Email address: email@example.com
Pairings: Derek/Philip, Willow/Oz (for now), Oz/Xander (non-'ship yet)
Fandom: P:TL/BTVS x-over
Status: new; complete
Archive: Sure, if you really want to.
Archive author: Voracity
Archive email address: firstname.lastname@example.org Or above
Other website: (being worked on)
Disclaimers: Not mine (sigh). I gain nothing but pleasure from writing. No copyright infringment intended. Yes, writing is therapy for me.
Summary: Part 4: They bring Xander back home and work it out.
Warnings: M/M (not that this should have to be a warning),
Resolutions by Voracity
Philip opened the door to the cabin silently, not expecting to come face to face with a revolver. "Gonna shoo' me now too?" He regretted the words as soon as he saw the pain. "Sorry, didn' mean tha'." He waved at the dilapidated couch. "May I?"
Xander put down the gun, looking outside before shutting the door. "They made you come kick my ass alone?" He walked over to the fireplace, stoking the fire back up. "Sorry, I'm cold."
Philip nodded. "I can tell." He looked around the cheerless place.
"It's home," Xander said, knowing what he was thinking. "Oh, and make less noise the next time you're trying to sneak up on somebody. You stomp." He sat in front of the fire. "I know why I'm here, but why are you?"
"‘Cause they wan' you ta come home."
Xander laughed. "That's not home. I don't have one of those." He threw a few pieces of bark onto the fire, cleaning up the little mess in front of the fireplace. "So, did they send you alone or did they send some sort of enforcer to come kick my ass too?" He looked up at Philip. "Don't even try to do the ‘caring' thing with me, it's not going to work. They don't want me there."
Philip shook his head. "Giles has been home for almos' a month now." He moved some, removing an errant spring from his rear. "Nick's in town." He looked at the fire. "How are ya?"
"Been better but I'm managing." He listened to the sound of an engine, a most unfamiliar sound around there. "Big Bro must be here." He stood, dusting himself off as he walked over to the door. "Yeah," he said, opening it. He didn't expect to be hugged, especially not by a blond woman. It took him a second but he recognized her. "Buffy? They made you come kick my ass?"
She walked him inside, closing the door. "Only if you don't come back." She pulled him close. "I'm sorry Xan, I took it out on you and I was wrong. You were right to do what you did." She looked in his face, seeing the icy coldness, which made her step back. "Hey, I admit, I was wrong. I know now that he did want you do that."
"Yeah, but I still deserved it." He walked back over to the fire. "Sit, couch is mostly clean." He waved at it, moving the gun away from the hearth since it was getting warm. "Get warm then go ho... back." He went back to staring into the fire.
"I oughta kick your butt for leaving a dirty gun laying around like that," Nick said, sneaking up behind him. He hugged his brother hard. "You know better."
"Yeah, you taught me that too." He wiggled out of the strong embrace. "Anyone else hiding out in the woods?" Nick shook his head. "Okay, sit, get warm, then leave." He stood, walking into the other room in the cabin.
Buffy frowned at his back. "This is so not good," she said, standing, going over to the door and kicking it in. "Ow," she said. "It's solid." She did it again, getting it open this time. "He's gone."
"This is Canada," Nick pointed out. "It's wood that still grows naturally and for many years." He looked at her. "Did you expect him to make this easy?"
"No, I expected him to not play games." She shook her head. "So, do we wait or do we hunt?" She looked at Nick. "I'm sure you have some sort of tracking stuff that you learned in the Navy."
He nodded. "Yeah, I do, but I want to leave him out there for a few minutes more. He's not getting away or going anywhere."
She snorted. "How did he get here?" She walked out onto the porch, looking at the woods. "Xander," she called. "I'll go get bloodhounds or something. We're not letting you go." She heard a quiet step behind her and Nick's arm landed hard across her shoulder. "Easy, I bruise easy." She glared at him. "So, where did he go?"
Nick shrugged, pulling her down the stairs. "This is something you should be able to do." He pointed out the trail. "Follow it."
She looked at him funny. "There aren't many woods in San Francisco." He just pointed at the trail in that irritating way of his. "Sure boss, whatever." She looked down at the footprints, seeing the next one then none. She followed the general direction, noticing the mud on a small pile of rocks. It stopped in front of a tree. "It's deeper here."
"He stopped." Nick looked at the tree, walking around it. "Good hiding place."
Buffy pointed at a small crevice. "There?" Nick looked at it then nodded so she looked around for the next set of prints. "I can't find any."
"Look for the other signs. Broken limbs, smooshed plants." He smiled. "As you would say."
She shook her head. "Yeah, and I'm supposed to be able to pick out a single plant that's been stepped on out of all these?"
Philip walked past her, heading down the trail he could see, as could Nick. "Thi' way." He pointed out the branches. "He's headin' for another hidin' spo'." He looked around. "Caves?"
"A few," Nick said. He wrapped an arm around Buffy's neck. "It takes practice but the best way is to know your prey. He's scared and looking for a place to hide. He's guilty so he's going to avoid people at all costs before he hurts them." He pointed out a bush. "What's on that?"
She looked at it, seeing the few broken spots and a piece of thread. "Two paths and a string?" Nick smiled, nodding. "This isn't so hard."
"Tol' ya so," Philip said. He handed Nick the gun. "He lef' this."
Nick looked it over. "Crappy but probably what he could afford." He tucked it into his pants. "Come on, we better find him before he gets hurt."
Buffy stopped him. "Wouldn't he have explored these woods?" Nick nodded. "Then how would he get hurt?"
"Panicking," Philip pointed out. "Makes ya do stupi' stuff." He looked around. "Mus' have hidden around here for a bi'."
Buffy looked at all the tracks. "Animals but no people." Nick pointed off to the side. "Oh, okay. Doesn't that lead to a cliff by the map?"
Nick took it out, looking at it. "Yup. We might want to head there before he falls over it. We can pick up his trail there." He looked at his student. "Very good."
She smiled. "Hey, I'm slow but I'm good once I grab the clue." She stared off towards the cliff, looking at the woods around her. "Was the US like this before we got there?"
"Mostly. Native Americans didn't despoil the land." Nick slowed her down. "It's a little ways. You'll tire if you go too fast to start."
She nodded at the wisdom. "Can we do this again?"
Philip snorted. "I don' see ya campin' like he was livin'. I can' see ya livin' without yer tub." He smiled at her. "Bu' he's the man ta ask."
Nick shook his head. "I think she meant doing this, not the roughing it part." He steered her towards a side path.
"But the tracks went that way."
Nick smiled. "Very good, but the cliffs are this way. That way he'll run into the side of the mountain and have to turn."
"But what if he turns the other way?" She looked over her shoulder. "He could miss us."
Nick shook his head. "He's headed this way. Lots of safe little spots for him to go to ground." He yanked on her ponytail just once. "And yeah, I could start you on some tracking exercises. Your martial arts are getting much better."
Philip looked at Nick, saying something in Gaelic. Nick said something back then frowned. He shook his head, going to the head of the line. Philip stopped Buffy. "Ya hur' him and I'll deal with ya myself." He looked her in the eyes, staring hard to get across his point. "Go' it?"
Buffy blushed. "Yeah, but we're not... I mean, I like, but..." She shook her head. "Non issue here."
Philip shook his head. "Blind an' young." He walked after Nick. "You'll ge' it soon." He whistled up the trail, listening for her to follow him.
Buffy shook herself then followed the two men, surprised to say the least. She'd never even thought about that. "Wait up," she called when she realized she was all alone. When she didn't get an answer, she used her new skills to follow their trail too. Of course she took a few wrong turns but she got there first. "Guys?" she called. Still no answer. "Damn, why are they behind me now?"
"Because men don't ask for directions," Xander said. "Now, you on the other hand, do, so you should be able to lead them home." He started to walk away. "Good tracking but you're still noisy."
Nick grabbed him around the waist. "Yeah, but so are you." He held him still while Philip administered the sedative. "Come on, Buffy, help me carry him."
She shook her head, taking the lighter body from his arms and lifting him easily. "Hey, I'm the one with the gifts. Why should you guys strain your fragile guy muscles?" She looked around. "Cabin's to the right?" Philip nodded so she headed off in that direction, being careful not to trip. She really didn't want to fall with him in her arms, that would be a major ouchie. "Guys," she called, feeling alone again.
Nick watched his student go, still wondering where she got her energy.
"I'm sure ya could cure her of her bounciness," Philip said, standing beside him. "If'n I wasn' me, I'd jump on tha'."
Nick turned to face his friend. "She's my student and at least a decade younger. Drop it, it's a fairytale."
"So are Slayers bu' she's a pretty piece a work." He smiled. "As I'm sure your dreams tell ya."
Nick shook his head. "Not." He started walking. He heard her yell. "Come on, she's wondering where we are."
"Mind readin'? Thi' early in the relationship?" He smiled. "Meant ta be." He followed the easy trail, walking ahead of Nick.
"Philip, you're insane," he called after his friend. "Leave the bow and the toga at home." He heard a quiet giggle which made him groan. "I'll get you for this Philip Callahan," he vowed. "Just you wait until we get home." He jogged down the trail, catching up to them. "You giggled?"
Buffy smiled. "He said I was cute when I being guy like." She shook her head. "I don't think he's that under."
Nick took his pulse. "Nope, just talking in his sleep." He held out his arms. "Want me to carry him?"
She gladly handed over her burden. "He's hard on the shoulders." She rubbed them delicately as she turned around to follow Philip.
Xander had noticed that he had been switched. The arms around him now were weaker but longer so it must be one of the guys. He took in a few deep breaths, trying to clear the drugs from his system quicker. He had to get away. He could hide if he could get free. He opened an eye, watching the woods without being seen. He knew where he was, now all he had to do was get free. He waited until the guy carrying him was climbing over something then twisted in his arms, landing on a foot and a knee. He took off running before Nick could yell for Buffy, hoping he was heading in the right direction. Now if only the trees would quit wiggling so much, he'd be fine.
He hid behind a particularly surreal tree, panting as he got his bearings. He'd headed the wrong direction but there was a nice path ahead that he could take most of the way. He listened for a second then took off again, trying to be quiet. He hit the path, panting again, but he couldn't stop. He still didn't hear Nick or Buffy, or even Philip, but he knew they were out there somewhere. He ran up the path, heading for a very special hiding spot he hadn't made it to last time.
He looked around as he got the bush he'd been hiding behind last time, sliding to his knees as he rounded it. He wiggled into the small opening in the rock wall, going down into the little burrow he'd created. He had enough stuff to stay here for a while, a few days if necessary.
Buffy turned when Nick grunted. She hurried over to him, helping him sit back up. "You okay?" He nodded so she took off after Xander. Unfortunately, her skills weren't that sharp so she quickly lost him. She headed back to where Nick was. "Lost him," she said, bending over to check his leg. "Twisted or broken?"
"Twisted," he groaned. "Go find him, I'll go back to the cabin." He stood with Philip's help. "I'll be fine." He patted her shoulder. "You know where he's going, so head that way. You'll pick up the path again."
She shook her head. "One of us should go with you. You don't look so hot." She wiped the sweat off his brow. "We don't even have any painkillers."
He smiled. "First aid kit in the jeep now go." He turned her, pushing her in the right direction. "I'll be fine."
She nodded, watching as he hobbled off. "Go with him," she told Philip. "There's nothing you can do that I can't."
Philip snorted. "No' so sure abou' tha'." He watched Nick grab a tree. "We'll be here, you go get him."
"No, take him back to the cabin, I'll be fine." She headed off on the old trail, following it until the point that she had lost it. She looked around, finding it again after a few minutes. She headed off for the cliffs again, not even wondering why Xander was headed there again. When she came to the well worn path, she stopped, looking both directions. She could see wear both ways, but she didn't know which one was fresher. She knelt down to examine one track, knowing from looking at it for the last few hours that it was her friend's. "Hmmm, what would make it fresher?" She looked at one going the other way. "He's heading for someplace to hide, maybe sleep it off. He can't go back toward the cabin because he'd think we'd look for him there, but he was found at the cliffs last time." She looked up, seeing the sun's angle. "And it's getting dark, not good." She stood up. "Cliffs it is. If not, he's found a hidey-hole and he's fine for the time being." She walked quickly up the path, thinking about how much easier this would be if Oz was here. She came to the same clearing, seeing the same footsteps she'd been following heading for the same bush. "Oh, great a dead end." She started to turn but a sound stopped her. A low grunt. She looked around the clearing. "Please be a plant nibbler." She walked a little further into the clearing, hearing it again. She looked behind her, standing still when she saw it was a great big momma bear and a little cub. "Yeah, not a good." She started to sweat, earning her a few sniffs in her direction. "Really wish I had the gun now," she told herself as the baby bear came up to investigate her. "No, not a tree, please don't hurt me."
Philip stopped right behind the momma bear, frowning. "No' good at all." He shook his head, firing into the air. "Shoo," he shouted. The momma bear just looked at him. "You're no' Yogi an' I'm no' a picnic baske'," he said softly as he walked into the woods. She roared at him so he walked parallel to where she stood, seeming to heed her warning. Instead he got out of sight and turned back toward the clearing. By the time he got back, the bear cub was asleep on Buffy's feet, and she was still terrified. "Don' move," he whispered. "Shoo," he said, nudging the cub.
It looked up at him, making an angry noise like it's mother only softer. Momma bear walked over, sniffling at what her son was playing with. She growled, opening her mouth to show her teeth as she stood up on her hind feet, terrifyingly large, roaring again.
"Nice momma bear," Buffy whispered. "Go eat Goldilocks or something." She wiggled her foot, earning her a swat from a clawed paw. "Ouch." She almost moved but didn't. "Hey, Philip, how do we get out of this?"
"Don' move." He slowly put the gun up when she wasn't looking at him. "She's protectin' her youn' one."
Xander stood up. "Oh, go home. It's just me." He shooed her then disappeared behind the bush again.
Momma roared, going after him, but he wasn't there anymore. The next thing she knew, she was hit by something harder than a bee but it didn't hurt. Not even when she fell.
Philip and Buffy sighed in relief. He bent down to remove the cub, putting it next to it's mother. "Here ya go, little one," he said softly. He looked at the way the bear was laying. "He's un'er her somewhere."
Nick hobbled up. "Can't leave you two alone for a few minutes?" He clutched her arm to steady himself, giving her the tranq rifle. "So, my baby brother found a hole and crawled in?" He limped over, steadied by her arm and shoulder. "We should be getting to a comfortable spot, that tranq's not a long lasting one." He sat down on a high rock. "Come on, she'll lumber off after making sure her cub's safe." He patted the rock. "I'm not moving her to get to him," he reminded them.
Buffy climbed up next to him, leaning against his shoulder. "Thanks."
"For getting her before I became a Buffy sandwich." She looked down at herself then at the bears. "Or a snack."
Nick blushed, then shook his head. "Not a big deal." He smiled at Philip. "I'm sure he was trying."
"Sure I was." He climbed up, sitting on the rock. "Ten more minutes is average." He appraised the cliff face. "Mus' be a low openin'."
Buffy pointed at the bush, now flattened under momma bear's bulk. "He popped up from behind it again. Could be near the ground. He just didn't make it last time." She listened, hearing quiet sounds. "I'd say he's under her. I can hear him complaining."
Nick checked his watch. "Five."
Momma bear snorted and they froze. She stood, snuffling her cub, then the ground. She started to dig but reared back when she was squirted. She patted the spot then shook herself, walking off. Her cub cried then followed behind her.
Nick waited until they were out of sight then slithered down the rocks, landing with a grimace and a grunt. "Okay, now where?"
Buffy took his arm, pointing it in the direction she thought the sound had come from. "There."
They walked over together, stopping to smile at the dark hair poking out of a small cave. "Yeah, I'm getting him out of there," Nick said sarcastically. "Xander, bro, how'd you get in there?" He didn't hear an answer. "Your turn." He waved her on.
Buffy squatted down in front of the opening, checking the clearance. "Got grease?" She looked up at the two men. "I'm not sure how he got in there, I couldn't." She heard a grunt. "Yeah, you." She pulled on some of his hair. "Get your butt out here."
"Can't," he said pitifully. "And you don't love me so go away." Xander slipped a little farther inside. "Meany, yelled at me."
Buffy shook her head, standing up. "I don't know how to do it, I'm not the engineer and I don't crawl around in holes." She blushed. "Not what I meant."
Nick grinned. "I know." He sat down, relaxing onto the damaged bush. "Xan, want to come out?"
"Want to go shoot some targets?"
"Not really. They've been shooting back." He grunted. "Not good. Stuck now."
"So undo what you just did," Buffy suggested.
Xander ended up wiggling out of the hole, trying many times while his mind cleared. He was still partially under by the time he got out but he was more aware now. "Buffy," he said listlessly. "Go home."
"Not unless you come with me. Oz threatened to turn me into were..." She looked around. "Chow." She smiled. "I want to talk anyway, can we?" She used every ounce of charm she had.
Xander thought for a second then shook his head. "No need, my bad." He turned, walking into the cliff face. "And another one." He was rubbing his nose as he turned back around. "Nick, are you smaller? Or is it the drugs?"
Nick tried to get up but he couldn't move. "Nope, not the drugs. Just a twisted ankle that I was resting." He looked at Buffy. "Hand up?" She pulled on his arm, helping him up. "Thanks." He wrapped the younger man in a tight hug. "I'm glad you're okay." He pinched him. "Come home, Xan, nobody's upset still. They all know you did what you had to."
"He died," he said quietly. "I didn't mean to do that." He sniffled. "I can't go back." He turned, trying to get back into the hole.
Phillip slammed him against the cliff face, getting into his face. "You're comin' home. Willow an' Oz sai' so an' so do we." He fisted his hand in the front of the younger man's shirt. "Now, qui' whinin' an' help us ge' your brother down tha hill."
Xander nodded, eyes huge. "Yes sir." He waited until he was released to go to Nick's side. "Come on, you need to go rest." He wrapped a strong arm around the older man's waist. "Lean on me."
Buffy caught his other side. "A lighter load?" She mimicked his position, taking up her own. "That okay, Nick?"
He nodded, not minding at all. They started walking back down the mountain, heading for the old cabin.
Derek put down the phone, turning to find the whole rest of his house in his office. "They found him. He's in goot shape, rough but goot." He smiled. "Nick hurt his ankle and they ran into a bear or two but they're all fine."
Alex smiled. "Yeah, I'm not letting them out together again." She looked at Willow and Oz, holding each other. "They'll convince him or bring him back sedated." She patted their shoulders as she left.
Rachel frowned. "Bears?"
Derek smiled. "A mother and cub. Buffy said the baby decided to use her feet as a pillow and she almost became a meal." He shook his head, sitting down. "They're fine other than Nick's ankle and Xander's spirit." Rachel nodded, walking out. He looked at the couple. "I know, you want to be there, don't you?"
Oz nodded. "Yeah, it might be best." He squeezed Willow once then let her go. "They have to stop to refuel, right?" Derek nodded. "Then can we meet the plane there?"
Derek leaned back. "I could arrange that if it was settled before you get back." He looked over them. "You might have to do something to do that though."
Willow looked interested. "Apologize?" Derek shook his head. "Then I don't know what you mean." She took one of the chairs. "What do we need to do besides tell him how we feel?"
Oz leaned on the back of her chair. "We need to prove it to him?"
Derek shook his head. "No, but you may have to accept a few things. He's still in pain, of the mental variety, over what happened. He's still blaming himself. And for some reason he thinks your mentor is dead."
Oz grunted. "That's what she screamed at him as she beat him. That and ‘why'." He shuddered. "That was scary."
Willow looked up. "I felt the same way." She looked at Derek again. "We want to go. We need to fix this no matter what."
He nodded, calling the air port. "You're to meet the jet at the airport in Vancouver." He smiled. "Yes, I need two seats on a flight to Vancouver. No, tomorrow but they have to be there by six thirty at night." He smiled. "That would be fine. Yes, charge it to the Luna Foundation, you have our account in your corporate accounts." He hung up. "You leave at noon, that will give you some extra time in case Nick decides to leave early." He wrote down the flight number, handing it to Willow. "Here, get it settled." He turned his chair around, watching spring unfold outside.
Oz pulled Willow from the room. "Cuddle me? I need the strength."
She led them up to her room, closing the door and locking it behind them. "Lay down, naked. I need a cuddle too." She stripped slowly, revealing herself for the first time since all of this had started. "Oz, please?" she asked when he hadn't moved.
He shook himself. "Watching." He stepped back. "Do it for me Will."
She smiled, teasing some. Before she'd gotten her panties all the way down, he had her picked up, carrying her over to the bed. "Yeah, I need this. Want you."
He stepped back, stripping slowly for her, making it just as good as she had for him.
Nick smiled as two of the house members boarded. "He let you come?"
Oz nodded. "Necessary. He wants this worked out before we land."
Buffy grimaced. "Then we'll crash when the fuel runs out." She waved at where Xander had barricaded himself behind a wall of pillows and blankets. "He's building an escape tunnel."
Willow sat down beside her oldest friend. "Xander?" she asked softly. He tossed out a food wrapper, hitting the top of her head. "Nice shot."
"Don't ... say that word," came from behind the blanket wall. "And go home."
"That's where we're heading," Oz said, getting behind the wall, making Buffy clap. He gave her a questioning look.
"Tried to do that for hours." She shrugged. "He kept rebuilding."
"I'm too tired to fight," he said. He looked up at Oz. "Your hair's flat."
Oz rebuilt the wall around them. "Xan," he got an angry look. "Xander," he tried again, "we only want to apologize. We were wrong." He laid a hand on the abnormally still, for the person it belonged to, knee. "We're all sorry. We wish we could take back that night but we can't." He touched a light scar, a remnant of Buffy's fists. "We were in shock and we took it out on you."
Xander shrugged. "You did what you had to do."
"So did you," Oz said.
Xander frowned. "Did anyone ever tell you you talk too much?" Oz shook his head, surprised at the aside to the discussion. "Well, now they have." He closed his eyes, covering his head with another blanket.
Willow looked over the wall. "Not really." She followed Oz's path to the inside of the wall, letting him rebuild it for her when she couldn't. "Don't even try that, you're not asleep. You breathe funnier when you are."
He threw off the blanket. "Anything else that doesn't please you? How about how I walk? Or the way I shaved?" He looked at her. "Go home," he said slowly. "I'm hitching a ride, that's it." He recovered his head.
Willow got tired of this game really, really quickly. "Are you pouting because you had to do your job?" He got his pissed as hell/gonna explode look. "Yeah, yell at me. It'd make me feel better."
"Is that what this is? Well then you can forget it. Suffer."
"Or it might make you feel better," she said softly. She stood, sitting down on his knee. "What happened out there in the woods to make you like this? Was it lack of people?"
"That Xander died," he said. "At the single instant that he pulled a trigger, he died." He closed his eyes, moving his leg to slide her down onto Oz. "This one doesn't know you so leave him alone."
Willow looked upset, almost ready cry. "Xan, I didn't yell that at you. I'm not the one that beat you. I'm not even the one that you shot. Why are you mad at me?"
"Because you didn't stop him," Oz said. "Then afterwards you were so deep in your own pain you didn't see his." He set her back down, handing him his other blanket. "I'm not leaving you alone." He thought over his next words carefully, wanting to not say the wrong thing. "Do you remember before that happened?" He shook his head. "Xander, at least look at me."
"Better," he asked, shifting and opening both eyes to stare at him. "Now what?"
"Do you remember what happened after we locked her in, when you dragged me to my room?" Xander shrugged. "Try for now, okay?" Xander nodded, reluctantly. "Do you remember what I asked of you, to help me if she didn't come back from that?" He nodded again, looking bored now. "I still need that. None of us came back right after that night." He touched the younger man's face. "Look at me, not above my head. You weren't the only on that was hurting, and yeah, we ignored your pain in favor of Buffy's and ours, but that doesn't mean that yours wasn't real and that it didn't kill part of you." He removed his hand. "I could give it a kick start but I don't think you're ready for that yet." He backed up some. "Okay?"
Xander nodded. "Do you feel better now?" he asked yawning. Oz nodded. "Good, ‘cause I need a nap." He closed his eyes, clutching the blanket to him, hiding his head again.
Oz pointed toward the outside, making her go. He wanted to be here and he didn't think she would. He waited for the nightmares to start, sure there were some, maybe even a lot. Pretty soon there was a whimper, the blanket being pulled tighter over his head. "No, Xan, don't fight it." He removed the blanket, seeing the flinch. "I know, the light was bright wasn't it?" Xander shifted, spreading out some more, mostly sideways. "Yeah, you get comfortable and we'll talk." He waited for it to happen again, waiting until he was moving restlessly to wake him. "Hey," he said, shaking him lightly. "Now's not the time for that." He brushed through the long hair and over the scratchy beginnings of a beard. "Come back now, that can't hurt you anymore."
Xander grunted, turning his head into the gentle hand and walking up. "What?" he asked, very grumpy. "That was my first nap in days."
"I know, I wanted to end the nightmare."
"Yeah, but it's all I have now." He closed his eyes. "Go cuddle Willow." He turned his head. "And stop that, I can't sleep when you do that."
Oz nodded, backing up some. "Better?" Xander opened an eye, nodding. "Good but I'm not leaving."
Xander shrugged. "Your call." He pulled the blanket up over his head again but Oz pulled it back down. "Stop it Oz, I need it to sleep. It's too bright in here."
Oz shook his head. "You're hiding, not anything else. And it's helping your nightmares."
"No, believe it or not, it's stopping a few of them." He recovered his head. "Good night."
"Sleep," Oz said. "I'm not moving."
Xander tipped his seat back, and the one next to him, trying to get comfortable. Finally he gave up, sitting up to lean over Oz's sitting form. "Didn't anyone ever tell you not to stare at someone that's trying to sleep? It's impolite and they can't."
"So don't," Oz said. "And no they didn't. I used to do that all the time when I had nightmares to my parents." He pulled one shaking hand down, soothing it with his touch. "They about the shooting?"
Xander pulled his hand back, nodding. "Yeah. Mostly." He shrugged. "I know it's normal."
"Only when you haven't dealt with it."
"I *killed* a man Oz, you don't deal with that." He thumped his head against the back of the seat.
Oz sat up, kneeling now. "He didn't die. Your shot was right where it needed to be to cause enough pain to put him down but it didn't kill him. I had breakfast with him before he left for London on assignment." He took out his wallet, flipping to the latest group picture. "See?" He handed it over. "Taken not even a week ago."
Xander looked at the picture, lower lip trembling. "He didn't die?" Oz shook his head. "Really?" This time he really looked at the older man. "You're not just trying to make me feel better?" Oz shook his head. "But she said...."
"She was upset, thinking he was gonna die," Buffy said, leaning over the top of the blanket wall. "I was reacting, not thinking." She smiled sadly. "Derek said he tried to tell you before you left but you couldn't hear then." She reached over slowly, touching the top of his head. "I'm sorry, Xander, I didn't mean to hurt you too. I knew you were in pain but I couldn't see it through mine." She combed through the soft strands. "Forgive me eventually?" He nodded, silent. "Thanks." She went back to her seat, leaving it in more capable hands.
Oz leaned into him. "See, this wasn't as bad as you thought. You did what you had to to save us all." He quirked up an eyebrow. "We would have told you that the next morning but you were gone."
Xander nodded, handing back the wallet. "I'm sorry, I know I should have stayed but I couldn't. I had to leave, go someplace that didn't have memories." He rubbed over his face. "Would you stay here while I sleep?"
"Only if you take down the blanket wall." He touched it briefly. "Then I could sit in a seat and you could rest against my shoulder." Xander nodded, pointing at the crucial link. Oz took it down, taking the end seat. "Come on, lean on me for a while." He took a cue from Buffy, soothing him by combing through his hair. "I like the do but the beard has to go," he said softly.
Xander looked up. "You don't like it?" Oz shook his head. "Sorry, but it was easier." He laid his head back down. "How's the band?"
"Not." He worked out a nasty little knot. "Devon found out about my drooling and snarling problem so he kicked me out." He moved on to the next knot. "You need to comb this mess."
"You're doing fine."
"I don't have the nails to do this right." He looked at Willow, who was smiling hopefully. "Could Will do it?" I'd sit on the other side." Xander nodded, sitting back up. He waited for her to sit down then shifted over, laying his head on the older man's shoulder again. "Night, Xan."
"Don't call me that."
"Okay, Xander, I won't." He looked at Willow. "There are tons, it's just all underneath." She nodded, starting the delicate task of undoing them. "Yeah, that's good." He breathed deeply. "Buff, bears?"
"Yeah, big scary ones. Tried to eat me and Philip." She looked at him. "He had to try and scare them off when the baby tried to use my feet as a pillow."
Willow smiled. "I bet someone's not going near a woods again."
"Not. I like the tracking stuff Nick was showing me." She grinned. "Not too bad. Just so long as I don't have to do what he did." She shuddered. "No running water, no electricity, cooking over a fire."
Nick grinned. "Not too bad if you know what you're doing." He looked her over. "I'd take you camping if you want."
Philip said something in Gaelic but he was ignored.
Buffy shook her head. "Nope, don't mind visiting but I couldn't live there." She smiled. "I'm a city girl, I'd miss McDonald's and Blockbuster too much." She looked over to see Xander looking at her. "Want me to shut up?"
He shook his head. "You did pretty well tracking me. Not that I'm the most slick creature, but you did okay. Only lost my trail a few times."
"Hon, you were drugged then. It wasn't hard to spot." She nodded at Nick. "He's the one that pointed it out to me."
Xander shook his head. "When I was drugged and you were alone, you tracked me all by yourself. You only lost me twice the whole time and then you found it quickly. You did better than I did when I moved up there."
Nick nodded. "That's a difficult skill to master but an easy one to learn. Learning the different tracks and freshness, that's the hard part." He smiled at his student. "He's right, you did great."
She smiled happily. Then she frowned at him. "Do you know that you missed the formal? I had to steal Oz and Nick for dances because I couldn't talk to anyone." She almost pouted. "We needed you there."
He shrugged. "Sorry." He closed his eyes. "Night guys," he whispered.
"Night," Willow said, working out another knot. "Want me to stop?" He shook his head. "Okay." She found another one, working it out too. She looked up at Oz. "He's staying in our rooms," she mouthed. He nodded so she started to look for another knot, combing gently through the dark locks.
"Xander?" Alex asked, opening the door to let them in. She hugged him, squeezing him until he couldn't breath. "Sorry, but you're so different." She let him in, watching him look around like it was the first time. "Nick," she said, smiling. She hugged him too. "Thank you," she told him quietly. "Derek wants to see you both upstairs." She waved them in the general direction. "He's in the auxiliary lab."
Xander grunted, walking that way. He didn't pay any attention to anyone else, still knowing where he was going. He looked over as Nick caught up. "I'm in deep, huh?"
Nick shook his head. "I'd expect a big hug and mandatory counseling with Rachel."
Xander shook his head. "I'd rather have Oz do it. He's more in touch with me." He knocked then walked in. "Hey," he said softly.
Derek stood, shocked at the young man before him. "Xander," he said, walking over to give him a hard, strong hug. "We've missed you. The house was dull without you." He let him step back, looking him over. "You've changed quite a bit." He led him into the control room, dialing London. "Is Rupert there?" he asked the intern that answered. Giles stepped into view. "I believe I have someone here that would like to see you." He stepped out of the way, letting Xander step forward.
"Giles," he said softly, shocked. He had almost expected that picture to not be real.
"Oh, God, Xander." He smiled. "I'm not sure if I should yell or cry, but you deserve both." He smiled, taking off his glasses to wipe his cheeks off. "Welcome home." He looked at someone off camera. "He's back."
William stepped into view. "I'm sure he is." He looked at the younger man. "I want you to talk to Rachel."
"I'd rather talk with Oz, Nick, and Derek," he paused then remembered his unused manners. "Sir."
William nodded. "But they aren't trained."
"No, but they understand. She's never even had a weapon in her hands." He looked at William. "I'll go to anyone but her. She and I don't get along and I know she won't understand. She didn't when I didn't break down in hysterics when my father was attacked."
Alex walked in. "He's right William, she doesn't see him for him, just as another teen." She hugged him again. "Let him talk to Derek and Nick instead. They've both been through this."
Derek nodded. "I'd be happy to help."
"Actually," Nick said, walking in with Oz, having heard through the hologram as Alex had. "He's handled it pretty well. He brought him out of the shock and got him talking, something Buffy, Philip, and I had tried to do for days." He shrugged. "Of course I'll help, as will Derek, but we can't be there for the nightmares."
William made a face then nodded. "All right, but you are to talk to both of them young man." He frowned. "I'll be wanting status reports, Derek, so actually earn your keep." He smiled at Xander. "I'll be sending Giles back in a week or so. Have a party then." He hung up.
Xander went limp against Derek's side. "Thanks for backing me up."
"She's not got the best grip on teens," Alex said. "She's been trying to figure out Oz for a few weeks now."
The man in question shook his head. "I'm normal. Let her get over it."
"Who?" Rachel asked as she walked in. "We can set up appointments later."
"He'll be dealing with us," Derek said. "The shooting itself was the real trauma and we all felt that you might not understand. William backed us up. Nick, I, Oz, and Xander will all be having discussions on the subject. If we need your help, then we'll call."
She nodded. "Okay, as long as he starts to work through it." She shrugged. "Want me to stay for dinner or should I go home and torture my daughter?" She looked at Xander, wrinkling her nose at his scruffy appearance and smell. "Never mind, the celebration won't be tonight. You look wasted and badly in need of a shower." She smiled. "Call me if you need me," she said as she walked out.
Everyone in the room let out their breaths, smiling at each other, well except for Oz.
Nick looked at Oz, smiling. "Why don't you train to take over her job? You did really well on the plane."
Oz shrugged. "I might. I can listen pretty well." He looked at Xander. "And I will be, right?" The younger man nodded. "Okay, let's get you upstairs. She was right, you need to shower and shave."
Alex smiled. "Yes, both women have remarked on that growth." She shook her head. "I'd keep it just to aggravate them." She hugged him again then left the room.
Derek looked down at him. "Could use a trim at least." He smiled. "I'll show you how if you want."
Nick ran a hand over the scratchy stuff. "Let him shave it tonight, just to mark the occasion, he can always regrow it."
Xander nodded. "Okay." He looked up at his big brother. "Thanks for not giving up on me. I know I didn't make it easy on you."
Nick wrapped an arm around his brother's neck, twisting a knuckle into his head. "No, you didn't." He released him partially. "But you did okay for yourself and with that sort of skill I won't worry so much now." Xander looked surprised. "Didn't think I worried about you? You ought to see my journal right about now. Since you left, I've about filled it." He let him go, handing him over to Oz. "Now shower. You smell like that cabin. Matter of fact, soak for a while. You'll enjoy it after not having running water for a month." He watched them go, smiling at their backs. He turned to see Derek's face still scrunched up. "He did all right for himself. Very defensible, not very accessible. Lots of tall woods and animals around him. Next to a water source. He learned how to track and hunt while he was up there, roughing it really." He laughed for a second. "Actually roughing it was a nice term for it. If he'd been in a tent, it woulda been called survival training." He shook his head. "Oz has the making of a really good counselor, Buffy figured out how to track, does very well on an intermediate level, and my brother can survive. I'm happy now."
Derek stared at him. "Since when?" Nick raised an eyebrow. "Are we talking about the same female that missed classes because she couldn't find her shoes?" Nick nodded. "I'll be damned, you're a miracle worker."
Nick sat down in one of the workstation chairs. "Yeah, well Philip's playing cupid again too." He frowned, seeing Buffy walk past the doorway. "He's been insistent."
Derek nodded. "I've seen it too but we were waiting for you." He shrugged. "It's often been the case for Watchers and Slayers to ... bond. Since you've taken over her primary care roll, it's only natural."
"I'm like a decade older than her!" He shook his head. "Nope, not us. Get her someone else."
Derek shook his head. "No, you two fit well." He patted Nick's knee as he got up. "I'm going up to welcome him home. You sit and think if it makes you feel better. Their chronicles are on the system now if you don't believe me." He walked out, smiling at Buffy, who walked in.
"What was Philip saying about me?" She sat down beside him, jolting him out of his thoughts. "Hey, you still here?" Nick nodded, turning to look at her. "What did Philip keep saying about me?"
Nick opened his mouth then closed it. "Nothing," he said. "That was Gaelic, he was teasing me." He looked up at the screen. "Giles should be home next week."
Buffy nodded. "Yeah, so Oz told me." She frowned. "You'd tell me if it was something bad like a ‘princess' comment, right?" He nodded. "Okay, then I can accept that." She stood up. "I'm going up to enjoy running water too." She walked out, leaving him staring at the chronicles.
Nick tapped on Oz's door, walking in when the music stopped. "Got a sec?" The older man nodded, putting aside his guitar. "Sounded great by the way." He closed the door, leaning against it. "Are we alone?"
"Sure." He patted the bed. "Sit. What's up?" He waited until Nick was sitting before going on. "Was it that ‘star crossed lovers' comment that Philip kept making?"
Nick smiled. "I'd forgotten that you have an aunt that speaks it." He nodded. "Yeah, that's it. Derek said that it's happened between Watchers and her kind before and that it looked like I had taken over that role for now." He swallowed. "What do I do?"
"Well, does it sicken or make you happy?"
Nick smiled, not needing the lump in his lap to prove to him that he was happy with that thought. "I.. Happy." He hung his head. "She's like a third my age."
"No, she's about a decade younger." He laid a hand on the older man's arm. "Nick sometimes you gotta go for it and damn the ramifications."
"No, that was her." He grinned, just slightly. "Found out I was the werewolf about three weeks after our first date. She wouldn't let me go."
Nick nodded. "Yeah, I can see that between you two. I don't think I can see that between us though." He shook his head. "She's not ready for what I need."
"Maybe you're not ready for what she needs." He shrugged. "Go look over her stuff with Angel. They were serious for a lotta years." He picked back up his guitar. "You'll do fine, she likes sweet, gentle stuff." He bent back over his instrument, starting on the same song again, learning it anew.
Nick got up, wandering out and down the stairs. He found himself in the kitchen, watching her reach for something high up in a cabinet. He reached over her, handing it to her. "We have a step stool around here somewhere."
"Yeah, but I wasn't that desperate." She smiled at him as she walked past. "I'm gonna go watch some tv, wanna join me?"
He nodded, following her before he even realized what was happening.
Nick punched the heavy bag one more time then let it swing. He sat against the cooler outer wall, catching his breath, but he smiled when his student showed up. "Hi."
She smiled, sitting down across from him. "Want someone to hold it?" He shook his head. "Okay, Derek said to come talk to you about why I was running around in work out clothes yesterday." She shrugged. "I didn't have a problem with it but apparently he has something against spandex leggings."
Nick shook his head. "We have people that drop in unexpectedly. We can be relaxed and not uptight, but we can't be in work out stuff." He looked down at her current outfit. "That's cute."
She stood, removing her skirt to show him her regular work out outfit. "Yeah, and practical." She put it back on, sitting back down. "Xander wants to go clubbing tonight with Oz."
"So? They've earned it, they've both been working very hard." He shrugged. "I'm sure they'll be fine."
She gave him a funny look. "Have you seen what sort of clothes he's been buying? He's dressing like Angel used to, well no leather but black silk and velvets and stuff." She smiled. "I'd worry but Alex said it was a normal phase."
Nick shook his head. "Musta skipped that one. Never did the Goth things." He stood, holding a hand out to help her up. "Ready to get your butt kicked?" She snorted. "Hey, you're the one that's been holding back." He watched as she did the skirt thing again. "Very practical."
She faced off against him. "I'm not going to hurt you."
"You can't so quit pullin' the punches." He took a swing at her, starting it for once. She ducked back then tried her hardest punch on him. He didn't even grunt. "You hit like a girl," he said.
Buffy smiled. "I am a girl." She knocked him on the floor, moving away as he got up. "Did you want me to hit like a guy?" She took another swing at him, mimicking his moves. "See, not me. I'm too female for that."
Nick smiled. "Yeah, you are, aren't you." He waited but not for long. She kicked him, starting off on a flurry of quick movements that he mostly blocked. "You're starting in on weights," he panted when he could breathe again. "You need more weight behind your hits." He stood back up. "Come on, let's try that one again, your form sucked."
"Glutton," she whispered.
"That's me, Mr. Masochist." He grinned. "But you still hit like a girl, or Derek."
She started to laugh, and not being able to fight and laugh, sat down. "You're so bad," she accused when she stopped. She stood back up, shaking her head. "Such a bad, bad man."
Nick tossed her down to the mat. "Nope, I'm a good guy." He stood over her. "Are you having problems or just taking a rest?"
"Wondering what's drawn on the ceiling." She frowned, tracing it mentally. "Mickey Mouse?"
He laid down beside her. "Not quite. A few of the lines have faded." He took her hand pointing it out, tracing in the air what was up on the ceiling. "Get it now?"
"Hmm, a shield, a lion, and an L?" He nodded. "Okay, so how did I get Mickey mouse?"
"Because he's standing behind them." He grinned. "The artist that did it used to work for Disney."
She rolled up to her knees, standing up. "We aren't sparring."
"No, we're not." He stood back up. "Want to try it again?" She shook her head, looking at the pool. "Want to go do laps until your head clears." She nodded. "Have fun, do at least twenty." She jogged out, heading up the back stairs. "I'd join you," he told the empty doorway, "but it'd only confuse both of us more." He shook his head, going over to the treadmill. Maybe running would clear his mind.
Derek looked around as he snuck the boxes inside. He hurried to his office, locking the doors behind him. He set them down on his desk, opening the first one but hurriedly put it up when someone knocked. "Just a minute," he yelled. He put them into the bar, closing the door and locking it then walked over to release the lock. "William?" he asked, surprised at the unannounced visit. "Why are you here?"
"Because." He sat down in the chairs. "Philip's got to go back soon, they're looking for him." He looked up at his old friend, still standing. "What, no drink?"
Derek shook his head. "I'm out." He sat down behind his desk. "How long do I have?"
"Maybe next week." He got comfortable. "I'm here for a staff evaluation." Derek nodded, mute. "Derek." He waited. "Earth to Doctor Rayne, you home?" When he still didn't get an answer he picked up a book tossing it at the other man's head. "Derek!"
Derek frowned down at the book that had just hit him. "You didn't have to do that." He turned his frown on William.
"Staff evaluations. Associate members. Ring a bell?"
Derek handed them over. "Alex did them."
"Yes, but she's not qualified. Only another Precept can do these." He read them over, smiling. "I see they're fitting in again. Everyone's happy?" Derek nodded. "And her training?"
"Going well. Nick's got her up to his level and they're working on new things. He keeps her sparring every day unless we're too busy and he takes at least an hour every day to try and work on other skills that could be helpful." He picked up Nick's latest report, handing it over. "It's all in there."
William read it, smiling. "He still hasn't solved that, has he." He looked up. "You need to fix that. It might be harmful."
"If it is then I will. I prefer letting those matters go on their own." He shrugged. "Why else would I let Giles go back to England so much." He smiled as Nick walked in. "He's here to evaluate them."
Nick frowned. "William, give us a minute, please." He waited while the London Precept left to eavesdrop. "Derek, you can't do that to her. I'm not going to let it happen. She's much too young for you to be screwing her up like that." He started to pace. "It's not healthy for her, not for either of us." He faced his boss and friend. "It can't happen."
"Then it won't." He frowned. "But I think you're wrong."
Nick shook his head. "No, I'm right and it's scary." He walked back out, not caring that William had heard the whole thing.
William sat back down, smiling. "Letting it work itself out?"
"He's having an age problem." He looked at the door. "I just picked up birthday presents today."
William's smile got bigger. "I'd forgotten that was this week." He pulled out his date book. "Hmm, yes, I even have it marked. What did you get so I don't get something similar?" Derek started to frown again. "Surely you didn't think I was going to be here and not give him a present."
Oz walked into the library, wondering where everyone was. He jumped when the lights came on, everyone jumping up and yelling "Surprise." He grabbed his chest, catching his breath. "Warn a guy," he complained.
"Then it wouldn't be a surprise party," Willow said, putting a hat on his head. She kissed his cheek, aware that there were others around. "Happy Birthday, Oz."
He hugged her then looked around the room. "Nice." He looked up at Xander and Buffy, who were smiling and standing together. "You guys did a great job."
"Yeah, they did," Devon said. He hugged Oz. "I'm a shit and we want you back." He stepped back. "But I'll understand if you tell me to get lost."
"No, stay." He was touched. "Yeah, I'd like that." Devon nodded, going over to stand with the rest of the band. "Guys, you didn't have to." He looked at all the presents. "Okay, so maybe you did." He grinned very slightly, making everyone else smile. "Thanks for remembering."
William handed him a bracelet. "Hey, that's not the only great present." He smiled. "You're the only one of you old enough to be a full member." He put it on him, stepping back. "Welcome."
Oz looked down at it in shock. "I'm a ..." He looked back up at William. "Really?" He nodded, tolerant. "Wow."
"Yup, we've about reached his tolerance for surprise." Buffy walked over, setting him in a chair. "Sit," she told him. "Relax and enjoy." He just nodded, blown away by all this.
Derek handed out plates, letting the butler open the buffet, before he sat down beside the young man. "Oz, happy birthday. Your twenty-first should be a grand occasion." He smiled. "Now enjoy so they can take you out later for one with your friends."
Oz nodded. "Yeah, sounds great." He took the plate Xander handed him with a smile. "Thanks guys, this is great." He looked at the presents, pulling the first over to him. "Can I?"
"Hey, it's your party," William said. He pushed the stack over, pulling up a chair like everyone else. "Presents are good."
He started to open the first, but paused. "Will, wanna help?" She held it while he opened it, working through the last obstacle between them together.
TO BE CONTINUED.