Title: Duality
Author/pseudonym: Voracity
Email address: voracitys@hotmail.com
Rating: PGish
Pairings: Derek/Philip, Willow/Oz, Xander/Oz ship going stronger
Fandom: P:TL/BTVS xover
Status: new; complete
Archive: Sure, if you really want to.
Archive author: Voracity
Archive email address: hcompanion@hotmail.com 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 6: Oz figures Xander out more and they meet some aliens.

Warnings: M/M (not that this should have to be a warning)

Duality by Voracity

Oz snorted as he woke, smelling someone else in his bed, and no Willow. He opened his eyes, looking at the dark head on his chest then around the room. He figured out quickly what had happened, but wasn't sure how he felt about it. It was *way* to early to try and think. He nudged the younger man, trying to get him to wake up. Instead he ended up with a clingy bed monster, being hugged almost too tight for breathing. "Yeah, uh-huh. Xander," he called softly.

"Not yet mom."

"Not your mom, man. Don't even insult me like that."

Xander wiggled some, groaning as his stomach rubbed against the firm thigh. "Nice boy."

"Not your dog either."

"Good Oz."

Oz's mouth hung open in shock. Either he was dreaming about him or.... "Xander, are you awake?"

Xander sat up, looking around for the danger. "What?" His eyes landed on Oz, so he rubbed them. "Um, Oz? Why are you in my bed?"

"'Cause I was slaying the nightmares." He frowned. "Please tell me you were awake just a minute ago." Xander looked confused. "Never mind. We need to talk, just when we're both really awake, okay?" The younger man nodded. "Xander, I have to get up. Willow's gonna come looking for me." He wiggled out of the bed, standing and stretching. "Well, you were comfortable. And you didn't steal the bed." He brushed a finger along the creased forehead. "Not a big. I was helping you sleep and fell asleep." He shrugged. "Doesn't mean anything unless you want it to."

Xander still looked confused. "You mean the nightmares didn't come because you were here?" Oz nodded. "I wonder if a blanket would be enough if it smelled like you."

Oz hit the younger man's shoulder. "Xander, focus." He waited. "Listen, nothing happened. Okay?" He nodded. "Good. I'm going to go get dressed and you're gonna do the same since you can't swim with that new tat." He nodded again. "I'll rebandage it if you want, but we will *not* say anything to Willow. She'd throw a fit."

Xander nodded. "Okay, but nothing happened." He looked down at himself. "Right?"

"Very good point." Oz sighed in relief. "Nothing happened." He pushed back down the feeling of a warm hand rubbing him. "Nothing happened and we'll be fine." He walked out of the room, going to his own.

Xander looked around, still confused. "What just happened in here?" When the walls didn't answer him, he stood, stretching, and started to get ready for the day.


Derek sat the nearly hysterical woman on his desk chair, pulling up another one to face her. "What exactly did you see?" He pulled her chin up to make her look at him. "Willow, what did you see?"

"They were cuddled together and smiling." She wiped at her cheeks. "They were asleep still, Xander using Oz as a pillow." He handed her a tissue so she blew her nose. "They looked so *happy* Derek, he doesn't even smile in his sleep like that for me." She started to sniffle again. "I know 'cause I've watched."

He got up, getting her a small goblet of brandy. He handed it to her, wrapping her fingers around it, and bringing it up to her lips. "Drink Willow, you need it."

She sipped it slowly then gulped the rest. "It's warm," she gasped. She looked up at him. "What did I do wrong?"

Derek sat back down, watching her world fall apart. "You didn't do anything," he assured her. "I'm sure it wasn't what you think." He frowned at the door. "Go away."

Alex walked in. "Can't, William's on the phone." She looked at Willow, who was crying now. "Want me to deal with this while you deal with him? He sounded really rough."

Derek shook his head, picking up the phone beside his bed. "William? What's wrong?" He sat down suddenly, the air and color leaving him. "Oh, Got, are you all right?" He sighed. "At least that's something." He wiped a hand over his face, looking at Willow. "Willow and I will leave later. No, you know why. Okay. All right." He hung up. "There was an accident, supposedly. Most of the London house was involved." He ran a hand through his hair. "I've got to call Philip and tell him his niece is gone."

Alex pulled Willow up. "I'll take her up to her room. The guys are downstairs."

"No, please. I don't want to go."

Derek frowned. "They're downstairs and you're coming to London with me. Go get ready and pack." She nodded, walking out slowly. "Xander and Oz fell asleep talking apparently and she caught them," he told her quietly. "Don't mention it to them, let them handle it for now." She nodded. "I've got to get to London, call the jet, you and Nick are in charge again." He picked up the phone, checking the time as he called the rectory. "Is Father Callahan there? I need to pass along some information." He waited. "Philip? It's Derek. Sit down, please."


Oz looked up as Willow walked into the kitchen and he knew she knew. He pulled her outside to the back steps. "It wasn't what you think. He wanted me to stay until he fell asleep. We'd been talking. Nothing happened."

"Then why did you look happy and why was he rubbing your stomach?" She crossed her arms, not looking at him. "How could you do that to us Oz?"

"Will, I didn't do *anything*. I fell asleep. I was comforting him." He looked up as Xander walked out. "Now's not the time."

"Yeah, it is." He turned Willow around. "He came over to ask why I had thrown a screaming fit with Alex. We talked about a few things, including the present problem with my shoulder, and I asked him to stay until I fell asleep, hoping to keep some of the nightmares away for a few hours." He nodded. "Got it?" She nodded. "Okay, nothing happened. He fell asleep apparently as I did, and never realized it. We didn't plan this, didn't do this to hurt you or us." He looked at Oz. "I'd never to do anything on purpose to hurt either of you again." He pulled her into a hug. "I'm sorry my problems started this."

Willow pulled back, wiping at her eyes. "Okay, that I can understand." She looked at her boyfriend. "While I'm in London, why don't you guys figure this out and tell me." She walked back inside.

Oz looked at Xander, silently thanking him. "London?" He walked back into the kitchen. "London?"

"There's been a crash and most of the house was involved." She swallowed her juice. "Derek and I are leaving later to go help William."

He relaxed. "Okay." He kissed her cheek, wanting her mouth but it was covered by a glass. "You should eat."

Xander pulled on his shirt, doing it up. "Thanks Alex." He looked over at them. "Hey, Will, what do you think?"

She smiled. "Looks good but it's awfully bright compared to what you usually wear." She motioned him over, giving him a one armed hug. "Be careful while I'm gone and take care of Oz." She let him go. "We'll talk about this when I get back." He nodded. "Okay, now I have to pack and you need to go work. You slacked yesterday while we toiled." She pushed on his arm. "Why the marks?"

"Grounding me into me."

She nodded. "Good concept." She pulled the top of his shirt down. "They're all the same?" He nodded. "Cool." She kissed his cheek, wiping off her lipstick. "We'll talk when I get back."

"Be safe," Xander said, giving her a hug. "Come home soon so he doesn't go insane."

"Nope, your job to watch him while I'm gone." She looked at Oz. "I'll be safe and come back." She kissed him, taking possession of his mouth to remind him of who's he was.

"Be safe," he whispered, "and come back to me." She nodded. "I'll worry if I don't hear from you."

She smiled. "I'll write or call, k?" He nodded, wiping at her cheeks. "I know, but it's our first real, unplanned separation." She hugged him tightly again. "I'll be back as soon as I can." They touched hands as long as they could but he watched her walk up the stairs, following her as much as possible for as long as he could.

Buffy looked up. "Hearts and flowers time?" She smiled. "I'm sure FTD delivers to London." She pulled back up her paper. "Xander, do you have a down knob on the shirt? Use it." She looked over at him. "It's a bit bright."

He smiled. "That's the point."

Derek walked in, frowning. "I take it you got it settled?" Both men nodded. "Goot. Meeting, now." He walked back out, taking his coffee.

Nick was the last to join them, taking his seat under the hostile gaze.

"Willow and I are on our way to London. There's been a horrible accident, at least it's suspected of being an accident, and the whole house was compromised. Four of the six members were going out to eat." He looked around the table. "I know I don't have to warn you what a risk that can be." Everyone shook their heads. "Goot, now onto this house's business. Nick, you and Alex are in charge again. There's only that one case that I told you about last night." The younger man nodded. "Goot, now about the particulars." He brought out a crossbow, shooting Alex and Giles. Everyone gasped as they turned to sludge as the silver tipped wood went through them. "They're missing." He laid down the instrument. "Each of you has been tested and found to be normal. Find them and figure out who's doing this." Xander raised his hand. "Yes?"

"She just bandaged my shoulder. Is it infectable?"

Derek shook his head. "I don't know," he said sadly. "Nick, keep an eye on him for strange behavior."

"Like the shouting fit last night from Alex?" Nick said, looking at the puddles of goo. "Is it still moving?" He stood, looking over the table. "Still living. Someone get a container."

Xander and Oz walked out, coming back with two glass square boxes. They used the edges to slide under the goo, letting it flow into them. Xander picked up a tablet of paper, using it to scoop it up faster, scraping the carpet to make sure there wasn't anything left. The sealed containers were set in the middle of the huge oak table and the two men sat back down.

"Nice work," Derek said.

"How do we know you're normal?" Buffy said. "I mean, you're grumpier than normal right now, same as she was last night."

He took out one of the bolts, pushing it into his hand until it bled. "Very goot deduction but I have my reasons." He smiled at her. "It's always goot to be suspicious in these cases."

Nick smiled. "He's always like this on the bad mornings." He looked up at his boss. "Gonna bandage that?"

Willow got up, grabbing the first aid kit from the control room. She wrapped his hand quickly, then sat back down. "So, London for us and they get to do the disappearing peoples." She closed her eyes then opened them, looking at Derek. "Could they be related?"

"Anything is possible." He looked around. "Any other questions?" Everyone shook their heads. "Goot, we're leaving in about ten minutes. Are you packed?"

"Enough clothes for a week and a half. Two small bags."

Derek nodded. "Should be enough." He walked out, followed by her.

Nick stared at the two glass boxes. "Okay, so I guess I'm in charge until we can find Alex." He looked around the group. "Oz, take the paper and start analyzing this... stuff. Xander, move them to someplace more secure then go help Buffy with her search to figure out what this was. I'll be in the office or the lab. Got it?" Everyone nodded and started on their way. "Set it someplace dry and room temperature."

"Oz's cage?"

"Good idea. Those bolts were holy water soaked wood tipped with silver. The cage is what, iron?"

"Steel and iron both. Some of the bars are coated with silver to make him not want to touch them." He picked up the first one. "Want to get the doors?" Nick nodded.


Xander looked up as Oz walked in rubbing over his face. "Tired?"

"Very." He sat down across from him at the table. "What're you looking up now?"

"Buffy found an entry in the database but it was referenced to this book." He showed him the spine. "Not fun reading or scanning but a necessary evil at this moment."

Nick walked in. "That phrase doesn't live in this house. It defeats the purpose." He sat down, lifting the book so he could see. "A reference?"

"Yeah, but I can't find it." He handed over the book. "A creature that sounds like Swamp-Thing but not our slime people."

"Might be the same," Oz said. "Where?" The younger man pointed out the entry then withdrew his finger so they could read it. "Nope, not that organic. Was organic, and about the same chemicals as us in the same amounts but it's not what this is." He closed the book, slipping the built in bookmark into that spot. "Now what?"

Nick looked at them. "It could be human but not?" Oz nodded. "Why not?"

"No DNA that the computer could locate. Not even a cell nucleus so not a clue."

"Could it be from here?" Xander looked at them. "How many other places would have the same elements as us?"

"That's assuming that it isn't a natural manifestation," Nick reminded him. "It could be from here."

"Where? The ocean?"

Oz shrugged. "Not likely by composition but a possibility. We haven't explored much of it." He looked at Nick. "What other lab type stuff can I do?"

"Have you run a spectral?" Oz nodded. "And?"

"Nothing. All the paranormal tests registered as normal except for a wave band. It showed up as a higher frequency when the sound was bounced off."

"Okay, that's a start. Do other forms of matter do the same?"

Oz shook his head. "Not that I could find but it's still in the experimental stage so it's not fully tested and documented."

"So, we know it's not human, we know it's organic, can we eliminate by what chemicals was in it?" Xander asked. "When I was helping Derek put together his paper last month he has something in there about identifying remains by the chemicals it lacked or had added outside of the norm. Whatever that meant."

"Actually, not a bad idea."

Nick nodded. "The theory states that if something is from a certain place then it would have the same prevalent chemicals as that place."

"Like a tree from Utah is different than a tree from Maine even if they're the same tree ?"

Nick nodded. "Yeah, exactly. So we should be able to weed out the areas it's not from by that."

"We might but everything looked the same as a person just no DNA or cell structures," Oz pointed out.

"I'll call Rachel in, freeing me talk with the other houses." He got up, grabbing the phone and dialing her home. "Rachel, it's Nick, can you come out? We have a mystery that only the lab can solve." He smiled as he hung up. "She'll be out later this afternoon." He looked at his brother. "I want her to look at your shoulder, see if it's been contaminated." He walked into the control room, leaving them alone.

Oz looked at him. "Want me to spread some more gel on?"

Xander nodded. "Please, I was just gonna take a break to do that." He pulled the little bottle out of his pocket, handing it over. "Right here?"

"Unless you want to lay down, yeah."

Xander started to unbutton his shirt then stopped. "You should be wearing gloves in case it has been infected."

"Been working with the stuff all morning. It's not toxic." He twirled a finger around. "Take it off so I can spread some down."

Xander finished taking off his shirt, sitting on the table so Oz wouldn't have to move. He flinched at the touch of the cool gel but sat still while it was spread around. He felt the tape being pushed back down and the tap on his shoulder that told him he was done. "Thanks," he said, sitting back down but not putting back on his shirt yet."

Oz wiped his fingers off on a tissue, tossing back the bottle. "Not a big." He looked at him. "Antibiotics?"

Xander checked his watch. "In about half an hour." He looked back up. "How did you know?"

"You missed breakfast and that thing is looking worse." He leaned back, crossing his ankles. "I'm guessing but you haven't taken one yet."

"No, you're right. I forgot last night and I left it on the table at breakfast." He moved his shoulder, listening to it pop.


"But it feels better." He grinned. "I can do that more often now."

"Don't." He looked around. "Now what do we do?"

"Searches?" Oz shook his head. "No?"

"Buffy and Nick are in there and they have it. We won't do anything but work back over what they've done." He turned at the sound of the door opening behind him. "Any luck?"

"No, dead end." Nick sat back down on the edge of the table. "What do you guys want to do now?"

"Lunch," Xander said. "We missed breakfast." He looked down at his watch. "I need to take some drugs anyway." Nick raised an eyebrow. "Antibiotics and Tylenol." He rolled his eyes. "You can be such a brother some days."

"What did you expect? A father? I'm not ready for that yet." He tapped the table. "Okay, go eat. You can run searches later until Rachel get's here after she picks up Kat." He looked at Oz. "You lunching too?"

"Can't think of another test in the lab. I even tried holy water, which didn't phase it. It was the wood that did it, not the silver."

Nick looked curious. "Why?"

"Because it doesn't have any?" Xander suggested. "If it's from here, it probably wouldn't live around trees, maybe a lab but not trees. Sorta like why all the natives died out when Europeans came? Maybe?"

Nick smiled. "I'll make a decent researcher of you yet. Two good suggestions in less than an hour." He shook his head. "A good idea but we can't assume they aren't natural. We don't know everything that lives on the land yet, much less underwater."

"But if it's oceanic, his theory rocks." Oz looked up at Nick. "No trees."

"It could have been the type of wood."

"Yew?" Nick shrugged. "Not a clue. Why don't you go test different woods, Oz, while he eats."

"'Do we have samples?" Nick shrugged. "Who would know?"

"Derek, maybe the butler. Most of the wood in the house is cherry, oak, and pine. Some maple in the bedrooms. You could always go gather sticks from the woods."

"Punish him with that," Oz said, pointing at Xander. "I'll ask the butler, he knows where everything is." He got up and walked out of the room.

"You missed your morning antibiotic?"

"Missed breakfast too. I brought it down with me but I needed to eat with it so was waiting. Derek interrupted before I could take it."

"So you left it in there," Nick finished. "Go eat something and take it, then help him test woods." He stood up, waiting for Xander to leave, but when he didn't he looked down at him. "What?"

"Thinking. Trying to figure out where it's from." He stood up. "I still think it's not really from here."

Nick grinned. "Then this will be our first alien." He walked back into the control room as Xander walked out toward the kitchen.

"Hey, do we have any...." He took the plate of sandwiches. "Thanks."

"Your favorite's are on this side," the butler said, pointing. "And you medicine is on a small plate in the cabinet." He looked up now. "If I may ask, what are you taking it for?"

"My newest tattoo is infected." He picked up a sandwich and smiled. "Thanks."

"Not a problem. I'm more used to this state then those regular sit down meals you seem to inspire." He pointed at the cabinet. "That one, Xander."

Xander grabbed his pill as he ate, swallowing it between bites. He drank down a glass of milk then turned. "You're great. I wish you woulda been around when I was growing up."

"I figure no one ever fed you, that's why you're making up for it now." He smiled. "Take the rest to the control room, except for the ham and roast beef, that's Master Oz's." He went back to flipping through the recipe book. "And put on your shirt," he called after Xander had left the room.

Xander smiled as he stopped in the lab. "Snack?" He handed Oz his, watching as he put it aside. "I'll be back in a minute, gotta drop this off." He walked into the control room, shaking his head at the good neck rub Buffy was getting. "Food, graciously sent by the nice guy in the kitchen." He handed the plate to her. "I'll be in the lab." He turned, walking back out. He actually made it all the way to the table before Nick stopped him. "Hey, I don't mind. You do good things for her." He patted his brother's restraining arm. "Just don't hurt her. I'd hate to have to chose sides, ya know." He grinned, picking up his shirt. "I'm off to the lab."

"Just don't break anything." Nick watched him go, feeling a lot better even if they hadn't talked.


Xander paced outside the door, waiting for Rachel to show up. He pounced on her as soon as she walked in. "Nick said to get you to look at the new tat because one of the aliens or whatever they are bandaged it this morning and it might have been contaminated," he said quickly.

She backed away from him. "Calm down." He took a deep breath. "Now, explain it to me again. Slower this time." She kept her voice patient and soothing, slowing down as she talked.

"Giles and Alex turned out to be these slimy things, Derek staked them this morning and they turned in front of us. Well, the Alex one had bandaged my shoulder this morning so Derek and Nick thought it might be infected. They want you to look at it."

"Okay. Now try it with more details." She noticed the frustrated look he was giving her. "Derek staked Alex and Rupert this morning?" He nodded. "Okay, start there. Where's Derek and why did he do it?"

"London and he knew that they were the slime creatures." He wiggled, trying hard not to scratch at the infected spot. "He shot them with a crossbow before he left with Willow."

"So, who's been in the lab?"

"Nick, Oz, and I. Those two mainly, I was in there to test woods against it."

She nodded, pulling him to a couch. "Sit." She pushed him down. "So, the real Alex and Rupert are missing?" He nodded. "The creatures are where?"

"Oz's cage. We have small samples in the lab but they're down there in glass boxes right now." He took a deep breath. "They're human but not, no cells. Intelligent but no brains or guts. Oz said they were organic and the same but different." She nodded. "They're.... Did you ever watch DS-9?" She nodded. "Remember their security chief? They did like him."

She nodded once. "Okay, so they just puddled up when Derek staked them. Oz and Nick tested them, so Buffy must be in the control room. You need me to look at your shoulder so we can make sure you're all right then I need to take over lab work?" He nodded. "All right. I can do that. Nice shirt, bit brighter than you've been wearing but you look nice." She stood. "Come on, the scanner's were in the lab."

"Oz has been setting them up while I throw pieces of wood onto the sample to see if it squirms."

She frowned. "Not the most scientific approach." She walked through the lab's doors, seeing the two little dishes. "Is that all of the sample?"

"That and the paper under the microscope," Oz said from behind the scanner. "Just need to plug in one more cord." He stood back up. "Okay, it's ready." He looked down at the samples. "They can't feel pain as far as we know so the tossing a piece of wood was okayed by Nick." He waved at the seated device, starting the computerized sequence. "Xan, sit."

Xander frowned at the name but sat down, taking off his shirt. He held still while the bar came down, reading his chest and back.

"Turn around and let's make another pass," Rachel said. "Let me take off the bandage first. I want an unimpeded view of it." She ripped it off, earning her a pained grunt. "Sorry." She folded it up, putting it beside the microscope. "Run it again Oz."

"Is that like play it again Sam?" Xander asked, trying to diffuse some of his tension.

"Yeah, only more formal," the older man said, tapping in the key strokes. "It doesn't like cold. Tolerates light." He turned to watch the scan bar run again. "Interesting."

"Okay, Spock, give."

Oz frowned at her. "I am not." He looked at Xander. "You gave her a Star Trek analogy?"

"DS-9, the shape shifter guy. He puddled too." He turned his head. "Can we not do that again, it hurt and itched at the same time."

Rachel smiled. "Do it again, I want to be closer." She watched as the light hit it, making the skin pucker and shiver. "Definitely contaminated." She touched it. "Still hot. Haven't you been taking them?"

"Took the first one a while ago. Derek interrupted breakfast before I could take it." He looked up at her. "The more upset and anxious I get, the more it itches."

"Light, cold, and hormones." She patted the back of his head. "You can get up now." She looked over at Oz and the dish he was holding. "Better yet, stay there, I want to see if I can't scrape any of that off." She took the stuff, letting Oz walk around her to keep his attention.

"Look at me," Oz said softly, standing in front of Xander's head. "Focus on me, not on your back. It'll make it harder for her." He took his hand, rubbing over it lightly. "Just relax and this'll be fine."

Xander took a deep breath, flinching as she poked him. "Ouch." She scraped some more, earning a chorus of 'ouches'. When she stepped back, Xander looked up. "Thanks."

"What friends are for." He walked back around. "Why don't you go play in the garden or something."

"In other words I'm grounded from working?" Rachel nodded. "Okay, I'll go walk in the sunshine. What a chore that is. Want me to tell Nick?"

"If he's not in the control room." She watched him walk out. "How's he doing?"

"Better. Still a few nightmares. He and what took Alex's place had a fight last night." He shrugged. "Did he remember to tell you Derek and Willow are in London?"

She nodded. "But not why."

"Huge accident, got four members at once."

"Related to this?"

"Maybe, not sure yet. They should be there soon." He looked at her. "We fell asleep together last night by accident and he didn't have the nightmares."

"Sounds like he trusts you, even in his sleep." She turned to look at him. "By accident?"

"We were talking and he asked me to stay until he was asleep. Unfortunately, so did I." He shrugged. "Not a big thing until Willow caught it."

"Definite trust there. He knows you won't hurt him or let him be hurt." She patted his arm. "She'll get over it." She looked at the paper under the scope then switched it with the gauze. "Yup, he's infected with it. And a nice normal one too." She put it up on the screen. "The yellow stuff is the human infection, the grey/silver stuff is it I'm guessing."

Oz looked it over. "Why isn't the infection working on it?"

"It is, that's what those bronze spots look like." She highlighted one. "See how it's eaten into it?"

Oz nodded. "So it's close enough to human to catch our diseases but in a plasma form?"

She looked at him. "You're good at this."

"Will's better." He looked back up at the screen. "I'm more a computer and music person." He pointed at the infected spot of whatever it was. "Can we see what it's doing there?"

She nodded. "Yeah, we can scan that next." She pulled up Xander's scan, looking it over. "Wonder when he broke his shoulder?" She pointed out the broken bone to him.

"Woods probably. He popped it this morning."

She smiled. "Yeah, Nick and Derek do the same thing with their injuries." She shook her head. "Why do you guys do that?"

"Don't know, I don't have any to do that to yet." He just watched the information on the screen roll by. "He's not gonna turn, right?" She shook her head. "I'm sure he'll be happy to hear that."


Xander knocked on the office door as he walked in. "Rachel's here, she said I'm grounded from the investigation." He frowned when Nick didn't answer him. "Nick?"

"Hmm?" He looked up from the book he was looking through. "Rachel's here and you're contaminated. And?"

Xander shook his head. "It didn't like the scanner, didn't like wood at all, didn't like cold either." He grinned. "I'm gonna go walk in the garden. They said so."

"Have fun. If you figure anything else out, let me know." He stood up, giving him a hug. "Stay out of the control room until we get this cleared up, okay?"

"Faulty logic," Oz said, walking in. "If it can take him over like that, it would know everything in his head." He walked around Xander. "It's human. She said so. It reacts to our germs." He looked at the younger man. "It didn't like the infection at all. It died right after she scanned it. We need to scrape another."

"Only if she promises not to dig this time." He looked at his friend. "Talk me through it again?"

"Of course." He looked back at Nick. "It also reacts to hormones. It grew on his fear and anxiety, lessened on his happy stuff." He crossed his arms. "She wants the lab to herself so I want to guard him."

Nick nodded. "Makes sense. You can keep him out of trouble." He looked at his brother. "You okay with this?"

"Sure, just as long as I'm not growing a colony of them to repopulate the planet." He waved out the door. "Shall we?"

"Go ahead, I want to ask Nick something." He waited for him to leave, listening to make sure he'd really left. "She said it's not turning him, just learning from his body. It's not hurting him at all. She wants him to take a fever inducer if it gets too bad, something to make him sick."

Nick sat back down. "Not an option. It's too dangerous."

"It might be if he doesn't." He handed over the medical report he'd been carrying folded up. "He's not in the greatest of shape right now but she said she can monitor him if it becomes necessary to take that step to rid him of it."

Nick read over the report slowly. "He doesn't look that sick."

"It's not all physical. Part of it would be the want and will power." He bent over the desk. "He's still not fully back yet."

"If it comes down to that being a real option to consider, then I'll ask him and Derek."

"If it knows what he's thinking then it'll know that too."

"Making it my decision, which is why you came to me with this, right?" Oz nodded. "Okay, let me think about it. I'll call Derek to grab his opinion on it. I want to know the minute it becomes considered a real option."

Oz nodded. "I can do that. We'll be outside for a while then maybe the tv room."

"Okay." He tossed down the report, looking up at the younger man. "How's he really doing?"

"Except for going over the shooting, fine. He's still got nightmares about that. You saw the dark stuff. That shirt's the only light thing in his closet right now." He shrugged. "I don't have an answer for you."

"I want to take him to the shooting range, make him work through that part."

"Could work or could drive him under. I'd broach Willow on that subject. She's known him forever." He stood back up. "I'll go rescue the pie from him and we'll be in the lab for a few before the garden." He walked out, going to find his friend.

Nick dialed London, needing guidance himself right now. "Derek?" He sighed. "He was infected."


Oz snuck up behind Xander, hitting him with the needle before he knew what was going on. He removed the pie before he fell into it, handing it off to the butler, then picked his friend up, grunting under his weight. "I don't know how she carried you."

The butler took him for a second, letting Oz get a better grip. "Better?"

"Much, thanks." He walked down the hall, heading for the lab again. He staggered as he walked through the door, Rachel getting up to help him. "Thanks. He's heavier than he looks."

"Yeah, you guys always are." She flipped him onto his stomach, pulling over the surgical tray. "I want you to stay beside his head. You don't have to look, Oz, but I want you to talk to him, keep him calm. He needs to not move as much as possible since I'm only using a local anesthetic." She pulled over a wheeled stool, cleaning the area with an antiseptic wipe. "I'll even try not to wreck the tattoo." She checked her watch as she cleaned, timing it.

Oz watched as she draped the area, making sure it was as clean as could be. "Xan, I know you can hear me. I'm sorry I had to sneak up on you but it was the only way. Just relax, she's not going to hurt you, or at least she'll try." He winced as the local was injected. "Yeah, I know that hurt. It looks like it did." He took the younger man's hand in his. "You're gonna be all right, she's trying to clear it all out." He squeezed as the first cut was made. "You've got to be feeling this. It's really gross and painful looking so I know you can feel it." He winced again as she lifted out some infected tissue. "Xander, just lay still. You're safe. I'm here and you're safe."

Rachel saw the whole body relax. "He knows." She looked at Oz. "He looks like the after photo of a good massage." She went back to her scraping, seeing him start to tense. "More, Oz."

"Xan, while Willow's gone, I'm gonna need to lean on you. We've never been separated like this." He squeezed the hand again. "I didn't mind what happened last night. I trust you like you do me. I know you wouldn't hurt me, same as I wouldn't you." He squeezed the hand, holding it tightly as Rachel removed a large piece of tissue. "Ouch, I know. Bad ouchies but it's got to be done. I won't let her take too much though. You'll still have that sculpted look."

Rachel shook her head. "I'd worry less about that." She poked the tattoo. "Bad news, most of it's infected. I should remove it all."

"Is that okay, Xander? I'll come with you if you want to get it redone." His hand was squeezed. "Yeah, go ahead." He looked down, not wanting to watch. "I'm here and it's not that bad. She'll give you a scar but it'll be one of those that people like to play with and you'll be fine." His hand was squeezed again. "Hurry up, he's coming around." He looked back down, the sight of that piece of skin coming up nauseating him. "Xan, did you know insides looked really gross?" He could see the hint of a smile. "Yeah, you can hear me now, can't you?" A small movement. "No, stay still otherwise you'll end up with a funky scar that everyone shies away from. Trust me, some scars are cute and some are grossening."

"All of them are pretty nasty if they're deep," Rachel said. "Or do you have one that certain people like to play with ?"

"Yeah, on the inside of my thigh. She used to trace it some nights to fall asleep." He shrugged. "She didn't even want to know the story behind it."

"Motorcycle accident," Xander mumbled. He turned his head to look at his friend. "Burn from the pipe and a cut from when it toppled you, pinning you under it." He grinned. "She found it out." He flinched badly.

Oz shook his head. "Just don't move."

"Then make her stop playing with my lower back."

"I'm not. The infection must be moving."

"Not a chance, I'd rather die." Oz squeezed his hand. "I don't like surgery. It sucks."

"Majorly, but it's needed." He rubbed over the hand he held. "Just try to lay still and focus on me."


Oz walked around the rose bushes, not wanting to be near the thorns after what he'd just seen. "Hey, Xander, want to go sit in the shade or the sun?" He looked back, seeing him looking out across the woods. "Hey," he said, walking up behind him. "You'll be fine."

Xander snorted. "Sure I will." He turned around, letting Oz see the pain he was holding in. "It was right here."

Oz nodded. "I know."

"I shot him, Oz, *shot* him cold." He tried to turn but the older man kept him looking at the spot. "Why did I chose to do that? Why did I take the gun from Nick and hurt him myself?"

"Because you couldn't let someone else do it." He let the younger man turn around. "You needed to not let someone that didn't know him do it. You knew he trusted you, so you couldn't let Nick do it." He shrugged. "If it had been Willow doing that spell, would you have done the same thing?" Xander nodded, silent in his pain. "You cared enough not to have it be at the hands of someone he didn't trust or know."

"Yeah, but why me? Why couldn't have Buffy done it, or... or you or somebody." He looked down at the older man. "Why didn't Nick stop me?"

"Because he knew too." He wiped away a tear. "He knew that Giles would have wanted you to do it because he trusted you and not him." He made him sit down. "Xander, they both knew that it had to be you. You were the only one that cared enough to do it." He hugged him closer. "Only you could have pulled the trigger at that moment, in that case."

Xander nodded. "But I didn't want to."

"But you *had* to." He held him tightly, letting him work it out. "Only you could have saved him like that. You were the careful one, sure enough to hit the right spot, able enough to be accurate. Nick's not knowing him would have made him a little less careful."

"I didn't aim."

"Yeah, you did. You just did it subconsciously." He rubbed over the tense shoulders. "You did the right thing, your duty."

Xander cried, letting it all out now, breaking down all the barriers he'd built up to protect himself. He let all the pain he'd been holding inside for so long out, shedding it back into the earth, nourishing the ground where it happened, adding his tears to the blood it had already soaked up.

Oz just held him, letting him feel safe enough to let it go now.


Nick turned to face Derek on the screen. "He's over it now," he said quietly. "Oz is making him face the shooting." The Precept nodded. "How are things there?"

"Shitty." Willow giggled in the background. "William and I went on a swearing rampage earlier and she thinks it's funny."

Nick shrugged. "Everyone reacts differently." He leaned back. "So, about these things. Any ideas from the brilliant one there where they might be stashed?"

"The cages?" Nick shook his head, frowning. "Unless they've created some sort of portal, our best guess is someplace on the island."

"I've had the security guys searching since you left. Not a single hint that they were in any of the caves or anyplace else on the island." He rubbed over his forehead, feeling the beginnings of a headache. "Where'd you stash the painkillers in here anyway?"

"Bar." Derek smiled. "Now you know how I feel." His face got serious. "It wasn't an accident but it wasn't related." He frowned at Willow or somebody behind the camera. "No, the other one. Yes, that drawer." He turned back to Nick. "It was an old enemy that came for William. Someone from our college days."

"Want me to Fed-Ex the painkillers?" Derek shook his head. "Okay. Keep me informed." He frowned. "Have you found him or should we be expecting him because he doesn't know you're there?"

"He was a former tutee of William's, we had no contact. Seems he still holds a grudge over being expelled when William turned him in for cheating." He grimaced. "Willow, don't touch those, they're for Precepts only." He looked back in the camera. "We should be home after the funeral in a few days. William's not in any shape to deal with this right now."

"Stay as long as you want. Just so long as we don't get another case." He looked briefly out the window, seeing the two men still sitting together. "Tell her he's okay, he's talking now. I'll have them call by normal means later since I've restricted Xander's access to the control room." He frowned. "Tell her to leave," he said quietly.

"Willow, why don't you go fuss over William?" He paused. "All right, we're alone."

"Rachel wants to induce a high fever to drive the whatever it is out of him." He slumped. "It's organic, human without DNA or cells, intelligent, hates cold and wood, and is close enough to us to get our illnesses." He shook his head. "That tattoo's infection spread to it, killing some of it."

"That could be problematic. How does she want to do it?"

"Hasn't said but I'd guess a flu or something that would make him spike a fever pretty fast." He rubbed over his head. "You'll need a new bottle by the time you're back."

"I can see why now." He sat back, tapping his lip with his finger. "I'd only let it be done as a last resort. We don't know if he could handle the fever right now."

"She did a full scale scan. He's mostly healthy, barring the infection and a lower than average count of a few hormones." He crossed his arms as he leaned back. "Derek, I don't know what to do here. Having a brother that's around is different, having one that's potentially dead is harder."

Derek nodded. "I know Nick." He sighed. "I'd have her think this through carefully. Have her explain it to me later tonight. If it becomes necessary to save his life, don't hesitate. Otherwise, think it over carefully." He tapped the keyboard. "Goot night."

"Yeah, maybe." He hung up, sitting back up. He turned to watch his brother and his colleague work out his problems, their care for each other showing in every movement and every look.

Buffy leaned across the desk, lowering the shades. "I saw, but they need to not be watched. Xander's pretty private." She smiled slightly at Nick as he turned. "How are you holding up?"

"Not to well. Could you grab the bottle of pills from the bar and a glass of water?" She nodded, heading to do it. "Did you find something?"

"Maybe." She handed him both. "That's the new paper in the middle of the desk." She watched him take a few, gulping down the water. "Want me to work on your shoulders? I'm not so great but it's not bad."

"Later if you wouldn't mind. Right now's just a little on the hectic side." He put down the paper. "He's been infected. Rachel took a ton of tissue out, or so she wrote out on the stuff that she sent in with Oz." He shuddered. "He's not in the greatest of strong periods right now."

"Pain has a strength all it's own." She nodded at his look. "He's not the only one that's had some major issues. Dying does that to one."

He nodded. "I know." He looked down at the subject of the report. "Where was this?"

"New Delhi. But when I called, they didn't seem to remember it." She shifted some. "Sorry if I broke protocol but I couldn't wait." He waved it off. "But she seemed pissed."

"Yeah, she's like that." He looked up. "This is good searching. What search did you use?"

"Symbiotic lifeforms." She smiled. "Was worth a try." She tilted her head back to see who was coming through the door. "How much did you have to cut?"

"All the tissue under his latest tattoo." She put down the report she was carrying. "It's learning from him. Some of it changed to fight off the infection he'd been carrying around."

"Excuse me? Tattoos? Xander? As in multiple and hurts much?"

"Bunches. It's to make him feel more alive and here," Nick explained. He picked up the new report. "How infected is he?"

"Too much to cut out. I took out a good portion of the surface stuff that she infected. It was actually starting to die from the infection he'd had so it was just laying there. I took about half a gram out." Nick winced. "And the latest tattoo since it appeared to be living in it."

He read the conclusion then put it down. "I don't like your plan but we'll keep it as a last resort." She nodded. "Derek wants you to come up with the full idea and call him later to discuss it with him." He leaned back. "This is a decision I don't want to make."

"If it saves his life..." she started.

"Then it's worth it," Nick cut her off. "But under no other circumstances is his life worth that little. I don't even want to think about that being an option."

"I'll keep that in mind." She stood up. "Anything else?"

"Yeah, I want a report on what you learn. Every little detail. We can't even identify if it's alien or not."

"Both," Buffy said, pointing at the report. "I'm thinking planes and stuff."

"Like an alternate universe?" Rachel asked her, her face showing her derision at the idea.

Buffy nodded. "Or maybe just a parallel one that touches ours every so often or something like that. This isn't my area, but that's my opinion. Oz said it was just like us only opposite."

"Some sort of plane or alternative space would qualify for that," Rachel admitted. "And I've seen stranger things while here." She shrugged. "I'll look into the possibility." She walked out.

"You pissed her off," Buffy said quietly. "Wow, you're brave."

Nick smiled, then started to laugh. "Yeah, but only some days."


Nick looked across Derek's desk at Rachel. "I don't know where they are, or what happened to them or even what those things are in those boxes." He looked up, leaning back. "Could you get anything besides not human?"

She shook her head. "Not human, no match in the database, including demons that we've cataloged. All I know is that it stole part of their genetic sequences to be able to fit in."

"So, you're saying alien?"

"If you want my honest opinion?" He nodded. "I hope like hell I never run into them." She stood up. "Allergic to cold, impervious to heat, still living and apparently sentient but no visible organs of any sort. You tell me."

"I want to move someplace normal where these things don't happen." He looked out on the garden. "Hmm, do you see that?"

She leaned over, looking out at the shiny spot. "Could be Xander in that shirt."

"No, he's down to a tank top right now. His shoulder was itching again." He smiled. "How bad is it?"

"Slight infection, his breaking down earlier seemed to harm it, maybe even kill some of it." She looked back at him. "About those tattoos, I've seen other cases that did that and it's usually helpful for the first little while. As long as the underlying problem that's making him feel disconnected is fixed." She looked out. "Hey, it stopped." She walked over to the window. "Hmm, there's someone out there. Looks like Oz." She walked closer. "Two Oz's?" She turned but all she saw was Nick's back as he ran out.

She followed, a little slower. She stopped when she saw the two Oz's holding a simple, mostly non-verbal, conversation. "Hi guys." She tapped Nick on the shoulder. "What do they want?"

"Besides their people?" one of the Oz's asked, the one that was the real one. He had the blonde hair while the other one had his natural color. "Nothing much. To talk mostly." He looked around. "Actually they wanted to talk to us, they say their minds relate better to those with more flexible minds." He looked up at Nick. "Go find him?"

Nick nodded. "Rachel, go find Xander." She frowned at him but left.

"Hey, Xan, want to show them where their people are?" Oz asked as the younger man walked up to them.

Xander stopped, standing there blinking. "Sure," he said finally, looking at the other Oz. "Where are Giles and Alex first?" He crossed his arms. "Giles is the only one that hasn't said something mean about my shirt."

The alien Oz smiled. "Safe," he said. "In our home." He pointed at a faintly shimmering circle. "We live there."

Xander nodded. "Okay, we gotta go inside." The alien Oz followed him down to the basement, looking upset at the prison it's mates were confined too. "Hey, we had to put them in something," he said.

The alien Oz tipped over the containers, freeing it's people. It took the stakes out, watching as their people reformed. "Good, you do live."

"Headache," the alien Alex said. She turned to face Xander. "I'm sorry about yelling at you last night, you did nothing to warrant my concern. That was how I expected she would act." She kissed his cheek. "Be at ease."

Xander led them back to the garden, Buffy coming up to escort them. "Okay, they're free, where are our people and can we have an explanation?"

"We live there," the alien Oz said.

"Yeah, yeah, we heard that," Nick said. "Where's there?"

"Or actually what is there?," Xander jumped in to ask, "and can you take whoever of you is in me?"

"Ah, good questions. May we have a data translation device?"

"A diskette?" original Oz asked. He walked back into the castle, coming out with Willow's laptop, the old one she was getting rid of anyway. "Here, it's a computer." He set it down, laying the cord out of the way of everyone's feet.

The alien Giles touched the computer screen then nodded at his mates before closing his eyes and touching it again. The screen filled with all sorts of information and the shiny spot opened like a flower, letting the real Giles and Alex out. The three aliens walked in, shaking hands with their dopplegangers, then disappeared in a bright light.

Nick looked at his brother. "And Rachel thought that was just your shirt shining in the sun." He looked down at the computer Oz was fooling with. "Anything on it we can read?"

"All in English but it's in Physics." He turned it so Nick could see. "Seems to be some equation for duality or something."

Nick smiled. "I know one physicist that will love this." He nodded at Oz to shut it down after backing it up. They walked behind him, watching as he carefully backed up the data then shut it down, putting the computer itself into a shipping crate. "Good, we're sending it." He slapped down the lid, sealing it quickly, not wanting anything to escape. He turned to look at Xander. "Can you still feel them?"

He shrugged. "Unless something was bothering it before I couldn't."

Nick looked at the diskettes. "How's Willow's Physics?"

"Good," Oz said carefully, "but not that good." He leaned against the table, crossing his feet. "I think we should leave his alone for now. It might decide to come out or it might become beneficial."

"Guys, I'm standing here." He crossed his arms. "I don't like sharing my body." He looked down. "Especially with something unknown."

Oz nodded. "Reasonable but it may have to happen. You know it's not trying to kill you."

Xander yawned. "Yeah, I know." He stretched, wincing at the pain in his shoulder. "I'm gonna go back to my nap now." He walked out of the library, heading back to the tv room. He laid down on the wide leather sofa, getting very comfortable while watching the cartoon channel.

Nick checked on him an hour later, smiling at the sight of what his brother might have been like as a child. He could see him sweating, so walked in, trying to check on him, but he heard a squish that made him look down, grimacing at the growing puddle. "Not good." He backed out slowly, not wanting to disturb it anymore in case it decided to crawl back in. He ran to get the others, wanting them to help him get it outside.

Buffy and Oz looked down at the mess then frowned at each other. "You scoop," she said. "I'll carry."

"Sure, give me the dirty work." He bent down, taking the small shovel to the pile. But when he touched it, it formed a nice column, pouring itself into the container she held. He looked around for any small pieces but didn't see any so crawled over to check on Xander, make sure there was none still trying to crawl out. "Clean."

"Good, come on, it's heavy." She hefted it, walking out of the room.

They released it in the garden, near where the portal had been. They stepped back, watching it move around, heading toward a bush.

Nick stopped behind them. "What's it doing?" he asked quietly. Oz pointed. "Roses?"

"Maybe it wants to know more," Buffy said. She turned, bumping into Nick's chest. "Sorry."

"S'okay." He moved out of her way, watching her as she walked inside. He turned to see Oz watching him. "What?"

"You've got it bad. Willow and I get that same look." He followed her in, not wanting Xander to wake up alone.

Nick watched the whatever it was merge with a plant, wondering which was worse: a crush at his age or some strange alien creature crawling around the garden. He walked back inside, stopping to find the butler. "Dominic, please tell me if it comes back inside. It's currently merging with the memorial rose bush."

"It being the creatures?" Nick nodded. "Very well. Shall I have them dig it up?"

"No, let it taste. The current consensus is that it'll go home when it's seen more of our life." He walked out of the dining room, heading for the office. "Derek could use some good news."


Oz looked up as his bedroom door opened. "Hi," he said, sitting up to make room for Xander. He looked down at the covered tray the younger man was putting across his lap. "I already ate."

"It's a treat, don't complain." He sat down across from him, pulling off the cover. "I baked them myself."

Oz shook his head, looking at his friend. "You can't cook."

"Okay, so I had a little help but it was my idea and I did the mixing and measuring and stuff." He bounced slightly. "You've been so good to me so I thought you deserved a reward for putting up with me."

Oz moved the tray aside, pulling him closer. "I don't need a reward to help you." He kissed the top of the younger man's head. "Although I do like cookies so thank you Xander."


"Xan." He grinned, splitting one. "Want some?"

"Sure." He took half the cookie and the second glass of milk, dunking it. "They might be a little dry. This was my first attempt."

Oz ate one, humming in appreciation. "Nope, good." He munched happily, laying on his side to face the younger man. "Get comfortable. I won't bite."

Xander nodded, laying down, mimicking his position. "How's this?"

"Depends, are you comfortable?" Xander shifted just a little then nodded. "Then I'm happy." He started on another cookie. "You're behind. I'm up by two now."

"But they're yours so you should eat more of them." He took another one. "Thank you."

"What else would I have done? Let you suffer in aloneness?" He snorted. "Not me."

"I know, but it still needs said. You've done tons to help me get through this and haven't asked for anything in return." He looked at the older man. "Oz, I don't know what I would have done without you."

"You woulda managed, like always." He reached over, brushing a hair off the tense forehead. "Relax. You've been better now for hours. No more aliens, no more worries." He traced over one of the phrases. "Even these will fade in time."

"Yeah, I know, but I'm not ready for them to go too."

"Still not feeling like it's home?" He nodded. "Okay, so how do we fix it?"

"Not a clue." He sat up, crossing his legs in front of him. "I don't even know if I should go back out again."

"You're this whole other person outside, aren't you?" Xander nodded slowly. "I think that's pretty cool. Not too many of us could pull off a duality like that." He sat back up too. "I can't do that. I have to be all of me at any time. I can't separate out the Willow part from the music part or the werewolf part." He shrugged, drinking some of his milk. "Where do you go when you need to be someone else?"

Xander got up, closing the door and locking it. "There's this club down by the clothing store. I found it that first night." He sat back down, then rolled onto his stomach. "It's on the same street as the club that was burned."

"That one you mentioned at the meeting for the case?" Xander nodded. "What goes on there?"

"There, I can let go. I don't have to pretend, I don't have to hide. What's left of the animal can come back out and I don't have to worry about being hurt. Nobody but my few friends there ever come up to me so I'm usually alone. I can dance and not feel like a dork because no one knows me." He closed his eyes, resting his head on his hands. "I'd like to take you one night."

"I'd love to. Is this an all guy place?" The younger man nodded. "Xan, do you want to talk about that stuff?"

"Not really. I've figured it out but I still can't say the words."

"Which one?"

"Oh, you evil tempter you," Xander said, grinning as he looked up. "Trying to make me spill that secret too." He shook his head. "What should I do with you?"

"Not bake more cookies?"

Xander's grin got wider. "I could do that." He rolled onto his back. "Please don't tell them. That's something I'm not ready to face."

"So, they won't know." Oz shrugged, handing over half of the last cookie. "Here, you've done good tonight."

Xander ate it from his fingers, sucking it into his mouth by only moving his head up. "Fanks," he mumbled through it as he chewed.

Oz looked down at his fingers. "Wow." He watched him eat, swallowing his own cookie half. "I didn't know you could be like that."

"That's that other part of me," Xander said, taking Oz's glass of milk from him and taking a sip to clear his mouth out. He handed it back. "Sorry, drank all mine."

"Not a big." He looked down, drinking the rest of it, then laid the contents of the tray down on the floor under the edge of the bed. "How long have you known about this other person?"

"Since it happened. I haven't been able to forget any of it." He shook his head. "Another something I don't want getting around." He tipped his head back to look at his friend. "I'm trusting you with all of me tonight, but I won't be upset if you want to forget it."

Oz laid down next to him, paralleling his position. "I'm not going to forget and I won't tell." He looked down at the bare wrist. "Forget your watch?"

"No, I wear a different one to go out." He stood, holding out a hand. "Come on, I want you to see something." They headed across the hall to his room, Xander again locking the door. "She's not up here, but I don't want her walking in." He opened both sides of his wardrobe, pulling out a small trunk. "Key's in the box on the dresser." He set it in front of the bed, waiting for the key. "Go ahead." He sat back, watching while Oz opened the lock to the rest of his being.

Oz struggled but got the lock undone. He flipped open the lid, mouth hanging open when he saw what was inside. He touched the warm velvets, the cool silks. "I remember helping you buy this stuff."

"I asked you for your help because I knew you would understand." He rolled onto his side, seeming to change then and there, his body's angle's changing, becoming more animal. "Go ahead and look, Oz. I trust you."

The older man poked through the clothes, smelling a few. "Who's that?"

"Me. That's the person I become when I go out. Nobody else comes near me."

Oz flipped some more onto the lid, smiling as he got to the deep, critical thinking books. He moved them aside, looking at the clothes and pictures underneath. "You used to go someplace else and become that other person in Sunnydale?" He looked over, seeing the predatory gaze focused on him. He shivered in the warm, dark room, going back to looking at the picture, not able to really see his friend as the man in it. He could see the same features but the uneasy comfort in himself was gone. There stood the predator that had stalked through their high school for almost a week. In the picture stood a serious and deep creature that he couldn't rival. He looked over at the man on the bed, seeing him before him now. "Xan?"


Oz gathered himself together, reigning himself back in. "Why show me this now? Why not before or later? Or ever?"

"Because you need to know," he said simply. He moved a little closer, his whole body moving in a wave-like motion. "You need to know to stop him if he comes out here."

Oz shifted some, rearranging himself to be more comfortable. "I can do that." He set down the picture. "How else is this not the usual you?"

"This part doesn't hesitate. I take charge, running all my competition out." He smiled ferally. "I want to integrate the parts, become one person, quit hiding behind that mask but I think I might scare someone." He grinned, easing back behind the mask he wore everyday. "Now you know."

"Yeah, now I know." He put everything back into the trunk, closing and relocking it. "I wondered about the fuzzy clothes."

Xander picked up his velvet throw, rubbing it over the older man's cheek. "This, Oz." He stroked down over the firm chin, brushing over the lips then down the arched neck. "Understand now?"

"Yeah," the older man panted. "I do." He looked up. "Stop it, though. Will won't like it."

Xander backed off. "I'm sorry, I didn't even think about her and you." He rubbed his arms with it, smiling and sighing as the smooth, soft, fuzzy material worked it's magic to calm him.

"Huh." Oz stood up. "Xan, stop that for now." He waited, watching as the animal receded and Xander came back. "I'm gonna go think, leave your door unlocked. Okay?"


"Because I want to be able to check on you." He looked down at the large piece of dark velvet. "Can I borrow this?" Xander handed it over with a smile. "You're id living, you know that right?"

"Yup, been mentioned. But it's a good thing."

"Yeah, it is." Oz walked out, heading over to his room. He closed his door behind him, curling up on the bed with the throw wrapped around him. Within minutes he could see why Xander enjoyed this, all the feelings of warmth and safety, the comfort of the fuzzy with the sensuality of the fuzzy. Pure animal heaven for him. Something every cub ever wanted, comfort, security, and a mate. He looked over it, seeing the fingermarks from earlier and the built in marks that had gathered over it's life. He could even smell the desire the younger man usually leaked all over the fabric. He unwound himself, laying it out across his bed and rolling around on it.

"That might help him sleep better," he told it, folding it back up. He walked across the hall, knocking then walking into the younger man's room. He smiled as he heard the shower, and the moans, so he waited, laying across the warm bed, holding the throw for when he came out.

Xander walked out, stopping to look at Oz. He walked over to the door, shutting and locking it. "Hi." He grabbed his bathrobe, pulling it on over his towel. "I didn't expect you back so soon."

"I know." He looked over him. "Drop the act, it's just me," he said quietly, seeing the younger man relax again. "Much better." He held up the throw. "I found a way to solve the nightmares, I think." He sat up as Xander laid down.

The younger man took a deep breath. "It smells like you." He looked up, eyes bright. "You'd do this for me?"

"Yeah, every few days if you need it." He moved to the edge of the bed. "Now, time for good cubs to be in bed." He stood up. "If you need me tonight, the door'll be open."

"Same here, Oz. If you need to be near someone, just come back." He stood up, pulling him into a hug. "Thank you for that."

"Hey, rolling around on velvet is always a pleasure." He stepped back, breaking the hold. "Friends and all that." He walked out, closing the door softly behind him.

"Yeah, friends," Xander said, grinning. He stripped down, wrapping himself in the throw, sniffing it. "Or maybe more." He took another deep sniff, smiling and falling asleep in the embrace that made him feel safe.


Nick walked into his room and stopped cold. Buffy was bending over his bed, arranging things. She was wearing her bike shorts and a very thin tank top, looking more than ready to start sparring at any second. He cleared his throat, closing the door. "Okay, explain this scenario for me." He leaned against the solid wood, crossing his arms.

"I said I'd work on your shoulders and you said later." She shrugged. "I can not do it if you want."

He shook his head. "No, I remember, I just didn't expect," he looked around the room, "this." He went back to watching her, using all the control he'd ever learned to not react, not pull her closer. "So, you're willing to take on my shoulders?"

"Hey, I can slay stress monsters as well as I can vampires." She smiled. "Come on, I need the practice. Strip." She waved at the bed.

Nick bit his tongue so the groan wouldn't get out. He took off his jacket and t-shirt, leaving on his undershirt and sweats. He needed as much protection and fabric between them as possible, he knew he couldn't hold on if he was wearing less. "Where do you want me?" She raised an eyebrow, pointing at the obvious choice, the bed. "Okay." He laid down carefully, the mental image of it being littered with mines keeping him rigid and in control.

"Gee," she said, straddling his back, "you don't do this much, do you?" She poured some oil into her hands, rubbing them together. "Now relax. I'm not gonna hurt you." She bent down, smoothing the oil over the firm shoulders, kneading the tense flesh, making him relax against his will.

Nick could feel himself getting harder and harder. Each time she moved she rubbed against his rear. Each touch of her fingers was sending sparks through his body, making him fight the shudders running over him. He was so close to rolling under her, making her see what he felt, that he had to end it. "Thanks," he said, proud that his voice wasn't as shaky as he thought it should be.

"No more?" She hit another tense spot. "There's lots more for me to work on." She gently soothed the flesh, then stopped. "But if you're sure." She stood up, standing beside the bed. "If you want me to do it again, just yell." She grinned. "You know where I live."

He nodded, turning his head to look up at her. "Yeah, I do." He closed his eyes when he realized what was at eye level. "Thank you."

"Not a big. That's what friends and co-workers are for." She turned, giving him an excellent view.

Nick couldn't hold back the moan this time. He could smell her from where he was laying, could see that it had affected her too. "Night, Buffy."

"Goodnight." She leaned down, brushing a light kiss across his temple. "Sleep well." She walked out, in that swingy, tight way of hers, making him bite his lip.

He rolled over, trying to put the picture of her out of his mind. He didn't want to see that rear wiggling in his face again, didn't want to see the traces of moisture that said she'd been happy doing what she'd been doing. He didn't need to be reminded of the smell of her, didn't want to imagine how she'd taste.

"Not gonna happen," he told his body. He waited until he was calm enough to move then got up, stripping on his way into the bathroom. He needed to cure this problem before it got out of hand.


Buffy couldn't sleep. She was being assaulted by her dreams, a steamy lover coming out of the mist, reaching for her. And it wasn't Angel. She got up, wrapping a robe around her nighty, and headed down the stairs to the kitchen. Maybe a snack would clear her head.

She saw the lights on in the office so went to investigate. "Nick? What're you doing up?" She stood in the doorway, waiting for him to look up. "I was on my way to a snack to purge my mind, want anything?"

He looked up, shaking his head. "No thanks," he said roughly. "I just need to finish this report."

She walked in farther, standing beside him. "About the case?" He nodded, chewing on a pencil as he typed. "Why can't it wait until a decent hour?"

"'Cause Derek wanted it as soon as he got up." He typed in the last letter with a flourish, leaning back, accidentally brushing against her stomach. "Um, Buffy? Move back a little."

She did, then removed her tie from under his shoulder. "Sorry," she said, blushing lightly. "Um, so did you want a snack or not?"

"No thanks. I'm fine." He looked up at her, seeing her eyes as very dark in the low light. "Did you need something else?" He had to get her out of there before he lost control again. She shook her head. "'Night."

"Yeah, 'night." She walked out, shaking her head at his odd behavior.

Nick breathed deeply, then frowned. "Why does she wear perfume to bed?" He leaned his head back, wanting it to be morning in London very badly right now.

Buffy walked into the kitchen, pulling stuff out for a sandwich. She made it quickly, sitting down with it and a soda at the table. She watched the mists out the window, seeing them form and reform into pictures, just like clouds. Just like the ones in her dream did. She swallowed, choking. She put down the food, taking a drink of her soda to clear her throat. She didn't need to think about that. She didn't need the complications of a lover right now and she didn't think she could handle one with everything else she had to do every day. "At least I don't have classes tomorrow." She sipped her soda slowly, watching as her dream replayed itself in the mist figments.

Nick walked into the kitchen, wondering why the lights were still on, surely she'd gone back to bed by now. He smiled when he saw her frozen, looking out the window, watching the mists flow across the grounds. He stepped into her view, trying to bring her back. "It is a pretty sight, huh?"

Buffy shook herself at the sound of someone else in the room. She looked at Nick, seeing him standing surrounded by the mists. She looked startled but stood up quickly. "Yeah, um, I'm gonna hit the sheets, I mean go to bed now. 'Night." She walked out, leaving her food there. *Now* her dream made sense. "God, I gotta talk to Willow." She hurried up the stairs, wanting to escape from what her mind told her.

Nick looked down at himself. "I didn't think I was that scary." He picked up the remains of her impromptu meal, cleaning up after her, then headed for his own bed.


"Will," Buffy sighed. "Alone?"

"Nope, Derek's over in the corner and so's William." She looked at her friend critically. "But I have planned a shopping trip when we get back. We'll talk then." Buffy nodded. "So, what else is new?"

"Oh, nothing much, we're alone right now. Nick told me to call and tell you guys that they're investigating a haunting in the church Philip's working in."

Derek leaned into the camera's view. "Is he all right?"

"Fine, a minor concussion, or so Nick said." She shrugged. "Three ghosts, all female and young." She tapped the top of the workstation. "I just sent the info to you. He thought you should know, said something about you being involved." She shrugged again. "Not my lingo, didn't understand a word."

Derek nodded. "I understand. I'll retrieve it in a few minutes. How is everything there?"

"Weird but okay. Nick and Xander have been spending long guy hours doing stuff. Oz has been missing Will so he's been out in the garden most of the time playing soft love music." She grinned. "He spelled your name out in his alphabet soup yesterday." She looked back at Derek, erasing her grin. "Alex and Giles are fine, Rachel didn't find any contamination and she's out at some conference for a week or so, so Alex is living at her house to watch her daughter. Philip's there with them now in case you wanted to call him sometime, so Nick said to pass it on." She sighed. "They left me home for some reason. Not even a request to search, just the order to call you."

"I know what's going on, I'll call him." He smiled, trying to reassure her. "This is an old case coming back to haunt someone." He hung up the connection, leaving her alone in the house.

Buffy wrapped her overshirt tighter around herself, feeling chilled for some reason. She blinked, seeing a sudden image as she did. "Oh, no, not again." She walked out, heading for the nearest couch and laying down. "I might have some come true type dreams but I don't need one right now." She closed her eyes, letting herself fall into a light doze.


Nick walked into the room where Buffy was sleeping, the butler having told him she was there. He knelt down beside her, trying to wake her gently.

"Slayer dreams?" Oz asked, walking into the room. He leaned over the back of the couch, staring at her.

She sighed then looked around. "Morning," she groaned, holding onto her head as she sat up. "Hope that wasn't a come true type, do it really hard."

Oz nodded. "Give."

"Youthened. Not like Mom and Giles were but like reteened." She looked up at her Slayerette. "Although he was there." She looked over at Nick. "It's a Slayer gift."

"Indeed," Giles said, walking in. "Now, what was it again?"

"You guys, you, Derek, and Philip, all woke up young, like sixteen, one day. Xander was walking around like he was possessed again too, but the main part was the young guys stuff." She looked up at him. "Don't know how it happened, you just came down to breakfast like that."

"Did it give you a clue on how to stop it?" She shook her head. He unconsciously leaned closer. "Did it show you a cure or a way to change them back?"

"No, it showed Willow working in the kitchen though, Derek leaning behind her to snatch some of what she was cooking." She shrugged. "Not an idea."

Giles handed her the notebook he was writing from. "Write the *whole* thing down. Describe it in as exact detail as you can." He looked at her over the top of his glasses. "Do you understand?"

She nodded. "Got it." She leaned back. "Want me to work someplace specific?"

"Wherever you're comfortable," Nick said. He stood up, taking a step back when he realized how close he'd been to her. "Come find us when you're done." He pulled Giles from the room, heading toward the control room.

Oz leaned closer. "Want to talk? I'll listen."

She turned to look at him. "I'm fighting it."

"If it makes you happy, go for it." He looked over her shoulder. "What was Xander doing?"

"Just acting like he was possessed again." She frowned. "I don't even know why, he just kept walking through the scenery."

Oz nodded. "He and you need to talk soon. Actually, we four need to get together sometime soon." He walked out. "Happy memories."

She slid to the floor, laying the paper on the coffeetable. She tapped the pen on it a few times then started to write.


Oz sat down beside Xander at the kitchen table, taking the glass from his hands. "She had a Slayer dream," he said softly. "You were pacing like a cat." He looked into his friend's eyes. "A rather large one."

Xander shivered. "Really?" Oz nodded. "Hmm, might not be so good a thing to do." He smiled. "What else?"

"Old guys becoming young." Xander smiled. "She said you were acting repossessed."

"Then I'll be more careful about letting it show." He looked around then smiled. "I merged them last night."

"So, that's a good?"

"A very good." He smiled as his brother walked in. "Snacking, want some?"

"No, but an answer would be nice. Do you still have those animal feelings?" Xander raised an eyebrow. "I need to know. It could be important."

Xander shook his head, just once, closing his eyes at the same time. When he looked at his brother again, the animal side was at the forefront. "Of course I do. It's like the army memories." He smiled slowly. "I'm merging them slowly." He shook himself, coming back to the usual Xander. "It's okay, it's under control. I let it out to have fun every now and then and it's okay." He picked up his toast, eating some. "Sure you don't want some?"

"No, I want a straight answer." He sat down, looking at Oz. "You're listening?"

"I've known." He leaned back. "Not the most comfortable place to do this."

Xander picked up his plate and glass, heading out to the outside. He sat down on a bench, making sure all the nearby windows were closed. He picked up a piece of toast, taking a bite. "What did you want to know?"

"How about how merged it is," Nick said. "It says in the files that you don't remember."

"I lied." He swallowed. "I hit on Buffy majorly while I was under, well and ate a pig but that's a different story. I wanted her to think she was safe around me, which she is, unless it comes out suddenly. I figured out where to go to let it out, how to let it out to play for a night. Now it's safe and comfortable to be let out when I'm ready to let it. I'm merging it slowly, mostly 'cause I'm tired of hiding him, but also because I like part of him. He's so smooth and slinky and dangerous. He's the essence of a predator."

"Oh, I know that feeling," Oz said. "Had that happen before." He looked at his friend. "How merged are you right now?"

"And quit talking about yourself in the third person," Nick said, very frustrated. "Why didn't you *tell* us this? This was information we could have used." He looked at his brother. "Merge now if you can." He took the plate and glass. "You can't be hungry, you just ate."

"Few hours ago." He closed his eyes, letting himself merge fully. When he opened them, they seemed to be darker, more aware. "Better?"

"Yeah, a bit," Oz said. Those eyes focused on him, looking him over then turning away. "Not a threat?"

"No, I know better."

Oz shook his head. "Not unless I have to be," he reminded him.

Nick ran a hand between them. "Fight for dominance later." He frowned. "Xander, why did you keep this from us?"

"Because I had to." He shrugged, picking back up his toast. "Now, I need to nibble and you want to call Derek and scream about me. Have fun." He wiggled his fingers, taking another bite.

Nick handed the plate to Oz. "Come on," he said, grabbing Xander by the ears. "We're going to call Derek."

Oz nibbled on the toast, content to stay out of this.

"You too, Oz!" Nick yelled back.

Oz stood up, not really happy at that moment in life, trudging after them.


Giles was walking past the office when he heard spate of Dutch and the loud yelling of, "As if a werewolf weren't enough?"

He wisely decided that the dream Buffy had could wait, and headed in the other direction.