Starting Off On The Right Foot.
Oz lifted the last of the artwork with a grunt. "Why are these so heavy?" he asked his roommate as he walked past him. They were using their teacher's basement storage during their tour, Blair and Jim having given in easily to Xander's big puppy eyes when he had begged the elder Guide and Sentinel pair for safe storage of his precious artworks.
"That the last?"
"Unless something fell." He dropped the stack on top of the tarp Jim had put down in case some water flowed in, surveying the last half-hour's work. "You need a hobby," he said, knowing his friend has his hearing turned up. Xander's senses were almost all heightened and he knew exactly how sensitive they could be since he was Xander's Guide; it was his purpose in life to help his friend learn how to control his new-found senses, and they were doing okay with them now. He felt a cool body walk up behind him, moving out of his lead singer's/unofficial roommate's way. He watched as Devon dropped a few more of the canvas boards. "Done?" Oz asked.
The blond ran a hand through his hair. "Yeah, or so far as Xander could see." He nudged his guitarist's shoulder. "We still gotta pack us into the van."
"And get a camper on the truck," Oz reminded him.
"Why are we bringing both?"
Oz turned to look at his oldest friend. "So Xander can come."
"Dude, he could travel *with* us. We'd all accept it and he could even take turns driving so we could have breaks."
"He'll want to go paint sometimes and the truck bed can hold some extra stuff that we won't need nightly."
"Which means more nap space?"
Oz nodded. "We okay with the plan now?"
"I am," Xander called. "I'm going to get the camper put on."
"Okay," Oz said normally. He waited while the truck started, listening to make sure it would be okay for the miles they would be traveling for the next month and a half. Jim's old truck was a classic from '69 and it had had a hard life since the detective had bought it and passed it on to Xander. "Needs looked at again," he noted.
"I'll do that too," Xander called before the truck pulled away.
"We need to get the van checked too," Devon reminded it's owner. Oz nodded. "Jiffy Lube?"
"We have an appointment in the morning." Oz pulled the vampire out of the caged-in storage area, locking it and pocketing the keys. "Let's go, we have to finish packing us before we can pack the van." They headed back to the van, sliding in and heading back to their former industrial space that was now their loft.
Xander grunted as he pushed the last speaker into place. "Done," he groaned, wiping his brow and staying bent over to stretch his sore muscles. "In a month this'll be easy, right?"
Oz nodded. "Two weeks actually."
Xander nodded slowly. "If you say so." He stood up, rubbing his sore back. "I think I'm all packed too."
"We'll check the list." They headed for the elevator, going up to collapse on the couch Blair had given them when they had moved into their own space.
Xander looked at his work corner, scanning it for things he had forgotten. "Want to come to the art store with me?"
"Should, just to make sure you don't overspend."
"I budgeted too, Oz." The younger man rolled his eyes at the small snort. "My part of the motel caddy is already on the card we're using. I've made sure I have traveler's checks for emergencies. My gas card is paid up, so's my pitiful credit card for emergencies. I have my medical stuff all in an envelope in the truck's glove box, including a letter with consent for you to treat me if I'm that sick. My three bags, all little ones, are packed and so's my art stuff I wanted to bring, including my camera for my photography class next semester and rolls of film."
"Okay, just so long as you stick to the budget. Don't want you going broke in the first week. Did we do the rent check?"
"Dropped it there today. Have a receipt and a copy of the check, and told the bank to forward the canceled version." Xander pulled his list out of his front pocket, looking over it. "Got the electric and water people already, did the packing thing, got a mail storage place to forward mail to, gave the spare keys to Simon and used him as the emergency contact. He has your pager number too so he can get us if he needs us. Did I forget anything?"
"Got us a new answering machine that we can check with a little code thing."
"That works. When are you hitting the art store?" Devon asked as he walked past to sit down on the coffee table and look at them.
"After you pack the truck," Oz told him. His lead singer started to pout. "We got the van."
"Fine," Devon said. He held out a hand to Xander. "Want to show me what to move?" He started to pull the younger man up but the young Sentinel clutched his back with a moan of pain.
"Xander," Oz said gently, pulling him over his lap to rub out the cramp. "Shhh, just relax, let us help," he whispered, knowing the younger man's hearing spiked first when he was in pain.
"Lower and to the left please," Xander begged then sighed as hands attacked the knot. "Thanks." He tried to sit up but was held there.
"Relax," Oz told him again, "you earned this."
"Dude, let me," Devon said. Xander shook his head. "You'll smoosh Oz, let me do it."
Oz cleared his throat. "He's fine. I've got it." He rubbed over the t-shirt clad back, concentrating on easing the aches and pains the heavy equipment they had moved earlier had caused. He hummed quietly, using a trick his teacher, Blair, had taught him. He ignored the erections they both started to grow; they had agreed that it wouldn't become sexual when things started to finally go right between them. When the first song was done, the younger man tried to get up again but Oz held him in place, starting to work over the tense shoulders. "You're fine."
Xander nodded. "I know, I trust you." He relaxed over the lap again, pulling a pillow over for his head and closing his eyes. "Push me off if I nap."
"Sure." Oz looked at the singer, who was watching them still. "The three bags, the plastic boxes of paints, and his easel," he told him. "We'll put the extra cords in there too, and the box of replacement fuses and things too."
"And my drawings bag. It goes behind the seat. Everything else is on my bed or in the pile by my pillows," Xander murmured. "And my three sitting pillows please." He looked up at Devon with a small grin. "Thanks." Oz spanked him lightly. "Hey! I'm doing what I'm supposed to."
"You're supposed to be laying there in a gluttonous mass." He spanked the tightly muscled rear again. "I could stop." The younger man went limp across him. "Good boy."
"Yup, very," Xander quipped, shifting some.
Devon groaned under the first load. "We putting any extra bags of ours in the truck too?" he asked as he headed for the elevator.
"As long as there's room to work or nap," Xander called. Oz spanked him again. "I may decide to set up to get a sunrise."
"You'll be back at the motel every night," Oz told him. His Sentinel started to open his mouth. "I can't play if you're not there."
"I'll warn you if I won't be?" Xander suggested.
"No," Oz told him firmly. "You, me, and Devon will be in a room every night." He saw the ever-mobile mouth opening so he kneaded the sore muscles harder. "No arguments."
"Okay, fine," Xander said, closing his eyes again. "How are we doing beds?"
"Dev will stay up and do stuff while we nap, and he'll nap while we travel."
"So why don't we nap while he drives?"
"We tried that once, it didn't work too well," Oz admitted. "Not enough room and all those problems."
"Oh." Xander sat up, hugging his Guide, his anchor to sanity and a normal life. "Thank you." He pulled back to stand up and stretch. "I should go check my pile, make sure he gets it all."
Oz watched him go, making his mind calm his overreacting body down.
Oz slid into the truck beside Xander, tossing the van's keys at Devon since it was before dawn. "Ready?"
"You're going to trust your van to them?"
"Yup, do it every trip. Follow them so we don't get lost." The silence lasted almost half an hour, the cassette playing softly between them. "Why don't we have discussions?" Oz asked finally. "We have nothing else to do and this silence is creepy."
"The visions I had showed we needed to," Xander agreed. "Pick a topic?"
"How about we just talk? Get to know each other again?"
"Okay." Xander thought for a few seconds. "Um, okay. How about after you left?"
"Okay. How long'd you stay in the cycle?"
"Cycle?" Xander asked.
"Fast food, crappy menial jobs. That stuff."
"Well, I stopped it about seven months after you left, got a job selling." Xander sped the truck up, following the van onto the interstate. "Sold cars for six months."
"Cars? You wore polyester?"
Xander laughed, making Oz grin at the happiness in it. "Not quite. Dress pants and ties but no polyester." He smiled in fond remembrance. "Was doing pretty well. Sold about four a month, just enough to live off the commissions and not get fired."
"New or used?"
"Both. I was pretty good at talking people into better cars. Kept kids like us from buying trash, got them nice financing. I worked at that lot out past the High School."
"When did you figure things out?"
"Around Christmas I got a sudden flash of insight while Anya was forcing me to attend to her with much pouting and complaints. Change the tape please." He waited until the new music started. "Anya's neediness clued me in to the fact that I was better off single so I kicked her out with a nice explanation about how I wasn't good enough for her and she should have something better." He shot a grin at his friend. "I started going back out and enjoying my youth, most of the time by myself."
"When did you figure out the other part?" Oz asked, turning to look at him.
"You mean when did I find out I was bi?" Oz nodded and shifted slightly. "You really want to talk about this?"
Oz took a small breath. "Yeah, we should." He reached over, patting the younger man's arm. "Sexual identity is a large part of who we are."
"And a large part of our problems?" Xander asked.
"Yeah, it still is a problem for me."
Xander nodded. "Okay. Want to drive?"
"Sure, pull over." The truck pulled off the interstate and they switched places. "Okay, so story?"
"Well, Willow wanted to go to the semi-gay club near the college so she asked me to go with her and Tara, they didn't want to go alone and Buffy had a case of panic." Oz snorted. "Buffy actually tried to get Tara to leave Willow after she found out, after you left again."
"Bitch," Oz muttered.
"Very true," Xander agreed, "so we went without her. Don't know what you remember about that place but it's a mixed club, straight kids from the college go there to dance so I didn't feel that out of place." Xander shifted, getting more comfortable. "The girls left me at the table about half-way through the night and this really shy-looking guy sits down across from me. He tried to talk to me and I tried to brush him off gently." He laughed lightly. "I ended up telling him I wasn't gay and he said, really simply, 'how do you know'." Oz snorted, an amused sound at least. "I smiled at him and told him my body worked toward women. He smiled and got up, and suddenly he just turned around, grabbed me, and kissed me. Within seconds I was clinging to him and the whole club was applauding." He smiled in remembrance.
"You started dating?" Oz asked, forcing himself to stay relaxed but Xander noticed.
"Want to switch topics?"
"No, it's okay." Oz pulled off the interstate at a rest area, pulling into a gas station. "Who's turn is it?"
"Um, yours. You need the air," Xander said.
Oz nodded, sliding out to get them gas. He came back a few minutes later. "Sorry."
"Hey, it makes you uncomfy. I understand, really," Xander told him quietly. "So, sports. Do you actually like any? I noticed you hated soccer and rugby."
Oz nodded. "So you started dating?"
Xander grinned. "He was a brute, he made me come to his house for dinner or he'd get the whole club to pout at me." Oz shook his head, a faint hint of amusement on his face. "He was well known and liked there so they would have, but Willow just gave me this shocked look when she came back to the table. Tara gave me this knowing little smile. I later found out that she had called him to come meet me."
"You went to dinner?"
"Oh, yeah. Peter could cook. That first time he made this noodle alfredo and steak dish. I think I gave him the impression I was starved I ate so much." He smiled again. "All he asked was that I sit and talk with him that night. He was well read and intelligent, kinda reminded me of you sometimes." He looked over in time to see a small blush start. "Sorry if that upsets you but even Giles said that. He had that same calmness around him and he was brilliant but he didn't want to abuse everyone with it."
Oz snorted. "It's not like that, I don't want to use mine most of the time." Xander shook his head. "It's true, I'm trying hard not to think most of the time."
"If you say so."
"I do." Oz was quiet for a few minutes. "How long were you together?"
"Peter let me be scared for a few more dates, keeping us at the light kissing level, but on the fourth date he rubbed down my chest during a kiss. He said I sank into him and went limp," Xander said with a naughty grin. "That night, he made me sleep over with him."
"Thought Darryl said you were..." Oz coughed. "Sorry, real personal."
"Yeah, but you're my Guide so I think it's okay as long as you're comfy." Oz nodded. "Peter had me take him but it never went the other way, which is why we broke up, I was too scared and he got tired of waiting."
"No, we dated for almost four months and he was right when he pointed out the problem." Xander clenched his hands together in his lap. "I tried but I couldn't relax enough, I didn't like him that much and I couldn't give myself to him."
"You wanted it to be more special?" Oz asked quietly.
Xander snorted, watching the road. "If he had waited, I probably would have done it."
"Then it wasn't a good relationship," Oz assured him with a pat to his shoulder. Then his hand flew back to the wheel as Xander yelled, swerving the truck around something that had flown out of the back of another pickup. They pulled off and Oz started to get out but Xander stopped him.
"It's wiggling and making noise." Oz nodded and got out, running over to get it while Xander pulled out Blair's cellphone that had been given to him with a firm warning to keep it charged. "Hi, I'm on Interstate 5 and my friend's out on the road picking up something that fell out of another truck." He got out, heading around to the back to open it.
Oz took the phone. "Hey, someone dropped their carseat out of the bed of their truck. No," he said, moving the blanket, "it's living. Not an tiny infant but still a baby." He looked around for markers. "Xander, mile marker?"
"We passed 168 a few miles ago." He shrugged at the small look. "Can't help without heightened sight."
"Okay, he said we passed marker 168 a few miles ago and we're near a big corner. No, going South. Yeah, we're in a light blue truck with a camper." He hung up. "There's a trooper near here." He handed back the phone, checking the child over. "We look okay."
Xander stood up, waving at the passing cop car. He waited for the trooper to stop and make it back to where they were. "Hi, it came out of the bed of a brown two-toned pickup without a camper on it."
"It looks fine," Oz told him, getting up so the officer could look at the child. "It landed in front of us, just came out of nowhere."
"It's okay, boys," the trooper said calmly. "Relax, we've seen this before." He picked up the carrier. "Yeah, we'll take good care of you until your parents come looking for you and then we'll yell at them." He looked up at Xander, who was leaning against their truck. "You saw the truck this came from?"
The Sentinel nodded. "Dark brown on the bottom and bed, and tan on the top of the cab. Had a license plate with a bird in the center."
"Okay, on your truck, where would the dark brown be?" the officer asked, trying to make him give specific details.
He ran his hand along the bed. "All this and," he walked up to the cab to point at an imaginary line about a third of the way up the door, "to there. The rest was light tan."
Oz looked at him. "Custom?"
Xander nodded. "Yeah, most two-tones don't get painted like that. I guess they could have put on a new bed." He shrugged. "I sold cars for a few months," he explained.
"Do you know what make it was?"
"Think it was domestic," Xander said hesitantly. "Was wide instead of the more narrow Japanese ones." The trooper nodded for him to go on. "Sorry, we passed them a few times but I wasn't paying that much attention while we leapfrogged."
"That's okay, we should be able to find them." He looked down at the infant carrier. "We're going back to my car but we'll need some information from you in case we need to get in touch with you."
The younger man reached into the cab, digging in the glove box and coming up with an envelope that he took toward the squad car.
Oz sat in the cab, watching it all, wondering why this stuff happened to them.
Devon looked at Oz and Xander where they were laying on the beds. "So the kid's okay?" Xander nodded. "Very cool." He stood up. "I'm going to go to the club, see if I can't catch a cute little thing for later."
"Just be discreet," Oz reminded him without looking.
"I know," he whined, walking out.
"He's been turned how long?" Xander asked.
"Since just after our senior year," Oz said quietly. "It was just a reminder." He rolled to look at his friend. "After Peter?"
"We broke up, had a huge fight. Giles had to come pull me from my apartment 'cause I was sulking with cocoa." Oz nodded that he understood. "Peter had helped me get out of my basement, but I had to switch due to furry problems."
"Yup, big squeaky ones. Then I moved to two temporary places while I looked for my last place, which was Giles' old one really. Just upstairs from where he used to live. Just after that move was when we broke up."
"Sorry," Oz said quietly at the pained look the younger man had on his face. He reached over, squeezing the hand hanging off the other bed.
Xander shook his head, squeezing Oz's hand back. "It's okay. He showed me lots about what I really liked in life. It was a good thing to have had. I don't regret what we had, just that we couldn't keep it." He smiled slightly. "I guess that's what you had with Willow."
Oz let go of his hand, sitting up and thinking for a few seconds. "It's possible. There are still some things there." He stood up. "Going to take a shower. Rest, you could use it." He headed into the bathroom, gently closing the door behind him.
Xander rolled onto his back, closing his eyes. "Sorry," he whispered.
Devon walked off the stage, stretching and smiling at their helper. "How was it?"
"You sounded hoarse and you looked uncomfortable," Xander said, patting his hand. At the hurt look he hurried on. "You just didn't stroke into the groove tonight, sorta like you compared my zones to."
"Too tense," Oz told him, patting Devon on the back. "You'll slide into it tomorrow night." He picked up a cord, starting to roll it up. "Come on, need to get this repacked."
Xander unhooked the first speaker, heading toward the van.
Xander rolled over again, unable to get to sleep still. He felt the cool hand on his forehead so opened his eyes to look up at the young vampire. "What, Devon?" he whispered.
The singer lay down beside him, stroking down his face and neck. "Nap, Xander, you need it."
Oz groaned, opening his eyes. "Can't sleep?" Xander nodded so he walked over, sitting beside his Sentinel and stroked through his hair. "Sleep, Xan," he whispered, watching as the younger man blinked and slowly fell asleep.
Devon looked at Oz. "Guide effects?"
On nodded. "Yeah, but will it continue?" He went back to his bed, lying down to watch Xander sleep.
Oz woke as the van slowed down, lifting his head to look at his bandmates. "What's up?"
"Think we lost your friend," the bass player, Tom, called back. "Haven't seen him in a while."
"He knows where we'll be," Oz said, laying back down next to the lump of blankets named Devon.
"If you're sure, Oz," the driver said, pulling back onto the road.
Xander sat in the back of his truck, sketching the interesting looking building, lost to the rest of the world. So when Blair's cellphone rang, he absently picked it up. "Yeah?" He jumped as Oz's irritated voice came through the line, but everything that was said just rolled off him. "Hey, what's up?" He shaded the shadow of the building. "What? No, I'm not lost. No, I found a pretty place to sketch in." He nodded, smudging the shading with his thumb. "Martinsville, I know. I'll be there soon." He hung up, dropping the phone beside him. He finished his sketch, putting his sketch book back into his bag and tidying the back of his truck. He got out, locking it up, heading around to get in. That was when he realized he was actually lost and he wasn't sure where he was supposed to be.
He pulled the tour list out of the map case Oz had given him, smiling at the checkmarked dates. "Sunburg? Weren't we already there?" He pulled back onto the road, heading toward the nearest gas station.
Oz gave Xander a hard look from the stage as the younger man sat down. He tossed at towel at him, turning his back on his sentinel as he went back to his practice. Devon threw a balled up paper towel at him, making the guitarist hit a wrong note.
Xander slid down in his chair, trying to avoid being seen. Until Devon came down to ruffle his hair. "Thanks," he whispered, "I'm sorry."
"S'okay," Devon told him with a smile. He headed back up onto the stage, passing Oz as he walked off to talk to his guideling.
"Next time, tell us," Oz told Xander, staring down at him. The younger man nodded.
"At least he showed up," Devon called.
"I'm sorry I worried you," Xander told his guide. "The scene just spoke to me." He touched Oz's wrist and it wasn't drawn away, a good sign.
"Next time tell us if you can," Oz told him. He patted his sentinel's head. "Be good and sit there."
"I will." He watched his guide go back to his practice, smiling as he pulled out a sketch book to do some figure drawings of the guys.
Xander looked up as he caught a discussion of two teen guys behind where Oz was sitting in the packed club.
//Man, I *know* he does drugs. I mean, band, guitarist? How right can you make the match?//
//Think he'll mind if we give him some of ours?//
//Nah, just slip it to him. He'll like it and come back. He'll make us famous.//
Xander picked up his bag, catching Devon's eye and nodding toward the teens before heading for a bouncer. "Hey, I just heard two guys talking about giving out drugs," he said as quietly as he could over the canned music that was playing during the band's breaks. He subtly pointed them out. "They were talking about forcing it on the band's guitarist." The bouncer nodded so he headed for his guide. "Don't drink anything.," he warned. He picked up the glass on the table, taking a sip and shuddering at the bitterness of the soda water. "Not that one," he noted.
Oz leaned closer. "What's wrong?"
Xander bent closer so he could talk next to his ear. "Two guys talking about slipping you drugs."
The guitarist nodded, going back to his casual sprawl. He got a nod from Devon and stood up. "Gotta go play, stay here." Xander frowned at him. "I mean it, stay." He walked up onto the stage, taking his spot and putting on his guitar.
Xander smiled at the woman serving him his drink. "Thanks." He paid her, taking a sip, his taste buds exploding. "Oz's?" he asked her. She shrugged and walked away. He carefully put the glass down, concentrating on turning down his senses before they could start to elevate on their own. He felt his toes go numb as he pulled out his present drawing. It was going to be a while before Oz would be done and he hadn't gotten that much, he could hold on if he lowered his level of attention.
Oz looked down from his perch, considering his friend who was supposed to be helping them pack up. He nudged Devon. "What happened to him?"
"Not a clue. Xander!" The younger man slowly looked up. "Come on, gotta move." The sentinel got up, coming over to pick up a speaker, slowly lugging it out to the van. Devon and Oz shared a look. "Drugs?" Devon asked.
"He said he heard someone saying they were going to drug me." Oz walked over to the table, picking up Xander's scattered things, looking at the sketches with a wince of pain for the dark images. He handed the refilled art bag to the drummer, Mike, picking up some of the equipment to help load the van.
By the time they were done, Xander was knocked out in the back, guarded by Devon. "He's not having probs," Devon said quietly. "I asked before he went out and he said he drank some of your new soda."
Oz climbed in, letting Devon move to the driver's seat. "His bag?"
"Under the futon and it's all there."
"Thanks." He looked at is other two bandmates. "Someone drugged him."
The drummer nodded. "We'll be careful."
Xander woke and groaned. "Shh," Devon whispered, pulling the young man closer. "You're okay."
"Only if my head doesn't split open." He looked at the vampire. "Did they get arrested?" The singer nodded so he looked toward the window. "It's light."
"It's around noon."
"Damn, we..." The cool lips attaching to his stopped him. "Um, okay."
"We're fine. We only play a few miles away from here so we're staying here. That's what we planned."
"Yes," Oz said from the chair, lowering his newspaper. "We're okay. We're already set up." He pulled his paper back up. "Finish napping, your head will hurt less."
Xander nodded, closing his eyes and grabbing onto Devon as he fell asleep.
Xander opened his eyes, frowning at the grassy plain around him. "Okay. Darrien!" A small, furry body popped up next to him from a hole. "You called?" he asked dryly, sitting down next to it.
The creature wiggled out of it's hole, standing up and turning into a dark haired, dangerous looking human. "I didn't call you here." He looked around. "Your guide's not here. Why are you?"
Xander shrugged. "Not a clue."
"Then maybe you should figure that out." He disappeared.
Xander blinked as he woke up, looking up at Oz. "Spirit Guides." Oz nodded. "Real cryptic too."
"What did Darrien want?"
"Why was I there."
"In general or meta-physical?"
"I'm guessing the latter," Xander said, pulling himself up to lean against the headboard. "He asked me why I was there and when I said I didn't know, he told me I should figure it out." He shrugged, taking the glass of water his guide handed him. "Thanks." He drank it slowly, his mind running over the scene again.
"You okay?" Oz asked quietly. The younger man nodded. "Head?"
"Hurts. Gig?" he asked between sips.
"Three hours. I was about to take a shower." He started to walk toward the bathroom.
Xander caught his hand. "Darrien asked about you too."
"Huh. Write it for me. We'll figure it out later."
The sentinel watched his guide retreat into the bathroom, then put down the plastic cup so he could roll over and wake Devon. "Sleepy," he called, nudging him hard. "Come on, need to make women pant." Devon grunted, pushing him back. "Come on, you need to go make men hard."
Devon shifted, grabbing the human to cuddle. "Minute, Oz." He licked over the warm neck, his eyes still closed. "Snack?"
"No," Xander told him, patting the blond hair. "Got to get up."
Oz stuck his head out. "Get up!" He slammed the bathroom door.
Devon sat up, panting in shock. He looked at the clock then at Xander. "You okay?" The young man nodded. "Okay. Good. Oz?"
"Shower." Xander stroked down the cool arm. "You okay?" The vampire nodded so he leaned closer. "Were you really gong to snack on me?"
Devon flashed him a smile. "Not unless you asked cutely." He snuck a kiss and slid out of the bed, heading for the bathroom. "Oz! Get your pale butt out of the shower! I need to get pretty!"
Oz walked out of the bathroom, glaring at the singer. "Get up earlier," he said slowly and clearly. Devon smiled at him as he took his place, so he walked out to sit beside Xander. "Head still okay?"
Xander nodded. "Yup, still attached." He patted it then nodded again. "Still there."
The older man patted the head too. "Good, get dressed." He slid off the bed, heading for his suitcase, making sure the younger man couldn't see anything while he got dressed. He turned to find Xander pulling up his jeans and looked away quickly. "Done?"
"Safe for you to look again." Xander gave him a bland look. "How did you handle gym class?"
"Bathroom." He looked toward the mentioned room as the shower stopped. "We should pack the truck. Van's at the club."
Xander bent over, zipping his bag, and carried it outside. He passed Oz on the way out, tossing him the keys. "You drive. I don't know where we're going." The guitarist nodded, following him.
Devon picked up his bag after pulling on his clothes, heading out, letting the younger man do the room sweep for lost articles. He slid closer to Oz as Xander climbed in beside him, taking his bottle of shampoo. "Thanks."
"No big." He looked around the vampire at his guide. "How far are we?"
"Few miles," Devon said calmly.
"Hour," Oz finished. He started the van, pulling out.
Devon came off the stage, wrapping an arm around Xander's shoulders. "Dude, we're going to go party with the other bands. You coming to guard Oz or you gonna go draw?" He dodged Oz's swat to his head. "Easy on the hair!"
Xander shook his head. "I don't drink or be where it happens." Oz looked at him. "I'll take the truck back. Pick a designated driver please."
"Were kinda hoping it'd be you," Devon purred. He wasn't able to dodge Oz's punch this time. "Hey!"
"Stop it. He doesn't do parties." Oz patted Xander's arm. "You could sit out in the van and draw."
"If you need me to, I will," Xander agreed reluctantly.
Devon patted him on the back. "Thanks, Xan." He walked away, grabbing some equipment, ignoring the groan.
Xander drug Oz through the door of the motel room, dropping him onto the nearest bed. "We're not doing this again." He walked out, pulling a horny and drunk singer in to a bed, then went back to put the other band members to bed. He walked back into his room, finding his two roommates in bed together, Devon's hand over Oz's mouth. Xander groaned and tried to get Oz out of the clinch and back to his own bed but the werewolf tried to bite him. "Fine, don't blame me," he told him, heading for the chair next to the small table in the corner.
Xander woke up from his small doze at Oz's moan, finding himself on his feet before he realized it. He tried to pull Devon off his guide but the vampire was firmly entrenched in Oz's body already. He guide moaned again, this time more pleasure than pain as he bit his lip. Xander stood there helplessly, eventually retreating to his truck to sleep so he didn't have to hear or see his guide be taken apparently not against his will when he couldn't do a thing to stop it.
Oz woke and looked down in alarm at the naked body curled around/on top of him. He took a deep breath, calming himself before sliding out from under the cool body and heading for the bathroom. He wiped himself off, checking for blood, and sighed when he didn't find any. He walked out, checking for Xander, heading outside with a glare when he didn't find him. He pounded on the truck's window until Xander opened it to face him. "Why didn't you stop him?" he hissed.
"Because you tried to bite me when I did." He looked the older man over. "You okay?"
"No thanks to you!" He turned, walking inside and slamming the motel room's door.
Xander sighed, holding his head. He got out, heading inside. "You *can't* blame me for this, Oz! I *tried* to stop him, but *you* stopped me. There is no *way* you can blame me." Oz gave him a hurt look. "I'm sorry, but this wasn't my fault."
Oz shook his head. "You should have stopped him," he said quietly. "You were the sober one."
"I *tried*!" Xander choked, walking back out to his truck and getting in. He rested his head on the steering wheel, closing his eyes. He flinched as someone knocked on the window but didn't move even after Oz opened the door.
"I tried, Oz, I tried." He rolled his head to look at his guide. "I'm sorry I couldn't stop Devon from having you. I couldn't stay in the room even. I let you down." He rolled his head to look back at his legs again.
Oz slid in beside him, touching his friend's arm. "I'm okay."
"I still let you down."
"No, you said you tried," Oz told him, shifting closer. "I'm not disappointed in you. You said you tried and I believe you."
"I tried to get you out of the bed and you tried to bite me, and later I tried to pull Devon off you but he growled at me and moved closer to you. I came out here to hide so I didn't have to watch." He shook off the comforting hand, turning to look at his friend. "I let you down and I'm sorry."
Oz put a finger over the younger man's lips. "It's okay. It wasn't your job to stop that. We knew better than to get drunk. It's not your fault, it's mine and Devon's." He got a small nod. "We're cool, okay?" He got another nod. "Did you stash the other guys in bed?"
"Yeah, that's when you crawled in with Dev." Oz groaned. "You're really okay? No tearing, blood?"
"Nope, I checked that before I jumped to conclusions." He rubbed down the tense arm. "Let me get my wallet and we'll go get breakfast." He climbed out, heading back into the room, coming back after a few minutes. He slid back into his seat, closing the door firmly. "Let's go to the donut place. They have coffee."
"We get free morning coffee," Xander pointed out, nodding at the sign.
"Yeah, but I want *good* coffee. Let the other guys drink the motel sludge."
Devon looked away from Xander's sleeping form, focusing on his oldest friend instead. "I'm sorry," he said quietly. Oz nodded. "You okay?" That got another nod. "You gonna keep shutting me out?"
"You gonna be a drunk again?" Oz asked without looking.
"No, I won't. Or if I do, you can be the designated straight guy." That got a glare. "What happened to you, man? You never used to be this uptight. We've done that before and you never threw an ice fit. What happened to turn you this way, dude?" He reached over, taking the magazine and tossing it. "Talk to me, Oz, I want to help, man. You're my *best* friend and I'm here."
Oz shifted, shaking his head. "Nothing, Dev, drop it."
"I can't." He looked toward the bed. "He's gonna need you to be closer one day and you won't deal. How's that gonna hurt you?" He grabbed the twitching hand. "If you tell me, I'll help. You just gotta give me a clue here, Oz."
Oz nodded and withdrew his hand. "I've got it. It's handled. I'm just not that way." Xander moaned on the bed. "Drop it, Dev, he needs his sleep."
Xander faced off with his Spirit Guide again. "What am I looking for?"
"Why are you here?"
"To learn, then protect."
"Some, but you aren't the warrior your teacher is."
"Should I be insulted?"
"No, you need to find your path."
Xander sat down, looking up. "Darrien, I've been trying. I'm an artist. My sight isn't heightened." He looked down at the grass. "Am I not meant to protect the tribe?"
"That is not the question for you."
"Then what is?" His Spirit Guide just looked at him. "Am I meant to guard a few instead of the whole tribe? I know I'm not Jim, and he guards them all. Am I supposed to guard a few?" Darrien smiled. "Okay, but why the few? And who would be good."
"You will see." Darrien disappeared, sending Xander back to his usual dreams.
Oz sank down onto his bed for the night, closing his eyes. He felt the bed dip as someone joined him on it, knowing it wasn't Devon after their talk three days earlier.
"Oz?" Xander asked quietly. "I've had visits from Darrien again." The tired green eyes flew open. "No problems, but a continuation of the last 'why am I here' stuff."
"Did it clear up anything?"
"Only that I'm not the tribal protector Jim is." A hand patted his arm. "No, not that. That I'm meant to guard a few."
"So what does that mean?"
"I don't know. Darrien just smiled at me when I said that." Xander lay back and closed his eyes. "Where do I look now?"
Oz sat up. "Not a clue. Research?"
"Don't know. What other jobs could you do?"
"Could. Your sight may not need to be heightened for that. Or a temple guardian," Oz suggested.
"Which could include my art thing," Xander agreed, "but there's no temple around here for Sentinel's."
"Point." Oz settled back against the headboard. "We need to think this through. There's got to be a good reason." Xander nodded. "I don't have a clue where to begin looking," he admitted.
"Me either," Xander admitted quietly. "Our day off spent getting me under?"
"I'd rather sleep."
"Okay," Xander said, getting up. He moved to his own bed, lying down and closing his eyes. "I'm going to try to go back under." He took a deep breath, relaxing.
"Hold it," Oz said, watching him. "Find an anchor."
Xander nodded, nudging up his hearing, then had to compensate for going too far. He tried it again, getting it on the third try. He set his smell higher also, filling both senses with his Guide's essences as he let himself slip back into his mind. As he slipped lower, he never noticed the zone he was falling into instead.
Oz lay back down, on his side to watch over his sentinel.
Xander blinked at the very bare plane around him. He sat on the blue-tinted ground, frowning at the swirls that made up the sky. "Darrien?" he called. He saw a shadow form a little ways away, but couldn't make it out so he didn't move; it made him feel twitchy. When it started to move closer he shifted back, eventually getting up and running away when it started to move faster. A wall came up in front of him and he ran into it. His hands searched for a way around or over it while he checked for the shadow. One hand found an opening so he started to climb up into it before the shadow could get him.
He looked across the wall, seeing the other side filled with shadows too.
Oz grunted when Xander hadn't moved for five minutes. He shifted over to the side of his bed to get closer. "Xander?" he called softly. The body jerked so he got up and moved to sit beside him, touching his shoulder. "Xander?" he asked a little louder. He felt the trembling of the younger man's arms and got scared. "Xander?" This wasn't anywhere near normal.
Devon walked in from outside, looking at them with a frown. "What's wrong? He do the zone thing again?" Oz nodded. "Need me to go?"
"No." Oz shook his friend's body hard. "Come on, time to come back now."
Devon touched Xander's leg and glared at Oz when he felt the quakes coursing through it. "What did he try to do?" He sat on the end of the bed, rubbing over the tensing leg. "How do we fix it?"
"How should I know!"
"You're the guide," Devon said gently. He got up, closing room's door. "Calm down, we'll deal."
Oz took a deep breath. "We need to spark another sense." He looked down, considering his sentinel. "Jim's anchor is hearing." Devon opened his mouth. "I know, he's not Jim, but I don't *know* what he uses."
"So how does he balance? You told me he plays one off the others."
"He subdues his hearing with his taste, his tactility with his hearing or his sense of smell." Oz rubbed down the bare part of Xander's arm and the still body leaned into his touch. "Help me get off his shirt." Devon shrugged and lifted the still body so the guide could do what he needed to. Oz slid in behind Xander's body, letting him rest against him. "Xander?" he called softly. The younger man whimpered.
Xander looked outward from his perch on the wall, trying to find a place that was safe from the shadows. He looked down at the rolling shadows below him, trying to find a pattern while he pinched the back of his hand to make himself wake up. He caught sight of a stable clear area, coiling to jump down.
He landed, a sharp pain running up through his back and into his head.
Oz took off his own shirt, making skin-to-skin contact with his sentinel, whispering quietly into his ear. "Xander, come on, it's time to come back. Come on, it's time to quit playing with Darrien and come back to me." He heard the small moan so started his fingers stroking through the dark hair. "Come on, you've got to come back to reality."
Devon set a glass of water beside them, nodding outside. Oz nodded so he went out to join the rest of his band.
Oz held the unconscious man tighter. "Xander," he whispered, "why is this us?"
Xander stood up, holding his head as he looked around his clear space. He moved toward the two light figures, falling down in front of them as his head started to throb. "Help?" he whispered.
He didn't notice two other figures joining them or the shadows retreating a little.
Oz grunted in frustration as Xander tensed against him again. "Xander! You're safe, relax." Devon looked in the door and frowned at him. "Shut up, he's my thing!" He tossed a pillow at the door and it was shut. "Xander!" He heard a soft noise of protest and looked down. The younger man was still out but apparently he was closer to reality again.
"Xander, come on," he whispered, controlling his emotions and pushing the fear away. "You're safe, I'm here. It's time to come home again. Come back to me." He started to rock them, calming them both.
Xander looked up at the shining figures as one reached down to help him up. He leaned against it, looking around at the shining creatures gathered and the retreating shadows. He was allowed to stand on his own and nodded at the one that had helped him. "Are you people?" The lights flashed and the plane faded from view.
He woke to feel Oz's arms around him, rocking them slowly, and felt comforted. He rolled over, hugging his guide as hard as he could, eyes closed, relaxing as the warm hands rubbed over his back. "That was bad," he whispered. "The shadows were going to cover me. I ran and a wall came up."
"Shh," Oz told him. "You're back now."
Xander pulled his head up. "No, then the light beings helped me." His guide nodded. "I can't explain it, but the shining people were good." He got another nod and started to get frustrated. "It meant something!" he said as he sat up, looking at the slightly older man. "Oz, it was a vision. The shadows, the wall, and *especially* the shining people."
"Until you figure out what it means, it's just a vision." He touched a pale cheek. "You need to calm down so you can think it through." Xander nodded, relaxing again. "You okay?"
Xander shook his head. "No, I need to know what it means." Oz handed him a glass of water watching as he drank it. "Will you help me?"
"Of course. It's part of the job."
The younger man frowned. "No, I need help because you want to. This isn't a Sentinel/Guide thing. At least not really."
"You have my help because you asked," Oz told him gently, brushing some of the dark hair off the damp forehead. "Draw it out as a story-board so I can see it too and we'll figure it out."
Xander grabbed his bag, pulling out his sketch book and pencils so he could do that. He looked up as Oz stood. "Don't leave?"
"I'm not, I'm going to go out and apologize to Dev. I'll be back in a few." Xander nodded, going back to his drawing while he walked outside. He patted the back of Devon's head before sitting beside him. "Sorry I yelled," he said softly.
"Hey, you were scared and he wasn't coming back for you. I can understand that, but it wasn't my fault." Oz nodded. "But I forgive you because you're usually cool."
Oz snorted, then looked at him. "Thanks."
"No big. What'd he find?"
"Strange vision. Shadows, a wall, and light people."
Devon nodded once. "Uh-huh. Better you than me."
Oz laughed. "Maybe."
Xander came out to sit beside Oz's chair, leaning against it as he drew. Oz reached down to pat his head. "Was loud in there," Xander absently explained.
Devon and Oz shared a look. "What do you want to be when you grow up?" the vampire asked with a grin.
"Me," Oz said.
Xander set the pages he had torn out in front of his guide, sitting across from him.
"Don't stress his brain," Devon called. "We need to practice.
Oz looked at the drawings, glancing back up at Xander every few minutes. "Symbolic," he noted, careful not to make assumptions yet. "Maybe even philosophical." He handed them back. "I'll look at them after we finish tonight, okay?" Xander nodded. "Why don't you start and we'll bounce ideas."
"Okay." Xander looked at the first picture.
Oz sat on the edge of the stage, turning and standing. "Are we that bad? We have 3 days before we play again."
"Dude," Devon sighed, "we need to keep focused. Otherwise we suck."
"Whatever," Oz told him, picking up his guitar. "Usual set?" Devon nodded as he plugged his amp cord in.
Xander sipped his water, pushing over what he had figured out, watching as the slightly older man read it.
"Well, the wall as a turning point made sense," Oz said after a few minutes, "but how did you get over it?"
"There was a window-like place. I sheltered in it while I looked for a safe place. For some reason the shadows couldn't reach me." Oz nodded. "It's where I found the cleared space."
"Hmm." Oz looked at them again then putt the drawings down. "It's some form of enlightenment. Maybe about what you have."
Xander shook his head. "Doesn't feel right. But maybe it's a point or a reason why there are more of us." Oz looked confused. "Face it, the shadows wiped out the shiny people. Then the wall as a turning point, and I see two shiny people in a shadow-free zone. After I jump down into it, more shiny people start coming out of the shadows.
"So an unveiling? The shadows were a cover as well as a repressor?" Xander nodded, smiling. "Could be. Were the shiny people...gifted?" He glanced around to make sure they were alone.
"The one that helped me up wasn't, but the first two were."
"So it could be all sorts of abilities?" Xander shrugged. "You felt it," Oz said in frustration.
"You're the smart one and the guide," Xander countered.
"If I hear that phrase one more time, I...I'm going to go live in the van."
Xander looked embarrassed and looked down. "Sorry."
Oz picked up Xander's hand, rubbing over it. "I'm sorry, this is hard for me. You keep expecting me to be Blair and have all the answers but I don't."
"I know you're not Blair, Oz, I just expected you to have picked up some of the random knowledge that he tosses out." He looked up and grinned. "Don't you pick up the little bits of knowledge?"
Oz grunted. "Not if I can help it. I like my head to be uncluttered. His looks like his office." That got a smile. "Why don't we put this aside for later debate? Put the whole vision aside?"
"We could. What are we doing instead?"
"How about sensory tests?" Xander groaned. "Come on, I want to see how good you can do." Oz stood up, motioning Xander to follow. "Come on, it's our day off and we have to do something."
"Cartoons?" Xander suggested as he followed him out the club's door. "Or a movie?"
"Later," Oz said as he headed for the open field next to their motel and club. "Stand in one spot," he called as he kept walking, "and start with your hearing." He stopped at about fifty feet away. "Turn it up to about all the way." Xander nodded. "Pick a benchmark and I'm going to walk backwards. Tell me when you can't hear me anymore."
"Heartbeat or external?" Xander called.
"Heartbeat," Oz said after a second. "We'll do voice in a second." Xander nodded, closing his eyes. "Relax and center yourself with the sound. Sit if you want to." The younger man sat down, getting comfortable. "Okay, I'm going to walk backwards, yell when you can't hear me." He started walking backwards, mentally judging the distance. He stared to slow down as he got neared the road. "I've got to cross a street, we okay?" Xander nodded so Oz turned and jogged across it into someone's front yard.
"Oz!" Xander yelled, looking up, head moving as he searched for him.
Oz grinned as he jogged back to the younger man, patting his arm. "Good, you okay?"
Xander shook his head. "I couldn't hear you, I thought you were lost." He took a deeper breath. "I don't know what happened, it was like some panic button was triggered, like you had dropped off the Earth."
Oz made a startled noise. "Really?" Xander nodded, leaning a little closer to him. "Okay, then we won't do that again." The younger man grinned. "Want to do smell?"
"Um, got sniffles."
Oz snorted, walking away again. "Okay, let's do verbal." He started to hum.
Xander closed his eyes, smiling as he recognized the song. "There!" he shouted when it faded too far.
Oz stopped and looked down, moving forward some. "Open your eyes, does it help?" The sentinel shook his head. "Okay." He headed back. He let Xander rest against him as he turned his hearing back down, knowing he needed the contact to get it precise quickly. "Normal?" he asked after a few minutes.
Xander took a deep breath and nodded. "Just below." He opened his eyes, grinning a little naughtily. "That was telling, Guides are really important."
"And don't you forget it," Oz said with a smirk.
Oz looked off the stage, checking on his sentinel through the crowd. His fingers went off on their own as he watched some woman hit on the younger man. His attention was brought back when Devon hit him across the back of the head. "Sorry," he mouthed, getting back in sync with the band. They played the rest of the set normally, the band walking off, Oz first, to join Xander at the table he was saving.
"Dude, clean your stuff," Devon said, handing him one of the scattered drawings and sitting down.
Xander piled the papers, tucking them back into his bag. "Sorry." He shifted his chair a little away from a very close sitting Oz. "Did we decide on traveling tonight or not?"
"Not," Devon said, drinking some of the water that was placed in front of him. "We'll go really early instead, get to the next place around eight and go on at ten." Xander nodded. "I'll drive the van until sunrise and Oz can drive your truck. You two switch off and one of these two monkeys," he nudged the other band members who were sitting around him, "can take over for me at sunrise."
"Just don't crash it in your pre-caffeine haze," Oz warned. They nodded tolerantly.
"Dude, we won't crash the van if you keep your mind on the job," the bass player said with a frown. "You switched through four songs in six minutes. What's wrong with your head tonight?"
Oz groaned. "I got distracted. Sorry." The rest of the band nodded and glanced at Xander, then at Devon.
Devon looked hard at Oz, then turned to look at Xander. "No offense, but can you stay in the van for the rest of the night? Oz can't concentrate on us when he's studying you."
"That's not fair," Oz said.
"Yeah," Xander said quietly. He picked up his stuff. "I'll listen for the last set to stop from my perch in the truck." Oz grabbed his arm. "They're right, you need to focus on them, not me." He took the hand off and walked out. He set up his easel and climbed in to sketch for a while.
Oz glared at his band members. "That wasn't fair to him."
"You were more interested in him than us," Devon told him. "It was wrecking us all. And he agreed."
"Gee, wonder why?" Devon gave him a hurt look. "Let's go."
Devon grabbed Oz's hand. "Dude, he's not hurt. He understood about needing you more right now. We let him have you when you have to be a Guide, and he knows and lets us have you when you've got to play." He stood up. "Let's go play as a group."
Oz growled but followed him up onto the stage.
Xander looked up as someone sat on his tailgate. "Hey, Oz. Break?" The older man nodded. "This set go better?"
"No." He glared at Devon as he walked up to them.
Devon sighed, sitting across from his guitarist on the tailgate. "It was fine but not great." He glanced at the paper the younger man was working on, judging his anger level by what he was drawing; since it was flowers he knew he was hurt and ready to kill him then and there. "Were you pissed?"
"No," Xander said calmly. "I expected it to happen sometime." He looked at Oz, holding the eye contact. "I understand, you've got to do the double life thing." His guide nodded slowly. "I'm fine with it." He went back to his drawing. "We've got to talk about your furry time soon."
Oz grunted, glancing at Devon as he looked out into the night, making him leave. "You're sure?"
"Yup. I knew this before we started this trip." Xander stopped as his pencil was taken, looking at his guide. "Oz, I knew this would happen way back when you first tried to get me to leave Darryl and come on tour with you over Christmas. It was going to happen sometime. I'm dealing and you'll get used to it." He took his pencil back. "Go play, I'm here and safe." He hugged him briefly, filling his senses from the short contact. "Go make pretty music for the wild herd of teens." Oz nodded, heading back inside. "Devon," he whispered, bending back down to look at the light pencil marks on the paper, "you will not make him choose or I will stake you," he promised.
Xander blinked as he woke up, seeing his guide looking at him. "Traveling?" he asked.
"Taking a break. It's noon." He pulled himself further inside, handing over a paper bag. "Breakfast, coke's in there."
Xander pulled himself up, opening the bag and pulling out the food, eating hungrily. "Yours?" he asked between bites.
"I already did, that's an hour old." He picked up and tossed over the pile of folded clothes, waiting for the younger man to put them on. "Come on, it's your turn to drive."
Xander nodded, pulling the clothes on under the blankets. He came out clothed and grabbed his soda, wiggling over to where his guide sat. "Okay," he said as he popped the can. "You giving directions or napping?"
"I'll nap while you help them set up." They slid out of the back, closing it up and heading around to the cab. Oz waited until they got on the road again before saying anything else. "We do like having you. Last night was a fluke."
"Fluky Oz?" Xander asked, taking a sip of his soda. "Like I said, I expected it. I'm not part of the band and I expected it to happen." He shrugged. "No big."
"Very big, I don't want you shut out."
Xander shook his head. "Why was I included?" He got an irritated grunt. "You have to do things with the band and I shouldn't be included in those."
"You're not a tag-along."
"No, I'm the roadie. You're the band. There's a division there. I'm not pissed."
"No, but I am." Oz shifted to look at his friend. "It wasn't fair to you when they made you leave."
"No, it wasn't, but you needed to concentrate. What was knocking you off?"
"That woman hitting on you," Oz said quietly.
"She recognized me. She's home for the summer from Rainier. And she wasn't hitting on me, she was trying to get me to introduce her to you." He grinned. "Seems she thinks you're cute."
Oz shook his head. "Thanks for telling her no."
"I gave her the next few dates and told her to show up." He grinned brightly at the groan. "She's smart, funny, and nice. She'd be good for you." Oz punched his arm. "Hey, easy, I'm driving." He checked his mirror and frowned. "Um, where's the van?"
"Wondering if that's them."
Oz looked in the mirror, wincing at the dent on the front of his van. "I'll kill them."
"Want me to pull over?"
Xander switched on the blinker, watching as the van followed suit. He smiled at his guide as he got out, pulling away when saw him get into the van's driver's seat, pushing the drummer out of the way.
Xander plugged in the last speaker and nodded before heading back out to the truck. He slid into his perch, turning up his hearing so he could keep an eye on his guide. When he couldn't find his heartbeat, he turned it up farther, unconsciously sending himself into a zone. That's how the security guard found him.
The older man snapped his fingers in front of the insensate man's face, idly scratching his inflated stomach when he didn't get a response. He hurried inside, having a quiet word with the bouncer, who nodded and followed him out to the powder blue truck. The bouncer shook his head in disgust when he didn't get an answer. "Drugs," he muttered, turning to go back inside. "It's tonight's band's roadie. Just leave him, I'll have a word with them."
The security guard nodded, closing the tailgate before going back to his rounds. He passed a panicked looking man on the way around the building, shaking his head in disgust at the youth of today.
Oz climbed in beside Xander, touching his shoulder. "Xan? You in there?" He saw the blink that meant he wasn't that far gone and relaxed. "Come on, I'm here," he whispered, rubbing down the limp arm and over relaxed shoulder. "Come on, they think you're a druggie."
Xander shuddered, pulling himself back. "Sorry," he whispered, hugging his guide until he had his levers back at normal.
"What were you tracking?"
"I was too far away?" Oz guessed. He felt the small nod so made the younger man sit up on his own again. "I'm safe and it's all good. You don't have to worry."
"It's my job," Xander reminded him. He frowned at the bouncer. "I'm not high, it was an allergic reaction." He and Oz had worked out this defense if he was caught zoning. The bouncer nodded tolerantly. "I'm not."
"He's not," Oz told him. "Nothing harder than caffeine. It's an artistic thing brought on by a food allergy."
"Whatever. He could come inside so you could watch him."
"Then Oz can't play," Xander said. He ruffled his guide's hair. "Go play, I'm okay." The older men both frowned at him. "Go play," he whispered, nudging him.
Oz slid out of the truck, glancing back a few times as he walked back toward the club's entrance.
Xander leaned forward. "It was this allergy that caused me to lose a job just like yours. I've been clean for over a year."
The bouncer smiled. "Okay, if you want to come in so your man can monitor you, I'll find you a table."
Xander shook his head. "Oz isn't into me. We're best friends." He grinned. "We're just real close."
"Hey, your life," the bouncer said, heading back inside.
Xander picked up a pencil, semi-happy as he started to draw again.
Oz rolled over to glare at his sentinel. Xander was fighting with his bedding again and making pained noises when it wouldn't let him go. He was all-but hanging off the edge next to the gap between the beds, and he was blindly reaching out toward him. The guide snorted, reaching over to brush his fingers against he searching ones. His friend stopped reaching, the noises stopped, and the younger man relaxed. "Yeah, the guide is important," he whispered.
He felt himself going under so let the contact with the spirit plane happen. He looked around the blue-tinted landscape, searching for a familiar figure. The little creature scampered up to him, turning into a not-him. "Hey, you called?"
"Why are you the guide?" the Spirit Guide asked, tipping his head off to the side in a listening pose.
"Because I was called," Oz said simply. "Is there a problem?"
"You cannot Guide if you cause harm."
"Am I? Xander says he's happy." He kept calm, making his mind not judge what the not-him was saying. Spirit Guides were often cryptic. "How am I causing him harm? And I thought you guys gave up on cryptic stuff."
"We are as we were, you are not and it hurts him." The not-Oz looked over his shoulder. "You must help and soothe, not harm." He faded from view. "All choices are yours."
Oz found himself back in bed, but a warm body was clinging to him. He petted the head attached to his stomach, closing his eyes. "Comfy?" he whispered.
Devon cleared his throat, making Oz jump. He was always sneaking around now. "Sorry, he snuck over 'cause he was having nightmares." He walked over, brushing down the bare back. "He's not happy, Oz, and neither are you." He sat on the empty bed, looking at them. "You gonna choose?"
"I can handle it," Oz told him firmly. "We're doing fine."
"You were concentrating on him insteada the music and it's only been two weeks."
"We have four days clear coming up, we'll practice and I'll figure it out so I do the music." The singer nodded, lying down. Oz closed his eyes, comforted and soothed by the body clinging to him.
Xander, who had heard the conversation, lay awake, considering his options.
Devon glared at his guitarist as he sat down. "Oz, music time, *not* Guide time."
Xander walked out of the club they would be playing at in four day's time. "I'm going to go play in my truck."
Oz threw his damp towel at his oldest friend. "You didn't have to make him leave. I was dealing."
"You were three measures behind," Devon said dryly. He watched him take off his guitar and stalk away. "Guess it's a break," he said, looking at the rest of his band.
Oz stalked out to their vehicles, sitting next to Xander. "I'm trying."
"I know," Xander said patiently. "You just have to disassociate because you can't choose." He spread the water color over the canvas. "Go play, I'm fine."
"But I'm not," Oz sighed, leaning back against his friend. "I can't concentrate if I'm not sure you're okay. It's a guide thing."
"Want my shirt?" That got a snort. "It'd be like being surrounded by my smell."
Oz sat up, looking at him. "That may work. My wolfy-senses would pick it up." He watched as Xander silently took off his t-shirt, matching him after a second so they could trade. "I'll take it back later after you make it Xander-smelling." Xander nodded. "Don't zone and I'll be back soon." He hopped down, putting the t-shirt on as he walked inside. He walked up onto the stage, silently picking up his guitar and staring off on their first song.
Devon carefully watched his oldest friend as he sang. He had caught sight of Xander a few minutes ago but the guitarist was fully involved in the music. He finished off the last song, taking a small bow, then motioned their roadie forward, starting to pack their gear so the DJ could finish out the night.
The whole band met at the van, the loading going smoothly due to the last few week's experience. The singer sat in the doorway, looking at Oz as he checked his Guideling over. "We did good tonight, we need more like this."
"I said I'd fix it," Oz said simply as they headed for the truck. "Motel?"
"We were invited to a party," Mike, the drummer, reminded them. Oz shrugged, still walking. "Come on, dude, we *need* this."
"I'm not going drinking," Oz called, closing the back of the pickup after tossing in a few cords that were kept in there. "Have fun." He walked around to get in.
Devon snorted. "He's going straight, guys, let's go." He stood up as Oz got out, slamming the truck's door. "What? You're resisting drinking."
Oz stepped up to his oldest friend, looking into his eyes. "I will *not* go out just to get into trouble," he said quietly but firmly, "and I will not endanger my health by drinking. If you drink tonight, you sleep with them." He turned, heading back to the truck.
Devon waited until they were gone to say anything else. "Let's go guys, Xander's making Oz responsible again."
Oz looked out the motel room's window, waiting for his bandmates to come back. "Still not back?" Xander asked as he walked out toweling his wet hair. His guide shook his head. "Do you want to call the cops?"
"They've not been gone that long. Dev'll be back soon. It's only nine am." Oz looked his friend over. "You okay?"
"I've been fine," Xander told him, sitting on a bed to look at him. "We have money, we can pay for another night."
"We've already paid for the next place. How do you want to do the furry times?"
"I see two options, tranqing or van." The younger man stood up. "I'm heading for the soda machine, want one?" The older man nodded so he grabbed some change, heading out to the office. "Hey," he greeted. "Heard anything about the rest of us?"
The old man behind the counter snorted. "Probably at that party that got busted." He nodded at the machine. "S'empty, whaddya want?"
"Um, coke and a sprite, Oz is definitely non-caffeine guy today." He paid for the two cans that appeared on the counter. "Should we call down there?"
"Might want to, just to get your van."
Xander nodded. "Thanks." He took the cans back to the room. "Their party got raided," he said as he walked in, watching as the older man headed for the phone. He silently handed over the sprite, going to turn on cartoons so he didn't have to listen.
Oz hung up. "They're being released in an hour, Devon paid their fines and they'll send the van with them." He laid on his bed, turning his head to look across the gap. "Want to leave? Just tack a note up?"
"I'm not caring. Let him feel icy."
"It's not nice. We'll leave as they pull up." Xander reached over, turning off the tv. "Do a room check."
Devon looked out from the window, careful not to get near the sunlight. "Dude, we said we're sorry," he whined. "Don't be cold."
"You worried us sick," Xander said, slamming the tailgate. He lowered the camper's door gently, locking it. "Oz couldn't sleep last night he was so worried."
"You two sound couply," the drummer said snidely.
"No wonder we can't pick up women," Tom, the bassist, commented.
Xander stiffened and Oz glared, his whole body and attitude speaking of ice for weeks on end. "Dudes," Devon warned, not having seen that level of Oz anger in years, but remembering quite well the hours he had spent in the emergency room because of it the last time. "Apologize. We won't fight and we'll leave Xander alone."
Xander climbed into his truck. "Oz, ride with them," he said, starting the truck and pulling away.
Oz got into the driver's seat. "You have five minutes to get your crap or you walk," he said coldly. His bandmates walked into their room and he checked his watch.
"They didn't mean it," Devon said quietly from the darkened back of the van. "They'll apologize later."
"Don't justify for them," Oz warned. "What they said was wrong." He turned. "Last night, I felt like the father of four year olds."
"Sorry," Devon said, shifting to lay down, "but we wanted to do band things. You're finally back with us again and we wanted to be whole and bond."
"No, we're not, Oz. You and Xander are in your room and ignore us until we go play. You've gone back to your Willow-habits and it hurts."
Oz started the van. "I do sit with you guys when you're out of your room. We talk all the time. Their problems are their's and they can deal." He blew the horn and got out, taking the keys. He took the door key out of the door, taking it to the office. He took back the damage deposit with a nod, heading back to his van and climbing in to check who wasn't in yet. "He's got one minute," he told the bass player.
"Mike's *sick*, Oz, give him a break."
"Then he shouldn't have been drinking."
"Oz, relax," Devon called, "it wasn't booze, it's his stomach." The guitarist grunted. "He's sorry he said it, relax."
"Doesn't make it not-said," Oz said cooly.
"Want me to drive?" the bassist asked hesitantly. "We don't want to wreck."
"I've got it." He watched the missing bandmember walk out holding his stomach. "You living?" The drummer nodded, climbing into the back and lying down. "Is everything out?" Tom slid out, heading to check the room, coming back with a few of their things. Oz restarted the van, pulling out of the parking lot.
"How we doing your thing tonight?" Devon called once they were on the road.
"We'll clean the van and tranq me," Oz said quietly.
Devon sat next to Xander, touching the gun. "I'll do it."
Xander shook his head. "I'm on it. I'll know when and if he starts to have problems." He laughed sourly. "It's one thing my senses are good for."
"This isn't home, he's not going to break his cage and come help you paint." He picked up a pencil, handing it to the young sentinel. "What you two have when he's changed is weird. He's uptight over you and you're way focused on him. It's some sort of strange standoff across the loft. He sits in the corner closest to you and you pretend to paint."
"His wolf sees me as a rival and my inner-sentinel sees him as a threat to the tribe. It'll stay this way until he's not furry or I lose my senses." He looked down at the blank paper in front of him. "Dev, what do I do if I can't do my art?"
"Hmm, don't know." Devon shifted closer to him, trying to soothe him by way of their on again/off again almost-thing, as Xander called it; they weren't lovers, it was just an occasional blowjob from the vampire to the artist to soothe and calm him back to reality. "Something arty. Maybe you could do business art or study cultural art." He snapped his fingers, picking up Rainier's catalog that Xander had been reading and flipping around in it. He stopped with a smile, handing it over.
"It's pure art, probably some drawing too."
Xander grinned as he read more, his mental tension easing. "I like this." His happiness fell away. "Uh-oh, gotta be specially admitted."
"So you take general crap for a semester." The vampire shrugged. "It's not like they'd turn you down. You're a great artist."
Xander hummed, relaxing under the praise. "I could do that, and I wouldn't mind so much if they were sold." He looked out toward the van, watching as it rocked. "Help me retranq him?" The vampire nodded, grabbing the gun. "No, I'll hit him, you hold." They walked out, Xander getting ready as Devon opened the door. He fired quickly, groaning as Devon grunted. He fired off a second shot, hitting the furry, growling body heading for him. He dropped the gun, reaching in to arrange Oz so he wouldn't wake up stiff. He shut the door, wincing at the yelp as he caught some hair in the door.
Xander walked into their room, going to bed.
Oz groaned as he woke up, looking at the cool body next to him. He pulled himself up, pulling the dart out of his stomach, and grabbed the robe laying in the front seat, putting it on and heading quickly for the room. He glanced at the man on the bed on his way to into the bathroom. He walked back out after his shower, sitting down at the small table to look at the drawings the younger man had done. He flipped through the rough drawings of the jewelry, wondering about them.
Xander rolled over, reaching toward his guide. He touched the jeans-covered leg and opened his eyes. "Human again?"
"Yup. What's with these?"
"Dev suggested I look at the jewelry program.," Xander said as he sat up. He popped his neck and stretched. "How bad are they?"
"You need practice," Oz admitted, "but for a first try it's okay." He pushed the papers aside. "Was I trouble?"
"Woke up once, tranqed you. And Dev, but he got in the way." Xander gave him a sideways look as he got out on the other side of the bed and pulled on a pair of sweats over his boxers. "How you feel?"
"Fine, normal." He looked at the papers. "Are you worried?"
Xander shuddered. "Kinda, but I was hoping to avoid much of a fight," he admitted. "It's not like I can't prove that they were acting against my will. Blair and Jim will both testify if I need them too."
"I will too," Oz reminded him. "What if you can't do that?"
"Then I'll find something or another program." Xander shrugged, heading for the bathroom. "Need the bathroom?"
"No, I'm done." Oz watched him go, looking back down at the very rough drawings, considering what it would mean for them. He shoved them together so he wouldn't have to look at that reminder, putting them roughly into the younger man's bag of sketching supplies. He took out something he didn't recognize, looking at the film container. "Pictures too?" he asked himself.
"Yeah," Xander said, grimacing at the small jump. "Sorry. My advisor suggested that I should try it a few months ago. Said it was a natural progression from my art." He sat on the bed, pulling on his shoes. "Okay, we ready to leave?"
"Can't, we stay here tonight."
"Oz, it's Tuesday. We're leaving today and heading for the next spot."
Xander flipped on the tv to the weather channel, pointing at the little white letters in the upper corner. "Tuesday. We gotta leave today." The slightly older man shrugged, getting up to gather his things so they could repack the van. "What're we doing about Dev? He's probably near the door."
"I'll get in through the front and move him."
Someone knocked on the door so Xander answered it. "Yeah?" he asked the officer in confusion. "What's up?"
"Is that your van?" he asked, staying calm, a hand near his gun. Both men nodded. "Then I think we need to have a talk, boys."
Xander groaned. "Devon." He looked at Oz and shrugged, the older man doing the same. "He's not dead, not really." He walked out, picking up the gun and tossing it into the front seat. "Tranq gun. He gets violent during the full moon." He opened the back door carefully, tossing a foot over. "Devon! Get your ass up now!"
The vampire sat straight up, looking around in confusion. "Dude, I was having *good* dreams." He looked at the cop and waved. "Hi." The cop fell over in a dead faint. "Huh, not good."
Oz walked out, calmly taking in the scene and heading for the office. "Hey," he told the manager, "there's a cop passed out in the parking lot." He looked at the card that was handed over. "What's this?"
"A person who fixes things like you." He took the room key. "Thought you guys were staying tonight too."
"So did I, but Xander didn't." He shrugged, heading out to where the van was parked. "Um, are you sure we're not supposed to be staying?"
Xander got into the truck, pulling out the map holder that also held their schedule, handing it to Oz, watching as he read the list. "Don't know, you're the responsible person here." He walked over to knock on the other bandmember's door, waiting while the drummer answered. "Hey, Oz isn't sure if we're staying for another day. Do you have an opinion?" The door shut in his face. "Guess not."
Oz snorted, looking up. "No, here's the motel list, we're here for another night." He headed back for the office. "I think we've paid for tonight too." The manager nodded, handing back the keys. "Thanks. Um, fixes how? Like no more furry or other fixing?"
"He's a hunter."
"Nope, thanks anyway, I like living," Oz said, walking out to where Xander was. He leaned closer to him. "He just tried to get me to call a hunter."
"Then we're leaving," Xander said simply. He nodded toward the rooms. "Get them moving and check our room," he said before heading back to the office. "Hey, I think since we're having problems with Devon we should leave. Thanks anyway though." He smiled his most winning smile, hoping he didn't come off too geeky. "The cops don't seem to think too highly of people who look dead when they sleep." The manager nodded, handing over the money. "This isn't what we paid for."
"Check out was ten."
"It's only eight," Xander told him, pointing at the clock. He glared at the woman walking out. "Buffy," he groaned. "Go away, we don't want to see you, ever." He looked back at the manager. "Just give us what we're due and we're leaving. No one ate anyone."
She snorted. "Xander, relax, I'm in rehab from the people who hurt us both." He ignored her. "And I wouldn't hurt Oz, you know that."
"Yay," he said coldy. "You tried before and I'm not letting you get near him again." He looked at the manager then at the cop that was just now getting to his feet. "I could call him in here, ask him to get our money for us." It was put in front of him with a grunt and a frown. "Thanks. Bye." He walked out, acting very calm as he walked up to Oz, but his guide knew better.
"What's up?" he asked.
"Shit." Oz got into the back of the van. "Our room's clean, the other guys are almost done. I'll drive the van."
Xander nodded, heading to help the other two guys get their things together so they could leave, making sure he could hear Oz the whole time. He came back out in time to see Buffy leaving the office, slinging the last bag into the back and getting out of the way. He intercepted her, making her stop. "Try it and die," he told her quietly, nodding at the stake. "Neither Oz or I will let you harm Devon. He's a good guy, not a mass feeder."
She shrugged. "I'm not here for him."
"Then leave, Buffy, you're not getting near us." He backed away from her, running into Oz's chest. "Go start the van," he ordered.
Oz rubbed over his guideling's back. "Relax, she won't hurt me either. Neither of us will allow it." He looked at her. "Why you here?"
"I'm here to talk to you two."
"Not going to happen," Xander said, turning and pulling Oz with him. "We're leaving, and you're not coming." He pushed his guide toward the van. "Get in and go."
"Waiting on sick boy." Oz looked back toward Buffy. "You gonna forgive her?"
"She wanted them to dissect me, she didn't tell anyone what they were doing to me, not even Giles. I doubt I'm going to keep being civil." He got into the truck, leaving the door open in case he needed to get out and do something. He kept an eye on where she was, making sure she didn't try to get near the van or the vulnerable members of the band. When the drummer finally came out and got into the van, he followed it out of the parking lot, nodding at the officer as he pulled past him. The lights came on so he stopped, tapping the steering wheel in agitation. Oz wasn't far enough away from her for him to relax yet. "Yeah?" he asked.
"What was that?" the officer asked.
"Ask the blonde bitch," he said, pointing at her. "She'll gladly tell you all about vampires." The cop nodded. "Some are okay, he's not fed recently and hasn't killed anyone yet. He even asks their permission first. He's fine."
"And the gun?"
"Tranq gun. We used it on someone last night, we do that every month." The cop nodded, taking off his ball cap to scratch his head. "Listen, our teacher's are cops. We're the good guys. She was part of a rogue military program that hurt people. I'd watch her."
Buffy walked over. "The manager said he robbed them."
"We just got back our money for tonight," Xander defended. "It's before eight am and I demanded a full refund. You want me to stay?"
The officer shook his head. "Just don't come back this way."
"Whatever," Xander said, restarting the van and pulling away. He didn't see Buffy throwing something against his truck, but he saw the tracking device later when he stopped for gas. He pulled it off, tossing it out before Oz could see it.