Xander looked up from his homework on the table, sighing as he watched Oz practicing with his guitar on the couch. "Why do I have to take Algebra again?"
"Because they want you to have a well rounded education," Oz called. "Two more problems and I'll check them for you."
"I suck at this," Xander decided, tossing down his pencil and taking off his shirt as he stood up to walk over to his easel. Unfortunately, Devon caught him first and set him back in his chair, handing him back the pencil with a small kiss to his bare shoulder. "Thanks," he complained. "I don't understand this stuff, and I don't care enough to try."
"Isn't that why they have tutors?" Devon asked with a mean grin as he headed for the kitchen. "Am I cooking again?"
"You look hot to me," Oz said as he strolled over to look over Xander's shoulder. "You can't factor that first one like that," he told him quietly. Xander glared at him. "You can't." He continued his slow saunter into the kitchen.
Devon watched Xander contemplate the papers, rushing over to stop him before he could use the lighter fluid and the matches he had grabbed out of a drawer next to the table. "Don't burn the table, Xand, we need it to eat on." He sat the young man back down, handing the flammables off to Oz. "Why aren't you wearing your glasses?"
"Because they broke yesterday when he sat on them," Oz reminded the vampire gently. "We're going to pick out new frames tonight so he won't get thirty dollar plastic ones again." Xander turned and stuck his tongue out at his guide. "Keep it up and we'll go pick out glasses without you," he warned. Oz pulled a bag of pork chops out of the freezer, tossing it onto the counter. "We can nuke those later for supper." He walked over, taking the newly formed homework ball from the younger man's hand before he could throw it. He spread it back out, smoothing the wrinkles with the side of his hand, and handed back the dropped pencil. "Factor an 'X' out of the first one," he muttered, heading back to the kitchen. "Veggies?"
"No," Xander moaned, putting his head down. "Not more torture!" His head thumped on the table a few times.
"Gee, and the award for overacting goes to," Devon said, snickering as he headed for the bathroom. "I'm going to go get warm." He had just turned his back when he heard the distinct sound of a lighter and a gleeful laugh. Then he saw Xander running full out for the bathroom. "Hey, I need to be warm." He looked over his shoulder at the smoking trashcan Oz was calmly pouring water into. "At least he didn't use the lighter fluid."
Oz gave him a small smirk and pulled a paper out of his backpack, putting it on the table and slapping the pencil on top of it. "I'm always prepared." He walked toward the bathroom, lightly tapping on the door. "Xander? Get out here or no painting tonight." He shook his head at the spitting sound. "Now!"
"Now!" Oz ordered again. He worked the knob until it broke then walked in, dragging his sentinel out by his arm and over to the table to sit him down in front of a new copy of his homework. "Try it again, Xander," he said as he grabbed his toolbox and headed for the bathroom door.
Xander put his head down on the table, watching as Oz took the door off it's hinges. "Um, Oz? Isn't that going to be awkward for some people who want to use it? Like girls?"
"We'll hang a curtain," Oz grunted as he removed the last hinge pin and pulled the door out of his way.
"Hey!" Devon yelled from inside his shower. "What are you doing now?"
"We're hanging a curtain so Xander can't hide...." Oz turned to scan the loft as he heard the emergency door to the stairs shut. "Uh-huh. Yup, sure you're going to get away with that." Oz picked up his dog whistle and blew into it, then casually headed for where Xander should be laying, groaning in pain. He found him almost all the way to the truck, his foot out the door. "Good distance this time," he told the younger man as he squatted down to look at him. "Get back up there and do your homework. Now."
Xander got to his feet and started toward the stairs, making a feint toward the outside, but Oz caught him easily and dragged him to the elevator, then back over to the table once they were in their loft again. "No!" Xander said, starting to fight back against being sat down in front of the paper again. "It's evil! It regenerated so therefore it must be demonic, just ask Giles and Buffy! Buffy's first roommate did the same thing and she was evil!" He got free, backing away from the table. "Meany."
Oz shook his head and headed for his room, pulling a key out of his pocket to dangle off his hip. "No homework, no painting, no photos."
"I need art to live," Xander complained, "when am I going to need algebra?"
Devon stuck his head out of the bathroom. "When you pass the test or flunk out of school?"
"I'm not going to do *that* badly," Xander said, sitting back down and pouting. "I'm going to pass and I don't have to take the follow-up course if I don't want to."
"'D's are not an acceptable form of passing," Oz called from his bedroom. He pushed back the curtain. "Do your homework then we'll go pick you out some better glasses and then you can paint tonight." He lay down on his bed, picking up a book to read.
"When were you planning on putting the door back up?" Devon asked snidely. "When Willow came over?"
"Stop it," Xander warned. Oz frowned at him. "What?"
"You're strange. Do your homework, Xander." Oz flipped the pages until he could pull out his bookmark, rolling onto his side to read Shakespeare.
Xander played with the letters for a while longer, waiting until he was sure no one was looking then he started to stab through each 'Z' on the paper, his eyes very evil looking at the moment. "Die, letters, die," he muttered as he stabbed the next to last one.
"Serial letter killer?" Oz said from behind him, making Xander jump. "Cute pattern but you forgot one." He walked around to sit across from Xander, simply staring at him. "Those letters didn't do anything to you, why'd you kill them?"
"Because they're bad," Xander said, full of confidence. "They're all bad, but you stopped me before I could kill them all and annihilate the threat." Oz groaned and shook his head so Xander nodded. "See, they've infected you already. We should go see Blair to have you cured."
"He's going to make you do them too," Oz pointed out, "and Jim will cuff you to a chair until you do them all. I'm only asking for you to do three problems."
"But they're evil!"
"No, they're not," Oz sighed, putting his head down and covering it with his arms. "Xander, what is it with you and math?"
"Um, it's bad for me?"
Oz glared up at his sentinel. "Do the math, Xander," he said firmly. "Don't make me break into my dominant persona and make you *real* uncomfy with math." Xander gave him his best begging look, which would usually work if they hadn't been fighting over doing this same thing since three that afternoon. Oz came to a decision and sat up, staring into Xander's eyes. "You have six minutes to do those three problems or you will not get to paint or draw or take pictures until you're next math class. If you do them correctly, then you may have a reward tonight. If you just do them then you've got free time to work on your art project for photography. Your time starts now." He stood up and headed for the bathroom, cornering Devon in front of the sink. "Six minutes or he goes nowhere until the next math class."
Devon shuddered. "I hate it when you become dominant, Oz. You suck when you do that. You're not fun."
"I'm fighting the tide out there. You and your comments aren't helping." Oz undid his pants and aimed himself at the toilet, relieving himself with a small sigh. "Five minutes," he called, making Devon jump.
Xander walked over to the doorway. "What if I can't understand it?"
"I've explained it to you three times already," Oz pointed out, doing himself back up after a quick shake. "You should be able to recite it by now."
"But I can't. I don't understand it." The younger man leaned against the doorframe so he could watch both his roommates. "All they are is letters that have no basis in reality."
"Ah," Oz said, washing his hands in Devon's soapy sink full of water. "Let's go look at it again." He led his guideling out to the table, settling him in a chair. "Okay," he said, pulling one over for himself. He pointed at the first 'X'. "Think of this as ... a big dog in a kennel of little dogs. Okay?" Xander nodded, frowning. "Think of 'Z' as a kitten stuck in the kennel with them too. The 'Y's are all the other dogs. Save the big dog and the kitten." He sat back, watching Xander look at the paper. "Still having trouble?"
"Yeah, but it's more of a thinking problem now." Xander wrote something down and showed it off. "Like that?"
"Or you could have taken the kitten out first and saved a step, but yes, that'll work." He patted Xander's shoulder gently. "Finish saving the kitten and the big dog from the others and we'll go get your new frames."
"Can I have contacts?" Xander asked, bending over to do his homework.
"It's more expensive but we'll ask when we get there." Oz watched his sentinel work the three problems quickly, checking his watch. "Gee, and you still have two minutes left. Wanna check them before I look?" Xander shook his head, handing it over so Oz took the pencil and looked through each problem, solving it himself and circling where Xander missed a place to take out something to simplify the equation. "Okay, you have a problem with kittens." He put the paper back in front of Xander. "See, if you start with the kitten in most of these, then you'll end up with a more simple expression in a lot fewer steps. When you start with the big dog, then you keep forgetting about the kitten."
"I keep forgetting that there are more than two letters," Xander admitted. Oz rubbed down his back. "Do you want me to retry them?"
"No, there's two more at the bottom, do one of those. Try starting with the kitten first."
Xander looked at the first free equation and shook his head. "I can't, there's only two kittens and they won't factor."
"Then factor out the big dog and see where it leads you."
Xander wrote something down then erased it. "That can't be right."
Oz pulled the pencil away. "It was, but you forgot the big dog squared." He put the pencil back down to the paper. "Try it again."
Xander rewrote it, grinning as he handed it off after he had finished. "There, saved them all?"
"Yup, you did very well." Oz wrote something below the final answer and handed back the paper. "Now solve for the kitten."
"Put the number in place of the 'Z's and then solve. That's the next step."
"At the beginning or the end?"
"The beginning, though the steps will be the same because the kitten never factored out in that one."
"Oh." Xander flipped the paper over and recopied the original formula, checking it twice to make sure. Then he reworked the steps, ending up with 'X' equaling a smaller formula. "This?"
"Yup," Oz said, looking over his sentinel's shoulder. "That's exactly right." He patted Xander's bare shoulder. "You've earned a treat, what would you like?"
"Not sure," Xander admitted. "Would you like to help me stage my next art project? I think I have something for it."
"Sure, we'll do it after we get your glasses and talk to the nice eye doctor about contacts." He stood up, taking the paper over to Xander's backpack and slid it inside the back pouch. He grabbed the younger man's checkbook and wallet, handing them off. "Devon, come on. We're going to the mall."
"Give me a sec," the vampire called, strolling out after about five more minutes to find both men nibbling on cooked pork chops. "I had to get pretty."
"Not having a reflection must suck," Xander said with a small grin. "I saved the kittie and the big dog from the little horde of lap sausages."
"Cool." He looked at Oz. "Huh?"
"That's how we were looking at the letters. One was a big dog, one was a kitten, and the other was the horde of other dogs in the kennel."
"Oh. Okay. Wish you had taught my math class." Devon headed for Oz's room, coming back with his wallet. "Okay, got Xander's ATM card, we can go now."
Xander glared at the young vampire. "You stole it again?"
"No, I used it to go get you photo paper. You gave it to me."
"Sorry, I forgot I had you go do that. Wanna help Oz help me stage my next photo project?"
"Sure. What can I do?"
"You can do props." Xander gave him an evil grin. "It'll be so much fun."
"I'm sure," Oz said dryly as he put his dirty plate into the sink and rinsed off his hands. "Hurry up so we can go."
Xander dropped his plate into the sink, pork chop hanging out of his mouth, and headed for the elevator. "Come on," he mumbled as he pulled up the gate.
Oz grabbed a napkin and followed behind his sentinel, simply wiping off his mouth for him before they got into the van.
Xander turned to give Oz begging looks when the nice lady at the desk fitting him for glasses said he could have contacts. "Disposables?"
"Way expensive," Oz muttered, "but we have the money and if you want contacts so no one knows you're wearing glasses then fine." Xander nodded. "Thought that was why. Make sure he can put them in first please." He wandered over to the wall of glasses, picking up a pair of frames before looking in the mirror at his friend. "Hey, Xander? I think I found the perfect pair."
Xander hopped up and jogged the few feet, coming to stop directly behind Oz, putting his head on his guide's shoulder. "Oh, I like those." He touched the lightweight half-frames. "Very cool and they'd blend."
"Yup, they would." Oz handed them over. "Go see if she has them in your size."
"We have them in silver," the fitter said, giving Oz a small, grateful smile. "If he tints them somewhat, they'll just look like expensive, light sunglasses." She pointed to the chart with the tinted lenses. "We have a few colors available, and the usual grey or brown of course."
Oz considered them then looked at Xander's face. "Would tinted glasses screw up your paintings?"
"I'm an artist," Xander explained. "I paint and take pictures." She nodded. "I'm not sure a tinted lense wouldn't screw up my view of life so I started to mess up things."
"Dude," Devon said from the chair he was lounging in. "They're running a special, hundred dollars off two pairs. You could have a cool pair to wear to class and one to work in."
"If he got them off the cheapest rack for the sale," she said, pointing at a section of mostly plastic frames, "the cost would be minimal."
Oz shook his head. "He broke some plastic ones yesterday by sitting on them."
"Well, if you're willing to spend the money, there are those frames that will remember their shape and go back to them when he's no longer sitting on them." She pointed at the small display that had glasses twisting and releasing over and over. "That's been going for almost four months straight, ten hours a day at least, and it's still not broken yet."
Xander walked over to the display, turning up his sight to be better able to see the intricate details of the frame.
Oz groaned after he had been standing like that for five minutes. "Artist's zone," he explained, reaching over to backhand the back of Xander's arm. "Hey, time to stop that now." When he didn't get a response, he walked around to look at his sentinel's face, covering his eyes. "Xander," he said softly, "no more art stuff until you have glasses." He felt the younger man blink so removed his hand. "Back with us?"
"Yeah, I was tracing the small fracture." He pointed it out. "It'll be breaking soon." He turned to look at the saleswoman/fitter. "Four months?" She nodded, giving him a hopeful smile. "I like those. Oz?"
"I think it'd be great. And if they come in different styles, you..." He stopped when he saw where Xander was looking at the frames he had picked out for him. "You can have a pair of those instead. Just remember, they're only in silver in your size."
"We may have a gold pair in a bigger size, but his is a popular size and the gold is always the first to go." She headed for a large cabinet, opening it to rummage around inside. "Ah ha," she crowed, coming back out with a wrapped bundle. "We do have one in the next larger size." She sat down in her chair, waving Xander at his. "Come sit, let's see how big these really are."
Xander sat down, letting her unwrap the glasses and put them on his face. "Wow, I like how these fit. My last pair were plastic and they hurt." He looked down and they slipped a little. "Can that be adjusted out?"
"Of course." She reached behind his ears, bending the stems a little. "How does that feel?"
"Comfy and good." Xander turned to look at Oz, the thin gold half-frames shining in the bright store lighting. "Yes?"
"I like a lot," Oz agreed. "More than worth the cost." He walked closer, looking at the shining brown eyes under them. "These your working or your class ones?"
"I like these for working. My class ones should be more sturdy because they'll be put in my backpack." He smiled at the saleswoman. "Do we need a coupon for the hundred dollars off two pairs?" She nodded but Devon reached into his pocket and pulled one out. "Okay. I'll take the Flexon frames too. In gold if you've got them, lightly tinted with ..." He looked up. "Pink?"
"No," Oz said, giving him a small smile. "Get the lightest tan tinting. It'll be like sunglasses and if you can work in them then you can come get them done darker."
"Our tinting is adjustable," she said, picking up a form to write on. "Do we have your prescription here?"
"Yup," Xander said, pulling it out of his pocket and handing it over. "I got an extra copy because all the school's guy would do was give me nasty looking plastic ones."
Oz patted his shoulder. "It was all he had on discount and you needed a pair."
"You both go to Rainier?" she asked without looking up.
"All of us," Devon said as he walked over. "Xander, look at the smoke tint. It'll give you some color but you'll have clear bottoms."
"Ooh," he said, touching one. "Would that be too dark for class?"
"Bertranda wouldn't allow it," Devon reminded him. "Get the next lighter one though. It's still dark enough to block some of the weak sunlight we get but it's light enough to not irritate him."
"We can make them darker or lighter if he needs them," the saleswoman said, looking up with a smile. "I don't suppose you have school ID's on you, do you?" Three ID's were quickly presented. "I can tell you're ready for anything."
"Food shopping," Devon said. "The place where we go gives us discounts because we're students too." He gave her a small smile. "Are we getting another discount?"
"It's only lasting through tomorrow," she admitted with a wicked grin. "You three are so lucky."
"Contacts?" Oz asked Xander.
"Can wait," Xander said, giving him a grin. "They're expensive and I got a treat tonight."
Oz ruffled his sentinel's hair. "Okay. If you say so." He headed toward the outer store. "In one hour or less?"
"Yes," she called, "but we need a small deposit."
Xander pulled out his wallet and handed over his ATM card. "Can you run those?"
"Of course." She hurried over to the cash register, running the card. She came back with a frown a few minutes later. "It's not in your deductible part yet."
Oz groaned. "It's been two days." He pulled out his emergency credit card, handing it over. "Try that one."
She walked back over, running it, and came back a few minutes later with a smile and a slip for him to sign. "There we go. Come back in an hour and we'll have it all ready for you," she said after she handed back the card and his copy of the slip. "Thank you."
"No, thank you," Xander said, giving her one last disarming smile before following Oz out of the store. "I don't know what's wrong with it," Xander muttered, looking at his card. "It was on there earlier." He headed for the ATM in the store, calling up his account balance, smiling when it showed up. "See, it's all in there."
Oz looked over his shoulder at the screen, considering it. "Try to remove some."
Xander pushed the buttons to make a withdrawal and swore silently under his breath. "It's still not fully in there." He pushed the button to get his card back, sliding it into his front pocket. "Then I've got about sixteen dollars in there."
"I've got money," Oz told him quietly, "and so does our joint account." He pulled out his ATM card, sliding it into the machine and making a large withdrawal, handing the slip over to Xander. "Washer?"
"Yup, washer. I'll pay you back when I can get into my money again," Xander told him, looking at the slip. "Why so much?"
"That's what's left over from our summer earnings plus that rent check and the rest of the money leftover from when you sold that art so we could buy the building." Oz steered him toward the housewares section. "Did Blair ever get back with you about the price for that washer?"
"Yeah and he had Jim look at it. Jim said it'd take more to fix it than it would to buy a new one. Something about industrial parts being hard to find." Xander shrugged, looking at the new washers with a wince. "Ouch."
"Big one," Devon agreed, flipping over a card to look at the price. "This is extortion."
A salesman laughed as he walked over. "Let me guess, college guys?" They all nodded. "Living together outside of your parents for the first time?" They all shook their heads. "Oh. Well, what do you need?"
"I paint," Xander said, raising his hand a little. "So we need something to take chemicals and paint out of jeans."
"And t-shirts," Oz added, flicking at a spot of paint on the one he was wearing. "We live in a loft so we need a quiet machine. No bouncing and rattling as it spins."
"It's gotta be easy and affordable," Devon said. "I'm not that great with clothes but I wear a lot of them. And Oz and I are in a band so we're usually sweaty too."
The salesman nodded, waving a hand at a machine that was shown in the middle of the main aisle. "We have this one, it's our economy model and it's meant for working mothers."
Oz shook his head at the features offered. "Not even." He looked around, then went toward one he liked. "I think I like this one. It has features, it does delicates, and even I can work it." He felt a head hit his shoulder and pushed against Xander's head. "Not in the store," he muttered.
"Sorry," Xander said as he pulled back. "I was just reading over your shoulder. It's a convenient perch." He pointed to the one beside it. "This one can scrub anything clean it says."
The salesman cleared his throat. "If you're looking toward that end of the line, the one on the end cap may be the best choice yet. It's fully loaded, does both heavy duty loads and delicates, has all the water selections you might need, and it's on sale this week because the manufacturer is upgrading to a new model. I have that one at home and it works well for my family's needs."
The three younger men stepped around to look at it. Oz nodded, Xander nodded, and Devon looked at them. "Does it come with a manual on how to work it? It's got a lot of buttons."
"Of course," the salesman said smoothly, lifting the lid. "Right here is your quick reminder guide and it comes with a booklet and an assortment of trial sizes of detergent."
"It does everything except mend it," Xander said.
"It's a little more than we wanted to spend," Oz said quietly, looking at the demonstration model.
"Ah, but the Kenmore Calypso is one of the best on the market today." He gave them a satisfied smile. "It will really get everything out of any garment. Including jeans."
Oz looked at Xander. "This is going to be half yours since Dev's not full time."
"If we just got the washer for now," Xander said, considering the pair. "That's only six hundred."
"The loft isn't dry enough to dry things like that," Devon pointed out. "My t-shirt didn't dry for almost two days." He ran a hand over the dryer. "I have some money, Oz. We all know my parents are well off."
"Point, but that's going to be taking advantage of you."
"Not really," Xander said, giving Devon a small hurt look. "You're a rich kid?"
"Barely," Devon groaned, covering his face. "Not nearly as well off as Cordy used to be."
"Oh, okay." Xander nodded. "If we could split it three ways, that's only maybe five from each of us after taxes."
Oz looked at the machines again. "This really will take paint out of his shirts and sheets?"
"It should. It would depend on your detergent, but that's why it comes with a sample pack to try different things with. This machine has a unique action that works on more planes of motion than the usual side-to-side agitators, basically it moves it side-to-side and up and down." The salesman looked at the price tag. "That's not a bad deal and if you have your ID's you can get a discount."
"Three discounts?" Xander asked with a hopeful smile.
"No, I'm sorry, we can only give one for each purchase."
Everyone looked at Oz because he had the money and the working card. "You'll pay me this week?" he asked Xander.
"As soon as they let me back into my money," he promised, holding up a hand. "And we can have laundry all the time now. No more hunting for clean clothes and tight fitting jeans for classes and dates."
Devon snorted. "I think Sascha may have liked those other jeans. She didn't let him change." He looked at Oz. "I'll call my parents tonight and even if they're being dicks, I'll still have money in a few months from my trust."
"Point," Oz sighed, handing over his emergency credit card. "Go ahead." He accepted the long, hard hug from the excited Xander, patting his back. "Down," he whispered. "Not in the store."
Xander turned and hugged Devon for just as long and hard, and when he stopped he shot Oz a naughty grin. "My glasses should be done soon."
Oz checked his watch and nodded. "True." He looked around. "Do we need anything else tonight besides groceries?"
"Are you having it delivered?" the salesman asked as he rang them up on his computer terminal.
"Please," Oz sighed. "We live in an industrial loft but it has an elevator." He pulled out his license, handing it over. "That's got the right address."
Xander kept looking around them. "Oz," he said, nudging him. "Do you hear something?"
Oz turned to him then concentrated with his slightly enhanced hearing, frowning. "Some kids screaming, why?"
"No, I hear someone older, crying." Xander walked toward the clothing area, heading for the women's changing area. He looked around for an attendant, and when none came he headed into the curtained-off area. "Man in here," he warned. He followed the crying to the last booth on the right, tapping gently. "Are you all right?" She screamed. "Shh, it's okay. Are you okay?" He was forcefully turned around by a woman. "I heard her crying and I was making sure." He stepped back since she was wearing the store's badge. "You check."
The worker tapped lightly on the door. "Ma'am? Are you all right in there?" When all she got was more hysterical crying she led Xander back out to her station and picked up the phone. "I need assistance in the women's fitting room. I have a woman crying, locked in one cubicle." She hung up and looked at him. "Where were you?"
"I was heading out of appliances." Oz walked over, giving Xander a clear 'be careful' sign with his eyes. "I was walking back towards here when I heard her. I called out and no one answered me when I said I was a man."
A male security worker walked toward them. "What's wrong?"
"Um, maybe he's not the best idea," Oz said. "She's obviously panicking in there and a man might make it worse." He looked directly at the saleswoman. "Why do women lock themselves in places like changing rooms and cry like that?" he asked quietly.
The security guard nodded. "That's very wise." He picked up his walkie-talkie and spoke into it. "We need a female officer in women's changing. I'm going to scare her." He put it back on his belt. "Where did he hear it from? I can't hear it from here."
"From the walkway," Xander said, pointing behind the changing area. "I just heard a light, crying sound." He almost flinched as their salesman walked over to give Oz back his card and license. "We had just left his station."
The salesman nodded. "He heard whatever it was from the aisle." He looked at Oz, then at Xander. "What's going on?"
"There's a woman who's locked herself in and is crying hard," the saleswoman explained. She smiled at the female security officer walking towards them. "Good, I was hoping it was you. She's in the last one on the right."
They all watched as she walked back into the changing area, breath held until she came back out with a woman wrapped in a blanket. "Call her someone," the female guard said to the other one. "I'm taking her back to the office. Don't let anyone back there." She nodded at Xander. "Thank you."
"Anytime." He nodded at the woman. "Don't worry, she's really nice." The woman nodded, clinging to her so he turned to Oz. "We done? Can I go pick up my glasses?"
"Sure," Oz said, turning and heading towards the optical store. He nodded at the salesman from appliances that had helped them as they passed him, waiting until they were alone to say something. "Dangerous," he whispered.
"She needed the help," Xander reminded him. "There's not many reasons I can think of to lock yourself into a changing room and cry either." He nudged Oz's arm. "Let's disappear into the sunset, okay?"
"Sure." Oz walked around Devon as they walked into the optical store. "Done?"
"Just barely." She handed over the glasses, watching as Xander tried them on in front of the mirror. "Are they all right?"
"Fine," Oz said, grabbing Xander's arm. "Thank you. You were great to us." He waved and walked Xander out of the store and mall. He waited until they were all in the van to look at his sentinel. "Wow."
"Yeah," Xander said as he slumped down into his seat. "Very wow." He looked out the window with his new glasses. "I'll still need them adjusted a little but they're fine for tonight." He looked at Oz. "Thanks."
"Welcome. I'm just glad that the salesman backed you up." Oz started the van. "As long as he doesn't turn our address in as witnesses we'll be fine."
"Yeah," Devon sighed from his position in the back. "That would be a bitch." He rocked as the van pulled out of the parking space. "Easy, Oz, I'm not buckled in back here and a trip to the ER is not what we want with me back here."
"Good point," Xander said, turning his head to smile at the vampire. "Though you'd be easy to explain, you're just dead on arrival. You could get up and walk out of the morgue later."
Oz snorted. "They'd search for him then." He drove out of the parking lot. "First safe payphone, you're calling Jim to tell him."
"Fine," Xander said, leaning back and closing his eyes. "I still think this is too strong for me. Everything's funny."
"It'll take a few days to get used to them," Devon reminded him. "Give it a week and if it still feels funny we can go back and have them check the prescription to make sure it's the right one."
"Okay," Xander said, snuggling into his seat. "Thanks for humoring me, guys."
"Hey, we needed a washer," Oz said. "In the long run, it'll be cheaper." He pulled into a gas station as the first snore floated over from the passenger's side. "I'll call, you watch him," he told the vampire in the back as he slid out of his seat to make the call.
Blair looked up as Jim answered the phone, smirking at his frown. "What did they do this time?"
"Xander heard a woman crying across a department store," Jim said after he had hung up and was sitting next to his guide again. "She's been taken into custody by the local security guards, who are calling the cops. Oz said they're disappearing off into the night with Xander's new glasses and their washing machine, which is going to be delivered in a few days."
Blair shook his head. "Those kids. She okay?"
"Oz said yes but not enough." Blair looked at him, staring into his eyes. "She's living, Chief, that's the important thing."
"Point," Blair conceded quietly. "He heard her across Sears?"
"Hmm, at least that's well within range. They give a good lie?"
"Minimized the distance so a normal person *might* have heard her. The appliance salesman is being agreeable and going with Xander's story."
"What did they buy?"
"A Calypso system, like the one you wanted."
"Oh, yeah. I'd be nice and agreeable if someone had just bought fifteen hundred dollars worth of washer and dryer off me too." Jim shrugged with a small grin. "At least he didn't dispute them. Did he get new glasses? I know he sat on his old ones."
"They had a coupon for a hundred dollars off two pairs so he got a working pair and a stylish pair." Blair chuckled, going back to the papers he was examining. "Anything?" Jim asked, looking at the scrawled handwriting that could only be done by one Blair Sandburg when he was rushed.
"Not really. Marcus sent my original notes to the same researcher, and he said that the new formula may become addictive if given more than twice but otherwise it was safer and faster- acting to kill." Blair put down the paperwork. "I just hope that they did the right thing giving Xander the undiluted serum this summer. From what he said, a normal dosage could have killed him and I'm pretty sure he got more than that."
"But he already had the problems," Jim pointed out, "and he was in a physically odd state. Oz told me about the craving the first drug gave him."
"Maybe that helped," Blair suggested, "but still. We don't know what was in it or even if it had any affect on the serum. Anything that works that strongly on the human body has to have some effect on other drugs."
"Point, but we don't know what it was." Blair snapped his fingers but Jim shook his head. "I asked her, Chief, she didn't have a clue. Just that it was blue and it was something strong enough to kill you if you didn't give in."
"I was thinking Sascha's mother."
"How does a Spirit Guide have a mother?"
"Easy, she was human until a few years ago when she died. Then she was 'assigned' to the duty. Same as Darrien was. I traced him through some papers based on his accent. He was a guide himself. His sentinel died in a car crash and he died a few weeks later. Sascha died of ovarian cancer when she was 18, a few years back. I'm not sure if she was supposed to be a guide or not, but she's a wonderful spirit guide. She's been very patient with Oz."
"Wolf gave us the newbies to train?" Jim asked, his brow wrinkling.
"Not really. They chose guides to go with the animals that would help and work with the strangeness of their lives. How many other creatures could deal with a werewolf and a formerly- possessed sentinel?"
"Point," Jim conceded. "They're doing good though. Both sets."
"True. And Darrien coming down to take care of Xander when he got here was exactly what he needed. I doubt Wolf would have, or even Jaguar. I'm not even sure that they could do it for that long, he was here almost for three weeks."
"Yeah and he was cranky too," Jim said, resting his head against the back of the couch. "You bringing our lab into it?"
"He is. Marcus' friend, who is actually our other friend from school and someone I trust, is dating one of our lab techs. He's brought it to the attention of the lab as a new street drug. He told her it was an experimental drug that had made a short round of LA and the surrounding areas, then had disappeared. She's looking at it as a curiosity."
"And you'll go pump her for information?"
"In the morning. I'm due to meet with both of them before classes."
"Good, I'm worried about those side effects. He's been too lucky so far."
"Not really," Blair said quietly. "How lucky is it to lose yourself twice and then almost die?" He shifted the papers and got up. "I'm going to bed. Night."
"Night, Chief," Jim said quietly, watching him go. "He's lived, he's lucky," Jim reminded himself. "Same as Blair." He hefted himself off the couch and up his stairs to go to bed.
Oz groaned as he felt someone snuggle harder against his stomach, opening his eyes to look up at the ceiling that wasn't his. "Again?" he whispered. He looked down and his breath caught as he saw how the moonlight was highlighting Xander's body. He looked up as Devon walked in, then watched as he jogged out of the curtained off area and came back with the camera. He looked down at his sentinel and friend again, ignoring the smile he could feel on his face.
"Wow," Devon whispered, putting the camera on the dresser and laying down beside Oz to hug his other shoulder. "You two are good together."
"Yeah," Oz sighed. "But I should quit waking up over here."
"You needed it, let it go," Devon advised as he stood up. He kissed his fingers and tapped the back of Xander's head with them then left them alone, taking the camera with him to develop the film.
Oz closed his eyes. "I just wish we had a solution." He went back to sleep, comforted by the warm weight covering his body.
Xander walked out to the kitchen, scratching his stomach and squinting at the lights that were on. He flipped off the kitchen light as he headed for the fridge, ignoring Oz's complaint that came from where the toaster was sitting. "Sleep good?" he asked as he opened the refrigerator door.
"Yup, your room is comfy." Oz took his pieces of toast out of the toaster, dropping them onto the lighter shape that looked like his plate. "I'm sorry about sneaking in there again."
"No big. I did it too." Xander walked out to the table, putting down the pitcher of juice after taking a long drink from it. He turned so he could look at the pictures Devon was staring at. "Huh. When did you do those?"
"Last night. The moonlight was hitting your body just right and I wanted to capture it." Devon held up one for him to look at. "See? It just looked right."
Xander nodded and looked over his shoulder as Oz walked out. "We're art."
"Cool. I saw him take the pictures." Oz put down his plate of toast and looked at the pictures that were shoved over to him. "Very nice."
"You two are just right together," Devon said as he stood up with a yawn. "Going to bed, night."
Oz waited until they were alone to look at Xander. "I'm sorry."
"It's okay. Apparently you needed the comfort."
"Yeah, but I don't know why. I'm just feeling really strange right now."
"Weird/head going to explode strange or other sort of strange?" Xander asked, looking up from his drinking out of the juice pitcher.
"Xander, don't do that. There's a reason why we have glasses." Oz rolled his eyes, tearing off a piece of toast to eat. "Not sure, but I know my head's not going to explode so that must be yours."
"Didn't think I was broadcasting, but okay." Xander put down the juice, looking at his guide. "Is it school, Sascha, Willow and Tara, Buffy? Someone else in our lives?"
"I've been having dreams about Sascha and Blair," Oz admitted, "but they weren't *together*, they were working together."
"Ah." Xander pointed to the wall behind him. "You've seen that picture with Sascha changing?" Oz nodded. "What does it remind you of?"
"My spirit guide mostly. At least the animal side does. She's not cryptic enough to be it though."
"Hey, even Darrien can be cryptic."
"Point." Oz looked at the edge of the painting, all he could see from where he was sitting. "I'll talk to her about it later."
"Cool. Just let me know if you don't want me here."
"No, you can paint. And we'll go to the woods this weekend too. Got the cabin lined up and everything."
"Cool!" Xander shot him a grin. "I could do some still lifes and you could torture me with sensory tests."
"Basically," Oz agreed. He dropped the last piece of his toast. "Do you miss the old, quieter me?"
"Nope. I like being talked to."
"Yeah, but I feel like I've changed so much and I'm not sure why."
"Well, the talking is noticeable. You're saying more than ten words at a time sometimes, but I like the fact that you're comfy enough with me to talk a lot around me. When we're out you're still the quiet guy, but at home you're just more relaxed and the words come."
"Huh. Very prosaic. Thanks."
"Welcome. Now then, someone has a ten am class."
Oz looked at the clock on the stove. "Yup, he does and he will go to math today since he has that test." He looked at his friend. "Just remember what I showed you. Make 'X' the big dog, 'Z' the kitten, and 'Y' the rest of the kennel."
"Okay." Xander pushed his chair back and headed for his bedroom. "When's the washer coming?"
"Really? Wow, we're going to have a laundry fit that first night. I'm almost out of clothes again."
"Xander, you have clothes, you can't be out of them." Oz followed him into his room, glaring at all the clothes spread around the room. "You've worn them all already?"
"Nope, but I'm weeding out the stuff I can't wear anymore to give away."
Oz shook his head. "Don't, you'll lose the few pounds again soon."
Xander gave him a dirty look. "Oz, my formerly tight ones are now loose. It's not a matter of *losing* weight, I'm doing that well enough."
"Gotta fix that then," Oz told him, giving him a direct look. "We'll start you on a schedule of eating again."
"Not. I was too heavy before."
"No, you were fine before." He looked over the younger man's body. "Right now you're bordering on crack whore size." He turned, heading back toward the table. "We'll work it out later. Good luck on your math test."
"Thanks." Xander pulled on a shirt and sat down on his bed to pull on his shoes. "Might need it," he muttered as he grabbed his pencils and erasers, and headed out to do battle with the evils of math.
Xander looked up from his moping spot on the couch, giving his guide his best pitiful look. "The teacher kicked me out of my math test," he said, scooping another bite of ice cream into his mouth. "Said your doggy thing was a cheating thing."
"I'll call her," Oz told him, leaning down to give his head a hug. "Is she in?"
"Her office hours are about to end. I tried to tell her it was how you had finally taught me how to do it but she didn't believe me."
Oz nodded. "What's her number?"
"5672." Xander looked back down at his bowl. "I'm going to flunk math because you found a way for me to understand it finally."
Oz picked up the handset to the cordless phone and sat down beside his sentinel, dialing carefully. "Hi, I need to talk to you about Xander Harris?" He growled lightly. "No, that was how I taught him to think about it so he wouldn't have problems with the letters. No, not everyone is a math genius and can think in formulas. No, this isn't. No, this is his roommate and tutor. If you have a problem with my transnational methods I'm sorry but the man wasn't learning it *your* way." He snorted. "And how would translating the letters into a concept be cheating?" He laughed. "I'm sorry, Doctor Larans, but I think you're delusional and that you need help. I'm going to his Chair in the morning to get this settled. Yes, I am. He's given me permission to take you up on the issue of his tutoring. In actuality, I'd like to have *you* sit through one of your lectures and learn anything. Good day." He hung up and dialed the main number to Rainier. "Hi, I need the Chair of the Math department please?" He hummed as he was connected. "Hello, I'm Xander Harris' tutor and I think we need to have a discussion? Yes, no, it wasn't cheating. I had him translate the letters into concepts that he better understood. Yes, those. It worked for him. He did his homework and got it right. Quite frankly, I'd worry about the teacher's methods since three quarters of the class flunked their first test." Short pause. "No, he wrote it up there to remind himself. Is there some rule about writing hints on your tests to help you? I used to write my formulas on the test first thing to make sure I didn't forget them." He nodded. "I can understand that but she had no evidence that he was cheating. Can he retake it? In a room with no distractions and where you can tell he didn't bring a cheat sheet?" Oz looked at Xander and smiled. "Of course." He handed the phone off. "He wants you to do one problem to prove to him that you're not cheating. I'm going to fix myself a sandwich, want one?"
"Please. PB&J." Xander picked up the piece of scratch paper and a pen. "Hi. Yup, this is me." He bit his lip as he wrote down the string of letters. "Okay, got it. Do you want me to talk you through each of the steps?" He smiled. "Okay, 'X's are the big doggies and 'Z's are the kitties. 'Y's are all the little lap sausages in the kennel. Which one am I solving for?" He stuck his tongue out as he looked at the formula. "But there's only one. Do you want me to really solve? Okay so what's going to be the number?" He shook his head. "Okay." He wrote it down, crossing out the first line a few times, but it started going faster and faster. "Okay, the kitten equals big dog squared minus the kennel cubed divided by the big dog." He grinned, looking over his shoulder at Oz. "Really? Do I have to retake it?" He cheered, getting up to wiggle a little. "Thank you." He hung up. "My teacher was listening and even she said it made sense to her when I did it like that."
"Cool," Oz said, handing Xander over his sandwich. "Do you have to retake?"
"Nope, but I get to finish the first one. I can go in tomorrow and do that." He hugged his guide. "Thank you."
"What I'm supposed to do," Oz reminded him. "That's what friends do," he corrected when he saw the hurt look. "Guides just nag."
Xander gave him a small smile. "Can I paint or do you have plans?"
"Okay, I'm going to paint. Tell me if I get annoying." Xander flipped on the radio as he walked past it, picking up the remote to flip to the alternative station they both liked. He stripped down in front of his easel, sitting down on his pillows to look at the blank canvas board. Pretty soon, there was a light background wash on the canvas and Xander was humming along with the music.
Oz shook his head as he watched the process, marveling once again as Xander went down into one of his art zones, not to be removed from it until he was done.
Oz glanced over at where Xander was painting with his headphones on then looked across the table at his girlfriend, who he was eating dinner with. "Sascha, I've been meaning to ask you something." He got up to grab a painting off the wall near the area set aside as the dining room, putting it on the table in front of her. "Xander painted this and it disturbs both of us." He noticed her slow blanch and backed up, staring at her. "You understand it?"
"Um, Oz, I have to tell you something. You might want to sit." She stood up as he walked around to sit down. "He's got it right, I'm taking care of both of you. I was asked to provide a little grease in your relationship." She unbuttoned her shirt. "I'm sorry, I never meant to lie." She turned into his Spirit Guide, looking up at him. "So sorry," she said as she started to turn back into her human form.
"Then who..." Oz shook his head and his mouth shut. "Out," he whispered, putting his head down on the table. "Now."
Xander walked over, glaring at her. "You had to hurt him?" He wrapped an arm around Oz's waist, pulling him up. "Out, Sascha, now." He led Oz into his room, putting his guide into his own bed. "Shh, Oz," he said, laying down on top of the covers to hold him. "It's all right." Oz shook his head. "Yeah, it is. We'll go yell at Blair in the morning, I promise." He rolled the older man onto his side and pulled him close, wrapping himself around the trembling body. "Shh, it'll be okay, I promise." He looked up at the ceiling. "Darrien, I will be talking to you soon," he whispered, holding onto his guide hard. "Shh, Oz, it's okay." He rubbed down the still back, soothing Oz as well as he could.
Oz sat up panting and Xander was right behind him, holding him and whispering quiet nonsense words to him, soothing him like he would a child. Finally Oz relaxed back into his friend's arms, slowly sinking back down onto the mattress. "Sorry," he said, turning his head to look at the man he was laying back-to-chest on. "Thanks."
"Welcome, Oz, it's what friends do." Xander rubbed down Oz's stomach, moving his fingers in slow circles. "Go back to sleep if you want, I'm still going to be here." They both looked up as their roommate walked in, Xander looking back down at Oz. "You know that picture I painted of Sascha?" Devon nodded, perching himself on the edge of the bed and crossing his feet in front of him. "It was right, she's Oz's Spirit Guide."
Devon hopped up, his whole body radiating anger. "Where is she? I won't let anyone hurt Oz like that!"
"Shh," Oz said, holding up a hand. "She's gone. I'm just being lethargic."
"Of course you are," Devon said quietly, laying down beside the pair of them, wrapping one of his cool arms around Oz's chest. "I'm here too, dude, just yell if you want to talk."
"Nope, no talking. It's bad." Oz closed his eyes. "Just wanna sleep."
"Yeah, you sleep," Devon said, staring at Xander. "Couldn't tell?"
"She had a heartbeat and everything," Xander defended. "The first time I saw her she was already like that."
"Wasn't his fault," Oz sighed, "stop it."
"Sure, Oz. Whatever you want," Devon told him, still glaring at Xander.
Xander nodded. "Later," he mouthed, pulling Oz in closer. "Sleep now, Oz," he whispered in his guide's ear. "I'm here and she won't be coming back until you're ready. I'll even shoo Darrien off if he shows up." Oz nodded, flipping over to lay on top of Xander's chest. "Comfy?"
"Need you closer. Under the blankets?"
"Sure," Xander said, letting Oz go and standing up to strip down to his t-shirt and boxers, sliding under the covers and taking Oz back against his body. "How's that?"
"Better. Much actually." Oz rubbed the side of his face over Xander's chest, eyes closed. "Thanks."
"Hey, this is what friend's do." Xander looked at Devon. "Want to call Giles and tell him Oz won't be in to class tomorrow?"
"Not why," Oz muttered, wrapping an arm around Xander's waist. "Can I suggest you lose the t? It's scratchy." Xander instantly sat up and pulled the shirt off, lying back down so he could get comfortable again. "Thanks. Didn't want cheek burn."
"Anything, Oz, anytime," Xander told him, rubbing down Oz's covered back. "Just ask and I'm *so* there."
"Sorry." Xander closed his eyes, rolling onto his side and curling up around Oz's body again, holding onto him like he was going to disappear soon.
Devon stood up and walked out of the young sentinel's bedroom, pulling the curtain closed behind him. He walked over to the area that held the living room furniture, picking up the cordless and sitting as far from Xander's bedroom as possible as he dialed Giles' number. "Hey, G-man? Nope, it's Dev. No, Oz just got the big shock and he's not functioning real well at the moment. Xand asked me to tell you he wouldn't be in." He frowned and lifted his leg to hang over the chair's arm, swinging it back and forth. "Hey, Wills. Nope, found out Sascha was his Spirit Guide. He's presently so shaken he's napping. He wasn't even this bad when you two split the first time." He smiled slightly, showing his teeth off. "Hey, feel free. He'll complain but I'd like to see it." He nodded and hung up, dialing Blair and Jim's number. "Hey, Jimbo, is the teacher there? Jim, trust me, don't," he said firmly, his voice turning hard. "Just give the phone to Blair and turn it down." He growled lightly then cleared his throat as a softer voice came over the line. "Blair, do you know what happens to people who betray Oz or Xander? Really? Well, I would think that setting Oz up with his Spirit Guide would do that. You made sure he would fall hard, making sure she had enough info to make him fall in love. I've *never* seen Oz this destroyed, Blair, and I do know who is responsible." He hung up, looking at the phone. Then he threw it across the room as hard as he could. "Bitch," he muttered. "No one hurts Oz that way. Not while I'm still not a pile of dust." He stood up, checking his clothes. "Good enough. Xander, I'm going hunting." He raised his voice just a little but not enough to let Oz hear him. He heard the grunt so headed for the stairs, the noise the elevator made was enough to wake the dead, after all it had woken him a few times. He slammed the emergency door behind him, stomping down the stairs.
Xander looked down at Oz, kissing his temple. "We'll settle this," he whispered. "Just let us handle it all." He closed his eyes, squeezing his guide and friend harder. "Night, Oz, let me take all the nightmares."
Oz opened his eyes, looking at Xander's chest. His hearing may not be as sensitive as Xander's but he could still hear what Devon had said. He just hoped it was an empty threat.