Starting Over, Again

Xander hugged Blair as he walked back into the apartment. "Hey, guess what? I have levers!" He smiled at Jim, hugging him too. "Thank you for bringing Giles up here." He bounced back to the kitchen, pouring the tea he was brewing into a cup and carrying it out to his friend. "The new Sentinel guy is at Philip's. Darrien said he'd be back later, he had to go talk to Wolf."

Jim nodded slowly then caught the young man as he passed, putting a heavy hand on top of the kid's head. "Slow down."

"He's like this normally," Giles said with a small smile. "It's good to have him back." He smiled brightly at Blair, nodding at the chair. "We fixed the levers so he has some control. Philip was most pleased with his progress." He sipped his tea, still smiling at his former student. "We're both very pleased with what happened while he was under."

Xander beamed under the praise. "Yup, I was good. And I have a new job too." Blair raised an eyebrow at him. "I'm a bouncer at a club, one of the ones we go to, and it pays really good and I only work four days a week but I get paid *tons*."

Jim looked at Giles with a desperate look. "Please tell me he's not usually this bad," he begged. "I just got Blair settled down." He ducked the pillow his Guide sent at his head.

"I'm normal," Xander pouted. Blair frowned at him. "I am, for me."

Giles reached over to pat the young Sentinel's hand. "Yes, you are, and we're all glad about it." He smiled at Blair, then at Jim. "And I heartily approve of this step. He wanted more independence so went out to do this on his own." He patted the couch. "Do sit down, Xander, you can be a bit energetic to people who don't know you very well." The young man sat next to him, hugging him carefully. "Thank you. Shouldn't you be getting ready for work?" Xander hopped up, jogging into his room, closing the door. "He is much better now. Whatever Darrien is doing for him seems to be working well." He finished his tea, putting the cup down.

"Darrien?" Jim asked. He looked at the front door as it opened, raising an eyebrow at the young man walking through it. "Gee, let me guess, you're the mysterious Darrien?"

The dark haired man nodded, smiling at Blair. "You forgot to tell him, didn't you?" He headed for Xander's room, just walking in without knocking.

"Okay," Jim said slowly. "Blair? Do you have an explanation for him?"

"Yup, he's a Spirit Guide. Xander's to be precise." He looked at Giles. "So, I take it they connected?"

"Very well. Those two seem to be very well suited together. They sleep together, giving Xander the comfort he needed."

Blair slapped his thigh as he stood up. "We're doing good then." He walked past a still Jim, heading for the kitchen. "Want something, Jim?"

"Water please." Jim sat down in the chair Blair had been in, looking at the former Watcher. "So, what else happened?"

"Nothing much. Xander's been working since last night. He came home last night in the best mood he's been in for a while. We did think, both Philip and I, that this was a change in the right direction." He looked over his shoulder as Xander walked back out in, dressed like Darrien in tight t-shirt and tighter jeans. "Have a good night and be safe."

"Yup." Xander gave him a quick squeeze before grabbing his keys and jogging out the door, his temporary Guide following.

"So," Jim started again. "Who's Darrien?"

"He's a Spirit Guide," Blair said, walking back out with a glass of ice tea and a bottle of water, which he handed off. "He's here until Oz comes to his senses." He sat beside the older man, smiling at his Sentinel. "It's a good thing right now, and I'm sure we'll all adapt until Oz gets over whatever." He sipped his drink. "So, what are your plans?"

"Well, I have to be getting back tomorrow. I have a class tomorrow night and I'm sure I need to have a long discussion with Buffy as soon as I get there." He grimaced. "I'm taking the young man back with me, Darrien said that Willow should be his Guide so I'm going on that assumption."

"Who?" Jim asked.

"That ... Oh, no one told you about that, did they. Well, one of Blair's students apparently came down with an extreme case of sensory overload due to his hearing. Darrien said that Willow would be his teacher so I've arranged with Philip to bring him back with me." Blair shrugged. "I'm sure they're at his house right now." He checked his watch. "Or not. It is dinner time." He glanced at Jim.

"Yeah, but we ate on the plane. Want us to order you something? I know this great Thai place," Blair offered. Giles shook his head. "Okay, just yell if you want the menu. Jim and I eat there all the time." Blair got up, walking back into the kitchen, walking around the bags in the middle of the floor. "Jim, bags."

"In a minute."


"Sure." Jim got up, grabbing his bag and going over to his apartment. "I'll be going back to sanity again."

Blair waited until they were alone to come back over and sit beside Giles. "What really happened?"

"Well, Darrien is some sort of cat-like creature, I'm not up to date on animals. He and Xander aren't that intimate, mostly holding and comforting as far as I can tell. His new job is interesting to him and he's in a comfortable environment. Darrien has gone with him most of the night, for safety's sake I'm sure, but we're still waiting for Oz to find out. I'd say that they seem to click rather well, Xander almost zoned trying to figure him out when he was released from the hospital. Oh, and speaking of which, Philip has taken him off his medicines except for emergency situations. He said he's to stay totally clean. He's to take a drug test next week and one every week for the next month to make sure he stays that way."

Blair nodded. "Okay, we can do that. Has he started to draw again?"

"Yes. He bought a whole new sketchbook and started to work on a few new drawings. Mainly very touching figure drawings." Giles cleared his throat, making Blair smile. "Ah, I see you've seen his work. I've only seen a few of his drawings before and none of them were as inflammatory." He blushed lightly. "Actually, I've never really seen that side of Xander. I've seen him in lust over a woman, with whom he had many rendezvous in various broom closets, but I've never seen him that passionate or that ..." He searched for the word.

"Sexual?" Blair suggested, leaning back and getting comfortable. "I know. Actually, I think that's what's scaring Oz so badly. He's not used to seeing Xander as anything but a big joking guy who's *there*, you know. He's only used to seeing the happy, jumping, smiling Xander that just left and the other side probably scares him as much as his own bisexuality does." He laughed at the sour look. "Oh, please. It was obvious that he's been doubting." He sipped his tea. "Levers?"

"Carnival-ride type from what he said, which would fit his personality more. They have holes punched for various levels, all except his sight." Giles shrugged, getting comfortable. "Philip led him in that exercise, along with installing a lever for his self-esteem that starts at four." He made a face. "It had apparently been set to off."

"Noticed that," Blair said. "But this newly confident and relaxed Xander will be a force for Oz to deal with when he gets back." He smiled. "Or before. I believe he's playing that club soon." Giles' mouth fell open. "He gave me an itinerary before he left and I think I know where Xander's working so they should be meeting up tonight."


Oz looked out over the sea of people dancing and winced as he saw the body by the door again, turning around so he didn't have to see him flirting with some dark-haired guy. He glanced at Devon, who was presently purring into his microphone, then back at the bassist, who was hiding beside the drummer as he took a drink. He nodded at the drummer, shaking his head at the questioning look, then turned back around to face the audience.

Xander glanced at the stage as he checked the ID's of the girls trying to get in. He shook his head at the bad fakes. "I have a better one," he said over the music. "Not even going to do that tonight." They pouted, holding each other's hands but he waved them back out, checking the next one. He nodded the guy in, moving on.

Darrien leaned down, talking directly into Xander's ear. "He's trying hard not to look at you again."

"Yay," Xander muttered, knowing that his Spirit Guide had heard him quite clearly. He smiled at his replacement, giving up his stool after waving another underage kid out. He walked toward the bar, checking the crowd for people he needed to take out, looking at the bartender, who nodded at a guy at the end of the bar. "Hey, buddy," he said, tapping the obviously drunk guy on the shoulder. "Got to go man, let him call you a cab."

"Piss off," a familiar British voice said. "I'm with the band." He turned, smiling at who he saw standing there. "Well, if it isn't joke boy. Heard the soldier boys got you too but you look decent." He took a long, slow look down the young man's front. "Very decent at that."

Xander pulled Spike up, walking him outside. "You can't be here," he said, walking him around into the alley where the second, less used, entrance to the club was. "I won't let you hurt people." The vampire snorted. "Don't even try it."

"I'm not, I still haven't gotten my head fixed." Spike belched. "What I said was true though, I'm with the band."

"I'm sure Oz must *love* that," Xander said quietly, frowning at the people around them. "Go home, Spike, or go sit somewhere not inside the club." He turned, walking back in.

"What'd they do to you?" Spike yelled after him. "Heard it was drugs!"

Xander walked back out, frowning at him. "I'm clean now. You can go to hell." He tapped the undead man on the chest then headed back inside. He nodded at the manager, not even protesting as he was pulled back to the office. "He's from where I was, used to run into him now and then. Real trouble."

"I figured," the manager said, waving at a chair. "But I also heard what he said. Drugs?" He patted his growing girth, then up his t-shirt-clad chest.

"I got introduced to some heavy stuff by some people that hurt him too. I was rescued and I'm clean. I take a test next week to make sure I'm staying that way." The older man nodded, his comb-over falling down into his face. "Is this a problem that I'm recovering?"

"Not a single bit," he said happily. "I just wish you had told me."

"Listen," Xander said, leaning closer. "Things got real intense in my life there for a while. I was put on some stuff to calm me down and it didn't work. I haven't had anything illegal in a while now and I'm staying clean. The problem that sent me running for the hard stuff has stopped." He looked up as the door opened, frowning at Oz and Devon. "Give me a second and I'll walk you guys out."

"Hey, just want paid," Devon said. He smiled at the young man. "Whoa, you look different. You match!" He snickered until Oz hit him on the arm. "Hey, easy with the prime property."

"Just keep it to yourself," Oz said, nodding at Xander. "Didn't know you were working again."

"Started last night." He turned back to the manager. "We okay?"

"Yeah," the older man said, nodding again. "We're fine. You're fine. Just so long as it doesn't come back, we're *all* good." Xander stood up, brushing past the other guys to go back to work. "So," he said, smiling at Devon. "Three, wasn't it?"

"Five," Devon reminded him patiently.

Oz walked out after Xander, stopping him in the hall. "You were using?" he asked quietly. He glared at the man walking up to them. "Go away, he can flirt with you in a minute."

"One, this is Darrien, he was sent to help me deal with a few things. Two, yeah, I was. And yes, Philip and Blair knew it. They adjusted my meds accordingly and I'm not on any of it now, thanks mostly to Giles and Darrien." He crossed his arms, leaning against the wall. "Did you want to hold this talk here?"

"No, but I think we need to. You promised me not to use."

"Yeah, well, the meds weren't doing it and I couldn't take the assault on my nerves." Xander turned around, walking back down to where he was supposed to be. "See you at home, when you get back."

Oz winced at the implication, simply watching the two men walk away from him.

"Huh," Devon said from behind his best friend. "Who's the guy?"

"A *friend* of his."

"Oz, man, he's not doing him. They're still in the dancing stage from what I saw on stage." He handed over the cash. "You hold it, dude, I gotta go find our helper."

"Xander threw him out." Oz followed his lead singer out of the hall, wincing as the door opened to assault him with music form the DJ. He walked outside, leaning against the wall to watch Xander pick who would get in. "Got a sec?" he asked quietly, assuming his hearing was up. He didn't get an answer so kicked the wall hard. "Xander, got a break soon so we can talk?"

"I heard you, I was considering." The younger man turned to glance at him. "Not for about a half hour. How's *Spike* doing?" He checked the next ID and gave a dirty look at the obvious kid. "Guys, I can do better than that with a crayon, which you should be using. Try the one down the street, it's a teen place." The teen male started to make whining and pouting noises. "Not even close. I've met the master of the pout and you're not him. Try again in six years, you'll be old enough then."

"Four," the male said defensively then hung his head, walking down the street with his friends after they figured out he had given them away.

"Okay," Xander said slowly, looking down the line. "Anyone else want to try that?" A few more people, mostly female couples, got out of the line and walked after the other teens. "ID's guys, get good ones, please, if they're going to be fakes."

Oz snorted. "At least you seem happy." He walked over as another bouncer walked out. "Did you see our roadie?"

"He's moving your stuff now," the older man said, tapping Xander on the shoulder. "You're doing good, go take a break. Talk to the man since he apparently wants to so bad." He smiled kindly. "If you need me, yell."

Oz started down the alley, heading for the back entrance of the club and the table sitting out there. He knew he was being followed so sat down, waiting. Xander sat down across from him. "Who's the guy?" he asked again.

"My Spirit Guide. He's doing the temp thing until you come back and we can really talk." He looked around them. "Listen, Oz, I've got it. If you really want to run, go ahead. I have dials now, levers really, and I'll live." He stood up. "Anything else?"

"Yes. Sit," Oz said coldly, looking up into the warm eyes. "How could you say that to me?" he said softly, not wanting to share this conversation with the people around them. "First you use and don't tell me, after you told me you'd tell me, then you suddenly appear with a guy no one's seen before not three days after Darryl leaves. What am I supposed to think?"

"Right now," Xander said coldly, "I couldn't care less." He leaned a little closer. "He who runs while his Guideling is comatose in the hospital has *no* room to talk." He sat back up. "Now then, would you like to bitch some more?"

"No. Well, yes, but this isn't the time or the place. I'll be back Wednesday. Be home."

"I work that night but otherwise I'll be there. I have to work on my portfolio for January." He stood up. "Anything else?"

"You still using?"

"Not since before you left, that was part of the problem." He turned, walking away.

"I'm sorry," Oz whispered, looking down. "I didn't know what to do."

"Talking would have been a good start," Xander called over his shoulder, not stopping as he went back to his job.


Xander woke up alone, for the first time in a week, and looked around in a panic. "Darrien?" he called softly.

"Nope," Oz called from the living room. "I asked him to go back to wherever." He appeared in the doorway. "Come talk."

"Let me shower first," the younger man said as he slung his feet off the bed, sitting up. He reached down, scratching his stomach, realizing he hadn't put anything on to sleep in last night and that the older man was staring. "Um, privacy, Oz, or are you suddenly curious?" He stood up, looking at his Guide. "'Cause I'm not playing that way." He grabbed his towel, putting it around his waist as he walked into the bathroom. He nodded at Devon, who was sitting in the chair. "Hey. I'll be out soon." He slammed the door in Oz's face, the sound of the lock very loud in the quiet apartment.

"Whoa," Devon said. "What did you do to him?" He watched his oldest friend walk over and sit on the couch, seeing how he took it, the slumped shoulders and all. "What's up with you two anyway? I thought you two had something going between you."

"We do," Oz said quietly, "but I screwed it majorly, Dev, and I can't get it back because we only fight."

"Then I suggest you start yelling the truth, my friend." He stood up, stretching. "I'm going to go sleep in the van."

"Use my room." Oz looked up, grimacing. "When were you going to tell me about the being dead stuff?"

"When you quit hanging with people who would have staked my pretty ass." He blew a kiss, walking into the bedroom. "At least you picked someone well built," he called as he closed the apartment door.

"I'm not like that!" Oz yelled after him. He heard the quiet laughter so looked around in confusion, seeing the small creature in Blair's doorway. He walked up the stairs, frowning at the creatures lounging on the bed. "Okay, this is a bit strange," he said, testing his forehead for a fever. "Wolves and Jaguars, and small, mixed-up kitty-type creatures don't usually hang." He fell to his knees as the smallest creature, the one that had called him up there, knocked them. "Let me guess, you're the Spirit Guides?" They all nodded. "Who's mine?"

The wolf changed into a Blair-clone. "You refused to listen to yours when we sent him to you so now you have to deal with us." He looked at the smallest creature, which turned into Darrien. "You must *help* him, not hurt him, young Guide, no matter what you fear." He turned back into the wolf, sitting back beside the Jaguar, leaning against his side.

"Oz," Darrien said. "I was sent to fill in until you came to your senses about him. Now, personally, I like the kid, but he's not my responsibility that way and I'd like to rest at home for a while. You and he have to work things out before a crisis happens." He waved his hand, showing a picture in the middle of the room of Xander sitting in some grass as something dark walked up behind him. "We're not the only creatures interested in his well being, Guide, and they are much harder to get him back from. With us, he might die, with them, he will die and so will you." The picture dissolved. "It's your ball, as he would say." Darrien turned back into the small mixed-up looking creature, barking in laughter as he disappeared.

Oz shook his head, realizing he was still on the sofa and Xander was looking down at him, dressed in work clothes. "Huh. Darrien's a little cryptic but he's trying." He looked up, patting the cushion beside him. "Can we talk?"

"As soon as I eat." Xander walked into the kitchen, pulling down a pan. "Hungry?"

"Not really. More of a nauseous feeling actually." The older man got up, heading in to talk to his friend. "Found out Devon's undead and is doing Spike. You've found a Spirit Guide and mine won't talk to me." He leaned on the counter watching the quiet movements. "I'm sorry, for what it's worth. I know I've been cold and mean to you and I realize that now, even if I didn't at the time."

"Do you think you're suddenly going to change because of this revelation?" Xander cracked the eggs into the frying pan, stirring them with the spatula before adding the chunks of meat from his leftover dinner after work the night before. "'Cause I can deal now. I have some control."

"Good." Oz walked over, turning his friend's head to make him look at him. "We need to start over. I didn't realize I had gotten that bad until Devon hit me last night for being a prick." That got a quiet snort. "I'd like to start working with the us part again if you want."

"Don't have much of a choice, Oz, it's destiny." Xander turned back to his eggs, stirring them some more. "You sure you're not hungry?"

"No, not hungry," Oz said quietly, walking out to sit at the table. "Worried, upset, pissed, but not hungry." He looked up as the younger man joined him. "Food?"

"Takes about four more minutes to cook." Xander sat across from him, tapping the table. "I'm not going to be treated like you were before. I *refuse* to have that sort of crap laid on me." His friend nodded. "And I mean it literally, Oz. No more fits of panic, no more judgements on who I sleep with, no more crap because I'm not perfect, no more of any of it. I'm almost as old as you are and I've done things I'm not proud of either. Probably more than you have so get over it. You treat me as a human being, and I'd like to be an equal, or we split and I go Guideless, no matter how bad it gets." He got up, going back to the kitchen to save his food and bring it back to the table. By the time he had turned around, the older man was gone, the connecting door closing behind him. "Guess you made your choice," he whispered, putting the pan in the sink.

He fell to his knees, grabbing his head, as the noise started again. "God, no, not now." He reached for the lever, turning his hearing down. Then he fell to his side, curling up in a little ball when it only got worse.

Oz sat on Jim's couch, chewing on his lip. He kept looking over his shoulder at Blair's apartment, but he refused to get up and go over there again.

Devon walked out, sniffing the air. "What's burning?" He looked where his guitarist was staring and opened the door. "Whoa, smoke."

Oz jumped up, running over to save him. "Xander," he said, falling down beside his friend and checking him over. He pulled the towel off the burner, turning it off while he ran water over it. "Dev, man, open a window." He didn't look up, checking his Guideling over. "Xander, come on man, don't do this to me." He coughed on the thick smoke, picking his friend up and carrying him over to the couch to lay him on it. "Xander," he said softly, brushing over the side of his face. "Come on man, time to rejoin the world." He looked up as Blair walked in, grimacing. "He fell over, a towel burned." The elder Guide nodded, grabbing a bottle of water and going up to his room. "Blair, I can't bring him out," he called.

"And what does that tell you?" the older man yelled down the stairs.

"That I'm not the one!" Oz turned, wanting to hit something. He found himself on the couch in Jim's apartment again, no Devon or smoke in sight. He looked around, seeing the wolf. "I'm sorry," he whispered, "but I'm not his."

"You are," the Wolf told him. "It is destined that way." He disappeared, leaving the Guide to his own thoughts.

Oz closed his eyes, leaning his head back. "Xander, you still living?" he called.

"Why? You actually worried?" The connecting door slammed and locked.

The Guide got up, grabbing his keys on the way out the door. He let Jim's door slam, letting himself into Blair's apartment, seeing the younger man looking down, eyes closed, shoulders slumped in on himself. "The talking thing doesn't work through doors," he said quietly, watching the back tense. "I have to get Blair to make his wolf leave me alone." He walked over, sitting down beside his friend. "Did you think I was leaving?"

"Yup," Xander said, taking a bite of breakfast, not looking at the older man. "That's usually what you slamming a door means." He pulled the paper over, flipping to the want ads. "Sure I can't fix you breakfast? It's the polite thing to do after all."

"No, the polite thing would be for you to actually talk to me, to let me try to work this out so I'm..." He shook his head. "Never mind. You have a right to be angry." He took the fork, throwing it across the room. "But so do I. You broke your word to me."

"So did you," Xander said coldly. "No," he said in imitation of Oz's voice, "I won't leave you, Xander, I'm here to help." He stood up, going for another fork. "I think that actually came before I promised to tell you if I was using. Before you became super-bastard to me over something I can't help and I couldn't control." He sat back down, pulling the paper back over. "Anything else you want to discuss, Oz?"

"Yeah, how about the frigid air in here? I'm trying here, something you're not. I want to work things out but you seem to want to push me away."

"At least then I'll be safe."

"No, you won't," Oz said quietly. "You don't have enough control to be safe anymore." He took the paper, ripping it up. "Now, let's talk." Xander ate, looking at him. "Not going to say anything?"

"Nothing left to say. You're not my friend and I refuse to be treated like some bad kid over something I had no control over happening. Until you get yourself straightened out, we have nothing more to discuss." He took another bite of breakfast then got up, scraping the rest into the trash compactor. He felt the gentle hand on his arm and frowned at his Spirit Guide. "*Now* you show up?"

"Yes," Darrien said gently, "now. As you ruin both of your lives and make sure neither of you is happy or living."

"Happy is overrated," Xander said simply, heading back to his room. "Bye, Oz, have fun at class." He shut the door, locking it.

Darrien blanked out the field that had kept Oz from saying anything, showing him what was going to happen. "This is why you have to work it out."

Oz found himself back on Jim's couch, glaring at the room. "Xander, get your ass in here!" he yelled. He didn't get an answer so walked into Blair's apartment, watching his friend cook. "Gee, not too much time passed," he muttered.

"Spirit Guides can be like that," Xander told him, not looking up. "Wanted to kill another part of me? My self-esteem again maybe or some other less important part?"

"No," Oz said, turning the younger man around to face him. "I don't want to hurt you. I never wanted to hurt you. This was entirely my bad, and I want to fix it." That got a small snort. "Believe it or not, I'm human and I make mistakes. Running out on you was one of the worst I've ever made. Right up there with hurting you because you're not the man I used to hang with."

"Neither are you," Xander said, relaxing a little. "This new guy sucks badly too, Oz, and I don't want him to be my Guide."

"Hey, I don't want him to exist but you gotta give me a clue here, 'kay? I don't always realize when he comes out to play."

"He's never left," Xander told him. "Not since I got here." He pulled his breakfast over to the table, sitting down to eat it. "Oz, I like you, the old you, but I won't be mistreated. What I said, I meant. No more stuff because of anything I'm doing."

"I have the right to protest when you do stuff to hurt yourself," Oz told him, following him out to sit beside him. "Blair's gonna stroke if you eat out of his good omelet pan."

"He's seen it and dealt." Xander ate another bite. "Oz, I'm not going to be nice here, I'm well past that stage of anger. I don't care what your problem is, fix it or leave me alone. I'm not your friend or your Sentinel until you do that." He looked down as he cut another bite to eat. "I'd rather run back to Giles than deal with the snotty, mean you that seems to have taken over your body." He glanced back up, seeing the older man still there. "There was no reason to run out while I was in the hospital. I don't even know if you were *there*, Oz, and that worries me. If I can't trust you to be there when I'm sick, how can I trust you to be there when I start having problems, or even to listen when Darryl and I have a fight or when I just need a friend." He finished off his food, getting up to put the pan in the sink. "I can't go on like that, Oz, and I refuse to let myself be hurt like that again."

"Hey, we're talking," Oz said quietly, getting up to touch the younger man's arm. "Right here and now, we're talking. Working all this out. And yeah, I was there for as long as I could be and I called Giles for updates every time we pulled in for gas." He pulled back at the renewed tenseness in the younger man. "What? Me touching your arm?"

"To some of us, touches mean comfort and you don't usually want to do that for me."

"Not sexually maybe but I want to do the friends comforting thing," the older man said, moving to hug him awkwardly, pulling back quickly. "I'm not perfect, nowhere near it, and I admit to having problems dealing with gay men, but I want to be there for you when you need me."

"When are you leaving again?"



"Three gigs in LA, one in Seattle, one in Las Vegas at a little dance club. Why? Wanna come? Dev won't mind. He even dumped Spike last night." The younger man shook his head. "You sure?"

"Yeah, I don't want to go be a groupie." Xander turned, looking at the older man. "Oz, I can't take what you did to me. When Philip went in to help me with my levers, he said the one marked 'me' was off. As in not on, not off the wheel. You *destroyed* me, man, and I can't take that. Not and live and be healthy."

"Then hit me when I do that," Oz said quietly, stepping back, opening his arms. "Just not in the chest please, I'm a little sore there from an earlier fight."

Xander shook his head. "That won't fix it, Oz, I don't do the violence thing anymore." He blinked, shaking his head. "I got a small smile," he said in awe. "From Jim's Jaguar." Oz looked around so he pointed him out where he sat on top of the fridge. "There, can't you see him?"

"No, but I guess that's the way he wanted it." The older man shrugged. "So, can I do a small test, just to see if you do have some control?"

"Nope," Xander said, looking at the clock. "You have class in under an hour and Blair said to be in it or flunk. Something about a paper..." That got a small groan. "Due next week."

Oz shook his head. "I deserved that." He almost smiled. "Want to come in with me?" He got a small head shake. "No?"

"Nope, it's payday and I have to go pick up my check and buy some better work clothes. All the other guys said I need to match them better." He looked down at himself. "You could help me shop though."

Oz nodded. "If you're willing to wait until tonight." The younger man shook his head. "That's right, you have to work." He frowned at the clock. "Let's go. I have an hour and Blair can piss." Xander shook his head. "What?"

"Nothing, just sounding a little Spike-ish. So, how was having him around?"

"Very strange, Xander. He fawned over Dev. And that's when they weren't necking under the tarps." He followed the younger man out of the apartment, walking behind him. "But Dev broke up with his Sire and now he wants you." He heard the quiet chuckle. "I told him you were taken," he offered.

"Nah, can't date a musician. Tried that for a few weeks, got tired of being ignored."

"When?" Oz asked.

"Oz, man, you don't even know all you missed while you were gone. Your girlfriend got her own woman. Giles almost ended up marrying Buffy. Spike almost married Buffy, because of innocent little Willow I might add. Giles and I had a few sterling nights of intensity due to being trapped." He turned to look at his friend as they got in the van. "We almost got trapped permanently in that other plane too."

Oz sighed, starting the van. "At least you sound like you were happy."

"Not really. Very lonely guy here." Xander leaned back in the seat. "Hmm, Blair's phone is ringing." Oz shut off the van so he could listen but he waved it off. "It's Jim. He's meeting Simon for supper so won't be there until late." He turned to look at his Guide. "Pretty good, huh?"

"Very well done," Oz told him. He pulled out into traffic, sticking an arm out to wave at Blair, who was pulling up as they rounded the corner. "So, work then where?"

"Discount clothing place. And the art store. Need some more pencils."

"Can I see your work?"

"Oz, it's drawings of me and Darryl together. You sure you want to see?" He noticed the van pulling over to the side of the road and tensed up. "What?" he asked softly.

"Xander," Oz said as he turned to face him. "Relax first of all. Just because I'm not like that and I have problems relating doesn't mean I don't enjoy seeing you happy. Darryl does that for you so I'm all for your relationship once he gets back. And just because I'm not gay doesn't mean I can't enjoy your work. It had real feeling in it and it was good." He reached over, tentatively putting a hand on his Guideling's wrist. "Okay?"

Xander nodded. "Okay, but I wish you were more...comfortable is not the word I'm looking for..." He made a face. "But it's close enough I guess. I don't want to have to hide what I feel for someone around you or have you duck out because we're cuddled on a couch together. I like it when you can touch me and you didn't the whole time I was dating him, I think." He smiled sadly. "Really, it's not catching."

Oz tightened his grip on the younger man's wrist. "I know that. And I'm sorry that I'm not comfortable or even encouraging of your relationships right now but I still have to clear some stuff up here. I even flinched away from Devon when he had been touching Spike and we've been friends for a lot longer than you and I have. It's an issue for me and I fully admit it. But I'm willing to work on it so I quit hurting you. Okay?"

"Deal," Xander agreed, squeezing the hand back. "Now let's go. If it's a nice enough check, I'll buy you lunch."

"Xander, you haven't been working that long. It can't be that big."

"Yeah it is. I have a bonus coming for filling in behind the bar one night." He grinned. "I'm very versatile."

"So I noticed," Oz said, turning the van back on and turning on the blinker.


Xander walked out into the living room and Blair spit his water across the table. "Too much?" he asked, turning around to show off his outfit.

"Nice painted clothes job," Jim said, shaking his head. "Thought you were working, not going out to pick up people." Blair hit his arm. "Oww, Chief!"

"The other bouncers wear their clothes that tight too," Blair told him. "People can't get leverage from your clothes when they're that tight." He looked over his roommate again. "I just never expected you to be that...built." He swallowed some more water, looking at Jim. "Where's Oz?"

"Talking with his very strange friend." The older Sentinel frowned. "Who he let sleep in his bed."

"Ah, Devon," Xander said. "Lead singer."

"Irregular heart beat, very slow."

"Very undead," Xander countered. "About room temperature. Probably very sweet to you since you let him stay." He smiled as Oz and Devon walked over, tuning in on the singer's whispered comment.

"Man, you would have to hang with a guy that looks that good," Devon told Oz as he stopped him from walking further into the apartment, "and be straight. I bet you even warned him off me." He watched the younger man sit down so very slowly, almost teasing him. "Man, you got to get me some of that."

Oz slapped his friend's arm. "Stop it. He's not one of the things you pick up." He walked up behind Xander, looking down at him. "You eat yet?" The younger man picked up a piece of fruit, biting into it. "Not a real meal."

"I'll munch nuts all night," Xander said calmly. He smiled at Devon. "Sorry man, taken by a very jealous man." The lead singer sighed, sitting down at the table across from him. "Am I going to have trouble with you?"

"Only if you try to stake me like Oz did when he found out." Devon gave him a sweet look. "I promise to be good if you do."

"I'm always good," Xander purred, standing up. "Blair, I'll be back after closing. Got my keys," he patted their outline in his pocket, "and don't wait up."

"No guests," Jim said, giving him a look. "I know how to reach Darryl too."

Xander laughed as he walked out the door. "I'm a good boy, Jim, I wouldn't do that to him." He closed the door behind himself.

Oz took the seat Xander had vacated. "We had a long talk and we're okay," he told the older pair. Blair nodded, sipping his water again. "Helped him shop for those too."

"Man, he'll not want for dates," Devon said. Everyone glared at him. "What? He's an adult."

"Who's taken," Oz reminded him. "Keep your mind in *your* pants where it belongs."

"Or what?"

"Or I'll pull you outside and whistle for Spike since I know he's hanging around." The singer wisely closed his mouth and his smirk went away. "Thank you." Oz looked at Jim. "So, should I be worried about where he works?"

"Not really. The owner runs a clean place," Blair said. "I checked before I started to go down there. Unless he's doing something on the side, he should be okay."

"And how much do bouncers make?" Oz asked quietly. He got a hard look from Jim. "Hey, it's my job to be concerned."

Jim nodded slowly. "I'll have it checked out with Vice." He stood up, walking over to his apartment, pulling his roommate with him. "Come on, want to talk to you."

"So, I bet you get groupies," Blair asked the singer.

Devon just gave him a slow, sexy smile. "Oh, yeah, but I'm usually real casual about it."


Simon Banks, Jim's former Captain, looked up from his computer, pushing back his glasses. "Do you really want to hear this?" he asked, his normally loud voice soft so no one else would overhear. Jim nodded, so he turned the screen around. "One bust but he was let go."

Jim sat on the edge of the desk. "Hmm, was over a year ago. What about where he's working now?"

"Jim, I don't want to think these thoughts about my son's boyfriend." He grimaced, scratching his tongue after he stuck it out. "Still sounds funny."

"You ought to try the phrase 'my Guide's boyfriend'." He smiled. "No rumors?"

"Not a one, Jim, and we both know Vice is itching to bust down in that section of town since that discrimination lawsuit." He leaned back, looking down at his dark hands. "I don't know what to tell you. How much did he make this time?"

"Enough to set Oz off." He typed in that name, frowning at what came up. "Well, that explains a few things about what he didn't want to remember." He cleared the screen. "Na-uh, Simon, family secrets." He got up, going back to his chair. "So, do you want me to ask him or should I let the king of tact?"

"Let the kid do it. Sandburg and he seem to get along well." Simon looked out his window, smiling at the people walking up. "Speaking of..."

Blair, Xander, and Oz walked in, smiling. "Hey." Blair sat Xander down in a chair, frowning down at him as Oz closed the door. "We have a concern and we're doing this here in case you need some help."

Xander pulled out his paycheck, handing it over. "I worked for it, doing real work and nothing illegal. You, my dear Guide, mutter when you think at night." He shrugged at Oz. "You can ask my boss if you like."

Jim cleared his throat. "Xander, in preparation, we checked both your records." Oz frowned at him. "We need to talk, Oz, apparently you're blocking some stuff."

"Ooh," Xander said. "Bad Oz? Never seen that side of you." He grinned at Jim. "It was a misunderstanding. I was released and they decided I was a good boy after all." He stood up, taking back his latest paycheck. "Any other allegations that I'm doing bad stuff?" He looked at Jim, who shook his head, then at Blair, who shook his head. "Good. Captain, I'll tell your son you said hi when I write him back. I'm going shopping. Blair, keys?" He held out his hand but got a small head shake. "I've been doing good, I deserve the chance to drive again."

"Nope, not yet," Blair said. "I'm not ready for that nightmare yet." He looked at the younger man. "Want to tell me how you got that big a check?"

"Because I work from six to three and sometimes do the bar and other things?" He snorted, looking at Oz. "You've both seen me and I wasn't doing anything then, all my tests have come back clean and we all know I wouldn't be around drugs without using. I'm not selling my ass so we're all done then." He shrugged, waving as he walked out the door. "Later."

"Xander," Jim called, nodding at Oz to go bring him back. He got up to stand in front of the young man when he was brought back in. "Listen, we're sorry to doubt you but it doesn't look good."

"Neither does me working a second job, Jim," Xander said, just a touch of ice in his voice. "But I do that sometimes, about once a week actually. I'm so clean I squeak and you guys still can't trust me. What does that say to you?" He crossed his arms, looking up at the slightly taller man.

"It means we all have a past we'd like to forget," Oz told him, standing behind his Sentinel. "And we are allowed to have doubts about each other. It's part of the worry about your friends thing."

"Oz, you should know better than that about me." He took a deep breath, calming down. "I'm going to go shopping before work. You guys discuss whatever and tell me if I have to move out." He slammed the office door behind himself.

Oz looked at Jim. "Tact might have been nice," he said, following the younger man out. "Hey, wait." He barely made it onto the elevator before the doors closed. "So, what do you really do? I know what bouncers make, even here."

"I bounce, Oz, that's it." Xander went back to his statue routine, staring at the numbers as they counted down. "Get over it," he said as he got off the elevator, walking away from his friend. "I don't deserve to be accused, not by anyone."

Xander caught a bus, watching the buildings go by as he thought. When he finally figured out what was going on, he looked up to see a familiar part of town, his and Oz's old neighborhood. He got off, walking down to the small park, watching the kids play like he used to almost daily when he lived closer. He waited until it started to get full with the lunch time crowd before he left, heading back to catch the next bus and head to where he needed to go.


Xander looked up as he caught scent of Oz in the store with him. He discreetly looked in the mirrors, checking to see who else had come with him, pretending to examine a t-shirt as he did so.

"Needs work," Oz said as he walked up behind him. "You can see your eyes scanning in the mirror." He pulled the shirt from the tense hands, holding it up. "Wrong color for you."

The younger man took it back, hanging it back up. "You wanted to make more accusations?"

"Nope, wanted to do the joint shopping thing. Have to get a few Christmas gifts." He shrugged. "Want to help?"

"Sure, I can do that," Xander said warily. "So, where're the teachers?"

"Blair's back at the school, Jim's talking to people in Vice to see if there's anything funny going on." He saw the small frown. "Lying wouldn't have done me any good." He picked up a shirt, handing it over. "Try that color, it would look good on you." He saw the size and put it back, picking up one in the right size. "Here, sorry, that was too small, even for how you wear them now." Oz leaned on a nearby rack, watching his friend. "No witty comments?"

"Nope, waste of time and effort," Xander said, turning to hold the shirt up to his body. "Nope, too light. Need a darker version." He handed over the three he had already picked out. "What about these?"

"Like you in these colors," Oz said quietly. "Buy me lunch so we can talk in private?" Their eyes met in the mirror. "Truly private, between us only." Xander nodded, grabbing two more shirts and a few more pairs of jeans quickly, heading for the register. He pulled out his coupon, handing it and the clothes over at the same time.

Pretty soon, they were in a small restaurant, not very crowded at that time of day, sitting in the farthest booth from the door. Oz ate his fries quietly, listening to the younger man think out loud.

"Oz, I don't know what you want me to say. I do bounce, but I also guard a special doorway. I check ID's to make sure no kids get in and I keep out the rent people. That's my job."

"Special doorway? Like the one Devon was telling me about?" Xander nodded slowly. "And you do what? Let them up?"

Xander shifted so he wasn't stretched across his side of the booth, turning to look in his friend's eyes. "I make sure that only willing people go up there. I make sure no one gets hurt. I keep the rent boys and girls out of the room. Occasionally I deliver drinks up there. That's all I do. Any more questions?"

"All I know is what Devon told me, I just never connected it with you. He said some young guy guarded this special door up to a party room. No paid help up there, but willing participants and fun. You had to have money to go up and you had to ask the bartender to get a slip. Only couples go up and it was like five hundred a couple." He swallowed hard, shifting some to get more comfortable. "He described it as some sort of continuous party or orgy going on and that this young, tough guy made sure everyone had fun and no one got hurt."

Xander nodded. "Just about. It's three to get a slip and I have refusal rights about who goes up." He shrugged. "I listen to the kids, make sure they're okay. That's what the owner hired me for. I'm supposed to keep the kids out and I'm supposed to keep the rent boys and girls out. That's my job description." He leaned back, getting comfortable. "See, no harm. No money exchanges because I refuse them. No unwilling people because I refuse them. Small groups go up, small groups come down much happier. No bad on my part."

"True," Jim said, sliding in next to Xander. He saw the small jump both men did and smiled slightly. "You need to keep a better perimeter." He stole a fry off Oz. "Oh, grease. Got to get some to take home so I can eat when Blair's not around."

"They make deep fryers," Oz pointed out. "And those same bags of fries that are baked can be fried in a pan."

"True," Xander said. He smiled at Jim. "So, you come to apologize for jumping on me?"

"Yeah, and to tell you to be careful. That's a dangerous place to be. The middle always is." He stole another fry as he waved the waitress over. "Can I have a pastrami on whole wheat and fries? To go?" She nodded, walking away. "Just be careful." He patted the younger man's shoulder, looking at his roommate. "And no more strange people in our houses, please."

"I've known Dev since we were in kindergarten," Oz said quietly. "I knew he wouldn't hurt either of us." Xander shrugged. "Did you have a problem with him?"

"No, he's been pretty absent from my place of employment." He turned to look at Jim. "Do I need to move?"

"If you move out, Blair's going to come live with you," the elder Sentinel said, taking his box and handing over some money. "He sent me to find you two and bring you back to the school. Got an excused absence and everything."

Oz shook his head. "I've got the van, I'll drive you back." He slid out of his seat, eating one last fry. "Jim, box it up if you want it. Xander, your clothes are in the van, want to ride with me or him?"

"I took a cab," Jim said. "You're driving all of us." He finished pouring the younger men's plates into his box and closed it, standing up. "Lunch," he said happily. "Just don't tell Blair."

"Who, us?" Xander and Oz said together.


Blair smiled at the man sitting across the desk from him. "Yes, I know he's an adult, but he's also a very close friend and I'm worried about him. For a *bouncer* he makes incredible money." He pushed back some of his hair, winding a strand around his finger.

"Doctor Sandburg, I assure you, we do nothing illegal here for you to worry about. Even considering who your partner is." He smiled kindly. "The kid does good work. He cleans a little, bartends a little, bounces a lot, and he does a terrific job. I wish all my workers were like him." He spread his hands. "What, in particular, were you worried about? Access to drugs? Alcohol? Loose men and women?"

"No, not really. I was more concerned that he was doing something illegal for the money he made. I don't make that much and most of the people I know don't get beginning paychecks like that." He looked around the room. "Just as long as you're sure he's not doing something wrong."

"Let me assure you again, Mr. Harris is so honest he's a Lincoln clone. The boy gets in early, stays late, walks people to their car without a fuss, makes sure we don't get busted by Vice for kids or pros. I want ten more of him to run the place. I don't trust *myself* that much." He smiled, shaking the outstretched hand. "I hope this eased your fears."

"Yes, it did," Blair said quietly. "You know how kids in a big city for the first time can be."

"Oh, very well. I grew up a few hours from LA and I was the same way when I first got there. I only wish I had someone to look out for me like he does."

Blair nodded, getting up and leaving the office. He slid into the car beside Jim, giving him a questioning look.

The manager called Xander in, waving at his chair. "Well, that was most interesting. How long have you had the extra parents?" He sat on the edge of the desk.

"Few months now. You ought to see Oz. Much worse." Xander smiled up at him. "Am I in trouble because of him?" The manager shook his head. "Good. What's on for tonight?"

"Small private party going on upstairs. They'll have the blue tickets so don't worry." He scratched his stomach. "Did you tell them what you did?"

"I told them I bounce, I bartend, I occasionally serve drinks. I keep out kids and pros. That's my job description and I saw no reason to lie to them." He shrugged. "Is that a problem? Or was it the who part?"

"The who part. I get nervous when the cops come looking for my people." He smiled gently. "I mentioned the cleaning part to them but otherwise you're clear." He waved at the door. "Go make me some nice money." He coughed. "How do you do it anyway?" Xander turned to look at him. "You're the best we've had yet. You know all the kids on sight, you can spot the pros immediately. You seem to see trouble before it happens and you deal with it. There's been no incidences upstairs since you got here and no injuries from fights."

"I pay attention. To everything," Xander said with a small shrug. "Guess I'm just a natural at it." He smiled as he walked out. "I'm going to go yell at them, be right back."

"Fine," the manager yelled after him. "Pays attention huh? Got to tell the others to start doing that."

Xander walked out to Jim's car, glaring at the occupants. "Why did you do this to me?" he asked as he leaned in the window. "You could have gotten me fired." Blair frowned at him. "Oh, don't even. Your meddling could have gotten me fired and then more people would have been hurt." He stood back up. "I'm not weak and helpless," he told them, "and I do tell the truth when asked." He turned, walking back inside. He headed over to the bar, smiling at the woman behind it. "Can I have some water please?" He took the bottle, going to join the other bouncers at their table.


Oz looked up as Xander walked back into the apartments, nodding. "Hey, how was work?"

"Fine, where are the parental ones?"

"On Jim's couch, talking about us." He patted the cushion beside him. "What's up?"

"Blair showed up at my job and started asking questions." Oz winced. "Yeah, I could have gotten fired." He popped his neck then yawned. "I'm tired, is this a talking time?"

"Nope, just wanting to make sure you were okay. We heard there was a nasty fight down that way."

"Was outside," Xander said, leaning his head against the back of the sofa. "I made them take it outside when the argument started, letting the bigger guys break them up while I took over door duties. What started out as two drunken guys arguing over who was going to fuck who turned into a free-for-all with about ten people joining in after they stumbled into the crowd of people waiting to get in. The cops were called and everyone was arrested and I worked for a few more minutes at the door before going back inside." He shrugged. "Just a normal occurrence at a club, I guess."

"Yes, it was," Jim said, coming over. He sat down facing them. "You okay?"

"I always let the bigger guys get between combatants. Not that stupid, Jim." Xander blinked, trying to stay awake. "Anything else? I'm about to nap here."

"No," Blair said gently, "we just wanted to apologize for acting so parental. We realize you can take care of yourself." He smiled at his roommate. "Go to bed, Xander, we'll see you in the morning."

"Tomorrow night. You have early classes and I don't work." He stood up, heading for his room. "I know it means that you care guys, but I'm grown, I can do it on my own sometimes now."

Oz snickered. "Remember that feeling very well." He looked up at Blair. "You really okay with him working there?"

"Yup. He's protecting the tribe as much as Jim does," Blair said, sitting beside the younger Guide. "Just in a different way. How about you?"

"I'm fine with it. He makes good money, he knows what's going on. I'm actually proud of him for doing all this stuff." He put down his magazine. "So, what were you guys talking about then?"

"Just planning some future steps," Blair told him. "The way we'd normally train him to start getting more detail-oriented would be to take him out into the woods and make him start separating smells and sounds."

"But," Jim continued, "since you guys equate camping with torture, we have to find a different way." He yawned, stretching. "I'm with the kid, it's well past my bedtime too." He stood up, picking up the cat as he passed her perch on a bookcase. "Come on, furball, I'll do your brushing."

Blair waited until they were alone and the door was closed to look at Oz again. "Your choice here, Oz. Do you want him to work there or not?"

"I'm fine with it. He's doing good, protecting some people from the bad guys." He shrugged. "I'm not having a fit about this. Why are you?"

"Because, there was a Vice officer in there tonight. Xander had to go save someone in the party room, a waiter who didn't want someone to get so friendly."

"Then he was protecting, Blair, still not a bad."

"He could have gotten fired."

"He could have gotten shot," Xander said from behind them. "Do you know how thin these walls are?" Oz laughed. He leaned against the back of the couch, looking down at them. "The waiter went up to deliver drinks. He kept saying 'no, don't touch me, please'. I went up to investigate, pulled him out and tossed the guys out."

"They started the fight?" Oz asked. He got a silent nod. "And the waiter?"

"Got on the bus and went home. I defended myself for breaking up the party and went back to my post. Oh, and I almost stopped Devon from going up there but he assured me he was only having fun."

"Yeah, he's not for rent. Easy but not for sale." Oz looked up at his friend. "Go to bed, you need it." He waited until they were alone again. "We're not naive, Blair. We've both traveled, fought, and survived. We're not like the other pairings you've trained." He stood up. "I'm going to go to bed too. Night."

"That's what I'm counting on," Blair said as he walked up to his room.