Notes: Takes place mostly during season four, but some things are different and some are in a different order. Yes, there's a Spike, no there's no Anya. Yes, there was a split, Oz did leave, and Buffy can be a cunt sometimes. Other than that, consider this an AU from the fourth season. Thanks belong to Kaiya, D'Nalia, and everyone on my list who's had to listen to me toss out this idea.
Oz woke up and stared up at the ceiling, not quite sure what had woken him. He and Xander were sharing Giles' bed, taking a break from the last minute stress of planning for graduation. Then he felt it again, that light brush across his wrist. He turned his head and stopped, staring at what was beside him.
A furry body.
Where Xander was supposed to be?
Oz rolled over and stopped, removing the tail from around his wrist before he hurt it. He stopped himself, barely, from reaching out to touch the strange back but he couldn't stop himself from looking. Xander was a big gray cat with horizontal black stripes and a thick black spinal stripe down through the rings and black tip on his tail. A very cuddly tail. Oz peeked over and almost grinned at the tawny stomach fur that was calling out to him. He wouldn't pet the Xander-cat, no matter how soft and inviting the fur seemed. He looked down at his wrist, which was being petted by the tail. He stroked over it, contenting himself with petting this much of his friend as it wrapped itself more firmly around his wrist.
Xander snorted and shifted, his fur disappearing back into his skin. Oz waited for the tail to disappear too, but it stayed around his wrist. He shrugged and went back to sleep, comforted by this new strange instead of reviled by it. It was a good feeling to have.
Xander woke and sat up, trying to figure out what the pulling sensation was on his back. He looked back an almost swore, reaching back to unwrap his problem area from his best friend's wrist. He slid out of the bed so he could tuck his tail away under the clothes he grabbed off the floor, silently thanking every God he'd ever heard of for not letting Oz wake up and see that as he got dressed. He walked out to Giles' living room, giving someone else to have the chance at a nap.
Oz opened his eyes and stared at the ceiling. He'd talk with Xander after graduation.
Oz grabbed Xander off the Bronze's dance floor and led him over to a private couch in a corner. "Want to talk about you," he said, sitting beside his friend.
"Oz, I haven't been near Willow in weeks," Xander protested.
"About your tail," Oz amended.
Xander's face went blank. "I don't know what you're talking about." He reached back and adjusted something against his back.
"Your tail and my wrist got happy," Oz told him. "I'd like to know. I won't tell them."
Xander stood up. "Nothing to know." He headed back to the dance floor, disappearing into the crowd.
Oz shrugged it off. "Denial works for him." He could wait for his answers.
Xander quickly pulled on his shirt, one hand holding his still-there tail in place so he could answer his door. He looked out at the hall and nodded Oz inside once he saw he was alone. "My parents let you in?"
"They ignored me and left the door open." Oz sat on the bed, staring at the thing waving at him from under Xander's t-shirt. "Close the door, I'm not going to attack."
Xander closed the door and stared at his friend, ignoring his tail's tip-tapping against his neck. "What's up? Another problem? Need my help?"
"Almost." Oz stood up and walked over to pet the tail-tip. "It reminds me of you on a chocolate high."
Xander groaned and walked over to the window. "Oz, you're imaging things."
"My imagination's not that good." He walked over and removed the tail from under the t-shirt, nodding as it wrapped around his wrist again. "It likes me. Did the first time we met too."
Xander glared at him. "Oz, your imagination is too active, there's no tail." He turned, forcing his tail to come with him. "Maybe you should go."
"No." Xander stared at him. "I'm not going to tell, I'm looking for understanding."
Xander sighed and flopped down on the bed. "There's not a lot to understand. We're different." He got a grunt so pointed at a book he had stolen from Giles shortly after meeting him. "Read that and we'll talk when I get back."
Oz pulled down the book and flipped through it. "This has what you are?"
"I'm human," Xander ground out, getting up and going back to his packing. He slid onto the floor to grab the t-shirts hiding under the bed, stuffing them in his bag too. "I'll be back in a few months." He zipped up his bag and left the room.
Oz grabbed a notebook and wrote out a quick note, tearing it out and putting it into Xander's tape case. He took the book with him, heading to do some research.
Xander tossed Oz a few photo packs as soon as he got out of his car. It had been two months since he had left, and Oz's call had surprised but comforted him. He had missed his friends while he was gone. "You called?" he quipped as he walked around the back of his car and stood beside Oz.
"And you came." Oz pulled out the first set of photos and flipped through them. "It wanted pictures?" he asked.
"Yeah." Xander leaned against the side of Oz's van. "So, you called?" he tried again.
Oz handed over a sheet of paper. "I found this months ago, thought it'd be more you than me." He took a few pictures of the tail tip and tucked them away in his pocket. "Thanks." He handed the photo packs back.
Xander folded up the paper and put it away with his pictures. "Oz," he asked quietly, "can I ask you for something strange?" Oz nodded. "Can I...can I haveyoustrokemytail?"
"Yup. Van." He walked around to the back and climbed in, letting Xander get comfortable however. "Explanations for petting?"
"Guess I should," Xander admitted. He closed the door and stripped down to his boxers. He curled up in front of Oz, facing away from him. "Have you ever seen the Wishing Stone in town?"
"Yeah, that cheesy chunk of meteorite in the museum. We used to dare each other to try and sneak through the ropes."
Xander nodded. "Jessie and Cordy, way back when, used to try and dare us to do that too. Well, Willow caved in one day and she'd really been wanting a pet." He purred as his tail found it's way into Oz's lap and was petted. "She and Cordy got through one afternoon. Willow wished for a pet and Cordy blessed the pet with a lively tail to entertain her."
Oz chuckled. "No wonder. Those two working together can break the universe."
"Yeah," Xander agreed, relaxing into Oz's warm hands. It'd been so long since anyone had petted him. He started as one hand came up to scratch behind the ears. "Not needed," he groaned, but his head tipped to give him better access.
"Relax, Xander, I'll pet you." Xander shook his head. "Yes, relax. I've seen it before."
"I was hoping you were asleep," Xander mumbled.
"Nope, I woke up and saw you, then went back to sleep because I was so comforted by your tail."
Xander groaned as Oz's fingers found the right spot, and he let his control go. He relaxed as Oz continued to pet him without saying anything about his fur. "Thanks for this," he whispered.
"This is cool for me," Oz said quietly. "Does Willow know what she did?"
"She's got a panic and denial thing going," Xander rumbled deep in his chest.
"How is this different?"
"I'm a shape changer," Xander said as he stretched out. "Even in human form, I've got everything I would if I was a cat."
"I stay human inside and you're half cat?" Oz editorialized.
"Yeah, basically. You really did read it?"
"Yup. Giles caught me reading it, he said it wouldn't help me any."
"Helped me lots," Xander told him. "Do my back?"
"Sure, I like cats." Oz started a slow stroke down the entire back. "Can you change size too?" Xander shook his head. "Huh. Book was wrong."
"I'm guessing that's for natural ones," Xander said, shifting so Oz would run his nails across an itchy spot. "You couldn't tell I was different?"
"Nope, not a hint. I promise not to chase you when you get back."
Xander laughed. "Okay. I'll be a good kittie and we'll play." He rolled over and gave his friend a hug. "Thank you."
"Anytime." Oz got free and stood up as much as he could. "I'll wait for you to change back, I always wanted privacy for this part." He climbed out the back and closed the door.
Xander slowly went back to human, grimacing when he saw his boxers had disappeared. "I hope the imps who steal them and my socks enjoy that pair, they really needed washed." He grabbed his clothes so he could get dressed, then met Oz outside so they could have lunch.
Xander walked into Giles' house two days after getting home and stopped when everyone looked at him. He checked himself then stared back. "What?"
"Wondering why you came," Buffy said, going back to the movie.
"Because I got off work early and thought I'd spend some time with my friends?"
Oz patted the empty seat beside him. "Bad hormone day," he whispered as Xander sat beside him.
"I heard that," Buffy said.
"It's okay," Xander said, pulling a small white bag from his pocket. "It stopped by the candy store..." Buffy snatched the bag from his fingers. "Welcome." She grunted as she nibbled on a nut cluster. "Always be prepared," he whispered to Oz. "They're on different cycles."
They relaxed through the end of that movie and most of another one before anything happened. Oz looked down as he felt a familiar weight settle around his wrist. He reached down to stroke the tail, snorting as it rubbed him back.
"What's wrong?" Willow said, still watching the movie.
"Nothing," Oz told her, reaching down to rub her neck with his free hand. He watched as Xander subtly tucked his tail under his shirts, nodding at him.
Buffy looked over at them, glaring at Xander. "What's up?"
"Nothing," he lied. "Just restless shifting."
"Well, quit." She went back to the movie.
Xander got up and carefully walked out of the sitting area, going to tape his tail in the bathroom. As soon as the bathroom door closed, Buffy turned off the tape. "What was that furry thing?"
"What furry thing?" Oz asked, looking innocent.
"Furry thing?" Willow said dully.
"Yeah. It kinda looked like a tail." Buffy's face scrunched up as she considered what she had seen.
"Tail?" Willow squeaked, jumping up. "Xander doesn't have a tail. He's never had a tail and he won't ever have a tail! Tails are bad!" she finished hysterically. Everyone stared at her. "They are!" she insisted, starting to sweat.
"It's not a problem," Oz told Buffy as he pulled Willow down into his lap for a hug. "Quit stressing," he told his girlfriend.
She hopped up and ran out of the apartment crying.
Giles looked at Buffy, who got up and followed her. "Tail?" he asked Oz, who seemed to be the only one with information.
Xander walked out of the bathroom, shaking his head. "It's okay, Oz, I heard." He turned and lifted his shirt, showing off his taped-down tail. "We were six," Xander said as he pulled his shirt back down and sat so he could face Giles. "It was back when Cordy was still our best friend. She and Willow got to the Wishing Stone in the museum. Willow had wanted a pet forever and Cordy blessed the pet with a lively tail to amuse Willow." He held out his arms. "I got to be her pet." He put his arms back down. "Any more questions?"
"How do you change?" Giles asked. "I realize you're not dangerous, but do you take precautions? A shape shifter must be careful after all."
"First, I'm a shape *changer*," Xander insisted firmly. "I have everything for both forms all the time." Giles opened his mouth. "For precautions? You've seen it, taping down my tail when it gets loose."
"It likes to cuddle," Oz pointed out.
"Can...can we see your other form?" Giles asked quietly. "Sometime soon?"
"Sure. No cameras though." Both men nodded. "When?"
"Tonight?" Giles asked, looking at his bookshelves. "I used to have a book that would give us information." He looked at Oz. "You had it last, I think."
"Um, I stole it," Xander admitted.
Giles frowned at him. "Next time, ask. Surely you could have made up an excuse if you didn't want me to know."
Xander nodded. "Okay, next time I will." He looked at the door as Buffy walked in. "She get home?"
"Her parent's home," Buffy said, hands on her hips, glaring at him. "What did you do to her?"
"Do to *her*?" Xander snorted. "She and Cordy did it to *me*!" He stood up. "We'll do this when people are calmer." He pushed past Buffy on the way out.
Oz snickered as he saw the tail-tip waving. "It's got a mind of it's own," Oz explained as he got up. "Going home. Ride, Buffy?"
"No, I want to know about this."
"Then I'd calm down before you ask Xander," Oz told her as he walked past her. "Night. Thanks for the movies." He left.
Buffy turned her expectant look on her Watcher. "I don't know," Giles told her. "I've never heard of this before. Of course, this is the Hellmouth."
She shook her head and left, slamming the door behind her.
Xander woke up and blinked at the dark form standing beside his bed. "Will?" he asked as he pushed himself up.
"I'm going to fix my mistake," she said in a calm, but vacant, voice. "This shouldn't have happen. We should have been stopped."
He rolled out of bed and grabbed her so she couldn't do anything: her arms pinned to her side and his tail covering her mouth. "No," he said firmly. "You're not touching me with your powers, especially not my tail." He backed them both toward the work bench, using one hand to grab the duct tape. She went limp in his arms so he let go to fight with the tape.
She started on a spell and he gave up being nice. He pushed her onto the ground and knelt over top of her, taping her mouth first. He got her hands taped down, one to the work table and one to the floor. Then he got up to make a panicked phone call. "Giles? I've got Willow. She tried to spell me." He hung up when he heard the tape being pulled up, going back to finish tying her down.
Oz came back from taking Willow to Giles', sitting down on the bed beside Giles. "So?" he asked. "Changing?" he suggested when Xander stared at him.
"Sure, but you can't say *anything*," Xander told them, stripping completely and letting go of his control. His tail came out first and covered his cock, then fur started sprouting elsewhere.
Giles' mouth fell open. "Oh, my," he whispered, reaching out to touch the hair coming out. Xander glared and backed away from him. "Sorry, but I've never seen anything like this."
Xander sighed and let go completely, sure Oz would protect him. He became a cat, right down to the purr. He hopped up on the bed and headbutted Oz to get petted.
Giles reached out again, stroking down the six foot body's length. "This isn't exactly what I expected." He looked over at Oz, who was petting Xander around the head. "You're not upset?"
"I've seen it before," Oz said with a shrug. He looked down as he felt something change. "Hi."
"Hi," Xander said. He sprawled out. "Giles?" he asked, just the hint of a tremble in his voice.
"I may be shocked, but I accept you for what you are." He looked down as he felt something rubbing his leg. "Oh, so that's what you meant by lively."
"It likes to be out," Xander purred, shifting so Oz could get his ears again. "I don't know how to change size, that's my last obstacle to doing this totally."
"I'd think it would be a simple matter of wanting it," Giles said thoughtfully. "I'll see what I can find out to help you." He took off his glasses. "Xander, if you do suddenly become able to change sizes...."
"Then you'll know and I'll use it to spy," Xander agreed. He looked up at Oz. "Do your clothes disappear when you come back?"
Oz shook his head. "It's usually torn but there."
Giles snorted. "It must go somewhere." He gave Xander one last pet. "All right, change back and let's go confront Willow." He stood up and walked away so Xander could have some privacy.
Oz looked down at him. "Privacy?"
"Not needed," Xander said as he swiftly changed back and rolled onto his stomach, his tail waving in the air. "Clothes would be of the good. Please?"
"Sure." Oz got up and grabbed clothes for his friend, tossing them over and walking away to give him privacy.
Xander got dressed and cleared his throat. "Let's go make Willow sane," he said when they looked at him. Giles pointed at his tail. "I know. It'll hide. It doesn't like wind." His tail slipped up under his t-shirt to wrap around his stomach. "Let's go."
Oz nodded. "Figured out a way to fix her?"
Xander shrugged. "I was going to change." He walked out the door.
Giles shrugged when Oz looked at him. "It might work. It would be a form of shock therapy." He followed Xander out the door, letting Oz make sure everything was locked up.
Willow screamed as Xander took off his shirt and reached for his pants. "Oz!" She tried to hide behind him, but Oz wouldn't let her. She was forced to watch Xander change, crying that it was wrong, that it wasn't happening.
Xander walked over to her, pushing her head up so she had to look at his face. "I used to be pissed but I like my tail now. Deal with it, Willow." He grabbed his clothes and walked out to go change back in the bathroom.
"Xander!" Buffy yelled from the kitchen. "You're a cat!"
"She's slow today," Oz quipped. He led Willow into the living room and sat her on the couch before looking up at Buffy. "Yes, he's a cat too." He sat down and waited on Xander.
Xander walked out and looked at the girls. "Complain about shedding, joke about hairballs, or suggest a litterbox and I'm leaving for good." He sat down and looked at Giles.
"I may have something," Giles admitted. "I've called in a favor to get a book. It may even hold the key to your other problem, Xander." He got comfortable in his reading chair.
Buffy shook her head. "Xander, this is strange. How? And when? Did someone do this to you?"
Willow raised her hand. "Cordy and I did it when we were six. We used the Wishing Stone," she whispered, looking very depressed. She looked at Xander, ignoring his tail where it was wrapping around Oz's waist.
Buffy looked confused so Oz explained. "The big meteorite in the museum."
"Oh. Can we unwish it?" Everyone shook their heads. "Then how do we fix it?"
"I *like* my tail," Xander told her coolly.
"Okay," Buffy said, backing off. "Is this why you got on with the hyena?"
"Nope, but it liked me more because of it." Xander looked at Giles. "Now what?"
"If you're happy, then it's not an issue."
Xander nodded and stood up. "Then I'm going back to bed." Willow blushed. "Night." Xander went home, so he missed Buffy's comment.
"Gee, Oz, now you two have something else in common. Besides Willow I mean."
Xander stared up at his ceiling. In the two months since he had told the gang, he had never been so lonely. It wasn't that he was being treated differently, but he was being *watched*. Like he was going to lose control. Like he was suddenly going to start cleaning himself. He knew it was selfish, but he really wanted to have someone there for him. Someone else who could do this too. He had even lost Oz, who had run away a few weeks ago. He had tried to find the place Oz had told him about, but nothing he had done had given him any information.
There was a strange idea in the back of his head, but he was trying to ignore it. He didn't want to go see the Wishing Stone. Restlessly, he got up and dressed, heading out into the early evening. He found himself in front of the museum a half-hour later and shrugged before walking in. It would be open for another hour, he had time. He walked into the room that held the Wishing Stone, staring at the sign beside the exhibit. Soon to be former exhibit for most of a year due to cleaning. He glanced around and saw a guard watching him. "What's going to take its place?" he asked.
"A new South American exhibit. The stone will be cleaned and given it's own area, complete with an astronomy lesson."
"Oh." Xander nodded. "Can I? For old time's sake?" The guard nodded and walked away as Xander climbed over the ropes that used to seem so high. He touched the stone, not sure what he wanted to wish for. He was torn between two things: someone to understand, and somewhere to belong. He felt a curious warmth spread from his hands through his body, so he let go and smiled at the stone. "Wow, you're still in there," he whispered. He turned and left the museum, probably not to go back again unless there was a problem in there. He walked down the silent streets, trying to figure out which wish had been felt.
Xander walked into Giles' house a few minutes later and was once again stared at. "What? Did I change?"
Buffy shook her head. "Willow said you did something."
He nodded. "I did. I went to the museum. Did you know they were taking down the Wishing Stone for cleaning and relocating?"
Willow stood up and stared at him. "You made a wish," she accused.
"Not a conscious one, but if it reads minds it knew I needed something." He looked at Giles. "I'm tired of being watched. Call if you actually need me."
"Hey!" Buffy said, jumping up to get in his face. "Take that back!"
"I can't take back the truth," he told her gently, moving her out of his way. "Later," he called as he left.
Buffy looked at Giles. "That wasn't the truth," she complained.
"It is," he told her. "You've all been looking at him like he was a freak."
"But he is," Willow blurted. Buffy glared at her. "He is, but it's not his fault."
Giles shook his head. "He's not a freak, Willow, he is what he is." He answered the phone, glancing around the room as he listened. "I see. Yes, thank you." He hung up. "Buffy, go find Xander. I have some information for him." He looked at Willow. "Maybe you should go home so you don't have to deal with this again." She left too, but she was still upset. Giles got himself ready to give the bad news to the boy.
Xander walked in alone half an hour later and sat across from Giles. "You yelled?"
"You know Angel has a link to The Powers That Be?" Xander nodded, it had been told to everyone last month. "They sent something down for you." He cleared his throat. "Well, it appears you're to be their next warrior. They...." He pulled off his glasses to rub his eyes. "They said that you'll find what you asked for while you work for them. Until then, you've gotten some changes to allow you a better chance at doing the job and surviving."
"The warmth?" Xander guessed. Giles nodded. "What?"
"You're able to do different forms now. They'll find you a way to learn that one trick that you still need to know, but you'll be using it in their services as well as ours."
Xander sighed and got comfortable. "Tell me all of it, Giles, so I can go cuss them out at home."
Giles smiled and relaxed. "At least you haven't thrown a fit yet, thank you for that."
"I realize you're just a messenger," Xander said calmly. "What different forms? Do I get to choose?"
"Yes, you will get to choose, but I'm not sure what's possible yet. I'm still waiting on that book for you. It should be here any day now." Xander nodded for him to go on. "You know that Angel works in their service, correct?" Xander nodded again. "Well, you're to do double duty, serving them while you work with us. Once...once you become proficient, you'll be put to good use as a spy of some sort or another, that part wasn't clear."
"Which means that I'll have to learn to change sizes too, unless they think a six foot cat can hide in plain sight."
"Well, it possibly could in some areas," Giles admitted, "but I doubt that would be possible around here. For part of your duties, you'll be helping Angel also. I...I know you and he don't get along but it will have to be for the time being."
"Hey, if it helps keep the world going, I can work with Angel," Xander said quietly. "What else will I have to do?"
"Just that as far as I know and was told." He gave the young man a grateful smile. "They did say that you'd be getting helpers, the same as he got." Xander nodded. "I'm of the opinion that it will be someone who has to atone, like Angel did. When that happens, I'll gladly integrate that person into our group." Xander nodded again. "You're very calm about this."
"I'm going to panic later," Xander told him as he stood up. "Anything else?"
"Just for you to be careful while you walk home tonight. This will surely be on your mind and I doubt that we want you eaten."
Xander grinned. "I wouldn't worry about it, Giles, I'll be fine. I can manifest my claws and teeth if I need to." He waved and walked out, but he leaned against the outer wall of the apartment. "I don't need to atone for that much," he whispered. "This really isn't fair, guys." He glanced up and then started home, needing to be somewhere calmer.
Giles smiled as he opened the door and let Xander in. He had called this meeting between all the members of their group to try and work out the kinks that had been happening recently. Xander walked in and sat down at the table, looking at everyone else. "I still don't like being watched," he told them.
Buffy leaned back in her chair. "Xander, the way I'm seeing this, it's all you. We haven't been watching you. I don't watch you at all."
Giles pushed her upright again, glaring at her. "I've seen you do it. You watch him like you would an enemy who we're forced to work alongside." He took his seat at the table. "Now then, this is because of all of us. Xander should have told us a long time ago. Willow should have faced up to what she had done long before that. Buffy, you should not judge Xander for what he can do, any more than people should judge you because of your gifts." He stopped to look at the gray and black tail that was starting to wave. "Xander, you really should tape it down again."
"I did," he sighed. "It went back in and then came back out to get free." He put his head down on the table, looking at Giles. "Has that book gotten in yet?"
Willow jumped up and screamed as Xander's tail tried to touch her.
Xander turned his head to look at her. "What? It likes you too. It liked Oz, you probably seem a lot like him to it, get over it already." He sat up and found Buffy staring at him. "What? Do you know what it's like to have that reaction every time she sees it?" Buffy numbly shook her head. "Well, I do, and I'm about as tired of that as I am of you seeing me as a freak." He stood up. "I don't want to be here if this is how it's going to be. I've saved your butt too many times for that." He looked at Giles. "Sorry, but I'm not putting up with it."
"Sit," Giles ordered gently, pointing at the chair. "Willow, you also." She sat down but Xander didn't. "Please, Xander. We must talk about this. You have to make them understand what it feels like."
Xander sat down and looked around the table. "Willow, do you remember that feeling of being watched when we first started going on patrols?" She nodded, biting her lip. "Well, I'm getting that from you guys, who are supposed to be my friends. I'm sorry, but if this is what friends do to each other, then I've had the wrong idea for years. If it keeps up, I'm going to go find new friends." Buffy snorted, examining her nails. "And enough with the snideness from you, Buffy. Just because you got born to die at a young age doesn't mean that the rest of us can't contribute, which I have, and it doesn't mean that you have to look down on anyone else who isn't you." She glared at him, her eyes starting to narrow. "Hey, get pissed. I'd like to see you try to stake me. I saw what you were doing the last time I went out on patrol with the group, how you were looking at me and playing with your stake."
"Xander, you're paranoid," Willow blurted out. "She wouldn't hurt you."
Buffy held up a hand, stopping her. "Actually I was wondering what it would take to stop him. Are whatever you are's allergic to wood, to lead? See, I figure you're probably not the only one in the world if Giles has a book about you. That means that sometime in the past, another Slayer has had to kill you," she said coldly. "I may have liked you, but I will stop you if you become bad."
Giles slapped his hand on the table. "Buffy, that is quite enough. Shape changers such as Xander have been allies of the Slayer more often then not, and those cases were rare and were from things like torture, mental defects, and bad upbringings. The same as any human who turns bad is." She looked at him. "Yes, he is still human. As human as Oz is."
"He's fine by the way," Xander blurted out. "I got an email from him about a week after he left. He's figured out what he needs to do."
Willow nodded, looking at the table. "I know. He sent me one too." She looked over at Giles. "He's not bad?"
"No, he's not bad. He's not evil, he's not an enemy unless you continue this stupidity toward him." He looked at Xander. "Yes, that book is in. I also have an email address for you to write to. It came with the book." Xander nodded, giving him a smile. "I wish your teacher would show up soon though, I have no idea how to teach you what you need to know."
"Why not?" Buffy asked. "Don't they mention what he is in Watcher School?"
"No, there was no mention of him in my training, the same as weres or creatures like Dracula weren't covered. I do know this though, what Xander is is very rare. People with his sort of gift do not often live to reach adulthood, especially not if they're born into more primitive societies - which is usually where they show up. Here, and in places like the British Isles, people like him are rarely seen. According to all the information I have, he's the first one to have appeared in this country, or in this hemisphere, in almost three hundred years."
"Other people had a Wishing Stone?" Willow asked.
"No, some people are born like me," Xander told her. "That's who I've been trying to get in touch with." He looked over at Buffy. "I don't rag on you over your abilities and how your emotions keep getting in your way, and I don't want you to rag on mine. Accept me or I'm gone. And don't be turning me in to your little Initiative buddies either. If I see one of them, then I'm killing them. Even if it is your boyfriend," he promised.
"That's uncalled for," Giles said calmly.
"Why? They'd take me just like they would the demons. To them I'm not human, just like I'm not human to Buffy." He looked at her again. "Do I have some cute codename already?" he sneered. "Just waiting to hand me over so they can pick me apart?"
"STOP IT!" Willow screamed, jumping up and knocking her chair over. "Xander, you know Buffy would never turn you over to them."
"I will if he becomes a problem," she promised coolly. Willow stared at her. "What? How do I know that he won't hyena out again and start to eat people."
"First, eww. Second, if I were to start hunting again, what makes you think you'd make it to your friends to turn me in? The hyena didn't like you, and it still wouldn't if it comes back." He stood up and looked down on her. "Get over it, Buffy, now, or I leave and you can die on your own."
She shrugged. "Bye."
Xander shrugged and walked out the door.
Giles stood up and slapped Buffy hard. "You will apologize to him," he said coldly. "He has no more control over this than you did of becoming a Slayer. For that matter, he's the one that's been called by the Powers to help you. You'd best learn to be more patient and caring about those around you." He looked her over. "Of course, this has all happened since you took up with those Initiative idiots. I don't want you to see them again, Buffy."
"Hey, you can't tell me who to hang with," she protested. "You're not my mother."
"No, I'm your Watcher."
"You got fired from that post," she reminded him, standing up to him.
Willow shook her head and sent a wind to knock them apart. "You're both assholes," she said, then covered her mouth.
Buffy smiled at her. "That's the spirit, Willow. Pretty soon, we'll have you all unraveled and everything." She flinched away from Giles' slap across the back of her head. "What? She's hysterical!"
"No, she's practical," Giles told her sharply. "You are being a pain in the ass though. Go back to your dorm and consider all that Xander has done for you, especially since he's been this way since he was six."
Buffy snorted but walked out, and came back a minute later yelling. She leaned on the door, shaking her head, patting herself down.
Giles grabbed the bag of stakes and threw her a few. "How many?" he asked as he armed himself and Willow.
"A big mob," she said, catching her breath. "Top of the stairs."
"Oh, dear," he sighed, coming over to look out his peep hole. "Willow, go get a crossbow. We should be able to pick off a good portion from the safety of the house."
She nodded and went to the weapons chest, pulling out two crossbows and a quiver of bolts. "We're running short on arrows," she said as she handed them off, mentally preparing her levitation spell. She could send a stake anywhere, even through a vampire's heart. All she had to do was see it. She nodded at Giles, who opened the door. He and Buffy took the first shots while Willow mentally grabbed a stake and sent it winging out at some of the vampires farther back.
By the time they were done, one vampire was left and he was one Buffy had pinned to a chair by the leg with a bolt. He whimpered as she walked out, trying to get away from her. "I'll make this easy on you," she promised. "All I want is information. I want to know who sent you and why."
"The ...the camo guys," he said, nodding. "They want you out of the way."
"No they don't," she scoffed. "I'm one of them." She pulled a stake out of her pocket and rolled it between her fingers. "One more chance, then you're history and I go find out from someone else."
He held up his hands. "I swear, it was them."
She shook her head and staked him. Then she dusted herself off and went inside. "He refused to tell me the truth," she said when Giles looked at her.
Willow shook her head. "I heard what he said, why is that so hard to believe? They've trapped all the demons they can find without finding out if they were harmful or not." She got looked at funny. "Buffy, there are *how* many demons in this town that haven't tried to kill anyone yet? Even some that are little kids. They don't deserve what was done to Spike."
Buffy shook her head. "They wouldn't send someone like that after me. They'd know it'd be too easy for me to beat."
"Not if you had been outside alone," Giles told her. "After all, you did run in here."
"I left my stake when I left," she said, looking around like she was looking for it. She picked one up off the floor. "See, here it is." Willow shook her head. "Well, I still left mine in the stress over Xander."
Giles shook his head. "Buffy, you don't lie very well, please stop trying to do so." He rubbed across his sore arm while he looked around. "Where did I put that book anyway? I didn't think I had given it to him already."
"No, he didn't leave with anything," Willow said morosely. "Not even his happy thoughts about us." She glared at Buffy. "This is all your fault!"
"How? I didn't change him into something dangerous."
"He's not dangerous! He's saved your life and he was still like that! How can you say that about your best friend?" Willow shrieked.
"Easy, now that I know, I understand a few things. Like why so many demons are attracted to him."
"Actually, it has nothing to do with it," Giles told her, stopping his looking to look at her. "His having attracted trouble for so long has nothing to do with what he is. It would have had the opposite effect really. What he is would have made sure that most demons wouldn't try for him because they wouldn't know what he was, making him an unknown commodity. They wouldn't attack him until they understood what he is, and they wouldn't have been able to figure it out without him changing in front of them."
"Which he wouldn't," Willow finished, glaring at her friend. "He's not a danger. He's never been a danger."
Xander cleared his throat from the doorway. "Thanks for the vote of confidence. I need that book, Giles? Like tonight? I think I just had a major breakthrough."
"Of course, I was just looking for it." He smiled and grabbed a book off the table beside his reading chair, waving it at him. "Here you go."
Xander walked in and grabbed it, nodding at everyone before walking out.
"Hey," Buffy shouted. "Why didn't you tell us this before?"
"Would you have?" he scoffed. "With how you've acted for the last few months?" He walked away, leaving them with their thoughts.
Xander walked into his apartment and stopped. He hadn't left a light on anywhere but now the apartment was lit up fully. He put the book down and slowly walked back toward his bathroom, where noise was coming from, stopping when he saw a small man in the tub. "Oz?" he asked, sounding and looking confused. He was really shocked, this was just not right.
Oz opened his eyes and waved. "Hi. I got sent to you." He looked down at his bubbles. "Didn't think you'd mind. I needed it."
"Hey, mi bathroom es su bathroom and all that." Xander backed out of the bathroom, going to clear his head. "Want something?" he asked from the main room.
"Something would be good," Oz called. He walked out a few minutes later, standing there engulfed in Xander's bathrobe. "Sorry, I really needed a shower and laundry."
Xander calmed himself down and started to get practical, pointing at the machines. "Have fun, just don't let it buzz." If his friend needed to do laundry, he probably needed to eat too. Actually, as he looked at Oz, he knew he needed to eat. The formerly lithe body was now more stringy and hard. He could figure out everything else later, after he got his friend settled in comfortably.
"Your parents aren't home," Oz told him, going to grab the bag beside the bed and empty it into the washing machine. He added half a scoop too much of soap then turned on the machine to the heaviest setting.
"Long trip?" Xander asked, handing over a bowl of instant oatmeal. "All I have, sorry."
"Hey, better than saltines any day," Oz told him, going to sit on the couch. He took a bite and nodded. "Very good after six days of saltines."
Xander sat down next to him and watched his friend eat. "Why... Who...?" He shook his head. "Um, in order, who sent you? Why are you here? Does Willow know? And do you still think I'm not a freak?" he nearly pleaded.
Oz chuckled lightly at that last one. "The Powers, because you need help and training, no, and of course. Buffy should be kicked down a street naked." He took another bite and stared back. "Do I look that different?"
"Yeah," Xander said, nodding. "You look thinner, more troubled, and a lot more upset." He took the bowl away and gave his friend a hug. "I'm happy that you're here, Oz. I really am," he said quietly, letting Oz rest in his arms. "Take anything of mine that you want."
Oz pulled back and patted the side of Xander's face. "I just want the oatmeal right now." He was handed the bowl so he went back to eating.
"Let me warm some more water," Xander said, getting up to do that so Oz could eat some more. He really needed to go grocery shopping. He made the last two packets of oatmeal he had when he got handed the scraped-clean bowl. "Here," he said, handing it back. He watched as that was inhaled too, trying to think about what else he had to eat. He remembered a frozen burrito in the back of his mini fridge and bent down to chip off the ice looking for it, coming out with the last piece of food he had made at the Taco Shack. He handed it off to Oz. "It was frozen the night it was made. It might not make you sick," he offered.
Oz smiled, a bright smile. "Thanks, Xander. This is really great of you."
"Hey, we're friends, we do that for each other." He stuck the burrito in the microwave and started it, watching as it heated. He pulled it out with a towel and handed them both over. "Here, eat. Then you can give me the whole story."
Oz nodded, sitting down to finish off that last little bit of food. "Well, I traveled," he said, staring at the reheated refried beans. "I got a call at the monastery I was staying at. Not a vision but a dream. I asked one of the priests and they told me it meant I was being called to help you." Xander nodded but he wasn't looking. "So I came back." He looked over at Xander. "It wasn't time, I shouldn't have given up so soon. I can almost control it now."
Xander clapped. "Cool. I think I've got through to someone who can help me."
"Think they could help me too?" Oz asked quietly.
"Sure. Want to call Willow? She should be back in her room. If not, Buffy might be in there."
"No, I heard." He shrugged at the shocked look. "I followed you home, but then you left before I got the courage to come in." He handed back the towel, eating the last bite of tortilla. "I'll help you shop tomorrow." He looked around the space. "This is going to get hard, running this from here."
"Well, I just found a *good* job, so I'm going to start apartment looking soon. Actually, I have money if you wanted to order a pizza or something."
Oz shook his head. "No thanks. Maybe for breakfast." He relaxed into his side of the couch. "Do your parents know?" Xander shook his head. "Okay then. That'll make this harder." He got up and went over to his bag, pulling out a slim book. "I was told to give you this when I got home. It's a book of work. When I told the monk about my dream, he went and found it for me in their library."
"Like the one with all the prophecies about Buffy and the other Slayers?" Xander asked, flipping through it. "I don't get this at all," he said finally. "The month with three moons?" He looked up. "Does this make sense to you?"
"No, but I think a crash course in prophecy management from Giles might cure that," Oz said as he checked his laundry. He stopped it, restarting the wash cycle again and adding more soap. "I really needed that," he explained as he came back to the couch. "It's been a long time since I beat it on a rock."
"I can imagine. Six days of traveling?"
"Fourteen. I had granola bars for a few days of that and I had money to buy a sandwich my first day in Mexico."
"Oh." Xander looked around the basement. "I promise not to cuddle if you want to share the bed with me," he offered. "Unless you want the taped-up chair."
"Doesn't matter to me." Oz pulled a foot up under him. "How's the gang?"
"I'm not the person to ask," Xander told him grimly. "I'm thought of about as highly as Spike is."
"Yeah, I heard about that too." Oz tipped his head to the side. "How have you been doing with your changing?"
"I haven't. I'm still trying to avoid it," he admitted.
"Ah, but the more you change, the more comfortable you become with it."
"Well, there's been a twist on the whole tail thing. The Powers have made it so I can change to more than one form."
Xander shrugged, trying to hide his frustration with his personal problem. "I've been trying to figure out which would work the best. I don't think I could do a flying form."
"We need to schedule a Buffy-free time with Giles," Oz told him. "I think he can answer a lot of your questions. He might even be able to tell you how to choose another form."
"Well, I admit, I've been trying out two fantasy forms. But I can't quite get either one yet." Oz nodded for him to go on. "I've been trying for a dragon or a unicorn. I can almost get the horse form but I usually end up with wings and just a nub."
"Huh. We'll figure it out," he told his friend, reaching over to pat him. "Can I crash?"
"Sure," Xander said, standing up. He pulled out the bed, waving at it. "You rest, I'll do the laundry stuff for you." Oz nodded and crawled under the fresh sheets. He was asleep within seconds.
Xander sighed and went to make a grocery list while he waited on Oz's laundry to cycle through. He decided to check them and grimaced at the dark water. He restarted the wash part of the wash cycle, hoping that it'd come clean eventually. No one deserved to wear clothes that dirty. He looked through his small storage area for food and started on a grocery list, making sure he had things for Oz on there too.
Giles looked up as his door was tapped on, glancing at the clock. "Xander, aren't you supposed to be at work?" he asked, coming over to let him in. He stopped when he saw who was on the other side. "Oz?" he asked, pulling him in for a hug. "We've missed your calming influence," he said quietly, looking over at Xander, who nodded at Oz. "Ah, you were the one called to help him." Oz nodded. "Where have you been?"
"Out of the country." Oz got free and went to sit at the table.
"We need your advice as one who deals with the strange and prophetic everyday," Xander said, sitting down beside Oz. He tapped the book he had carried over, pushing it over when Giles looked interested. "This is what Oz was sent to me with."
"Oh, I see," he said after flipping through the pages. "Where Angel gets visions, you have this." He hummed as he read a few of them. "Most cryptic."
"Especially the time code," Oz told him.
Giles looked up and smiled at him. "Each one has a solid meaning, it's a matter of translating them for you. I can give you a list of the ones in here. What else may I help you with?"
"Well," Xander said, looking at Oz. "I've been having trouble figuring out new forms."
"I see. Which ones have you tried?"
"Um, dragon and unicorn?" Xander said quietly, flinching when he got glared at. "I thought it'd be useful."
"Xander, you must *never* try for those forms. Each one is very magically based and it will only bring you harm." He looked over at Oz, then back at Xander. "Oz can easily tell you about the hunters that would come for you. And they will come," he promised. "Just the rumor of a unicorn would bring every hunter in the world to your doorstep looking for you and they wouldn't care that you're usually human."
Xander hung his head. "Okay. I won't do it again. Then what do I become?"
Oz coughed. "He said he has doubts about an avian form."
"Yes, that would be a problematic form to assume. Even if the weight differential would work for him, there's the problem of flying lessons." Giles looked at the book in his hands. "Maybe by studying this tonight, I'll be able to come up with an idea." He looked at Xander. "I haven't heard that you have a limit on what you can turn into."
"Cool. What about a horse?"
"That would be an excellent backup form," Giles agreed. "Horses are fast, they can jump. You could carry Oz out of danger if you needed it to." He smiled at the pair. "I think that would be a good form to start with. Did you get a chance to read the new book?"
"Not yet, I walked in and found Oz in my bathtub." Oz nodded. "He'd had a hard journey and he needed to soak."
"I'll clean the tub today," Oz told him. He looked at Giles. "Where's everyone?"
"I would assume they should be in classes, though I have a doubt about Buffy. She may be with that man that she's dating."
"Heard about that too," Oz admitted. Giles looked at him. "I eavesdropped last night."
Giles smiled. "A very smart move, my boy." He patted the book in front of him. "What do you two have planned for today?"
"Apartment and food shopping," Xander told him. "Since I've got a good job now and it's looking pretty steady, I'm going to move out of the old basement hole that I'm in. Will you help when I do that?"
"Of course," Giles agreed, reaching over to pat him. "I may even have some things in storage that you could use." He looked over at Oz. "Were you planning on moving in with him or finding your own place? I'd lend you my spare room but presently Spike's tied up in it."
"Yeah, I heard about that too." He looked over at Xander. "We should coordinate with the apartment stuff. I'd rather be close by if something's going to happen."
"Okay," Xander said with a shrug. "I want to look in one of the electronics catalogs I have at home too. I was thinking about how I'd be the best spy, and most of it's going to be overhearing stuff while being ignored."
"Spy gear?" Oz suggested. Xander nodded. "Killer idea, partner. Do you want to look at a place that has an area for you to work out in? Maybe somewhere you can change and not be noticed?"
"Yeah, that might be a good idea," Xander said after a few minutes. "Maybe something like an old storehouse with an apartment on top?"
"Well, there's a few pieces of commercial property that might help you both," Giles suggested. "I think that there's an old gym for rent somewhere downtown. There's also an old grocery store with apartments above it."
"I was thinking more like spot with no windows," Xander told him. "We'll look around and see what there is," he told Oz. "You're more than welcome to crash with me until you find a spot."
"Cool." Oz looked at his watch. "Willow doesn't have class right now. We should probably go before she shows up to talk to him."
Giles shook his head. "That's not been happening a lot recently. You shouldn't need to worry about that Oz. I'll keep your presence a secret until you're ready to deal with them."
Xander snapped his fingers. "There's the Anderson house, on the edge of town toward LA. It's near a cemetery."
"It's also going to be way expensive," Oz reminded him. "We'll look at it though," he said to stop the hurt look from growing. "Real estate agent first?"
Xander stood up and nodded. "Yeah, that way they have time to look and we can go shopping without everything dying in the trunk of the car." He grinned at Giles. "I'll call tonight and tell you what we've found so far." He jogged out, Oz following sedately behind.
Giles opened up this new book and pulled over a pad of paper, making notations on the new prophecies. It wasn't often that he got access to ones he hadn't seen before. He'd heard of this book, it was fairly well known, but he'd never run into a copy during his training.
Xander looked around the apartment and fell in love with it. "I like this one," he told Oz, who nodded. "I mean it, this is it."
Oz looked around, visually measuring the space. "It's a good apartment," he said, pulling Xander closer. "Practice space?"
"Won't be problem, I talked to someone earlier and they pointed me toward a small space down the street. It'll be roomy enough, and have electricity and stuff, so you can have half of it. We'll split the cost?"
Oz thought, then nodded slowly. "Sure. I need a job though."
"I work construction." He looked Oz over. "I know someone down at the employment office, I'll see what she can dig up for you. Deal?"
They turned to look at the apartment's manager, Xander smiling at him. "What do I have to do? I love this place. It's all I want."
The manager handed over the application and a pen. "Fill this out so we can check your credit history."
Oz sat down beside Xander, helping him fill out the form because he had more experience with them.
Oz looked around the former warehouse, sizing the large open space up. It was a smaller warehouse, one that a former mail order company had worked from. He walked over to where the offices were, examining the fixtures and the walls, nodding every now and then as he saw something. He walked over to Xander and stopped in front of him. "You'll have to help tear down the walls."
"Okay," he said with a shrug. "I've already planned out something and we can sit down together and figure it out." He looked at the real estate agent, then back at Oz. "Yes?"
"Well," the agent said, moving closer. "If this is going to be habitation as well as work space, I do have another option. It's smaller than this, fifty dollars less a month, and it's closer to where we sent you to look for an apartment," she told Xander.
Oz looked up at Xander. "Can't hurt."
Xander agreed. "Okay, let's go look at that one." He gave her a smile. "You're very helpful."
"Thank you," she said, giving them her best sales smile. "I try to be. That's what earns me commissions." She led the way out of the warehouse.
Xander looked at this new space, then at Oz, who had an intense look of concentration on his face. "Like it, huh," he said, nudging him to bring him out of his trance.
"Yeah, lots." He looked at their agent. "I like this. It's got everything we'll need. Any utilities included?"
"Electric is yours. Water is paid by the owners." She pulled out a form. "I have their lease agreement here if you'd like to see it." She handed it over, watching as he read it.
"Sounds good," he said, taking her pen. "Xander, do you...."
"Yeah, I have it," Xander said, handing over a check. "We'll give the rest to you in a week?" She nodded. "Good. When can he move in?"
"Tonight if the owners accept his lease." She looked it over and then put it back into her portfolio. "I'll call you both tonight?"
"That'll be fine," Oz told her, watching as she walked away. "The owners are smart. They put in a vermin and cleaning clause. We're responsible for any nests or vamps."
"Good, one less thing to worry about," Xander said, looking around the space. "This is really nice."
"Yeah, needs a coat of paint though." Oz walked outside, going to Xander's car.
Xander picked up his phone and gave a thumbs-up to Oz. "Thanks," he said, hanging up. "We've got them both. The owners of the warehouse don't need the rest of this month's rent until the end of the month, she told them we were poor college students trying to start a business and they felt sorry for us." Oz nodded for him to go on. "My apartment can be moved into tomorrow as long as I have the money."
"Do you?" Oz asked.
"Yeah, I do," Xander said proudly. "Day after's payday so that's not a problem. If I have to, I can wait two days. It'll give me a chance to pack anyway." He walked over and sat beside his friend, giving him a hug. "Are you happy?"
"Happier," Oz admitted. "I still don't like the whole being called thing."
"Yeah, it sucks to me too, but I'm going to be doing the same thing I would for Giles."
"I know. What do I do though?"
"You are my faithful sidekick. Holder of the electronic equipment." He snapped his fingers and grabbed a post-it laden catalog off the coffeetable he had scrounged up. "Here, these are what I was thinking about. Maybe start with one and move our way up when and if we need them?" He flipped to a bright pink post-it, handing the catalog over. "This one maybe? It sounds reliable and it's not that expensive."
Oz read it then slowly flipped through the catalog, stopping at one set, handing that back. "Expensive but it can be hooked up to a computer. Plus, it's digital so it can get vampires. And be burnt down to CD for easy giving out."
"I don't have a computer," Xander reminded him.
"Ah, but I do," Oz told him. "My stuff's in storage right now with Dev." He got up and got a juice box from the refrigerator. "You're way happy about this," he said finally.
Xander shrugged. "It means I'm useful, Oz. I'm not Buffy's tag-along friend, I'm not the useless one. Now I have a way that I can help."
Oz sat down beside him and patted him on the hand. "You helped before, they were too stubborn to see it for what it was." He sipped at his juice box, staring at the TV. "Think an antenna would be good enough for my place?"
"For now," Xander agreed, relaxing next to him as they watched a comedy special on cable.
Xander lugged the last box into his new apartment and looked at the mess. "Well, I know what I'm doing tonight," he told Giles, who was helping him.
"Practicing changing?" Giles suggested lightly. Xander looked at him. "There's a prophecy in the book coming within the next six months and you'll need to be more comfortable with your form, and able to change size by then as well," he said gently. "You'll have to be able to appear to be a real cat. No awkward movements, no frustrated tail swishing." He caught the tail as it came out, it always popped out when someone talked about it. "Also, you'll have to be in LA, helping Angel, at the time."
"No, just for a short time. None of these are long term assignments from what I've seen so far." He looked around the apartment. "Should I teach both of you how to interpret the journal?"
Xander shrugged. "Teach Oz first. I'll have enough on my mind."
Giles smiled at him. "Of course. I thought that might be for the best anyway as you'll be doing most of the work." Xander nodded. "Have you heard back from that email address yet?"
Xander leaned against his newer couch, he had found it next to a dumpster last night. "No, not yet. I'm wondering if this is a 'watching to make sure you weren't trying to get us' instead of a 'no one's home anymore' sort of thing."
"I'm sure someone's there, they may not be in a position to come help you though." He looked around the apartment. "Will you be able to afford this, what with the other place and all?"
"Oh, yeah," Xander said, waving a hand. "This is only half what I was paying for the privilege of living in my parent's basement. Oz's place is about fifty more a month, so I'll come out even with my share of the utilities." He looked around at his new apartment, proud of it. "Hey, I'm free," he said happily.
"Yes, you are," Giles agreed, reaching over to pat him on the shoulder. "I'll expect to not hear anything about wild parties." Xander snorted. "I know, but I gave the girls the same lecture when they moved into the dorms, and Oz when he moved into his first house."
Xander stepped closer. "Oz is thinking about going back to school."
"Well, he'd be most comfortable there. I'm sure he'll be able to get back in if he tells them it was an emergency."
"He was going for the whole mental breakdown angle, but yeah. That means he's going to start running into Willow and Buffy again."
"Ah, so that's what you're worried about," he said, pulling Xander closer. "I'm sure his time with Willow won't interfere with your work. She might even want to help you once she knows that you've been called into service of the Powers."
"I'd rather she not know," Xander admitted. "She's got enough problems with me being what I am without adding that to it." Giles nodded. "Thanks for keeping that secret."
"Well, it will come out eventually, but I won't tell her until she finds out some other way, unless it's absolutely necessary for our survival."
Xander smiled. "Good. And Buffy?"
"Her, I have no intention of telling."
"Ever?" Giles nodded. "Good, because I could care less if she knows or not." Giles nodded his agreement. "Cool." He looked around his apartment. "At least I still have some money left. I think I deserve a pizza while I unpack."
Giles patted him on the shoulder. "I'm sure you deserve more than that. Did you want to go do one last check of your old apartment?"
"I'm doing it tomorrow. I told them that I'd be moving out officially tomorrow, but that I'd be shifting some stuff tonight." He looked out his windows. "We'll need to get some curtains on those," he decided.
"I could take you to the thrift store. They tend to have things like that." Xander looked at him. "Yes, that would be for the best. It will be cheaper than you going to a store and buying them."
"Okay," Xander agreed, grabbing his keys off his counter. He waved at the door. "Let's go, before they close. You think I can find a lamp there too?"
Giles chuckled as he led the way out of the apartment, making sure the door was closed securely behind them.
Xander woke up and felt strange. He looked down at his furry body, not really caring that he was furry. But he was small. With that thought, it broke his concentration and he changed back to a six-foot cat. He tried to think about it, and he shrunk a little in the hour he tried. He finally gave it up and the next thing he knew, he was as small as a baby kitten. He mentally cheered as he turned back into a full human form, grabbing his keys and the emergency key to Giles' apartment. He hadn't seen his mentor in about a week, and he owed him this. Giles had been having a frustrating few months since he had moved into this apartment.
Xander quietly snuck into Giles' house and stripped down, hiding his clothes under the comfy reading chair. Then he changed, allowing himself to go down to the smaller size, down to the kitten size. He hopped up onto one of the dining room chairs, trying to figure out where to greet him. He decided to lay on top of his book of prophecies, which was open on the table top. He climbed up there and looked up at the bedroom. He meowed pitifully. Then he remembered the door so he changed back as he hopped down and closed it. He changed as he got back up onto the table, putting on his most innocent look as he heard someone stirring upstairs.
Giles walked down the stairs rubbing his eyes and looked at the door. He shook his head and started to walk to the kitchen, stopping when he saw the cat. He considered it for a second, then reached over to pet it, making sure it was real. The kitten under his fingers purred and arched up into his fingers. "Hello," he said, sitting down in front of it. "Where did you come from?" The cat looked familiar, but he couldn't figure it out.
"Surprise," Xander said, grinning at him.
Giles started and lunged backwards, ending up on the floor.
"Are you okay?" Xander asked, walking to the edge of the table to look down at the older man. "Giles?" he asked when he wasn't answered.
Giles had a hand over his face. "Xander, next time, call first," he begged. He got off the chair and looked down at the kitten. "I'd say you figured that trick out."
"Yup," Xander said, sitting down to look up at him. "All I had to do was fully let go of my control. Everything depends on my will, or lack there of, to control it."
"Ah." Giles held up a finger then walked into the kitchen to start some water boiling. "When did you figure this out?"
"This morning when I got up." Xander licked his paw and cleaned behind his ears. "So, can I pass or what?"
"Yes, I think you could," Giles said, smiling as he watched him. "Maybe you should change back, before the girls get here."
Xander stopped cleaning his ears and looked up, shaking his head. "Nah, I want to show Wills. She's much cooler about this now."
"Maybe, but you probably shouldn't be scaring people so early in the morning." He pulled down a cup and added a tea bag to it, turning to find a human, and partially dressed, Xander sitting at the table. "You've gotten faster," he said proudly. He brought his tea over. "Congratulations." He smiled at the young man. "The girls will be over in an hour or so." He winced as his alarm clock went off. "Well, you had good timing at least." Xander blushed. "My boy, I don't mind such shocks, but next time do wait until I'm fully awake before talking." He took a sip of tea, watching as Xander got up to pull on a shirt. "What are your plans for today?"
"Well, we have inspectors today, so I don't have to work until this afternoon. I was going to go surprise Oz."
"A good plan. Is he at the new space?" Xander nodded. "When does he usually get up?"
"Not real sure," Xander said, pulling his tail up to play with. Then he looked at it. "I still have trouble controlling you, don't I?" He looked up at his mentor. "I think I'm going to get used to traveling by kitten paws. Can I leave my clothes here?"
"Of course. Stuff them somewhere out of the way. Have Oz bring you back this afternoon to pick them back up. Or tonight when you get off work if there's not enough time." He blinked and there was a kitten standing in the middle of the clothes. "My, you have gotten faster at that."
"It's just easier that way sometimes." Xander walked out of his clothes and grabbed them, changing back into his six-foot form, taking them to shove back under the reading chair. He walked over and checked out the peep hole, then opened the door and switched back down to kitten size, trotting out.
Giles laughed, going over to shut the door, watching as the small kitten made it's way up the stairs and disappeared.
Oz blinked as he woke up, not quite sure what was going on. He wasn't alone, he knew that much, but he wasn't sure what else was in the room with him. He sat up and looked down at the foot of his bed, blinking at the kitten sitting there patiently waiting on him to get up. "Um, hi," he said, lifting it up onto the bed. He laughed as he saw the markings. "Figured it out?"
"Yup!" Xander said happily, his tail wagging like a dog's. "Oops, puppy tail."
Oz nodded. "Yeah, it looks like it." He patted the cat on the head. "Want to change back?"
"I left my clothes at Giles'."
"Did you wake him up too?" Xander nodded, grinning again. "Huh, never seen a cat make that face. Very smirky." He touched the soft, wet nose. "How'd you get over here if you left your clothes?"
"Kitten paw express."
"Ah." Oz swung his legs off the bed, looking around his new space. "I start my job today."
"Girls are going over to Giles' this morning, but not this afternoon. I work this afternoon, and we're invited over tonight. Not sure if the girls are going to be there then."
"Good job at the amateur spy work," Oz applauded. He pulled the cat up to hug. "You're doing very good today. Want to try your horse form now too?" He put the cat down when it started to wiggle, following it out to the open space. He watched as Xander shimmered and grew, nodding as he took on the basic form of a horse. "Need some work," he said, walking closer. "Um, your shoulder," he said, touching it to rub over the square hump. "We need to get you a book of animals."
Xander changed back into his six-foot cat form. "Yeah, I've been looking for one but the only one I found was for kids and it woulda looked funny if I had gotten it."
Oz looked around. "We can fix that, I think. I'll look tomorrow." He looked over the furry body. "How were you planning on getting home?"
"I'll drop you off. I'm going to go see Wills tonight." He looked down at himself, noticing he was only wearing his boxers. "After I get dressed." He walked back into his bedroom and came back five minutes later, dangling the extra key Xander had given him. "I bet you forgot about needing these, huh?" Xander nodded, changing down to kitten form, getting smaller this time. "Um, you're deaging. That's scary, Xander." The cat got a little bigger. "Much better. To the van, Catman."
Xander's snort trailed him to the van.
Xander bounced into Giles' house, looking around. "No female-type people?" Giles shook his head, not looking up. "Huh, must be something bad if you don't even look at me."
Giles put aside the book and looked at him. "There's been some strange things going on in town since the Initiative has gotten more powerful. I'm not sure that it's the most safe thing for you to be running around town right now. Who knows if Buffy's told them about you."
"Why would I do that?" she asked from the doorway, slamming it as she walked inside. "I didn't turn him in. He's not demonic and that's what they want."
Xander looked her over. "Then why did they take a half-demon the other day? A child half- demon."
She shrugged. "I don't know, did they?" He nodded. "Where did you hear this from, Spike?"
"Yeah, from him while we were doing a patrol for you." He sat on the arm of the chair. "I doubt that they wouldn't want a were if they caught one, right?" She shrugged. "Well, Oz is back in town, Buffy, you'd better figure out where your loyalties lay now. Before one of us gets hurt by them. After all, how long of a line is it from demons to witches?" He looked at Giles. "We're working on that second form. Oz is trying to find me a reference book."
"Good. Have you thought about what your next attempt will be?"
"Not yet," Xander admitted. "Has the book suggested one that'll be needed?"
"Not particularly. Your cat form should do well enough for most of these. There may be an occasion when you'll need one that would be smaller, less seen."
"A mouse?" Xander suggested.
"That might be a good one," Giles told him with a smile. "Buffy, was there a reason for your attendance tonight? Something that you needed to look up?"
"No. I was stopping by to see about the research from this morning."
"Yes, it bore fruit, but it's not an event that will happen in the near future. Not for another year, I believe."
"Good." She smiled sweetly at Xander. "What are you going to do tonight? Go clean yourself?"
Xander manifested his claws and looked at them, then up at her. "Unless you want to fight with me, I'd stop now. I'm not in the mood for you tonight." She went pink. "What's the matter, Buffy? You bothered by seeing these?" He swiped them through the air. "Gee, but you're not the one they're meant for, unless I have to defend myself."
"Enough," Giles said quietly. He looked at Buffy. "Apologize for your comment."
"He threatened me."
"No," Xander corrected, "I made a statement of fact. If I have to protect myself, I will." He made his claws disappear. "Giles, can we come over tomorrow and get the first one translated and have you teach Oz?"
"Of course." Giles smiled at him, watching him go. "Buffy, your problem with him has gone too far. Oz was called back to help him." He looked over at her. "I don't want any more sniping between you two. I'm helping him, even if you don't like it." He went back to his reading. "Good night. Unless there was something else?"
She left in a huff.
Xander paced back and forth in Giles' apartment. "It's been two days," he reminded Giles. "I haven't seen Oz for two days." He stopped as Buffy walked in. "Have you seen Oz?" She nodded, looking at Giles. "Where?" he asked harshly.
"They got him," she said, still looking at Giles. "I was wrong."
Xander spun and looked at Giles. "Do we know where they are?" He got a head shake. "Why not?" He pulled Buffy over, shaking her. "Where are they!"
"I don't know!" she said, getting free. "Oz attacked Willow's friend Tara. They stunned him and dragged him off. I'm sorry, but he lost it, Xander."
"So you let a friend go to the same people who torture demons?" He let her go, glaring at her. "I don't want to know you, Buffy, not if you let them keep him." He walked around the room, looking at everything. "Does Spike know?"
"Yeah," Spike said from the bathroom. "He does."
Xander walked in there, looking down at the chained up vampire. "Help me get Oz free and I'll let you go," he promised.
"Xander, you can't do that!" Buffy yelled, but Giles stopped her. "He can't!"
"He can," he said firmly. "I'll allow that." He walked into the bathroom and unlocked Spike's cuffs. "Let's go. Buffy, go find Willow and bring her to us. If you want to help, you may." He turned back to Spike. "Will you help us?"
"Yeah, I want to see the bloody buggers get tromped." Spike got up and looked Xander over. "You gonna do the furry thing?"
"Yeah, when we get there," Xander said, flexing his fingers as his claws came out. "I need to go get something from my apartment. Sunset?" he asked Spike, staring at him.
Spike nodded. "Sure." He looked at Giles. "You gonna keep your promise?"
"If he won't, I will," Xander told him, turning and running from the room.
Buffy looked at Giles. "I'll call Willow. She and Tara should be together." She left the room, going to use the phone.
Giles closed the bathroom door. "Spike, why are you doing this?" he asked, looking at him. He saw the pained look. "They called you too?"
"Yeah, a bit ago. I've been ignoring them." He grinned. "But the whelp's got a better deal goin'. I'll help him where I won't the pouf." He shrugged. "Shoot me, I like the whelp. He's got fire that you don't see these days." He laughed at the sour look. "And so does wolfboy. He's got fire like you don't believe."
"I know," Giles said grimly. "That's why they were pushed together." He looked the vampire in the eye. "I want your promise," he said quietly. "You'll help Xander find Oz. Even if you do turn on them later, you leave those two alone today."
"Of course," he said cheerfully, pushing his way out of the bathroom. He went into the kitchen to make himself a snack.
Later that night, Oz lay on Xander's couch with multiple ice packs over his bruises, his face covered by his arm. "I don't want to be here," he said quietly.
"Me either," Xander agreed, sitting down on the floor beside him so he could check on the one oozing cut. "Hey, you quit bleeding."
"Good. Can I go back to Tibet and starve again?" He pulled down his arm to look at his friend. "Can I?"
Xander shrugged. "What does your conscience tell you? Will the Powers let you go back?" Oz shook his head and closed his eyes. "So I won't let you get near Willow for a while. Until she's ready to tell you the truth and talk about it." Oz nodded. "You're welcome." Xander replaced the damp washcloth over the cut and stood up. "I've still got food. Want something?"
"Something soft, please," Oz said softly. His throat and his jaw still hurt, one from screaming and the other from being forced open by a long pipe. A popsicle was handed to him over the back of the couch. "Thanks."
"Hey, I like taking care of people," Xander said, walking back to make himself something with protein. "Spike helped us," he said, staring at the meat he was smooshing into balls. "Want a hamburger in a few?"
"Please," Oz said, pulling the popsicle out to speak. "Why did he help?"
"Giles asked him to," Xander said, coming over to check on him. "Need something to drink?"
"After you wash your hands," Oz suggested, looking at him. "You were great. Earlier, when you were fighting, you were really good."
"Thanks," Xander said with a light blush, going to wash his hands and get Oz a soda.
Xander sat beside Oz on the couch, staring out the window to watch the sunrise. "So," he said, glancing at his friend. "Have you figured out if you're staying?"
"I have to," Oz told him. "I can't leave, not yet. She will be pissed."
"Let her. She lied to you," Xander told him. He shrugged at the harsh look. "It was the only reason I could think of you wolfing out." He popped his neck. "Ow."
Oz reached over to rub the stiffness out. He heard purring and relaxed. Some things never changed. "I still need to get you a book of animals."
Xander grinned, leaning into Oz's caress. "That's okay. We can wait. Oh, Giles suggested a mouse."
"That would be kinda funny," Oz admitted. "Going from a kitten to a mouse?"
"Ooh, and girls' dressing rooms," Xander said happily. "I could make them all scream."
Oz laughed. "Yeah, they'd do that." He dropped his hand, not minding at all when Xander laid his head in his lap. "Okay," he said with a shrug, scratching him behind the ears.
Xander looked up as someone knocked on his apartment door, glancing at Oz, who was asleep on the couch, before answering it. Willow stood on the other side. "Hi. He's napping." He let her see Oz behind him. "What's up?" he asked, closing the door behind him as he stepped into the hall.
"I noticed something and I want to know," she said, looking at her shoes. "You and Spike both went to save Oz yesterday, not to bring down the Initiative, right?" He nodded, making her look up at him. "And you were way comfy with the kitty parts too. Right?"
Xander sighed and leaned against the wall. "Willow, I've been called. The Powers called me," he said quietly, not sure if his neighbors were home and listening. Her mouth opened.
"Bring her in," drifted out through the door. Xander let them both back into the apartment, letting her take the couch. "Yes," Oz told her, "we were both called by the Powers. Xander's going to be their eyes when they don't want Angel to go somewhere." She looked sick. "That's why he's here. I'm here to help him."
"Okay," she said slowly. "And you wanted to come back to me too?"
"I was kinda hoping to," he agreed. He looked up at Xander, who left. "Willow, I helped myself because of you. And yeah, I'm pissed, still, but I understand that you moved on." She started to sniffle. "Friends?"
She jumped up and hugged him. "Yeah, friends." She cried on him for a few minutes, then gathered herself together and went back to sitting on the end of the couch. "Um, so, what do you do for Xander?"
"I'm his teacher, the steady one. I'm also the technical one."
"We're doing the whole Bond thing," Xander said from the bedroom doorway. "And you can't tell Buffy."
"I won't," Willow promised. "But this isn't us. It isn't right and it's not us."
"Hey, she's the snarky one," Xander reminded her. He looked at Oz, who nodded. "Willow, if we need you, will you help us?"
"Of course," she said automatically. She glanced around. "What about Spike?"
"He got called too," Oz said. Xander and Willow stared at him. "In the dream I got, I saw the three of us."
"Oh." Willow shuddered. "Can you trust him?"
"Enough," Oz agreed. "They reward well." He looked at Xander. "What did you ask for?"
"The Wishing Stone!" Willow said excitedly. "Giles got a call when I felt something happen to you. That's when you got called!"
Xander nodded. "And that's when I got the ability to do more than my fuzzy form." He walked in and sat down across from them, sitting on the floor. "Willow, this is serious secret stuff. Even if we make up with Buffy, one of my assignments will be to spy on Angel someday. Giles has our book and he said so."
She smiled. "I won't tell her. Besides, I don't know what else you can do."
"And she'd forget about it," Oz told him. "Don't be so paranoid."
"Sorry, but I really don't want to be stabbed because someone sees an innocent kitten and..." He lost control and changed into said kitten. "Oz, I think I need some more work," he sighed, looking at his tail, which was waving in the air.
"Probably," Oz agreed, looking at Willow. "So, you're a pinch hitter?"
"Definitely. Yell if you need my help." She looked at Xander and smiled. "That's the cat I wished for," she said happily, reaching down to pet him. She pulled him up onto the couch, letting him lounge between them. "Hey, Oz, does this mean you guys are starting a detective agency too?"
"No," Xander said.
"Spy bureau," Oz told her.
"Furry Investigations?" she joked.
Xander looked up at Oz, who nodded. "Sounds good to us," they said together. Then Xander purred.
"Oh, happy kitten," Willow said, scratching him behind the ears. She looked at Xander. "So, where is Oz living?"
"At the secret headquarters," Oz joked, relaxing. This would all work out okay, probably.
The End, this story
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