Xander stuck closer to Oz when they stopped for dinner, keeping watch of the people around them from their booth in a dark back corner. Tom caught him at it, frowning at him. "What's wrong? Your super senses giving you fits again?" the bassist asked.
Xander shook his head. "That blonde woman earlier was the reason I have them. I don't want to see her again."
"Hence his hyper-vigilance," Oz said, waving at Xander. He turned to his sentinel. "She wouldn't be coming for me. She'd be coming for you."
"I'm not worried about me," Xander told him, looking out the window behind him then at his guide's watch. "We've got to hurry if we want to get somewhere safe for the night."
"We're fine," Oz told him firmly. "Relax."
"Yup, as soon as we get somewhere safe." Xander sniffed his water before drinking it, acting purely on instinct now.
"And you thought I was bad right before I turned," Oz muttered, finishing his burger. He looked at his bandmates. "Mike," he asked the drummer, who was playing with his soup, "you need to see someone?"
"It's just an upset stomach."
"Is not," Xander said quietly, "I can hear it. It's not normal sounding." The other men looked at him. "What? My hearing's up and it's not sounding gurgly or normal. It's sounding more of a ulcer sound. Like Giles' was when he had his."
The drummer looked at him like he was strange. "Whatever. I'll see someone if it continues." He looked meaningfully at Oz. "I'm going to go see if I can't wake up Devon." He slid out, heading outside really quickly.
Xander looked down at the table. "I'm sorry if I spooked him. I know it's weird."
The bass player nodded. "Yup, very." He took a sip of his tea. "You can really hear that?" The young sentinel nodded. "Huh. Different."
"Drop it, Tom," Oz said, giving him a look. "It's not his fault. That blonde from earlier and her buddies gave them to him."
The bassist nodded, getting up. "Whatever. Get the check, guys." He headed out to the van.
"I'm sorry if I creeped them too bad," Xander said quietly. "I didn't mean to."
"No, you didn't. They knew, just not on an up close and personal level. I'll make sure Mike sees someone tomorrow." He pushed on the younger man's shoulder. "Get out so I can pay."
Xander looked at the clock on the wall. "We need to get somewhere soon."
"Motel's in an hour."
"Oz, it's five. Sunset is in forty minutes." Oz nodded, heading for the register. Xander stopped at the phone booth, flipping to the yellow pages to look for somewhere closer. He noted a few motels and the still closer campground, following Oz out to the van. "We have a campground about a half hour away and two motels about the same place as we're going. What do you want to do?"
Oz shrugged, sliding into the driver's seat. "Guys, we won't make the motel before sundown. What do you want to do?"
"Um, why no place in between?"
"Because we planned on doing this tomorrow," Devon reminded them, "and we were going to leave before Oz finished changing back fully. What's closer?"
"Campground and two motels nearer to where we're going."
"Let's camp," the bassist said. "It's one of those with showers and stuff right? Not a real 'roughing it' place?"
"It's a state campground in a state forest. They have cabins and stuff too." Xander nodded toward the road. "Remember the signs for that forest? It's there, about twenty miles away."
Oz nodded. "We'll do that then. I'll follow you."
Devon leaned closer. "How do you know, Xander?"
"I passed through here on my roadtrip after highschool." He headed for his truck, hopping in and starting it.
Xander smiled at the girl he remembered. "Hey, Mary, what's going on?" She gave him a shy smile. "Do you have any cabins? Or a really good camping spot for a van and a truck?"
She passed over a form. "You're in luck, Alex, we have one cabin with four beds. It's back by the lake." She leaned over, kissing his cheek. "Did you know I called you?"
"No, but I moved a few months after I got back." He gave her a pathetic look. "I'm sorry." She waved him off. "Not mad at me?"
"Not if you come be happy with me tonight."
He shook his head, giving her his big-eyed look. "I can't, I have to stay with the band tonight." He looked over his shoulder as Oz walked in. "We're in luck, they have a cabin that'll sleep four."
"And with Dev being the night person and not sleeping tonight, that'd be good." He nodded at her. "We need to go set up, Mike's getting really sick."
"Okay." Xander finished filling out the card. "Two nights or one?" he asked his guide.
"Two," Oz said. "It's better if we stay somewhere safe." He pulled Xander away from the counter. "What's up with her?"
"We met the last time I stayed here. She's really nice."
"Then go have some fun, Dev can watch me." Xander shook his head. "Yes, he can."
"But, Oz..." His guide shook his head. "This an order?"
"Yeah, go have fun. This trip hasn't been any for you and you should."
Xander got loose, heading back to the counter. "Well, I just got ordered to go have fun so what did you want to do tonight?" he asked as he took the key, tossing it at Oz. "And where can I meet you?"
She smiled, showing off her dimples. "How about that little place we haunted last time you were here?"
He nodded, heading out to truck. He pointed at a little road. "That way, Oz." He got in, heading down the way he pointed, knowing just where they were going.
Oz looked off the porch of the cabin, the lake and the woods spreading calm through him. "This is nice," he said quietly. He looked at his sentinel as he walked out. "You'll be okay?"
"If not, I'll have her call Dev." He looked at the vampire in the van. "You sure you can handle him for a few hours?"
"I'll just sedate him," Devon said. "You behave and no zoning." Xander blushed. "Not like that?"
"No, I liked her a lot, but she was engaged the last time I knew. It was a drunken thing." He patted Oz's arm. "I have Blair's cellphone, unless you want it for Mike?"
Oz shook his head. "Mike has his, we're fine." He watched Xander head for his truck, his stomach twisting in knots, and not because of the change that would be coming in about twenty minutes. He looked at Devon as he walked out into the dusk. "You sure you can do this?"
"He needs to remember he's only twenty-one," Devon told him. "The boy's not eighty yet, no matter how much he acts like it sometimes." Oz nodded, heading for the van. "The question is, can you handle it," he whispered, grabbing the tranq gun and hitting Oz once he was naked. "Night."
Xander looked around the intimate little restaurant. "So, what've you been up to?" he asked finally, trying to fill in the silence.
"Nothing much. He dumped me, of course, but I'm sure you could guess that."
He shook his head. "That's not good. You okay with it?" She nodded. "So, what else happened?"
"He found out about you, and well, he got really pissed." She blushed. "Actually, he was anything but calm about it. He got arrested for the fight he started." She smiled at their waiter as he put the food down in front of them, waiting until they were alone. "What about you?" she asked, trying to sound happier. "What've you been up to?"
"Well," he said, taking a bite of his salad, "I've started college recently, in art, but I'm having fits with my department over some stunts they pulled." He poured a some more dressing over the chicken and lettuce. "That redheaded guy and I are rooming together in a warehouse loft. He's a Sociology/Anthropology major. We're in Cascade now but I'm along for the band's tour as a roadie. Lots of little one-club college towns. We've got about another three weeks before we head home." She nodded, giving him a smile. "But when I went back to Sunnydale, I screwed myself up for a few months then moved out, started selling used cars, then I had to leave and go be nearer to Oz."
She choked. "So, you're ...." She waved her hand in the air.
He smiled at her. "Bi, but we're not together. He's my best friend and we're roomies, nothing else." She sighed, nodding, going back to watching her salad, so he patted her hand. "It's okay, we're just trying too hard."
She coughed lightly. "No, there's something else you should know." She looked up, making eye contact. "Someone came to see me about you a year or so ago. Thought maybe you had run here when you were in trouble." He looked confused. "That's what he said, that you were in trouble."
He shook his head. "Not the sort of trouble it sounds like. It was personal trouble, that's why I moved closer to Oz, he's helping me with it." He glanced around, making sure they were alone. "You know all those stories about federal guys in suits doing things to people? Well, one did that to me. That's the sort of trouble I was in. Then other feds shut them down so I'm okay now. You're safe." She nodded, giving him a smile. "What did they want?"
"Only to know if you had run here, if you had called me or anything like that. They said they wanted called if you showed up, something about finding you would save your life." Xander shuddered, putting down his fork. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to upset you."
"Wasn't you," he told her with a small grin. "Just the thought of them coming in to 'protect me'," he did the finger quotes, "makes me nauseous. Those guys are really bad news."
"So I noticed, Alex. They said something about drugs, but I was sure you wouldn't..." She looked at his arms, noticing the small marks. "You did?" She hit his arm. "Bad you."
"It was in reaction to what they had done to me, I was trying to block it out. Went on for almost a month. Oz helped me stop that and get over what they did to me." He patted his pocket to make sure the phone was still there. "I've been luckier than most that they've hurt, I've survived," he said quietly. She looked shocked. "It wasn't what they did to us, but the after-affects of it. It can majorly screw with your head if you're not real lucky."
"And it did that to you?" she asked, reaching over to squeeze his hand. "I'm sorry I'm so nosy."
"No, that's okay. Yeah, it screwed majorly with my mind and my body. That's why I started the drugs for that month, to fix the screwed-upness. Then this really nice guy came to help me, brought Oz to help him. He and Oz saved me." He gave her another smile. "So now I'm fine and in college, doing lots of pretty paintings."
She laughed. "Oh, Alex, you're so bad." She shook her head. "You and your drawing, you did that the whole week you were here too." She picked up a piece of chicken with her fingers, eating it. "Maybe I should warn your roommate how you used to get lost."
"Oh, he knows. I still do that. He used to have to get me to go to class." He laughed, leaning across the table to kiss her cheek but she turned her head. He sat down, licking his lips. "I'm only here for two days this time and they'll be needing me later."
"Then I'll let you go," she said with a naughty grin. She leaned closer, giving him a nice view down her low-cut blouse. "Don't tell me you don't remember how good it was."
He shook his head. "No, I remember, but I'm not sure if we should. I mean, I know how rumors live in small towns." She shook her head, giving him a little pout. "We'll see, if it happens, it does," he said finally, picking up his fork to eat.
"You sure you're not with someone?"
"Nope, not right now, he left me a few months back to go to South America." She gave him a shocked look. "Darryl was a great guy but his destiny was down there with a very small tribe. He's doing good work for them." He took another bite. "So, you're still working out at the campground?"
"Only during the summers. I started college at the little community college two towns over."
Oz growled as he paced the length of the van, looking out the windows at the woods, the sounds of nature calling to him. He smelled someone walking toward the van, the unnatural one, and his hair raised. He tensed to lunge past him when he opened the door. He managed to get almost all the way out, but felt the sting that meant he would be sleeping tonight as his back foot cleared the doorway. He had time to look at the thing that had shot him, whimpering as he recognized her on some level.
Devon looked at the blonde woman standing beside him. "You sure this is the right thing to do, Buffy? I mean, Xander and Oz were both really strong on the idea of you going nowhere near them."
"Yeah," she said, giving him a sexy smile and running a finger down his chest. "We'll be fine." She leaned up for a kiss.
In the cabin, someone dialed the cellphone he held, quietly talking into it. "Xander? No, man, you gotta come back. The blonde woman from earlier's here and she's just tranqed Oz and she's got Dev under some spell." He hung up as he saw her turn to look at him. He swallowed hard, heading for a bedroom to lock himself in.
Xander put the cellphone back into his pocket. "They're having a problem," he said quietly, "I've got to go back." He put some money on the table, standing up. "I'll see you tomorrow night," he said, kissing her cheek. She gave him a pouty look but he knew where his duty was. He jogged out to his truck, getting in and driving away as soon as he could, taking the small roads as fast he dared. He stopped in front of the cabin, getting out as he turned up his hearing. He scanned, just like Jim had taught him, but he only heard two heartbeats and something that buzzed. He shut the door, heading for the cabin, turning away as he heard the whispered 'watch out, she's got them' from inside. He turned slowly, scanning the woods, turning up his sense of smell at the same time. He focused in direction, glaring at the woods between him and the lake. "I know you're here, you might as well come out."
Buffy walked out, giving him a smile. "Relax, he's fine."
"Why don't I believe you?" He snapped his fingers. "Oh, yeah, that's right because you went psycho. Give me back Devon and Oz or I'm going to hurt you."
"Ah, but I don't have them." She waved a hand and three men walked out, two holding the vampire captive and one dragging Oz by his arms. "See? Now all you have to do is to give yourself up." He shook his head. "Do you know how easy it would be for me to hurt them?"
"Yeah, and I know that if you do, then you'd lose me too." He gave her a smirk. "You can't hurt him without harming me, that's the rule of Guides and Sentinels, which you probably know." She nodded. "So just give them back and leave."
"Ah, but that's not all there is to the rules." She stepped closer, dropping her voice. "There's tons else about that rule, including the bond you two share, but you don't seem to, do you?" She stepped back, pulling out a stake. "Now then, we want you to come with us. We can do this the fun way or the other way." Xander took a step back so she turned, raising the piece of wood. "You sure? Last chance. I hardly ever miss."
"Hey, slut," another woman yelled, walking into the clearing, "you can't harm them, this is still America and you're not allowed to do that." She smiled at Xander. "Thought you could use some help."
"Yeah, thanks," he said, "but be careful. These are the guys who hurt me."
"Hey, we made you *special*," Buffy told him. "No more loser Xander for you. Now you're one of the most special people around, almost as special as I am."
Someone cleared their throat. "No one's that special," he said as he walked up behind Xander's dinner companion. "Mary, give me the gun."
"Don't," Xander called.
"Relax, Harris, I'm not here for you. I work for the good guys again." He took the shotgun from the young woman, pointing it at his former girlfriend. "Buffy, don't. You won't like the consequences."
Buffy snorted. "Riley, why are you sticking up for him and these *things*?" She spit toward Oz's still form and that was the last thing she did that night.
Xander's mind went blank, allowing his instincts to take over. He lunged at her, bringing her to the ground before she knew it, growling in her face when he looked down at her. "Mine," he snarled, kicking her. She dodged it, bouncing up and facing off against him. He dodged her pathetic punches but he did get in a few of his own, tagging her chest a number of times before she fell back to catch her breath. He followed her retreat, growling as he lunged for her throat.
"Crap," Riley said. "He's in primal mode." He tossed Mary the shotgun, pulling something from his back pocket and tossing it at Xander's head. The sentinel saw it coming and dodged it, picking it up and using it on his opponent, smacking the small bag across her face.
"Xander!" Buffy yelled, backing away from him. She heard another growl and stopped, looking at the furry form coming to behind her. She looked from one to the other then at Riley. "You want to take me in, do it now," she pleaded. "They'll tear me up."
"Yay," he said coldly, nodding at the men holding Devon to let him go. "I'd leave guys, we want all of you and my backup will be here in a second. Oh, and Oz won't hesitate to protect Xander, it's the Guide's mandate. Same as Xander's is to protect Oz with his life." Xander growled at him when he said the word guide, making him step back. "Easy, I'm not here to harm either of you."
Xander picked up the rifle, shooting Riley in the leg, then turning it on the other three men, hitting one in the arm and missing the other two as they ran off. He looked back at Buffy, tossing the gun away. "Just us," he told her coldly. "No help, no tribe to rescue you."
She turned and ran. "Not a chance in hell," she yelled over her shoulder as she disappeared into the woods. "We'll see you again."
Xander turned to look at the people in front of him, breathing heavily. "Xander," Devon said suavely, "calm down, he's fine. Oz is fine, man, just go sit beside him." He pointed at the furry lump known as the Guide. "Go help him back to the van, dude, I'll do this part." He looked at Mary. "You telling?" he asked, going to feeding face, his demon ridges shining in the moonlight.
She shook her head. "I like Alex, I'd never hurt him or his Guide. Especially after Riley took me in and trained me." She smiled at him. "You guys are all safe here, this is a safe place. Only the bad one of yous are hurt here." She turned, helping her boyfriend up, letting him lean on her. "Tell Alex I'll see him in the morning. And tell him not to worry, I understand now." She walked away, helping the former Initiative member back down the woods.
Devon shook his head, going back to his human form, looking down at Xander, watching him pet and soothe Oz. "Dude, why is this you two?" He headed for the cabin. "Xander, bring Oz over to the van so no one's hurt." The sentinel picked up his guide, carrying him over to the van and getting him back inside it as the vampire headed into the cabin. "Hey, Mikey, you living still?" he called out.
"No," he moaned from the bathroom. He walked out wiping off his mouth. "There's blood now, Devon. I'm really sick."
Xander walked in, rubbing his face hard. "We can call the paramedics, there's a hospital not far away." He looked at Devon and nodded. "You okay?"
"Yeah, little scared but otherwise okay. 911 work here?"
"Yeah," Xander said, walking over to the drummer and helping him to the couch. "Just relax, the local guys are usually really decent. They stitched up my back one night and they were nice and funny. Told me jokes and everything." He brushed some of the sweaty dirty blond hair off the damp forehead. "Just relax, Mike, you'll be fine. I won't let them hurt you either."
Devon hung up, walking over. "They're on their way, be here in ten or so." He knelt beside the couch. "You missed a hell of a fight, Mikey, Xander here went uber-protector on the Slayer. He was kickin'." He smiled, brushing over the warm forehead. "You'll be fine. I'll send Tom with you and I'll have Oz come when he's human again. I'll be in tonight, okay?"
"Take my truck," Xander said, handing him the keys. "You two go, just come back before you're dust." He looked up as he heard the sirens coming closer. "They're almost here." He looked back down, seeing the scared look. "I'll bring Oz in the morning, Mike, don't worry about it. It's just an ulcer." The drummer nodded, clutching Devon's hand. "You'll be fine. If not, Oz'll kill me." That got a small smile. "He will, he'll yell because I protected him instead of coming in to make sure you were okay."
"Nah," the sick man said quietly, "he'd kiss you for protecting the pretty guy here." He smiled at Devon. "You'll be there?"
"Yup, I'll be bringing Xander's truck. Speaking of which, you might want something to do," he said, looking up at him. He shook his head, nudging the younger man. "Xander! Focus on us here."
"Sorry, was listening to Oz. He's awake." He let go of the drummer, walking over to the door. "I'm going to get my bag out of the truck, the ambulance is a few thousand feet away." He walked out of the cabin, heading for his truck. He waved at the cabin when the paramedics came into view. "He's got an ulcer and he was puking blood," he told them as he walked past. He pulled his bag out, leaving the door open as Devon walked down the stairs. "Call if you need us," he said as he passed the vampire. "I've got my cellphone."
Devon shook his head, handing it back from the truck's seat. "No you didn't. Don't make promises." He climbed up into the truck, starting it and following the ambulance on the way out.
Xander looked at the bassist, Tom, where he was standing against the porch. "Not going?"
"No, Dev'll come get me in a while. He and Mikey are real tight." He walked closer. "Thanks for telling them." He held out a hand.
Xander shook it with a grin. "It saves time and lives." He nodded toward the van. "I'm going to be out here in case."
"But I'm sure you'll hear if I need you." The bassist walked back inside, closing the door softly.
Xander sat on the porch, putting his bag down beside him, putting his head down into his hands as he tried to think about what had happened. "Blair warned me," he whispered, "I should have listened. Going into blessed protector mode is not a good and Oz'll yell."
Oz woke up, looking down at himself. "Huh." He sat up, checking for a dart but he didn't find one so he pulled on his robe, sliding out of the back of the van, making Xander jerk awake. "I thought I told you to go have fun."
"I did, but then Buffy showed up and tried to kill you and Dev, and Mike went to the hospital." His friend sat down beside him. "I promised to bring you down as soon as you were you again." Oz nodded. "What?" he asked hesitantly.
"You don't smell like her."
"Nothing happened. I had to leave our dinner to come save you." Xander got up, picking up his bag. "Go shower, Oz, I'll bring you down to the hospital." He walked inside, past the vampire who was lounging on the couch watching the sunlight through the window. "You okay?"
"Fine," Devon said, following him visually. "You?"
"Yeah, last night was just intense."
"You could do the whole EMT thing and use your powers for good."
Xander snorted from the kitchen. "I could. But then I'd never get to draw." He poured a glass of juice. "How are you feeding?"
"Mike's been feeding him," Oz said as he walked in. He looked at Devon. "How's he doing?"
"He's fine. Xander was right, he had a massive ulcer, and one little one that was just starting to sprout. We're on bedrest for the next week or so and a special diet soon too." He sat up, looking over his oldest friend. "Go shower, Oz, he wants you there." The werewolf nodded, heading for the bathroom, and Devon got up, heading for the kitchen. He kissed the back of Xander's neck. "You really okay?" he whispered.
"No," Xander admitted. "That was way close. I don't want him hurt because of me."
"Just be careful how you tell him, Xan, he knows the score." He hugged the sentinel. "I'm here for you too."
"You just want a nibble," Xander joked, turning his head. "Go ahead, just don't drain me." He winced as he felt the slick sliding of the fangs entering his neck, closing his eyes as the blood started to float out of him. "Better yet, do it," he whispered.
"No," Devon said, pulling away and wiping his mouth. "I'm not hurting Oz because you're scared, dude, get over it. "
Xander put down his glass, looking at the vampire. "Devon, both of you could have died last night and it wasn't going to be because of what you are, or what he is. It's because of what *I* am, what they did to *me*! I can't let either of you be hurt because of that."
"Stop it," Oz yelled as he walked into the kitchen dressed. "What's going on?" he asked in a normal tone. "You said Buffy was here. Why?"
Xander slumped against the small counter. "I found a tracking device on the van, found one on my truck too but I got rid of it." He looked at his Guide. "I want you guys to keep going without me, I'm going to go home so you don't get hurt. She wanted me." He started to walk out but Devon slammed him against the refrigerator.
"You're not leaving, Xander, get over the creeps." Devon looked at Oz. "He's your thing, straighten it out." He walked into living room, standing in front of the window, silently thanking the builder for putting the house in complete shade.
Xander looked at Oz. "I can't stay," he said quietly. "I can't see you hurt."
"You're not going, get over it." He grabbed the keys off the table. "Come on, you've got to show me where to go so I can go see Mike." When the younger man didn't move he moved closer to him. "Xander, get over it, there are people who want you hurt and are willing to kill me to do it. I've accepted, do it too." He pulled him toward the livingroom. "Dev, you be okay for a while?"
"Yeah, I'll be fine. It's shady and the bedroom's been made vampire cozy." He didn't look at Xander. "Say hi to Mikey for me."
"Sure," Oz said, dragging his guideling out the door and over to the van, making him get in first. He waited until they were most of the way down the small road that joined the cabin to the main road to stop and look at the younger man. "Tell me what happened," he ordered.
"Buffy got you and Devon last night. Tom called me at the restaurant. I went primal on her, she retreated, that's all I know about it, that's what Devon told me."
"Then I'll get it from him later." Oz put the truck back into gear, starting back down the road. "You okay?"
"I'm fine," Xander said, leaning against the door. "I just don't want to see you hurt."
"Xander, as long as there are enemies out there, I'm going to be hurt, just because I know you. Even if they don't know I'm a guide." He looked over as he stopped to check for traffic. "This wasn't your bad, it was hers."
"No, it was mine, I'm the reason she showed up." He heard the van shut off. "Problem?"
"Yeah, you," Oz said, turning and punching Xander's arm. "Stop it now! You didn't ask for them to do this and you didn't make me be your guide. Nothing in your becoming was your fault."
"But..." Xander shut up as he was hit again. "Hey!"
"Quiet," Oz said softly. "Never doubt that I don't blame you for this. You didn't do this." He turned back to the front, restarting the van. "Now, which way to the hospital?"
"Right," he said, pointing left. Oz shook his head. "Right at the intersection, this road is one way."
"Okay," Oz said, pulling out onto the road. "Is that why you had me take that branch?"
"Yeah, it loops around the campground in a big, swirly way but it's all one way." He grabbed the door as the car came at them. "Whoa! We're going the right way." He blanched as a cop car came at them too. "Oz!"
Oz had pulled off the road, reaching over to stroke down Xander's face. "What's up?"
Xander looked around. No cop car, no cop car noises. No car going the wrong way. No, there was a siren coming at them. "Um, siren," he whispered. Oz nodded for him to go on. "Car going the wrong way."
Oz looked at him then at the road, then back at him. "You can't hear that far..." His voice trailed off as the car going the wrong way went roaring past them, followed by a cop car. "Oookaayyy," he sighed, putting his head down. "What was that?"
"Lots of them?"
"No. Never want to have one again," Xander said calmly, slumping in his seat. "It's safe, we can go." Oz sat up, nodding. "We'll be fine."
"Warn me," Oz said firmly, "if you have another one." He saw the frantic nod out of the corner of his eye. "Good, thanks."
"No more strange stuff for me," Xander said, closing his eyes. "Follow the signs after the intersection."
"Yup, can do that."