Another Semester, Another Problem.
Oz tugged on Xander's arm. "Come on, we need to get some exercise."
Xander frowned up at his guide. "I get plenty from running across campus. I don't need to start jogging." He got himself free of the tugging arm. "Go have fun with Jim."
"But I want to have fun with you."
"But I need to sort out stuff for the two upcoming shows I'm in."
Oz looked at the stacks. "Don't use those, they aren't as good as some of your other stuff. Isn't that top one something you said you were going to paint over?"
"Yup, but John liked it."
Oz squatted down next to sentinel. "What do you want to show? Always trust your own judgement, you're the artist."
Xander leaned into the warm body. "John wanted to help me choose," he said softly.
"No, you give him a choice of what *you* want to show." Xander nodded. "Now, come jogging with me."
"You need sun. You can walk while I jog." He stood and started to tug again.
Xander nodded, getting up and wiping his hands off. "I'm getting you a treadmill next semester," he muttered as he headed for his room to change.
"We need exercise anyway," Oz called after him.
"I get plenty," Xander called back.
Xander fell to his knees, arms wrapped around his aching stomach. He glared at Oz as the older man turned to jog back to him. "Why didn't you walk?" Oz asked.
"Shut up!" Xander growled.
Oz sat down beside him. "Try taking some deep breaths, it's just a stitch in your side."
"Shut up," Xander warned.
"Okay." Oz watched him, nodding as Xander tried to take a deep breath. "Getting better?" he asked after a few minutes.
"Go finish your run. I'm going to sit and breathe." Xander got up, heading for a nearby tree, which he collapsed against.
Oz shrugged, standing and heading after Jim.
On the next circuit, Jim and Oz stopped to watch Xander nap. Jim continued on after a few minutes, letting Oz check on his charge. Oz knelt beside Xander, touching his shoulder gently. He looked around before running his fingers through the dark hair. "Xander?" he called quietly. When he didn't get an answer, he looked around. "Jim?" he called. The older sentinel appeared a few minutes later. "I can't wake him."
Jim squatted down, checking Xander over using his heightened senses. "Sound asleep."
Oz stood up with a grimace. "Xander!" He smiled at the sleepy murmur. "Go get the van, I'll take him home."
Jim shrugged. "Okay. Get him moving down the path. The Elm parking lot's closer."
Oz pulled Xander up, grunting as his tired muscles complained. "Come on, we're going home."
"Need help?" a Police Officer asked as he rode up beside them. "Your friend okay?"
"Sound asleep," Oz said with a shrug. "Pretty horse."
"Thanks." He twitched the reins and the chestnut horse shifted. "You're one of Ellison's little friends, aren'tchya?"
Oz nodded. "We were jogging with him, Xander stopped and took a nap."
The cop lifted his radio and talked into it. "Can I get one of the maintenance carts on the jogging trail?" He put the radio away. "I doubt you want to drag him for half a mile."
"Very true. Thanks." He dragged Xander over to the oncoming cart, setting him onto the back shelf. "We're over in the blue lot, I think."
"Jim moved to the Elm Street one," Xander murmured.
"Okay," the cop said. "They were jogging with Ellison," he explained to the park worker.
"Ah. The meany. How is the grumpy one?" the maintenance worker asked as he started his cart down the path.
"On an endorphin high; we did six miles," Oz said, keeping a tight grip on Xander's pliant body. "Thanks," he said as they slowed down. "He's been up all hours to do stuff for school." He tugged Xander off the cart, getting an armful of cuddly, sleepy best friend. "Xander, come on." He dragged the younger man over to where the van was pulling in, pushing Xander into the back and closing the door so he could hop into the passenger's seat. "Thanks, Jim."
"Sorry," Xander sighed, "no ice cream left."
Jim rolled his eyes. "Not a problem." He pulled out onto the street. "I thought you had cured his sleeping problems."
"I did, until these two shows came up." Xander groaned in the back. "It's okay, Xander, we'll work it out." He winced as he heard the thump that signaled the sleeping body rolling into the door.
Oz pulled Xander into the loft, leading him to his bed like he was a sleepy child. He waved at Willow and Buffy as they walked past where the girls were sitting on the couch, continuing into Xander's space to put him into bed. After struggling and forcing the younger man out of his clothes, ending up shirtless himself as Xander tried to help, he walked out and closed the curtains behind him. "Hey." He made a stop through the kitchen for water, but ended up beside the two women after a few minutes. "What's up?"
"Giles saw Spike in the library," Willow said quietly. "We wanted to warn you two."
Oz nodded, drinking slowly while he thought. "Thanks." He shifted, easing a cramping muscle. "Xander's going to be inside for a while, he's got shows coming up."
"I saw a flier," Buffy said cheerfully. "The one for the art department show." Oz looked confused. "It said the whole department was doing their bi-annual show."
Oz shrugged. "Not a clue. All I know about is the unknowns and the one with his advisor." He glanced toward the bedroom and the pile of art in front of it. "He doesn't need this."
Willow cleared her throat. "We have a problem to solve too. Buffy's been sleepwalking through my room."
"That's a need thing, Xander and I both do it." Both girls nodded. "He needed hugs; he used to crawl in with Blair and cling."
"So it's a need?" Buffy asked. "I need my guide or something?" Her nose wrinkled. "I'm not that uncertain."
"You're in a new environment," Oz reminded her.
"It's subconscious," Willow explained to hold off the argument. "We just live with it?"
"Or find a way to hold it off. For Xander, we instituted regular hugs."
Willow looked thoughtful and Buffy smiled. "I noticed he was way touchy since he got his senses." Willow pushed her with a foot. "Hey!"
"Quiet, Buffy," Willow warned, "or eat real food tonight before your meditation."
"Sorry," Buffy said quietly.
"It's a grounding thing," Oz explained. "Guides help sentinels center so they can work and live. Xander had overloads while doing laundry." Willow snickered. "Not funny. That was while we were having problems. I couldn't bring him out for a few hours and we could have gotten caught." He put his empty bottle on the side-table. "When the trust's there, the bond is great; if it's not, it's a tragic accident waiting to happen"
Willow nodded slowly. "I can see that, especially with someone who has all five."
"I don't know how he does it," Buffy said with a shudder. "Two is hard enough for me."
"Now they're stronger," Oz noted. Buffy looked worried, starting to chew on her nails. "What?"
"They weren't supposed to change, they did the second shot to lock them in."
"Xander had the genetic markers before he got the first shot. He might have done it naturally. The drugs just activated them."
"And they gave him tons, he was locked in after the second dose according to the notes we have." Willow nudged Buffy when she didn't add anything. "What do you know?"
"They weren't sure they were going to stay, but they knew he was a sentinel, afterwards. He was the only one that got more than three senses." She looked over at Oz. "No one was sure if he could lock them away so they made sure he couldn't by giving him extra shots." Oz's eyes turned to ice and his glare started caused her to panic. "They wanted him, Oz, real bad. They couldn't get Jim and they wanted to study this *real* bad. That's why they gave him the stuff that should have made him come crawling back. They figured you'd come running eventually."
Oz nodded, forcing himself to look like he was relaxed. "We figured something like that. They fought too hard to not want to keep him." He glanced at his watch.
Willow saw and tugged on Buffy's arm. "Come on, let's see if a long hug helps your sleepwalking." She towed Buffy toward the elevator. "Be careful and call if you need us," she called as she closed the elevator's gate.
Oz waited until they were alone to take a deep breath and head for his guideling. He lay down on the bed next to Xander, pulling him closer to hold tightly. "They can't have you," he whispered, closing his eyes to nap too.
John grunted as he put aside the last picture and looked at his advisee. "Well, at least you included one I liked." Xander gave him an embarrassed look. "Okay." He leaned back and rubbed his eyes. "Let's meet at your place tomorrow night and look through everything."
Xander nodded. "Okay. I had to take out some of my more explicit work and these were the only ones left."
John shook his head as he handed over a binder. "That's what I'm putting up."
Xander flipped through the photos, swallowing after getting caught staring at a few. He cleared his throat as he handed it back. "If I had consent, I have some stuff to show, but my stuff isn't with consent." John gave him a frown. "They were done after we broke up, pure fantasy pieces."
John smiled. "Xander, there's a great tradition in art that tells us to use models then change their appearances." Xander looked confused so he explained it a little. "Pose your roommate then make sure it doesn't look like him." Xander still looked confused. "Make him look Hispanic or African-American or something."
Xander grinned. "Okay." He shrugged. "I can try one."
"Good. I'll see you tomorrow?" He handed over the pictures of the younger artist's paintings. "Try one and let's see what happens."
"I'll try," Xander agreed as he stood up and hurried out of the office.
John groaned, "I need to get him redirected," as he leaned back in his chair.
Xander sat down across from Oz at their usual table in the Student Union, gifting his guide with a frown. "Can you model for me tonight? I just need forms; John suggested that I make the painting look like someone else."
Oz put down his burger. "So you're going to do pictures then paint?" Xander shrugged, eating the fry he had stolen. "Leave me some."
"Will, just needed a nibble." Xander glanced around. "Can you?"
"Yeah, me and Dev both if you want." Oz picked back up his burger. "Spandex?" he asked right before taking a bite.
"Maybe, not sure." Xander tapped his fingers on the table. "John's much more explicit than I am."
"Like your snapshot series of fantasies?" Xander nodded, giving him a small, self-conscious grin. "Okay," Oz said slowly.
"I'd rather do suggestive," Xander told him, reaching over to pat the older man's arm. "More like my figure drawings."
Oz nodded, taking another bite. "Okay," he said after he had swallowed. "I trust you not to compromise me."
"I'll do my best." Xander stole another fry and Oz's pickle, then got up and jogged out of the building.
Oz shook his head at his friend's lunch tactics and went back to eating.
Devon walked into the loft, smiling at Xander's muted growl. He put down the bag of film he had been sent out for and grabbed the camera. "Let me help you pose," he suggested.
"Isn't that not his work then?" Oz asked.
"I'm just clicking the shutter, Xander's doing all the work." He checked the exposure counter and shook his head as Xander came out of his room dressed like Oz, in flesh-colored spandex. "Just let it flow. Look at each other." He lifted the camera, watching as the bond between the two caught them again.
Oz stared at Xander, getting lost in his eyes almost immediately. He walked over to where Xander stood, ignoring the noise of the camera, and grabbed him for a hard kiss. Xander made a small noise as Oz wrapped his fingers in the younger man's hair, tugging even as he pulled them closer together.
Devon smiled, moving so the camera caught the possessive grasp, silently blessing his ability to change film quickly.
Xander broke the kiss to breathe, panting in shock. "Oz? Huh?"
"Shh," Oz said, backing Xander up to a wall and kissing him again, and again, until there was no more doubt about what was happening.
Xander went limp and his surrender was noted with a tightening of the hands on his body. He tried to move but Oz held him perfectly still to show him who was in control.
Oz growled lightly, smiling at Xander's shivered response. "Mine?" he whispered.
"Mine?" Oz asked again, nipping the soft neck. Xander nodded. "Out loud. I need to hear it."
"Yours," Xander agreed. "Your sentinel." He blinked as Oz backed away. "Oz?"
"No, not sentinel/guide. Mine?"
Xander looked into the gray eyes, falling to his knees as understanding hit, rubbing his face against Oz's stomach. "Yours," he whispered. "Just don't hurt me."
"No pain," Oz promised as he pulled him up and made his friend look at him. "Never pain."
Xander nodded, hugging him and putting his head on Oz's shoulder.
Devon smiled, taking one last picture of them. "Dudes," he called, intentionally breaking the mood. "Perfect." He hopped onto the table, putting the camera down.
Xander looked over from his position on Oz's shoulder. "Go develop them?"
Devon grinned. "Sure. You got an hour." He hopped off, taking the camera and the other full rolls of film as he headed for the door. "One hour," he reminded.
Oz waited until they were alone to plant a kiss on Xander's ear. "You sure?" He got a nod. "Want to cuddle more?"
"Want to do more," Xander decided, standing on his own so he could drag Oz into their bedroom. "Want you," he murmured, helping his friend out of his spandex bodysuit. "Want in you."
Oz relaxed and shook his head. "Not done that part often."
"I'll be gentle," Xander promised, settling Oz onto the bed so he could finish stripping him. "So very gentle for you." As soon as Oz was naked, he stripped himself and latched onto his lover's mouth, laying them both back on the bed. "So very strong," he said between kisses. "Mine?" Oz nodded, surrendering gently. "Good," he purred, sitting up so he could rub down Oz's chest. "So very pretty," he murmured, "and strong, and gentle, and hot."
Oz bucked up as Xander's ass rubbed over his stomach and down onto his thighs. "Now?" he suggested.
"Easy, pretty, it'll happen soon enough," Xander said with a smile. He leaned down to drag his lips over the bared throat. Oz wiggled as he blew against his chest so he glanced up. "Shh, Oz. It's okay." He licked across Oz's collarbone, taking a sharp turn down to the heaving pecs. He smiled as he nipped one taut nipple, chuckling at the gasp. "Oz," he sang, moving lower. "Want you."
"Have me," Oz agreed, pushing up into the hands following the sinful mouth. "Please have me."
"Oh, I will," Xander promised, giving him a sultry look. He reached into the shelves beside his bed for his massage lotion, a gift from Oz after they had gotten back from the tour. He put the bottle beside Oz's hip, scooting backward until he was lying between the splayed legs. He flipped open the cap, transferring some of the pale pink contents to his right hand and starting to work it into the tight cavity while distracting Oz with his tongue.
"Xander," Oz moaned, squeezing his eyes shut.
"In a few minutes, just a little while longer and I'll make it us." Oz opened his eyes to look down at him. "Us," he repeated. Oz nodded and put his head back down, relaxing into the gentle teasing. Xander smiled, switching up to mouth the head of Oz's cock as he inserted himself. As he got farther in, he straightened up and pulled Oz's body into the position he wanted, his lover on his lap with Oz's legs wrapped around his waist. "Perfect," he whispered into a pink ear. "Us?"
"Us," Oz agreed, pulling back to kiss his friend, going with the first gentle thrust. This position didn't let them get far apart but that closeness was what they needed. He wrapped Xander tightly in his arms, sharing another kiss with him as their gentle movements continued.
As they shot off with quiet groans, Xander pulled back to give Oz a naughty grin. "Want to go lay on the balcony and go again?"
Devon shook his head as he walked in, smirking at Oz's yell. "Bad boy's back," he called, dropping the camera and pictures on the table as he headed for the kitchen. He chuckled as he caught the naked-Xander-blur out of the corner of his eye. "They're good." When he turned around, he was alone in the big common space. "Welcome," he called as he headed for what had been Oz's room.
"Thanks," Oz called. "Don't hurry so much."
"Next time," Devon promised as he closed the curtains.
Xander walked out to his easel and plopped down in front of it, attaching the pictures to the easel with a clothespin. He picked up a brush, starting on the one that had caught his eye.
Oz walked out a few minutes later, shaking his head at his roommate, who was fully back into his art. He headed into their bedroom, lying down to take a nap while Xander painted.
Oz looked at the new pictures, his mouth open. He looked at Xander, and opened his arms, simply giving him a hug. "I like," he said finally. "We can do it again."
Xander grinned, looking over at John, whom he had invited up. "Better?"
His advisor smiled. "I think this will be a great show." He patted his student's shoulder. "Are you putting in any pictures?" Xander shook his head. "Okay. Give me any notes by tomorrow." Oz handed him a sheet of paper, making him smile more. "Thanks. I'll make sure these are in the notes." He read over them quickly. "Who's Devon?"
"Our other roomie, Oz and I modeled and he captured it."
John shook his head. "I'll make it a collaboration between the two of you." He turned and walked toward the door. "Come proof the flier and brochure tomorrow, Xander," he called as he left, "and check your mail!"
"Okay," Xander called back, turning to hug Oz some more. "Is Dev gonna explode in happiness or rage?"
"Confetti, this is a critical thing."
"I hope he's not going to be mad," Xander said, looking toward Oz's old room where the vampire was sleeping off the day.
"He'll be fine with it," Oz said, giving him a pat. "Check your email, I'm going to start breakfast." He went into the kitchen.
Xander sat down in front of Oz's computer, logging on under his name. He grunted as he saw the few messages waiting, hitting the one marked 'art dept'. His groan brought Oz to his side. "I have a third show to prepare for. The whole department is showing at once." Oz started to rub his back. "At least they decided what I'm showing."
"We'll find them later. When do you have to present them?"
"This afternoon." Xander looked up. "Three of those are ruined."
"They said you need three and the list has ten. You'll be okay." He hugged Xander gently, letting go as the toaster popped. "Want to eat?"
"In a sec, I want to finish this."
"Okay, we'll go over the offerings for next semester."
"John wants me in the digital class," Xander said absently, frowning at the new letter he had opened. "My parents are looking for me."
Oz sat down at the table. "Why?"
"Someone died." Xander clicked a button and quickly typed a reply, sending it off. "I sent the person my physical addy." He shut down the computer and got up, walking over to join Oz. "I don't want to go back."
"So we won't." Oz took a bite of toast. "Gotta pick classes."
"Yeah." Xander picked up the book of offered classes, flipping to the art section. "Eww."
"The three John wanted me in are all mornings." He traced the listings with his finger. "Wood carving, sculpture, photo 2 and 4, advanced figures, pastels, charcoal, senior seminar, calligraphy." He dropped the book. "Not a thing."
"Wood carving and figures," Oz suggested.
"Same teacher as sculpture and she hates me."
"Got to take something," Oz reminded him. "Can you two make peace?"
"Not sure." Xander flipped to his program requirements, reading them. "I still need a humanities class."
"I'm taking Anthro 101."
"No." Xander shook his head. "Blair warned me not to take a class over there."
"Sandburg perks program?"
"Could be a bad," Oz admitted as he pushed aside his dishes. "Eat."
"In a few," Xander said as he read through the offered classes again.
"Now!" Xander looked up in shock. "You're underweight, eat." He watched his sentinel head into the kitchen to make himself breakfast. "Thank you."
"Yup." Xander stared at the plate he had put in the microwave, grabbing it before the timer could beep, eating the pork chop while he cooked his real breakfast.
Oz picked up the schedule, looking for new things to take.
"Weaving?" John asked, frowning at his advisee. "What about my suggestions?"
Xander gave him an embarrassed look. "I can take them if the teacher never wants to see me."
John chuckled. "Not a morning person. Okay, so weaving?"
"It's on the alternate track and it's only half a semester."
"Ah." John nodded sagely before looking over the proposed schedule again. "Computer requirement, literature requirement, art appreciation and free form." He nodded. "Which one is the drop one?"
Xander shrugged. "Oz liked that lit and I know most of the computer stuff." He shifted. "I think it'll be okay."
"Okay." John signed his name on the registration form. "What about your stuff for the student show?"
"I handed Bertranda three and six alternatives from other people's walls." John looked worried. "Blair and Giles both had lots of unseen stuff so I offered it up to be shown."
"Cool. Did we proof the brochure?"
"And Dev went insane," he said with a grin. "He hugged everyone he could find and told them all."
"Glad he was happy." John handed back the registration card. "Xander, we need to make plans for your senior showing." That stopped his student cold. "It's a requirement for graduation. We should plan on doing it two semesters before you graduate in case there's a problem and we have to push it back."
Xander shifted uncomfortably. "Do I have to?" John nodded. "Okay, so I have two years?"
"You'll need to start planning now so you have unseen works. You'll need at least fifty pieces so we can pick about twenty." Xander nodded again, his movements slow and shallow. "You'll need to be able to showcase a wide range of skills. Some pictures, some paintings that are realistic and some of the more abstract and surreal."
Xander frowned. "Does any of my present stuff fit?"
"Some. I've seen Blair's and Jim's stuff and a few of them were good enough." He leaned forward, leaning on his arms, which were crossed on the desk. "We'll work on it, but plan on starting to pick things now to hold back."
"Okay." He shrugged. "Oh, my extra picture for our show isn't going into the unknowns show, Devon said no."
"Okay, you'll need to give them choices too."
"Hmm. Going to give them more?" John asked, relaxing again now that he had talked his favorite student into doing the optional show.
"I was going to bring in my binder of pictures, which we updated with where things are shown and how many people have seen them, to let them decide."
"Good idea, just remember to take out the stuff you aren't willing to part with." Xander nodded. "All done. Go run away now."
Xander hurried out of the office, running out to register for the next semester before everything closed. He met Oz in the Student Union after he was done, sliding into their booth. "I have to do a senior show," he said quietly. Oz choked. "Not now, but I'll need fifty to choose from that haven't been seen."
Oz sipped his soda, considering his roommate. "When?"
"Semester before I graduate. Or two actually so I have enough time."
Oz nodded. "Okay. We'll consider how we're doing this tonight." Xander nodded, still looking tense. "More problems?"
"Yeah." Xander frowned at his fingers. "I'm bored," he said suddenly,. "I love my art, but what good is an art degree?"
Oz put down his soda to look at him. "Going practical suddenly?"
"I have an accounting minor," Xander said with a shrug. "I miss working."
"Okay," Oz said slowly, "and?"
"I'm not sure," Xander admitted with a shrug. "I'm putting this up for discussion."
Oz sighed. "Tonight." Xander nodded, relaxing. "Do you really want to do the unknowns show?"
"No, but it's a good opportunity." He slumped in on himself. "I don't want to do it, even if I could be a featured person this year." He put his head down on the table, giving Oz a pathetic sideways look. "Everyone wants but me."
"Then don't. We don't need the money." He patted Xander's head. "Your truck's repair isn't that expensive; the estimate was very low."
"Have we looked at the finances recently?" Oz nodded. "Are we still okay really or practically?"
"Close to practically, but we're still okay. It's just under two and a half months until next semester. We'll do okay." Oz looked around. "Actually, I'd rather you didn't do the unknowns show; the fee went up and there's no guarantee you'll sell."
Xander shrugged. "Okay. I won't show then." He jumped as someone cleared their throat beside them. "Hi, Doctor Bertranda. Problems?"
"I overheard what you said," the older man said as he pulled a chair over and sat down. "You know it's a great honor to be asked, correct?"
"We're talking about the unknows," Oz told him, "which we can't afford for him to enter."
Doctor Bertranda nodded, giving them a grave look. "That's a good reason, but Mr. Harris needs the recognition, especially with a personal show coming up."
"I may, but we can't afford it if I can't sell." Xander stole Oz's soda to take a sip.
"Sorry." Xander gave him a small smile. "You keep nagging about my lack of calories."
"It's diet," Oz countered, taking his drink back. "Go get lunch."
"No money." Oz groaned and closed his eyes, shaking his head. "Sorry."
"S'okay." Oz pushed his plate over. "Share mine." He looked at Xander's photography teacher. "I know it's important for him, but we're about to run out of money and I'm the only one of us working."
"Xander shouldn't be working, he needs to practice and work would take away from that."
"So does lack of food and electricity," Oz countered.
Bertranda chuckled, his expression easing up some. "Good point. Are you going to tell John?" Xander shook his head. "All right." He stood up, leaving them alone.
"I feel bad," Xander said quietly. "It's like I broke his dreams or something."
"Someone with your gifts is a boon to the department; it gives them great publicity." Oz shrugged, stealing a bite of food to eat. "You're drawing students to the program because they want to be you."
"I guess, but I still don't want to."
Oz nodded. "You going to do the portrait workshop over Christmas?" he asked in a smooth change of subject. Xander shook his head. "No?"
"No, but I am going to work."
"Okay." Oz pushed his plate closer to his roommate. "Eat." He waited until Xander had loaded his mouth before adding anything else. "Jim and Blair want us to come for dinner. They want to mend bridges." Xander stopped chewing. "Eat. I miss talking with Blair." Xander nodded. "Good, we'll go over around five. Dev can come over later."
Xander shrugged and swallowed. "Okay. If you're okay with it, I am." He pushed back the plate. "Thanks."
"Finish it, you need the food."
"Not unless you're reminded," Oz countered.
"That's not allowed. Not eating means hospitalization, which we can't afford." Xander snorted. "Eat or I'm going to ask Blair to cook for us."
Xander dropped the potato chips he had been fingering. "I'm sorry I'm such a bother, Oz, but I can't help it."
"Not a bother, just an occasional irritation; especially when you wear my shirts." He pinched the thin arm. "You look sick. Eat."
"Okay. I don't feel like arguing." Xander finished off the chips. "I got congratulated for snaring you." Oz started to choke so he jumped up to pound on his back. "Oz! You okay?" He handed off the glass of water someone handed him. "Thanks," he said absently, helping Oz calm back down. "You okay?" he asked softly as he sat back down.
Oz took a breath and wiped off his face. "Yeah, fine. Who?" He put his head down so he could concentrate on breathing.
"One of the other art students, they remarked on it during our department meeting." Oz groaned. "I told them you were a super roomie and I needed you as a keeper and art critic." He gave his guide a faint grin. "He wanted your number, he needs you too."
Oz shook his head. "I can't take more than you." He sat up, glancing around. "Don't do that to me again, Xander, okay?"
"Okay." Xander grinned. "Sorry. You back to normal?" Oz nodded. "Okay. We'll talk after we get back tonight?"
"Definitely." Oz grabbed a crumb of potato chip, leaving the rest of the burger on the plate. "Eat, Xander."
Blair opened his apartment door, waving the young men inside. "Come on. Xander, when did you stop eating? Oz, hey." He hugged each of them before he let them inside to sit down. "Let me start by apologizing; I'm an ass." Oz nodded, making him laugh. "Okay, as long as we have consensus. Anyone want snacks?" The door was knocked on again and he opened it for Devon, who gave him a hug and a grin. "Thanks. Sit. Snacks?" he asked again.
"Yes, God, please," Xander begged, snatching the plate Blair brought over from his hands. "Bless you, you're a saint."
"We're out of food," Devon explained. "They forgot to go shopping for the past week."
"Ah," Jim said as he walked through the connecting door between his and Blair's apartment. "You should fix that." He patted the back of Xander's head. "Slow down or you'll get sick." He sat down across from Oz. "How's things in your pairing?"
"Not great. Got stress from art stuff."
Xander looked up. "Not if I'm not in the unknowns show. Otherwise I just have to show up and help arrange." He checked the plate and handed the four pieces left to Oz. "Sorry."
"S'okay, you needed it." Oz nibbled on a cheese-covered cracker. "Thanks."
"Hey, I needed to cook," Blair said, shooting a worried glance at Jim. "Supper will be done in about half an hour."
Oz shifted, pulling his feet up so he was more comfortable. "Thanks. I really don't want to shop tonight."
"Popcorn?" Xander asked softly.
"Yeah, we'll stop and get you munchies." Oz rubbed over the back of Xander's head. "You going to paint tonight?"
Xander shook his head. "No urge to."
Blair stared at him in shock. "No urge to paint? You?"
"He's done a good thirty in the last few weeks plus his pictures. He's burnt out," Devon said. "We all are."
"Yeah, we're all tired of art," Oz said, getting a nod from Xander.
"He could teach art," Jim suggested, picking up on the problem.
"Especially in public schools," Blair added, taking the hint from Jim. "The local school system is looking for art teachers."
Xander suddenly nodded. "And I could still do my art."
"Yup," Oz said softly. "A paid art job."
Xander leaned over and gave Blair a hug. "Thank you. I've been wondering why I was antsy."
"Teaching minor," Jim told him, "get your certificate."
Xander nodded. "Yeah, I can do that."
Oz pulled Xander closer, giving him a hug. "Just be careful. Your orientation and some of your art could be questionable."
"Good point," Blair said. "He just needs to be a little careful and keep records of his models in case someone objects."
"Pictures," Oz told him. "He's been working with figures from pictures recently."
"Hey, even better. Then no one can say anything."
"True," Xander agreed. He looked over at Oz. "Help me with that?"
"Of course. Always."
Blair beamed at them. "I am *so* glad you guys have figured it out."
"It's an 'if it happens' choice," Devon told the pair. "But I found a honey."
"You and?" Blair asked.
"Buffy," Oz and Xander said together.
Jim snorted. "That would be an odd combination."
"Her first honey is Devon's grandsire," Xander told them. "Saw him on our trip by the way."
"Yeah, Sunnyhell almost took his soul," Devon said.
"Again," Oz noted.
"Willow still mourns her fish every year." Xander patted Oz's thigh.
Jim shuddered. "I don't want to know."
Blair wisely agreed with him.
Blair watched Xander inhale his fourth helping of casserole, giving Jim a worried look but turning it into a smile for Oz. "It's good to know that I haven't lost my touch," he joked.
"Xander's been pushing himself for his two shows," Oz explained.
"Two?" Jim asked.
"The whole art department one and one with John based on my pictures," Devon said proudly.
"We knew about the department one," Jim told him, leaning back and absently scratching Blair's cat's head when it bumped into his hand. "He came over to steal some of our art back."
Xander looked up. "Doctor Bertranda picked all three of mine from them." He looked back down long enough to scrape his plate. "That was *great*, Blair, thank you."
"You're welcome. There's still some left if you want more."
"We'll take it home," Oz said diplomatically. Xander nodded in agreement, smiling at the other pairing. "As apology dinners go, this was perfect," Oz remarked.
Blair blushed lightly. "I am sorry, Oz. I never meant for her to wait that long; I thought you'd go a lot slower and you'd figure something was up, maybe ask me or something."
Oz shrugged. "Wasn't all you. Darrien told her not to tell me too. It helped that even Wolf apologized for all of you."
Jim coughed. "We know. Wolf sucked us down to yell at Blair." He glanced around. "Did you see me that day? Wolf mentioned it to Blair and I."
"It was Darrien being you," Blair told him. "Oz came to ask about Xander's incident."
"Ah. That explains it then." Jim shrugged. "I was zoning so bad I stayed home."
Xander nodded. "It's okay. Wolf bit Darrien. He even apologized to me." He looked at Oz. "And to him."
"Then everything's okay?" Blair asked.
"Very okay. Especially if we can come eat. We don't cook things like this."
Oz grunted. "I would, but you never want to eat when I cook for us."
Xander leaned a little closer to his guide. "I'm sorry I'm so selfish." He went limp as Oz rubbed his arm. "Thanks."
"No big," Oz told him. "I'll start feeding you again."
"Is he forgetting to eat still?" Jim asked.
"Mostly, and I've been forgetting to remind him because of my own course load." Oz pinched Xander's arm. "I'm taking less hours next semester and so will he."
"Eighteen," Xander mumbled.
"No," Oz told him gently. "You'll never sleep or eat. No more than fifteen." Xander looked at him, giving him a begging look. "Fifteen. Please."
Xander sighed and then nodded. "Okay. I'll talk to John in the morning when I go in about my new minor."
"Good. I'll come if you want." Xander nodded. "Okay, I'll help you explain so he won't yell."
"I think John thinks you're taking me away from art," Xander told Oz. "Bertranda kept giving you dirty looks because he thinks you're making me not go into the unknowns show." Oz groaned. "Sorry."
"I'm sure John won't tell you to dump Oz," Jim said with a faint smile. "If you have to, you can tell him what's going on."
"He's been told about Blair and he knows something but I'm not sure what," Xander admitted.
Oz coughed. "We'll explain something to him." Xander smiled at him. "It'll be okay, really." He looked over at Blair. "Can we come be fed more often? This is way beyond my ability."
"Sure, I always make too much." Blair relaxed. "It'll be okay."
John cleared his throat. "Maybe your friend should let us discuss this alone." Oz shook his head. "All right, then let me ask you directly. Are you trying to keep his gift covered?" Oz shook his head again. "You're sure? You're not trying to kill his spirit or skills or even just kill him?"
Xander glared at his advisor, reaching over to touch Oz. "Oz is doing things to *help* me, not hurt me. He's never been anything but supportive. This is all me, John. I feel worthless and slacking." He leaned closer to Oz, silently protecting and giving him strength. "This is me wondering if I'm going to starve when I graduate. This way I can eat *and* paint. Maybe I'll even find someone like me and make sure he or she gets help sooner."
John sighed, slumping in on himself. "Okay. You're just changing minors?" Xander nodded. "I guess that's an acceptable minor, and a reasonable excuse, but I have to feel disappointed. Your gift will be wasted while you teach."
"I can still do art," Xander pointed out. "There's all summer and after school. Art isn't a homework class so I'll have plenty of free time to paint. And if you think about it, I'll be getting paid for sitting and drawing with kids."
John snorted. "Okay, I'll sign the forms but I don't want to hear any more about you withdrawing from art."
"Except the unknowns show," Xander corrected. "We can't afford it if I don't sell so I'm not doing it." John glared at Oz. "No, my decision. We can't afford it and eating if I don't sell."
John leaned back, nodding after a few seconds. "Okay," He said slowly, "eating is good. You do know that we may sell at either of the other shows?" Xander nodded. "Not counting on it?"
"I never count on it," Xander told him. Oz grunted in agreement. "Actually, I'm really not counting on selling this semester; it's just not been happening."
"Our emergency fund is almost gone," Oz added.
John shrugged. "We've all been there, guys. I know it's tough but it'll happen."
"It's better to not count on money coming in when it's not," Xander reminded him. "I haven't sold since I placed an emergency call so we could buy our building."
"You could get a loan...." John started.
"Which would leave us in the same place next semester when we really can't afford it," Oz pointed out.
"Yes, but you don't have to come," Oz told Xander, patting him on the arm. "I won't force you to come with us this time."
"Okay," Xander said with a grin. "Good. I was miserable a third of the time."
"I know. It's okay. We'll work it out so we're fine," Oz reminded him.
"Summer school," John said quickly. "We're offering six classes, most later in the day."
Oz shrugged. "We'll look at the schedule when it comes out." He shifted to look in Xander's direction. "Will you be okay?"
"Definitely. If we have to, you can get a cellphone and Blair'll be here. Just don't go too far in country."
Oz nodded. "Minnesota. Dev wants to see his cousin this time."
John sighed. "Do I want to know why this is such an issue?"
Xander stared at Oz, who nodded slightly, then turned to face his advisor. "What do you know about Blair?"
"Blair's diss," Oz corrected gently.
"Um, not much. I remember the media crap. Are you...." He stopped, sitting up abruptly. "You're what they were talking about?" Xander nodded. "So, your roommate is..." Oz nodded. "Oh. Oh, my." He slumped again. "Okay. Do we need to make official notice, emergency plans, or something? Anything?"
"He's doing okay," Oz conceded. "He zones while doing his art usually. That's an over-focus," he explained at the look of confusion. "His main thing right now is his art zone; he forgets to eat."
"Often," Xander added with a small nod.
"Yes, I noticed," John said sarcastically, frowning at Xander. "Everything else is okay?"
"It's an occasional thing," Xander admitted. "I usually correct myself now. The last one here was during a figures class when I was upset."
John thought for a few minutes, then his face firmed up into it's usual happy expression. "Okay." John clapped his hands together. "I didn't hear that unless I need to know in the future. I'll sign the forms for Xander's minor change and talk to the education people for him." He signed the form in front of him, handing it over as fast as he could. "There we go."
Xander looked down at the form. "We weirded you out, huh?"
"We're all different," John said gently. "Some are just a little more different than others."
Oz snorted. "And some are just strange." Xander grinned at him. "We done?"
"Yup." John smiled at him. "Just let me know when something's going to need to be done."
Xander stood up. "We will, just don't tell everyone." He tugged on Oz's shirt. "Come on, I'll treat to lunch."
"In a sec." Oz waited until Xander had left them alone to say anything else. "Xander is more than my guideling. I'm not going to work against him, never." He drew out the last word as he stood up. He walked out, joining Xander on the bench outside the building under a group of trees. "He understands now."
Xander sighed. "That's what I figured." He stood up. "Pizza?"
Oz nodded. "Sounds good. We okay?"
"Definitely. You were just being protective." Xander grinned. "Come on, I'm hungry."
"Good. It's about time."
John put his head down on his desk, not even looking up when someone walked in. "What?" he moaned.
"Did they tell you what he is?" Bertranda asked with a smirk. John groaned but didn't lift his head. "Sandburg's had a few others here so he could watch over them. We've been watching for it since we saw who had him admitted."
John lifted his head. "He said he zoned in his figure drawing's class."
"He did. The teacher went to check on him and found him staring into space in the bathroom. That was right after the gallery sold stuff without telling him and before his ulcer."
John shuddered. "He said he goes somewhere like that when he creates."
Bertranda's mouth fell open. "Really?" John nodded. "I'll be damned! His mind just takes over for him? No wonder he never works in class." John shook his head. "In classes like figures he brings in mostly completed work and does a few finishing touches."
"He paints naked," John said with a chuckle. "Can't you just see someone like Doctor Morrows dealing with that quirk?"
"She called it a 'confused muse' problem," Bertranda said in imitation of the figures' teacher. "She accepted it but she hates him."
John shook his head, still laughing. "Oh, God, we're going to have problems keeping him safe." He tossed his head back down, hitting it on the desk.
Xander stuffed the last piece of Oz's crust into his mouth, giving his guide a small smile. "Thanks."
"Welcome. I'm going to look over your bank statements tonight. There's no reason for things to bounce." Xander nodded, chewing hard. "I'll go search our room."
Xander beamed. "Okay." Oz gave him a bland look. "Our?"
"Seems to be."
"We could make it official," Xander suggested quietly.
Oz stopped and thought, then nodded. "I do need to move my stuff. Dev will hate us, he'll have to get a new dresser." Xander's smile got brighter and larger. "We'll do that tonight, after you clean your room." He wiped his mouth. "You have class in twenty minutes. I'll see you at home." He gathered up their trash, putting it onto the tray and carrying it to the trash can.
Xander grabbed his backpack as he slid out of the booth. "I'll be home around four." He jogged out of the restaurant.
Oz checked the table as he gathered his things, then he left for home.