Flying The Spirit Plane On A Peruvian Vacation
Xander patted himself down and shook his head. "Um, damn," he said, looking at the Custom's official. "I can't find it. Can I have my bag? Maybe I put it in there. I have one, my mentor made sure of it."
The official picked up his phone and said something into it. Within a few minutes, a man in a suit was standing there. "Mr...."
"Harris, Xander Harris," he said, shaking his hand. "I have a passport, I can't find it though."
He smiled. "I'm with the Embassy. Is this your only bag?"
"No, I have kittens. I couldn't leave them at home. Oz wouldn't have taken good care of them." He pulled out his letter from Darryl, which he had already shown to the first Customs's official. "I'm kinda expected, they said for me to come."
"Oh," he said, looking up from his reading. "You know Mr. Banks?"
"Yeah, we're friends." Xander smiled. "He's a great guy, and he's the only one who's going to be able to help me figure anything out."
"Ah. Then let's go straighten this out. We'll get your cats on the way." He led Xander from the room, and within ten minutes all of Xander's possessions were in a jeep. They headed off into the early morning.
Xander signed his name on the last paper. "How am I going to get home?"
"Well," the man sitting across from him, not the one who had rescued him but the duty officer for this shift, said, "you could drive back. That'd cause a lot less problems. There'd be some danger of course, and you'd have to be careful not to have drugs in the car when you crossed the border." He looked Xander over, he didn't look like a druggie, but he was an artist. It was a sound, tasteful warning. The kid even smiled at it.
"Okay. I'd have to watch out for guerillas, right? I heard about them on the news."
"Yes, basically. We can give you papers saying that you're an American citizen, that will get you across any borders. Especially if we say you were down here to look at the native art."
Xander nodded. "I plan on doing some of that too. Will my cats be a problem?" He reached down and scratched the one lying beside his feet. "I like my kittens."
"They shouldn't be. You'll want a leash for them in the jungle though. That way they don't wander off and get eaten." Xander went pale and he smiled. "Just be careful and know where they are at all times. The children in the village you're going to will adore them probably." He looked at the paper and took it from the room, coming back a few minutes later with an official letter. "Here you go. Keep this with you at *all* times. Never let anyone else take it from your sight."
An extremely stressed out Xander stood up and gave him a hug, ignoring the small understanding smile. "Thank you." He took the letter and folded it up, putting it into his wallet. He loaded his kittens into their carrier, much to their annoyance, and gathered his things. "Where can I go to find a car and a map?"
"We have someone here to guide you. He'll be able to get you to a car lot if you'd take him back to the village." He opened the door and Xander almost dropped everything in surprise.
"Hey, babe," Darryl said, walking through the door. He gave his friend and former lover a hug. "What's wrong?" he asked, leading him from the room with a smile for the duty officer. "Why'd you come?" he asked once they were outside.
"I had to get out of the house and I remembered your letter," Xander said weakly. "I know, it's not much of a reason, but it struck me that I should come down here."
"Well, here is where a lot of this started so it's like getting back to your roots," Darryl agreed, taking the bag. "Car, right? Do you have cash?" Xander nodded. "Good. Most places around here don't do American Express, no matter what the commercials say." He led the way down the street. "I was really surprised when I got a call last night. Fortunately, I was in town already with the Shaman. He needed to take meetings with Government people." He looked at the animal carrier. "What's that?"
"My kittens. There's an Oz and a Chocolate kitten. And I got read the riot act already. I need to make sure that they can't wander off."
"We can do that too," Darryl agreed, stepping into an alley. He stole a kiss, noticing how limp Xander was. "You're really wrung out, huh." He looked his friend over. "Does anyone know you're here?"
"I called Giles' machine at school and told him," Xander said quietly, looking down at the ground. "I didn't know what else to do. My bond with Oz is broken and I can't draw at all anymore."
Darryl gave him a hug. "The Shaman saw you coming, it's all cool. You'll be staying with his family and us." He nodded at the street. "Come on. Let's do this and make someone's day. We needed a second car to get back to the village anyway. The Shaman's son ate too much cabbage on the trip up." He shuddered dramatically.
Xander smiled for what felt like the first time in weeks. He followed his friend down the street, trusting him to help him do whatever needed to be done to get them both back to the village.
Oz woke up and listened to the apartment, not sure why he was alone in the bed. Xander should still be asleep, he didn't have class for another three hours. He got up and walked out to the main room, looking around. He stopped when he saw the food bowls missing. "Devon!" he shouted, trying to get the vampire up.
"What?" Devon grumped from his room. He opened the heavy tapestry curtain. Oz pointed at the missing food bowl. "And? Some of his clothes are gone too. He'll be back." He shut the curtain. But then he opened it again. "Since Xander didn't feel up to the task of bitchin' you out, I'm gonna do it for him, Oz. You had money. You could have bought a calling card. Or you could have sent back letters. No one told you that you couldn't write to Xander at all. For that matter, Xander's probably had to go find himself again. You *wrecked* him, man, he's totally destroyed now. If you had bothered to think of him for one *minute* on the tour, I would be shocked. And he knows it! That's why he can't paint, he can't concentrate, and the house is spotless beyond Martha levels." He shoved Oz. "Dude, you've got to get over yourself and this fear crap that you've got, and I'd do it before he comes back, so you can be on your knees willing to suck ass as he walks through the door." He looked down at his friend. "Man, I would have treated Xander better, and we never would have made it this far. You were given a precious duty and you dropped it."
Oz slumped. "I know. I tried to talk to him, but he sent me to bed."
"And you did what? Yelled, complained, maybe begged to talk to him about what was wrong?" Devon shook his head. "I was here then. The boy left, but he'll be back because he has to. You'd better be ready by then." The elevator started and Devon nodded his head at it. "That's not him, but they're excited." He walked back into his bedroom and closed the curtain.
Oz walked over to the elevator, sighing when he saw it was Blair. "Did he call you?"
Blair grabbed him by the arm and walked him over to the couch, pushing him down onto it. "No, he called Rupert." He frowned at his assistant. "Oz, what did you do?"
"Why is this all me? He could have called."
"True, why didn't he?" Blair asked him. "Why would Xander not call when you're on tour?"
Oz slumped in on himself a little more. "I know, this is my fault, again, but I don't know why I didn't stay in touch this summer."
"Because you're still scared," came out of Devon's room.
Blair nodded. "That's true, I think." He sat down beside Oz. "I know you know you messed up royally this time, Oz, but do *you* know why you did it? Do you know why Xander went to Peru?"
"To go see Darryl?"
"Yes, in part. A lot of us are drawn to that area though. There's an old temple down there devoted to Sentinels. We think there's another for Guides but we can't be sure. Darryl's in the area so he went to go visit him but I have no doubt that Xander's going to end up in that temple as soon as he goes near it. And it could drive him insane. I know a sentinel that went down there and ended up comatose because of what she saw and what it did to her senses. Jim survived because he had a Guide to cling to, even though I wasn't there. Which way is Xander going to go, Oz?"
"I don't know," he said hotly. "I've been trying to rebuild it. He didn't come home and talk to me. When I suggested we talk, he sent me to bed."
"Oz, what have you learned about Xander?" Oz shrugged, staring at his feet. "That sometimes you have to force him to get it out, and that sometimes you're going to have to bend a little. He can't help what he can do, you can help him fix what he has. That's why we're guides." He stood back up. "Get dressed. We're taking today off to go do Guide stuff. At the end of that, we'll try to call Darryl."
Oz shook his head. "If he had wanted me to know where he was, he would have left a note."
Blair shook his head and pulled Oz's face up. "I doubt he remembered it in time. Think of this as payback for this summer." He pulled Oz up. "Go get dressed. We're going to the woods." He pushed him toward his bedroom, sitting down to wait on him. There was no way he was losing this pairing to their own hubris. He wouldn't go through the pain of losing another pairing, not ever again if he could help it.
Xander looked around the village, ignoring the pull he felt toward the jungle. "So, you live here?" he asked, looking at Darryl, who was looking proud. "It's great. Simple, yet functional and strong. Much better than my loft with Oz and Dev."
Darryl patted him on the back. "It's a village, Xander, same as all of them are. Don't worry about your reactions. I've seen stronger ones from Anthropologists." He turned and said something to an older woman coming toward them. "She'll take your bag into their hut; that's the Shaman's wife," he said, trying to ease Xander's uneasiness. "Bring your kittens over here," he said, walking away. He stopped near a few children, saying something to them in that same language. "Xander, these guys watch over the village's cats. We keep them to hunt vermin." He took the pet carrier and pulled out the first cat, looking at it. "You're cute," he told her.
"That's an Oz kitten," Xander said, sitting on his haunches as he watched his cat being introduced to the children and the other cats. "They're still very young." He accepted his cat into his arms when she got away from Darryl. "I guess she's scared to," he said quietly.
Darryl smiled. "There's no reason for you to be scared. There's a reason for you to be pissed, to be upset, and to start crying, but there's no reason to be scared." He caught the other kitten as she started to come out. "This would be the Chocolate, right?" Xander nodded so he showed it to the children, telling them something then handing her to Xander. "Come on. They'll watch out for them if they want to explore." He led the way into a big hut, pointing at a corner. "Got sit over there. I'll get you some water." He walked away, taking a bowl and a cup from the older woman, walking over to where Xander was huddled against the wall. "Here," he said, sitting down and stealing a bite of food. He smiled as the old woman started to scold him. "What? I'm hungry too," he told her, giving her a smile. He nudged Xander, taking one of kittens so he could eat. "Want to tell me what happened?"
Xander shrugged and spilled the story as he ate. Halfway through, Darryl got up and walked outside, coming back a few minutes later without an explanation. He listened to the rest of the story, trying to keep Xander calm. At the end, he took the dishes and tucked his friend into his bunk, making sure the kittens were there with him before getting up and going to talk to the Shaman, who had just returned. He led his teacher away, telling him everything Xander had told him.
Oz looked at the ring of candles Blair had set up, then up at him. "Isn't this a fire hazard?"
"Yes, but we have permission to do this." Blair stepped into the circle and sat down, pointing at the bare spot. "Sit."
Oz stepped in and sat down in front of him. "Why are we doing this?"
"Because they'll be doing the same thing for Xander," he said, closing his eyes. "Join me on the Spirit Plane, Oz."
Oz relaxed and went through his breathing exercise, slowly going to where he joined the Spirit Plane and stepping across the barrier. He found himself in a tangle of brambles. "Blair?" he called.
Blair stepped through the brambles. "What?" He looked around, the smiled. "This is the inside of your head, Oz. You can walk through it, but you have to want it bad enough." He stepped back through. "I'll be waiting with Sascha."
Oz stepped forward but one of the long, thin, sharp spines swung around to get him. "Huh," he said, sitting down to think about this. The first thought he got was, 'I wonder what Xander's head is like'. But he knew the answer to that. He'd been there before. He picked up one of the vines, running his fingers across the clear part. He knew what these were, now all he had to do was clear all these fears and prejudices away. He had to now. Someone else's life was on the line if he didn't.
In Peru, Xander blinked as he found himself on the Spirit Plane. He looked at his Spirit Guide, nodding at Darrien. "Hey, you bitched?" he joked as he sat down on the short grass. Someone had mowed the Plain apparently.
"You ran," Darrien said quietly, sitting across from him. "Why?"
"Because I couldn't take it anymore," Xander said, looking down at his hands. "I'm not really happy with my decision but I feel better now."
"Of course you do. You're not in the middle of the tension in your relationship." He reached out and touched Xander's cheek. "He's figuring it out with Blair and Sascha. I'll be going to help him. You do what feels right and enjoy having friends again." He disappeared and Xander found himself back in the hut. He looked up into the face of an old man, giving him a weak smile. "Hi, I'm sorry I barged in," he said, looking helpless.
The man sat down next to him, moving the kitten coming over to bat at his necklace. "Don't worry about it." He smiled at the shocked expression. "Blair taught me English while he was here last time. Darryl's contributed to my education also." He patted the kitten's head. "As they need love and care to grow, so do you. You're not fully ready to take on the responsibilities of adulthood, no matter your age. You still have much to do before you're ready, young one." He waved at the other kitten, who was hiding behind Xander's back. "You'll both be fixed before you go home. We won't let you go back to a situation that would make you leave your Guide." He poked his finger into a pouch on his side and made a mark on Xander's forehead. "Go back to the dreaming, young one. It will help you the most. Darryl will still be here when you get back."
Xander nodded and laid back down. He patted the kitten beside him, letting the other one crawl across him to lay against the wall too. "Please watch them for me. I have food for them in my bag."
"We will." The Shaman stood up, nodding at his wife. She came over and took the kittens to the other side of the hut, feeding them in the eating area. "He must treat them like his family," he said as he joined her. "You are pretty, but very odd," he told the Oz kitten, who was staring at him. "Too bad you can't help your father now." He reached over to pet her but she ducked his fingers, making him laugh. "Ah, an independent entity. It's always a pleasure to meet one such as you," he greeted, nodding his head at the cats. The other looked up and meowed, moving the water dish to where she wanted it.
The Shaman's wife laughed in delight and added more water to it. "Yes, you may have more," she told it.
Xander woke up and felt something warm against his back and his front. In front of him was a person. Behind him was just a warm lump. He reached back and smiled as he felt a kitten. He searched around for the other one, but he couldn't find her. "Oz?" he called quietly.
"She's chasing a fly. She can't get out," Darryl whispered, rolling over and proving he was the body in front of Xander. "She's fine. She found an animal skin to sleep on." He gave him a kiss. "Go back to sleep. We drugged you so you can go on a Spirit Journey."
Xander blinked. "You did? Why?"
"Because that's the only way to fix this." He stroked down the side of Xander's face. "I wish I had been your Guide. We would have worked."
"Then who's the woman I keep seeing?"
"I don't know," Darryl admitted. "Tell me about her when you get back this time, okay?" Xander nodded and moved farther into his arms. "Sleep, Sentinel," he whispered. "Sleep and dream, and hopefully you'll have this fixed by the time you wake again."
Xander didn't hear him, he was back in his mind, heading quickly for the Spirit Plane. Once there, he was joined by Sascha and Darrien. "If you're both here," he asked, "then who's guarding Oz?"
"No one," Darrien said dryly. "He's still trying to get out of the brambles." He sat on a nearby log. "Wolf called us all here, kid. Can you deal with this?"
"I guess I'm gonna have to," Xander said as he sat beside him. He grinned up at Sascha. "Don't be so stiff. Wolf won't nip you again."
"Doesn't matter," she said, putting a hand on each side of his face. "Who's the woman, Xander?"
"That's what I was going to ask Darrien." They both turned to look at him.
"Hey, I'm only the messenger. She's a Guide that's being sent to Blair soon."
"You're going to instigate Guide competition?" Sascha asked him.
"Not really. See, she's a training guide. All she's going to do is what Blair is right now. And, like him, she doesn't have a clue what she's doing but she's known how to do this all her life."
"Am I going to be turned over to her?" Xander asked.
Darrien shook his head. "Not if I can help it. It won't help you and Oz at all. It'll drive Oz nuts and make him flip out, and possibly leave if he thinks he can't win, but it won't help you two at all."
"Then why is Wolf sending her to Sandburg?" Sascha asked.
"Because, my dear," Wolf said as he walked out of the mists behind her, "she has to train under someone and it's easier to get her there than it is to get her to Central or South America." He smiled at Xander. "How're the cats?"
"Fine. They're not real cuddly but they're good company sometimes." He stood up. "Why am I here? Darryl said I was supposed to be working on my thing with Oz."
Wolf grinned a lopsided smile. "You would be, if he were done with his patch of thorns. Once he's ready, he'll come here. I'll tell Sandburg to hurry him up, maybe allow him to give the kid a nudge." He closed his eyes and a flash happened off in the mist.
"Oh! Is that where Oz is?" Xander asked, heading for the mists.
Darrien grabbed him and pulled him back to the log. "He has to get through those thorns himself, kid. If he can't get through his own problems, then how can he help you with yours?"
Wolf nodded. "Very well said. We're playing it my way this time, correct?" Sascha and Darrien both rolled their eyes but nodded. "Good. And why is that?"
"Because you've been doing this longer than the Gods have been around?" Darrien suggested.
Wolf laughed. "A very good answer, but not quite that long." He looked at Xander. "What do you need from your Guide, boy?" He waved a hand at the log, motioning Xander to sit in front of him.
"I need someone who's there for me mostly," Xander said, sitting down without looking. "I need someone who cares about me, and understands me, or at least tries to. I need someone who can take control of me when I need it, but the rest of the time can gently push me in the right direction. I need someone who's interested in my life and what I do, that's very important to me."
"So, in other words, you need a friend," Wolf said.
Xander nodded. "Yeah, I need one of those. Or I need one of those and a Guide. Even my old friends aren't the same way with me. They understand what I am, but I'm still an outsider to them. Maybe it's because I'm not female, but..."
Wolf cut him off. "No, it's not that. They've changed, as have you. Are you saying that you have no friends other than your Guide?" Xander sighed and nodded. "Why is that?"
"Because I have a hard time making friends. There's stuff I can't share with a friend. That's why I was becoming such great friends with Sascha. She understood when I had a sudden itch because my tactility just went up. She knew how torn up I was about what I had with Oz. She was even there when I died a few times to help Oz. She was a buffer between us." He looked at her. "Can you come back as Oz's guide?"
"Sure," she said, giving him a hug. She looked at Wolf. "There's another male in their house, one of the undead, but he can't buffer between them. He's Oz's friend and he likes Xander a lot, but he can't ruin what he's had with Oz for so many years."
"Ah." Wolf nodded and turned to look at Darrien. "When you went down to fill in for his Guide, what did you find?"
"I found a young man that desperately wanted and needed to be liked and understood. A lot of the time, we talked. About almost everything; his art, his desires, his dreams." Wolf nodded, looking thoughtful. "I thought that bringing the women back into his life would help."
"It has, some," Xander said quietly, "but it won't ever be the way it was. Wolf was right about that. I'm a lot different. I was before I left and we were breaking apart then." He looked up as he heard footsteps. "Someone's coming."
"That's Jim," Wolf said with a shrug. "He should pass us by." He jumped as Jim patted him on the head. "Didn't Jaguar call for you?"
"Yes," he said, sitting down so he could look at Xander. "He called me to help him."
Xander frowned at him. "But I'm not you! I've got totally different problems than you've had. I don't have to worry about being shot and killed because I zone."
"No, and I didn't have to worry about being liked," Jim agreed. "We still can work on it together. Do you count Blair and me as friends, Xander?"
"Some. I think of you guys more as really cool uncles. And don't even mention that one time I was with Blair. That was pure need."
"I wasn't going to," Jim said as he got comfortable. "Why haven't you made friends at school?"
"Because everyone hates me. They think I'm the teacher's, and the Department's, pet. None of the other art students want to be anywhere near me. Even John doesn't like me that much. I'm tolerated by almost everyone but no one wants me around."
Jim shook his head. "John does a lot more than like you. He had a talk with Blair when Blair saw him watching your rear." He gave Wolf a bland look. "Speaking of Blair, he could use some help. Oz has some very old pains in his head that he still hasn't dealt with."
"Yeah, well, ripping someone's throat out with your teeth will do that," Xander told him dully. He looked down at the ground and picked up a stick to peel.
"And drugging yourself into near-death won't?" Jim asked lightly. Xander nodded. "Do you understand that about him?" Xander nodded again. "Does he understand how hard this is for you?"
Xander looked up and shook his head. "Oz is still under the impression that it's easy to hold down a sensory spike. Or that it's easy to turn down your sense of smell because everyone's really smelly now that you have heightened senses. He even thinks it's easy to deal with not having anyone except for him. He actually said that I'd made friends right after Darryl left. He used to know me, he knows I don't make friends very well." He shook his head and went back to peeling the stick. "What is this thing, it's all bark?"
"That's about what you are right now," Darrien said, taking it from him. "Once you get to the core, there's a very thin piece of wood." He looked at Jim. "This is in your world. You knew about this?"
"Somewhat," Jim admitted. "Blair told me that he wasn't as social as I was. Of course, I used to have to weed out people because of why they wanted to hang around with me."
Xander snorted. "Must be nice. I don't have that problem."
"No, you don't, do you," Jim said firmly. "If we introduced you to some kids, would that help?" Xander shook his head. "Why not?"
"Because I still can't share things with them. I need close friends, not someone that I nod to when I go clubbing. I need someone that I can *share* with, someone that I can talk to and that they'll know what I'm talking about."
"In other words, someone's who's been there," Jim said, looking over his shoulder. "See, that's why we put you and Oz together, or actually why Blair let Oz railroad him into making him your Guide."
"Okay, I just got the flash of a woman again."
Darrien touched the back of Xander's head and frowned. "It's not the teaching guide we're sending to Sandburg." He looked at Jim. "I don't know who that is." He made her picture appear.
Xander pointed at her shirt. "That was a lot tighter and a little more low cut." The picture changed. "Oh, wow, someone else Oz will hate," he said lightly. "Maybe he'll get Dev to eat her."
Jim coughed. "Oz is dealing with a lot of the same problems as you are, Xander. The loss issues and the loneliness issues. Not even Devon will understand what Oz went through when he killed that girl."
Xander snorted. "I know Devon killed someone, Jim. With his sire, it's a given." He looked at the two Spirit Guides sitting around him. "Is there any way I can switch Guides? Physical ones?"
"Yes, there is," Darrien said. "It may kill Oz though."
Xander sighed. "There goes that idea then." He looked at the picture. "Do we know who she is?"
"Yeah, I do," Jim said, giving him a smile. "She's Blair's newest Guide candidate." He stood up and brushed his immaculate pants off. "I could go find Sandburg up here and tell him about this."
"Please, but don't let Oz know?"
Jim shrugged. "Probably not an issue." He walked off into the mists, whistling a peculiar tune. Pretty soon, the matching tune floated out and the mists moved that way.
Darrien erased the picture before anyone could come through.
Wolf and Jaguar walked into the clearing together, smiling at the young Sentinel. "That was a very wise choice," Wolf told him, bowing to him. "At the least, she'll get some practice with you until her own Sentinel arrives."
Jaguar nudged Wolf. "Who is her Sentinel? I haven't felt an unmatched one recently." He conjured the picture back up, looking her over. "He could do worse though. She's very attractive."
"She's a journalism major," Jim said as he walked out. He looked at Xander, then at Wolf. "Blair said it's the first time he's ever heard of a threesome pairing but it might help Xander." He looked at his student again. "She's not a nice girl, Xander. She's hard and cold, and when she needs to be, ruthless. She's going to cut you a few times before you become friends. She doesn't want to be a Guide anymore than Oz did when he first met Blair."
"That doesn't sound good, Jim," Darrien said thoughtfully. "I don't think the kid here needs anymore putdowns. He needs someone who's going to be his best friend, not his occasional friend."
"We can introduce them anyway," Jim said as he sat back down. "Blair said it'd be okay for them to get to know each other. That way, she would know at least one pairing. We're introducing her to Willow and Buffy tomorrow."
"Don't forget to include Tara in that," Xander told him. "She's more of a Guide than Willow is."
"We know. We know she'll come if Willow does." Jim looked Xander over. "So, how's the village?"
"I was kinda surprised. It looked a lot more solid than they do on National Geographic."
Jim smiled. "Yeah, they're probably at the permanent village. They only use it a few months out of the year, when the Chief has to get in and go talk to people."
"That's what he was doing when I showed up. Oh, I'm driving back."
"Good luck," Jim snorted. "Do you have paperwork?"
"Yup, and the Embassy guys were really nice in telling me how to get home. I'm to tell them I'm an art student studying native art."
Jim nodded. "That might give you some protection. What about at our border?"
"I have paperwork saying I'm American and that I have a passport. I've got to check the car for drugs every night and I've got to be very careful and polite as I come home. It was unsaid, but it was there when the guy told me."
"Good." Jim looked over his shoulder as Blair walked through the mists with a scratched and tired-looking Oz. "Come sit," he offered, pointing at the log for Oz's benefit.
Oz sat beside his Spirit Guide, not looking at Xander. "What's up now?"
"Now, we've got to explain a few things to you," Sascha told him. "Some expectations and things." She looked at Wolf, who smiled at her. "We know that you've tried to be a Guide, Oz, but you're in the wrong mind set. Xander's not a toddler, he's a fully functioning adult most of the time."
Oz glared at her, pulling away. "I know that." He looked over at Xander. "What have you been telling them?"
"Nothing," Xander said calmly. "They asked me what I needed in my life and I said a friend." He shrugged at the dirty look. "That's all I said, Oz, nothing else."
"No, we *saw* this ourselves," Darrien said, looking around Xander's body at him. "We've seen how you ignored him for a whole summer, how you...."
"Enough," Xander said quietly, standing up. "This is between Oz and I. Go away. All of you." Everyone disappeared. "Hey, it worked," he said, almost happy. He looked at his Guide and all happiness fell away. "What do you want, Oz? From me mostly, but from what little we've got?"
"How about you coming home?" Oz said calmly. "It wasn't fair of you to run away."
"Oz, you had money and stamps don't cost that much." He stared into the green eyes then nodded. "If you'd like, I can break this bond now, what we have left of it."
"That'll kill one of us," Oz told him, edging toward anger.
"Really? Gee, but that would be better than living in a vacuum of friendlessness and anger all the time. And when it's not anger, it's hatred Oz, and it's all coming from you."
"I thought I was your friend," Oz said quietly, looking away.
"Really? And do friends ignore their friends? Do they dump them and go running off?"
"Gee, Xander, can't you answer that one?" Oz asked, trying to hurt him. He saw the wince and felt his stomach start to hurt. "I'm sorry, that was cruel."
"No," Xander said, standing up straight. "That was the truth. I ran this time. I ran to protect what little feelings I had left." He looked down at his arms. "Do you know what it's like to feel numb, Oz? To feel so bereft of all feeling to not even notice that something's touching you?" Oz shook his head and Xander rolled up his shirt. "I do. And you know what, the tracks are itching again, Oz. Because they're the last thing that made me feel like I belonged."
Oz opened his mouth then hauled off and hit him. "You started using again," he accused.
"No, not yet," Xander said, getting up. He could feel someone coming toward them. "Freeze and turn around," he called. "I don't need any help." He stared his friend down again. "Do you know why I started using in the first place? Because I was all alone with a horrible curse, and my senses were going nuts. Then the numbness started because I couldn't tell anyone about this or I'd be locked up. And guess what, it's starting again! I can't tell anyone because there's no one to tell. I can't tell you because you refuse to understand what it's like to be on my side of the equation. I can't tell Buffy because we're never going to be able to be more than casual friend again, not after what she helped them do to me. What's really pitiful though is that if I told Willow, she'd try to understand, try so hard that her head would go numb, but she'd never get it. Because she can't, Oz. No one can. And now, now I can't even have a little friendship to fall back on. Not even one of those that I can't tell anything to."
"You could have told me," Oz reminded him. "You never told me you were having problems. I'm not a mind reader."
"Point, but you're not a Guide either. A Guide would have looked at me and seen my itching. They would have noticed my reluctance to drink or eat anything that wasn't water and asked a question about why I couldn't eat. A friend would have noticed my not eating again and asked if I was having more stomach problems."
"When did this happen?"
"Before you left."
Oz shook his head. "Xander, I'm sorry. I'm going to try...."
"No." Xander shook his head and took a step back. "There's no more sorrys, no more trying, Oz. I'm sick of being ignored. If you can't treat me like a human being, a real one that would talk back if you ever asked me anything, then we're through. This is *it*!"
"Xander," Oz said, moving closer. "You can't break the bond without killing one of us. Probably you?"
"And?" he asked snidely. "What do you care? That means you get the loft all to yourself and the band can practice whenever they want." He stepped away as Oz stepped closer. "Touch me and I'm walking away now," he warned. "I've had *enough* of the pity touches that you give out. If you can't give me a hug because you like me, then that's your problem but I'm not dealing with it anymore. I don't give a damn if we both die."
Oz nodded. "Then I'm royally fucked, huh," he asked coldly. "What about what I've done for you? How many times have a I helped you?"
"Not as many as you dissed me."
"You heard me," Xander said quietly. "You've never respected me. It's worse now than when we were younger. Only now, instead of being worthless to you, now I'm a drain to you."
"You never were..."
"Oh, yes, I was. I got that message loud and clear too, Oz. Don't worry about that." He turned away from his friend and Guide. "Oz, get over whatever it is, or leave me alone permanently. Those are the only two options."
"When are you coming home so we can *really* talk?"
"Not until after this is decided," Xander said, looking down at a pool. The image of the woman from his dreams reappeared, making him sigh.
Oz walked up behind him. "Who's she?"
"She's Blair's new Guide candidate. You'll be introduced to her soon."
"If I live through this," he said, running a hand through his hair. "Xander, you're being unfair."
"Unfair? What's unfair, Oz, huh? Wanting to be able to have *real* friends, ones who like and respect me for who I am? Having someone that I can talk to about things? Even finding a lover who wants me because they like my personality?" His voice was getting shrill so he backed away again. "I'm not going to do this, Oz. Never again. I'm not respected, I'm not liked, and I sure as hell don't have you on any level other than 'I have to be there, it's my duty'. Like I said, figure it out fast or we may both be gone by tomorrow." He walked away, going to see if he couldn't find someone to talk to. Maybe Darrien. His Spirit Guide seemed to like him. He walked out onto a grassy plain and sat down to relax. This was home on the Spirit Plane to him.
Oz stared after his Guideling and shuddered. He could already feel the coldness seeping into his bones. "All I wanted was some time to think about what we are," he complained to the mists.
Jim walked out of it. "Well, now you have some." He looked around. "Neither of you are going home until you figure this out. Blair's going to leave now, and I'm going after I talk to you. Xander and you are staying here until you either work this out or you break up." He left him alone. "I'd figure it out quick, Oz, you're still sitting in the middle of a woods."
Oz sat down to think about what Xander had said. Was he such a bastard to him? None of this was anything that he did intentionally. If Xander were Willow, what would she be doing... He shook his head. "Willow would have cried a long time ago and broken up with me." He concentrated on thoughts of her. "Yeah, she wouldn't have put up with me at all," he sighed, trying to figure out why he was doing this to someone so helpless.
Xander looked up as a shadow crept over him. "Hey, Sascha." He patted the grass. "Come veg with me. The sun's nice."
She sat down beside him, then curled up on his chest. "You're not blameless in all this."
"I know. I should have protested earlier. Like back when we first got together. But I wanted him to change so much...and .. and sometimes he seemed so much like the old Oz that everything was okay again."
"Yeah, I noticed. If you had to go back and change something, what would it be?"
He snorted. "Telling myself not to go to that party. Or actually, making sure that Oz was safely locked in the night Veruca got him free. Willow didn't deserve that."
"What about Oz?"
"You don't want the answer to that," he told her. He looked down at her red hair. "Can I? I would have been happy selling cars for a while longer. Or I'd even keep the senses and be at home if that was an option."
"I'm sorry, Xander. We aren't that powerful. It was an idle question to make you think about what might have been."
"Yup. I could be dead right now of an overdose. I could be dead because the Hellmouth got me in the next fight."
"You could be living a wonderful life off the Hellmouth."
"Maybe," he agreed. "I wouldn't have left while there was fighting to be done though." She nodded. "I can't actually see myself out of Sunnydale if this hadn't happened," he admitted. "I'd still be there, fighting the same battles I had been fighting for years. But at least there I had some people who wanted to know me."
"He does want to know you."
"No he doesn't. He doesn't want to know *me*, he wants to know someone else named Xander that obeys him, doesn't give him any trouble, and waits there for him."
"He's got problems, Xander."
"Yup, I fully agree with that. I even understand it. But you know what? So do I. I've been supportive of his problems. He hasn't done the same. Hell, his band was more supportive of me when my sense went on the blink."
"He was there beside you the whole time you were in the hospital."
Xander nodded. "I know. I knew he was there, that's why I didn't give up." He patted her on the head. "I know he has problems, Sascha, but I'm tired of being considered one of them. I'm a person, not a name on a laundry list of 'there goes another one'. I can't have friends because of what I am, and I can't consider him a friend because he won't let me be one. I can't open up to him at all."
"Why can't you have friends?"
"Because I can't share things with them without worrying about my senses being leaked. I can't let myself go or I'll start to share things about now, and my past, that I shouldn't let be known." He sat up, forcing her off his chest. "Do I really have to stay?"
"Wolf said so," she agreed, giving him a sorry smile. "I can bring up cards."
"No thanks." Xander shook his head. "Someone's coming."
"Oh, that's Darryl. He's worried about you."
"Why couldn't he have been my Guide? We would have gotten along great. I could have eventually told him about fighting in Sunnydale and stuff. He would have understood eventually."
"The normal rule is one guide, one sentinel," she told him gently, squeezing his arm. "We almost did break it for you, but Oz was more insistent than we thought he'd be."
Xander shook his head. "I'm betting he's sorry for that now."
"Probably," she agreed, standing up. "Want to go for a stroll? We can change the scene as we walk."
"No thanks. I think I'll lay here and soak up some fake sun."
She shrugged and walked away, going to where Oz was sitting, where he had heard it all. She sat down in front of him. "So?" she asked.
"He's right, I won't let him get that close. I do and he'll be hurt."
"Like he is now?" she suggested.
Oz groaned. "I'm trying, Sascha, I really am."
"Not from what he's seen and felt," she reminded him. "Xander thinks that you're doing this on purpose."
"We've had this talk before," Oz reminded her. "I said I'd change then."
"And you did, into a bigger bastard." He hung his head. "Hey, it wasn't all you."
"Yeah, it was," he said, leaning into her touch. "The only thing he didn't do was complain." He looked up. "We should just break the bond."
"You could die," she warned him. "Or he could."
"Or we both could," he said softly. "Isn't that kinder on some level than this is? He doesn't deserve that, he's right about that much."
"You two could talk about it again," she recommended.
"Yeah, maybe I will." He got up. "Can you show me which way to go?"
"Just think about him, Oz. You'll find him."
He nodded and stepped into the mists, thinking about Xander, not the happy one that he liked to think his Guideling was, but the way he was the last time he had seen him. Angry, depressed. Suicidal. He stepped onto the plane and saw Xander staring at his needle marks. "Jonesing already?" he asked as he walked over to where the younger man was sitting. He sat beside him, but facing him. Xander looked at him, and he saw the pain in his eyes. "What do you want?" he asked. Xander didn't answer him. "We break it then," he said. Xander nodded. "Okay." He stood up and helped Xander up. "If we both live through this, you get the loft."
"We've got two floors. You can have the downstairs."
"Maybe until I find a place," Oz agreed, giving him a hug. "I'm sorry. I should have learned from Darryl when he was around."
"Yeah, maybe." Xander kissed him on the cheek. "I'll be home in a few weeks. You can tell Dev he can stay if he wants."
"'Kay, thanks." Oz stepped back and a pair of scissors materialized in his hands. "Are you sure?" Xander nodded. "Then I'm breaking this so you can move on."
"We, Oz. Hopefully you'll find peace soon." He took the scissors and cut the thin line between them. He jerked and found himself back in his own body, Chocolate staring down at him from on top of his chest. "Hi," he said, reaching up slowly to scratch her ears.
Oz headbutted him and meowed lightly to get his attention. He switched hands on her sister and started petting the other one too.
Darryl walked over and held a cup of water to his lips. "They were worried sick when you didn't come awake that first morning. They took watch and everything." He smiled until he saw the dead look in Xander's eyes. "You two broke the bond," he said flatly. "How could you give up like that?"
"Easily," Xander told him, sitting up so he could drink, piling both kittens into his lap. "Because it was time to quit pretending." He smiled at his girls, petting them both once his hands were free. "Yes, we're good babies and we'll be going home tonight. Yes, we will."
"No, you won't," Darryl said firmly. "I get to say goodbye this time." He gave Xander a hug. "If you wanted to sneak out now, it won't work. The Shaman's going to want to talk to you when he comes back from his own vision quest." Someone cleared their throat and Darryl pulled back to look at his host. "He came back, finally."
"So I see," the Shaman said, sitting down with them. "Hello, furry ones," he said, petting Chocolate lightly under the chin. "They were very good while you were gone. I had a long talk with Wolf. He said you're to go home, starting today, and go back to your classes." He put a hand on Xander's arm. "He also told me to warn you off the stuff you were doing before. He said it's too easy to go back to and you're going to have to fight that urge." He smiled at the kittens. "I've seen many lives ruined by the byproducts that come out of this jungle, Xander. I don't want to see their's ruined too." He stood up. "We'll give you a map through the forest. That should take you a few days."
Xander nodded and grabbed his things, his kittens going to go hide for a few more minutes.