Old Friends

Xander paced around the apartment. "Got to get out and do stuff," he muttered, looking at Jim as he walked through the door. "I'm gonna die if I have to stay here for another minute. Can we go do something? Or let me out on my own?"

"Yup," Jim said, killing the last of his soda. "Museum or tour of the city?"

"Park? I want to go play in the sunshine and jog and play." He grabbed his jacket. "Nice and free and everything." Jim just smiled, waving him out the door. "So cool." He hurried down to the truck, getting into the passenger's side and buckling up. "I'm so sorry that I sold my car now."

"It's not safe for you to drive if you don't have control," Jim reminded him. "If you zone while driving, there's no way you won't hit someone. Then you'll have to explain not only the zone but also probably spend time in jail, which is not fun when you have heightened senses." He pulled up in front of the park, watching as the younger man jumped out and ran toward the nearest set of swings. "Xander, slow down," he said softly. The younger man turned to pout at him so he got out, following him to the play section. "Let's not overload on fun," Jim said as he caught up to the younger man.

Xander gave him a happy pat, as he had explained it in the past, then went back to heading for the swings. "Free at last," he cried, pushing off. "No more work!" Everyone was looking at him but he didn't care, fun was more important than his dignity.

Jim sat on a nearby bench, looking at the parent there. "He's working on his portfolio to get into Rainier," he explained and she nodded wisely. "Been cooped up too long in the apartment."

She smiled. "Don't worry, I've had that same feeling. I headed for the slide though." She stood up, going to gather her son from the sandbox. "Have fun escaping responsibility," she called to the man on the swing.

Jim just smiled, watching his student go higher and higher and higher...until he hit the tree branch and fell from about a story and a half up. "Xander!" he called, running over to check him. The kid on the next swing started to cry, running for her mother. "You okay, kid?" he said, shaking him gently. He didn't an answer so pulled out his cellphone.

"What's going on here," a high-pitched female voice said loudly. Then a purse landed on Jim's head. "Get away from him. You should be ashamed of yourself, robbing someone in broad daylight."

Jim frowned up at her. "I'm calling an ambulance, want to keep your kid back?" He focused his senses on the unconscious young man in front of him. "Hi, this is Jim Ellison, yeah, no, not either of us this time, one of our friends. No, in Century Park, by the swings nearest to Main Street. Thanks." He hung up, running a hand down the young man's face as he speed dialed Blair's office. "Hi, this is Jim. Can you get a note to the fearless leader? No, Xander just knocked himself stupid on a swingset and we're heading to the hospital. Tell Oz if you can find him and Darryl Banks too, please. Thanks." He hung up, getting out of the way of the paramedics and the police office sent to make a report. He smiled at his former colleague. "Hey, Rafe, he went too high." Then Jim burst out laughing.


Blair frowned at the secretary as she walked into his classroom, taking the note slowly. "Jim?" he mouthed. She shook her head, trying hard not to laugh. He opened the note then shook his head. "Class dismissed," he called. "Read chapter three for tomorrow please." He motioned Oz over. "Swingset? Some new code?"

"No, he probably wanted to go play." Oz read the note and snorted. "It's literal. We better get there before Jim gets overwhelmed by the staff. I'll call Darryl's pager on the way."

"I got it," the secretary called as she walked out. "Hope he isn't hurt too bad. Tell him I said don't go so high next time." She broke out in the suppressed laughter as she let the door close behind her.

Oz just shook his head, gathering up his stuff and some of Blair's then headed up to the office to drop it off so they could go wait at the hospital.


Darryl looked up as his father walked into the apartment, smiling. "Dad, this is Xander and his Guide, Oz. Guys, this is my Dad and my cousin-in-law, Mary." A shy looking light skinned redhead waved from behind Darryl's father. "Mary, go sit and eat something."

Oz watched her go, smiling at her back. "Cute," he said.

Darryl looked at the other Guide funny then sighed. "Hey, Mary, come talk to Oz, he's a nice guy." She came over, sitting beside him. "Oz is a Guide too, he's Xander's."

She nodded. "I heard. Aren't you Prof. Sandburg's assistant?" He nodded. "So cool. I tried out for the job but he obviously chose the right person."

Xander looked at Darryl and smiled. "Want to go out on the balcony so your father can 'talk' to me?" His boyfriend smiled and helped him up from the deep, comfortable couch, and walked him outside where the adults were. "Oz is making first contact," he told them.

Blair and Jim looked at each other. "Did you expect this?" Jim asked his Guide.

"Nope, but hey, if it works for them." Blair shrugged. "Food, kids, or talk?"

"Just being discreet," Xander said, wrapping an arm around Darryl's waist. "And meeting folks."

"Simon, this is Xander, he's our third Sentinel student," Blair said, waving his tongs around as he flipped chicken pieces on the grill. "Xander, this is *Captain* Simon Banks, mine and Jim's old boss." He grinned at Simon. "And aren't you glad to be rid of us."

"Hell yes! I don't have half as much paperwork since you two became occasional visitors." He glared briefly at Jim then looked over his son's boyfriend. "So, you're the one stealing him now?"

"No, sir, Oz is my Guide, I just like your son." He grinned. "And he obviously got his sense of sweetness from you. Only a father can teach his son how to say the poetic things that he whispers to me when we cuddle."

Simon laughed, patting Xander's shoulder. "Son, I approve. Go kiss him somewhere where we don't have to watch."

"Bedroom door stays open, young man," Jim said, mock-sternly. "No shenanigans in the apartments."

"Okay, we'll just go borrow your couch," Darryl said, pulling his boyfriend back through the apartments. "Well, he liked you. He *hated* Tony on the spot but he liked you a lot. I should be worried." He kissed his two-year-older boyfriend tenderly. "Nah, I'll be worried later." He dove back in for another kiss, ignoring the groan from the doorway.

"Can't straight people who aren't dating not see kissing couples?" Jim said, closing the door. Which Blair immediately opened. "Sandburg, that's mean. They deserve privacy too. Oz, go kiss in there with them so we don't have to watch," he said suddenly, waiting until the teens were in there to shut the door again. "There, reciprocal monitoring. Happy, Chief?"

"Yup," Blair said. "But I've got to take the boy shopping and tell him the facts of life still." Jim groaned. "Hey, you remember zoning in the bedroom before we had that talk. I know you do because I still remember that panicked call at four am, so get over it." He walked back out onto the balcony, passing Simon a bottle of water. "Kids," he muttered, taking the vegetables off the grill. "Simon, want to help? Take this to the table," he said, just handing the plate back without looking.

Jim took the plate with a wink at his former boss and walked inside.

"So," Simon said, watching the small jump. "Sorry, kid, but are you sure this is a great idea? Dating across the bond?"

"Might be okay. Xander's a nurturer and a caregiver, he needs someone to dote on and to have someone there to cushion him back." Blair turned around after lowering the lid of the grill, sitting in the lone chair he'd dragged from Jim's balcony. "He's more like me than not, while Oz and Jim could be siblings. We'll just have to wait and see. How's the new Guide for Mary going?"

"Oh, she's okay. She and Darryl are working it out but I think she's going to get scared and run." He looked at the door separating the two apartments. "I'm pretty sure he'll end up being her Guide."

"Yeah, well, we had planned on introducing Darryl to Xander if Oz wasn't going to work out for him." Blair made a sour face. "Which almost happened."

"Chief," Jim said in warning, handing over a bottle of beer. "They're doing fine and you need to macro-manage instead of micro-manage with them. You promised me, remember?"

"Yeah, we're the architects and they're the construction crew." Blair sighed, pulling his ponytail tighter. "But it sucks, they're still having problems managing and Philip agreed with us about waiting before getting involved with somebody." He looked up at Simon, grimacing. "Not to mention Darryl's little trip in a month."

"Damn, I had forgotten about that," Darryl said as he walked out alone. "Oz just pulled Mary from a zone, easier than he does with Xander." He leaned against the railing. "Blair, why were you thinking of replacing Oz with me? Because you thought we'd get along better or because I'd understand more?"

"A little of both," Jim told him. "Those two have fought every thing so far, against each other instead of us, which is a nice switch." He looked down then patted his Guide's shoulder. "Xander's got a pretty special past though, and Oz used to be part of it."

"And he'll stay that way," Xander said coldly as he walked out. "No more interference between me and my Guide, Jim, we're fine."

"That's the spirit," Blair said, brightening almost immediately. "Did you punch Mary or something?"

"No, not even close. She's crying in the bathroom, embarrassed." He shrugged, going over to lean against his boyfriend's chest. "Trip?"

"I'm supposed to go down to Jim's tribe and learn from the shaman in charge down there. They invited me when they met me last year." He wrapped his arms around the trim waist. "You could come with me."

Blair shook his head. "Nope, they invited you, not him, and I don't think he's ready to handle the jungle yet. And if you brought him, you'd have to bring Oz and Mary too."

"She has a Guide, Blair," Darryl reminded him.

"She just got a page from said Guide," Oz said as he walked out onto the balcony. "She's in LA right now, running hard for the border. Says she's sorry but she can't take the pressure of holding someone's life in her hands." He looked at Darryl. "You're not taking him, get over it." The other Guide just nodded. "Good, glad we have that straight. Xander, go eat something, we want to talk about you."

"Not like I can't listen," the young Sentinel muttered as he walked into the apartment. He grabbed his ears as Blair set off the airhorn. "Point taken," he called back.

Jim shook his head, closing the door. "What's up, Oz?"

"We need some time alone, some time to just go and talk and be us."

"Camping trip," Simon, Jim, Blair, and Darryl said in unison then broke out laughing.

Oz made a buzzer noise. "Wrong. Try small tour with Dingoes. Four dates, two out of town. He knows I want him to come, as does the rest of the band and why, but he's being stubborn." He looked at Blair. "You *camp*?"

"Yup, and fish and hike too."

"And follow me into burning buildings and into hostage situations and into gunfights without armour too," Jim quipped. He grunted as his Guide punched his stomach. "I've got to get you to build up muscles, Chief. That was weak."

Oz just shook his head. "Okay," he said slowly. "Darryl, I think you'll still be here then but I'd like it if you didn't attend. We're doing the whole road thing, the band all together in a motel and traveling together thing."

"Gee and I get to be the fifth wheel again," Xander said from the doorway. "I said no, Oz, I'm not putting myself through that sort of awkwardness." He handed the phone to Blair. "For you, secretary."

"Yeah?" Blair got up, wandering inside and over to Jim's apartment for privacy.

Jim looked at his student, then at Oz. "I think it might be okay. He said they know why, which we don't encourage. There are plenty of people who would like to use him for their own purposes."

"Yeah, well, I just couldn't have him tag along without a good reason," Oz said, looking at his Guideling. "I want you to come. Devon understands and said you could help by being the roadie this time. It won't be that awkward."

"Yeah it will. Setting up will take, what, ten minutes? Maybe, if that. And the rest of the time, I'll be sitting there getting *looks* from your friends. Then you'll start getting them. Then I'll end up zoning again and it'll get back to everyone and they'll all laugh." Xander turned, going back inside, slamming his room's door.

Simon winced. "You guys just need a small vacation together. One where neither of you has to perform or pretend. Where you don't have to hang with his friends and he doesn't have to hang with yours." Jim and Darryl both frowned at him. "What?" he asked.

"Xander's kind of a loner, dad," Darryl said, walking inside. He knocked on the bedroom door, wincing at the loud yell. "No, Xan, I won't go away. Let me in, want to talk to you."

Xander opened the door but stood in the doorway. "I'm not ready to talk yet. Just give me a few, okay?" Darryl shook his head. "Oh, come on, I need time alone."

"That's what you don't need," Oz said, walking up behind Darryl and moving him out of the way, then pushing his way inside and closing the door. "I just wanted us to spend some time without Jim and Blair and Darryl. We can do this another way if you want, but I promised to go."

"Then go," Xander said, sitting down on his bed and curling up against the wall, knees against his chest. "I won't stop you from going and doing something you like. I'll be okay for that week and a half."

"Xander, it's two weeks and no you won't." Oz sat beside him, reaching out to touch a tense leg but pulling it back when the younger man flinched. "I won't hurt you."

"Yay. And?" Xander said coldly. "Just go play and we can spend some time alone afterwards. Over break maybe." He closed his eyes, leaning his head on his knees. "I just need some time alone, Oz, so go party."

"It isn't one without you," was said softly against the side of Xander's head, right before dropping a brotherly kiss on his hair. Oz walked out, shaking his head at Jim and Darryl. "He's fine. Just sulking."

Xander kicked the door shut, wincing at the loud sound it made. "Sure I am," he told himself. "Just like always." He slid onto his side, curling up around the animal skins. "Just like always." He watched the small piece of incense burn, letting the ember fill his vision.

Blair walked back over, frowning at the people clustered around his roommate's door. "What happened now?" he asked, walking over. He pulled Oz and Darryl out of their silent staring contest, knocking. He didn't get an answer so looked at Jim, who pulled him away from there by force. "What?"

"He's zoned and those two are fighting over going in there," Jim told him quietly. "Go turn the chicken, let them work it out." Blair nodded, walking out onto the balcony with Simon. "Someone go pull him out," Jim said, walking out after them.

Darryl looked at Oz, scowling. "Go do it, he's *yours*." He waved at the door.

"But you want it more," Oz said coldly. "Where's *your* Sentinel, Darryl?" That got him an icy glare. "Good, go find her."

"Stop it," Jim yelled.

Oz walked in, slamming the door before Darryl could follow him. "Xander," he said, shaking him hard. "Come on, time to get out." The younger man didn't move so he knelt down beside him, looking into his eyes. "What is it with you and staring at things?" he asked, rubbing over a limp arm, trying to bring him out. He still didn't get a response so leaned a little closer, talking a little lower. "Come on, Xander, time to come out of your head, you need to eat more than you do zone." He saw a small spark of recognition but nothing happened. "Come on, let's get you outside so you can go smooch Darryl again, all night if you want," he offered. The spark went out. "Okay, I'm lost here," Oz said sitting on the floor now. "I don't know what to do to bring you out. Maybe they're right and I should step aside so Darryl can do it but I *want* to be your Guide. You understand me and I thought I did you. We shared too much stuff to keep this up through. Come on," he said, giving him a harder shove. "I can't sit here and talk to myself forever." He winced as Blair hit him across the back of the head. "Damn, didn't even see you come in."

"That's because you're too wrapped up in yourself right now to see past your own feelings." Blair brushed a hand lightly over Xander's face, making a small sucking noise between his teeth. "Come on," he whispered, "it's time to eat." He saw the younger man starting to come back so backed away. "Now then, do you see the differences?" He turned but the younger Guide was gone. "That's it," Blair muttered. "Two Guides running in one day." He looked up as Jim brought Oz back by the arm, shrugging.

"Let him do it, Chief, he's not your Sentinel." Jim shoved Oz into the room, taking Blair out with him and shutting the door.

Oz knelt beside the bed again, doing what Blair had just done. "Come on, it's time to come back now. You can't stay in there, it's not good for you," he whispered, seeing the small wince. "Come on, I want you to come back." He could hear the quiet struggle outside so tried it again before Blair could come back in. "Come on, Xander, you have to come back now. You've got to hear me, my voice, let it be the rope you use to climb out of that dark pit in your head." The younger man blinked, looking at him again. "Morning. Don't do that again." Oz stood up, holding out a hand. "Come on, we need to go somewhere more private and talk."

Xander listened to the people outside his room and shook his head. "Jim just said we have to go eat now. We can run away later." He sat up, moving back to his spot against the wall. "Oz, why can't you bring me out?"

"Because my voice doesn't do it for you. I have no clue."

"It's a trust thing," Blair said from the doorway. "Jim and I went through it right after our critical crisis with Alex. Do you trust him, Xander?" The young Sentinel nodded. "Are you sure? Last chance to say no."

"Yeah, I think I do anyway."

"No, don't think, be," Oz misquoted. "You've got to be sure. I can't bring you out because we don't trust me. And it doesn't work well that way."

"Why don't you trust you?"

"Because I still have things I need to work out." Oz sat down on the floor, looking up at his Guideling. "You and I need to take a break together, just us. No 'rents called Jim and Blair, no s.o.'s, no band. Nobody but us. Can you do that?"

"I thought we just said over break."

"Xander, we need it before then." Oz ran a hand through his hair. "I can't keep going on like this and you're starting to scare me badly. *Blair* brought you out, not me. Nothing I said or did was right."

"But you...you're supposed to be able to do this."

"Only if he trusts himself and you trust him to," Blair told them, still leaning against the doorframe. "The bond you two need to develop doesn't come without total and absolute trust." He turned, walking away. "Come eat. We're going to Simon's later and taking everyone with us and you two can be alone then."

Xander looked at Oz. "*You're* scared?" He got a small nod. "Gee, that's not the way it's supposed to be."

"Yeah, it is. I'm the one with all the power and control here." Oz stood up, holding out a hand. "Come on, you need to eat and cuddle Darryl while he's still around."

"Yeah, that," Xander said quietly. "He's going to be gone for two months he said." Oz winced. "I'll miss him."

"Hey, I'll miss how happy he makes you. We can talk about that later, after we talk about us." He led the younger man back out to the picnic.


Blair paced around Philip's office, not looking at him. "They're driving me insane, you know this right?" Every five minutes it's another fight. This morning it was about eating oatmeal and toast for breakfast." He stopped, looking at his former roommate. "I don't know what to do for them anymore. Xander's like my son sometimes and this is getting too close to what Darryl and Tony went through with their crisis." He sat down, holding his head. "I don't know if it's right of me to want to teach the younger pairings. I seem to do a really bad job of it."

"Blair, how does Xander being your son make you feel?" Philip asked patiently.

"Don't give me the psychobabble routine, Philip, I've had that class."

"Just answer the question." Blair frowned at him. "I've not seen you this worked up since you were fighting over wanting to date Anthony Thomas in our Junior year."

Blair shook his head. "I don't..." He covered his mouth and shook his head. "Yeah, okay, maybe that might be part of it but I'm ten years his senior and he's dating someone."

"Who's about to leave and you won't be the daddy for long." Philip smiled, tossing the couch pillow right back when he caught it. "All I'm saying is that it's clouding your professionalism here, not that you had a lot to begin with, but it's still clouding it."

"So what do I do, Doc?"

"Well, for one thing, you *have* to stay out of Xander's and Oz's relationship. They need to fight this out, no matter how much it hurts you."

"He keeps zoning. Each time they fight, and he goes really deep. And Oz isn't able to pull him out, not without help."

"Then you may be right, he may not be the right Guide as you explained it to me." Philip sighed. "One thing I am certain of, if you keep jumping between them then yours and Jim's bond will eventually unravel again and you'll have to start rebuilding all of the trust you've ever had."

"Third time's the charm," Blair muttered, looking back down. "So, what do I do with them? Lock them in a room?"

"Not such a bad idea but a little harsh maybe. Oz's idea of getting away from you for a few weeks was a good one but I don't think they can wait until break to do that. Actually, I don't think Xander's going to be able to go Guideless that long. He's ready to self-destruct still, very close to the edge. He's not dealing well with this issue and he's not happy with his senses."

"Would you be?" Blair shook his head. "Philip, he can't have dials, he can't see the pictures in his head so he can't turn his senses down. His spikes are getting worse and he doesn't have any control over anything."

"Then send him home for a week. Alone. Give Oz that time to think and to be there if he needs it. Give the kids a chance to learn on their own that they need each other."

"But there's two problems with that. Xander knows he needs Oz, and it's a desperate need, and Oz knows it too, but neither of them can give up that much faith in the other. Or themselves."

"And the other?"

"Who would he go see?" Blair made a sour face. "Yeah, he has a few friends, but no one soothing to him. It'd almost be easier to bring that one person he really wants to see up and have him help the boys." He snapped his fingers. "That's a hell of an idea, thanks Philip," Blair said, getting up and rushing out.

The Psychiatrist just shook his head. "Glad to have given it to you, Blair, come back anytime," he muttered as he made notes in Blair's chart.


Blair looked at his students and smiled. "And, since semester break is coming and you get a whole week off, I'll give you an extra day. I'm scheduled to go on a camping trip that week in the Southwest so you guys can take Thursday off. No classes from me from Wednesday on." A loud cheer went up. "Thought that might make you happy. But I have to tell you, the admin is giving me grief over not following tradition about giving you guys a test this week so you'll have a nice take home essay test." A loud groan followed. "For those of you that know your stuff, you can do it while you're waiting for the turkey to cook. The rest of you, it may take all week." He waved the papers around. "Pick up one *before* you leave or flunk it because I won't be back before Tuesday. That's all, go bother another teacher," he finished with a smile.

His students filed out, Jim and Oz last. Both of them picked up a test, Jim frowning at him but folding it neatly and putting it into his bag. "So," Oz said, "what are we doing since we hate camping and you can't leave us alone for that long without one of us dying?"

"Mr. Giles is coming up," Blair said, stunning Jim, who hadn't heard this plan yet. "I talked to him earlier and he was very excited to see you both again." Blair picked up his things, handing half off to Jim and starting for his office. "Your other friends couldn't come up but he'll be up here tonight. Jim, we're leaving Wednesday afternoon, on a plane, so be packed. Hiking for a week in the Grand Canyon. Oz, I'll expect you to not throw a party as soon as we leave and to not let Darryl suck Xander down to South America with him, no matter how hard your Guideling begs. Got it?" Oz just nodded, following him back to his office. "Ah, Xander, how much did you hear?"

"All of it. Giles is coming?" He got a small nod. "Really? And he was happy?"

"Very much so," Blair said. "He sounded like he really missed you." The professor dumped his things in the middle of his spare chair, making Jim wince. "Oh, go clean your own apartment. My office only works when it's in a scientifically organized mess." He looked at the corner he'd taken back last night, smiling at the assorted piles and sighing. "Ah, my own clean again."

Jim set the things he was carrying down carefully. "If you say so," he said tactfully. "Where is their friend staying?"

"My room or your place. I figure Darryl will be over tonight and he might not want to hear them." Blair grinned. "That way neither he or Oz has to hear it."

"Yeah, like you minded," Xander said, grinning. "I swear, I heard you up there..." His mouth was covered by the elder Guide's hand. "Sorry," he mumbled around it.

"That's okay," Blair told him. "Secrets though, very nice things between roommates."


Oz cleared his throat. "You're sure this is a good idea?"

"Yes," Blair said firmly. "I'm very sure of it. Get over whatever it is, Oz." He looked down at his roommate. "Your turn to cook and something beside blatantly unhealthy stuff please, or I won't take you and Darryl clubbing later."

Xander whooped and grabbed the car keys from Jim. "Come on then, there's a lot I gotta do before we head out." He pulled Blair with him, who just turned his head and smiled at his Sentinel.

Jim and Oz followed at a more sedate pace, closing up the office for the night.


Oz looked around as he saw his former mentor walk down the exit ramp, nodding at Jim to get up now. He walked forward, taking the outstretched hand in his. "It's good to see you," he said softly.

"As it is you. Where's Xander? I had hoped to see him here too." Giles looked at his former student. "Don't tell me he's gotten worse." He looked up as a large, menacing man walked over to them. "Ah, you must be Blair's Jim," he said, holding out a hand.

"Yeah, pack mule to the professor," Oz joked. He blinked innocently when Jim glared at him. "Sorry," he said eventually. "Xander and Blair are getting ready to go clubbing with Xander's boyfriend so we'll meet them for supper." He took the older man's bag, leading him out to Blair's car, getting into the back. "So, Giles, how's the Hellmouth?"

Giles glanced at Jim but his student nodded. "Tolerable. Buffy's had a bit of trouble recently with Willow but otherwise nothing much noteworthy." He smiled at Jim. "So, Blair tells me you used to be a detective. What was that like?"

"Really busy," Jim said. "Lots of terrorists and things." He looked in the rearview mirror at Oz. "Buckle up. You know how I drive."

Oz patted Giles' shoulder. "Not as badly as Buffy used to, I promise." The former Watcher simply nodded, making sure he was securely fastened in too.

Xander bounced over from the stove to hug his friend, smiling happily at the others. "Giles!" he said, hugging him tightly. "Wow, you look the same." He pulled him over to the couch. "Come on, I want you to meet someone. Darryl, this is Giles." He sat down beside his boyfriend, taking his hand to squeeze. "He's mine."

Giles smiled, shaking his student's lover's hand. "Nice to meet you. Xander, do calm down."

Jim looked into the pot. "Xander, I thought you hated carrots."

"I do but Blair said I could pick them out." He looked back at the man who had held him together too many times to count. "We're having soup and homemade bread. Blair made me beat my frustrations out on it."

"So that's why we have so much bread," Jim said as he walked over to his apartment, letting the cat back into Blair's. "I thought I told you to stay out of my home, furball," he growled at her.

"Jim, don't menace my cat," Blair said as he walked down his stairs. "Oh, Giles, good, I thought I heard your voice. And I see Jim drove safely, as always." He smiled at the scared look. "Yeah, I know," he said, walking by to pet a tense shoulder. "Relax, you don't have to ride with him again. The boys can take you back." Blair smelled the contents of the pot. "Xander, why are we having carrot soup?"

"You told me to put four in there."

"I meant small ones." Blair pulled a spoon out of the drawer and ladled some of the carrots out then put in the meat. "Okay, should be about an hour now. Darryl, are you wearing that?"

"Nope, just waiting for you two to quit primping so I could borrow the shower." He stood up, releasing the hand which was clutching his so hard it left fingernail cuts on the back of his hand. "I'm going to go do that now. Blair, why don't you go make Jim leave the cat alone, I just saw her head that way." He walked into the small bedroom then locked himself in the bathroom.

Xander waited until they were alone to take a deep breath. "Thank God you're here," he said, scooting over to hug him again. "I'm going insane, I think."

to be continued