issue."

"Well." Once again, Giles felt like he was intruding. "Yes, dinner would be nice. Seven sounds fine."

As he made his way down the walkway, he could hear soft laughter and conversation. He strained to hear the words, afraid they were discussing him, but he was relieved to discover he was wrong. "Hey, Oz?" Xander's voice.

"Yeah?" Oz.

"Can I take my shirt off now?" Silence, then more laughter. "Okay, that works, too."

Giles sighed, drawing what he felt were fairly likely conclusions. And smiled.

And they all lived happily ever after.