Oz had had enough of the pouting so he was dragging his Sentinel into their teacher's apartment, frowning at both of them just sitting there, eating quietly with Giles. "We need to have a talk," he said, pushing Xander down between Giles and Blair on one of the couches. "Dingoes is again going on tour, and I told him but he didn't hear me. Now, he's pouting and won't even talk to me."
"Not talking leads to hospital stays," Jim told the younger Sentinel. "Really long ones usually."
Blair shook his head. "So, how long?"
"A month and a half." All the older people winced or hissed. "Yeah, so we have to deal here because we can't back out now."
"I'm not going," Xander said quietly. "And I told you that." He looked up at his friend. "Have fun and all, send me many postcards."
"Postcards don't remind you to eat," Blair reminded him. "Or sit behind you to look at your work. Or even talk to you." The younger man shrugged. "But you need him, Xander, he's your Guide."
"And I'm okay now. I haven't zoned in months." He looked at Giles. "I can come talk to you, right?"
"Well, for the most part, yes. I have a trip planned to go do some research at Stonehenge this summer." He cleared his throat. "I'll be gone a month or so."
Blair frowned. "Jim and I were invited down to the tribe for some advanced studies, all summer." He looked at his own Sentinel. "When are we leaving?"
"A week after graduation."
"Damn," Oz muttered. "Okay, we have to leave on the sixth of June. Giles?"
"Um, the week after that if I'm not mistaken." He finished the food on his plate, putting it on the side table, sinking into the modern-looking black sofa as he relaxed. "We'll just have to make do somehow. He is correct that his zones are getting less frequent though."
"See, I'll be *fine*, Oz, get over it." Xander stood up. "I'm going to go back to my work, later."
"Hey, want to come see some of it," Blair said, catching his wrist. He saw the wary look. "I figured some of it was about..." He got a small nod. "So, can I see?"
Xander nodded. "Sure, anytime. Most of it's up on the walls right now."
"Why don't we go do that then, let the organized, scheduling people figure things out for now." The younger man sighed, nodding. "Okay, let me get on some shoes." He got up, releasing Xander as he walked over to the door, sliding into them, walking out behind him.
Jim waited until he heard the car pull away before looking at the younger Guide. "Oz, didn't you tell him again?"
"It came out the same night that you came over to do the drying rack for us. He's refused to talk to me since then." He took Blair's place on the couch, wiggling as he sunk down into its cushy depths. "How do you nap on this thing?"
"Facing up," Jim said with a small smile. "So I don't suffocate. Has he said anything? Zoned or anything?" The younger man shook his head. "Then why think he won't be okay?"
"Jim, this is Xander we're talking about here. He who needed a teddy bear because he was feeling lonely when we were all living together." Giles nodded. "And his past may well come back to bite him now. He can't find the levers if I'm not there." Both men looked at him. "Hey, I don't know, ask the expert on hypnosis, but he can only find them when we're together." He shrugged. "So, how do we plan this summer?"
"Unless you kidnap him and his easel," Giles said, "I really don't see an option at all." He looked at Jim, who shrugged. "It's not like you can monitor him from that far away."
"What about your other roommate," Jim asked.
"He's the singer, man, he's got to go too."
"Damn," Jim sighed, leaning back in the chair. "We'll figure something out in this last month of school, Oz, don't worry about it too much."
Blair walked from one painting to the next, knowing the younger man was all but biting his nails on the couch. He moved to the wall that held the explicit and figurative works, smiling at the large canvas of him lying on his back, head tipped back, stroking himself. He moved to the next one, eyebrows raising as he saw the position he was in, shivering at the look on his face and in his eyes. He glanced at the others, not sure if he could take the intensity of passion in them right now, and walked over to a smaller one of him, a figure, dressed, smiling, hands in his pockets. He looked at the younger man then back at it. "When did you do this one?"
"Um, last month," Xander said, hopping up to walk over to him. "There's a few more like that somewhere." He turned slowly, pointing at the far wall of the former factory space. "Over there, with the portraits." He watched his mentor walk over, nervous enough to be hugging himself to stop from shaking.
Blair smiled at the three he was in, looking at the others. He touched one canvas, running his fingers down the faces on it. "Can I have this one?" he asked, turning to see the younger man right behind him. He pulled him around, hugging him tightly, comforting him. "They're all great," he said quietly. "And I'm shocked. Apparently I need a mirror on my ceiling, I never knew I gave lovers those looks." He looked up at the smile. "So very well done that I should take you out for ice cream before we go back to my place."
Xander stepped away from him. "I'll be fine, Blair, I really will. I may zone a few times but I'll deal." He looked at the portrait, taking it down and handing it to him. "I'll even go bug Simon every now and then so you'll be sure I'm fine, okay?"
Blair nodded slowly, taking the picture. "Sure, but what about when you're here alone?"
"I'll be fine," he said quietly, looking out the window. "You can have another one if you want."
Blair walked back to the one of him, walking toward a lover, lips parted in a sexy little smile, desire flowing from every inch of his body. "I want this one," he said, tapping the frame the board had been placed in. He felt the younger man walk up behind him, resting his head on his shoulder. "I want to hang it on my wall and proclaim to all that my student did this." He turned, kissing his forehead. "Okay?"
"Yup," Xander said with a small smile of satisfaction. "Just those two? I'm sure Oz'll thank you to take some more of them." He got a small chuckle. "He was giving the walls his 'we have too much art' look again."
Blair took that one and one of the more inflammatory ones off the wall, piling the framed works together. "Okay, but only this. Jim was giving my place the same look." He wrapped his free arm through Xander's walking him toward the elevator. "Did you guys get that thing fixed yet?"
"Yeah, needed some oil. The repairman came while Oz was at class and I let him wander around the room too. He got done really quickly." He grinned, looking down. "I'm guessing he was embarrassed by something."
"Gee, wouldn't be the orgy on the kitchen walls would it," Blair asked dryly.
"No, he was in front of the sex snapshot series." He waved at the wall between the windows and all the little boards. "Oz had me doing little ones to increase my ranges." He watched the older man walk over and one was taken off the wall to be looked at, his mouth hanging open. He looked back at him then back down, mouth still working. "It's my imagination," he called, laughing and smiling now.
Blair brought it back over. "Do I even want to know when you imagined this?" Xander shook his head. "Okay, good enough." He walked onto the elevator, closing the gate. "Now I know why your other roommate's so horny all the time. He's surrounded by erotic art that *has* to make you that way." Xander blushed. "You paint *this* and you blush?" he asked with a small smile.
Jim looked at the new paintings, zooming his sight on the smaller one, gasping. He looked at his Guide, who was calmly reading. "Chief, what's that?"
"His imagination," he said simply. "Has a whole series of stuff like that on one wall between the windows." He turned a page. "Not that I don't agree with the material, he just never asked me to do that for him."
Jim's eyes opened very wide as he sat down next to his Guide. "You didn't pose?" The younger man shook his head, staying silent. "Not at all?"
"Then how did he know what you'd look like?"
"His head saw it. Not that he's that far off, or at least I suppose he's not, never really looked in a mirror." He turned another page, glancing at his Sentinel. "Why, Jim? Have you seen me give someone that look?" The older man shook his head, staring at the new artwork, especially that little one.
Devon walked over to the windows, looking at the space of the missing painting. "Man, you let him take my fav." He looked at the artist, who was sitting on the couch, always a bad sign. "How could you let him take it?"
"Because it was about him."
"I thought you said you'd do one of me one of these days," the vampire said, walking over and moving his feet to sit under them, teasing his ankles with a cool finger. He looked back at the small paintings on the wall. "I want one up there. You have Cordy, you have what's-her-name, the demon chick you and the town screwed." That got a small frown. "I'm sorry man, but she was. Almost nightly at that. She had like three other guys and a woman besides you."
Xander nodded slowly. "I know. That's why I broke up with her hormonalness." He sipped the beer in his hands calmly. "Why do you want to be up on that wall, Dev? Just to say you're there?" The vampire shook his head. "Then why?"
"Because I like those. They're obviously special to you. No one ever touches them, not even Oz."
"He's just uptight about the material, but he does look at them. And I look at them. And Blair, he obviously loved his enough to take it home with him."
"He put it up where Jim could see it I bet too." He finished the can, setting it on the floor. "Dev, none of those people did those exact things. That was taking what happened and putting them into a fantasy and painting that."
"So, do that to me."
"I'd have to touch you to do that. I need to feel the body under my hands." He pointed at the wall. "The only two guys that have ever rested up there I've touched, learned their form the hard way. And it was a semi-serious thing between us. As were those women, with the exception of that one up in the corner."
"Who is she anyway?"
"She was a woman I met on my roadtrip after graduation." He shifted, getting comfortable. "We were together for all of six hours, but it was one of the most intense learning experiences in my life sexually. In that time, she taught me more about my own body than anyone before or since ever could. And I'm sure I had a small zone while she did it." He smiled, shaking his head. "You're not going up there anytime soon, Dev, get over me." He pulled his feet back, standing up. "I'm going to go shower."
"Where's Oz's?" Devon asked as the younger man was about to walk away, watching him tense and shake his head. "Oh, please. I know you did at least one of those and you touch him all the time."
"His was destroyed, Dev. I'm not ruining what we've worked so hard for over a fantasy." He finished heading for the bathroom, locking himself inside, closing his eyes as he leaned against the door. "Please don't let him go snooping for it," he whispered. "I'll get rid of it tomorrow when I take out the trash if you don't let him find it," he prayed.
Devon looked at the bathroom door and grimaced. "That man is too much." He got up, going right for it the painting under his and Oz's bed, looking at it. He smiled as he slid it back where his best friend had put it, sure the guitarist wasn't going to mind him peeking. He snuck back to the couch, laying down to conserve energy until Oz got back with some supplies for him.
Xander woke out of his zone, shaking his head at his room. "How did I get here?" he whispered. He looked down at his bed, gasping at the body on it.
The painted body.
The naked painted body.
Of his roommate.
Who would kill him for this.
He shook his head, sliding off the bed, putting down his brush, jumping as Devon walked in. Out," he whispered, "let me clean this up."
The lead singer shook his head, tapping the camera against his thigh. He picked the artist up, walking him out to the couch and sat him down, heading back to the curtained off room, pulling the heavy tapestry curtain to keep him out, and took the first picture.
Oz woke up at the strange noise, turning his head to frown at his roommate/lead signer. "You'd better have a good..." He stopped as he caught sight of his shoulder. "He painted me?"
"Shhh, just let me finish this, man, and then you can go wash it off or yell or whatever." He finished the roll of film, looking down at the jungle scene across his friend's back. "He was in that zone thingy you told me about when I got home. And I had brought him the instant camera," he wiggled it in the air, "so he could have some pictures of you to stare at, or the others, when he needed." He helped his friend up, trying to keep from spreading the paint around. "You're a good canvas," he said, leading him to the floor to ceiling mirror in Xander's art space, turning him around so he could see his back.
Oz's mouth fell open. "I'm art." He looked at the vampire in shock. "How did he do this?"
"Don't know, man, wasn't here. I'll try to be here most of tonight in case though." He led him out to where Xander was laying on the couch, trying to suffocate himself with the couch cushions.
Oz leaned down, taking it and tossing it at the drum kit. "Do you know why you did it?" The younger man shook his head. "Okay, we'll get the pictures developed and take them to Blair." The younger man shook his head again. "Don't argue," he said quietly. He looked over his shoulder. "I hope these are acrylics." Xander nodded. "That's good at least. We'll be talking." He walked into the bathroom, stiffly so he didn't brush against anything so the paint wouldn't migrate to the walls, and shut the door behind him.
"Whoa, dude," Devon said, smiling down at him. "Great composition." He snatched the camera away from his grabbing fingers. "Don't even. You need to figure this out before its oil paints. I really don't want to have to smell a turpentiny Oz for a week." He stood back up, heading to Oz's bedroom. "Oh, and you need to clean your sheets man, they're a wreck."
Xander pulled the throw off the back of the couch, covering his head with it in shame.
Blair looked at the pictures, then back up at the younger Guide. "Gee, Jim used to just buy me hair jewelry." He tossed the pictures back down. "Was it acrylic?" The younger man nodded slowly, getting comfortable. "So, why did he do it?"
"Don't know, asked him but he didn't know either." He frowned at Jim as he walked in carrying cups of coffee to hand over. "Jim, when you decorated Blair, what was it?"
The Sentinel choked. "What?" He was handed the pictures from his Guide, looking through them quickly. "Oh, that. Um, it was something I had to figure out about our relationship and why I was hesitating." He handed them back. "Don't know why he'd do it though. He already knows what I had to figure out."
Blair coughed lightly. "He was zoned."
Jim nodded. "So was I when I bought them if you remember. It was some sort of marking you as mine thing really if you boil it down."
"You wanted to mark me as your Guide, so you bought me things to wear," Blair said slowly, turning back to his student. "And he still smiles when I wear them, eases up on the overprotective bit. So, this probably has something to do with the upcoming tour."
Oz shuddered. "Why can't he just come along?"
"Why should he," Blair asked quietly. "This is *your* thing and he feels like he'd be Gulliver in Lilliput." The younger man just looked at him. "It will work itself out, you'll just have to talk to him about it; either convince him to come or live with being painted until he gets it out of his system." He shrugged. "This is something only you two can deal with. If we get in the middle, it'll just make it worse."
Oz nodded. "Thanks man. I've got to go meet him for lunch." He stood up, walking out of the office.
"Jungle scenes were telling," Jim said.
"True, and so was the animal," he handed that picture back over, pointing it out. "That's Darrien."
Jim shook his head. "Looks like they're going to get visitors soon." He looked closer at the animal. "What is that?"
"Not a clue, man, not a single clue."
Oz sat down beside his roommate, taking the fry from his fingers and eating it for him. "Cold, want to get them heated?" The younger man shook his head. "So, why are you insecure?"
Xander looked up, frowning. "I'm not." He sipped his soda. "Not really."
"Yeah, you are. And this only started when we started making heavy plans about the tour." He took the soda, sipping it too. "Offer still stands to let you come with us. We can mail the books and boards home when they're done. The guys all said Devon's more focused when you're there." The younger man shuddered. "Not a happy thought? Thought you liked him."
"Do. He wants up on the wall of little pictures though." He looked around. "If he wasn't what he was, I'd jump at the chance, Oz, really, but I don't like the cold."
The slightly older man sighed. "I understand that. Really do." He looked down at his hands. "So, why decorate me?" He looked up, seeing his roommate staring off into space. He nudged his hand, then stood up, hitting him across the back of the head, smiling at the woman sitting in the booth behind them. "He's focusing too hard on his thoughts," he explained, not even knowing why.
She tossed a napkin at the back of the dark haired one's head. "Just so long as he doesn't toss food at me again, we're fine," she said, going back to her work, writing quickly in her notebook.
Oz shook his head, leaning heavily on his friend's shoulder as he leaned next to his ear. "Don't zone, man, I can't explain it away." The younger man shifted away from him. "Oh, no you don't," he whispered, "listen and hear me man, come back to the here and now."
Xander blinked, looking up at his friend. "What?"
The slightly older man sat back down. "You were zoned," he hissed. "Now, tell me why you painted me."
"I don't know," Xander said, getting up and gathering his things. "Later." He walked out of the Student Union's door.
The girl in the next booth looked up. "You know, you scare him. Really horribly scare him." She went back to her writing.
Oz walked out of the Student Union, muttering about Spirit Guides and their human forms.
Xander blinked, looking down at the man on his bed, again. He shook his head, grabbing his clothes on the way to the elevator, getting dressed once he was on his way out the door. He headed for the nearest park, going to go wander through it, watch the sun come up, and maybe, if he was lucky, somebody would mug him and he'd die horribly.
Before Oz killed him.
Oz woke when the elevator started, looking around the room he had woken up in for the last few weeks, almost nightly, and sighed as he carefully got out of bed. He walked over to the mirror, turning to look at his back, shivering at the graphic images of the aftermath of a fight on his back.
He looked up as the elevator started again, admitting Devon to their loft. "Hey, get the camera. It's getting worse." A pointed look was given to his front so he looked down, wincing at the paint on his cock. "Much worse," he muttered, turning to look at the monster in the mirror. "Damn, we've got to talk about this, Xander," he whispered. He looked up to see the camera floating in the mirror so turned and walked over to where the vampire could film him better.
Xander walked into his art class, frowning at the envelope on his usual seat, looking up at the teacher. He opened it slowly then got suddenly sick, running from the room.
Oz answered Blair's phone, frowning at the voice on the other end. "So you did what? Forced it on him?" He snorted, slamming the phone down. "He's sick, I gotta go rescue him from the bathroom." The elder Guide stopped him by grabbing his wrist. "The rest of the art sale money came in and someone wanted some more of his things so approached the gallery. They left the check on his seat with a note about a meeting this afternoon." Blair let him go so he walked out.
He found the younger man curled up in a little miserable ball in the bathroom, wincing at the smell floating around him. "Why can't you smell that?" he asked, and the vacant eyes looked at him. "Zoned?" Xander shook his head. "Okay, so what's up?"
"He wants to hedge against future worth and buy what the gallery has." He pulled his knees a little tighter to his chest. "I was zoned earlier."
"What brought you out?"
"Nothing." He looked up to see the understanding eyes. "Oz, I hate this side of art. I don't want to sell."
"Yeah, but in the contract you signed with the gallery, you agreed to let them broker anything that you show with them if someone asks. You do have the right of refusal though." He sat next to him, rubbing down a tense arm. "Come on, let's go pick up that vile check and go home for the day. Giles will understand us skipping his class again."
"Can't, have a test in there." The older man shook his head. "Oz, it's Thursday, yes we do." He got a small shrug. "Can you just take the check and let me go home?"
"Nope, but I'll be beside you when you're at the gallery tonight. I'm sure Blair won't bitch too loudly." He helped the younger man up, leading him to the sink. "You know, you didn't have to run out this morning. I would have only talked with you some more."
"I don't know why I do it," Xander groaned, sitting back down on the tiles, holding his stomach. "Can we not talk about this?" He looked up. "Please?"
"Sure," he said soothingly, "but I want you in the health center this instant." He helped him up again. "Okay?" Xander nodded slowly, going back to finish rinsing his mouth. "Thanks, let me go get your stuff."
The doctor looked at them in disgust. "It's just food poisoning, boys, he'll be fine." He closed the folder.
"How can you be sure it's not another ulcer," Oz asked again. "He's recently had one burst."
The doctor looked through the file, frowning. "There's no mention of that in here." He looked at his patient. "When did this happen?"
"Last month," Xander said quietly. "I was rushed to General from the Unknowns show in town." He doubled over again as another pain ripped through his abdomen. "No," he moaned, "not again. Don't want more surgery."
"You just lay there, Mr. Harris, I'll go call the hospital for your records."
"Maybe we shoulda just taken you down there," Oz whispered once they were alone, rubbing down his friend's back. "It's okay," he said quietly. "I'm sure it's not your stomach again. Not even you could have grown an ulcer in a week." He looked at the doctor as he walked back in. "Well?"
"They already faxed them over, they were sitting on your forms." He sat back down, reading over them. "Well, I see you were correct." He didn't flinch at the glares. "But this isn't the same sort of stomach pain at all. I can prescribe some nerve pills, since this seems to be more related to that."
Xander rolled onto his back, lifting up so Oz could free his hands. "I'm not allowed to have any," he said quietly. "And I have a small list of things I can't take, it's supposed to be in there also."
"Ah, that's what that is." He made a note across the top. "No one marked that as your allergy sheet. But the pills I want you to take aren't on there." He looked up with a small smile. "Prozac will do wonders for you."
Oz stood up, glaring at him. "Prozac isn't a nerve pill, it's for depression. Which he isn't. And you are never touching us again. Come on, Xander, I'll take you to see Philip." He led him out, slamming the door open, against the brick wall, as he walked out.
"Make a note that he has anger problems," the doctor told the nurse.
Philip smiled at the men in his office as he walked in, frowning when it wasn't returned. "Problems, guys?" he asked, sitting down to start his day. Oz nodded. "So, what can your friendly Psychiatrist do for you?"
"Two things," Oz told him quietly. "Take Xander on as a patient this summer if he doesn't agree to come with me on tour," the older man nodded slowly, frowning slightly, and the younger hit his friend's arm, "and we need something for his stomach. He's been having pains again and the emergency room people wanted him on nerve pills too."
"Gee, something the health center guy got right," Xander said sarcastically. He looked at his roommate. "I'll be *fine*," he said quietly, but very heated. "I won't zone, I won't stop eating, and I won't jump out a window, okay?"
Philip shook his head, leaning back and rubbing over his bald scalp. "Guys, quit. Yes, I will be talking to both of you, because you *both* need it." He frowned at Oz again. "So, let's get to the immediate need. Stomach? Again?" Xander nodded. "Stress?" He nodded again. "Okay, I can write you something to take as needed, but I want you to follow the directions faithfully. No milk with it, at all, or it'll cause more problems. And you have to take it with some food. More than toast but less than a feast. Okay?" The younger man nodded again so he wrote it out, handing it over. "So, how was the idiot at Rainier?"
Oz snorted. "Tried to tell him to take Prozac for his nerves. After having to go find the fax of his records from his hospital stay." Philip shook his head. "Thanks man. We'll set up a real appointment for next week sometime to come talk."
"Yes you will," he said, watching them walk out. He waited until his door was closed to pick up the phone and dial. "Blair?" he said, leaning back and putting his feet up on the desk. "What's up with your students? No, just a nerve pill for his stomach." His feet hit the floor, hard, making him wince. "He's been doing what? Any chance I can get the pictures?" He smiled. "Thanks, yeah, before they come in if you can manage. Bye." He hung up, looking thoughtfully at the door.
Blair sat beside his former roommate as he and Philip watched the tape, leaning against the strong, bare shoulder. He paused it, tipping his head to the side. "Darrien again," he said, pointing.
"And some other animal. Why are both of them mixed up?"
"Have to ask Giles probably." Blair snuggled harder into the shoulder. "Do you think I messed them up?"
"No, I think they did it. What you did actually may have helped him." He gave a pointed look at the art on the walls that he had been fascinated by for over an hour. "The boy's got talent."
"And really good technique," the younger man noted with a small grin, until he was pinched. "I meant with the paint, Phil, relax." He rolled his eyes, looking up at him. "So, critical crisis?"
"I'd say this is theirs." The dark skinned man leaned back, letting Blair lay on his chest. The tape restarted and moved onto the next time Oz had been painted on. He took the remote, pausing it. "Very bad." He pointed at the dead bodies on it. "Okay, it's a literal story, a warning."
"And Oz hasn't been looking at this and Xander's been zoned when he did it. So, do we sit them down and make them look?"
"Could, but they have one more day. Maybe we should wait and see what happens tonight."
Blair looked up, blinking. "You do know it's an instantaneous snap, right? This is just the warning building up to it?" The Psychiatrist nodded slowly. "Okay, just so you know." He restarted the tape. "So, the tour's the crisis?"
"Most likely. Or the tour could be the method of healing. In your case it was an issue of trust and control. In theirs, it's that but it's more. There's a fundamental insecurity in both of them. And Oz's denial of what he is isn't helping it any." He looked down then at Jim as he walked in. "Hey, come sit and watch the painted guy with us." He stopped the tape, rewinding it. "They've been taping it since the third morning and we have the pictures."
"You going to do this separately? Have one watch while the other talks?"
"Might be the best yet." He looked down. "You can't help them with this."
"I know, we're going to be out of the country when it happens, and so will Rupert." Blair shrugged, accepting Jim's body under his feet. "See, I'm seeing this as the strongest warning yet, but then it gets nicer." He pointed at the two graves in front of the mixed up animals.
"What sort of creatures are those?" Jim asked.
"I asked someone," Blair said, "who knows more about Spirit Guides, and he said if there's contamination from another animal in life then that would do that."
"That explains Oz's but why Xander's?" Philip asked.
"Ask Rupert," Jim and Blair said together. "The boys don't talk about their old life with us at all," Jim continued.
"He may have the key to this too," Blair added. "I'd like to have him watch these."
"Chief, that's disturbing to me, and I've had the critical warning. What do you think it'll do to him?"
"Buffy," Blair said slowly, looking at him. Jim shook his head, leaning it back to grab the phone. "Thanks." He looked up at Philip. "Do they talk about there at all?"
"Where they used to live. When they talk about it at all, they call it 'there'."
"As in 'when we were there'," Jim said, dialing slowly. "Rupert? Jim, yeah, no, not a problem." He flinched at the kick to his leg. "Okay, Blair said a big problem but we need your expertise on those two." He shook his head. "Which one?" He nodded and hung up. "Xander's staying with him tonight."
Philip groaned. "Can you call Oz over? After Giles gets here, of course, and see this." Both men nodded. "Thank you. I think we need to shake them both up."
"This should have," Jim said quietly. "Mine hurt so bad, I sent Blair away." He looked at his Guide. "I'm so sorry about that," he whispered, hugging him. "I didn't interpret it right and you almost died."
Blair just stroked through his hair. "It's okay, Jim, we're fine now," he said quietly, looking up as the door opened. "Oh, good, both of you. Philip, give them the remote while you three watch it, I'm going to talk with Jim." He got up, leading his Sentinel over to his apartment.
Oz and Giles sat down on the couch, frowning at the pictures flowing slowly across the screen. Philip stopped and rewound the tape, handing over the hard copy pictures of the first two nights, watching their reactions.
Philip walked over to Jim's shutting the door. "They called Xander over," he told them as he got closer. "Did you know Xander was once possessed?" Both men shook their heads. "Well, that explains why Darrien's one screwed up looking little guy." He sat down on the other couch, ending up on his back, looking up at Blair as he worked on his shoulders and chest. "Thanks, you," he said quietly, smiling up at him.
"Hey, Jim and I have an understanding. I can play but I'll always be his, no matter how much he can't, won't, and refuses to satisfy me." He wiggled his eyebrows at his Sentinel. "Right?"
"But I'm married, Blair," Philip reminded him.
"Yes, and I know she's a shrew," he whispered, leaning down to lick the tip of his nose. "Or else you'd be home right now getting this." He got off the older man's hips. "Over, let me do your back, no charge involved."
"Better not be," Philip said with a small grin, taking off his shirt and turning over. "The last time you charged, I didn't sit for a weekend."
"Hey, not my fault you were tempting." He kneaded the firm muscles under the dark skin, looking at Jim the whole time.
Oz walked into Giles' condo, slamming the door behind him when he saw his Guideling sitting spaced on the couch. Xander jumped, looking at him. "Need to talk to you," he said, popping the tape into the VCR and turning it on. "You've never seen your work, have you?" He sat down next to him, holding him, physically, in place and making him look at the images.
By the end Xander was shaking, being held by his Guide for his comfort now. "What does it mean?" he whispered, looking up.
"It means we're hitting that bad point where either we both die or we move onto the next step." He looked down the tense body. "Relax, I'm not leaving you. I can learn from what Blair and Jim went through." He stroked down a taut arm, shivering as the sparks hit him. "Xander," he said quietly, "we've got to work this out. I can't go after you like Jim did Blair."
"I'm not Jim."
"I know. And I know that they're not going to be here when we go critical. Neither will Giles. But I want to be there. I want you with me this summer." He only hoped that Philip's suggestion worked.
"Oz..." he started, sitting up, but his mouth was covered by a strong hand.
"No, stop right there. I *want* you with me. I *need* you to come on tour with me. I don't want to end up like we did in those pictures. I don't want to have to look at myself if I do that to you. And I want you beside me for selfish reasons too. I perform better when you're there. I feel safer when we're in a strange town and you're beside me. I used to feel so unsafe, so unsure, when I first moved up here. Until you came. Now I feel safe and comfy. I feel like we have a home and a life, not just some demented temporary arrangement. I've had permanence and it sucked boulders, but this is different." He removed his hand, looking into the dark eyes. "I like sitting behind you, eating breakfast while you paint. I even like working on tricking you into eating when you're zoned on a painting or a drawing. I don't want to lose this."
Xander sighed, relaxing into him. "I like this too, Oz, but I still..." He sat up, pulling away. "Why do you really want me there? Your fear of me getting hurt or do you really *want* me there, want to sit beside me as I sketch all summer long?"
"Both," he answered truthfully, "but I also want you there to focus on when I play like I do at home. I want you there for *Devon* to focus on when we play like *he* does at home," he said with a hint of a smile. "He does so much better when you're there and so do I. And the other guys have noticed. The drummer threatened mutiny if you weren't brought along." He held out a piece of paper. "We're going to be going here. You have Jim's truck, which I heard you bought from him by the way, which makes me happy. I like the old thing. You can go with us in the van or you can follow us around, having a little independence for day trips. Your choice."
"And if I say that I still want to stay?" he asked quietly, looking at the paper in his hands.
"Then I'd say I'd be in jail for kidnapping." Oz turned, looking at the younger man, making him look at him. "Xan, truth here. I'm not going to function without you anymore. I've gotten too used to having you there to turn to. And you can't be alone right now. The pictures are a very strong indication of a future I don't want to live. We really don't have a choice here."
"Yeah, we do," Xander said, dropping the paper onto the couch as he stood up. "I'm not going." He walked out of the condo, heading home.
Oz picked it up, walking after him, sure his backup plan had been was completed by now. He walked out to see Devon putting him into the van. "He okay?"
"Yeah, just a tiny snack. And he's still real tired and sick."
"So, we let him sleep the whole way. No big," Oz said, sliding into the front seat as Devon shut the back door behind himself.
Xander woke up in a clearing on a large, flat prairie, looking around in confusion. "Okay, this sucks. Why am I here?" he yelled. A small cat-like creature popped its head up next to his leg, making him jump, but it turned into a tall, dark haired young man. "Darrien," he sighed, hugging him. "Oh, bless you." He leaned back. "Why am I here?" His arms were removed from the Spirit Guide's neck and put back into his lap. "That bad, huh?"
Darrien nodded, looking around them. "Yup, you royally screwed it up this time." He focused on his charge again. "Xander, do you realize what happens when you ignore your Guide's advice or his *trying* to help?"
"I'm not *Jim*!" Xander said, standing up to walk around. "And I wish like hell that everyone would quit comparing me to him. He and I are so different we might as well be different species." He turned, finding himself alone. "Okay, yeah, this is normal at least." He sat back down, looking at the ground.
Oz woke up in a small clearing in a forest, looking around in confusion. He looked down at himself, not seeing any evidence of a change, so sat up. "Um, hello?" he called. A small, canine, mixed-up creature walked out from behind a tree and sat down next to him. "Huh. Spirit Guide?" he guessed.
The canine turned into him. "Yes, and I wish you would listen more." He shook his hair, and it grew. "Darrien and I have agreed that if we do the usual cryptic thing you two will *never* get it so listen. You have to *earn* his trust. You can't force decisions on him and you can't make him love you."
"What? Love? Not happening." Oz pulled his feet under him until he was comfortable. "I'm only trying to help. As in I don't want to live the life that came out in the pictures you sent him."
"Wasn't us, that was Wolf. And you're on that path now." He waved a hand and they were on a plain, looking at a young man in the distance. "You can kill him here and now or you can free him. Those are your only two options."
"Kill him or free him, young one, decide." And he morphed back into the mixed-up creature, running back into the tall grass.
Oz stood up, walking slowly over to where Xander was sitting, dropping down beside him. "Do you think Jim and Blair get these?"
"No, Wolf is cryptic and Jaguar is obstinate," Xander mumbled. "Ours believe in plain speech." He looked at his Guide for the first time, seeing the pain his eyes held. "Why can't you let me be myself?"
"I will if you'd let me know who he was and what he wanted."
"He wants respect, to be liked, what everyone wants, without being cheap and needy."
"Ah, but being needy isn't a bad thing. We all need someone sometimes."
"Are you really Darrien?" he asked, frowning, looking over the slightly older man. Oz shook his head. "You're sure?" Oz nodded. "Okay. Then you should know one thing. I'm not Jim."
"I know, but I can only go on history and we don't have any like that. You've never needed anyone before."
"I needed all the time, you just never saw it." Xander frowned at the ground. "Why are we doing this here?"
"Because at home, you're unconscious in the back of my van. I had Dev knock you out so you couldn't run away again." He was glared at for that. "Hey, you wanted to know. And I didn't want to lose you again."
"In other words, you're feeling needy?"
"Yup, basically. And you're the one I need."
"I thought we went over this," Oz sighed, leaning back in the grass. "Xander, I need you. You make me focus, you talk to me instead of around me, something the guys in the band don't do, and have never done. And I respect you for sticking up for yourself. I *trust* you."
"But I don't feel that way!" Xander pulled the older man up. "Oz, I feel like your puppy that you have to train. I feel like the naughty kid that you got stuck with because I was the only one you could even have and you wish you'd never had me. I feel like I'm some extra thing that you feel that you have to drag along for his own good."
"And do you feel that way about me?"
"Sometimes," he admitted quietly, looking down again, watching the worms come up out of the hole he'd been poking with his finger. "Sometimes you're the extra weight around my neck, something like an oxygen canister. I have to have it to live but I hate having it around for the same reason. I feel like I lost myself when I was given these senses and now all I am is your puppy." He felt the hand on his arm and flinched. "Don't do that, you really don't like me enough to do that."
"Xander, stop." He made the younger man look up. "I do like you. More than enough to hug you. You're like the brother I didn't really get along with the first time." He saw the small frown starting. "You weren't the only one with a crappy life, ya know. And yeah, I may not have gotten along with him, but you're like my family now. You *are* my brother to me. The one I *chose*. Don't even think I had to come get you with Blair. I didn't. He didn't ask, I demanded." He let the younger man's face go, staring into his eyes. "Xan, I chose to help you, and I knew the price I paid when I made that choice. I'd been helping Blair for nine months when Giles called me. And I was still not secure in Cascade. My only two friends were those two and we weren't close. There were *so* many nights I dreamt of coming home, just walking into your place and sitting beside you and taking a bite of whatever food you were eating and saying, ‘hey, how you been,' but I couldn't do that. Then you needed me, *me*, the outsider of the whole group. The non-fighter, the ultimate tag along and the one that you needed to hide from three days a month. And when I heard Giles' voice, it all clicked." He took a deep breath. "It was you I was missing. Not Wills, not the blonde, you. So I demanded to come along to help and to take care of you." He saw the shock. "Yeah, you made that slum feel like home. You made me feel safe and secure. You know, I hadn't touched my guitar since I left until you got there?"
Xander shook his head. "Really?"
"Really. I'm not going to lie to you. That scared me so much I almost ran a few times. As a matter of fact, I actually made it to the city limits one night, but then I thought of what it was like before you got there and I came back."
"Was that the night it took you three hours to get coffee?" Oz nodded, joining him in his smiling. "But do you respect me? Do you understand that I'm feeling things here that scare me as badly?"
Oz nodded. "Yeah, and you always did. I thought your art was a good thing to work stuff out in, but you never did. That's why I let you zone for so long. I could have talked to Blair when it first started, or just taken your stuff from you for a week and made you talk to me but I let it go on because you seemed comforted by it. Same as the drugs." He touched the small raised line on the younger man's scalp. "I think I realized what this was when I first felt it, but I didn't want to think I was that bad to you." He moved closer, hugging him. "I want you to feel safe and comfy and home with me. And if you want, we'll break away from Cascade and go somewhere else." The younger man pulled back. "Yes, I know, I don't want to leave either, but if you really want to get away from the shadow of Jim then we'll leave. Find you another art department and find me a Psychology or really a Sociology program. There are plenty of colleges that have both."
"Really. And while we're on tour, we can visit some of them if you want. We should be going near a few. Maybe Vegas, we'll be there one night. Or someplace like this," he said, waving his hands around at the plain. "All you have to do is come with me, make us both feel safe and comfy."
"You really want me there?"
"Xan, if you don't go, I'm going to have them cancel the tour or quit." He smiled sadly at the look of utter shock on his friend's face. "I can't play when you're not there."
"Same as I can't really paint well when you're not?" Oz nodded. "Um, wow." He grinned. "I can take the truck?"
"Get a camper for the back, we'll pay the rent up to November or so, and we'll go. They can have the van, we'll do the truck. Together," he said, holding out his hand.
"Together," Xander said, taking it.
And they were back in their home, looking at each other. Oz looked at his watch and frowned. "We have a final in an hour, Xan. With Giles."
"We'd better go then, huh?" he said, standing up. "I'll deposit that vile check and steal the rest of my things back from the gallery. We'll store the art here for now." He headed for the bathroom. "Devon!" came floating through the door, "Get your *ass* outta the tub. We both need showers."
The young vampire walked out. "So, you both did that funky zone thing. Everything okay?" Oz nodded. "He coming?"
"On you later," Xander promised. "Oz, man, where's my shampoo?"
"Um, I used it because I ran out," he said with a small blush. "The other stuff's under the sink." the younger man pulled back into the bathroom with a small groan. "Yeah, Dev, he agreed to come along and we agreed to travel in his truck. You guys can have the van."
"Because we're going to be looking at other schools while we're out there. His troubles with the art department here are too big now."
Xander walked out, naked and dripping. "Oh, no, I'm fighting this one out. I'm not finding another space like this anywhere else. We'll go somewhere more fun for grad school so I can teach if I have to." He blew a kiss at Devon as he walked past him, walking over to hug his Guide. "Unless you really wanted to that is."
"Nope, not if you don't. I like being Blair's assistant." He turned around in the strong arms. "Can you handle being in Jim's shadow for another year or so?"
"Hon, I'm not going to put up with it. Now that I know that you'll fight behind me, that's all there is to it." He hugged him tightly, heading back to his shower. "How much longer?"
"Um, thirty before we should leave." Oz looked out the window, sighing at the perfection that was his life.
END THIS STORY.