Seeking Comfort From the Changes.

Oz walked into Giles' apartment, nodding at everyone. He had figured out almost a week earlier, the day after he'd had the inner soundtrack experience, that he could finish the music pieces only if he was near both Giles and Xander. So, now he sat in his corner chair with a tray table and a stack of blank music sheets, writing down the rest of the pieces he had started to play. He felt Xander's periodic check of a hand through his hair but ignored it for the notes trying to rush from his head to his fingers. He knew he couldn't play some of this, he wasn't that gifted. He was good, but not that good. Xander went back to his practice session, looking at the symbol he was trying to figure out. "All I know is that it's something about truth." He traced it in the plateful of sand, trying hard not to work for it. The meanings only came when he wasn't trying, so he tried to think about something else, tuning in to the quiet humming from the corner. Oz's music soothed him as only Giles' touches could - and when they met, he could see clearly, like a movie in his head.

He panicked for a second, knowing this couldn't go on forever, but went for his center of calm again, pushing the fear away to be looked at later.

"Don't do that," floated over from the corner in between notes.

Giles reached over, taking his student's hand. "Just relax and don't concentrate, we're both here."

Xander retraced the symbol, going the opposite direction of what he had been. The fear calmed in him, turning into an assurance that all would be fine. "It's reversible," he said in sudden understanding. "Truth and comforting lies. That's what this glyph is." He opened his eyes, not aware that he had closed them, and grabbed for the paper, writing the revelation out.

Oz hit a breaking point so got up to come over to the table. He waited until the younger teen was done to say anything. "I'm not planning on changing things, but life is like that sometimes. For now, as long as I can hold it off, I'm not willing to change this."

Giles finished reading and nodded. "Life is about change and how you adapt to it, Xander, but I feel the same. I'm not wanting to change what we have."

Both of them got a kiss, unfortunately witnessed by Buffy as she walked in. She cleared her throat to get their attention. "Do I want to know?" Giles motioned her over. "Is this magic related?"

"No, we've discovered Xander works better with both of us here and he was worried it was going to end." She nodded, her face wrinkled in confusion.

"Long story," Oz said, getting up and going back to his music.

She looked at the symbol drawn in the plate of sand. "Will was working with something that looked kinda like that only it had a line here," she drew it above the symbol, "and a dot," she stuck her thumb in the top loop.

Giles choked and jumped up, running out after he recognized it. "Erase that, Buffy," was shouted as the door closed.

She looked at Xander, who waved her on. "He said you, I'm not touchin' it." He got up, walking over to sit beside Oz's chair to listen and watch him create. Buffy took the little sand rake thing and ran it in circles around the sand. "Okay, fixed. Looks like Dad's girlfriend's Zen garden." Oz snorted. "Hey, she's almost okay. Bit loose mentally but otherwise cool." She walked over to answer the summons of the door. "Oz, person."

The guitarist got up, going to see who it was. He pulled Devon over to his chair, setting him in Xander's former spot.

Xander handed Buffy a soda across the bar. "Devon, want a drink? Coke, juice, water?"

"Water please." He took the bottle from the lone female's hand, giving her his best pick-up smile. "Thanks." He looked at the sheets of music that landed in his lap, breaking eye contact with her, reading them easily. "Oz, man, you wrote stuff you can't play," he complained. He changed songs, noted by the corners folded together. "Oh, good, I like this one." He read the whole score, smiling and putting it aside. He snorted at the first love song, and almost cried when he got to the second one, complete with words, but it was the dark and dangerous one that made his mouth hang open and the words dry up. He made fish mouths at his guitarist, who simply nodded. That song went into the 'for the band' pile.

"Good ending song," Oz noted.

"Yeah, if I can do it justice." Devon stood up, grabbing his best friend's head to kiss the middle of his forehead. "Oz, man, keep it up, I'll work on finding my inner sex hunter for that song." He gathered up his pile, handing the rest back. "Practice tomorrow, *three* sharp." He gave him a look then walked out, waving at the other two teens watching tv. "Later."

Oz walked over to join them on the couch, sitting next to Xander. "Think he likes them?" The younger man poked/tickled his side. "Good."

"So, what brought on the writing fit?" Buffy asked.

"Don't know," Oz lied, looking at his bondmate. "Just the internal symphony."


Giles looked at the young woman he'd had to stop using an unfortunate amount of force. "I should bind you from doing harm," he told her unconscious body as he put away the supplies he had used to negate her spell in progress. "How did you learn of this?" He bent down to put the last piece of equipment into her trunk and saw the fabric covered lump near the bottom. He pulled it out, running gentle fingers over the pure silk before unwrapping it, gasping at the chaos symbol on the front. "Oh, no," he whispered, sitting down and pulling back on the shirt he'd taken off earlier to cast as he opened it. He easily found the spells she had been doing recently by the used feel of the pages; she'd read them many times before casting them. "Oh, Willow," he sighed in despair, "how did you get this?"

"Was sent," she said, holding her head. "You hit me."

"You wouldn't stop," he reminded her. "Who sent it?"

"You. While you were at the auction." She sat up, rubbing her jaw. "I should tell Buffy to beat you up for me."

"Willow," he said patiently, "this is the symbol for Chaos and I did *not* send you this book, nor would I allow you to have it." He showed her the front of the book.

Her face fell. "It is? I...I thought it was one for knowledge."

"False knowledge. Harmful knowledge." Giles pulled himself up to sit beside her on the bed. "Think of that spell you cast on yourself and Xander, which I'm sure came from this book. Harmful knowledge." Her head went down and he made a snap judgement based on her recent behavior. "I'm taking this so you won't have the temptation of it." She nodded slowly. "Good, now let's go back to my place. Everyone else is there. We can discuss what else you attempted and why you felt the desire to do so later." His silent ‘when I'm not so angry,' was left unsaid.


Giles and Willow walked past the second parked police car within two feet and began to get very ill feelings. She stopped a police officer by catching his arm. "What happened at the Harris house? Xander?"

He smiled kindly. "He wasn't here, dear." He patted her arm. "My son used to talk about you and him." Willow nodded.. "It was just a break-in. We don't even know where your friend is."

"He's at my apartment," Giles said. "Or at least he was an hour or so ago." He saw the three teens running their way. "There he is."

The officer walked over to stop them. "Mr. Harris, it was just a break-in." The young man nodded, confusion apparent. "Your house was pretty trashed but no real harm was done."

Xander frowned. "My parents were home." He pointed at the car in the driveway. "So was my Uncle." Th officer motioned another one over and said something quietly then looked back at the young man. "Any chance they went for a walk?" He got a small head shake. "Okay, let's go inside and you can tell me what's missing."

Xander winced as he surveyed the mess, his skin crawling. "TV stuff is here." He picked up his journal, clutching it to his chest. "Stereo stuff is here." He walked toward his bedroom but was stopped by another officer. "My room?"

She clutched his shoulder, her face showing sympathy. "Whoever did this wrote in blood all over your room."

"I, um, deal with someone who researches old cults. Can he and I go look?" She looked over her shoulder at a guy without a uniform, who nodded, and Giles was sent for. "Do you have a video camera so we can study it?" he asked as she let him walk past her.

"We'll make you a copy." She led them down the stairs, watching as they walked around the edge of the room, stopping at each symbol.

The younger man flipped his sheet back and frowned in disgust at what was drawn there. The older man patted the younger's shoulder and they walked back to the stairs with one stop at the dresser. Xander packed some clothes in a backpack quickly, then walked back to the woman on the stairs. "I'll stay on his couch tonight." The officer nodded as she checked his stuff then allowed him to zip the bag.

"When may we get the tape?" Giles asked as he wrote his address and phone number down and handed it to her. "We'll be there most of the night, I dare say."

"We'll call first but it shouldn't be too long. Do you recognize any of this stuff?"

"Mostly Mesopotamian or Babylonian in origin, summoning or calling for a power to come to them."

"Oh, a cultist then." She didn't see the wince since she was making notes. "Would his parents be sacrifices?"

"If they were, you'd already have the bodies," the older man said with a touch of ice in his voice. He waved at the symbol on the floor. "They would have been laying there for you."

"Okay, explains the goat we found." She looked up. "Any ideas what the blue ick was on its body?" He shook his head. "Okay, we'll bring you that tape later and we may have some questions."

"I have a book that would help," Giles agreed, leading Xander outside by the other door. "Head home, bathe," he told his student quietly. "Take Oz and Buffy with you as a precaution." He got a small nod before his student walked off with his appointed guardians, and he and his other student went for supplies.


Buffy was sitting outside when Giles got back. Alone. She smiled and took her feet off the table. "He's going for inner calm and women disturb it," she explained as she grabbed his hand. "Who and where?"

"We'll let you know." He patted her hand as he removed it from his. "Go get ready in case we need you." She hopped up and walked away as he went inside.

Oz looked up from his backrub. "He kept getting the scary-calm thing he got in Vegas," he explained. "The curtains were moving by themselves."

"Hold the fort while I prepare myself." Giles dropped the small bag on his way to the bathroom.

When he came out, Xander was blowing out a candle and Oz was in his chair working. He knelt beside the young man, relighting the candle and taking his hand. He started a slow chant, his student following after the first round.

Oz kept silent, acting as guardian so they wouldn't be disturbed. So when someone knocked on the door, he got up to get it. "Not now, Dev. Major emergency stuff." He walked outside with him. "The guy you met earlier had his parents snatched," he explained, not wanting to remind Devon about his problem remembering names.

"Huh. Bummer." Devon handed over a piece of paper. "My cousin wanted to see that other stuff and may pass it on." He looked down. "Three days?"

"Sure. I can work some more up." Oz shifted as the female officer from earlier walked down the few stairs into the building's open courtyard. "Hold on." He walked over to her, taking the tape. "They're meditating."

She nodded. "I would too. Did he pull that book?" He shrugged. "Okay, I can come back - around five?" He nodded. "Thanks. *No* one else has a clue."

Oz nodded. "Would be pretty rare." Devon cleared his throat. "I'll tell him." She nodded and left so he walked back over to his friend.

"Is this part of that strange stuff your thing got you into?" His guitarist nodded slowly, frowning at the slight to Willow. "Enough said then. Practice, tomorrow at *three*. We'll discuss then, so bring what you have." Devon turned and walked off, leaving Oz to sit at the small table looking at the tape.


Giles looked up from his herb preparation for later as Willow walked in. "Did you find another reference?" She shook her head. "Help Xander watch the tape then."

Xander stopped the tape, looking over his shoulder. "Will, get me my book? I've seen this before." She handed it to him, sitting down next to him on the couch. She watched as he flipped through the pages. Twice.

"Pre-hundred," Oz said, not looking up from his corner. "Saw it in the prep section, nearly." He glanced up as he felt Willow's glare warm his head. "He let me read it."

Giles coughed. "If it is, then he's mixing traditions and he'll become frustrated when it doesn't work. Magic of this caliber needs to be more pure in tradition."

"The microwaving of magic," Xander quipped. Everyone looked at him. "That's what Elizabeth, my new co-worker, called Hila's technique. The microwaving of magic."

"Quick starting with easy instructions," Oz agreed. "Dangerous when combined with power."

"It's only meant to be used by people with little power," Giles noted, "but I do heartily agree with her. You value and are more careful the harder you work for the craft." He looked at Willow.

She nodded. "Absolutely."


Buffy walked into the warehouse, on the lookout for whomever she could hear chanting trying to call up a demon to hurt everyone in town. She snuck through the shadows to where she could see the rope to the chandelier was tied off, a plan for disrupting the ceremony starting in her head. She had almost reached it when a rough hand grabbed her, and the demon walked out of the darker shadows to look down at her, sneering almost.

"Not even you can stop me," he said, his voice gravelly and deep, sending a shock of reaction down her spinal column. "Slayer, this isn't your fight, you should stay out of it."

She tried to kick him, to get free, but he laughed and slammed her into the wall. "Bastard," she muttered, getting up, grabbing the hook to use as leverage to kick him in the back. She started to untie the complicated knot but he stopped her, knocking her into the metal anchor, putting her down for a few seconds, enough time to get away.

Giles knocked the chanting teen out, wincing at the injury to his knuckles. He moved into his former position, starting his chant, concentrating on ending the casting as his two students moved into position beside him, Xander on his left, Willow on his right, and took up their chants.

The demon walked out into the light, laughing. "Oh, this is so amusing, sorcerer. I have my entry and you can't stop me."

Xander threw his herbs, watching as they incinerated a line in the figure on the floor. The demon stopped laughing. Willow threw her herbs, interrupting another line. Giles threw his and started the last chant, taking his students' hands to share the burden of the casting with them, sure in the knowledge that Buffy would protect them.

Buffy kicked the demon into the middle of the symbol. It screamed as the figure burned around it, starting to smoke itself. "See ya," she called as the final handful of herbs was tossed, and a bright light flashed.

"Okay," Xander slowly, rubbing his eyes to clear them. "'Rents?" Everyone looked around and shrugged, except Giles who frowned at Buffy for it. "Uh-huh." He walked over to where they had been earlier, touching the limp ropes that had been imprisoning them. "Not here," he called. He felt the comforting hand on his shoulder and looked at his teacher. "Now what?"


Hila pushed her blonde hair back as she walked up to the still body lying in the grass in the park, kneeling beside him. "Back again?" she asked him quietly, touching his shoulder, thrilling at the power now flowing through him. She helped him up and started them walking back towards her shop.


Xander walked into Giles' apartment, nodding at the others already there. "It's done. They're declared missing officially." He sat down between Giles and Oz, taking Willow's usual seat. "I did what you said, talking to bosses and things about insurance and pensions." He accepted the glass of juice with a small nod of thanks. "The cops warned me not to start throwing wild parties." Buffy snorted. "My thoughts." He looked at his teacher. "Any luck finding that demon?"

Giles shook his head. "Not yet. He's probably plane bound instead of Hellbound but that's all I've found." He cleared his throat. "He did say he had another gateway so maybe if we found it then we might have a better idea." He patted the back of his student's head. "I wouldn't worry, Xander, I'm sure they're fine, wherever they are."

"Yup, because demons are *so* nice." He pulled a book closer. "What's the other problem facing us?" Everyone looked at him. "The real reason we're all here?"

Willow cleared her throat. "It was going to be a happy colleging party but it's not real appropriate now."

"Sorry, I'll go so you college people can celebrate." He got up, walking out, slamming the door behind him.

Willow sighed, heading out after him. "That's *not* what I meant," she called. She heard quiet snickering behind her so hurried to catch up to him. "No," she panted, stopping him, "not what I meant." She glanced around. "Walk with me?" He nodded, turning around and starting back. "I meant with your parents and all. I'm looking at the dorm as a really small apartment so, of course, you're always invited." He nodded again. "And I'm sure Buffy and Oz feel the same way." He nodded. "You're not listening are you?"

"Not to you, no. To the person walking behind us." he pushed her to go down the stairs first, following closely. That's when they were jumped, as they walked into the common area. "Shit," he swore, taking out his stake. "Giles? Some help here?" he called, backing Willow behind him into a corner protected by a bush.

Buffy and Giles walked out, with weapons, and started on the rear of the group while he staked any that got close to them, getting a few before they became smart and tried attacking in groups. He got one, struggling with the other two, trusting Willow to guard his back, but then he heard her squeak, and he couldn't help her, he was a little busy with the two grabbing him. Buffy shot one of them, the crossbow having enough power to go through the vampire and into his shoulder, fortunately off-center. "Aim needs work," he called, sighing as that one became dust in his hands. He dealt with the other one, turning to help Willow, finding her hiding behind Oz. "You okay?" She nodded, her eyes very big. He felt the hands grab him so fought against them, hitting someone's chin with his elbow before they could completely get him still.

"Whoa," Oz said, moving closer, hands out where the younger man could see them. "Good guys here, no fighting required." He grabbed his friend, holding onto him until he calmed down. "Inside, you need a really big Band-Aid for your shoulder," he said quietly, catching Xander as the pain finally made it past the adrenaline to his brain.

Giles nodded at Willow go help Buffy, who had been knocked senseless, as he helped Oz get the injured man into his bathroom. He looked at the injury then at Oz, who nodded, then headed for the nearest phone.


Xander woke up in a hospital room, squinting at the bright sunlight bouncing off the glaring white walls. "Wonder if being snowblind is like this?" he asked himself, pulling himself up and pushing the call button. The nurse walked in, smiling at him. "Two things: what day is it, when can I go home," he paused, looking around, "and where are my friends?"

"That's three," the man said as he looked under the edge of the bandage. "It's the next day, they're at home, and you can leave later if you're good."

He nodded. "Okay, can you get me the phone?"

"They'll be back tonight, young man. They deserve some rest too." He fluffed the pillows then lowered the back of the bed down to a sleeping position again. "You need to rest, so back to your dreams you go." He handed him the tv remote. "Or at least lay there quietly."

"Okay," the younger man said with a yawn, mimicking his caregiver's. He turned it on to the cartoon channel and dozed off watched Bugs Bunny fill in for the Road Runner.

When Xander woke again, the tv was showing Headline News so he knew Giles had been in to see him. He turned his head to look at the chair, frowning at its emptiness. He sat the bed's back up with a wince, looking at the small clock beside his bed. He pushed the call button, smiling at the grandmotherly woman walking in. "Can I have some drugs? My shoulder hurts again." She nodded and walked out, coming back with a small cup of red tablets. "Tylenol?" he guessed, taking them.

"Yup," Oz said as he walked in. He handed off his soda, watching the younger man swallow the pills, taking it back afterwards and sitting down in the chair. "Sorry about the cartoons but Smurfs were warping when we were kids, and are worse now, and MTV has a rerun of boy band day on." He waited until they were alone to lean over and kiss the younger man's forehead. "Buffy threatened to cook for you if you don't forgive her."

"Then I guess I'd better so she doesn't hurt innocent food." Xander grinned. "Can I still go home tonight?" His occasional lover nodded, still watching him. "What? Did they tattoo something across my forehead?" He rubbed at it, looking at his hand. "Don't feel anything."

"Trying to understand why you ran away last night."

"You guys wanted to celebrate going away and I was bringing the party down." He shrugged his good shoulder. "Will I need to work back to normal usage?" he said, looking down at his sling.

"Nope, it missed everything, just got muscle and not that deep." The older man leaned closer. "We invited you so you could get happy too," he said softly. He dropped another kiss on the younger teen's forehead before standing up. "I'm taking you to Giles'. His orders." Oz walked around the bed and sat down in the other chair, facing the door, getting comfortable. "Might as well nap, you've got two hours before your doctor starts rounds." Xander nodded getting comfortable. He waited until his friend was asleep before going out to talk to the nurse. "What will I need to do?"

She smiled, handing over a sheet. "Don't let the stitches get wet, and he'll probably need some help showering until he figures out how to cope." She handed him a little brown paper bag. "Those plastic bandages are to be kept on as little as possible. He'll have some antibiotics and will want Tylenol every few hours. Otherwise, just be there for him and let him complain."

"Should he be woken for his medications?" She nodded. "Okay, anything else?"

"He'll need some pampering over the next few days, mostly. It isn't that bad but it will seem worse in his head." The young man nodded. "Keep the sling on as much as possible for the next week or two then gently break him of it, making him start to use that arm again."

Oz nodded his thanks, taking the things back to his friend's room.


Giles hurried to help his student into his apartment. "How are you feeling?"

"Little sore," Xander admitted. "Tylenol has yet to kick in again." He was carefully seated in the comfy leather chair, his feet put up for him. "I'm fine," he sighed. "Quit fussing. Please?"

"Sure, it will gradually taper off," Oz told him, checking his watch. "Gotta go, already late for practice." He walked over to his writing chair, gathering the music he'd been working on. "Later," he said with a small pat to the injured man's arm as he walked out.

Giles walked back into the living room, handing over the can of soda he was carrying. "The plan for your recovery is for you to stay here until we're sure you can handle your injury." The younger man nodded. "Of course, you can have my bed."

"I can go home for nights," Xander offered. He got frowned at. "Just to sleep," he defended from the glare. "Your back and that couch don't like each other."

Giles shook his head and kicked the stool out from under the young man's feet, making him grunt when it shook his sore shoulder. "I'd thought we'd gotten past your inability to trust me."

"I have!" Xander backed away from the man leaning over him. "Okay, I give!"

"Good," Giles said as he stepped back with a small smile and pat for his student. "I can ask Oz to stay with us if you'd like." He noted the faint smile on the young man's face. "Yes, your point about my couch was well taken but I trust that you'll not take advantage of me."

"Me?" Xander asked innocently.

The older man's laughed, relaxing. "Yes, you." He looked toward the door as someone walked in. "Buffy."

She smiled at him as she walked over to her friend, handing over a nicely wrapped box. "I'm sorry I shot you." He grinned, tearing the paper off it. "It's fudge. Easy fudge but still fudge." She smiled, looking really hopeful.

"Thank you and yeah, I forgive you." He grinned and she sat down. He took out a *small* piece, eating it for show, trying hard not to gag at the overly sweet, almost pure chocolate, fudge. "S'good," he mumbled, holding out the box. "Want some, Giles?"

The older man shook his head. "No thank you, perhaps after supper." He looked former student. "Did you want to stay for supper?"

"Nah, Mom wants to have one last dinner and girls night." She stood up. "I'll leave you two to do *guy* things." She smiled and hurried out.

Xander looked at the box beside him on the floor. "Milk chocolate sweetened with honey, fluff added." The older man got up, bringing him a glass of water. "Thanks." He gratefully drank it to get rid of the sweetness. "So, what can I do to help?"

"Just sit there," Giles said as he walked back into the kitchen. "Would baked chicken be all right?"

"Yeah, anything without beans is fine." Xander stood, walking into the kitchen to talk to him. "Had those for lunch." Giles put back a can, pulling out another one. "Hey, corn, haven't had that since high school lunch." That got him a small pat to his good shoulder. "I've got to go shopping when I go home."

"I'll go with you if you like."

"Okay, but we gotta go easy on the veggies. Single guys my age don't eat asparagus when we're alone."

Giles chuckled. "Men my age don't either." He slid the pan out of the oven, setting it on a free burner to cool.


Oz and Devon walked into Giles' apartment, the singer talking excitedly. "Come on, man, just a quick trip to the bulk store. All I need is a little chocolate." He saw a pointing finger rise over the back of the couch so followed it to the fridge. "Fudge! Man, you're a prince."

"Buffy made it," Xander warned.

Oz rolled his eyes. "Take small bites, Dev, it's probably real sweet." He sat down in his chair, dropping his bag beside him. "It went well," he told Xander.

"Well?" Devon screeched. "They *loved* you man, absolutely adored you. They wanted to steal you and lock you in a little room so you could create for them." He took two more generous pieces of fudge and came out to sit beside his best friend. "Oz, dude, write me more?"

"Only if you calm down," Oz said softly, looking his friend in the eyes. Devon took a deep breath and grinned. "Okay, but you know it doesn't always work. I can't just turn it on and off." The singer shrugged. "I'll *try*, okay?"

"Yup, thanks dude," Devon said, hopping up and leaving. "Practice at four, Oz, remember."

Xander turned his head. "I guess it went well?" The older teen nodded. "Good. I'll try to go to that state again soon."

"Wait a while," Oz said as he came over to sit beside him. "I've still got other stuff to finish." The younger man nodded. "How you feel?"

"Pampered and special. And we left you a plate in the fridge because I didn't figure you'd stop for munchies." He got up, heading for the fridge. "She'll be pleased her fudge was eaten," Xander said, pulling himself up to sit. "Giles is in the shower and he convinced me to stay here tonight."

"I know, we talked before I brought you over." Oz popped the now warm plate out of the microwave and brought it back to the couch. "Anything happen here?"

"Nah, Will's packing and Buffy's sharing a special moment with her mom." He shifted, pulling a foot up under his body. "You okay with the plan?"

"Yup, don't want to go listen to Dev bounce." Oz tore his chicken into little pieces, eating delicately. "You?"

Xander looked confused then nodded. "Yeah, I'll even try to be good and not chew on your ear."

Oz nodded slowly. "That did feel strange." He looked over his shoulder as Giles walked out of the bathroom. "Hey, they liked."

"I'm happy for you then," the older man said as he walked over to them. "Oh, good, you did find the food." He sat in the comfortable chair, clasping his robe together. When nothing more was said for a few minutes, he stood up. "I'll go to bed then, come up when you're ready."

Xander looked at his friend after they were alone. "Wow." Oz nodded. "I didn't know they came like that." He stared at the bedroom wall, blinking.

Oz nudged his friend. "Don't drool. It's anti-cute." The younger man wiped his mouth. "Better. Now lets go up and confront his massiveness."


Oz woke up as something hit his nose, glaring at Xander's mobile body. He tried to grab the offending arm from its conducting in the air, but it was pulled away from him.

"Bad light," Xander mumbled. "Mean, needs to go 'way." The unlit lamp beside the bed went flying, waking Giles. "No, bad light!"

Giles looked at the remains of his lamp then at Oz, who waved at Xander. He sighed, catching the clawing hand, holding it against his chest. "Xander, there's no light." The younger man rolled back into him, mouthing his neck. "Go back to sleep," he whispered.

Xander did a strange thing then, rolling over into Oz's body and kissing him. "Prince Charming," he said, rolling back into Giles' body and kissing him. "Prince Charminger." He snuggled down between them, pulling Oz by his arm until he was held snuggly between their bodies. "Comfy," he pronounced.

"Okay," Oz said slowly. "Night."

Giles snorted, taking control of the waving arm, putting it between their cuddled bodies. "Sleep," he said softly.


"Oz, dude, what happened to the lamp," Devon said as he walked in, watching his guitarist glue the pieces together. "And please don't glue your fingers."

"Went flying." Oz glanced at him then the clock. "Practice isn't for two hours."

"I know, I just wanted to see if you'd written anything else." Oz shook his head. "Well, why not," he said, pulling his best friend up and towing him over to his chair, pulling his working table in front of him. "Comfy?"

"It doesn't work like that, Dev. You can't just force me to write." He looked up at his lead singer. "It flows when it wants to and leaves the rest of the time. I can't just conjure it up."

"So meditate or whatever and ask it nicely."

"Why are you so impatient?"

"Because, dude, my cousin called and the bigger guys loved your stuff too. They're taking it to the really big suits now." Oz nodded slowly. "So you got to write more so they can like those too."

Oz sighed. "I knew this would happen." He moved the table he wrote on, going back to the lamp he was rebuilding. "Dev, if it comes, it comes. If not, I'll still be happy." He looked over his shoulder. "Same as if they like it or not. I'll still be happy."

"But, Oz..."

"No, Dev, and you know better than to suggest that I should go commercial." He glued another shard into place. "I'll write when I can but I'm not going to force it."

Devon nodded. "So be it then. I guess, anyway." He walked over to his friend's side, patting his shoulder. "I'll back you, you know that." Oz nodded. "Just promise to remember us if they offer fame and cash."

"You'll have second pick of rooms in my house." He felt the squeeze so looked back up. "I wouldn't take it. I'm not leaving, I promised people."

"Then we'll be playing our senior citizen's home together," Devon said with a smile.

"Possibly." Oz fit the next piece of the lamp to check it then added glue. "Want to help or you too busy groping my shoulder?"

"Huh? No, man, I'll see you at practice. *Four* Oz, you tend to lose track of time when you're creating." And he walked out.

Xander looked around as he walked down the stairs. "It safe?"

"Was before," Oz noted. He pointed at the couch. "Sit, want to talk to you." The younger man put down his dustpan, sitting and fidgeting. "You know you did this right?" He saw the small nod. "While sleeping. You waved your arm around and it went flying." He held up a finger at the opening mouth. "And you were complaining about a bad light while you did it."

Xander cleared his throat. "I was having a nightmare. This big hand surrounded by light kept trying to grab me. There was no me, just the hand and the light, but I knew it was going to hurt me somehow." He looked down. "I've been having it on and off since I got my book."

"You didn't mention this why?"

"Because it's a stupid fear, Oz. Nobody can take my power from me but that's what the hand wants to do, it wants to rip it out of me and dangle it in front of me to taunt me."

"It wants to turn you back into the old Xander who wasn't special," Oz summarized. He got a small nod. "You are special," he said, getting up to sit beside his friend. "Always were. You wouldn't have helped us if you weren't."


"No buts. You were special before and your abilities just make you more so." Oz stopped to think. "Your power builds on your specialness. If there was nothing there then you wouldn't have any power at all. But you have tons of special in you, that's why you're so powerful. You just have to find it."

"Like you and your music?" Xander asked quietly.

"Yup, just like that. I didn't know I had music running around in me until someone showed me music and it came out to sing with theirs. You just have to look for yours, dig a little into what you like, and once you find it, then it will eat itself and grow faster." He patted the uninjured shoulder. "We'll start looking for interesting ideas this weekend." He went back to his reconstruction.

"Thanks, Oz, you're a good." Xander got up, taking his glass to the trashcan.


Giles looked at his student with annoyance. The boys were at his place again tonight, for their comfort of course, and once again Xander was having dreams that caused him to flail around. He grabbed the wiggling arm on the next pass, using it to roll the firm body into his. "Xander," he sighed softly, "you're safe. Sleep now."

The younger man kissed him and Giles felt the energy build around them. He tried to dampen it, not wanting whatever thing his student had been casting in his sleep to hurt them all. Unfortunately, he wasn't that coordinated when he'd just woken up.

Oz yelped and hopped up as the bed caught fire, quickly pouring the water from the bedside pitcher to douse the single small flame. Then he glared down at the gently snoring young sorcerer. "Fix this? Please?" he begged, crawling in behind Giles, forcing Xander into the wet spot. "Like tomorrow maybe, or now even? I'll *help* if you want to do it now."

Giles nodded, getting up, crawling over Xander so he didn't have to face the scared and clinging older teen. "We need to help him create some shields, which can take days for some people." Oz nodded, getting out of the bed. "Xander," Giles said loudly.

The youngest man groaned, rolling into the wet spot. He blinked then got to his hand and knees, frowning at the bed. "Damn, haven't done that since I was two."

"It's water," Oz said, "you set the bed on fire." Xander just looked up at him. "Come on, we've got to stop this before you really hurt somebody. Like me." He helped the younger teen up, pushing him to walk down the stairs first. "Another dream?" he asked as they made it to the living room.

Xander nodded. "Same one. I think I was trying to kill the light. Not as powerful without the light."

Giles lit a candle, handing it off to Oz. "Big hand, shiny light, coming to take your gifts from you?" Both teens nodded. "Fairly common. It goes once you accept the ability as part of yourself." He lit another candle, holding it himself. "Xander, sit in the cleared area. You need to create some heavier shields." Giles took the candles and two more, marking off the four directions to start the circle.

Xander looked at the representation he had originally created to show him his power, his first self-training thing. He distrusted it now, disbelieving its form; too much had happened for it to really be a little flame. The image dissolved into a big, gray, moving pile of jello-looking stuff. He reached out to touch it as he had the flame originally, this time he wasn't so scared so his fingers brushed the outer skin of it. The image moved, swallowing his hand, trying to take in his whole arm. He pushed it back using his willpower to make it want to let go of him. He pulled the little silver net-looking thing he'd mentally created to harness the power, wrapping it snugly around the soft form. Then he watched it be swallowed in dismay. "Why isn't this easy?" He grunted as the line connecting him to the net was tugged on, looking at his belly button as it unraveled. He sighed when it stopped, looking at the jiggly, semi-solid mass with a small grin. "Are you tame?" he asked, reaching out to touch it again.

So it swallowed him whole.

Xander fought his way back out of the silky-feeling stuff, turning to frown at it. "Okay, I guess the answer to that is no." He stopped, listening to the chanting outside his head, deciding to join in. Until he felt the back of his head slapped. "They're just mean to us, huh?" he said, walking closer to it again, very slowly and carefully.

It swallowed him again.

Xander backed out, glaring at it now. "Oh, no you don't. You feel nice and all but I'm not a power ho." He raised his hands, using his willpower to suck a strand to him, attaching it to his bellybutton and up to his heart, then feeding it back to the creature, a little more of a cream-color now. He sucked more and more in, feeding it back after watching it change color, watching as the new color started to infect the rest of the mass. He smiled at his good work, looking down at the small piece he had attached to himself so he could access it. It had branched off and was now spider-webbing across his body. "Well, I guess it's okay," he said with a shrug.

He woke himself up, looking at Giles, Willow, Buffy, and lastly Oz. "What?" he asked with a yawn.

"Xander," Willow said softly, "it's Saturday." He just gave her an irritated look. "Ask them if you don't believe me."

Giles silently handed over his watch, blowing out the candles that he had kept burning. Xander looked at the date and frowned then up at him. "Yes," he said quietly, "we were about to pull you back."

"Gee," Xander said with another yawn, "I thought it was only a few hours. Can I nap then?"

Giles nodded, helping him up. "I think you should before we discuss what happened." He turned him over to Oz, watching them disappear in the direction of the bathroom. "Thank you, girls. We'll call you over later, after he's woken up." They both frowned but he held firm. "Good day." He smiled as he heard the shower come on, watching them leave for a few hours. He wandered back to where Oz and Xander were, nodding at the older teen to leave them alone for a few minutes. "So, what was it?" he asked quietly, leaning against the sink's edge.

"Um, big jello-y mass. Swallowed me a few times," Xander said through the curtain. "Gray, wiggly, silky feeling. Now it's more creamy-colored, it's spider-webbing across my body, mostly my chest and arms." He put his head out of the shower, his hair dripping water down his shoulders and face. "Is that a bad thing?"

"No, actually, it's a most workable form." He smiled at the younger man. "How are you feeling, really? Not that nicety you probably told Oz."

"Um, can I have a minute alone? My bladder just decided to make itself known." He got a small nod, waiting until he was alone to run over to relieve himself. He sighed in satisfaction, walking back to the shower, frowning at the opening door as he hurried up. "Hi," he said, going back to just letting his head outside of the protected area. "So, what else happened while I was gone?"

"Oz went to pick up your last paycheck at your old job, it's sitting on the table as we speak. We've got the girls all moved in up there. Oz also. We also have had a few discussions with some police officers about your parents. We just told them you were meditating when they stopped by," he said to alleviate the frown. "No one has a clue yet, unfortunately." He looked at the young man. "Do wash yourself, I can talk over the water." The teen's head pulled back in, and his shadow on the curtain showed that he was washing his back. And like a dirty old man, Giles watched him do so.

"So, um, am I okay otherwise?" Xander asked, turning to rinse off his back by what his shadow was doing.

"Quite fine. You're not due at your new job at the Magic Shop until Monday so you can rest all weekend if you need to." He almost smiled at the sigh of contentment as the shadow reached up to change water settings, relaxing against a wall to enjoy the harder pressure. "Would you like some lunch when you get out?" The shadow jumped a little.

"No, thanks. Maybe a nap first." The teen's shadow went back to stretching under the heavy flow of water. "What else do I need to do?"

"Well, I'd like an account if you wouldn't mind," Giles said, shifting to get a little more comfortable. "I'm sure Oz would like to know what took you so long also. He was quite sure you had hurt yourself while you were under."

"Only when it swallowed me," Xander mumbled just loud enough to be heard. "Okay, I can do that," he said, turning off the water and pushing back the curtain. He took the towel offered him, blushing slightly under the heated stare. "Um, Giles?"

"Yes?" he asked quietly.

"Why are you staring at me?" Xander looked up, raising an eyebrow. "Is something wrong? Did I miss a spot?"

"No," he said, shaking his head. "Just my mind wandering while facing you." He stood up straight, heading for the door.

"I didn't mind, I just wanted to know why," came the quiet remark. The older man closed the door, turning to face his student again. "I really wasn't minding. I've just never been that closely examined before." He looked up, seeing the small smile of satisfaction and shifted his position, relaxing his posture even as his legs spread a little. "Better?"

"You were fine before," the older man said, walking over to him. He placed a gentle kiss on his forehead. "Why were the pair of you staring the other night?"

"Your robe was open," Xander admitted in a whisper, looking up him. "I don't have anything to sleep in, do I?"

"Not unless you want to steal some clothes, no," the older man admitted, smiling down at him. "Run up to the bed, Xander, it's dry and remade for you." He watched him wrap the towel around himself, walking behind him as he wandered up the stairs and into the bed. He held up the covers so he could curl up beside Oz, tucking them both in gently, forcing himself not to stand there and watch them sleep.

As Giles wandered back downstairs, he noted Willow cleaning up the mess so cleared his throat to warn her that he was there. "You didn't have to do that." He took the box of burned out candles, putting them on the table. "What's wrong?"

"Just wondering how much more powerful he was than me," she told him, "and other deep thoughts." She looked at the older man, smiling faintly. "You're meant to teach him, aren't you?" He nodded. "What about me?"

"You're still a student of mine, but he's going to have more energy focused on him." He pulled her to the couch, sitting down beside her. "Willow, he's got a great gift and will one day fill the same role as I do for the pair of you. His destiny is to teach so he needs to know more than you do. And while he may not actively practice like you do, he does still practice what he needs to. We both expect you to treat him as an equal in this regard." She nodded slowly. "Now, if you really want to think heavy thoughts, maybe you should consider your feelings toward him and why you insist on trying to control his abilities." She nodded, getting up and leaving him alone.

"Couldn't have said it better myself," Oz said from the stairs, seeing the slight flinch. "Can I talk to you too? I really need a friendly ear and I don't have anyone else to provide one of those that I trust with this stuff." The spot on the couch was patted but Oz chose to sit on the other side of the older man, making him turn to face him. "See, she's part of the problem." He looked down. "I can't do things with her."

Giles simply hugged him. "I understand. Her betrayal of you and your trust was too much." He let him pull back, seeing the pain in his eyes. "It would be hard to forgive her for what she forced you and he to do, even if it was her spirit in his body at the time." Oz nodded slowly. "And I doubt that anyone could fault you for never touching her again."

"But I love her and I don't want to touch her." He shook his head, getting up and going over to his table to get something that he had been writing, handing it over. "I know you used to play so I'm guessing you can read this." He waited while his most inner feelings were read over, until the older man looked up at him again. "What I have with him is a joy to me, it makes every part of my body sing. I can't force myself to do more than hug or hold her but I feel the things for her that I don't for him. I am royally screwed here."

The older man put down the sheets of music, bringing the younger man's face back up to look at him. "What she did was wrong, terribly wrong, and you shouldn't have to force yourself to forgive or to touch her. No matter how pushy she gets." That got a small nod. "You may come and talk to me anytime you feel the need to, Oz, I truly do understand the fact that what happened wasn't totally consensual. There would be no way that such an act could be considered totally consensual on all of your parts. You didn't want it and neither did Xander."

"He can't do anything. Not even touch her shoulder."

"Would you be able to if she had done that switching spell with you?" The younger man shook his head, looking back down. "It is something we all need to help him with but I won't, and I believe he wouldn't, begrudge you your feelings of betrayal."

The teen hugged his mentor and stood up. "I'm going to go think. You be okay with him?"

"We'll be fine, Oz, go do what you need to do." He watched the younger man walk out, seeing the pain in his every movement now that he knew it was there.

Xander cleared his throat from the stairs. "He's right, you know. And so were you." He walked into the outstretched arms, resting against the firm chest, relaxing into them. "I feel safe when you're here, touching me, or when it's Oz, but I want to avoid her as much as possible."

"I know." He got a big-eyed look. "I had noticed your habit of leaving at even the mention that she was coming over if the whole group wouldn't be here. I do support your feelings also, Xander, never doubt that I'm here for you."

"Come help me nap?" That got a small smile. "Just to do this stuff?" He got a nod so stood up, dragging his teacher up after him. "I'm sorry in advance if I nibble," he said as they lay down together. "Just push me off if I get too bad." He closed his eyes, resting on the offered shoulder.

"I wouldn't do that to you," Giles told him quietly, stroking through his damp hair. "You're always welcome to seek comfort from me." He looked down, watching his favorite student rest safely in his arms.

To Be Continued...