Title: Inner Truths
Email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Pairings: Derek/Philip, Willow/Oz, Xander/Oz ship going stronger, Nick/Buffy
Fandom: P:TL/BTVS xover
Status: new; complete
Archive: Sure, if you really want to.
Archive author: Voracity
Archive email address: email@example.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 9: they find the reason for the youth, Oz searches out Xander to understand better, and Xander's inner predator comes out to play in the house.
Warnings: M/M (not that this should have to be a warning), some Angst.
Inner Truths by Voracity
Xander and Nick escorted the man they'd found outside the gate inside, pushing him into a chair in front of Willow. "Honestly," he sputtered, "I didn't know you guys were here. He just asked me to do them." He swallowed hard as Buffy and Derek walked in. "Please don't stake me."
The Slayer smiled at him, twisting an ear. "Me? Why would I want to do that?" She looked over at Willow, who nodded. "We just want the counter spell."
"I don't remember," he said, then blanched. "I didn't make a counter, just the original spell."
Willow shook her head. "Buffy, stake him. I'm sure the plants out back could use some fertilizer." She crossed her arms over her chest. "I really hate you right now."
He looked at the people surrounding him. "I could write down my spell, what I remember of it. You should be able to find a counter or make one up." He looked hopeful. "I'll never bother you again."
Buffy leaned down, whispering in his ear. "Why should we believe a minor demon like you?"
He shuddered. "‘Cause I know who and what you are." He looked up at her. "I also know where your ex is, he's been giving us troubles."
Willow looked alarmed. "He's turned?" The demon shuddered forcefully then shook his head. "That good at least." She looked at Derek, who shrugged. "I want the spell. As specific as possible. What you don't remember, I want it described." She smiled when she heard the howl from downstairs. "Or I put you in with him."
He grabbed some paper and a pen, writing quickly. "I'll put the description stuff in brackets." He finished, handing it over.
Willow frowned at it. "How about legibly now." She handed it back, watching as he wrote it slower this time, taking up more room on the page. He handed it back to her and she read over it. "What about semantic and herb components?" He shook his head. "Used your powers, huh?" He nodded. "Okay, Buffy throw him in with Oz." She put it down. "I hate being lied to."
He wet himself, crying. "I don't remember any more," he wailed.
Derek frowned but handed him a clean sheet. "All you can remember, including your thoughts." He wrinkled his nose. "I should make you clean that up and remove this."
The minor demon shook his head. "I can't. It'd take someone much more powerful than me." He looked at Derek. "I wanted to know what you did to piss him off but he only said that you existed."
Buffy tapped him on the shoulder. "You smell much. Hurry up." He filled both sides of the paper, handing it over to Willow, who nodded. Buffy smiled, feeling nasty at the moment. "My turn to have fun now?"
The demon ran screaming from the room, leaving the house."
Derek looked at the chair in disgust. "I should buy a new one."
Nick shook his head. "Remember what the Luna Foundation lawyer said?" Derek swore softly but nodded. "How's that paperwork going?"
"Finished it yesterday." He shrugged. "I'm on retreat and disappeared. He was shocked to see me like this, to say the least, but he's going along with it." He sat down on the couch, still frowning at his chair. "I liked that chair."
Buffy raised a hand. "Some of us need a clue here please."
Nick smiled. "Someone found out that Derek, as everyone knew him, isn't here." He wrapped an arm around her neck. "They froze the funds until a new Director could be found." She nodded. "It's being set up that Derek is his beloved nephew, and I mean that in quotes, and Derek put him in charge before he left."
She nodded. "Okay, so, what about the rest?"
"When he's returned to his original age, then he'll magically reappear and the nephew can go back to being a slacker." He grinned. "We had to create whole new personalities and stuff for each of us in case we're questioned."
"Does that mean you're not Nick?"
He shook his head. "No, but on papers and stuff, Derek, Philip, and I have all disappeared on the way to a retreat. We're still us, well mostly, but we're not."
"So, in public I can't call you Nick?" He shook his head. "Then when can't I?"
"Only on paperwork. Then I'm Morgan Boyle, younger illegitimate brother of Nick." He pointed at Philip. "He's his own nephew and Derek's his own."
"Xander validates his story," Derek said. He smiled. "This means we'll have to enroll in school."
Buffy shook her head. "Then should we be quitting?"
Willow shook her head. "It's not even two months into the term." She looked at Derek. "Will we have to?"
"Not this semester." Nick looked her over. "We'll be listed as home taught for the rest of this semester. Next one, if we're still like this, you'll have to go part time." He frowned down at Buffy. "Speaking of which, how soon do you have to go back?"
Willow shrugged. "We're due to see the President in a few days. She understood about this." She got a horrified look. "What if she asks us to leave?"
Derek cleared his throat. "I wouldn't worry about it." He looked at Nick. "We've already worked some things out."
Nick grinned. "I don't think you'd mind taking a research semester or so."
She shook her head. "No, not at all. It's supposed to be very prestigious for grad school." She looked at Buffy. "But she's not in a research field, neither's Xander."
"All worked out," Nick said. "Your classes may be canceled this semester, we're still not sure about that part. You'll be expected to do a paper, sorta like a long research project, and turn it in for credit."
Willow nodded. "Okay, I can deal with that." She smiled sadly. "Want me to tell Oz?"
Nick shook his head. "I already talked about it with them. They wanted you to be told last, you were the most academically inclined among all of you."
Willow nodded. "Yeah, that makes sense." She looked up, her happy look. "What about Giles? He's British. Won't he have to have special papers?"
Derek shrugged. "We'll deal with it when we need to." He grinned. "He might have to really be home schooled." He looked at Philip. "Have you thought about the school issue?"
The former Priest nodded. "Yes, an' my calling. Both have been set up for me ta deal with."
"I can't believe you let the Arch-Bishop in on this," Nick said, shaking his head.
Philip smiled softly. "I had ta. Besides, we had ta talk about the haunting an' wha' happened." He stared out the window. "He recognized me right off, but he almos' passed out."
Nick grinned. "Seems reasonable. What did he say?"
"Tha' he wanted to know how we did it but tha' he would support the lie." He looked at his friend. "He understands more than ya know. Remember, tha' had been his parish."
Derek took Philip's hand. "Does that mean I can cuddle you openly now?" He grinned slightly. "You're not a priest anymore."
Philip shook his head, pulling his hand away. "No, no' yet. I'm still a priest, I can't do tha' an' not break my word." He got up, walking out. "I'm going ta bed," he said quietly.
Nick frowned, watching his back as he retreated. "Derek," he said, once they were alone, "you have to know how hard this is for him."
The former Precept nodded. "Yes, I do. I didn't mean to belittle his calling, it would just be nice to be able to openly love him for a while." He shook his head sadly. "The church isn't the only thing between us."
Willow smiled, patting his arm as she walked past him. "Talking's always good." She pulled Buffy from the room. "Come on, want to talk to you."
Nick watched Derek shift uncomfortably. "Want me to talk to him?"
"No, I'm sure it would embarrass him further." He turned to look out the window. "He's still scared about it falling apart if we acknowledge it, say the words." He looked briefly at Nick. "I would like to know why, but I don't understand and I never will probably."
Nick walked over to stand behind him. "Derek, you know how sensitive he is, and how much guilt he can store. If guilt were a power source, he could light the whole country for a century." Derek smiled at that. "He's conflicting between his calling and you and he feels like he's letting you down. He's going to have to face the fact that you're together and almost everybody he knows has figured it out."
"So, why won't he say the words."
"Because then you'll leave." He stepped closer. "He's just as insecure as I am. I just know that if I tell Buffy that I more than like her, she'll get scared and leave or the fates will decide to separate us. Things like that come to all of us, some of us are just strong enough to push them away."
Derek shook his head. "I'm not sure I'm strong enough to hold that back for him."
"Then be his support beam. You don't need to be the wall, just the thing he braces it against."
Derek leaned his head back, smiling at his colleague. "When did you get so smart?"
"When I fell in... like." He grinned. "Want me to take the chair far from here and let the butler know that he needs to clean that spot?"
Derek smiled gratefully. "Please." He stood up. "I can't believe she scared him that much."
"Hey, my Buffy's a pretty scary lady."
Derek shook his head. "Not her, Willow." He smiled gently. "If we weren't taken, I'd make a play." Nick raised an eyebrow. "Another one," he admitted.
Nick smiled. "Just don't upset Oz. It's always the quiet ones that kill." He walked out, humming the love theme to the movie he and Buffy had watched together earlier.
Derek just shook his head and went up to his room. Maybe he would talk with Philip tonight instead of letting the teen out.
Xander grunted as Derek sat down across from him, his mouth full of milk. When he was finally done and the glass was down, he looked at the still younger man. "Having trouble keeping it under control?"
Derek nodded. "It's like this constant little voice in the back of my head that whispers to me about doing things."
Xander nodded. "Know that feeling. You just need to learn how and when to control it or let it out." He checked his watch. "Speaking of which, I'm going out tonight."
"May I come with you?"
"No." He picked up his bagel, taking a bite. "You're underage."
"So are you."
"Eighteen if I don't drink, which I don't." He looked at Derek, seeing him frown. "Go where Oz plays. It's a teen place."
Derek nodded. "I could but I don't want to interrupt his thing, as he calls it." He looked around. "I don't need the teen scene, it's not what I want."
Xander put down his food, thinking about it. "The last time you were this age was when? The sixties?"
Derek nodded. "Nineteen sixty nine. A great year except for the death of my father." He shuddered. "I don't even want to know what he would think about this."
Nick walked in, patting the top of Derek's head. "We could always summon him up and ask him." He sat down next to his brother. "You going out tonight?" Xander nodded. "Okay, I just wanted to make sure. You've been pacing a lot recently." He handed over his pager. "In case."
Xander looked down at it. "Who's is it?"
"Mine. If we need you, we'll call and you'll call us back." He stood up. "I'm going for a swim now that I don't have to fight you for space." He walked out, turning at the door. "If you see Buffy, tell her dinner's out since you're going out. We'll have to eat here."
Xander shook his head. "I can wait if you guys want to have some special time." Nick shook his head, walking out. "Okay, just tell me," he yelled.
Willow looked around the outside door's edge. "Shh, some of us have headaches." She closed the door again, going back to watching the mists with Oz.
Derek looked over his shoulder at them. "Aren't they cozy."
"Yes, and they'd better stay that way." He stood up. "I'm going to go do reports on that last case. Eat something." He set his dishes in the sink, walking out of the room.
Derek waited until he was alone to add his comment. "They will, until I'm ready for them not to be." He picked up fork, eating the pancakes the butler had made for them.
Buffy walked into the control room, picnic basket behind her back. "Working lots or hiding?" she asked as she stepped up behind him.
"Both." He turned his head to look at her. "Uh-oh. You have that look."
She placed the basket beside him, smiling. "I want to have a picnic. Think you can pull yourself away?" He looked down then shook his head. "Okay, well how about in here? Then you could answer the all important page." She stepped back, looking at the clear floor. "Or we could wait."
He put the basket on the floor. "Let me initialize the system while you set it out." He typed quickly, much faster than he'd been when she walked in.
Buffy laid out the blanket, kneeling on it as she set out the Chinese food she'd gotten them. She squeaked as a pair of arms surrounded her waist, her concentration on making it just right not allowing her to notice her stealthy boyfriend sneaking up behind her. "You like doing that, don't you?"
He nodded. "Of course. I like hearing that squeak." He sat behind her, picking up a bite of food. "Want me to feed you?"
"Awwww, isn't that romantic," William said from the screen.
Buffy resisted the urge to flip him off. "Was until you called." She looked over her shoulder at Nick, who got up while she picked up the impromptu meal.
The former Seal frowned as he slid into his seat. "Better be good, Sloan."
William smiled. "Well, I think we may have found a counter spell. Would that count?"
Buffy nodded, standing up. "Definitely. I might not even get pissed for ruining my dinner plans."
William looked over her very modest outfit. "Plans? Looked like a snack in the control room. You should get him to take you out to a real restaurant."
Nick shook his head. "I'm not ready for the formal stuff yet."
William nodded. "I can understand that. At your age neither was I." He smiled as Willow walked in, answering Nick's page. "Hello, madam Precept."
She frowned at him, knowing what Buffy had planned to happen. "Interrupting our free time?"
"Progress check and something else."
She smiled, sitting down next to Nick. "Arkadi? He's in the hospital for something." She shrugged. "I asked Rachel to look into it, but she hasn't gotten back to us yet."
William nodded. "Yes, I know. She called me today, wondering why you had called her instead of Derek." He frowned. "Seems nobody told her."
Buffy shook her head. "I was afraid to, I didn't want her to start to overreact again." She looked down at Nick. "She was most hostile when she noticed I was watching him work out one morning."
William sighed. "She's never made her affections private Buffy. She's always liked him." He smiled as Derek and Philip walked in. "Ah, the reason for the good news. Where's Giles?"
"Deep in research for a counter," Derek said. "Did you find something or is this a social call?"
"Both. I wanted to check on you and tell you I'm sending a book that may have a counter spell." He glanced at Willow. "It might not work, the demon's spell was very specific. It's an aging spell, but you may be able to reword it or something." He looked over the camera, smiling. "Oh, Derek, Patricia's not mad at you." They heard a snort in the background. "Well, not anymore at least. She likes it that I'm home more now."
"We told you it wasn't us," Derek said.
"And Rupert said it wasn't him, so who's lying? Hmm?" He smiled at Philip. "How's the contingency plan going?"
"Fine. We've all got our licenses again." He shuddered. "I'd forgotten how bad tha' thing was."
Nick smiled. "I did okay."
"Except for your speeding," Buffy pointed out. She looked at William. "The instructor thought he had a death wish for him."
William shook his head. "He's always driven like that." He looked down at the bottom of the screen. "I'm sending the book in a few minutes, so it should get to you tomorrow night." He looked around. "Xander?"
"Letting the animal out," everyone said at once, then cracking up laughing.
William frowned. "Can we do something about that?" He looked at Willow. "What is it anyway?"
"Contamination," Willow said. Philip said it was like the hyena and the soldier guy filled parts of him in that weren't filled before." She shrugged. "Not a clue, he tried an exorcism."
Philip nodded. "It's a remnan', I can't remove it." He sat down, calling up a file. "I'm sending it to ya now."
William grunted as his new email message warning beeped. "Thank you. I'll read it tonight and get back to you." He looked around. "Buffy, Willow, out please." Both women left the original members there. "He could be dangerous."
"No' even," Philip said. "Tha's why he lets it ou'." He shuddered. "I caugh' him pacing the other day, it was scary."
"No," Nick said, "scary was seeing him in the woods when he had merged it pretty fully. We ended up tranqing him but he still got away, hiding in this little hole in a cliff face."
William smiled. "You don't worry about him at all do you?"
Nick shook his head. "Not as much as I did when he first got here." He blinked then closed his mouth for a second. "He still won't fire though."
"How long did it take you?"
"Almost a month, my DI made me." He shuddered. "That first one was the hardest thing I've ever done."
William nodded. "As was mine and Derek's. We both broke down afterward, not able to deal with the stress." He looked down then frowned at what he was reading. "He's still having nightmares about it?" He looked up, back at Nick. "I thought Oz had cured that."
"He's having nightmares but he doesn't remember them," Nick clarified. "And I still have them too from my first one, even though I dealt with it." He shrugged. "I'm guessing his was worse, Giles was almost his best friend and mentor."
William nodded. "I can see how that would affect him more." He smiled. "How's he combating them?"
"Oz rolls around on his velvet throw," Derek said. "Scents it for him. That alone is usually enough, but he's coming up on an anniversary of sorts."
"Four months, a change of seasons." William hit a few keys. "Okay, I'll read it later. I wanted to discuss something else with you. Your house, it's full of people that are very specialized. You don't have any general people right now."
Nick shook his head. "Xander, Oz, and Buffy are all general. I am too but I have a few added duties."
"Not really. Oz is listed as having some counseling and hacker abilities. Buffy's calling makes her special, and Xander is a general, you're right, but it'd be changed as soon as they found out about the animal." He leaned back, rubbing over his forehead. "Someone in another house brought up the fact that your house shouldn't have complete and total access to them, they felt neglected. A few of the other houses have petitioned for them to take on specialized assignments."
Derek shook his head. "Associate members aren't farmed out like that."
"I know but we're setting up the new houses in Sydney and Montreal. I don't have to tell you what sort of boon they would be."
Derek frowned. "Giles could go, he's almost redundant. We need Buffy here."
"If you send Willow, you'd have to send Oz," Nick pointed out. "They don't deal with separation real well."
Philip shook his head. "True love ne'er ends right." He looked up at the screen. "I could go for shor' stuff."
William shook his head. "I don't want you to leave San Francisco, Philip. Your house has more books than anyplace else, making it the perfect place for you. I could send Derek and Nick though." Nick shook his head. "I know, if I send you, then I'd have to send Buffy, right?"
"I've taken over her training. Nobody else here has the skills I do."
William shook his head. "I'm sure Rupert did well enough before this."
Derek shook his head. "She had no basic skills, just the advanced. He's taught her almost everything he knows." He grinned. "Except sensible looking shoes."
Nick shook his head. "I don't do fashion, that's her job. We fit well because we don't overlap much." He grinned. "I teach her and she learns but other than that, no overlapping skills."
Derek shook his head. "You've got it bad my friend. Be very careful with her. Her last long term boyfriend was a vampire."
"I'm sure the council was thrilled," William said. He smiled. "Mr. Boyle, relax. I know how important you are to each other. This is a well documented phenomenon." He tapped the camera over, letting him see the case behind him. "That red book is full of them." He tapped it back. "I can send it also if you'd like."
Nick shook his head. "I'm waiting for it to play out." He shuddered. "I can't even think about that subject right now, excuse me." He got up, walking out of the control room.
Derek looked at his old friend. "He's still very sensitive about this. He fought it from almost the first week." He shook his head. "Think about your first year with Patricia."
"Derek, I thought we agreed to leave blackmail out of our relationship." He frowned, tapping his desk. "I'll have to give in to Montreal soon. They'll need Nick for almost a month to help set up things."
Derek shuddered. "I don't even want to think about that long with her moping." He looked over his shoulder as the holographic door opened. "Buffy, Nick's due for an away assignment, will you be able to cope?"
She bit her lip, taking the seat he'd just vacated. "Not really. Who'll train with me?"
William shrugged. "Can't you do it yourself?"
"It's hard to spar by yourself." She frowned at him. "You'd do this just as I'm feeling comfortable, wouldn't you." She stood up. "If he has to go, can I? I'm sure some vampires live there too."
William shook his head. "This is about two houses that are restarting after having to be cleaned of rogue members dear. They don't need a general researcher yet. They need a security person and someone of Giles' skills possibly. Maybe even Derek's, although I'm hesitant to send him with the age problem."
She nodded. "If it's best, I'll deal." She walked out, head hanging, watching her feet as she went to think.
William sighed. "I hope my daughters don't have this problem. I never want to see that look on their faces." He looked at Philip. "I hate to do this. You're going to have to go to one if Giles is going to continue training her."
"He can't," Philip said. "He's no' strong enough."
William shook his head. "This is a mess. Are you sure Arkadi didn't do it?"
Derek nodded. "Unfortunately, yes, I am." He stretched then sat down. "He's in for major surgery of some sort, but until Rachel get's back to us, we can't be sure why." He locked the door temporarily. "William, I'm concerned. What if it doesn't work?"
"Then you get to re-earn your Ph.D. and Philip has to decide some things." He relaxed. "Derek, if you think about this, you're being given a chance most people would kill for. You're being given a chance to relive your life, making all those mistakes you had before disappear." He smiled slightly. "Most of us wish we had the chance."
"I miss having peers," Philip said. "People that un'erstood me and who I was." He looked over at Derek. "Nice as thi' is, it's hard to be yourself."
"Then don't be." William shrugged. "Philip, you're being given a chance to change your past, to learn from your prior mistakes. If a few years you could go back to your calling if you want, or you could go for a Ph.D. and teach languages. Nobody in the Legacy will tell you what to do with your life."
Derek unlocked the door, knowing Philip wanted to go think. "We know," he said, watching his lover leave, "but he's confused. We both are." He looked up at William. "You look so old now, but I know we're the same age. You used to be my peer and now you're just my boss." He shrugged. "It's a difficult adjustment."
"You could always call Rachel in to talk."
"No, I don't think she'd understand. Nobody would that hasn't been through it." He shook his head. "She'd just see it as a chance to relive life too." He severed the connection, leaning back in the chair. "I liked my life, I want it back." He sighed, standing up, and went back to what he had been doing, his homework.
Oz sat on the edge of the room, watching his friend let himself be free on the dance floor. Xander was relishing his freedom, teasing a few of the men around him with his movements. Fortunately, he wasn't aware he was there. He'd be less free if he knew he was being watched. He looked over as the waiter, nodding as his drink was put in front of him.
"He's untouchable," the man said, leaning closer. "He's not a tease but we all figure he's closeted so comes to let it out." He stepped back to a normal distance. "We all pretty well don't bother people like that."
Oz nodded. "I know him. We work together." He looked over at the waiter. "You're right though, he is closeted. This is his free place."
The other man smiled. "I'll tell the bartender he won his bet." He patted Oz's shoulder and walked away.
The young man watched his friend some more, noticing how his body moved with the bass beat, how the hard music seemed to flow around him now. Xander had never been like that. He'd never *lived* in the music before. Oz sipped his soda, earning a new appreciation for his friend and his condition.
Xander's eyes met his and he walked over, striding like the predator he was at the moment. "Relaxing?"
"No, trying to learn something new." He pushed the other chair out. "Sit, talk. Be free with me."
Xander looked around as he sat down. "Why come here?"
"‘Cause I wanted to know." Xander gave him an appraising look. "I needed to know how you dealt, okay?"
The younger man nodded, smiling up as the waiter put his usual juice in front of him. He waited until they were alone again. "You look distressed."
"I never knew you were into music like that."
"Yeah, mostly. I'm not a real big fan at home but I'm kinda into it when I dance."
"You were teasing, not dancing."
"No," Xander corrected, "I was being free from the other me." He sipped his juice. "Come dance with me?"
"I'm not that passionate."
"I'm sure you are, you just control it too tightly." He laid a hand over his. "I promise to turn into regular Xander if you want."
Oz snorted. "He doesn't dance like that." He looked into his friend's eyes, caught in their magnetism. "Ready to go or should I go sit in the car so you're not self conscious?"
"I won't be."
"You are, otherwise you would have waited out the song." He stood up. "I'll go wait in the car." He pulled out the set of keys the younger man had given him for emergencies. "Thanks for letting me know," he said quietly.
Xander stopped him, pulling him back around. "One dance." Oz nodded eventually so they headed back out to the floor. The younger man was awkward at first then his urges took back over, overriding his usual unease when someone he knew saw him dancing. His body talked to Oz's, letting him know he could be free too.
The older man let go of his control, letting it out now. He let all the passion he usually poured into his music come out now, his body conversing with the one next to him. They talked silently through three songs then the band took a break, letting the magic of the music release them gradually.
Oz shook his head, sweat flinging off in all directions. "Want to stay or go?"
Xander looked down at his watch. "We should go, the last ferry's in an hour or so." He dropped an arm around the older man's neck. "Told you it would happen."
Oz shook his head. "No, you made it happen." He stopped Xander once they were outside, looking down at him. "No jacket?"
"Car. Get's too hot in there to wear one and I'm afraid I'll leave it." He walked them around the end of the block, entering the guarded parking lot. "Hi," he said to the guard as he passed. Xander unlocked the doors, letting Oz get in first. Once they were sitting there in the silence, he couldn't help it. "Why come look me up tonight Oz?"
"‘Cause I wanted to know," he said quietly. He turned to look at his friend. "We're good together as friends, and as partners while working." He cleared his throat, turning back around. "I'm just wondering who you become. I don't like not knowing people, real people."
"You know who I am better than anybody," Xander said quietly. "You saw the scared kid I am the first day." He turned the older man's head around, making him look at him. "You've always known. Something in you has always recognized the beast in me. You were the one that's always been there when I really needed it."
"No, even after I kissed her, you and I were friends. We were more cautious but we were friends once you relaxed and forgave me." He grinned. "How long have you known?"
"What, about the beast? Since that first night as a werewolf. I recognized something in you that next morning." He turned his head, looking back at him. "I'm not as serene as everybody likes to think. I'm just as screwed up as you are, just for different reasons."
"Then tell her, or tell me. We'd both help you deal." He ran a soft finger over the sweaty cheek. "You need a shower."
"We, Xander, we." He ran his fingers through the sweaty hair. "Let's head back. We don't have to go home, we could sit by the beach and talk." He waited, not wanting to sound anxious or beg.
"Sounds good to me." He started the sports car, pulling out and down the street. "We can even talk on the ferry if you want."
Oz shook his head. "Too many people. I'm feeling closed in again."
Xander looked up at the moon. "Not time for that yet."
Oz grinned, just slightly. "Different reason." He ran a hand down the younger man's arm. "Xander, you know what I'm feeling, right?" The younger man nodded. "So, how did you cure it?"
"I figured out what was making me feel disconnected." He grinned, turning his head at the stop light. "You helped with that if you remember."
Oz nodded, leaning back and getting comfortable. "Yeah, I do." He closed his eyes. "Tell me when we get there."
"Anything, you know that," Xander said quietly, pulling up onto the ferry's dock to wait.
Nick looked down at his watch as the two young men walked in. "How'd you get back?"
"We were talking," Xander said. "He met me at the club and we talked about the vibes." He started up the stairs. "Anything happen?" He pulled off the pager, tossing it to his brother. "You've got that disaster's coming look."
Nick shook his head. "William thinks he's found something that might be a counter spell and it looks like I'm going for an assignment soon." He leaned against the banister. "They're reopening the Montreal and Sydney houses."
Xander sat down beside where he was standing. "So you have to go set up the security protocols?" Nick nodded. "Am I in charge in your absence then?"
"Only if you can prove to me that you can handle it." He sat down beside him. "You're going to have to face the gun again."
Xander shook his head. "I can't."
"You'll have to. I can't leave if you can't shoot. Derek's not in any position to do it. Philip can't. I can't imagine the girls or Oz being able to do it." He wrapped an arm around the younger man's shoulder. "It's the first one that's the hardest. The first time at a target, the first time through the course, the first time you have to face somebody down with it." He squeezed gently. "But you have to have those firsts sometime."
"I know, but I don't ever want to have them." He shook off the arm, getting up. "‘Night."
Nick turned to watch him go, wondering how to face this problem and have him come out the other side still normal. When he was totally alone again, he got up to relock the door, making his nightly rounds before going to bed.
Oz looked up as Nick walked into his room. "Wrong room?"
"No," he said, closing the door, "I needed to talk to you." He pulled the comfortable chair Oz had bought over to the bed, putting his feet up on the springy mattress as he relaxed. "I'm going to be gone for almost a month," he said quietly. "She's going to be horribly upset and Xander's still got to face that last test."
Oz nodded, leaning forward to adjust the pillows behind him. "I can help him but Willow's a better person to ask about the first. They're best friends."
Nick nodded. "I know but she's going to need someone to spar with and stuff too."
"Xander, lives across the hall, tall, kinda skinny," the younger man suggested, making Nick smile.
"She won't. She's still dealing with the assault after the shooting." He shifted some, scratching his back on the cushion. "Derek might be able to but if he shows up bruised someone will start asking awkward questions."
Oz popped his neck, making the older man wince. "I can try but I can't guarantee. She's well out of my weight and skill class. I only know how to street brawl."
Nick sighed. "That's what I expected. That only really leaves the option of putting her into classes while I'm gone. I'm going to end up in Sydney too probably. I have the highest security clearance of any of the other security chiefs." He rubbed over his forehead. "I'm outta options then."
"She could work out alone. She's got to go out on patrol again soon, that should keep her in shape too." He thought for a second. "What do you want to do? This is your decision here."
"I want her to have someone that can spar with her, help her in the gym, keep her practicing her other skills." He shook his head. "But nobody around here's like that."
"Send her to William. London's a hotbed of activity for vamps, she'd do fine." Nick shook his head. "No?"
"No. I don't want her running around London alone."
"Then send her out with the new guy but I really don't think she'd be going out alone. William wouldn't let her."
Nick smiled. "Yeah, he'd be out there beside her and none of us want to see him have another heart attack." He shook his head. "Not an option."
"Can she come with you?" Nick shook his head. "Is there another house she could go to?" Nick shook his head. "Because you're jealous or because there's no one else to help her?"
Nick shook his head. "I'm not sure." He stretched up, letting his back pop. "Want to help me get him onto the firing range?"
"He's suppressed those memories," Oz warned. "They've taken a back seat to the animal."
Nick nodded. "But Alex knows hypnosis." He stood up, putting the chair back where it belonged. "I can ask her to help him bring him back out."
"Dangerous. She might bring the hyena out farther too." Nick nodded. "Just so long as you realize."
Nick opened the door, standing in the opening. "More than you know." He closed it softly behind him.
Oz looked back down at his history book, almost frowning at it. "I've got a bad feeling about this," he muttered.
Xander sighed as Alex tried to put him under again. "It's not working, Alex. We should give it up as a lost cause." He tracked Oz as he walked in. "Oz, man, a little support here?"
The older man walked up behind him, kneeling behind the younger man's head. "Xander," he said softly. "I want you to concentrate on my voice and on Alex's. You trust me, so relax and let it go." He stroked over the wrinkled temple. "I'm staying while she does it, you can let it go now."
Alex smiled briefly at him. "Xander, I want you to relax and look into the crystal mobile," she started it swinging again. "Watch the lights be created and destroyed," she said gently.
Oz moved to sit beside his head, taking one of the hands in his. "Watch the lights progress and shift," he whispered directly into an ear. "Join them in the dance, hear the music's light."
Alex paused then looked at him questioningly but Oz shook his head. "He's under," he whispered. "Listen to Alex, Xander," Oz told the younger man, "let her guide you now."
"Xander," Alex said softly, "I want you to think about a gun." The younger man shifted. "No, it's okay, it can't hurt you. I want you to imagine it changing into something harmless like an eclair. Can you see it change?" He nodded. "Good," she smiled. "Now, I want you to associate those two things from now on. You can't fear a gun because it's a sugary treat with chocolate."
Oz shook his head. "As long as you're holding it, it won't hurt you," he looked at Alex. "Do you hear?"
Xander nodded. "Good guns are eclairs and I have them. Bad guns are bad and I don't have them," he said softly, sounding very much like a child at the moment. "Can I have one then?"
"Sure," Alex said. "But you're going to have to talk to the soldier guy to show you how to use it." He nodded. "Can I talk to him?"
Xander's eyes opened and he looked at her. "Ma'am?"
"Hi." She smiled briefly. "Do you know where you are?"
"In his body?" The voice was just a little deeper, just a little tougher than normal. "What did you want him to do?"
"I need him to not be afraid of the guns again." He nodded. "But only you can show him how." He smiled. "Can I trust you to integrate with him?"
"Yes, ma'am," he said, saluting quickly. He looked over at Oz. "Soldiers don't do that."
Oz pulled back his hand. "But the body you're in does." He saw the little frown. "Just listen to his mind and you'll understand."
The deeper than normal eyes closed then popped open. "What's that thing still doing here?" His back arched up and when he stopped panting they could see the animal spirit in the younger man's eyes.
"Xander," Oz said. The younger man looked him over then dismissed him so he called up as much of the wolfishness as he could, letting it show now. "Harris," he said again.
Xander looked back over the man beside him, licking his lips. "Why have you called me up?"
"We didn't," Alex said quickly. "We needed to talk to the other guy." She looked at Oz, who seemed to have all the answers.
"We need you both to integrate with him. He needs you to become part of him." The predator snarled but laid his head back down. "Just relax and let it happen." He paused. "Xander," he said softly, calling the younger man forward again. "Come on, you've got to come back now."
Alex stopped the mobile, the crystals clinking together at the sudden stop. She stepped back, clapping her hands loudly. "Xander," she yelled.
Oz moved back some. "Xander," he said softly, adding it to her call.
The younger man blinked then looked at them in horror. "What did you do?" He got up, running down to the basement.
Oz looked at her. "Told you it was a bad idea." He got up, heading out after him.
"I didn't know he was that close to the surface," she said softly. She walked out of the room, going to find Nick. He had to be told.
Derek looked up at the screen, frowning at William. "I don't think that's wise." Philip nodded from beside him.
Alex rushed in, holding her chest and panting. "I screwed it up," she said in between breaths. "He's heading for the cage."
"I'll call Rachel; Philip, go see if you can help him," Derek said.
Philip shook his head. "Won' help him. It's no' a possession. I can' drive it ou'." He looked at Alex. "What did ya say?"
"I was trying to get the soldier to help him get over the gun problem," she frowned. "He noticed the hyena first, and they switched. We brought Xander back up but he's only partially in control."
William frowned down from the screen. "You *hypnotized* him," he said slowly, frowning at her. "Why would you do something so stupid?" He braced his head on his arms, waiting for a reasonable excuse.
"Because Nick asked me to help him reestablish favorable connections with weapons." William shook his head. "He's the only one here qualified right now to deal with security when Nick's gone."
Derek shook his head. "Oh, Alex," he said sadly. "I was going to do that." He looked up at the screen. "I don't think Rachel could help him."
William shook his head. "Me either." He looked around, still frowning. "I'll be out soon, keep him sedated or caged until I can get there." He took one last look at her. "What did Rachel say about this?"
"She was for it," Derek said softly. "Nick asked her this morning." He severed the connection, turning to look at her. "Where is he?"
"Caging himself," she said quietly. "Oz followed him to make sure." She sat down on the stairs. "Rachel said I would be able to do it."
Philip shook his head. "It was too close ta the surface." He looked at Derek. "Was it abou' time for him ta go ou'?"
The former Precept nodded. "Definitely. He had planned to go out tonight." He stood up. "Go find Nick, Alex, I think he's in his room." He walked out, Philip following him. "We'll see what we can't do for him."
Buffy sat down in front of the cage Oz usually inhabited. "Hey, remember me?" She pushed over a plate of food, rare steak. "Supper?"
Xander nodded, picking at the pieces. "I know you," he said. "I'm fighting him, trying to rebuild his enclosure or integrate him." He looked up as his brother walked in. "Well, you got what you wanted, the soldier's back fully." He ate a piece of steak, frowning at it. "Who cooked it?"
Buffy smiled. "We couldn't let you eat raw cow." She moved back some, letting Nick move closer. "You want to be alone?"
The beast shook his head, eating another piece of meat and looking up at the man in front of him. "What?" he snarled, lunging quickly.
Nick stepped back in time, prying Xander's hands from his shirt instead of his neck. "I'm sorry, Xander, I didn't know this would happen." He looked at his girlfriend, he guessed anyway, silently asking to be left alone. He watched her walk out then turned his attention back to the caged man in front of him. "Xander."
"Not here." He moved back to a corner of the cage, using a foot to move the plate back. "Go away."
Nick shook his head, taking up Buffy's position. "I can't. You're my family." He watched him nibble in the shadows, now knowing what else to do.
Rachel knelt in front of the cage, behind the chalked line Nick and Buffy had put down. "Hi, Xander," she said softly. "Would you like to come out and talk?"
He snarled at her, lunging.
She screamed, falling backwards. She kicked the hold he had on her leg off, backing up to a safe distance to gather herself. "Xander," she said once she had calmed down. "I need to speak to the boy."
The predator smiled. "We're all one now." He looked up, sniffing as someone else walked in. "Go away," he said quietly, stalking closer to the bars.
She stood up, backing away. "All right, I can do that." She picked up her bag, running back up the stairs.
Oz stepped out of the shadows. "That was mean man." He sat down on the chalked line. "Hungry?" The younger man shook his head, pacing in the small enclosure. "Want me to go?"
"No, you're a pack member, you understand." He stopped in front of his friend, rattling the door. "I want *out*."
Oz nodded. "I know, but it's not safe." He stood up, walking closer slowly. "I can't do it man, they won't let me." The predator hit the bars then started pacing again. "Can I talk to him? You look like you could use a nap." He sat down before the bars again, resting his feet against them.
Xander knelt in front of him, resting his head against the cool metal bars. "Oz, man, stop me," he said quietly, coming back to himself. "I can't do this."
The older man reached through the bars, petting the greasy hair. "I know it's hard, but you did it before." He pulled lightly on a piece. "Want to shower? I can rig up a hose and a curtain."
Xander nodded. "Please. I think they'd both like that."
Oz leaned closer, talking quietly. "You've got to merge them again, take control over them. You can hear them, know what they do, but you can't let them have total control." He backed up, standing. "What should I bring you for clothes?"
"Fuzzy and tight. I'll end up naked otherwise." He looked up at his friend. "Come back?"
Oz nodded. "Of course I will Xan, you know I'm not abandoning you." He reached through, patting the confused head again then walked away. "I'll be back soon," he called over his shoulder. He met Derek on the stairs. "He's fighting but it's getting harder," he said quietly. "I'm going to rig a shower for him."
The former Precept nodded. "Philip can help."
Oz shook his head. "He sees me as a member of his pack, he won't let him near the cage. He tried to attack Rachel when she was down there." He moved out of his way. "Just respect the chalk line. Willow and I have been the only ones to breach it." He continued on his quest.
Derek looked down, standing on the line. "Xander," he said quietly. The younger man looked up at him, the pain from fighting showing in the free tears. "We can sedate you," he said quietly.
"No," he said, backing up, "won't make them stop." He backed into the corner farthest away and the darkest. "I'll be weaker than them," he said quietly. "I'm working on it."
"I know," he said, sitting down on the floor. "But you have to know something. Oz's change will start in two days." He could hear the frightened breathing. "Only one of you can stay in there."
"I won't hurt him," Xander said quietly. "He's a member of the pack." His face changed, becoming the animal again. "It's not like he'd hurt me," he snarled, coming back out.
Derek didn't move, didn't change his stare. He wouldn't show the predator a weakness. "We can't be sure he won't hurt you." He cleared his throat. "Would you like more light?" He coughed at the dust in the air.
Xander shook his head. "Go away, Derek," he whispered. "Just leave me alone." He rushed at the bars, no longer able to contain the beast within.
Derek didn't move, just plucked the two fingers that managed to grab his pant's leg off. "I will. I'll make sure Oz comes back soon also." He stood up. "Anything you need?"
"The rest of my pack, I need them," he snarled, reaching again. "Want them now."
Derek nodded. "I'll try to get them down here." He walked away, forcing himself to turn his back on the caged man. "We'll talk again tomorrow." He didn't like the sound of the laugh that followed him up the stairs but he couldn't do anything about it.
TO BE CONTINUED.