Giles looked up as Oz simply walked into his apartment and pointed him toward the bedroom. He caught his arm as he passed. "He's hurting very badly. He and I talked about it but only he can work it out in his own mind."
The younger man nodded, heading back to the bedroom and the mentally injured young man. He crawled in beside the lump of covered body, patting the dark hair showing, pulling Rupert bear out of his backpack. "Forgot this," he said quietly, sliding it under the covers.
"Don't deserve it," Xander said, looking up at his friend. "Why did you come for me?"
"Because Cascade is really boring without you." He brushed over some of the dark, dirty hair. "Want to talk?"
"Not really. I did a bad thing." The younger man closed his eyes. "I'll come home soon."
"You're going to lose your job. He only gave you a few days."
"I can't do that anymore." He looked up into the deep green eyes, his own showing the panic he was about to start down into again. "What if it comes back? Or if I hurt someone worse this time, outright kill them?" He flinched away from the gentle hands. "I can't go back there, Oz, I might hurt someone." He closed his eyes. "Go home. I'll be back in a few days or so."
"No, if I leave then I'll have to chase you all over the country." He leaned down, pecking a greasy temple. "You need to bathe, my Sentinel. Why don't you do that? I'll change the sheets and you can come back and lay down again?" Xander shook his head. "I'm sure both Ruperts would like it if you took a shower."
Xander handed back his bear. "I don't deserve him anymore. He needs to go to someone who doesn't hurt people." He flipped over, crawling out of the bed and heading for the shower.
Giles walked into his room, frowning at the pile of sheets. "You didn't have to do that but thank you." He stopped the younger man, turning him to face him. "What happened?"
Oz sat on the unmade side of the bed, looking up. "He beat a guy taking us hostage pretty badly then, at work, he broke up a fight and spazzed on random memory association." He looked at his Guideling as he walked back in, naked but not dripping. "Give me a sec to finish putting on the sheets." He got up, spreading the sheet out and tucking in the corners. He stepped back, covering the younger man with the top sheet and the comfortable afghans that Giles had put on the bed. He led the older man out of the bedroom, leaving the door open enough to hear the younger man if he started having nightmares or needed him. "Giles, he's associating here. Blood with anger. He lost it, totally blacked out, when he protected Blair and I. Then he had to stop a fight to keep one of the other bouncers from being stabbed with a bottle. The guy started to bleed and he started looking at his arm." The older man nodded, sitting down at the table. "I don't know how to cure it right now but I need to get him home."
"Well," Giles said with a small smile. "I'm headed up that way soon enough. I've managed to get a job in Blair's department, without his suggestion I might add." His smile got a little bigger. "It's a mostly research-based class load so I won't have people like Buffy in there." He rolled his eyes. "You'd think that Fairy Tales wouldn't be too much for her but I proved myself wrong on that." He looked toward the bedroom. "If you can help me pack, I believe we can move me up there sooner and get him home well before you have to leave for your holiday tour dates."
"Got almost a month," Oz told him. "Most of them are between Christmas and New Years. The other college bands go home for the holidays so there are always openings, so Dev and the guys volunteer us for them since we don't really do family holidays." He shook his head. "Not the point. Yeah, I can do that. Do you have a place?"
"Yes, I went through a real estate agent and found a charming condominium. Three small floors, three bedrooms on two of them, study to go in one of course, and a rather large kitchen. At a decent price I could afford no less." He patted the younger man's hand. "I'm having the movers come in to gather my things in a week. We just need to have everything boxed up by then."
"I can help," Xander said quietly from the doorway. "I'm not that hurt." He walked over to hug Giles, looking at Oz. "I'm not ready to go back yet."
"Shh," Oz said, getting up to give him a small hug. "I know you're not and no ones' going to force you to go back to work. Just home to Blair and Jim." The younger man nodded, closing his eyes. "Come on, you can't sleep like that. You'll get bad muscle cramps which your senses will make worse." He led him back to the bed, tucking him in and handing him his bear. "Here, you need Rupert bear to hold right now. Tell him what's wrong. He won't even tell me." He managed a small smile, getting an answering one from Xander. "Thanks. Now, sleepy time." He walked out of the room, leaving the door open, going back to the table. "It took us almost three days to pack you up last time and this time it should be easier." He looked around at all the things that were still packed. "Only half the stuff to wrap."
Giles smiled as he walked out, handing over a bottle of juice. "Yes, I didn't really need some of that stuff recently so I left it packed." He pushed over the old inventory list. "I'm still missing a box, I believe."
"It's in Buffy's basement," Xander called from the bedroom.
"Sleep now, Xander," Giles called, shaking his head. "Most distressing, how badly this has gotten to him."
Oz looked at Giles' new place in disgust. "I think we've seen this apartment, huh, Xan?" he asked, steadying him with an arm around his waist.
"Nope, no rats," he said, attempting a small smile, something he hadn't been able to call up in the week he's been at Giles. "Needs cleaned about as bad though." Giles frowned at him. "Want some help? I'm sure I lost my last job by now so I can easily come help you clean."
The former Watcher patted his shoulder gently. "I'm sure that's not true. Oz told me your boss said many great things about you."
"Yes, but he worships the dollar." One of the moving guys started to laugh at that. "Hey, guys, do you do windows too?" he asked, looking up at the floor to ceiling windows with stained glass tops that ran along the side of the stairs.
Giles patted his shoulder. "I'm sure we'll be fine. All it needs is a quick coat of paint and a good sweeping and everything will soon be put to right." He picked up the phone, smiling at the dial tone. "Ah, they did hook it up already. Would you like to call Blair or Jim? I'm sure they must be frantic by now."
"Nah," Xander said. "I heard on the news where there's a new serial killer here so they're probably so busy they're thankful for us being gone."
"Yes, but Dev's probably still there."
"Hey," Xander said, snapping his fingers. "He could clean. Get a real job." He screeched, moving away from the tickling fingers of both older men. "Help," he called out to the movers. "They're going to *hurt* me."
"Shh," Giles said with a smile, pulling him close enough to hug. "No one here would hurt you under any circumstances. Certainly not I." Xander looked up at him, blinking his big, wet eyes. "I thought you would have realized that by now," he said quietly.
"I do," Xander whispered, clinging to him, "but that doesn't mean it's always true. You have a life and I'm supposed to." He pulled back, turning away to wipe his eyes. "Sorry, it's been a hard day."
Oz nodded, pulling him closer. "Your stuff's out in Blair's car. I'll take you home and sleep on the floor next to you again. How's that?" His charge nodded so they waved at Giles, giving him a new copy of the phone numbers, and went home.
Jim stopped suddenly, looking around his apartment for the sound of the heartbeats. Blair ran into his back so he steadied him, pulling him over to his own place, quieting him with a hand to his mouth. "They're back," he whispered.
Blair looked into their room, grinning at the sight of Oz sleeping on the animal skin on the floor and Xander perched on the edge of the bed, reaching a hand down to touch his Guide's back for comfort. He patted Jim's shoulder, pulling him back over to his apartment, leaving the door open. "Yes," he said quietly. "A new professor and they come home all in the same week." He hugged his Sentinel, then backed up at the small frown. "What?" he asked quietly.
"I thought you were kidding about the teddy bear," Jim said with a scowl. "What sort of person makes an anatomically correct teddy bear?"
"A friend of mine in the Sexual Counseling field. She uses it as a counseling aide for abused kids." He patted himself on the back. "Works too." He checked in Oz's room, frowning at the still body on the bed. "They weren't kidding. He looks dead."
Jim snorted. "Tell me about it. But he cleans all right so I think we can let him have the bed during the daytime, for now." He waved. "I'm going to hit the bed, you do the same. I'll get you up soon."
"Night," Blair sang, going back to his own bed, closing and locking his new door.
Oz snorted, waking up. He looked down at himself, frowning at his naked body, then at the arm around him. He could feel a small, furry lump against his back and groaned. He had to get out of there before Xander figured out what he had done. He eased out from under the gripping arm, sliding up to his knees, and grabbing a sheet, ran to his own room. Devon woke up, looking at him, smirking. "It's not what you think," he explained. "He's been doing this in his sleep recently." He pulled on a pair of bike shorts and a t-shirt, sitting on the edge of his bed. "I can't figure that out."
"Maybe he just needs to touch you," Devon suggested. "I've seen Jim do it to Blair thousands of times every day and he's straight as a board from Home Depot." He sat up, looking at his friend. "Just don't tell him you're freaked, Oz, you'll hurt him more."
"He can figure that out for himself," Xander said from the doorway, blushing. "I'm sorry, Oz. I don't know why I do that." He turned, walking out of Jim's apartment. He looked up at Blair's door, frowning and scratching his head, then headed for the fridge. Oz walked up behind him, rubbing over his bare back. "Don't unless you mean it," he said quietly.
"No, I want to see if Dev's right. Is this comforting?"
"Any touch is comforting," Jim said with a yawn. He noticed their different clothing and shook his head. "I did the same thing to Blair, but only down to his bare chest. I needed the comfort of his body closer, during hard times especially." He pulled Oz a little away, talking only to him. "It's not a sexual thing, it's a comfort thing. Your friend was right about that. It's only a sexual thing if you make it that way." He rubbed through the soft hair, walking over to hug Xander tightly. "See, men, as Blair told me many times until I figured it out for myself, need comfort just as much as a four year old does and we need it even more. We need physical contact to center ourselves and to make our world solidify." He kissed the top of the younger man's head. "I'll give you hugs whenever you need," he promised.
Xander looked up, blinking at him. "Thanks Jim. Maybe that'll stop my nighttime cuddle sessions."
Oz took off his shirt, moving into hugging range carefully, tensed to draw back at the first sign of rejection from his friend. He hugged him tentatively, gasping as he was clung too. "I can deal with this part if you can ask," he whispered. That got a small nod.
"Dev, not a word," Xander said, catching sight of him standing in the doorway watching them. "It's a comfort thing." He gave him one last squeeze then slowly let go. "Thank you," he said quietly, going back to his drinking from the milk carton.
"Hey," Blair said, walking into the kitchen and taking the carton, drinking some himself while he gave the younger Sentinel a hard squeeze with his free arm. "Welcome home. Want to talk while I make finals?" Oz and Jim groaned. "You two are so far behind I should kick you out," he said over his shoulder. "Go get dressed. Jim, we're going to be late, Oz, I want your scrawny butt in your chair today or you will flunk every class you have with me until you graduate." They both left, heading back to their rooms. "You okay?" he asked quietly, handing back the milk carton, brushing through his hair. "I told Jim it was a miracle when we found you. A new teacher to take some of the load off and you're back too." He smiled, pulling the younger man's head down to kiss his cheek. "Go get dressed. We don't need you sick. A Sentinel with a cold is one that falls off trains."
"I heard that," floated over from the other apartment.
"Gee, what a shock," Xander joked, putting down the milk to hug him tightly to his chest. "I'm sorry I made you get a door, Blair. I guess it was a comfort thing." He pulled back. "You're a good Guide, to both Jim and me." He smiled at Oz, a real one, as he walked back over, tucking in his t-shirt. "Should we tell him?"
"Sure," Oz said, waving a hand as he did up his belt.
"We know who your new teacher is," Xander said happily. "And so do you."
"Giles?" he said, smiling. The boys both nodded. "Wow. Okay, I can live with him leading my classes. His credentials and everything were in order so we're fine." He shrugged, picking up the milk and taking one last swig before handing it back. "Finish it. Jim and Oz have this thing about drinking from the carton," he said with a small smile, heading up to his room to dress.
Oz nodded. "Please. That is almost the grossest thing in the world to some of us." He leaned closer. "At least I know where your mouth's been this time." Xander choked. "Gotcha," he said, walking away.
"Oz!" Xander stopped him. "Did it freak you?"
"Until I found out why, yeah, but I'm okay as long as it's non-sexual and stays that way." Xander sighed in relief, hugging him again. "Go finish the milk while I gather up my lost paper."
Oz frowned at Giles. "Pink?"
"Rose actually. It's a warming color and it would go nicely with the windows." He put the paint sample on the wall, looking at it. "What do you think?"
Xander looked at the paint samples then up at the light, smiling. "Go for a nice green," he said, pulling one out of the swatch book and checking it then putting it back for a lighter shade, putting it up beside the rose. "The picture has lots of little touches of green that you could bring out. And if you go with this one," he pulled out his original one, putting it on the wall with a piece of tape, "it'd make the room feel cozy."
"Decorating?" Blair asked, walking in with a huge basket. "Here, compliments of the department. It's called the lunch package." He smiled at his charges then looked at the swatches, then up at the window. "The darker green. It works better and you can make the ceiling a few shades darker to make it look less like the sky." He looked up at the leaves on it. "Or we could do a tree thing," he noted.
Jim looked up, then shook his head. "No, a tree thing would be too dark. But you could do one wall as a tree, the one against the main group of leaves, making it look like it was spread out up there." He looked at the paint samples then took the book, pulling to a few more. "Here, this green for the trunk, it looks rainforest-y and this green," he put one up in place of the darker one Xander had picked out, "for the rest of the walls. Matches really well and dark enough to be warming but cool enough to be formal if you want it."
Oz's mouth fell open around the time Jim started talking about doing trees. Blair noticed and smiled at him. "When you're shot, you spend a lot of time watching daytime tv," he explained. "It's either the evil, addicting influence of soaps, talk shows that make you want to give up faith in humanity, or decorating shows for the most part." He shrugged. "Jim and I have spent a lot of our time injured over the years."
"Or suspended," Jim reminded him.
"And I know because I did a lot of night work so had to watch daytime tv too. It's amazing what stuck up women that want to rule the world can teach you."
"You watch *Martha*?" Blair asked in derision, picking up a pillow hit him over the head. "How could you watch that evil woman, she who creates a false myth forcing other women to feel inadequate because they do something besides garden and bake?" He hit him again. "You will *not* watch her on my tv, young man."
"But, Blair, she's addicting. It's a sickness." He pouted. "Help me, Blair, I'm already hooked on decorating shows and cooking shows. But only you can save me from her." He got down on his knees, begging his roommate. "Please, Blair, save me before I start saving potato peelings to make *garnishes*."
Oz took the pillow, hitting him a few times. "No, I refuse to let you sink down to that level." Xander hugged his stomach, babbling his thanks. "Now, be a good boy and I'll buy you a decorating magazine on the way to work."
"I'm not going," Xander said, looking up. "I can't go back to hurting people."
"Hey," Oz said, getting down on his level. "Don't think of it that way. You're protecting people from getting hurt by bad people. Same as Jim does only at a different location. You get to hear music at the same time and make people pant." That brought out a small smile. "Just try it tonight, Xander, and we'll see, okay?" The younger man nodded, getting up.
Oz looked up as one of the bouncers walked over to his table in the corner, nodding at him. When the man sat down he raised an eyebrow. "Problem?"
"Just wondering why you were staring at the kid."
"We're friends. I'm here to make sure he can handle tonight." He nodded at Xander as he walked up, pushing out the other chair with his foot. "Break?"
"For about five minutes unless there's a fight." He smiled at the other bouncer. "Oz is my best friend and he's here to make sure I can deal on my own." He touched the now healed spot on his arm, making a small sour face. "After what I went through last week, we both thought it was a good idea."
The other bouncer nodded, pushing his long, silver ponytail over his shoulder again. "Okay, just making sure he wasn't a stalker or something." He punched Xander on the arm. "You're doing great tonight, kid, don't stress it." He got up, walking away into the crowd of dancers.
"Its good that he cares," Oz said quietly, touching his friend's wrist for comfort. "You okay so far?"
"Yeah, I kept myself in check when that guy needed to be pacified. And I had a talk with the other guys before we opened, they agreed to let me not break up the actual fights, to put people out but not to step in between them." He looked around then down at his watch. "Got to go back. You okay?"
"Yup," Oz said, sipping his coke. "I'll stay until closing then drive you home."
Xander nodded, getting up and going back to his post in front of the special staircase.
Xander looked up as his manager walked up to him, nodding. "Not too many people up there tonight."
"I'm sure it'll pick up. How you doing?"
"Good as long as I don't have to get between people already fighting." The older man nodded slowly. "I can do the work, just not that one function. I'm not ready to get in the middle."
"Hey, I'm not complaining," he said with a small smile. "You alone draw more people to our door than all the other guys together." He smiled at the gross face the younger man made. "So, who's your friend? I know I've seen him here before."
"Oz plays in Dingoes, that's where you've seen him. He's here because I wanted the extra safety-net tonight." He shrugged, looking at the ticket the young couple handed him, turning his senses on them. He frowned at the young man, pulling him aside after smelling many people's scent and seed on him. "You working or playing?" he asked. The man blanched. "Don't even try, no working upstairs, I told you that before."
"Playing man, relax," the prostitute said quietly. "She don't even know."
Xander removed the rope, watching them walk up as he rehitched it. He turned to see his boss looking at him. "Seen him before," he explained. "Worried about him working."
The manager nodded. "Okay. Whatever. Don't know how you figured it out. He looked clean to me."
"He is tonight. He's playing." He grinned, looking at the floor. "Just a trick of memorization and body language." His manager patted him on the shoulder. "Thanks, man."
"Hey, for you, almost anything." He walked away, stopping at the bar to talk to one of the guys quietly, then headed for the door marked 'office'.
The bartender walked over, handing Xander a bottle of water. "Here, he said you were thirsty." He smiled, tipping his head to the side to let his dreads rearrange themselves. "He wanted to know how you did it."
"I watch people. Their body language, their mannerisms. And I memorize frequent people." He shrugged, handing back the bottle of water, undoing the rope and running up the stairs. He broke into the special room as one of the men in there ripped the shirt off a young girl he hadn't let up. He pulled the offending person off her, dragging him down the stairs and out of the club by force, pushing him outside. "*Never* come back." He nodded at the door bouncer. "Caught him hurting some girl upstairs. I'm going back up to help her."
He walked back inside, nodding at the bouncer that had taken his place, heading up to check on the girl. She and her 'friend', apparently, were crying together in front of one of the couches. He knelt beside the girl he had saved, touching her shoulder to get her attention. "Do you want to make a report?" She shook her head. "Okay, I'm taking you down the office. Take your friend's jacket and we'll call someone to come pick you two up." He stood up, helping them stand, and walked them downstairs, knocking politely at the office door before entering. "Hey, someone let in some underage kids and one just almost got hurt. I want to call them a ride." The manager waved at the phone so he brought the girls in, sitting them on the couch. "Parents or other person?" he asked quietly.
"My folks," the friend said, handing over a card. "That's my dad."
Xander nodded, walking over to the phone. He dialed quickly. "Hi, this is one of the bouncers down at the Flame. We need you to come down and pick up your daughter and a friend of hers." He shook his head. "No, not to her, sir." He hung up, handing the card back. "Okay, he said ten minutes." He looked at the one girl. "You sure you don't to call the cops? I know a few and they're very decent people." She shook her head, clutching her friend's hand so tight it was white. "Okay." He looked at his manager. "They okay in here?" He got a nod so left them alone, heading back to the front door. "Go take my spot," he told the guy, "want to talk to their father." He looked at the crowd. "If you're young enough for me to have to look at your ID's, have them out," he told the crowd.
The other bouncer laughed as he went inside, shaking his head. "Only you, man," he called as the door closed.
Blair looked up as Xander walked into the bullpen, smiling at the bag he held. "For us?"
"No, for you. I refuse to bring food for Jim until he apologizes about my cooking." He sat on the edge of the desk, pushing over a paper he had written something on.
Blair read it then looked up at him. "She okay?"
"Yeah, but her friend was the Commissioner's top Aide. She refused to make a report so I'm guessing her dad works here somewhere. I wanted to make sure she was really okay."
Blair leaned back. "Take this to Simon and describe the girl. He's up to date on local politics."
Xander took the paper, knocking then walking into the office. "Hey, got a sec?"
"Sure," Simon said, shutting off his monitor. "What's up? Get another letter from my son?" He nodded at the paper, which was handed to him. "Okay, no report?" he asked after reading it.
"No, but her friend's dad was the Commissioner's top Aide. And she looked really scared when I said the word report or police." He sat down in a chair, relaxing. "I don't know why I'm checking up on this but it feels like I need to."
Simon nodded, leaning back. "I think I know who she is. Red hair? Little thing?" The kid shook his head. "No?"
"No, brunette, sixteen, five-five or so. The most *stunning* green eyes." He smiled, shrugging at the small grin the older man gave him. "I like eyes. They're fascinating to me. I draw a lot of them."
Simon nodded, pulling a picture out of his desk and tossing it over. "She in there?"
Xander looked at Darryl's sixth grade class picture, by the sign in front of them, studying each face. He finally nodded, handing it back and pointing her out. "She hasn't changed that much."
"Not really," he said quietly. "I'll talk with her. You did the right thing," he said, looking up at the boy. "Anything else happen?"
"No, I got through the night all right. Oz drove me and picked me up. Blair waited up. I'm fine," he said with a small grin. "Really." He stood up, walking back out to look down at what Jim was writing. "If you had been nicer, I might have brought you lunch too."
Jim looked up, giving his best pitiful look, much more comfortable with playacting with the younger Sentinel now. "I'll like you forever and ever if you get Blair to share," he said pitifully. "He's being mean."
"But, Jim, *I* made that and you said I couldn't cook."
Blair laughed, handing over the extra container that the younger man had packed for them. "Don't pick on him, Xander, he's almost not-human when he's hungry."
The younger man waved, walking out of the bullpen and to the elevator. He walked out to join Oz at the van, sliding in. "Okay, Simon will handle it." The older man nodded, putting away his book. "You gonna do okay this semester? With my probs and all I noticed that you took off a lot of time."
"I'll pass," Oz said, starting the van. "That's the important thing." He pulled out onto the street, heading for the college. "So, who was she?"
"I'm pretty sure her dad's a cop. Simon knew her so he's dealing with it." He rolled his shoulder then popped his neck. "I could use a nap," he said. "Or a really long, hot shower."
"Dev's probably used up all the hot water," Oz said quietly. "You were really good last night. You saved her and you reacted so quickly I thought you had jumped the rope." Xander beamed next to him. "I did, you ran right up there."
Xander nodded slowly, looking around at the neighborhood they were in. "I thought I did too, afterwards." He stretched up, hearing his shoulder pop. "Ahhh, much better."
"Sorry, hurt it few years back." He turned to look at his friend. "So, what's the agenda for tonight?"
"Nothing. You don't have work and I don't have class so we could go have fun. See a movie or something. My treat." Oz stopped at a light, turning on his blinker. "Now?"
"Sure," Xander said. He pointed in the other direction. "That way."
"Nicer seats this way," the older man told him. "Little better sound system too." He tapped his fingers in time to quiet music flowing out of the radio. "We still have to plan for my next change. Need to put in bolts or something. I woke up and had the fire escape window almost open enough to get out last time."
"Hey, Jim's almost a handyman," Xander said with a small smile. "He can put them anywhere." He frowned at the mirror as they turned, watching the car following them. "Um, Oz, do you know that person behind us?" The older man checked and shook his head, speeding up just a little.
They headed for the mall, pulling into the valet parking lane, Xander pulling out some money to hand over. "Just watch her," he said, sliding out. "She's a really big baby." He led Oz inside, looking out the tinted doors as the other car slowly passed by the entrance.
"Could have been heading here," Oz reminded him.
"Could. Lots of paramilitary people in this part of the world. Just ask Jim." Oz pulled his friend toward the theater, paying for two tickets to the latest big action picture and ushering him inside. "Relax," he whispered. "They're not here for you."
"They could be."
"You're worried for nothing."
Just then the fire alarm went off. Xander stood up, discreetly hanging onto his friend's belt loop as they calmly walked out. And his guess was proved right when he saw a familiar face in the crowd. He pulled Oz toward the other exits, getting him out into the regular mall and into a small specialty shop that they both liked. "Riley," he whispered.
"Who?" Oz asked, looking around. "Tell me you're kidding."
"Do I look like it," he said, grimacing at the sales clerk. "Do you have a back door?" She nodded, pointing it out for them. "Thanks, problem ex's." They hurried out the back door, getting into a cab and pulling away, heading back to the safety of the station.
Jim met them at the front desk, frowning at the signals he was getting off the younger Sentinel. "What's wrong?" he asked in the elevator.
"He thinks he saw an Initiative person," Oz explained. "I didn't but there was a fire alarm at the movies we were at."
"Oz, I'm telling you, he was there. He headed toward us while we were walking out." He looked at Jim. "I know this guy, had to sit and watch him be pissed with Buffy for almost a year." He stopped as the door opened, turning back to face front. He waited until they were in the bullpen to start again. "I know what I saw."
"What's up?" Blair said, walking out of Simon's office. "You two look bad."
"Thought he saw a bad guy," Oz explained.
"Like the ones that chased us?" Blair looked over his shoulder at Simon. "What happened to those three?"
"They claimed classified material and were sprung by some of their friends." He patted the young Sentinel's shoulder. "You'll be okay. There's no way in Hell they can just take you."
"Not unless someone doesn't notice," Oz corrected. He looked around the room. "Now what?"
"Now, you guys go home and turn on the security system," Jim said. He patted the young Guide's shoulder. "They can't have you, not without us coming for you," he reminded him. Oz nodded, helping his friend up. "Do you two need a ride?"
Oz sighed. "Yes," he said, handing over the claim ticket for the van. "He put us into valet so we wouldn't end up in the garage." He walked Xander out, following Blair down to the car. "Thanks man. I don't know what to think here."
"I think he's either seen him or thinks he did," Blair said. He patted the side of the young man's face. "What sort of car was following you two?"
"Dark sedan," Oz said.
"Fed car," Xander said at the same time. He pointed at the one that just fell in line behind them. "Just like that one."
Blair frowned, turning in the thankfully deserted street, blocking the other car. He got out, holding up his badge, doing his best Jim impersonation. "Out of the car," he shouted, pulling his gun. The two young men, in dark suits, got out of the car, resting their hands against the hood. He walked slowly over to them, then looked at the things they had flipped open on the hood. "I want to know why the FBI's following me, now." He put up his gun. "And them."
"One of them was part of a secret organization that has since been shut down and the members rounded up," the agent that had been driving said. "We need to talk to him."
Xander walked over, glaring in his best Jim impersonation. "I wasn't a willing part of them. I was one of the people they drugged. What the Hell do you want?" He tapped his foot, hands on his hips. "You got about three seconds before I do something *really* stupid."
"We know," the other agent said soothingly. "We just need to talk to you. One of their people agreed to point out you guys to us." He smiled, just a hint of one under his sunglasses. "We only want to take a statement of what they did."
Blair cleared his throat. "Then get one of the others to talk. You're not finding it out from him."
"Doctor Sandburg," the first agent said softly. "We know. Everything." Blair blanched but his eyes blazed with anger. "And we only want to know about what he went through. We're putting his information into the same classification that your work is in." He turned around, leaning against the car now. "We only want to help him and the others. We don't want more like them. They're not useful to us because they can't work alone and there's a sense of instability about them all. You, and he, are perfectly safe." He smiled his most charming smile, looking very much like a lawyer.
Blair pulled Xander back to the car. "Next time, come to my office. Following us is the best way to get shot." He slammed the doors, driving away, dialing the station. "Jim," he said, a little too calmly. "Feds know. We just stopped them."
Oz leaned forward, touching his friend's shoulder. "You don't have to help them," he whispered. "Not if you don't want to."
"WHAT!" Jim shouted over the speaker. "What did they want Xander to do?"
"They wanted information," Xander said calmly. "The Initiative has been destructed and they don't want me to join, just to stop any more like me from being made." When the car stopped, he got out, waving. "Later. Going for a walk," he called.
Oz watched him go then looked at Blair, seeing his expectant look. "He wants to be alone. I'm going to honor his wishes."
Blair sighed, pulling back into traffic. "Jim, Xander's out for a walk and we're going home. We'll sit down tonight and figure it all out." He hung up. "He shouldn't be alone."
"Blair, you heard them, they don't want him."
The elder Guide snorted. "Yeah, and all lawyers and Feds are honest too." He pulled up in front of the loft, turning off the car. "Oz, listen, I know that when Jim was outed, all our work was looked at under a microscope. I suddenly started to get job offers from Harvard and top level behavioral and genetic think-tanks. And they didn't stop when I negated myself. As a matter of fact, Military Intelligence showed up on our doorstep the next morning, just before Jim got suspended for in-depth case reviews. And they were all real nice about it, but there's a real hunger for people who can do what he and Jim do, no matter how many personal or mental problems they have. This is all behind the scenes action here." He got out of the car, making sure it was locked. "This is something you're not supposed to know, but that pairing that was in the wreck, I saw them a week later. After the funeral. And I was alone. They waved and nodded and when I started toward them, they disappeared into the crowd." Oz's breath caught. "Yeah, so that was all a big lie."
Oz shook his head, pointing at the wall. Which had a nice little note in blood on it.
The Initiative is not done with you.
Blair shuddered. "Would they bother to leave prints?"
"These guys are secret military." Oz looked toward the door, opening it suddenly, almost making Giles and Xander fall into the apartment. "Back so soon?" he asked, steering him toward the other apartment, down the hall instead of through the connecting doors.
"What's wrong?" Xander asked, frowning. He sniffed, his face wrinkling in disgust. "Who's bleeding?" He turned around in the hall, trying to do what Blair had taught him, trying to find a direction. He started back toward the apartment, fighting with Oz to get back there. "No, they got Blair!"
"No," Oz told him quietly. "They painted on the wall." He looked at Giles, making him go back. "It was them, Xander, the Initiative. They're jonesing for you still." He walked him into Jim's apartment, sitting him on the couch. "Just stay there and stay away from the windows. We're going to figure out a strategy to deal with them."
"Play them," Xander said quietly. He looked up. "That's the only way. Play them both."
"It might work," Blair said as he walked in. "But that's a very dangerous game, my friend." He sat down next to the young Sentinel. "I want you to stay calm about this. They're not taking you. Not by a long shot." That got a small nod. "They're not, Xander, no matter what. I won't let them and neither will Jim."
Jim stormed through his door, slamming it behind him. "They had me suspended," he explained, glaring at the connecting doors. "In there?" Blair nodded.
"Why?" Oz asked quietly.
"Personal involvement," Xander whispered. "He's ranting about it now." He stood up. "Blair, I love you like a brother, but I'm going to handle this. They don't have anything to hold over you and Jim." He walked into the other apartment, swallowing hard at the message. "This is my fight Jim, and I'm dealing. Protect your Guide," he said quietly, heading for his room and slamming the door.
Xander looked up as the agents sat down across from him at the picnic table. "Why do I think that you knew about them painting on our walls?" he asked, going back to his drawing.
"Because we did," the agent said quietly, taking the pencil from his hand and putting it down. "Now, focus on us please," he said. Xander glared at him, picking back up his pencil. "Ooh, a hard one."
"One you'll never get to work for you either," he said. He tapped his pencil a few times. "Let me make this clear, gentlemen, if you come after me, my Guide, or any of the other pairings in an aggressive way, then I will out the whole lot. Everything. I know people who can verify, personally, what the Initiative did for a living. Like they can point to their head and show the chip sort of personally." The agent that had been talking blanched, swallowing. "And I know people who can out Buffy Summers. As in looking at her and showing what she can do as they dust so you can have the chip." He smiled slightly. "And I'm sure Ms. Rosenberg and I can both come out and tell *all* about how we helped her in high school. And I'm also sure you don't want that to happen, so I'll make you a deal." He paused, bending back down to his drawing. "I won't come looking for you and you'll leave all of us alone. Most of us probably don't want to work with you or for you." He glanced up, seeing their hard, cold expressions. "What?" he asked snidely. "You have a problem with that?"
"Most of them died, Mr. Harris," the first officer said quietly. "They never came out of the zoned state and eventually their bodies stopped working." He cleared his throat. "We managed to save a few of them but they're not alright either. We want to know how you managed to stay normal and healthy."
Xander pulled up his sleeves, showing off his needle marks. "I have another set on my scalp. When they started to manifest, as hearing mostly, I started to use. Then Giles found me and put me back in with them because he thought that was the only option. They gave me more of the serum, and more of it. Until now, I have four senses." The agents gasped. "Then he managed to get them away from me and get me a Guide." They both nodded. "*They* are the key to control. No matter what else happens. And each person needs someone for a different reason." He rolled back down his sleeves, clasping his hands on the table. "I have nothing you need and no desire to do more than help those people. I want you to leave me and mine alone."
The agent who had been talking nodded, holding out his hand. "Deal. We'll send the results we have so far to Doctor Sandburg for his examination and response, and we'll leave you alone. We really don't want you unwillingly." They stood up. "Oh, and you might tell him, they came to us, not the other way around." Xander looked confused. "Sorry, thought you had been in the car."
Blair walked up. "That's good to know," he said quietly. "But I don't trust your word." The agents shrugged, in unison, and walked away so he took their place. "You okay?" he asked, looking at the hand that had touched one of them. "No trace poisons?"
Xander shook his head. "Nope, none." He smelled his palm then made a face. "Got any of that hand sanitizer though? I'm guessing that isn't a practicing member of the chronic hand washers club."
Blair laughed, handing over the small bottle while he looked at the drawing the young man was doing. "Cute," he said, pointing at the figures in the background. "And subtle enough to make you wonder if it's male or female too."
Xander grinned. "Of course. I don't want to be censored by the art department." He handed back the bottle and gathered his things. "Okay, let's go eat ice cream. I could use some."
Blair smiled, taking the sketch pad. "Sure. We'll get those big, gooey sundaes you like."