New Coping Ways

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."

Giles smiled at his former charge. "On what grounds do you think that you're going insane?"

"No one will let me be alone, ever." Xander started to say something else but Oz walked over, shutting the door. "Darryl's in the shower," he said.

"Okay, not why I came over. I want to enjoy his calmness too." Oz sat on the other end of the couch. "Relax," he said quietly. "He'll be here for a week and you'll be able to cling to him the whole time."

"I don't believe that's going to be necessary," Giles said, purposefully misunderstanding. "I'm quite sure I won't need it."

Xander shook his head, grinning. "Yeah, I guess you've been to London and it was a city." He leaned back against the back of the couch then hopped up, going to stir the soup.

"Giles," Oz said, moving closer. "This is a mess for us. We can't do this. I'm not the right person, not the one he needs to help him get control."

"Oz," Xander warned. "We agreed to not share our problems and burden him with them. This is his first vacation in forever, or at least five years, so he should have happy times."

"I don't mind," Giles said quickly. "I believe I was brought up to help you two either work it out or at least keep one of you from killing the other." Oz groaned. "What?" he asked, patting his shoulder. "I'm sure it's not as bad as all that."

"Oh, yeah it is," Jim said as he walked back in. "Darryl's dad just called and wants him at home." Xander frowned. "Just for a little while. He said it wasn't an overnight sort of emergency. You can still have your night of goodbyes." He looked at Oz and rolled his eyes. "You have the earplugs, right?"

"Jim, the connecting wall was soundproofed," Darryl said as he walked out of the bathroom. "I distinctly remember putting in the insulation myself." He smiled at his boyfriend. "Give me a sec."

"Your dad wants to see you for a few," Xander said, giving him a pout. "We can still go out, right?"

"As far as I know. I'll call him in a sec. Out Jim, Blair wants you." Darryl retreated into Xander's room to change, not waiting to see Jim sulk all the way back to his own apartment beyond the wall.

Xander walked back over to the sofa, sitting next to Giles. "He's leaving for two months tomorrow afternoon. You can have Oz then since I'm going to see him off." His Guide nodded. "So, what did Blair tell you?"

"Just that you two weren't getting along well and that Oz seemed to be a different person than you remembered which was hurting both of you. And that he was about to push one of you off the balcony to make the other realize how precious your bond should be." He smiled gently, getting up to sit between them. "Let's wait to do this in the morning, shall we?"

"Early afternoon," Xander said. "I'm not getting up before then." He looked over his shoulder as Darryl walked back out, picking his soft curls. "Hey, babe, want to come sit?"

"Nope, I'm going to go pet the cat, you need some time alone with them." He gave his boyfriend a small kiss then headed over to Jim's, shutting the door behind him.

Oz looked at Giles. "Some of it might be cleared up when Darryl leaves but I'm positive it's going to get worse, no matter what Blair says."

"I'm just going to miss him."

"I told you to come crawl into my bed when you needed a hug," Oz told him across the body of the older man. "I won't kiss and hug you like Darryl would but I'll gladly comfort you." He looked at Giles again. "I just can't handle this, it's too much control over both of us and it's scary to me."

"Oz, you ought to try being the one without control," Xander said, getting up and going to his room, slamming the door behind him.

"And that's the usual response, that and a zone. Don't even start to go under, get back out here," Oz yelled. Both he and Giles winced as the door was slammed again, but he got up to do his duty. "Xander," he said patiently as he opened the door, "come out and talk to the man. He's come all this way to fix us, the least we could do would be to talk to him." His Guideling flipped him off. "Cute, but I'm not that way. Now come talk to Giles with me."

"Oz," Giles said from behind the young Guide. "Maybe I should start by talking to you individually. Let me start with him since he seems more the more upset of you two." He waited until they were alone to close the door and sit in front of the bed. "Now, tell me what's bothering you?"

"He's not Oz, not the real Oz, and he's scary and mean," Xander said quietly. "He can't bring me out of zones. He doesn't listen. I don't have any more control than I had when I was at home. I'm just hanging on here, Giles, and I'm not sure how much longer I can do that for," he whispered, leaning closer, accepting the hug. "I know Darryl's not my Guide, he can't bring me out either, but Oz isn't even trying anymore. I'm scared here and only Blair sees it." He lay back on his animal skins, petting them. "Jim thinks I'm scared of the abilities but that's not it. It's like I'm alone with everything, drowning, and the only person who might throw me a line is laughing and taunting me." He closed his eyes, feeling the gentle stroking on the side of his head. "Blair and Jim even made us start seeing a shrink. I'm on *drugs*, Giles, real ones this time. They had to up the dosage and everything."

"Shh, Xander, we'll work on it," Giles told him, leaning closer to hug him again. "Just concentrate on your young man tonight and we'll start work on it in the morning. Oz and I will talk tonight, how's that?" He didn't get an answer so looked at the young man in front of him, seeing the same look that had sent him running for the Initiative and had started this all off. "Oz," he called, "I think you're needed." He got up as the Guide walked in, watching him work.

"Xander, you can't do this, Darryl will frown at you for it." He stroked over the clean-shaven cheek. "Come on now, you need to come back again." His shoulders slumped when there was still no answer. "Come on, man, you have to come back eventually. You can't go clubbing if you're zoned still and then you'll miss out on your last night with your man for two months." He shook his head at the small movement against his hand. "I'm still here, I'm not going, but you have to come back now, Xander, it's well past time. You're scaring Giles."

"He needs to get his stomach fixed still." Xander looked up at the former Watcher. "Ulcer?"

"A small one. I'm taking medicine for it when I need to." Giles came back to sit beside the bed, between them. "Xander, did you hear him calling you?" The younger man shook his head. "Can you hear him most of the time?" He got another head shake, this time from both of them. "Then why is he your Guide instead of someone else?" He frowned at Oz's hurt look. "You must admit, Oz, you're not able to reach him."

"That's an emotional thing," Blair said from the doorway. "How long this time?"

"Just over three minutes to bring him out," Oz said then looked back at his friend. "It's an issue of trust and those things between us. We don't have what we need to so we're pretty screwed here."

"Then I'll provide a safe zone for you both to work on what you used to share as friends," Giles told them all. He patted Xander's leg. "Now, up with you, it's almost time to eat and I know you want to go hug your boyfriend." He smiled at Xander's back as he left then frowned at Oz. "Did you hear what he said?" He got a small nod. "Would you like to respond?"

"When we're alone," Oz said, getting up and heading for his own room.

Blair shook his head. "Like I told you, I can't get through to those two at all so maybe you can." He walked out to the kitchen, stirring the soup. "So, any plans to sightsee while you're here?"

"Not particularly, unless the boys want to, that is." Giles took off his glasses to rub the bridge of his nose. "Is it always this way?" Blair nodded, staying silent. "And are you sure these two are meant to be together?"

"Not as much as I used to be," Blair admitted. "Xander," he called softly. "Time for medicines." He pulled a set of keys out of his pocket and unlocked a small cabinet hanging on the wall, taking out the two bottles to shake out the right amount of pills and hand them over. The bottles went back into the cabinet and it was relocked, Giles being tossed the keys. "Schedule's on the front," Blair told him. "And yes, both their shrink and I believe that it's necessary to lock them up."

"I'm not that bad," Xander said softly after swallowing the pills in one gulp. "When do we go?"

"In a little while. What was Simon calling about?"

"Mary ran away. He's got people out looking for her, the same guys that used to work with you but he wanted a probable list of places to check first." He noted the older Guide's frown. "Do you think she's okay?"

"I think she'll be fine," Blair told him, dishing up the soup and handing him the bowls. "Go set the table while that cools some and then call people." He looked at the door as Jim walked in with Darryl. "Never mind, stomach boy there must have smelled it." He grinned at his Sentinel then at Giles. "So, what are you doing now?"

"Not much actually. I'm doing a class on mythology at the university where the girls go. Trying to keep the girls focused on the real trials of life." He patted Xander as he walked in front of him. "That sort of thing. I'd heard that you were the Chair of the Parapsychology Department up here. Is that interesting?"

"Yup," Jim said, sitting down at the table and pulled Xander down beside him. "Come sit, Mr. Giles, we don't bite."

Xander nodded, patting the seat beside him. "Yeah, come eat. Blair should be a chef or something."

Jim looked at the younger Sentinel. "Flattering him won't make him let you take fewer classes in January." Then he smiled. "Besides, you haven't heard him lecture yet and I promise you it's moving."

Xander rolled his eyes. "Oh, yes I have. Trust me on this, Jim, I've heard plenty of Blair lectures."

"Academic ones," Oz put in. "Whole other type."

"Tell me about it," Darryl said quickly. "The man needs kids to fuss over." He mock-glared at the elder Guide. "I don't know how many times I listened to the 'chanting to relieve stress is your friend' lecture." Jim snorted. "How many times for you?"

"Close to daily for the first year," Jim admitted. "Then I threw his chanting cd away and I never heard it again." He smiled at his Guide. "But I bought him a new one."

"Yup, because I made you, Jim," Blair said fiercely. "Let's not forget that part, shall we?" He looked around the table. "Eat, now. Or we don't go clubbing." He smiled as Darryl and Xander dove into their soup. "So, Giles," Blair said between bites, "do you think you can handle them alone for a week?"

"I did it through most of high school with Xander and for the last year of it with Oz and he together. I'm sure we'll be fine together." He looked at his former students. "Won't we?" They both nodded. "It will just be a switch back to the old methods for them." He ruffled Xander's hair then reached across to do the same to Oz's but he moved. "Hmm, it may just take a bit longer for some. Blair, before you leave tonight, I'd like a word with you to make sure I'll have everything I might need."

"Okay," Blair said, nodding. "We'll sit over at Jim's and go over it. That will give those three some time alone before I take two of them with me."

"I have to play tonight," Oz reminded Blair. "I'll be in late."

"Where?" Xander asked, interested. "Haven't heard you practice recently."

"Remember, that tour is coming up at the end of this week. Devon's up here so we can get some practice in before the whole band shows up."

"Do you want to borrow the loft?" Jim asked, waving a hand around. "I could go help Simon look for Mary."

"Nah, he has a space set up." Oz finished his bowl and looked at his Guideling. "I need to leave soon, can you handle it for a while alone?" Xander nodded. "Okay, I'll have my pager if you want to yell." He stood up, nodding at Giles. "I won't be back too late, before they are definitely." He took his dishes to the sink then headed for his room briefly and left.

Xander accepted the rub to his arm with good grace, not even flinching. He looked up at Blair and got a shrug so looked at his boyfriend and Giles. "Um, I think I'm done. I'm going to go finish getting ready. Great soup, Blair, as always."

"Hey, you didn't even overwork the bread this time," Jim told the younger man kindly. "You did good too."

"Yeah, I know." Xander dropped his dishes in the kitchen then headed for his room, Darryl following silently behind him.

Blair looked at Giles. "You sure you want to do this?"

"Well, they do seem to be behaving oddly but I'm sure I can handle it for a bit. Xander's always reacted favorably to my input and Oz did usually." He leaned closer to them. "Is he usually that cold to him?"

"Mostly, yeah," Blair admitted. "It's like Xander being in his life had reawakened all sorts of memories that he's been busy burying and now he's having to face them again." Blair sighed, leaning back. "As for Xander, I think he's going to need a lot more physical comfort as soon as Darryl leaves and I don't know where he's going to get it. We had doubts that it was wise to let those two date but it's been good for Xander." Giles shook his head. "No? You don't see him being calm?"

"No, I see a mask he's been careful to keep in place. He had one of the best defensive shields in High School and now he's revived it. It had started to drop in the last year but I think he's backslid." Giles looked up as his former helper walked out frowning at him. "I wouldn't have said it if I hadn't meant for you to hear it," he said quietly. "It is most distressing that you've gone back to that guarded young man that I first met."

"Yeah, well, I have reasons." Xander looked at Blair then nodded at the kitchen. The elder guide followed him in so they could talk. "Can we, um, stop at a store on the way there? I don't have some of the things I want for tonight and I'd like to get them."

"Sure," Blair said, patting the younger man's shoulder gently. "Or you could borrow some of mine." He got a small head shake. "Okay, yeah, we can stop somewhere so you can get something special for tonight, not a big problem. We'll do it after we drop Darryl off at home for that quick chat. Okay?" Xander nodded, hugging him briefly then heading back to his room.

Jim smiled at his Guide as he walked back to the table. "Should I take him?"

"Jim, this is stuff that you feel uncomfortable dealing with so I'll do it. It's not like I wouldn't like to get myself something at the same time." Blair turned his attention back to Giles. "So, what's first?"

"Making them both talk, separately, I think. Xander's fears have to be brought out into the open and Oz's as well, I believe. Then we'll see what comes next."

"Um, there are two things you ought to know," Blair said quietly, looking at Jim, who nodded. "Philip, the doctor I've been having him see, said he's using but that's what's keeping him as calm as he is. It's a small dose, just enough to start to affect him and his other medicines were adjusted accordingly. We're not supposed to know but I found out and had a *major* fight with Philip about it." He considered his next words carefully. "Apparently Philip asked him to come in one day without having taken any after he found out and the person he saw scared him bad enough that he broke an ironclad rule of his for Xander." Giles nodded and Jim shook his head. "The..." Jim shook his head again. "Talking?"

"Yeah. Do it later."

"I do have a question, and this may dovetail with your own observations, but he was talking earlier like he wasn't awfully sure he was going to be around until Christmas."

Blair nodded quickly, swallowing the soup he had in his mouth. "Oh, yeah, and Philip and I both feel that way. We actually don't think he'll last that long without some careful guiding and a major breakthrough between those two or him suddenly finding another Guide."

"Neither of which we have high hopes for," Jim added. "We might force a critical crisis but that's very dangerous and could easily backfire."

"Oh, I see. What would be best in this case then?"

"Him finding a new Guide temporarily and Oz suddenly waking up to his duty," Blair said with a small grimace. "Which I'm not holding my breath for. Jim?" he asked, his Sentinel focusing on the bedroom again and nodding. "Okay, we're free to talk, those two are locked together. We know Darryl isn't Xander's Guide. Have since they met actually, but I can't find anyone that he might trust more than the Oz that appears to only live in his head."

"Yes, I had noticed the changes," Giles sighed. "He never used to be that hard or that cold. Especially not to Xander. They had a very...understated friendship but you just knew that if one of them was bothered by someone the other would be beside him as soon as he heard." He pushed his bowl back to lean his arms on the table. "What would you have me do?"

"Fix Oz," Blair and Jim said together.

"I think that's the heart of the matter," Blair said. "He's scared and it's making everything else worse between them. We've worked with three other pairs, Giles, and Darryl's pair had problems but not like this. The other one died in a car wreck when she zoned during a driving lesson." Blair leaned back, sighing. "I had such high hopes for them too, they were working so well."

"It wasn't your fault," Jim said quietly. "She was doing well and we both decided she could start driving again as long as her Guide was with her."

"She, the Guide," he explained for Giles' benefit, "would have been perfect. She was one of those people that needed someone to wrap themselves around her and cling so she felt secure."

"Doubt it," Jim said. "Those two both need that and it's not happening."

"Xander needs a Daddy," Darryl said as they walked out. "We were just discussing this and we thought you should find him one while I'm gone." Xander frowned at his boyfriend but didn't say anything. "He should!" Darryl said, pulling them both down to sit in a chair, him on top. "You should have someone that will take great care of you for the whole time I'm gone, someone that would like to have you curl up around them and not let go every night." Darryl brushed some of the dark hair off the wrinkled brow. "You need someone that will care as much as you do, Xan, and I'm not going to be here for a few months."

"Don't want you to go," Xander said softly, burying his neck in the dark skin and sniffing deeply. "I like you."

"I know," Blair said, patting the young Sentinel's arm, "but he was invited for a reason and he should go. It must be important for the Tribal Elders to send for him." Xander nodded but he didn't look any happier. "We'll be okay, you and me. All right?" Xander nodded again, keeping his face buried in the welcoming flesh. "Okay, we'll go drop Darryl off at his dad's for a few minutes then pick up some stuff then pick him up again so we can go have fun," Blair said, picking up his own dishes. "Giles, why don't you help me come pick out clothes and we'll talk, the boys can go over to Jim's and cuddle with the cat for a while?" Jim grunted but followed his Guide's plan, gathering up the rest of the dishes and taking them into the kitchen.

"Will you be all right?" Giles asked his former student gently. Xander nodded, peeking around the neck he was nipping. "All right then, go cuddle him on the other couch." Giles got up, following Blair up the stairs. "Was there something else?" he asked as he sat on the edge of the bed.

"Yeah, a few things." Blair peeked out his door, watching everyone leave his apartment and the door close. "Are you okay with the subject of him and Darryl?" Giles nodded, smiling. "Good. He was a little worried that, in his words, you'd freak." Blair shook his head as he walked over to the closet. "That and he is *not*, absolutely not, to go out on his own yet. He zones at the drop of a pin and we can't take the risk of someone finding out."

"Yes, well, the Initiative has been asking about him, sending their people around to see if I've heard from him or not. I've simply told them that he's recovering nicely and that the drug has worn off." Blair smiled at that, shaking his head. "You don't think that they believed it?"

"No, I think they knew enough to have gotten a hold of Jim's records from Peru and know enough to know that it would take a trauma to turn them off."

"Might that be a way of handling Xander's then?" He got a small worried look. "Well, if he doesn't have them then he might be able to work on some of the other issues that seem to be clouding his dealing with them."

"Hmm, might work but one major difficulty. I can't get in there to turn them off. Philip's gotten him under hypnosis and that was the day he hadn't used." He held a shirt up, looking in the mirror but got a negative head shake for that one. "He's been doing all his therapy under hypnosis, trying to bolster his self-confidence, what little he has, something that he'll need to be able to deal with his senses, but no one else has been able to do that."

"It's a matter of trust then," Giles said slowly. "I think I may be able to help him with that if you'd like him to come over during my stay. The boy has trusted me almost since we met." He smiled, just a bit. "He may argue and seem like he doesn't but he always did."

Blair sat beside the older man, crossing his legs. "That's the best idea I've heard yet and if we could get Philip in for a long session then we might be able to fix a few problems at once." He picked up the phone beside his bed, dialing from memory. "Hey, Phil, it's me. No, not an emergency. Actually, the idea you gave me is here and Xander seems to have absolute trust in him and he offered to sit with them both during a hypnosis session." Blair smiled, nodding. "Okay, but one request? Get him to change the bulb in his head. Yeah, that one. I can't put in dials if he can't see them." He smiled as he hung up, patting the older man's arm gently. "That was the best solution any of us may have come up with yet. This is *so* worth the cost of the ticket." Blair pulled his favorite blue glitter-looking shirt from the closet. "How about this one?"

"I think that one would go over very well," Giles said with a smile. "Are you and he..." Blair shook his head. "May I ask if this is a typical pattern then? Or if this appears to be a problem?"

"Only for Oz and not at all, not in that order." Blair pulled on the shirt, leaving the top three buttons undone and sitting down on the bed again. "Oz seems to have this great panic thing going on. He sees Xander and Darryl sitting beside each other and he gets uncomfortable. But, he does the same thing with het couples too, so maybe it's just sex."

"I've seen him perform. He has no problem with the idea of sexuality," Giles said dryly. "He and the lead singer could be supposed as being together sometimes."

Blair frowned. "That may be just an act. Oz leaves quietly when Jim kisses someone or when I do, no matter if it's male or female. Come to think of it, he used to pat Xander on the arm a lot more before he and Darryl got together too." The frown deepened into a scowl. "Whatever, man, he's yours for the week he'll be here."

"He's leaving on Thursday," Xander called up the stairs. "Enough primping, you're cute enough."

Blair walked down the stairs, followed by Giles. "That's just because you have Darryl, otherwise no one would even talk to me because they'd all be panting at your knees." Blair patted the younger man on the head as he passed, ignoring the blush. "'Tis true, my young one, 'tis true. They all want you and ignore me now because I'm old."

"Yeah, Chief, sure they do," Jim said from the door. "Be safe tonight, both of you." He looked at Xander and caught his eyes, getting a small nod. "No trouble either. Me coming down to bail you guys out of jail is the easiest way of ruining your night."

"Tell me about it," Darryl said as he walked around him, handing over the cat. "You can be sure that return ticket would disappear when my dad found out."

"Then I'll just have to keep us out of trouble," Xander said as he molded his body to his lover's, kissing him deeply.

"Oh, quit," Jim said playfully, walking over to stand next to Blair. "We should give those two a camera so they can have reminders." Blair snickered. "A Polaroid of course, but still, some film might be nice."

"Jim," Xander sighed, leaning his head on Darryl's shoulder. "Can you get it now? I want one of us like this." Jim handed over the cat and hunted through the drawers in the kitchen for the camera, coming back up and immediately snapping a few of them rocking slowly with the other one. "Thanks man," Xander sighed, closing his eyes. "I want to remember this feeling."

"Hey, I'm coming back," Darryl whispered, kissing the back of the pale neck. "You'll see me again in two months. Before Valentines Day, how's that?" He got a small nod but the head wasn't lifted any. "Come on, babe, let's go make the men of this city jealous because I have you."

"Na-uh. Other way around," Xander said as he stood back up, all by himself since he had pulled away some. He gave his lover a shy smile, not hearing the snap of the camera. "They're only jealous of me because I have you." He leaned in for a kiss, hearing the camera go off this time so hammed it up for Jim. He dipped Darryl, supporting him easily, kissing him as hungrily as he could.

Jim snapped another picture then shook his head. "Enough you two, anything else would be porn." The boys just grinned at him. "Blair, I'm going to be helpless with those two, you know that right?"

"Jim, we're not going to leave you alone with them. I'll take the boys to the airport and let Xander cry as he clings desperately to Darryl at the gate. You'll handle sulking boy and Giles. Deal?" Jim nodded happily. "Good, now let's go boys, or we'll never get in."

"Can we go to that one that had the flame outside the doors?" Xander asked as they headed down to the car.

Jim just shook his head. "Those three," he sighed, sitting down on the couch with Blair's cat. "So, Mr. Giles, how did you get to know the boys?"

"Well, a young girl in my charge named Buffy saved Xander and his best friend Willow." Jim nodded wisely. "I see you've heard of them?"

"Of Buffy. That first night. And let me tell you, some of the things I heard weren't pleasant."

Giles laughed lightly. "You should see her now that she doesn't have her usual adoration society around her. Her behavior has gone positively downhill since Xander left. His main function, as far as she was concerned, was to provide her a favorable picture of herself some days, I think, and now she misses him terribly."

"Are you sure of that," Jim asked quietly. "He said when he called, she was throwing a party saying how glad she was he was gone." Giles frowned. "He never told the others but it came out during a 'guys' thing he and I did at the hardware store."

The older man sighed, leaning back in his chair. "I wish I had known he had heard that. I had wondered why he hadn't called again." He rubbed over his forehead. "Right after I got off the phone with him, I chastised her for her cruelty to him and for driving him away." He sighed again, looking at the Sentinel. "She can be a bit of a trial some days, especially when she sets her mind to something and nothing goes her way. Shortly after Xander left, Willow moved off campus to get away from her and I don't think she's recovered from the slight as well as she pretends."

"Losing your friends can do that," Jim said, petting the cat, stroking his fingers through the fur with a small appreciative noise. "Blair got a cat so I would have something to pet when he wasn't here," he said with a small smile. "He picked one that I said was textured like his hair." He looked down at the purring creature in his lap. "She's mine when he's not here."

"I can tell you like him quite a lot."

"Yeah, I just can't get past the man thing." Jim shrugged. "Some of us aren't that open to new things."

"As is Oz it seems, although I would have said the opposite."

"He's got a lot going on in his head," Jim explained. "Too many things to deal with and handle Xander. Plus there's the fear there that even Blair had when he took me on and figured out this was a permanent thing."

"I know that feeling very well. My life was pledged to a cause I didn't understand until I had been forced into it." Giles relaxed. "Of course, I never had to deal with the death of someone at the same time."

"Wrong," Oz said as he walked in. "Dev can't talk," he said in explanation. "How many times did you consider changing from being a Watcher when Ms. Calender died? Or when one of us got hurt because you weren't fast enough?"

"Too many to count, but I also realized I was the only person who could do the job as well as I could and would protect you all at the same time." Oz nodded, sitting between him and Jim. "Oz, I know how you must feel right now. I had the same feelings when I was forced to become a Watcher and take the responsibility. I never wanted to train a girl, and especially not a handful like Buffy, but I realized that I was the only one that could do it half as well as she needed."

"Yeah, but he doesn't see me for me, Giles. He sees this kid that I used to be."

"Oz, you're still you, but even I have a hard time reconciling this hard, bitter person in front of me with the man that you were." Giles leaned over, taking one of the young man's hands in his to give him some comfort. "Have you given him a chance to meet this new man? To get to know him?"

"We lived together for almost two months," Oz said quietly. "He did everything he could to avoid me."

"Then maybe I should tell you all that he told me earlier. You scare him, this coldness, the hard shell that you created around yourself. It scares him on top of all that he was already feeling. He doesn't think he can trust you."

"He thinks I'm some Stepford Oz, right?" Giles nodded with a small smile. "But I'm still me!" Oz took control of his hand back, pacing around the sitting area. "I offered to do all sorts of stuff with him, show him around the city and everything. He acted like I was trying to go out of my way to be nice to him."

"Were you?" Jim asked. Oz glared at him. "Hey, I was there for one of the offers, remember? You said, and I quote, hey, I've got two hours between classes, want me to drag you around to some good places to be?"

"Between them though, that might have been a genuine offer. What was he going through at the time?"

"Xander was pacing around the apartment like the furniture was going to bite him if he sat." Oz stopped in front of his former mentor. "I tried, I really did, but it's just not meant to be for us." He looked at Jim. "I'm sorry man, I'll pretend until you can find him the right guy, but it's not me."

"It is," Giles said softly, "or you'd not fight it as much. Sit, Oz, let's talk about this while we have some freedom to do so." The younger man sat, still ready to jump back up and pace. "Yes, he is trapped by only seeing the man that you were but that's not all. Trust has always been a very hard thing for him to give and you got it as soon as he saw Willow was truly happy with you. You had his trust like none of us, save myself maybe, had. Even when he and Willow acted as they shouldn't have."

Oz sighed. "I know and that is what makes this harder. I can't earn his trust now because he won't see that I'm different."

"Why are you different?" Jim asked quietly. "Yeah, taking that life and liking it was something to change you but that can't be all. This hard shell you have, to borrow a phrase, doesn't happen overnight after something like that. It's something that you build up after a series of bad things." He patted the top of the younger man's head. "I don't think you want me to hear this so I'll go help Simon look for Mary. You two talk." Jim headed over to his apartment, leaving quickly.

"Oz, did something happen in this last year?" Giles asked, moving to sit beside him. "Something so bad that you can't deal with it and be the person you were?"

"I'm not that young, Giles, drop it," Oz said softly. "You don't want to know, so just don't ask."

"Ah, but there's where you're wrong. I do want to know. I would have liked to have known when it happened so I might have been there for you. Both he and I would have if you had told us." He pulled the unresisting body into his, hugging him tightly. "Tell me, Oz, what happened?"

"Giles, I did bad things to survive," Oz said softly. "And I'm not telling you what because I know it'll get back to Xander." He looked up into the all-knowing, or so they used to seem to him, green eyes, seeing the acceptance there. "I don't even remember most of it."

"Then maybe you should talk about what you do know."

"I can't. I feel overwhelmed when I do." Oz let himself be hugged for a moment more then pulled back, curling up in the corner of the couch. "So, what's the plan for this week?"

Giles frowned slightly but went with the change of topic. "Your doctor, Philip I believe his name is, is going to come over and do a long session of hypnosis with Xander. I want you to be there for it. Blair said something about changing light bulbs in his head also but I think between us that we could do some real bolstering to his self-esteem."

"Yeah, maybe." Oz studied his knees. "I know it was only for two weeks and I was here in Cascade but other than that, I don't remember much."

"Then maybe the hypnosis approach would work for you also." Oz shook his head. "Why not?"

"Because Philip tried and he said it was impossible to keep me under."

"Ah. Then we'll just shelve the topic, shall we." Giles smiled and patted a pulled-up knee reassuringly. "You'll just have to deal with it and become less self-centered where that young man is concerned."

"I wasn't kidding. I'm not his Guide. A Guide should be able to pull him out of zones and to help him and I'm not doing any of that."

"Blair did say it was a matter of trust."

"Yeah, well, we don't have that."

"And why not?" Giles asked gently. "Is it him or you?"

"Both," Oz admitted after a second. "I don't trust him not to hurt me and he doesn't trust me not to leave or to not support him. He was *scared*, Giles, terrified, about how I would take the news of him being bi."

"Well, none of us knew it, though I did have my doubts that last year of school." The older man made a face. "Why would it matter?"

"Because I'm not real comfortable around gay males. Women sure, but I have problems allowing myself to get close to guys who aren't into women." Oz grimaced. "I don't know why, don't even bother to ask, it's just that way."

"What might have happened if you had suspected him back in high school? Or if things were otherwise normal between yourselves?" Oz shrugged. "Would you still withdraw?"

"I'd like to say no but I can't do that and not probably tell a lie." Oz looked up. "I'm *way* screwed up, I have no business pulling him into my head."

"Like it or not, Oz, your head could be a more pleasant place than his own." He got a shocked look. "How else do you explain the medicines he's on? Or the intense level of fear in him when it comes to you."

"I can't," Oz admitted. "But that...."

Giles clamped a hand over his mouth. "Do stop that now, thank you." He removed the hand and pulled the young man closer to him. "Oz, if this were you two years ago, in that summer before college, would you still be like this to him?" He got a small head shake. "Then why are you now? He's not changed a bit since then except to learn to like himself a bit more. Which he promptly lost when his life was torn apart by his senses."

"Jim described it as wanting to go lay in the middle of a freeway because getting run over would hurt less than slitting your own throat. And those were the good times." Giles nodded slowly. "I can't even understand what that feels like."

"You described about the same feeling when you change," Giles pointed out. "That ripping and tearing feeling. That reconstruction in the morning. I'd imagine a spike feels about the same only with one or more senses going off at the time to a level only you might imagine." He pulled something out of his back pocket, handing it over. "Willow and Buffy wrote these for him but I think you should look at them first to see what he shouldn't see." The younger man nodded. "Oz, I don't know how to put this to you any plainer, he is *your* responsibility, no matter how much you dislike the prospect or want to make him leave you. He can't leave you and from what I've heard so far, his leaving you would be an automatic death sentence. I know this makes it hard on you, puts untold pressure on your shoulders, but you can bear it and work on it with him until he can handle the load."

"Giles, I'm the bad one now. He can't control anything so I'm bad. He zones so I'm bad. He starts a fight and runs away and I'm bad. Do you see a pattern here?"

"Oz, if you were Blair, would you yell at him?" he asked shortly. Oz shook his head after a second's hesitation. "And as a Watcher, I felt the same pressure. If Buffy did something bad, it was my fault for not teaching her the correct methods. If she got sulky and messed something up, it was my fault for not training with her enough. Heaven knows I got plenty of flak over her and Angel, even though none of it was my doing. But, I, as a Watcher, had the responsibility to train and raise her right so I got shat upon for it." He glared down at his student. "It's much the same, you just learn to glare at those people until they leave you alone." He patted an arm gently. "Now then, could you please help me get some linens for Jim's couch? I do believe it would be best if I stayed in there tonight so I didn't have to listen to their last night together."

"It's on the couch," Oz said, waving a hand that way, opening the letter in Buffy's handwriting. "I'll be over later." He waited until he was alone to read it, quickly growing angry by what she said. He tossed that one down, very crumpled now, and picked up the other one, weighing it in his hands. "Willow," he said softly. He opened it slowly, reading the enclosed message, savoring the sweet words she said to calm her oldest friend. He picked up the letters, dropping Willow's on Xander's bed and taking Buffy's back to his room.


Xander smiled at his boyfriend as they walked into his bedroom, closing the door behind him with a small nudge of his knee. "So, are you happier now that that guy isn't hitting on me?"

Darryl sat on the bed and heard the paper crunching. He reached under himself, pulling the note out and handing it over. "Someone must have dropped this in here."

Xander sat down against the pile of pillows, reading the note slowly, smiling. "Willow," he said in explanation. "She sent it with Giles." He leaned over, kissing his lover. "She was even nice."

"Wouldn't she be?"

"Most of the time, but she can be really cold and not know it too." Xander licked up the side of the dark neck, earning a small shiver. "Can we not talk anymore?" He got a frantic nod. "Then I have a request." That got him a funny look. "You top tonight."

Darryl looked at him in awe. "Are you sure?" He got a quick nod and a happy smile. "Xander, I know you said you wanted to make it special and everything but now?" He got another nod but the smile wasn't as happy. "You're sure? Last time to back out."

Xander took the younger man into his arms, holding him tightly as he talked directly into his ear, with much licking and nibbling added. "I'm so sure, more sure than anything else right now, that I want you to have it. It's a special time for us and it'll give us both something to remember until you come back." He gave the cheek one last kiss then let the younger man pull back. "Darryl, I want this, now, here, with you. And only with you. I can't think of anyone else that I'd like to take my virginity from me. Please?"

"Xan, I'm just blown away, I'm not going to say no." Darryl pushed the older man backwards, lying on top of him to kiss him hard. "You know I wouldn't refuse such a request, right?" He got a small nod before his mouth was given the most touchy oral examination ever. "Wow," he said when he could breathe again. "That was way better than usual."

"I was holding back. Didn't want to scare you off or anything." Xander turned up his hearing as he heard footsteps getting closer to his door. "Damn, Oz," he said quietly, wiggling out from under his boyfriend and meeting his Guide at the door. "Hey," he said, grinning. "What's up? Did you drop her note on the bed?"

"Yeah. You okay?" Oz got a small patient nod. "Okay, just wanted to tell you that Giles is over at our place so you don't have to worry. 'Kay?"

Xander nodded. "Yup, and we'll try to keep it down so you won't have to hear."

"Xander, I don't mind. He makes you happy and that's what matters to me." Oz awkwardly patted his Guideling's arm then walked back to his own apartment, sitting beside Giles. "You know, those walls are kinda thin," he said quietly.

"What did he say?"

"Damn, it's Oz." He leaned into the welcoming, fatherly presence. "He doesn't even want to work with me now."

"I think you two should spend some time talking. Bring this up." He got a small head shake. "Why not?"

"Because he'll be embarrassed then I'll get pissed then he'll get pissed and he'll zone."

"That's not what he said," Jim said, leaning over the railing. "He was busy sucking Darryl's tongue down his throat when he heard you and we both know he gets uptight when you walk in on them." Oz nodded, still not moving. "I think that if you'd ask him, he's just as embarrassed about you walking in on them as you are." Jim lay back down on his bed. "I have my headphones on so talk all night."

Giles simply soothed the young man, letting his own mind work it out for him.

Xander sighed as he lay back down on his lover. "Well, that was different. He even seemed accepting of us." He rolled onto his back, rubbing his semi-naked flesh over the animal skins. "We should move this, huh? Blair would be really pissed at us if we got our stuff on it." Darryl smiled at him, rolling his eyes. "What?" he asked, adding just a little hurt into it.

"You don't ever say the word 'cum', do you?" That got him a small smile and a head shake. "Try it for me, Xan, cum," he said slowly, prompting with a little tickle.

"Nope, not me. I'm a good boy." He grinned his most wicked little grin. "Aren't I?"

"Of course you are, my precious, but I don't want the good boy tonight, I need memories to savor for the next two months." Darryl found himself flipped onto his back, panting when he had control of his mouth again. He looked down at the wicked mouth playing across his chest, seeing the dark brown eyes watching his as his body was tasted. "Oh, god, Xan, what you do to me," Darryl sighed, laying his head back down and just going with it.

"Just think of what I'm going to do to you," the older man said, nipping at the firm stomach, soothing it by sucking the bite into his mouth. "Then what you're going to do to me." He nipped a little lower down, a little harder this time, enjoying the flesh being pressed up into his mouth. "Then what I'm going to do to you."

Darryl laughed. "I have a two day plane ride ahead, with layovers, and I'm not going to be able to sit, am I?" Xander looked up and shook his head slowly, a sexy grin spreading over his face so very slowly. It was clearly meant to inflame and Darryl took it as the sign it was. He flipped them over, straddling the older man's chest. "So, you want to play rough, huh?" He got a small head shake. "Not rough?"

"Nope, just passionate." He shimmied out of his pants, tossing them across the room. "You have free rein over my body, Darryl, and I only ask that I enjoy it as much as you seem to when I touch you." His lover grinned, leaning down to lick over his stomach. "Hmm, yeah, like that." He arched up as the warm hand found its way inside his shorts. "Oh, very like that." Darryl chuckled against his stomach, whispering quiet words he didn't want to turn up his hearing to hear. "Please?" he asked.

Darryl sat up, looking at the older man. "Weren't listening?"

"Didn't have my hearing up. Oz and Giles are talking and I don't want to listen to them."

"You have *got* to get dials, Xan. I said, I would gladly do you if you would roll onto your side."

Xander pouted. "But I want to kiss you." He started to grin one of his sexy, wicked little grins. "I'm sure I can offer you something to make you reconsider your choice of positions." He slowly stroked over his hard cock, under his boxers. "Can't I?"

"But it'll hurt more this way. Just let's start it that way then we can change." Darryl stopped the hand, replacing it with his mouth over the flannel material. "Or we could just forget the whole idea."

"Nope," Xander said, rolling onto his side, facing the wall. "I can do this. As long as I can hold your hand."

"Just don't break it." Darryl picked up the little bag that had been carried in with them, taking out the new tube of lubricant. "You know it's been a while since I did this, right?" Xander shrugged, relaxing against the hand stroking his back to keep him calm. "Well, it has. Years actually." He slid the boxers out of his way. "Not only has it been years, but Blair had to bust in on us the last time..." He choked up and was instantly enfolded in the strong arms of his lover. "Thanks, man, this just brought back too many memories." He sighed, letting it all go, relaxing into the welcoming and soothing body. "I'm sorry, this is ruining your special night."


"Every night I spend with you like this is special," Darryl told him quietly. "Each and every night I spend holding you, soothing you, playing with your hair." He brushed through the dark strands so unlike his own. "Every minute we spend is precious to me."

"Darryl, we can stop if you want," Xander offered. "I'll gladly just hold you and rock you and kiss you." He pulled the younger man's head back, kissing him softly, giving comfort more than anything. "Whatever you want, Dar, never anything else."

"Hey, I want this. I want this so bad I'm willing to bust down your door to get to you." He kissed his lover hard, probing the tastes he had accumulated since supper. "Mmm, when did you drink?"

Xander laughed, pulling Darryl down beside him on the bed. "While you were flirting with Blair, oh shameless one."

"Hey, he wasn't getting any action and people want something that can't be theirs. And did you see the people line up after that?" Darryl smiled, licking over the firm neck. "Where's the tube?"

"Under you." Xander flipped onto his stomach with a grunt. "How about this way?" He looked back to see the small head shake. "No?" He moved his legs apart, wiggling his rear end. "Nice easy access." He laughed at the small spank, putting his head down. "I like this. Want to feel you around me." His breath caught as a wet finger entered him, greasing him up thoroughly. "Yeah, like this lots. We'll have to do more of this when you get back." He turned to look at his lover, watching him concentrate. "Whatcha thinkin'?"

"Wondering what this feels like to you." Darryl slid the finger out, earning a small grunt of disappointment. "Easy guy, still got a few more to go before I can slide into your tight, sexy little opening here." He grinned, slicking up his thumb and sliding it inside. "How's that?"

"Little tight," Xander said, relaxing again, putting his head back on his arms. "But I'm sure we'll be fine."

"Just relax, Xander," Darryl whispered, using his best Blair impersonation of the Guide voice. "Just let me inside and we'll all be fine." He went up to two fingers, grinning still at the squishing noises coming from his fingers. He used the extra lube on his hand to slick himself up, sliding into the virgin entrance as slowly as possible, inch by inch, ever so slowly moving as his lover relaxed. "I'm in," he said softly, smiling at the small push back at him. "Does that mean you want..."

"More," Xander grunted. "Now?" He went to his knees with the pull, smiling at the hesitant push into his body. "Yup, I was right, I like this." Darryl laughed behind him, going a little harder. "And I like that even more." He grabbed the headboard, bracing himself against it as he pushed back, silently begging for more. He moaned as his lover pulled out suddenly, going onto his back to look at him. "Not okay?"

"Very okay, just wanted to look into your pretty eyes as I pounded your ass." Darryl lifted the legs onto his shoulders, sliding back in. "Can't go in all the way," he pouted, giving his lover a sorrowful look.

Xander improvised, wiggling up onto the spread thighs, putting his arms under his back. "How's that?" He yelped at the sweetness of the thrust, smiling at the younger man. "Gee, happy?"

"Very," Darryl whispered, leaning down to kiss him. He kept thrusting during the kiss, letting both echo the intensity of what he felt, letting himself get really involve in what he was doing. So involved he never noticed the beginnings of the zone. He rode his boyfriend as well as he could, his inexperience showing in the unevenness of his rhythm, the awkward way he gripped the tensing ankles, the lack of action besides the kissing and the gradual entering and retreating out of his lover's body. He came with a small cry of pleasure, his lover's name on his lips.

Xander's eyes closed, his own orgasm spilling over him, his body on automatic while he went back into his senses.

Darryl leaned on the heaving chest, panting hard. "Xan?" he asked quietly. When he didn't get an answer, he looked up, grimacing as he saw the now vacant look that he knew all too well. "You just had to do this now, right?" he asked, nudging him. When he still didn't get an answer, he slid out slowly, not wanting to hurt him even now, and pulled on his boxers. He padded out into the apartment, looking up at Blair's room, and not seeing a light over to Jim's to get Oz. He knocked softly on the door, grimacing at the man that answered. "Oz, he did it again."

The other Guide nodded slowly, trying hard not to look down the younger man's bare body. "I'll be right over." He turned to get something, pulling his overshirt back on.

Darryl spotted the note. "Didn't give him both?" he asked snidely.

"Don't want him tortured like that," Oz told him, dropping the note into the trash. "Blatant advertisement for the people that drugged him." He followed the younger man back to his Guideling's room, wincing as he saw the bare body spread out in front of him. He sat beside his hip, not wanting to look but his innate curiosity making him look at the bare flesh. "Which sense?"

"I'd guess touch. I was in him when he went over. And there may be some taste in there too since we were kissing." He sat on the floor, watching him work. He saw the small pained look. "Want me to touch him for you?"

Oz shook his head. "I'm sorry, I'm just not comfortable with this."

"How long you been doubting?" Darryl asked quietly. He got glared at for it. "Hey, the looks you're giving my man speak for themselves, Oz, you're doubting your orientation."

"I'm not gay."

"No? Well how about bi then?"

Oz stroked down the side of his Sentinel's face, whispering to him. "Xander, come on out now. It's okay, Darryl's not mad and you're fine." He leaned closer to the small ear, brushing his fingers over the sensitive flesh. "Come on, man, don't do this to Darryl, not tonight. It's too special to lose a second of it to this stuff." He saw a glimmer of life so sat back up. "Hey," he said, "time to come out here and play, no more head time for you." He got a slow blink. "Hey, you okay?"

Xander nodded, covering his eyes with an arm. "Yeah, thanks Oz."

"No big, part of the job." He stood up, having to go back to get around the man on the floor. "I'll be up for a while longer if you need me." He glanced at the man on the bed again, blocking out the sight of his more private parts as he practically ran out of the room.

"He's confused," Darryl said as he got onto the bed. "He's doing the doubting thing."

"Nah, he's just embarrassed." Xander flexed all of his muscles, smiling. "Wow, we really did it?"

"Yup," the younger man said, leaning down for another kiss. "And you proved that you can get off when you're out of it." He smiled, sitting back up, reaching down blindly to play with the opened hole. "So, how do you feel?"

"Special and loved?" Xander asked. His lover made a buzzer noise. "But I do! I feel loved. I feel wanted. I feel special because it was you and you like me." He sat up, trapping the finger in him as they kissed again. "Can we do that again? I promise to try to stay here the whole time."

Darryl laughed, pushing him back onto the mattress. "Oh, yeah, we're going to do it again. I'm not going to be the only one not able to sit tomorrow."


Xander gripped Blair's arm as Darryl's plane took off, needing the friendly contact now more than anything. He looked at the older Guide, his eyes still wet from the tears he refused to shed there and embarrass himself and his lover. "Can we go home," he asked quietly. "I want to go hide in my room for a while."

"Sure," Blair said gently, turning him around to steer the young man back toward the car. "You know, Jim and I leave tonight so it'll just be you three. Will you be okay?" He got a small nod. "You sure?"

"Yeah," Xander sighed, slumping into the welcoming body. "I'll just miss him. Oz and Giles can talk for a while." He smelled something familiar so started to look around, his face scrunched up in his thinking way. "Um, Blair, I smell..." He coughed, looking at his friend. "We need to get home, now." He pulled the older man out of the airport, dragging him to the car as quick as he could. He climbed into the passenger's seat, dialing home. "Jim, me, put Giles on." There was a short pause then Giles' voice came over the speaker. "Hey, it's us. Where was Buffy supposed to be today?"

"I'm not sure," Giles said slowly. "Why?"

"Because someone at the airport smelled exactly like her. And that's almost impossible." He looked at Blair, who shrugged as they waited to pull out of the parking garage. He saw the familiar male body in the jeep behind them and swore softly, hanging up without warning. "We're being followed, who do I call?"

"What?" Blair yelled, pounding on the steering wheel. "Memory key two. It's Simon's office." He hit the sequence of keys. "Hey, Darla, long time no hear. Is he in?" He shook his head at the small negative noise from the new department secretary, who had taken over when Rhonda had left to take on a more traditional role as a mother. "Where is he, do you know?"

"Sorry, Sandburg, he's at home. Brown's here, I could put him on if it's an emergency."

"Yeah," Xander said, "it is. We're being followed by some people from a paramilitary outfit." He looked in the mirror again, not seeing the van. "Um, where did the van go, Blair?"

"They're in the other lane. Relax, they won't go away now. Darla, put him on and call Jim, he's at home. Tell him what you were told and tell him to meet us downtown."

"Mall," Xander said. "Jim said to go there and call if I ever had problems with people following me."

"Got that, Darla?" She made a small noise.

"Hey, Hairboy," Brown said over the speaker. "What's up?"

"Being followed by Military type guys," Xander said, checking his seat belt as Blair took a corner sharply to avoid being rammed. "And they're not playing nice."

"Um, we're heading into town from the airport," Blair added. "Some help might be nice. My car is no match against their van, H. Kinda soon maybe?" He hung up, the line going staticky all of a sudden. "Damn jammers," he muttered, switching lanes without signaling, hoping to lose him.

"Whoa," Xander said, grabbing the handgrip above his head. "Just don't kill us. Darryl would never forgive me for it." He saw the tight smile. "Glad to make your day and all, but I was serious. He'd come after me, doing the meditating thing to join me, and kick my scrawny drugged-up ass." He closed his eyes as Blair cut off a semi, making the van stay in their old lane. "Please don't kill me. I promise to be good to my Guide."

"Xander, relax. I took lessons at the Jim school of driving." He sighed as he saw the blue light, pulling over and hopping out to talk to the officer. They both came back, finding the young Sentinel curled up in the front seat, holding his ears. "Shit," Blair muttered, getting in to touch his arm. "Hey, it's okay, they're gone."

Xander shook his head. "Noise," he whispered. "Big, loud, like the air horn." He clutched Blair, holding on as tight as he could. "Make them stop, Blair, it's bad."

The officer looked at them, shaking his head. "Let me guess, you're that guy, Sandburg, right?" Blair nodded slowly. "Okay, we got an all points to help you. Why don't I escort you home?" Blair nodded, smiling. "Get him set right and I'll be behind you." He walked back to his cruiser, getting in.

Blair pushed Xander back into his seat, buckling him up before he got into his own and doing the same. He turned on the engine, smiling as it started immediately, a rare occurrence some days. "Shh, Xander, we're going home now. You'll be okay because your Guide is there and he'll make it all better."

"No he won't," Xander whispered. "He's gone." He closed his eyes, escaping from the noise so it couldn't hurt him anymore.


Jim ran down the stairs, almost running into the side of Blair's car as he pulled into his space. He looked at the curled-up young man in the front then at the officer walking over. "What happened?"

"We were being followed by the guys who did this to him," Blair told him. "Took me doing some Jim driving to get the attention we needed, but hey, it worked." He smiled at the officer. "Thanks, I really didn't want to have to fight against the military today." The officer smiled, nodding at both of them as he walked back to his car, not even glancing at the young man in the car.

Jim opened Xander's door, nudging him. "Blair, he's gone again. Do you have a clue here?"

"Some sort of noise device." The Guide leaned down, nudging the young man's arm. "Hey, noise is gone," he said. He didn't even budge. "Okay, this is a bad one. Jim, carry him upstairs and put him somewhere he can be comfortable. We'll do this the hard way and get whined at."

"Spirit Guides?" Jim asked, frowning.

"Spirit Guides," Blair agreed. "And they can bitch if they're not happy about us calling them to help these two." He slammed his door, following Jim up the stairs and into his apartment. "Hey," he said to Giles. "Go into the cabinet under the stereo and pull out some candles. Try to find either a citrus or a rainforest one, they seem to be a more comforting scent to him." He looked around. "Oz?"

"Rehearsal," Giles said, grimacing. "He left almost an hour ago." He put out the three candles, arranging them automatically into a triangle pattern and lighting them with a small prayer. He smiled at the surprised look the Guide was giving him. "Yes, I do practice. As does his friend Willow. Xander's always had a rather large distaste for it though." He pulled out a bag of herbs, handing it over without being asked. "Do I need to be here?"

"Not an issue," Blair said. "You're our guardian while we go under. Jim, start now and I'll bring the stoned one with me."

"They're not going to like that," Jim warned.

"They can leap," Blair said sweetly. He knelt beside Xander rubbing his temples as he traveled back into his quiet place, bringing an image of him and the young Sentinel with him. He eventually ended up landing beside Jim in the middle of a barren plane, looking down at the young Guideling curled at his feet. "You okay?" he asked quietly, bending down to rub over his tense shoulders.

"Gee, I always thought my head was a much more cluttered space," Xander said, trying hard to joke. "Where are we?" he asked at Jim's glare for his attempt.

"The Spirit Plane," Blair told him, sitting down beside him. "Usually, you'd have to go find your own but we're breaking a major rule here because we can't bring you out and we both feel you need the extra help." He looked up as a dark shadow moved closer. "Jim, yours," he said quietly.

The Sentinel started, sitting down next to Xander, across from his Guide. "Yeah, well, I still can't hear him so he's just browsing." He rubbed over Xander's tense shoulder, matching Blair's soothing rhythm. "You gonna live?"

"Yeah, the noise is gone."

"What sort of noise," Jim asked. "Static, whistle, drone?"

"Whistle. High, almost like a dog whistle." He shook his head. "Nasty things. Heard one the other day from downstairs."

Blair sighed with a small smile. "Our downstairs neighbor just got a puppy and she's training her." He glanced behind them as he felt something walk up to them. "Hi," he said, reaching out to touch the head of Jim's Spirit Guide. "We know you said it's not your job," he told the Jaguar, "but this one is special. He needs it more than most. His Guide and he can't bond." The wolf came up to them from the front, looking and sniffing Xander then stepping back to change into not-Blair. "You'll help?"

"Yes, Guide, we will help," not-Blair said slowly, looking down at the young man. "Why does he smell strange?"

The jaguar changed into his usual not-Jim, camouflage and all. "He smells unnatural. Has another's scent around him."

"Well, the unnatural could be the drugs," Xander said, looking up at the not-Blair. "It's all that helps me have what little control I have." The not-Blair frowned at him. "My Guide rejected me. He won't *listen* and I'm left without one." He looked back down, sitting so he was curled on himself again. "I can't go on like that," he said softly.

"His Guide rejects him," the not-Jim asked Jim, who nodded slowly. "Do you know why?"

"He has great fear," Jim told his Guide. "Not only of himself but the whole issue of power over his Guideling." He frowned at Blair. "Did you ever find out if he was supposed to be a Sentinel or not?"

"He is," the not-Blair said. He bent down to pull Xander's head up to look at him. "Why do you take the chemicals? Do they help or do they hurt you?"

"Both," the young Sentinel said, blinking. "They help me stay calm enough to go on by myself. They hurt because I can't get control while I'm on them." He took Blair's hand, squeezing it. "It was the only way. He and our friend said so, a..." He looked at the Guide for the right word.

"Basically a Shaman, a healer of the mind and body," Blair explained. "Does he have a Guide?" Not-Jim nodded, smiling down at them before he looked around, scowling. "Is it the same one he has right now?" Not-Blair nodded. "Then what do we do? There's no trust between them."

"I can't trust him, he won't listen and understand," Xander explained to the Spirit Guides. "He won't deal with who I am, not work with me to help me. He wants to run away."

"Then let him," not-Blair said succinctly. "He will have to come back eventually."

"Yeah, but I won't be here then," Xander told him. "I'm not going to make it that long. The last time he ran away it was almost a year before we heard from him." He shook his head. "I should let him go, he wants to be free so he should be."

"Not your decision to make," Jim told him. "It's Oz's." Not-Jim frowned at him. "What?"

"He uses a name not his own?"

"Daniel," Blair supplied. "He prefers the other though." The Spirit Guides nodded in unison. "So, what do we do? We can't pull him out and neither can his Guide. He needs help we can't give, that his Guide *won't* give. What do we do?"

"You let the Guide run. He will come back this time." Not-Blair smiled at Xander. "Relax, young one, you're going to be fine. He'll come back and all will be well after a while."

"Will I still be living then?" Xander asked, standing up. He turned to look at both of them, frowning. "I can't take what I have now, and that's with a little Guiding. I can't go without a Guide totally, I'll die."

"No," not-Jim said, touching the side of the young man's face. "You're not leaving him yet. Soon maybe, but not now." He looked at his Sentinel. "Go now, you have people who need you both."

The Spirit Plane grew dark around them, turning gradually back into the apartment. Blair blinked, looking around, directly into a gun barrel. "Gee, Jim, I think it's your turn for the psychos."

Giles snorted. "Leave them be," he told the soldier guarding him, frowning at Buffy. "What do you want? You have no right to break into people's homes."

She fluffed her hair then backhanded him, knocking him out. "Take him. We'll help him." She walked over to Blair, smiling at him. "You could come, both of you. I'm sure you'd have an excellent crop of students there."

Jim frowned at her. "Blair, is *this* who they were talking about?" His Guide nodded. "Gee, now I see why they said those things. Sorry," he said, turning back to her. "Not interested. And no, Mr. Giles was right, you don't have the mandate to do this. I checked." He stood up, glaring at the boy that tried to push him back down, right before he sucker-punched him and knocked him cold. "We grew better soldiers in my time," he told her.

"Summers," Oz said, standing in the doorway. She turned to look at him and he set off the stun gun in his hands, watching dispassionately as the wires flew into her body and shocked her. "Bummer," he said when she fell to the floor. "Got to get that fixed." He looked at Jim then at the candles. "Never figured you for meditation, Ellison."

"Yeah, well, it's a bad Blair habit that he forced on me." Jim shrugged, turning to look at the last soldier, who had escaped. "Oh, well," he sighed. "We'll just have to torture this one." He looked down at Buffy as she started to wake up. "I'm sure the boys can find some interesting methods."

Simon walked into the apartment. "Did you know that my son tried to call my office and told me to come see you two?" he said, looking at the unconscious people. "You might want to bring the kid out, Sandburg. He's not looking real healthy." He snapped his fingers and the three officers walked in, cuffing the people on the floor.

"Not him," Oz said, pointing at Giles. "He's ours." He walked over to the couch, leaning over the back to nudge his Guideling. "Hey, get up." Xander stopped breathing. "Damn." Oz slid over the back, starting CPR immediately, helped by Jim, who was closer.

Simon called for an ambulance at the same time he called for cars to take the people away.

To be continued...