Oz looked off the stage, nodding at his sentinel to get ready to help them move their gear. He finished his solo, turning to Devon, who was crooning, looking out across the crowd too. He checked the rest of his band, then faced front again, hitting the last few notes hard, just like always. They hopped off the stage, quickly gathering their things and heading out, always good when you were being followed. Xander met them at the van, getting in to load the gear they had supplied, shifting the heavy speakers easily now. When they were done, the band members all looked at each other and shrugged.
"It's an early night," Devon told them. "We need to do stuff."
"As long as it's not alcohol related," Xander reminded him. Everyone patiently nodded, rolling their eyes. "What did you guys want to do?"
"How about we start out with going back inside and enjoying part of the night," Devon suggested. He winked at Xander, turning around and dragging Mike, the drummer, with him. "Come on, Tom, Oz, let's go."
Oz shook his head, looking at Xander. "You want to go be anti-rhythmic?"
"I can dance," the young man said quietly, wandering inside after the others, leaving his guide to follow him. He nodded at the woman that was following their dates, pulling her over to where Oz was watching the crowd on the floor. "Oz," he said, trying to be heard. "This is Sascha. She's a fellow student at Rainier." He pulled out a chair for her, then headed out onto the floor.
She gave him a guilty little smile. "Hi," she said, holding out a hand. "I've been trying to get close enough to tell you that I really like your music."
Oz nodded, looking her over. "I've seen you there, where?" he shouted over the music.
"I usually sit behind Xander at lunch. He tosses food..." her voice lowered as the music went quiet, "at me," she finished with a smile. He nodded. "So, you're one of Doctor Sandburg's students?"
"His assistant," Oz said, taking a sip of his soda. He looked her over and something clicked. "Want to dance?" She nodded, standing up to wait on him. Since it was a slow song, he led her to the edge of the floor, holding her closer. "You smell nice," he told her.
"Yeah, but you smell like cigarettes and oil," she said, wrinkling her nose. She shook her head. "Truck break down?"
"Van, we had to add some oil earlier and the mechanic that sold it to us was smoking." He pulled back to her. "That was hours ago."
"I've ran into Doctor Sandburg a few times over my nose," she said, looking down at where her arms were wrapped around his neck. "It's only the one."
"Huh. What else do you know?"
"That he wanted to introduce us, he said we'd be fun together." Her sensitive nose wrinkled. "I really wasn't going to go along with his plans but you looked so cute following behind Xander with a helpless air." He shook his head so she leaned closer to his ear. "I know what he is and what you do for him, your secret's safe. I'm only looking for friends."
"We're not like that," Xander said, dancing up next to them. He grinned at her then at his friend. "Told ya so." He led the obvious teenaged girl away from them.
Oz shook his head. "He needs spanked," he told her, looking up into her blue eyes. "You really understand?"
"All of it. I'm all set to help you starting in the fall." He nodded and turned them a little so he could watch Xander. "Relax, he won't jump her, he's a gentleman."
"Yeah, but the rest of my band isn't always such nice guys." He nodded at Devon. "He's been known to not care on occasion."
"Then that's his problem," she said. She kissed his forehead. "You need to quit worrying, you'll get wrinkles and look really old." He snorted, laughing a little. "You will, it's been proven."
"If you say so, Sascha," he said, letting her pull back some when the song changed. They danced until the band's break, heading back to the table to relax for a while in the quiet. "So, you gonna keep following us?"
"Yup. I've got nothing better to do this summer and it's most enlightening. Did you know that small college towns are all the same?" He shook his head. "They are and most of them are not friendly to smart, single women."
Xander sat down next to them. "They never are," he told her, hugging her. "Devon said he's disappearing for an hour or so but he'll meet us at the motel. Need another drink?"
"Just some aloneness," Oz said.
"Going," Xander said with a grin. He headed through the crowd, walking out into the night. "Devon," he whispered, "that worked so well." He headed for his truck, getting in and heading back to the motel. He needed a nap.
Oz shook his head, bringing himself away from watching his sentinel leave. "What?" he asked, knowing she had said something.
"I said, you're awfully focused on him. Doesn't he have control enough to be alone for a while?" She smiled, patting his hand. "I know, it's new, right?"
He nodded. "Very new, and I worry. We've had problems this trip." He sat up a little straighter. "So, you dance, you put up with Xander tossing food, what else are you doing?"
"I'm a Accounting major. I watch lots of tv, I write." He snapped his fingers. "Yup, that was me that day that you two had the fight."
"Do you put up with naked painters?"
"Of course, if that's how he feels most free to create. I won't look necessarily, but I see nudity as the truest part of the self. Clothing was created to subjugate women and create artificial separations in society." She shrugged. "I'm known to be a nudist in my own space when I have the chance."
"Okay. Can I say something?" She nodded, her smile falling. "I think we could be friends," he told her, leaning over to kiss her cheek. He heard his bandmates whoop and he flipped them off, sitting back in his own seat. "That okay with you?"
"Hey, I could always use friends and people who understand me." She gave him a naughty grin. "Between the two of you, you might even figure out all of me and my little quirks." He snickered, then burst out laughing. "Oh, good, you *do* like me, you really do."
Oz just nodded, pulling her up to go dance with him again, feeling a lot more like his old self again.
Devon snuck into the motel room, catching the pillow Oz threw at him. "Hey," he said, grinning. "So, who was the girl?"
"She's Sascha," Xander mumbled. "You need to learn vamp sneakiness." He rolled over, covering his head with the pillow. "'Night."
"Sleep," Oz ordered, shaking his head when he focused on his oldest friend. "She's someone that Blair was going to introduce us to anyway. She knows about Xander and his eating problem that happens when he's working and she's pretty cool."
"Good," Devon said with a yawn. "You need a decent woman in your life." He looked at the young man on the other bed. "We all know you won't help yourself to him."
"Devon," Oz warned.
"Sorry." The vampire sat down across from his friend, pushing Xander over some. "This gonna screw you up?"
"No," Xander said, using the pillow to hit him. "It's already cold in here and you feel like ice tonight. Nap with Oz." He recovered his head, trying to fall back asleep.
Oz sighed, turning on a small machine on the little stand between the beds. "Sleep," he ordered again once the rain sounds started. He nodded Devon outside once he heard the snores start, closing the door behind them. "She's cool, drop it."
"Hey, if she makes you happy and the old Oz again, then I'm happy," Devon told him, patting his shoulder. "Want me in there with you guys tonight?"
"Depends, can you stand the rain?" Devon shook his head. "Me either." They both jumped as the door opened and Xander walked out to his truck, climbing into the back and locking himself in, the blankets and pillow dragging behind him. "Guess he's more comfy," Oz quipped, going back inside. He shut off the white noise machine, laying down on his bed. "Night."
"Yeah, night," Devon said, laying down on the bare bed.
Xander closed his eyes, his hearing going back down now that his Guide quit talking. "Night," he whispered, rolling into a ball and falling asleep.
Oz looked around the campground they found themselves in, shaking his head. "Why are we camping again?" he asked Xander, whom he had decided to go for a walk with.
"Because the only motel in this burg of six thousand has a no musicians policy." He picked up a twig to strip the bark off of. "Why did you want to come with me this time? You never want to go on my walks with me."
"Yeah, but I think we need to talk." Oz pulled them over to a nice stand of trees, pushing Xander against them. "Are you gonna be okay if I date?"
"Why wouldn't I be?"
"Because you've been cold and distant since introducing us. Even Sascha's noticed." Xander shrugged. "What? If you're having problems I need to know. Remember, me Guide...."
"Xander fucked up being?" he finished, looking up. "I'm fine with you dating her. She's a nice girl and you deserve her." He stood up, only to be pushed back into the tree. "Oz, that's not nice."
"Yay. Why are you being frosty? She's worried that she's breaking our bond."
"No, she's not breaking our bond," Xander said, getting back up on his feet instead of his reclined position. "There's nothing wrong with our bond." He walked away, heading deeper into the woods. "Except that we don't have one," he mumbled once he was alone.
Oz stared after him, his stomach plummeting at the quiet words he had just barely heard. He turned back toward the cabin, walking slowly as he thought.
Oz stopped Xander from walking into the cabin, making him sit on the porch swing with him. "I heard," he said quietly, "and I think you're wrong. We're bound."
"No, Oz, we're not," Xander sighed. "You're not bound to me, I'm bound to you." He stood up. "Anything else? I need to eat something before I go to bed tonight."
"Truck?" Oz asked gently.
"Yeah, probably, that way I don't have to listen to you and Dev talk about me." He walked into the cabin, closing the door solidly behind him.
Oz leaned his head back, starting the swing moving as he thought. He caught Xander as he came back out, pulling him down. "Listen, I know I'm not the best Guide, but I'm trying here."
"Some days," Xander agreed. "Other days, you're not." He reclined in his corner of the swing. "What do you want to do about it since you're the one seeing the problem?"
"I want to fix it. This hurts, Xander, this frosty thing between us."
"Yeah, it does," Xander admitted quietly, "but I can't make you like me or be my Guide." He got up, heading for the truck and climbing into the back, followed quickly by Oz. "Out! I need my own space sometimes too!"
Oz sat there, looking at him. "You're considering this your safe space," he said flatly. Xander didn't answer him, just rolled himself further into his blankets. "Okay, I'm sorry I intruded." He climbed back out and shut Xander in for the night so no creature like a squirrel could get in and help him nap. He headed for the cabin, slamming the door as he walked in. He walked past his bandmates, heading for his bedroom and slamming that door too. He sat so he could look out his window, not facing the truck unfortunately, and decided to think. He ignored the knock on his door, not wanting to deal with anyone right then. Whoever it was knocked again so he yelled, "Go away!" and tossed a pillow at it.
Devon walked in. "Sorry, but I can't do that." He sat down beside Oz, looking at him. "What's wrong in Happy Valley this time." He ducked the pillow that came at his head. "Oz, it's really apparent that something's not right. If you'd tell me, I'd help."
"Can't," Oz said, shifting away from him. "No one can. He's being an ass." He shifted farther away as the cool hand tried to touch him. "Don't."
"Oz, you need to relax."
"No, you need to leave me alone so I can think." Devon got up, leaving without another word, and Oz was sorry he had been harsh but he had to figure this out before something bad happened.
Oz caught up with Xander as he headed out into the woods again, stopping him. "I want to talk to you," he said quietly. The younger man shrugged. "Yes, talk," he pointed at the path. "Now." They walked down it silently, each one listening to something inside them. "Xander," Oz started, "I'm sorry I've been distant, I didn't mean to be."
"Not your fault," he said.
"Yeah it is. I've not been the Guide I should be."
"Xander, stop, look at me," Oz said, turning him around to face him. "I don't like the cold between us. I do want to be your Guide." He stopped, looking around them. "Didn't we have this fight before?"
"Yup," Xander said, getting away from Oz and moving back down the path. "Tell me when you have it figured out again," he called.
Oz growled and jogged after him. "No, stop!" He spun the younger man around, looking into his eyes. "This isn't the same thing. I'm not running and neither are you. I just don't know how to cure it this time."
"I noticed," Xander said quietly. He looked at his friend. "I'm going out tonight, you guys'll have to do your own equipment." He pulled away from the restraining hand. "Get over it, Oz, I have." He headed off the path, going up a small hill into the woods.
Oz watched him, knowing something was desperately wrong now and not sure what it was.
Oz got up when he heard the truck pull up to the parking spot, going out to talk to his sentinel. "Have fun?" he asked, taking a deep smell of him. His eyes narrowed as he looked over his Guideling. "Have fun?" he asked again when he didn't get an answer.
"Yeah," Xander admitted, climbing out of the truck. "I did. And?"
Devon walked out onto the porch. "The rest of humanity is trying to sleep, guys," he called. "Fight in the morning."
"I won't be here then," Xander said, looking at Oz. "I checked our messages and I have to reappear in Cascade to give another statement."
Oz shuddered and shook his head. "I checked earlier, there wasn't anything." He saw the pain of his statement, and knew he had just hurt the young man worse. "Not saying that you lied, just that I never heard it earlier."
"Yeah, well, sometimes you don't listen." He headed around to the back of his truck, climbing in and locking himself in. "Go away, Oz, I'm fine."
Oz pulled out his spare keys, undoing the back of the truck and sitting on the tailgate. "If you were fine, you wouldn't lock yourself out here." He looked at his sentinel. "Xander, I'm trying here, but I can't make up all the distance."
"Yay." Xander stripped off his shirt. "I'm getting naked, if that bothers you, leave."
Oz picked up one of his cushions and tossed it at him. "Why are you being bitchy?" The younger man turned to glare at him. "And what did you sleep with that smells that bad?" he asked, taking a deep smell of the air in the truck.
"Gee, Oz, what's wrong? Jealous?" He pushed his guide off the tailgate and closed it. "Go inside." He shut the camper's back too, locking it from the inside. He sat down in front of his easel, turning on his little battery operated lamp, and grabbing a few pencils to draw with.
Oz watched him do it, then turned to lean against the back of the truck. "Xander, I'm not leaving until we talk." He didn't get an answer. "Come on," he said, knocking on the camper. He heard something be thrown at where he was standing. "Xander," he tried again. "I think we've proven running doesn't help." The smell of the woman Xander had been with earlier hit his enhanced senses again and made him gag. A wave of jealousy rolled through him, clouding his judgement. He tried to get hold of himself but every time he got close, that smell would hit him again. She was pungent, whoever she was. "Xander!" he yelled, knocking on the camper. "Let me in *now*!"
Xander unlocked the camper's door, opening it a little. "Go to bed, Oz. You can yell in the morning." He shut it again and Oz slammed his fist into the plexiglass, making him reopen it before it broke. "Wanting this fight really badly?" he asked snidely. "I don't know why."
"Hey, you introduced me to Sascha."
"Yeah, and I still think you two do real good together. And?"
"Then what's your problem?" Oz glanced over his sentinel. "The fact that you think I'm leaving? I'm not."
"No, I know that. I've become your sacred duty." He inched his sense of smell up a few notches. "Why are you jealous, Oz? Because I went out and had some fun and it wasn't with you? Or because I didn't ask permission?" He closed the camper's flap again, locking it with a loud snap. "Go away," he called. "Come back when you're rational."
Oz growled but restrained himself from tearing open the back of the truck, storming inside and into his room. He found Devon in there, picking him up using his wolf-given strength and tossing him out of the room, slamming the door behind him. He sat on his bed, staring at the wall.
Devon got up, dusting himself off, and walked outside. He knocked politely on Xander's camper, waiting until he opened it. "What's going on?"
"Not a damn clue, it's all him and his fears," Xander said, shutting himself back in. "Later."
The vampire walked back into the cabin, shutting the door gently so he wouldn't wake anyone else up.
Oz looked across the table at his sentinel, growling softly when the younger man didn't pay any attention to him. "Xander," he said finally, taking the pencil from his hand and putting it down on the table between them. "Your art is running now, we have to talk."
Xander calmly picked up his pencil. "Go practice, Oz." He looked at his guide. "We don't have to do this now, not in front of people," he said quietly.
"Dudes, enough," Devon called across the empty club. "Oz, work now, guide later." He saw the rage building on Oz's face, a very subtle distinction sometimes but he knew this one was going to be a bad fight. "Oz, now please," he called again.
Oz got up, slamming the chair back under the table, and walked up onto the stage, picking up his guitar to play. He started off on their first song, playing it a little harder and louder than he needed to. When the rest of the band didn't join in, he looked at them. "What? Not practicing?"
"No," Mike said carefully, "we are, we're just waiting for you to get it out." He walked around his drum kit, coming over to stand beside his friend. "What's wrong, Oz? Let us deal too."
Xander got up and walked out, letting the club's door slam behind him. Everyone looked from the door to Oz and back then backed away from him, Mike actually taking his guitar off him. Oz walked down off the stage and went for a bottle of water, coming back up to put back on his instrument. "And?" he asked after taking a few sips. He glared at Devon when he shook his head. "Practice?"
Xander sat there, looking out the windshield of his truck, key in the ignition. Every time he tried to turn the key, a flash of him as Giles had found him a little over a year earlier came back to him, only each time it was getting worse. No one came to save him, no one cared that he was getting more and more strung out. No one cared. And with that thought, the images cleared, turning into a bright light that sucked him into it.
"Yup," he said, sitting across from his Spirit Guide. "I'm here, why I'm not sure. Did you actually call this time?"
Darrien gave him a dirty look. "Yes, sentinel, we do care." He handed over a little mirror. "Look."
Xander looked down at the images flowing across it, seeing his and Oz's fights. "And?" he asked tiredly, handing it back. "I've been there, thank you. I don't need to look at it again." He lay down on the springy grass. "This one isn't my fault, I'm not running this time. Not that I did that much of it last time but this fight's not my fault."
"Fault is not an issue," Darrien told him, hitting his arm with the mirror. "Maybe you should see him this time." He disappeared, turning the mirror into a big, silver puddle.
Xander rolled over, watching their fights, paying attention to Oz and what he was saying. He still didn't know what he was missing when he heard the first call back to reality. He crossed his feet, continuing to watch Oz react to his own fears. He could hear the calls become more insistent but he didn't pay attention to it, that wasn't necessary now, figuring this out was. He felt the first ripping feeling through his stomach a few minutes later and curled up into a ball, moaning for his guide.
"He can't hear you, he's not here," Darrien reminded him from the grass around the clearing. He walked out, nudging the sentinel with his foot. "Stupid."
"Thanks," Xander groaned, getting to his feet. "I was doing what you said."
"You Guide is law," Darrien reminded him.
"Not if it's unfair and unjust," Xander argued, facing off to him. "I can't just give up everything I am to follow him around. I'm not that good at this stuff."
"No one asked you to," Darrien told him gently, stroking down his cheek. "Go back to him and discuss this, no more fighting or you won't like the consequences."
He waved his hand and Xander found himself back in his body, looking up at a very pissed Oz. "God, why me?" he asked, rolling over.
Oz looked at his bandmates, who all backed away from the back of the pickup, leaving them alone after shutting the tailgate and camper. He looked down at his guideling. "Xander," he said calmly, "where were you?"
"Darrien." Xander ran his hand over his abdomen, coming back with some blood. "What happened?"
"Not a clue. You started to bleed." Oz flipped the younger man back over, looking down at him. "What's going on with you this time? Why are you running?"
"Oz, I haven't run in a long time." He pulled himself up, looking around the back of his truck. "Tell me you didn't break the painting."
"Fuck the painting!"
"Oz, that means as much to me as your music does you," Xander said, moving away from him. "I would have expected you to understand." He looked at the painting handed to him, putting it aside so he could hopefully straighten it out later. "What's wrong with you? You're going back to the evil Oz again." He looked his guide over. "This isn't even about me, is it."
"No," Oz said, shifting to look at him, "not all of it is." He looked down at his hands. "Some of it's actually about us. Some of it's about Sascha and I."
"Hey, I'm happy that you found someone you like." Xander pulled a pillow over to sit on, leaning against the end of the truckbed. "What else was there?"
"Nothing," Oz said, looking up at him.
"Nothing at all and all this is a pissy act of yours, or nothing I can handle?" Xander asked coldly. "If I remember right, you did promise to talk to me sometimes."
"And I do," Oz said slowly, "all the time." He looked over his sentinel's body. "You look bad though. You using?"
"No!" Xander shook his head. "This isn't even about me, don't change the subject." He looked over the older man's shoulder as someone walked toward them. "Your job calleth."
Oz turned around, opening the camper. "Yeah, Tom?"
"Practice, or the owner will kick us out for the day." He nodded at Xander. "Can you do this later?"
"Yeah, but I'm leaving after we load tonight." Oz's mouth hung open. "No, we need some space. You need to think and I need to be myself for a while." He waved at the outside. "Go play."
Tom shook his head. "Man, this is not the time."
"That's nice," Xander said, giving him a slightly insane-looking smile. "We'll deal after he figures out what's wrong." He nudged Oz with is foot. "Out!"
Oz climbed out of the truck, heading for the club, still numb. Tom watched him then turned to look at the sentinel. "That was cold man. You just hurt him worse than Willow ever did."
"No, I'll be back. He'll see me before each show when I help you guys set up. I'm not sleeping in the same room anymore and I'm not helping him through this. It's all him this time."
Tom shook his head, closing the camper's door. "Whatever." He walked inside, sitting beside Oz. "He said he's still going to be the roadie, he's just not going to be sleeping in the other bed beside you." Oz nodded, sipping his water. "You okay in there?"
"He rejected me," Oz said quietly.
"No, he said you needed time to think on your own, which I kinda agree with." Oz gave him a hurt look. "Hey, he's got that same expression in his eyes. You're killing him by being such a Guidenazi. Get over whatever and pull him back to you. He'll come when you're ready for him."
Oz shook his head. "No, this was our last chance, I knew that when we started out. His spirit guide told me it was our last chance. If I messed up, Xander'd die." He finished his water, getting up to head for the stage. "I'll go find him tonight," Oz told Devon quietly.
"I'm sure," the lead singer said quietly, patting his arm. "We'll all talk to him."
"No," Oz said, putting back on his guitar. "It's not going to help, not this time." He picked up a pick, looking down at his strings as he checked for tune.
Xander looked around the little flea trap he found himself in, closing his eyes as another car's headlights flashed across his darkened room. For once his sight was starting to give him problems, flashing bright colors at him when there weren't any, making trails of light around him, making him really sick feeling over all. He had managed to turn down his other senses, but since he didn't have a control for his sight, it wouldn't help any. He flipped onto his stomach, putting his head under the pillow to try and block out the lights.
With his hearing down he never heard Oz crawl into the back of his truck. He didn't even hear the cops coming to ask Oz what was going on or the explanation he gave about trying to save Xander's life from his own head. All he heard was the knock at his door when someone woke him up. He trudged over to the door, groaning at the cop standing there. "Problems?"
"Yes, a few. Do you own that blue truck?" he asked, pointing at Jim's former truck. Xander nodded. "And that stuff in the back? The herbs?"
"Are herbal remedies. I'm supposed to brew teas from them to help with my headaches." Xander leaned against the door. "How'd you find them?"
"My dog sneezed as he walked by. Are they legal?"
Xander walked over to his bag, pulling out the instructions Blair had given him, and the ingredient list in case he ran out of something. "Here, this is what he worked up for me." The cop read it and handed it back. "Anything else?"
The cop pulled his flashlight out, shining it at Xander's face. "Yeah, just one thing, I was told you were possibly using drugs, mind if I come in?" He was waved inside, as was the dog. The dog sat down in front of Xander, looking at him.
"Hey," he said, waving before falling back onto the bed, "I don't have anything on me and I'm clean. Anything in here would be someone else's." The cop nodded, coming over to sit in front of him. "What?" Xander asked tiredly. "Can't a guy use herbs to cure his headaches?"
"Yeah, but I think you need something stronger than leaves." He reached down to pat his dog on the head. "What's wrong, kid? You look like your best friend died."
"No, he just decided I wasn't worth the problems anymore." He pulled himself back up. "I'm fine, really. There's nothing really wrong."
The officer nodded, pulling out a card. "If you need to talk to someone and you're around here, call these people." He led his dog out.
Xander looked at the card for the local 'Help' line, then laid back down, card on his chest under his hand. "Maybe, but I doubt they'd understand about being me."
Oz waited until Xander was singing along with a tape and they were well on their way to slide open the window between the cab and the bed. "Stop the truck."
Xander jumped, swerving off the road. "Why did you do that?" he yelled, turning to look at his guide. "Did you want me to wreck?"
"No." He looked at the window then down at himself. "Are you going to take off if I get out and come sit beside you?" Xander shook his head, shutting off the engine and laying his head on the steering wheel. Oz got out, making sure the camper was locked before he walked around to get into the seat. "Sorry."
"Drive," Xander said, opening his door. It was shut on him. "What?" He was pulled into a hug. "Don't," he whispered.
"No, you need this," Oz said. "Hugs balance." He let Xander go when he tried to move. "Want me to drive?"
"Yeah," Xander said, nodding. They traded places without getting out, bumping into each other a few times. He waited until they were on the road again to say anything. "When did you get back there? Stop!" He was looking at the mirror, seeing something waving from the back. Oz pulled over and Xander ran back, looking at his safe space. He fought with the lock on the camper then climbed in, checking over everything.
Oz sat on the tailgate, pushing the sheet that had gotten caught in the door when he had gotten out back into place. "Everything okay?" Xander nodded, hugging his pillows to his chest. He made a snap decision, getting up and closing the gates. "Stay, I'll get us somewhere cozy." Xander nodded, laying down so he walked around to get in. He made sure the window between them was open as he restarted the truck, pulling back onto the road. He picked up the cellphone, dialing Mike's with his thumb. "Hey, me. No, we're going to talk. We're about three hours from the club." He grunted and hung up. "Tom's got a sprained ankle, they're at the hospital," he called, tossing the phone onto the seat. He didn't get an answer. "Xander?"
"Yeah, he twisted it in his pre-waking haze." Oz nodded at the big sign he was passing. "Hungry?"
"You sure? There's a big place coming up."
"We can stop if you want to," Xander said, sounding resigned.
"No, not if you don't want to," Oz told him.
"I want to nap."
"Okay, nap then." Oz's hands tightened on the wheel.
"But you wanted..."
"Xander! Stop! This is about you and what you want. What do *you* want?" he asked slowly and calmly. A whispered comment floated out of the back. "Huh?"
"Okay." He sped up a little as they passed the turn off. "Yell when you're ready to stop then."
Xander nodded, curling up in his nest of blankets and pillows, writing in the journal Blair had forced him to start. When he was done, he hid it under his sketchbag.
Oz slid into the back of the truck, nudging Xander's leg with his. "Hey. We're here."
Xander woke up, looking around. "Where?"
"Oh." The younger man pulled himself up to look at his guide. "Time to set up?" Oz shook his head. "No?"
"They're still at the hospital. Tom fell in the parking lot, they had to pull part of a crutch out of his leg." They both shuddered. "Yeah, it's doubtful we'll play." He reached out to touch his friend's foot. "Talking?"
"What did you say earlier?" Oz asked after a few moments of silence.
"Nothing," Xander muttered.
Oz waited through a few more minutes of silence. "So, talking?" he tried again, starting to feel a little desperate. This time it was just him, no doctors, no Blair, no anybody but him to understand his guideling and his needs.
"Yeah." Xander looked down at his hands, picking paint from under his nails. "Why were you pissed?"
"When?" Oz asked, confused. "Last time I knew was when you walked out."
"Started the last time we camped," Xander said quietly. "You got mad and jealous." He looked up and still saw confusion. "Don't remember? Am I *that* below your radar?"
"No," Oz said quickly, reaching out to his sentinel. "That's a good question, I don't know why." He shifted closer. "Why do you think?"
"Don't know. You got jealous over the woman I danced with."
"Xander, she smelled, her scent was all over you."
"I didn't sleep with her. We were close on the dancefloor but I require feelings for sex." He looked at the man he considered his best friend, realizing that he didn't know Oz at all. "Do you know me?" he asked suddenly.
"You're Xander," Oz said simply.
"Yeah, but who's he?" Xander slid forward. "Do you know the real me? The Xander beneath the guy you joked with?"
Oz shook his head. "Never have. You never let me that deep into you."
Xander leaned back. "Yeah, point."
"But I should try," Oz told him. He moved to sit beside the younger man, holding out his hand. "Oz, I'm your guide."
Xander shook it. "Xander, sentinel and artist."
"That's cool." He paused. "Where do we start?"
"You're not getting into my family. Forget it."
"How about down to the 'what was your dog's name' level?" Xander chuckled and Oz hugged him. "I missed that sound," he whispered, giving one last squeeze before letting go. "You haven't laughed in weeks."
"Or smiled," Xander admitted. "No offense?"
"I hate this." He turned to look at his guide. "I'd love to travel with you but this forced thing we're doing is bad for me." He rubbed over the hand he caught. "I feel like I'm wedged into a mold that's not me."
Oz nodded. "I noticed. It started out okay, right?"
"Yeah, the first few days were good. We talked, we were getting closer. Right this moment, I feel like what we had when Darryl was going back again." He noticed he was holding the older man's hand and dropped it. "Sorry."
"No, don't be. Touch is a need, same as food is."
"Ahhh," Mike said from right outside the truck. "Want us to take a picture?" He backed up at Oz's growl, looking at the moon that was just starting to come out. "Not time for that."
Oz looked at the dark that had fallen without them realizing and the van that had pulled up without them hearing. He looked back at Xander, who waved him on. "Later?"
"Sure, we'll talk later."
Oz slid out of the back of the truck, watching Xander straighten his safe space. "We playing or not?" he asked, getting out of Xander's way.
"We're trying," Devon said, getting out of the van. "Xander? Helping or not?"
Xander came out of the truck, tucking in his shirt. "Yeah. Go make sure the door's open." He grabbed the first piece of equipment, hefting it with a grunt.
"Oz," Mike said, stopping him. "Wha's up with him?"
"He's not really happy. We're stymying his Xanderness."
Mike shook his head. "If he wants to go, we could always hire someone else."
Devon tapped Mike on the shoulder. "He's not being paid. He's paying his own way." The drummer looked shocked. "Yeah, so drop it."
"Xander's really special and we shouldn't dump on him," Oz told the drummer. "I had to make him come for what we have."
Xander walked up to them. "Yeah, you begged real well." He looked at Mike. "Most of your drums are in there, you need to set up."
Oz stopped him from walking way. "Not meant to hurt, Xander."
"And it didn't." Xander brushed him off. "Some help here?" he said as he lifted a speaker.
As soon as the van was unloaded, Xander tried to head back out to his truck but Devon stopped him, wrapping one cool arm around him. "Stay in here tonight, Oz needs to see you to make sure you're okay."
"I'm fine," Oz called. "Let him do what he wants." He looked at his sentinel. "As long as it's not leaving."
Xander nodded, pulling himself away from Devon. "I'll try to stay in tonight but if you guys start to suck I'm going to go hide." That got a small smile from the lead singer. "Deal?"
"Deal." They shook on it and Devon jogged over to the stage, climbing up and taking his place, starting a countdown to the first song.
Xander noticed a pattern beginning. Each time he would shift, Oz would look at him. At one point he stopped playing for a few bars. So Xander took off his shirt, walking up to the stage and silently handing it over. Mike snickered and he shot him an intense look speaking of the drummer's death so he stopped. Oz put on the shirt and Xander went back to his corner table, watching him. He tried to shift, to purposely distract him, but it didn't work, Oz was focused again. So he got up and headed out of the club to his truck, picking up some stuff to sketch with. He pulled on a new shirt, stopping when he felt a warm body behind him and a shirt dangled beside his face. "What's this?"
"Mine," Oz said. "It seems to work best that way."
"I was coming back in," Xander said, turning and sitting on the tailgate to look at him. "Don't you want me in there?"
"Yeah, of course," Oz said, reaching over to tweak his nose. "But I can't wear two shirts and you need one, so you'll scent mine for tomorrow night." Xander nodded, taking the shirt to put on. "See? Works best."
Xander nodded again, looking at him. "So, it works?"
"Very well." He sat beside his friend. "You doing okay tonight?"
"Very. For once." He nudged Oz with his shoulder. "Aren't you supposed to be in there?"
"Of course." Xander gathered his bag up, standing up. Oz reached around him and he groaned. "No, off limits," he said, taking his journal back and tossing it back into his pile of blankets and pillows.
"Okay." Oz waited while Xander locked everything up, walking beside him as they went back inside. "Didn't know you did that."
"Ah." Oz took a few more steps. "Can I see sometime?"
Xander thought for a second. "I.."
Oz touched his arm. "No pressure. Just if you want me to." He let Xander go back to his table, heading up onto the stage. "Okay, we're all set."
Xander pushed a chair out for Oz's new girlfriend, Sascha, and went back to his drawing, humming along with the tune the band was playing, wincing at the very wrong chord Oz hit. He looked up and frowned, shaking his head. He looked at Sascha and pointed at his glass. "Drink?" he asked, loud enough to be heard over the music.
The petite blonde woman shook her head, tapping his book with a wave back at herself. He shook his head so she turned the power of her green/blue eyes on him, giving him her best pout. He relented, letting her take his sketchbook to look at. "Wow," she said between songs, sliding it back to him. "Very talented."
"Thanks. But I could say the same for your writing, I caught some in the last paper."
She waved it off. "That was an inner-class dribble. It was pure boredom." She looked toward the stage. "You two doing okay?"
"Not sure," he admitted. The music started again and he shrugged. He wrote out a note on a piece of blank paper, handing it over to her and she shook her head, frowning at him, writing back. He stopped as someone walked up to them. "Hey," he yelled, "what's up?"
"Your truck is blocking the entrance."
"Mine or his?" Sascha asked, blinking up at him. "His was near the back with the band's van."
Xander took her keys, heading out with the bouncer. The truck was pointed out but he shook his head. "That's not my truck. My camper's got the paisley on it." He led the way around the side, pointing it out. "That's mine. The other one is someone else's." He stopped, hearing another person walk up behind him. He turned to find two very large men looking at him. "What's wrong guys?" he asked quietly. He backed away from them, into the arms of another one. "What's up, guys, we don't have a problem."
"We do now," the bouncer said. "You can't corrupt innocent young women that way, boy." He stopped and screamed as his face erupted in pain from the spray Sascha had.
"Wow," Xander said, shooting a grin at her. He turned to look at the other two men. "Who said *I* was corrupting *her*?" They ran back inside. He handed her back her keys, walking her back inside. He found Oz and Devon sitting at the table waiting on them. "She's really handy with the mace," he told his guide, who was frowning at them.
Sascha kissed his cheek. "Relax, I just went out to even the fight." She sat down with a snort. "They thought he was corrupting *me*," she said, cracking up. "Me who writes gay literature."
Oz shook his head, patting her hand. "As long as you're okay." He looked at Xander. "You okay?"
"Yup." He looked at his friend, seeing the truth in his eyes, his heart clouding over. "Oz, it's not that way. She sees me as her kid, not a rival," he said quietly.
Devon stood up. "This is where I go find someone to nibble on." He got away as fast as he could.
Sascha hit Oz's arm. "Ow!" he complained, rubbing it. "You're strong."
"Yes, I am, and I'm also not interested in Xander that way, even if we could get along. Painters and writers very rarely get along as more than friends, we get torn up over our art. Whereas musicians and writers get along famously because we can supply words when you get stuck." Xander snickered and she kicked him under the table. "I'm not taking him from you."
"Or the other way, I'm not taking her from you," Xander put in.
"Sorry, bad deja-vu," Oz said, getting up. "Sascha, please keep Xander safe. I've got to go stop Devon from nibbling on the club owner's daughter." He walked away, pulling Devon with him back to the stage.
"Deja-vu?" she asked.
"Um, high school. Small incidence of his girlfriend and I having smoochies, we were friends since six years of age." He shrugged. "Oz and she settled it."
"Oh, okay then," she said as the music restarted, nodding at him, giving him a definite 'later' look.
"Ask him," he yelled, picking up his pencil to start drawing again.
Oz looked at the woman in his passenger's seat, shaking his head at her. "Only Xander could have told you about that."
"He's good about explaining obscure references I don't get," Sascha said, pushing her hair back behind her ears. "Now give, am I going to have you being insanely jealous if Xander and I become friends?"
"No," he said. "I think he could use one right now. It'd give him someone outside of me." She nodded. "We've been fighting again," he admitted, "and most of it was my fault. I got jealous when he went out to have fun, he came back smelling of this absolute ho." She shook her head. "He did."
She shook her head again. "Why should it matter if he slept with her or not, though I'm guessing not. I know how he feels about casual things." One of Oz's eyebrows went up. "He warned me not to be casual with you or to hurt you." Oz shook his head, holding his temples. "Oh, quit, it's sweet."
"No, it's not sweet, it's territorial imperative. I don't know what he was thinking." She laid a finger across his lips and he kissed it.
"He was looking out for you, same as any friend would. Now ease off the topic. No more Xander discussion unless he's here. We're friends and it's all good."
"It's all good," he repeated, leaning over to kiss her cheek. "You're amazing."
"I am?" she asked, surprised. "Why am I amazing?"
"Because you understand us and you still like us both."
Sascha laughed. "Oh, Oz, how could I do anything but like you. You're very likeable." She kissed him gently. "Just know I'm going to take over your mothering role with him and we'll be fine."
"I thought we were leaving Xander back at the hotel," he said, pulling her in for another kiss.
"We are, just making a statement." She allowed him to kiss her again. "We need another discussion topic though." She stole a kiss, smiling at him.
He shook his head. "Oh, I have one but this isn't the time or the place." She nodded. "No, it's not."
"Oz, just tell me."
"Well, you know about vampires...." he started.
Sascha sat beside Xander's still form on the bed in the motel room, looking up at Oz. "Xander," she said softly. He snorted and rolled over, curling around her, sniffing her.
He sat up, looking at them in alarm once he had recognized the scent. "Huh? Tell me I didn't grope, I didn't mean to grope and I'm really sorry, Sascha, I won't do it again."
Oz shook his head. "No groping involved. I told her and she needs proof."
Xander looked around. "Where's Dev?"
"Oh, we did that part," she said, wiping at the sheet marks on his cheek. "I wanted to know about the other part."
"The wolf? But Oz should be able to tell you about that too."
"No, not that."
"Then what? I'm not part of anything else." He looked up at his guide. "What's going on, Oz?"
"Willow," Oz said simply, sitting on his own bed.
"Oz," Xander groaned, "I told you I'm not going to do that with Sascha, I doubt we could be more than friends."
"No, not that part," she said, patting his bare shoulder. "The other part." He gave her a look that could only say 'huh'. "The witch part. That actually works?"
Xander nodded, leaning back against his pillows. "Oh, yeah. She screwed some of us quite a few times. 'Course it was around us before then because of Giles and the whole demony thing, but yeah, it's real." He turned his head to look at Oz. "What else did you tell her?"
"That you were a hyena for a few days," Sascha said, getting comfortable on his bed. "And that you three, you, Willow, and Buffy, had a split for almost a whole year."
"Yup, to both, but not in the same year. The hyena thing was during high school. The split came when I wasn't being college boy and they were too happy up there. Did he tell you about Buffy? What she looks like in case she shows up or something?"
Sascha shook her head. "Only that she may come after me too." Both men groaned. "Oh, stop it, that much was obvious. They want you and Xander bad enough to send people after you and they'd not hesitate to use me." She looked at her boyfriend. "I'm a lot tougher than I look."
Oz nodded. "I know, but I still don't want you hurt."
"Don't go all protective on me," she warned, getting up. "I'm a strong and independent woman, I can take care of myself." Someone pounded on the wall. "Oh, quit, just because it's not sex doesn't mean it's not as real and good."
Xander snorted then giggled. "Oh, *God*, Sascha, that was so good." He rolled onto his side, pulling the sheet up over his shoulder. "I'm going back to bed. You can ask me more tomorrow."
She gave Oz an 'I'm waiting' look so he got up and walked over to brush over Xander's forehead. "Sleep, Xan, we'll be outside," Oz said quietly.
"Not necessary," Xander said through a yawn. "S'okay to talk while I nap." He closed his eyes again, drifting off to sleep easily for once this trip.
"Told ya so," Sascha said, sticking her tongue out at Oz. "Guide's are important."
"So we're finding out," Oz said quietly, pulling her over to his bed and sitting them down so they could play cards and talk.
Devon looked at the three forms on the bed as he walked in, shaking his head. "Man, this is getting stranger by the day," he muttered, heading for the bathroom, slamming the door to wake someone up. "I hope I don't have to turn someone to save them."
Xander woke with a snort, looking at his arm, the one wrapped around someone. Someone very soft and snuggly. He groaned mentally and slid out of the bed, going back to his own and pulling the covers over his head.
"We didn't mind," Oz said. "Though she was kinda freaked that you were naked for a second." He pulled himself up to look at his sentinel. "You started having nightmares again so you crawled in." Xander groaned.
"We didn't mind," Sascha said, rolling to look at him. "Was actually kinda nice to be really warm that way." She looked up at Oz, who nodded, they had talked about her place with them last night, and slid out of the bed to lay down beside the lump known as Xander. "Hey," she said, uncovering his head. "Guide's are important when you're not real sure of things, and I'd like us to stay friends, even if we keep doing this stuff. I know it wasn't sexual, you don't see me that way." He shook his head and she smiled. "Xander, it wasn't a bad thing, it was a necessary thing. We both understand it." He shook his head again. "Yeah, it was okay. Come back and lay beside us again, Xander," she said softly, pulling on his hand until he sat up, bring him over to lay beside her and Oz, who reached over and brushed down the side of his face. "See? Guides are comfy."
Oz nodded, pulling the blankets over all of them. "Nap now, no fighting later," he whispered. "Same thing as the animal skins, now with a more snuggly and comfy body." He squeezed Sascha's waist, making her laugh. "See?"
Xander nodded, curling up against her, head on her shoulder. "Night," he whispered.
"Night," Oz said, reaching over to rub his hand. "Sleep well."
"No more bad dreamies," Sascha whispered in his ear.
Devon walked out after his shower, shaking his head at the unchanged situation. He lay down in Xander's bed, watching the happy looking trio sleep as he fell into his own.
Oz gave Devon a disgusted look as he ran into their room, leaning against the door. "What? People after you because of your nibbling?" The vampire shook his head, still looking panicked and that started off the list of what could scare a vampire, especially one sired by Spike. "Okay, Slayer?" he guessed, getting up. Devon nodded, starting to catch his non-needed breath. "Buffy?" Devon pointed at his nose. "Hell!" he yelled, bringing Xander and Sascha from the bathroom where she had been looking at something on his back. "Buffy's here."
Xander walked over to their bag of supplies, pulling out the tranq gun. "Not much but it'll do."
Sascha shook her head. "No, she's not worth the dart. Devon, go into the bathroom. She can't get into there, there's no window." He walked past her and she looked at Oz. "You gonna introduce me?"
Oz shook his head. "No." He kissed her cheek, heading out with Xander.
"Slutty!" Xander called. "Come out, come out, wherever the ho's hiding."
Sascha laughed in the doorway behind him. "That was cute." Oz turned to give her a cold look. "Oh, give it up, Oz, I'm not a 'protected' being." She walked out to stand beside him. "Besides, I want to meet the woman who ran Xander away from women for good." He choked and she shot him a grin. "And you thought it was Peter," she stage-whispered. "It was the trauma of lusting after and being around her."
Xander snickered. "Has a point," he told Oz.
"Maybe. I might never want women again if I seriously had ever wanted Buffy." She walked out from behind their van, frowning at them. "You better not have done something to that," he told her.
"Oh, another Willow," Buffy said, walking up to them. "Did they mention me?" She held out a hand. "Buffy."
"Yay," Sascha said, "I've heard and I wasn't impressed." She looked over the Slayer. "And now I'm sure I'm not." She looked at Xander. "You mean you can't take her out?"
"Oh, he can," Oz said, "I don't want him to fight. He's already went primal once." He looked at his girlfriend. "You've seen, the rest is just words." He looked back at Buffy. "Go away," he said slowly, hoping she'd get it. "We don't want to see you."
Xander snorted. "I was trying to erase her from my view of reality."
Oz shook his head. "Didn't think you were an existentialist."
"Whatever works," Xander reminded him. He looked back at the Slayer. "Why didn't you get the clue last time? We don't want to go play with the guys in suits with you. Get over the want."
"Oh, no, I'm not here for them. I'm here about Giles." Both men frowned. "Didn't you see the news? There was plane crash."
Xander ran back inside, turning on the tv to the all news channel. He sat in front of it as they showed the evidence of a plane crash. "No," he muttered. "Not Giles, not him." He shook against the warm body hugging him. "Not Giles," he said, looking up at Oz. "Please not him?"
"Shh, we don't know yet. There's a number and we'll call." He got a nod and held Xander against his body. "Sascha, get rid of her." He turned back to the tv, grabbing the phone and dialing the number they were flashing across the screen. "Hi, I need to know if a man was on the flight that crashed? Rupert Giles?" The phone dropped from his fingers and he clung to Xander.
Sascha walked in, slamming the door. "Women like that should be sterile so they don't breed more problems." She picked up the phone, listening to the recorded message. She hung up. "Guys, I doubt that was him." She looked at them, then walked over to hug them. "He wasn't on there," she whispered, squeezing them. "You said he wasn't supposed to fly for two more days, Oz." The older man nodded. "Do you have an emergency number for him?" Xander nodded, pointing at his wallet. "Okay, let me call and we'll see." She let them go, pulling out her calling card as she picked up Xander's wallet, looking for the number. She hummed as she found two foreign ones. "Which one is which?" Neither man answered her so she walked over to the phone, picking up the phone book, and after finding nothing that might help she dialed for an operator. "Hi, I need to talk to an International Operator, please," she said softly. She tapped her fingers. "Hi, no, I need to make a call to England, and I have two numbers but I can't remember which is which. Yeah, um, one has a country code of 44. Okay, that one then. Yeah, please." She read off the number, looking at the two men clinging to each other. "Hi, no I'm calling for Xander and Oz.... Yeah, I mean, yes, please. Is Mr. Giles there?" She got up, going over to put the phone beside Xander's ear. "Here, babe, he's going to get him for you."
Xander clutched the phone. "Giles? You're really okay?" he whispered. He laughed, wrapping one arm around Oz's waist. "No, Buffy showed up and told us there was a plane wreck and that you... you..." He got up, handing the phone to Oz as he ran into the bathroom to be sick.
Oz tried to hand the phone off to Sascha but she went after Xander instead. "Giles?" he asked quietly. He sighed at the sound of that too-serious voice. "Yeah, she told us you were in this plane wreck that was on the news." He frowned, switching channels. "No, not on any other one, why?" His frown turned into a glare. "Really, tape loop," he said coldly. "Oh, we'll deal with her if we see her anytime soon. But you're okay, right?" He held out an arm for Xander to get a hug when Sascha led him back out. "No, he's okay. He just got a little upset at the thought. Yeah, I'll put him on. No, that was Sascha, she's...well, she's my girlfriend. Yeah," he said, handing the phone over to Xander and standing up to hug her. "Giles wants to meet you when we get back," he told her as he rested against her.
"Giles," Xander asked, "you're really you and okay?" He curled around the phone. "No, we're okay. There was just this news thing and it said there was a ...." He trailed off as he noticed the doorknob turning. "Um, Giles, give us a sec. No here, talk to Sascha, she's really nice." He handed her the phone, walking over to pull open the door on whoever was trying to pick the lock. "Buffy," he said coldly. "Oz, look who's here for a visit." He pulled her in by her hair. Oz met him at the door, holding up a very dull knife that he had been trying to sharpen earlier that day. "No, that's too good a fate for her. Devon, want a snack?" he called.
The vampire walked out. "What's..." He stopped, backing away from her. "Man, get that thing out of here. You don't know where it's been or what followed it."
Xander shook her when she tried to struggle. "You sure? She's real tasty according to people who would know." Someone cleared their throat from behind him. "Yeah," he asked the motel's manager.
"What's going on, boys?" he asked, looking at the woman they was holding.
"She's a former friend," Oz said, crossing his arms on his chest. "She just came to us and told us our mentor died in a plane wreck."
"Of course, that's who the woman on the bed is talking to," Xander added, "but hey, ya know?"
The manager nodded. "Just make it a short call and I'll call the cops. Maybe they could do something."
Xander looked down then handed Buffy over like she was a shoe or something. "Here, you can have her, we don't need her anymore." He waved and shut the door. He laid down beside Oz and Sascha, curling up to her. "I''m comfy, if it's okay," he amended at the grunt.
Sascha handed him back the phone. "Say goodnight." She looked over her shoulder at Oz, who nodded. "And give it to Oz too."
Xander laughed, handing it to Oz. "He said you're a good mommy to me," he told her, snuggling down on her stomach. "Thank you."
"Hey, that was harmful. People like her shouldn't be around good guys like you two." She took back the phone, smiling at the words coming over it. "Yes, sir, I look forward to meeting you too. Good night." She hung up, putting the phone back onto the stand between the beds. "Guys, we need to get a bigger bed if you're going to keep doing this."
Xander shook his head. "I can go sleep over...." He stopped as Oz tugged on his hair. "No?" he asked, looking up. Oz shook his head. "You're sure?"
"Yup, you need her too," Oz said quietly, playing in the hair he had just pulled. "Rest, was a big shock."
"Yeah, a bad one," Xander murmured, comforted by the warmth around him and the hands on him, soothing him by rubbing over his back and head. "Night," he whispered right before he fell asleep.
"Night," Oz and Sascha whispered back, sharing a kiss to comfort each other.
Devon finally came out of the bathroom, shaking his head at the threesome. "Again?" he asked. He sat down on the spare bed, looking at Oz. "Who's gonna comfort me now?" Oz rolled over and looked at him. "You are, you're taking my comfy person."
Oz shook his head, getting up to sit beside his friend. "I'm not stealing him, we're just giving him some comfort. There's nothing between him and Sascha."
"Maybe, but I'm still without a cuddler." He laid his head on Oz's shoulder. "Would you hold me when I'm having a bad day too?"
"Of course," Oz said, rubbing over his oldest friend's back. "Anytime, you know that. Just ask."
Oz looked across the table of the diner at his sentinel. "We've got two weeks left, you gonna make it?" Xander nodded, playing with his oatmeal. "What's wrong?" he asked, stopping the clinking spoon by laying a hand on the moving one.
"Nothing," Xander said quietly, looking up. "I'm just feeling really lost still. We still haven't talked."
Oz nodded. "I know. We'll have a break in two days. Sascha'll be gone home for that time. We'll do the whole talking thing then, okay?" Xander nodded. "Can you wait that long?"
"Yeah," Xander said, putting down his spoon. "I guess."
"We could talk on the trip to the next place today," Oz offered, not wanting to see his friend this upset again. He leaned closer. "I'm not going to force you to come with me again."
"Yeah, but then what'll happen?" Xander asked, getting up. "I'm going to go sit in the truck, I'm not hungry." He put down some money, walking out.
Oz waved for a box, heading out after him a few minutes later. "Xan?" he asked, opening the cab. When he saw the younger man wasn't there, he put the box on the seat and walked around to the back. "You okay?" he asked, sitting on the tailgate to watch him fuss his things back into alignment. Xander nodded. "We can't talk if you're back here and I'm driving."
"I can drive," Xander said, pulling out the keys. Oz shook his head. "I'm fine," he said, just a little more forcefully.
"I know, but you look tired and I don't want you falling asleep behind the wheel." He took the keys, jingling them. "Therefore, I shall drive and we shall talk." That got another nod. "Xander," he asked, reaching over to touch his forehead, "you sure you feel okay? You're pale and sweating." He wiped off the damp forehead, checking it for a fever with his wrist. "Not hot. Want to stop somewhere and get checked out?"
Xander shook his head. "No, it's not me being sick, it's something else." Oz nodded for him to go on. "It's nothing, not really."
"This is the nothing that's been making you have nightmares? Or the nothing that's made you sick for the last few days?"
"Um, both but it's still nothing."
"I'm sure but I think someone more knowledgeable should tell you it's nothing." Xander shook his head. "Okay, then tell me and we'll see what I can do."
"I think I'm losing my senses," Xander whispered. "I couldn't hear your heartbeat for the last few nights." Oz's brow wrinkled as he thought. "And that brings up other questions."
"A Guide is a Guide even if their sentinel loses their senses, and friends will always be there," Oz told him, reaching over to pull him closer. "I'm not leaving, and neither's Sascha. I think she's decided you're some little puppy she found at the pound that just needs love to bloom back into obnoxiousness." That got a snort. "Well, she seems to want to mother you."
"Hey, if she'd cook, I'd appreciate it."
"You're not going to get lost in the art again," Oz told him quietly. "I'm not pulling you out of art zones so you can go to class." Xander sighed, leaning against him. "What was that for?"
"I just had a spike. My tactility, but it went right back down. Almost lower than normal now."
"Huh. Maybe we should go find Fluffy and ask her about maintenance." Xander shook his head. "No? You don't want them back?"
"I want to be me again," Xander said, pulling himself up to sit by himself. "I don't want to hear ants moving in a wall twenty feet away. I don't want to know when someone has an ulcer, I want to have nice, normal hearing. And smell, and touch, and taste." He looked up at the bandmembers he could almost hear walking toward them. "The guys," he said, pointing. They walked around the other side of the truck. "See?"
"Guys, go easy on him," Mike said. "Xander, what's wrong with what you can do?"
"You mean besides the isolation of being one of three, that I know of, that can do the same thing? Or the freak looks I get when I use them? Or how about..." He stopped when Oz laid a hand on his arm.
"Xander didn't use to have to fight to find people who'd hang with him. And you did give him that freak look when he heard your ulcer, Mike. Think about what'll happen if it generally comes out?"
The drummer shook his head. "I can almost kinda understand that, but it made you special, man."
"No," Xander corrected, "it made me lonely and rejected. Even worse than in school. I couldn't make friends because they could find out. I couldn't do anything, still can't, without Oz being there just in case. He should have a life too. Think about how much different the tour would have been if Oz hadn't had the problems we had."
Mike nodded. "True, but I'd still rather be special."
Xander rolled up his sleeves. "Mike, this is what being special drove me too. It's hard to hear ants twenty feet away." He showed off the few needle tracks he had. "I had to start using to stop the voices and the noises, and the smells. Do you know how strong a person *really* smells?" The drummer shook his head. "I do, and it's really not nice. Even after a shower with totally unscented soap and stuff, each person smells different and each scent is strong. I can't escape those. That's how I marked who to react to during the night."
"Does Dev smell?" Oz asked. "I only get a strange feeling of him but no smell when I'm turned."
Xander nodded. "Yeah, he does, it's real subtle, almost like earth after a hard rain smell." Oz nodded and got up. "And if I have to take the drug that gave it to me again to keep them, I'm seriously in doubt it's going to happen." He looked at Mike. "No matter how much good I can do, I have to think about losing my mind and actually sending myself over the edge this time."
Oz nodded. "True, seeing you ready to die was bad." He jingled the keys. "We'd better start driving again. We only have ten hours to make it to the festival."
"Um, I thought you guys were supposed to go on early?" Xander asked. He grabbed the tour schedule and handed it over. "The festival is tomorrow and you're supposed to go on at like noon."
Oz looked at it and nodded. "Okay then. He's right, but we still should get somewhere and get set up." He looked back at his sentinel, who was backing out of his safe space, straightening as he went, and got out of his way. "Guys, who's driving my van?"
"You got the keys," Tom said dryly. "You haven't let me drive since I avoided the dog with the mailbox." Oz nodded and tossed them to him. "Gee, really?"
"Just no more mailboxes," Oz warned. "Or you'll never drive my van again."
"That's cool," Mike said. "I don't know where we're going anyway."
Oz handed over the map. "We'll follow you."
Mike snickered. "The last time he did that, he stopped to paint."
"Oz is driving this time, he says I'm tired," Xander said with a small, wry grin. He shut both the gates to the back of his truck, tugging to make sure they were locked. He pulled the bike lock out of his pocket, locking it further by a system he had rigged a few days ago. He found Oz watching him and shrugged. "Found a mouse."
"Oh. Thought it was against bigger intruders."
"Yeah, well, I don't want any of those wild teens you guys play for using it as a love lounge either."
Mike mouthed, 'love lounge?' and Oz nodded, trying hard not to laugh. "Whatever man, we'll lead for now. Until lunch." He headed for the van, getting into the back to nap beside Devon.
Tom waved, getting in to drive, starting the van's old engine.
Oz got into the truck, slamming the sticking door and buckling up. He beeped at Xander when he found out he wasn't in the truck too. The younger man came out with two cups of coffee, getting in after handing them off. "Thanks," Oz said, starting the engine and waiting while Xander buckled in so they could go too. They pulled out after the van, going a nice sedate pace down the back roads. "So, talking?" he asked.
Xander sipped his coffee. "Yeah, should. Pick a topic?"
"Like them. Had one once, father ran over him." He sipped some more of his coffee. "Miss him still."
"Huh. I never had one. My mother's allergic to dogs."
"Ironic," Xander told him, shifting to look at him. "Why were you jealous?"
"Still not sure. Could be the whole 'losing you' thing. Or it could be something else."
"But you're not losing me, not even if I start to date again. Same as I'm not losing you to Sascha."
"Xander, you're not the only one with insecurities here. This is screwing with me just as much, just on the other end of the spectrum. I'm becoming paranoid." He checked his mirrors, groaning when he saw the cop car, checking his speed. "Had to happen. Haven't gotten one yet."
Xander shook his head. "Why would we get a ticket? We're both buckled in, we're at the speed limit. We should be fine." The lights came on. "I guess some people don't need reasons though." He looked at the officer as he came to the window. "Yes sir?"
"Who does this truck belong to?"
"Me," Xander said, holding up his hand. "Do we have a problem?"
"You have a broken taillight." Xander slid out, heading around to the back to look. The cop patted his shoulder. "You kicked a rock and it hit it," he explained. "I saw it happen."
"Oz, get me a screwdriver," he called. "It's just loosened the plexiglass." His guide walked around, handing it off so he squatted down to fix it. "There," Xander said, standing back up. "How's that?"
"Fine," the officer said. He looked around the road. "You're the Harris guy, right?" Xander slowly nodded, his eyes open really wide. "No, relax, kid, I'm a friend of Jim's and he asked me to look in on you if you happened by while I was here." He smiled and headed back to his car. "Be careful, it's been a good few weeks for animals on the road," he called as he got in.
"Wow," Xander said, walking back around to get back into his seat. "That was nice."
"Creepy," Oz agreed, sliding into his seat and restarting the van. He checked Xander. "Hitch yourself in. Don't make me go dad on you." The younger man did his seatbelt up. "Okay, so where do you think they are?"
Xander pointed at the van that was coming toward them. "I'd say that's them. The dent looks familiar."
Oz rolled down the window. "What's up guys?"
"Roadblock. Some escapees," Tom said. He looked at Xander. "Seems they were on the lookout for you too."
"Tell me the blonde thing wasn't there," Xander said. Tom nodded. "Hell, why can't we lose her?"
"Because her thing is to track things," Oz said, tapping his fingers. "How do we get where we need to go?"
"We don't," Tom said. "We can go through the roadblock but they're checking id's. And she's checking everyone *real* closely."
Oz grunted. "Okay, alternate routes?"
"Better the devil you know," Xander said, getting out. "I'll switch back on the other side of the roadblock." He got into the back of the van, nodding at Oz as he closed the door. "This way she won't get Dev even if she does get me," he explained. He watched as Oz pulled out first, the van following behind, watching his whole life drive away from him. He looked at Mike. "Promise me, man, not to let Oz come after me if they get me," he said quietly. The drummer nodded, looking very scared. "They won't bother you if they're really looking for me. But she will stake Devon if she sees him."
Devon groaned, pulling more blankets over him as he wiggled between speakers. Mike got up to help him shift them, creating a little padded area between the heavy pieces of equipment for him. "Thanks, dude, don't get shot," he called out after he was settled.
Xander snorted. "Yeah, that's what they'd like." He stiffened as they slowed down. "Some warning?" he asked Tom.
"Three cars with Oz." A short pause. "Two cars." A longer pause. "Oz." He grunted as the cop came to the window. "What's up?"
"Escapees," he said, looking in the back. "Who's back there?"
"The roadie and the drummer," Tom said calmly. "Been with us the whole trip."
Buffy walked up to the van. "Xander, out," she said coldly. He shook his head. "Officer, that man's wanted for a *discussion*."
"Boy, I'd do it, she's gone over my head."
Xander got out, slamming the door after himself, walking around to look at the Slayer. "What?" he asked, looking her over. "Lying about your own Watcher dying and faking news footage wasn't bad enough?" She slapped him. "Yay. At least I knew where he was so we could check." He looked at the officer. "Do you actually have cause to hold me?" he asked tiredly. "I didn't think secret government agencies could operate on US soil."
Buffy snorted. "Xander, I work for the real Feds now and they want to talk to you about what you can do."
"I can't. They're gone." She shook her head. "No, seriously. They faded and now I couldn't really use them, even with my Guide."
She shook her head. "Take him over to the car please," she said, walking away from him. "I don't want to break a nail."
The cop sighed, doing as she had said, shrugging. "Sorry, kid, I don't have a choice."
"Very true, they'll hurt you just like they did me," he told him. "Watch your kids for funny behavior if they're here." He got into the back of the car, looking at the two people in the front. "Gee, Riley, thought you were working for the good guys."
"I am," Riley Finn, Buffy's supposed ex-boyfriend and member of the Initiative - the ones who had done this to Xander in the first place - said, looking back at him, "but there's a watch put out for you and the other two that got out. Seems the drug has some funny reactions sometimes."
"Sentinels never react to standard medications the same way as everyone else. The person who helped me put me on herbal remedies."
"Then what about the fading?" Riley asked. "The others have all done that."
"They have?" Buffy asked. "He said his were gone."
Xander nodded. "Yup, totally."
Riley looked at him and shook his head. "We just want to get you to someone who can explain what's going on. We'll have you back with your Guide tonight."
"What makes you think Oz won't come for me?"
"He won't," Riley said. "I heard what you said." He patted his parabolic microphone. "He was told that you'd be back tonight anyway." He started the sedan, pulling away from the roadblock.
"So, was that convenience or did you actually stage it?" Xander asked after a few minutes.
"Shut up," Buffy said. "No one wants to hear you talk." She grunted as Riley slapped her arm, falling asleep in the next breath.
Riley looked back at Xander, pulling the car over. "Listen," he said, "this'll only work once and not for long. Yeah, it's fading, but they can come back. The drugs altered your DNA. If you take a second dose, the reaction will be stronger, and so will your senses. And since you have four senses, you may not have a choice. Just remind yourself that Oz is your Guide and that you're going to be fine, that you have some control. It'll eventually fade off and you'll live."
"How often is the maintenance needed to keep them constant?"
"The second dose makes them permanent," Riley said quietly.
"I got six or eight or something like that while your *friends* had me," Xander pointed out. "That's why I have four heightened."
Riley shook his head. "I don't know what to tell you then. All the others that got multiple doses died already. They zoned and didn't come back because no one could or would call them back. You lucked out, Harris, feel *real* lucky." He started the sedan again. "Just try to resist if you can. The second trip through the looking glass wasn't any easier."
"Very. Anything else? She's about to come back."
"No, just please get word to Oz." Riley nodded, driving, reaching down to pluck something from her and put it in his pocket. "Thanks man."
"Hey, Mary likes you." He smiled in the mirror. "So, how did you two meet anyway? She never told me." He glanced down at Buffy.
"I was on my roadtrip after graduation. I stayed there in the campground for a few days, just to sit and think somewhere peaceful. Did some sketching and a lot of thinking. She was really great to have fun with. Though I'm sorry I broke her and her boyfriend up."
"Don't be, he's a bruiser. There's a restraining order against him now."
Buffy moaned, grabbing her head. "What hit me?"
"Not sure," Riley said, touching her cheek. "You okay?"
Xander looked at the man across the long table from him. "Why do I think that I'm a comic book?" he asked snidely. He watched the 'attendants', who all looked like very large athletes, watch him.
"It was modeled on the idea," the scientist said calmly. He put down the chart he was reading. "It certainly explains some things about why you have four working senses," he said, tapping it. He sat up, lunging at Xander, but the young sentinel didn't move. "You were trained well."
"Yeah, being possessed does that to one." He looked around again. "I'm not falling for this stuff, whoever you are or work for. I'm fine the way I am and they're fading. I don't need any more of your miracle cure to help me be 'special'." He sneered the last word.
The scientist nodded slowly. "I can understand your feelings, but I'm afraid it's already too late. You've had a second dose, they'll be around forever."
"Not really. Fading senses are fun." He smirked at the glare he got. "Maybe that's what four shots does. Why don't you take them and find out?" One of the 'attendants' slapped him across the back of his head and he turned to look at him. "I've went primal on one of you once, do you want me to do it again?"
The 'attendant' smiled. "We know. I actually wanted to see how good you were."
The scientist waved him off. "Leave Mr. Harris alone." He looked back at the sentinel. "We could make your life very easy. Clear up that little mess with your Art Department."
"It's handled. I don't want anything from you."
"We could find your true Guide."
"I found him, and we don't need anything from you."
"Ah, yes, Mr. Osbourne. You are aware that he's not really Guide material, aren't you? That he'll eventually have to pass on the torch."
"No he won't, we're doing fine." Xander checked his watch. "As a matter of fact, I need to join them soon. I'm supposed to be helping set up in an hour." He gave the scientist a bland look. "I'm not taking it. No way in any Hell imaginable, though I want to pick yours for you. Maybe show you what your little cocktail did to me that first two months." He stood up and was pushed back down. "I'm not taking it, get over it already."
Buffy and three more attendants walked in, she handing over a platter with two needles on it, one blue and one clear. "I can put him down, I've done it before," she offered. She was waved off so pouted, walking back out.
"Well, that's the first nice thing you've done," Xander quipped, "but I'm still not taking it. You wasted the drug or whatever it is by drawing it out."
"No, Mr. Harris, I'm afraid we didn't." He picked up the blue one, holding it up to the light. He nodded at the men to catch Xander, who had gotten up and started to escape, waiting while he was brought back. He was carried in kicking and screaming, vowing to go demony on them and kill them all. The scientist got up, sticking the needle in his arm, right over the track marks. "Mr. Harris, relax please. This isn't the serum, this is something to make you want to take it. It will cure the burning you'll feel." He smiled sadly. "No one has said no to us yet."
Xander picked up the other needle, uncapping it and tossing it at a wall. "I beat drugs, I can do yours too." He straightened out his shirt. "I'm not staying."
"No, you're not. You're going to be an example." He waved a hand at the door. "Agent Finn will take you. He'll give you a number to call when you're ready to give in to us."
"Then it's a waste of paper, which is a bad," Xander said, walking out. He had to catch himself against the doorjamb but he finished walking the whole way. Riley helped him into the car and all he got out before he passed out was, "Oh, God."
Oz threw open the door, frowning at the man standing there. "You working with her?" Riley shook his head, pushing past him to put his burden down. "Did they?"
"No, they gave him something to want it so bad he'd beg them for the serum." He handed over a paper and a needle he had in his back pocket. "This is their number. This is the undiluted serum. We don't know how to dilute it or with what, or what effect it'll have on him." He looked at the Guide, seeing the fear in his eyes. "This is going to be bad, Oz. Real bad. No one's lived if they refused to take the serum. It's already permanent for him but they want to activate all of his senses so they can co-opt him to work for them."
"Like hell," Oz said, looking at him. "How, if he wants it?"
"Just follow the tracks," Riley said, leaving them alone.
Oz sat down on the bed to watch Xander detox, his chest burning with pain at the moment. He pulled the younger man's wallet out, searching for the two numbers he had hidden in it. He found one, Giles' by the country code, but not Blair's and Jim's. His stomach started to hurt just a little more as he picked up the phone to call Giles, hoping he would have a way to reach their teachers.
Oz walked off the stage, heading directly for the van to check on Xander. He threw open the door, waiting while Devon streaked past him to get back into the shade, the stage having had a large canopy due to the lead singer's 'sun allergy'. They both looked at the young man shivering on the pile of blankets, neither wanting to touch him for fear of setting off another sensory spike. "He's doing bad," Oz said at last, looking at the vampire. "Can you tell?"
"Oz, if this was at home, Blair would know what to do and have it all mixed up for him. We need to find a local Blair." Oz shook his head. "Hey, it's a risk, but he needs *something*."
"Yeah, but what if they're working with Buffy." He got out, heading around to the driver's side door. "The guys got the rest of it?"
"Wasn't our equipment. Tom has your guitar. He waved the other two band members over. "We're taking him back to the motel, come home when you're ready or call if it's after dark." Tom nodded, handing over the guitar. "Thanks, dude."
"Hey, he needs Oz more." He walked away, patting Mike on the shoulder. "Come on, we can actually eat real food instead of burgers."
Mike watched the van as it pulled away, wondering what he had to do to repay the debt he owed Xander for his life.
Oz looked from the man on the bed to the number he had in his hand. "She'll help him," he decided, dialing quickly. "Hi, um, is Willow there? No, this is Oz, but it's about Xander." He winced as the phone was hung up. "So much for that plan."
Devon shook his head. "You hurt her badly, man, she was destroyed when you left." The phone rang. "Answer it, it's her."
Oz picked it up. "Hello?" He nodded. "Yeah, Will, about him. No, the same guys got him and gave him something to make him crave the serum that changed him. I need to find a local herbalist that we can trust and you're the only one I know who might know a trustworthy Wiccan or someone." He nodded and hung up. "She'll ask." He shifted over to sit beside Xander, calming him by being there. "Guides are important," he told Devon. "Even when Sentinels are like this."
The phone rang an hour later and Devon picked it up. "Hey, yeah, no it's Devon, they're both sleeping for a while." He sat down. "No, he's not the same guy, Willow, not at all. Neither of them are. Oz is freaky and cold, even to Xander, and the guy's got a problem being close to people. No, leaving you was the worst thing he's ever done." He nodded, writing down the information she gave him. "Thanks for this, Xan's real bad now." He hummed and hung up. "She's a good woman, Oz, don't hurt Sascha the same way," he whispered, dialing the new number. "Um, hi, I got referred to you by a Witchly friend of a bandmate of mine. No, we have a real serious situation and we need some help, real bad. No, our roadie's been given something against his will and it's making him super sick, but he's a sentinel so we can't give him real... regular drugs. The Guide that's teaching him sent a list of what he can and cant' have but I don't know what to do." He smiled and told her their motel and room number, hanging up afterwards. "She'll come," he told Oz. He reached over to squeeze his hand. "Willow asked about you too, I told her you had wrecked your old self and it helped her some to know that you hurt about it as much as she did."
Oz nodded, getting up to answer the door, looking out the peephole first. "Hey, you're the herbalist, right?" She nodded, walking in. "Cool, I'll get you the lists Blair gave him."
"Sandburg?" she asked.
Oz nodded. "He's the one that's training us. He's our teaching Guide."
The woman smiled. "Good. He's a decent man." She took the lists and read over them before looking over the shaking Xander, frowning. "What happened to him?" She looked up at the guilty faces. "Truth guys, I can't help if I don't know."
Oz sat her down, sitting beside Xander, who curled around his rear. "You know about sentinels right?" She nodded. "Well, he was given something, a serum," he pointed at the needle on the table, "to make him one."
"Little over a year ago," Devon added.
Oz nodded. "The same people tracked him, giving him this whatever to make him feel so bad he has to go begging them for another shot of the serum. We have the shot but it's undiluted and no one's even sure what'll happen to him if he takes another normal dosage after all they gave him in captivity."
"So, he's one of the ones the Initiative got?"
Oz nodded, sighing in relief. "After their demon program died, yeah." He got out of her way. "Just making it easier on him would be good."
"NO!" Xander shouted, sitting up, panting as he looked around.
Oz turned to hold him, hugging him hard. "Shh, it was a nightmare, not real," he soothed, waiting until he was calm before introducing the woman looking at them. "This is the herbalist that Willow gave us. I'm sorry, I never did get your name."
"Mary," she said, holding out a hand. "You know my daughter."
"Sascha?" Oz asked. She nodded. "Cool, I'm Oz if you haven't figured it out yet."
"Oh, I did, I was just waiting for you to make the connection. It was my daughter that demanded I help. She's not a Wiccan but my coven is very powerful, even if she doesn't believe it." She looked at Xander. "I'm not sure we can help him though." All the men nodded, their faces falling. "But I will call them over."
"Please," Oz said. "Whatever they need, we'll get it."
"No need," she said, patting his cheek. "Just be good to my daughter. She's a special one."
"Very true," Oz said, nodding. "Especially to me. Us." He looked down at Xander, moving to touch his forehead. "Just a little longer, Xander, I promise."
"Let me," Devon said, stripping off his shirt. "I'll cool him down while you guys do whatever."
"It's nice to know some of your kind are decent," Mary said, hanging up. "Our High Priestess will be over in a few minutes, she only lives down the road." She touched the center of Oz's forehead. "You're special in your own right."
"I'm a werewolf, but I'm careful about not getting out."
Mary nodded, her bottom lip sticking out for a second. "If she knows, then it's fine with me."
"I told her the other day."
"Now if only you could get the girl to believe in magick, I'd be happy."
"We told her about Willow," Xander said from the bed, snuggling onto Devon's cooler body. "Thank you."
"Hey, she loves you like her son. I have no problems helping my grandchildren."
A thought struck Oz. "Sascha knows Willow?"
"They share a mailing list where the request was posted." Mary sat back down in the chair. "Now then, young man, what did they give you?"
"They just said it was something no one had ever won against."
Oz shook his head. "Riley said no one's gotten to the end of the detox." Mary winced and he nodded. "Yeah, my feelings. He's not only my sentinel but my best friend." Devon looked at him. "One of two."
"Thanks," both Xander and Devon said together. They started to laugh but Xander started to cough and had to sit up.
"Sorry," he said.
"No, that's just a symptom. I'm sure there are more than the visible ones, Xander. Relax, trust in us."
"I do. I've seen Willow do some amazing things in the past."
"We'll go see her when you're better," Oz promised. "We finish up in LA and we'll invite her down or stop through there to talk." The younger man nodded, laying back down on Devon's bare, cool chest. "All you have to do is get better," Oz promised.
Oz looked at the things laid out around his friend's shivering body, biting his lip as he watched the prayer end. "Xander," he whispered, taking his hand. "Come on, just gotta stay with me. Come on, come back to me now."
"Not zoned," Xander whispered. "I'd die then." He looked up at Oz. "Don't give it to me," he said, getting a nod in response. "Thanks."
"Hey," Devon said, leaning down to kiss the hurting man's cheek. "If worse comes to worse, you can still call me dad."
"No offense, Devon, but I'd rather not. I hate the taste of blood." He smiled weakly at him. "Don't, okay?"
"Yeah, whatever," Devon said, patting his head. "All you have to do is ask," he reminded him.
"Fair enough," Xander agreed, "just don't listen to me if I do." Devon grinned slightly at that. "Thanks, both of you." He was helped up from the altar, looking at the women around him. "How bad am I?"
"We're not sure if it helped or not," Mary said, "but you look stronger."
"It comes in waves. I'm at low tide now." He slid off the stone with a little help, leaning against his Guide. "How's Sascha?"
"Currently cleaning her room so you can go sleep up there," Mary said, waving at the door. "Go ahead, second door at the top of the stairs. It's the loud place." Oz snickered, leading Xander out. She waited until they were alone. "So? Professional opinion as a nurse?"
"The kid needs some better care than all of us together can give him. He needs rest, fluids, and he needs Oz most of all." She looked at the door. "I don't feel any change."
"Can we do it herbally? The list Sandburg sent was real specific about what he shouldn't have." Mary's High Priestess shook her head. "No?"
"I don't know anyone who could do this level of work, not that may not have been corrupted." She looked at the needle laying on the table. "As for that, we'd almost need to know how to dilute it to risk it. He's too weak to take much more."
"And if he...." Mary let it drop off, but the question was clear.
"Oz is bound but not tightly. He'll live, if he wants to. Sascha will help."
"So we wait?"
"No, we get him some stronger help." She walked over to the phone. "My doctor owes me some favors, this should cancel all of them out." She hit a speeddial button. "Hi, it's your ever faithful nurse. Can I get you to make a house call to look at something really odd? No, I'm at Mary's." She hung up. "Gotta love my ex-husband." They shared a kiss. "He still accepts even though he doesn't understand."
Xander was laid down on Sascha's bed, going back to sleep pretty quickly. Oz turned to his girlfriend. "So you know Willow?" he asked.
She snorted, hugging him. "He'll be fine and yeah, she lurks on a few of my mailing lists." She pulled back sitting them both down. "If Mom couldn't help, she'll call other Mom's ex, he's a doc." She stopped, looking toward the door as it opened. "Speaking of the devil," she said with a smile. "Did they give you the herbal list?"
He nodded. "Yes, dear," he said, ruffling her blonde hair. "They even told me what was going on." He sat beside the young man on the bed, taking out his equipment to check him over. Xander moaned at the first touch to his skin. Oz came over to touch him gently and it stopped. "Okay, whatever. Just try not to get tangled up with me," he said, checking Xander's blood pressure.
Oz sat beside the hospital bed, hands clasped around the cold cup of coffee. He looked up as the door opened, nodding at the nurse as she finished her check. "Any change?"
"None," she said quietly, "but that may be a good sign." She smiled and walked back out, leaving them alone.
Oz closed his eyes. "Darrien, we could use some help," he whispered, trying to call him to him. He jumped at the gentle touch to his arm, looking up at his girlfriend. "Sascha, did I nap?"
"Yeah, for almost two hours." She sat on the side of the bed. "Why don't you go nap at the motel or something? I'll stay."
He shook his head. "I can't leave. He gets worse when I do." He looked down at his hands. "And the guys have decided to give up the pretense of touring with us. The truck's downstairs."
"Then you can go have my room," she said, rubbing over Xander's cold hands. "You sure Devon didn't bite him? He's awfully cold."
He got up, checking his sentinel over, looking into his eyes. "He's zoned. Xander, come on, you can't run from this. I know it's hard but you have to come back," he whispered. "Come on, it's more than time to come back to us. Sascha was talking about cooking for you and everything." The younger man shifted, moving closer to them. "Yeah, it's time to come back," Oz said, starting on his normal rubbing of shoulders and hands. "Come on, you're going to scare the nurses. They already think that you did this on purpose."
Xander woke up, clutching Oz's hand. "Hurts," he whispered.
"I know, but you can't zone. Remember, you promised not to go on me." That got a small nod. "So you have to fight it, you can't leave me, man, not yet."
Sascha shifted, curling up around him. "I agree, you can't die, not here. Just imagine how pissed everyone would be that you didn't win this time."
Xander closed his eyes. "They'd understand."
"I wouldn't," Oz said. "You're doing so much better."
"Yeah, you are. Even the nurse smiled earlier after she looked at you." He squeezed the cold hand. "Come on, Xander, stay with me. I need you to stay."
"They said you weren't that bonded," Xander whispered, "and you have Sascha." He sighed, closing his eyes again. "Night."
"No, don't sleep," Oz said desperately. "Giles should be here soon. I called him and he said he'd try to get here to see you." Xander swallowed. "Come on, Xan, you *promised* me not to die on me. You've never broken your word yet, don't do it now."
"Try," Xander whispered. "Just don't follow if I lose."
"I won't," Oz promised. "Just don't leave and I promise not to leave after you."
Xander looked up at him, frowning. "Not what I meant."
"I know, but you know I'm going to come after you, that's what Guide's do." He looked at Sascha, who nodded. "See, she agrees."
"I'll sic Blair on you if you follow me," Xander whispered, squeezing Oz's hand. "Stay."
"Only if you do."
"Try," Xander said, yawning again. "Napping now." He closed his eyes and Oz laid down beside/on top of him. "Ouch!"
"Hey, I need cuddles too," Oz whispered, "Sascha can't give Xander hugs."
The weak arms wrapped around him, squeezing as hard as they could. "Go to bed, Oz."
"Yeah, I will later. When you're better," Oz whispered, sitting back up. He hugged Sascha, holding onto her like he wanted to do to Xander. "Just stay and we'll all be fine."
The door opened and a small redhead walked in, followed by a silent brunette. "Oz?" the redhead asked quietly. She walked over to the bed, brushing over Xander's hair. "Xan, it's me, Will, can you hear me?"
"Napping," Xander said, patting her hand as he removed it. "Hurts." He looked up at her, then at Tara. "Coolness. I knew I was dying."
"Not!" Oz said forcefully. "You promised."
"No," Willow said, leaning down to kiss his cheek, "you're not dying. I won't let you die." She looked at Oz. "I can watch if you ... two want to go nap or something."
Sascha held out a hand. "I'm the one you talked to, it was my mother who tried to help him." Her hand was shaken. "I just got here so maybe we could talk, as listsibs and stuff?" Willow nodded. "Cool. Oz, truck, now." He kissed her cheek, walking out. She waited until they were alone. "I'm Sascha," she said to Tara, "the one gifted with these two to help." She looked down at Xander and smiled. "Brat."
"Mean mother," he said, grinning at her. He touched Willow's face, his hand falling back to the blankets after a second. "Who called you?"
"Oz did. He needed to find her mother," Tara said, sitting beside him. "Can I be here too?"
"Sure," he said, patting her arm, "just so long as I can nap." She nodded and he rolled onto his side. "Don't mind the coughing, no one's sure what's building up in my lungs."
Willow winced, sitting in the free chair, pulling it closer to Sascha. "So, you called?" she asked.
"As you can tell, I need some help here. Oz is almost destroyed by this and Xander's being begged to hold on. You've known him forever. I want to step back and let you make the decisions that I'll force on Oz."
Willow snorted. "That former man of mine is strong willed. I couldn't force anything on him. Not even me." She blew a kiss at Tara. "I was finally over him when you called too."
Sascha shook her head. "Honey, no one really gets over Oz. I've only had him for a month and I know that much." She smiled at Tara. "But I can understand why you picked someone a lot more like you. You seem more like the sit at home and read type than the hard rocking, follow him to every club in existence person."
Willow smiled. "Only some days. What can I do to help?"
"My mother's coven wanted to ask you a few questions, they said it was to tailor a prayer to help him better." The witches nodded. "I'm not part of that and she'll be up after making sure Oz is actually asleep this time. According to her, his unfocused energy is screwing with the prayers somehow, calling to a different power."
"Not a Wiccan?"
"Not even a hint. Strong non-conformist but not Wiccan. Not sure where, but not into the Craft."
"Okay," Willow said. "When she gets here, I'll leave Xander to your care, I can see he loves you."
"Like a sister, honey, and that's all it'll ever be. He and Oz are meant, even if the guy can't see it."
Tara shook her head. "He was different. A lot more closed off feeling."
Willow nodded. "I noticed. It's traumatic in origin too." She rolled her shoulders. "I supposed you're going to tell me that you're the new girlfriend?"
"Yeah, but I didn't want to." Sascha smiled hopefully. "I'm housemother, renowned cuddler of both sentinels and guides, and I cook. I'm the buffer between them as much as I am Oz's girlfriend."
Willow hugged her. "Relax, I knew he had to get someone else sometime. He's not as happy alone."
"Now he has two," Tara said, pointing at the snoring Xander. She moved as the nurse walked in. "Am I in your way?"
"No dear, I just wanted to check on him, his monitor showed another change, a good one," she hurried to say when Sascha went pale. "He's getting better."
"It's in waves," Sascha reminded her. "Last time he almost coded."
"I know honey, but we have it." She walked back out, intentionally not looking at the women walking in dressed in plain linen robes.
"Moms," Sascha said, "this is Willow. Also Oz's former girlfriend, and her girlfriend, Tara."
Tara nodded. "Hi."
Willow bowed to them. "How may we help?" she asked formally.
Mary smiled, looking a lot like her daughter. "We need to pick your brains, dear."
Mike, drummer for Dingoes Ate My Baby, looked at his lead singer. "Devon, I have to save him, he did me."
"He asked not to be given it," Devon reminded him, squeezing his shoulder. "I'd have to stop you and that'd hurt both of us."
"Not," Tom said. He flipped open a bottle, pouring some out onto a rag. "All you have to do is huff." He held it up.
Devon looked really unconvinced, but took the rag. "What if it hurts him worse?"
"Dude, he's about dead. It'll either cure him or release him."
"Then I need to be there." Both mortal men shook their heads. "Hey, it's the same request as the serum."
"Not, he thinks your feeding is way gross," Mike said. "Just let me do it," he begged. "I can do it quietly and everything."
Devon sat down in the motel room's lone chair, sniffing at the rag. In a few minutes he looked like he was asleep. He waited until Mike was gone before dropping the act. "Come on, we need to be there. We owe Oz that much."
Tom nodded, walking with him out to the van. "Didn't think that'd work on you."
Devon yawned. "'Course not."
Mike slipped into his former roadie's hospital room, sitting beside him. He looked at the monitors because it looked like a good thing on tv then slipped out the directions Devon had written down two weeks ago when all this started. He looked from the shot to the IV's gracing the younger man and back to the shot. He looked at the bags, trying to figure out what was in them, then shrugged, giving up and injecting the serum into the closest one, the one that said D5W. He just hoped it would cure him instead of releasing him from the pain. He stuck the needle in his pocket, walking out the same way he had come in, thinking himself unnoticed by the staff, Oz, or the Witches currently standing at the desk.
Oz looked at the nurse. "He gave him the serum." She nodded, heading for the room. "Mary?"
"I can feel him, he's getting stronger, but he'll need to be tied down before long. His mind's being clouded by images again." She opened her eyes and shrugged. "This is well beyond the normal levels of my magic."
Willow frowned, concentrating like she had been taught earlier that day. "No, it's the same thing he said he felt the first time. The ants across an industrial space thing."
Oz nodded, heading for the room. "I'm going to go be the Guide. Someone call Giles and Blair if you can find him?" He didn't wait for an answer, walking into the hospital room and wincing at the lights that were on. "Um, maybe you shouldn't. He's known to have hallucinations to strong lights."
"Okay," the nurse said, taking down the bag. "He put it into the hydrating solution." She pulled the IV. "What is he going to do?"
"All I know about the first time was sensory spikes so bad it sent him running to heroin." He nodded at the needle marks on the young man's arms. "He mentioned hearing, a lot, and that's his dominant sense, that and smell. Mary said hallucinations and to restrain him."
The nurse nodded. "Okay, I'll have some ready in case we need them. I have his drug sheet and there's a psychiatrist on call if we need him."
"No, we see one of those at home to help him deal with it. He's strictly no drugs."
"Whatever," the nurse said, walking out. "We understand about allergies."
"Yeah, but his reactions are different," he called. She walked back in. "The pair that's training us, the sentinel in it took cold medicine and it sent him into visual hallucinations that almost made him fall off a train." Oz took his seat. "No drugs."
"No drugs," she agreed, making a note in his chart and walking out. She looked at Mary, giving her a questioning look.
"I agree, we don't know how much more this has messed with his natural rhythms. Simple aspirin may well kill him now." She patted her hand. "At least the lists that Blair sent with him are most helpful in dealing with the six new cases that have cropped up around here. Your daughter's fine."
The nurse smiled. "Then I'm a happy camper and we'll all be fine." She waved at the room. "Going to go help him?"
"No," Willow said, looking at her. "This is the Guide's job. The few short months I was one taught me that much. Any interference now is deadly to the pairing and the bond." Mary patted her shoulder. "I'm fine with him getting control, really."
Tara hugged her girlfriend. "We'll be back at the motel," she said quietly, leading Willow away. "Call if you need us."
Oz looked up as the door opened, nodding at the doctor. "He's still zoned. Either that or he's conversing with his Sprit Guide."
"They're the link between the powers and the man, sorta like a counseling psyche guide." He shrugged. "All I know is that mine is cryptic and he keeps yelling at me about not being a good enough Guide."
"Ah, then what?"
"Then I come back with a huge headache and I think and I try and we fight so I revert." Oz looked down at the bed. "He's handled this so much better than I have."
"Well, he's the one who lost everything," the doctor said, checking him quickly and making notes. "Anything else of note?"
"He may be too deep for them." He closed the chart. "Just give him some time. Oh, and you were right, his bill's being paid through a false address." He turned and walked out, making sure the door didn't slam.
"They're not having you," Oz whispered, leaning down to get next to his guideling's ear. "Xander, come on, this is getting bad now. They're starting to give me funny looks again because I mentioned Darrien."
"You called?" a deep voice said from the corner. Oz jumped, looking at him. "Yes, I heard. He's hiding in his mind, not anywhere I can find him."
"The pain sent him to heroin before, it's got to be worse now."
The Spirit Guide nodded, stalking over. "Then we'll just have to find him, won't we?"
"Why is mine cryptic and you're normal-guy?"
"Because Wolf bites him if he steps out of line. Jaguar growls at me and I try to scent him." Darrien grinned. "Take my hand, Guide." They joined hands, both of them listening to Xander sitting in a mental corner to hide. "Call to him, he can hear you."
"Xander, come on, I need you," Oz called softly. "You promised me not to run." He felt the man beside him shift. "Come on, it's more than time. I can help you with the things you're going through, but only if you wake up."
Xander shuddered, pulled back to reality by his Guides, and opened his eyes. "Cruel," he said, smacking Oz's arm. "I don't want to face them."
"Only way to make them go away," Oz told him, leaning down and kissing him on the lips, sharing a tender kiss instigated by Darrien. "Welcome back, Xan."
"Yeah," Xander said, running his fingers through Oz's dry hair. "You've been here the whole time, huh?"
"Yup, except when Sascha forced me to go nap." He looked down at his sentinel. "We just kissed, didn't we?" Xander nodded, grinning. "Huh. Gonna kill your Spirit Guide."
"Later," Xander told him, tugging on his hair. "First you go nap. Then you can yell at him." He looked toward the door. "I have more control now."
"Obviously, you're not screaming about the noise."
"True. When did Will get here?"
"Three days ago. You woke up and talked to her." He started to get up but the hand in his hair tightened. "You wanted me to go nap," he reminded.
"Yeah, but I meant here." He let go of Oz, realizing what he was doing. "Sorry."
"No big, I'll see if they have a cot. Nap, and no going back into your mind, young man, or I'll send Sascha after you." Xander snorted, rolling onto his side and closing his eyes. "Night, Xan, no nightmares," he whispered as he walked out. "He's awake. Needs me in there." The nurse nodded, pointing at the cot that was in the hallway. "You knew?"
"His monitors feed out here," she reminded him, tapping Xander's. "And he's right, go take a nap."
Willow giggled, covering her mouth. "You had the speaker on." Her ex-boyfriend moaned, covering his face as he walked back to his sentinel's room with the cot. "What?" she asked Sascha, who had groaned too.
"He's real afraid of that thought," she told Willow. "As in not dealing with the issue at all."
"But what if..."
Sascha shook her head. "Not a chance of it happening soon. Oz is scared to *death* over the thought of bonding to Xander that way. All he needs is a chastity belt and he'd be perfect."
"That's stupid," Tara said firmly.
"No, that's trauma," Sascha told her. "And it's one only he can get over." She smiled at the couple. "Give him a day and he'll recognize you. They need to reconnect.
"Sure," Willow said. "We could use the time off from Sunnydale anyway." Tara nodded, clutching her tightly.