Playing It Again One Last Time.

Xander walked into his adviser's office and glared at him. "John, I don't see why I'm getting called in."


Xander moved books out of one of the chairs and sat down. "Well?" he asked when nothing was said.

"Xander, one of your teachers came to me about a painting you turned in," he said, turning it around. "She says she sees a drug totem in here."

Xander snorted. "It's an airplane, John. Maybe she ought to get her mind off my life." He crossed his hands on his stomach. "Was there anything else?"

John nodded, looking his, up to this point, favorite student over. When Xander had come back from Peru, he had been changed. He was harder, a little more cruel and cutting now. He didn't like it and he could see what the teacher was seeing when he looked at the young man. "Xander, is there something you'd like to talk about? Some problem that you're having at home?" The young man shook his head. "You do know that the school will kick you out if you're caught using, correct?" Xander nodded. "With your recent behavior, I have to ask. Are you using drugs?"

"Only sudafed," Xander said calmly. He stood up. "Was there anything else?" John shook his head. "Then I may please make a suggestion, talk to your receptionist. She called me the cash cow of the department." He turned and left.

"Marsha," he yelled. She walked in. "Did you call him a cash cow?"

She blushed. "I didn't mean anything by it, John."

"Well, apologize the next time you see him." She nodded and ran out while he picked up the phone. There was something he could do before he had to authorize a drug test on his student.


Blair walked into John's office and closed the door. "Let me tell you something before you say a word," he cautioned. "Xander's had a split in his relationship." John opened his mouth again. "And he was using when he started school. We were breaking him of it." He leaned against the door. "It's the only way he can control the senses without incident, but he's not gotten back to that yet."

"You've had drug problems with him before?" Blair nodded and he hopped up to yell. "How could you let him do that to himself! Do you know what that does to really talented people? Blair, this has got to stop!"

"You'd rather have him dead?" Blair asked quietly.

That stopped John cold and he sat back down. "He will be?"

"He can't control his senses any other way. But he's only on sudafed right now. We've worked out a way for him to keep it at a steady level. He's never escalated, and I have to go along with this until I can find him another Guide."

"What happened between him and Oz?"

"Oz broke it. He walked away during the last tour and never called all summer. It was too far gone when he got back. He's moved out." Blair walked in and stared down at the other man. "You can't turn him in, he won't quit and jail would kill him faster."

John swallowed. "You're sure he's not going to escalate?"

"He's been on drugs before and *he* worked out the proper dosage to block the surges and spikes." John nodded. "So we trust him until he's ready to move on, and we watch," he said calmly. "Got it?"

John nodded. "Yeah, I can do that." He gave the other chair the picture that had been turned in on Xander. "He did this in class the other day."

Blair looked at it. "It's an airplane bordering on a syringe," he said, handing it back. "Usually, he does more figurative work while he's like this." He smiled. "Good enough explanation?" John nodded. "Good, tell me if he has problems. And if he zones, I need to know right away, no matter what I'm doing. My pager's on all the time now for him." He walked out, leaving the door open.

John sighed. "At least it's a reasonable excuse," he told himself. "Sandburg sounded like he knew what he was talking about." He put his head down, looking at the picture. "But this shouldn't be happening. I wonder if I can meddle."

His secretary stuck her head in and shook it. "I wouldn't, sir, Harris isn't good with that sort of thing, and his former roommate is even worse. His advisor's on the line. Would you like to speak with him?"

"Sure," he sighed, picking up the phone without moving his head. "Yeah?" He smiled, sitting up. "Really? No, I've had a similar problem from his former one. Yeah." He grinned. "You think? Hey, I'll get him there. No problem. You telling Sandburg?" He snorted. "No, I just had a talk with him about Harris. Yeah, about that problem." He laughed again and hung up, going out to hug his secretary. "I'm not the only concerned one." He straightened up when he saw Xander standing there. "You are being ordered to go to the banquet in three days time. Get over it, if I have to, I'll drag you there in padded handcuffs."

Xander licked his lips. "Don't meddle, John, it won't be pretty," he warned.

"Yay. Oz is getting an award and his advisor said you had to be there. That Oz wouldn't go unless you do."

"I heard what he said," Xander reminded him, his voice dropping. "Don't meddle, John."

"Hey, I'm doing what I have to to nurture your talent back where it belongs." Xander tossed over a sketch book. "What's this?"

"What I did last night. I don't have a problem with my talent, but you can't force Oz and I back together. We're finished, John, there's no going back now." He turned and walked off, his tight black jeans and pale gray shirt making soft noises in the quiet department.

John flipped through the pages, humming in appreciation at the second one. He showed it to Marsha, who grinned. "He's still got it, and he's unblocked," he noted, "but he could use some work on his outlines. I think I'll have a talk with his painting teacher. Where is she?"

"She'll be running through in about ten minutes," Marsha said cheerfully.

John flipped the page and went back into his office, admiring the pictures he was seeing. "I want him to paint a few of these," he called. "Make a note for me?"

"Of course, sir," Marsha called back.


Xander checked his watch then pulled at his tie again. He glared at his advisor, who had come over to pick him up just to make sure he came. "I didn't need to be here," he growled.

"Calm down," Oz said from behind them. "Neither did I." He looked at John, who suddenly saw someone and waved, walking away. He walked around Xander, looking at him. "You look decent. How long before your next dosage?"

"About ten minutes." Xander checked his watch. "Make that nine." He looked up. "Were you forced to be here too?" Oz nodded. "How did you know?"

"You're fidgeting. You always did that when we first got together." He stepped closer. "Xander, I'm sorry I couldn't be what you needed."

"I know, I shouldn't have expected you to be everything to me." He shrugged and gave Oz a hug. "Want to blow this place off?"

"Yeah, it's time for me to go home." He led the way to the door, watching as Xander checked his watch again. "Want a ride? It'll get you there faster."

"Please," Xander agreed, sighing in relief. "I don't think I could stand the bus, even at this hour."

"The vibrations must be hell," Oz agreed, leading the way to his car. He got in and opened the other door, letting Xander in. "You be okay until we get there? It's gonna be about three minutes before we can leave."


Oz started the car and shut his door, wincing as the engine started to vibrate the frame. "Sorry," he sighed. After a few minutes they got underway and Oz noticed that Xander was huddled against his door, covering his ears. He pulled over and turned off the engine, pulling him into his arms. "Shh, I know, it's a bad thing, but it's only a few more minutes," he promised. Xander nodded. "You've got the remote still, right?" Xander shrugged. "Search for it, Xander," he ordered. "You've got to get this under control, now, before John turns you in for using."

Xander took a deep breath and closed his eyes, nodding after a second. "Home?" he suggested.

"Sure." Oz let him go and started the engine again, taking off in a cloud of smoke. He pulled up in front of the loft a few minutes later, but Xander didn't get out. "Want me to come up and make sure that you don't overdose?" he suggested lightly.

"Yeah, if you wouldn't mind." Xander got out and pulled his keys out, heading into the building.

Oz stopped long enough to get the built-up mail and the notice tacked to the door. "Xan," he called, holding up the notice as he walked into the top loft. "The city wants to talk to you." He handed over the notice and the mail.

Xander read it and sighed. "I'm not an industrial owner. I half own a building that used to be an industrial space." He tossed it next to the phone. "I'll call them tomorrow. This is crap." He walked into the bathroom and shut the door. "Give me a few."

"Take the right amount," Oz called, sitting on the edge of a chair that Xander had gotten in their split. He looked around at the mostly bare space, noticing all the drawings spread around the apartment. He focused on Xander as he came out, jumping up to grab him before he fell. "How much did you take?" he asked.

"Half my normal dosage," he complained. He allowed himself to be led to the couch, looking up at his former lover and guide. "Oz, I miss us," he whispered.

"Me too," Oz said, bending down to brush across his hair. "I do miss us, and I'm sorry I couldn't handle it."

"It's okay," Xander said, touching his hand. "I'm okay too if you need to go back to someone."

"Dev can crap for a while. He's not expecting me at any point in time." He moved around to sit up next to Xander's head, stroking through his hair. "Was it bad?"

"Maybe," Xander admitted. "But we can't do anything about that now, can we?" Oz shook his head. "That's what I thought."

"Why did you go back? Were you having surges?" Xander nodded. "Why?"

"Because I have them when there's not a balancing influence," Xander reminded him. "That's why Giles called you in the first place."

"Willow," Oz suggested.

"Has Buffy and I haven't seen them in a few weeks." He blinked a few times. "This is so not what I usually take," he complained. "I never trip."

Oz grunted. "I can take you to the ER, but they're going to have to report you. That means either rehab or a jail term."

"Not," Xander protested. "I can live through this. You can go if you want."

"I want to make sure you live through this," Oz told him firmly. "I've had a few trips myself." Xander looked up at him again. "Yeah, me. I've done a lot more drugs than most people like to give me credit for. This is definitely a case of 'been there, done that'." He stood up. "Do you really want me to leave?" Xander shook his head. "Then I'm staying. Let me get more comfortable and go to the bathroom. I'll be back in a second." He walked into the bathroom, pulling off his tie as he went.

Xander decided to let the floating feelings go, allowing himself to follow them.


Xander woke up to find Blair standing over him, holding one of his eyes open to look down in it. "That's not nice," he murmured, then coughed. Why was his throat so sore? He tracked over as a glass appeared in front of his face, giving Oz a smile. "Was I that bad?" he croaked.

"No, but you got scary last night," Oz told him. "Speaking of which, this is Tuesday."

Xander sat up, taking the glass of water. "I missed two days?"

"Yup, you missed two days." Oz came around to sit on the end of the couch. "You spent most of it zoned, the drugs were bad. Blair knows it wasn't what you usually take."

Blair sat down behind Xander, giving him a hug. "Guys, I know that you're not together, but could you maybe try the guide thing again?" Oz shook his head. "Why not?"

"Because it won't work," Xander told him. "If it could, he would have brought me out."

"I tried," Oz admitted. "That's why I called you."

Blair sighed. "Okay, I give up. Xander, you can't keep this up. This was just a mild dose."

Xander nodded. "Half my ususal dose," he agreed. "What was it?"

"It was laced with acid. Needless to say, Jim's not a happy person," Blair said dryly. He gave Xander a hug. "Guys, you've got to work this out. That's the other reason I'm here." He looked over at Oz. "Jim's locked us in here and you two are going to have to talk."

"We have," Xander pointed out.

"No, of the working it out sort," Oz explained. He took the glass back, taking a sip. "I didn't mix the sugar well enough."

"It's okay," Xander said, taking the glass back. "Blair, I'm fine. I'll wean myself off again if I have to and find some other way."

Blair snorted. "Sure you will." He stood up and looked down at the pair. "Guys, deal with this. Talk to each other, and not about classes." He left, heading down the stairs. The door behind him slammed and the sound of a chain wrapping itself around the handle was very loud in the loft.

"I've still got to call the city," Xander said, getting up.

"I did. They're changing zoning laws. They thought we were running a business out of here. I told them you were an artist and that seemed to solve it." He got up, following Xander into the kitchen. "Listen, it's hard for me," he said, making his former lover look at him. "I'm sorry I couldn't deal, but can you at least pretend to talk to me?"

"Sure." Xander put the glass down, looking down at his guide. "So, why didn't you call at all? Or send a postcard?"

"Um, I ..." Oz shook his head. "Xander, this is me being scared. It's always been me being scared." Xander started to laugh, making him frown. "It's not that funny," he grumbled.

"Oz, where were you when I was scared?" Xander protested. "When I started having surges this summer? Huh? Where were you when everything that's important in my life locked itself away?" He walked past him, trying to find something to eat. "Damn, I forgot groceries."

Oz took a long look at his lover, the man that he liked enough to hold tightly at night, and felt something snap. "You want to know where I was? I was so doubtful that you needed me, that I was telling Devon that I wasn't really needed and that I should probably leave before you got too attached," he said quietly, stepping forward to grab Xander to make him face him again. "I was so upset that it looked like you didn't need me anymore that I wasn't sure if I needed myself. Dev had to convince me that I was needed in the band or I might have taken off that summer."

Xander got free. "When have I ever not needed you? I zone all the time!" He shook his head. "There's never been a time that I didn't need you, not only as a guide, but as a friend." He looked around the kitchen. "Why does this happen to you? I *needed* you, Oz, and I still do, but you're the one running. You don't run!"

"Yeah, I do," Oz told him coldly. "I have that right too. I'm scared!" he yelled. "I run when I do that; it saves me from having to get involved."

"Well, guess what, you're already involved. You running is only making you miserable," Xander spat. "Congratulations."

"Me miserable?" Oz snorted. "Who's taking drugs, Xander? Who had to find another crutch?"

"You try living with these fucking things! I don't see you hearing ants a thousand yards away through windows and walls. I don't see you being able to focus on a speck of dirt and getting lost in it's structure. I don't see how you stood it so long," he said, looking Oz over. "I've needed you since day one and ..." He shook his head. "Never mind, Blair had to stop you a few times from running. Never mind any of this, Oz, I'd rather die." He started to walk away, but Oz grabbed him and pulled him back.

"*Never* say that," he hissed. "Never say that and never try to die again." He let Xander go, glaring at him. "You've made me do something that no one else has, get involved, and I hate you for that sometimes." Xander shrugged. "You don't care?"

"We all have to have a claim to fame. Mine is getting the ice block man to have to care." He shook himself at the hurt look. "I'm sorry, Oz, that was intentionally cruel." He turned and went into the bathroom. "Jim'll let you go if you ask."

"I told them to lock us in here," Oz said quietly, knowing that Xander could hear him. The bathroom door slammed. He slumped in on himself and went to sit on the couch. "I'm not an ice block," he complained, pretty sure Xander was still listening. "I'm not an ice block and I'm not frigid, Xander. I'm a man who likes to watch instead of participate." The bathroom door thumped. "And I don't like it when people need me; I tend to let them down and they get hurt." He put his head in his hands. "This sucks, man. I'm twenty-two and I'm so messed up that I can't do what I want to anymore. I can't be myself and do what I need to do. And I hate this part of it. I don't feel right being the one that you cling to when I'm hanging out in mid-air."

Xander walked out of the bathroom, drying his hands off on his shirt. "Oz, you could have clung to me, or to Blair. Or even to your classes. You chose not to." He walked into the kitchen and grabbed a jar of nuts and a soda, coming back to share the breakfast. "Here, food," he said, sitting it down in front of him. "This was all you, Oz. I didn't make you care, I didn't make you my guide, you chose it. You came for me knowing what was going to happen." He popped open the nuts and poured a few out, putting the bottle back down. "I'm still here, same as I have been since I got these senses. Get over it, Oz, or keep running." He popped open the soda and swallowed the peanuts with them.

Oz took a few of the nuts and slowly ate them. "Yeah, I know. I've been trying to figure out why I'm an ass."

"Because you're scared. Growing up means getting attachments." Xander handed over the soda. "Get over it, Oz, or leave."

Oz took the soda and drank some. "I can't leave, Xander, I'm miserable. You're miserable which is making me even more miserable." He looked over, seeing the pain in his friend's face. "Friends and partners?" he suggested.

Xander shook it. "But I'm not sleeping with you ever again."

"That wasn't the problem," Oz sighed, leaning back and bringing Xander with him. "The sex wasn't the problem, the attachment was."

"I've been thinking," Xander said after taking a drink. "What we needed was a buffer between us. That's what Sascha would have been." He rolled his head to look at his guide. "We need to find a woman to put between us, Oz."

"Do you actually know a woman who would get into a relationship with us?"

"Maybe," Xander admitted with a grin. "There's this girl that hangs out at the art cafe, she's kinda a free-spirit. She reminds me of you, only she talks a lot more and listens to my muses."

Oz sighed. "I think it's an okay idea, but I'm not sure we can find one that'll come between us." He took the soda, taking a sip. "We need real food to finish talking this out."

"You know where Jim is, yell at him and Blair. We've got a few dollars to get some takeout."

"Jim," Oz yelled. A bag came through the door with a note attached. He got up to get it for them.


Oz tapped on Xander's advisors' door, pushing it open at the noise. "You screwed up but we'll forgive you," he said calmly, wrapping an arm around Xander's waist as he walked up behind him. "Now all we need is someone to put between us."

John smiled. "Of course you do. I know a few nice men." Xander shook his head. "Oh, I thought you two were...."

"I'm mostly straight," Oz told him. "Woman."

"Well, I don't know many of those."

Marsha got up and tapped Oz on the shoulder, putting something into his hand as she whispered in his ear. "Give me a day to call her first." She smiled at John and sat back down at her desk, typing up the brochure for the latest student art exhibit. "Oh, Xander, do you have anything in this one? Besides what John's hijacked from your book?"

"Nope," he said, grinning at his teacher. "John, don't meddle again. You, Blair, Jim, or any of you." He nodded and walked away, bringing Oz with him. They needed to finish their discussion of living matters.

"Maybe it'll work out," John called out to his secretary.

"It will," she called back. "They've gotten rid of all those pesky blockages between them." She giggled as her form wiggled for a second, but it went back to the nice, grandmotherly secretary before anyone really noticed.