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Shaman on a Hellmouth

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Summary: After tSbBS there's at least one university in the country that's not going to care about Blair's ethics. Blair/Giles, Blair/other BtVS character, suggested Giles/Xander. (now edited for formatting problems - easier to read!)

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Television > Sentinel, The > Giles-CenteredsaraidFR21155,8889141,32122 Aug 0922 Aug 09Yes

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(none of these characters belong to me)

"Rejection, rejection, overdue bill, rejection, school loan reminder, bill, rejection..."

Blair sighed as he slumped further back into the couch, the pile of mail in his lap. He snuck a look at Jim, but his roommate and erstwhile partner wasn't paying any attention to him. Slouched in the yellow chair, Jim only had eyes for the Jags game on the television.

Blair sighed again. There was no sense trying to be quiet about it. Jim would hear even if all he did was breathe a little quick. Whether he would care or not was another issue, though.

It had been three months since the fiasco. What Blair had taken to calling, in his mind, 'the Big Screw-Up'. Okay, so it had really been Naomi's screw-up, but he was the one that had to deal with the consequences.

Everyone seemed to think everything was going to be fine. That he would happily accept the badge and the uniform and spend the rest of his life trotting at Jim's side. Be a cop. He would have been a good one, he didn't doubt that. But to give up his lifelong dream and never teach again? To abandon nearly eight years of higher education?

He didn't understand how they could ask him to do that.
Jim didn't understand how he could have said no.

So things weren't so good between them. They would get better, or they wouldn't. Ellison's continuing refusal to forgive him completely, and his inability to trust his Guide again, were making the wouldn't more likely. Blair could understand it, to a point. So many people had betrayed this man, it wasn't surprising he took it badly when it was someone close to him.

Only, Blair hadn't betrayed him. He'd made a dumb mistake, yeah. An error of judgement, using Jim's name in the draft of his dis. He would have taken it out and changed a bunch of stuff before he actually wrote the damned thing. There was no way he could have predicted his mother's actions. Naomi was a force unto herself, and everything else just got blown into her pattern or out of the way. She'd said she was sorry, especially to Blair, and she'd meant it. That was enough for him.

As far as Blair could see, he was the only one that had lost anything here.

Still, though, Jim acted hurt and put-upon. He refused to do any tests or talk to Blair about what was going on at the station. Blair was no longer invited to poker games or barbecues or anything related to the Cascade PD. Daryl had even stopped coming to him for help with his homework. When Blair had asked Simon, in passing on the phone while trying to reach Jim, the captain had muttered something about hiring a tutor.

Okay, alright, Simon had pulled some strings to get Blair that badge. He'd probably put something on the line.

But he should have *asked* first.

They all should have. Given Blair a chance to explain himself, to say what he wanted. When he had refused, as politely as he could have without using the words 'jack-boots' or 'conservative' or 'institution' they could have taken it *gracefully*.

He sighed again, and caught the annoyed glance Jim threw him.

He was still living here because he had no money, and no job to get any. With his degree and experience, he'd thought he would be able to find *something* in his field. Hell, he'd be happy to teach junior high right now. It wasn't like he had actually *submitted* the dis that he'd called a fraud. Just writing it had been enough to get him kicked out of the program and ruin his reputation, but it wasn't like he'd tried to use it to get his D-R.

He ruffled through the letters again. It was becoming urgent that he find something, anything. There was no telling how much longer Jim would tolerate his presence. Ever since Alex, Blair had been expecting to be kicked out again, and he needed to have someplace to go besides home to Mom. Wherever that would be.

He'd forgiven her, absolutely, but she couldn't quite forgive herself yet, and he didn't want to have to see her guilt if he was around, and unemployed.

There was one last envelope. Not an official one, but he recognized the postmark; a little place in California.

He thought wistfully about how nice it would be to live someplace warm again as he carefully peeled back the flap. It seemed too thick for a rejection, but he'd thought that before. Some of the Deans at universities he'd applied to had felt it their duty to sound him off for having the audacity to think they would allow him to set foot on their campus as a janitor, much less a professor. So now even the fatter envelopes were to be treated with caution... nothing like getting your hopes up just to be called a fraud by someone you'd never met.

'We would like to invite you to join our faculty for the...'

He stopped, and rubbed at his eyes, under his glasses. He needed a new prescription, he was pretty sure, but there wasn't any money for a trip to the eye doc. What little he did have was being saved for moving expenses, should he manage to need it. Saved without Jim's knowledge, too, which made him feel slightly guilty for not contributing more. But when he got a job he would pay back all he owed...

Invite you to join?

Blair sat up straighter and read the first sentence again, the paper wrinkling at the edges where he held it too tightly.

'We would like to invite you to join our faculty for the upcoming school year of 2001-2002, with a binding contract for the next five years, the last two years optional, in our expanding Archeology department...."

He had a job?

They wanted him?

Blair read the letter once, and then again. He lowered his arms, he'd been holding it close to his face, and looked across the top of it at Jim.

Who was still watching his ball game, apparently not interested in the fact that his roommate and one-time best friend's life has just undergone a drastic, miraculous change.

"I've got a job," he said it quietly, to himself. Jim didn't budge. He must not have been listening. "I've got a job!"

Blair leapt off the couch and did a little victory-dance around the coffee table. Jim frowned and then grabbed the remote, turning up the volume even though he patently didn't need to.

"That's great, Chief. Now you can buy the groceries once in a while. Can you get out of the way? It's the last quarter."

Feeling his excitement drain, Blair tugged at the hem of his flannel overshirt and went to stand by the couch. He picked up the letter and folded it carefully. He would call first thing in the morning to accept. Maybe someone there could find a cheap apartment for him he didn't figure they were going to pay him the going rate, given his situation. It was one of the things he'd counted on, actually; that some university with a tight budget would take him just because they could pay him less.

He sat back down and fiddled with the letter, watching the last few minutes of the game. The Jags were ahead by three, but lost it in the last two minutes. Jim shouted when the buzzer rang and threw the remote down on the floor.

"Dammit. I had twenty on that."

Blair wisely refrained from comment. Just lately, if he said anything about expenses or the price of anything, Jim just said something snide about how he wasn't paying for any of it. He'd been by the man's side for more than three years, at his beck and call, an unpaid servant, essentially, and now Jim was ragging him about money?

He didn't need that. Those thoughts, and the resigned look on Jim's face when he turned toward the couch - the one that said 'okay, I suppose I *have* to listen to you for at least a few minutes, just to keep the peace - helped cement his resolve, so the words weren't so hard to say.

"I got a job at a university in California."

"What?!" Total shock. Jim stood and loomed over him and glared. "California?! What the hell are you going to do out there?"

"Teach anthropology." Blair shrugged. He wasn't intimidated by the threat display; Jim had gotten physical with him in the past and Blair got physical right back, but Jim was too strict with himself to actually let him hurt Blair. "I'll have to leave soon to get there before the semester starts." He had a lot of work to do. Depending on which classes they wanted him to teach, of course. He'd been teaching the intro classes so long he could practically write the syllabus from memory. They might want him to make changes, or teach to someone else's schedule, but looking up at Jim's furious expression and then around the loft, where his things had been slowly finding their way back to his little room, one at a time that was okay. He was willing to do almost anything to be back in a classroom and away from here.

"So that's it, then?" Jim was really angry. "You're just going to pack up and leave."

Leave me. Blair knew that was what Jim was saying, and he wasn't about to defend himself. Jim had been working with Megan as his partner for the past three months, and hadn't zoned once. She knew what he was, Simon did, and between the two of them they could keep him online. He didn't need Blair for that any more. So, in a way, he had fulfilled his part of the bargain. He'd given Jim control of his senses.

And in return he'd gotten scorn and anger and ruin.

He really didn't think Jim had the right to ask anything else of him.

"Well, yeah." He shrugged, and stood, brushing past the larger man, only stopping when Jim grabbed his arm, too tightly.

"I thought you were going to find something here, Sandburg. A management position or something."

Yes, he could have worked at a club or a bar and made enough to live on, as long as he lived with Jim and split the bills. But that wasn't what he wanted. It never had been.

"I could have. But they're going to let me teach, Jim. All I ever wanted to be was a college professor."

"Not a Guide." Jim spat the words, letting him go with a shove. Blair rocked on his heels and didn't stumble.

"That was a side effect, man." No way to be nice about it. "It was cool while it lasted, but it's over now."

"You think you get to decide when it's over, *Sandburg*?" Jim was dangerously angry now. Blair considered placating him it would be that much harder to move if he didn't have a place to stay in the meantime but then it hit him; He didn't have to stay. Not another night. He could pack up his things, stuff the car, and take off first thing in the morning. He needed to call Sunnydale U and make sure the offer was legit, but he could do that from the road. No matter what they said, he knew now that he didn't want to stay here another minute longer than he had to.

"Yeah, Jim." he smiled, and knew it was not a nice smile. People forgot that he could be a jerk, too, when he wanted to be. "For once, I get to decide how something goes."

He turned his back on the larger man and walked toward his room. The boxes from the Alex fiasco were still in the basement. He would use them, and Jim could just choke on it.

He grabbed his keys, so Jim couldn't do something juvenile like lock him out, and opened the door.

"Actually, I've decided to leave tomorrow. So I won't be sponging off you anymore or getting in your way or, like, breathing your air."

He shut the door on the satisfying vision of Jim, mouth hanging open, speechless. With rage, maybe, so he walked over a couple of blocks to the bookstore coffee shop and killed some time reading magazines he could no longer afford to subscribe to before going back to pull boxes from the basement.

Jim was upstairs when he went back into the loft. All the lights but the little one over the sink were off.

Blair went to his room and began packing. No matter how quietly he did it Jim would hear, and he was betting Jim wasn't asleep.

He didn't expect Jim to come down and offer to help, but it would have been nice.

Blair took a step back and gazed upon his handiwork.
He still didn't own more than he could fit into one car. That was comforting to know. He might have to buy furniture when he got there, but he'd done that before. Sometimes he thought people forgot he'd had a life before he moved in with Jim. A bed, a sofa, a tv, appliances. Towels and sheets. Well, yeah, all of it had gotten blown to bits.... at least he could be sure Sunnydale was safer than Cascade, as well as warmer. It seemed liked *anyplace* had to be safer than Cascade.

There was even room on the front seat for his backpack and cd case, and to spread out his map. As soon as the bank opened he would go and close his account, pull out everything he had. Probably take some of it in traveler's checks, and then he could deposit some in his mom's account, since she used the same bank. If there wasn't a branch in Sunnydale, he would just have her send it to him. It would be safe that way, and he'd have a little bit to fall back on.

Maybe the university could be talked into comping him the moving costs, such as they were.

He could sleep in the car tonight, it wasn't too cold yet and he would be heading south. He'd printed directions from a handy webpage and knew it wasn't a horribly long drive. Seventeen hours or so.

The sun was just coming up. He'd packed all night. Soon Jim would be leaving for work.

It might have been - okay, it was cowardly - but he didn't want another confrontation. He'd been up all night, but he didn't feel tired. It was more like he'd been sleeping for three months and had just woken up. He felt alive and energized.

He was getting his life back. After four long years, it seemed like a miracle. These past few months he'd come to realize that Jim had become the focus of everything, and he felt the need to concentrate on Blair for a while.

So, okay. He dug into his backpack and pulled out a notebook, retrieved a pen from the floor of the car one of many, they seemed to be reproducing down there and paused.

He didn't know what to say.

'Thanks for everything, I'll call you when I'm settled'?

Fine, except that he wasn't feeling particularly thankful at the moment.

'Take care of yourself. I'll call you when I get a phone.'

That was better, but still sounded a little cold. Maybe if he started it with 'Jim'...

Blair pulled out of the parking lot. He wanted to look up at the balcony, just to see if Jim was watching him, but didn't, because Jim would have seen it. And then he would have seen the tears that were threatening to spill from Blair's eyes.

The loft had been his first real home since he started college at 16. Jim had been his only real friend in about that long. Leaving was a lot harder than he had thought it would be.

Back in the parking lot, a piece of notebook paper, college-ruled, was folded in half and tucked into the crack in the driver's side window of Jim's truck. As he drove through town, toward the bank, which opened at 8, Blair thought about what he had written.

Dear Jim -
I know this is hard for you, so
I'm not going to make it any
harder. I wish you could
understand that I just have to
go. I can't make a new life for
myself while I hide in your shadow.

The S-thing is under control.
You'll be fine without me.
Someday soon I'll call and give
you a number where you can
reach me, in case you need me.
For anything. I've never had a
friend like you, and I hope that
we can be friends again someday.

Be well –
Blair

He wiped a few tears from his eyes. If the cashier at the bank looked at him with sympathy, he hoped it was because he was wearing yesterday's clothes, and not because she could tell he'd been crying.

***

He arrived in Sunnydale late the next evening, around 11:30. He'd slept late that morning, his long night of packing catching up to him. Safely tucked away in a rest area just above a cliff, he'd been lulled by the quiet wash of the waves. Soothing and calm. Dinner had been sandwiches picked up on the road and coffee from his thermos. Sleep had come easily and left reluctantly.

He entered the town, smiling at the cheerful sign, and drove through quiet streets, looking for a hotel. He hadn't thought to make a reservation ahead of time, though he had called the University from a payphone and told them he was coming.

They had told him to take his time and show up the next morning for the interview, etc, but assured him that the job was his if he wanted it. The department head had seemed oddly emphatic that he not arrive until morning.

He was beginning to think she had been right, too. Though he drove for an hour, following the map to the mall and the business district, he saw no sign of a hotel or motel or even a homeless shelter. There was a bus stop, but it was locked up tight - no buses ran after dark here?

Not desperate, but disgruntled, he drove to the University, only to find it locked up tight as well. There were lights in some dorm rooms, but no students wandering the campus, and there didn't seem to be any loud parties going on either.

Well, the semester wouldn't actually start for another week. But where was he going to stay the night?

The car was getting low on gas. He needed to fill up before it ran out. He returned to a Quickee-Mart he'd spotted in the suburbs. It had lights on and there was someone behind the counter. He could go in and use the phone. His cellphone had been an early casualty of unemployment.

Getting out of the car, he was startled when the clerk ran to the door and apparently *locked* it.

"Hey!" Jogging, he went to the door and knocked on it sharply. The guy was young, and scruffy-looking, and staring at him with wide, frightened eyes. "I need to use the phone!" Blair shouted.

Then he realized that the guy was staring *past* him, and every hair on the back of his neck stood up as he remembered what it was like to feel careful, to know he was in danger.... memories of Lash and other psychos he'd helped Jim put away flooded his brain.

He turned around, slowly, not really wishing he had a gun, he still hated them, but knowing he was pretty defenseless at the moment, armed with only his wit and that slowed by tiredness....

Two teenagers were approaching. They were dressed like most kids he'd seen in Cascade, maybe a bit more on the disaffected side of the spectrum, but, still, nothing to be afraid of. Not unless they were hardened criminals or something, which just didn't seem likely in the nice, quiet suburb in this nice little town.

"Hey, guys. Kinda quiet around here after dark, isn't it?" he heard himself babbling and sighed mentally. One trait he'd never outgrown, despite Jim's efforts. "You wouldn't know where I can find a hotel or something? Maybe a bed and breakfast?"

The larger of the two came closer and under the streetlight Blair could see how pale he was. He looked kid of sickly. Had he stumbled into a plague or something?

"We can find you a place to stay." the kid laughed, and it wasn't a pretty sound.

Blair back up, not wanting the other kid to get behind him. He glanced over the area for anything he could potentially use as a weapon.

While his eyes were off the kid, things got worse. When he looked back he was right in front of Blair. Taller by several inches, and he looked pale and sick and - hungry?

Three more teens were coming up the street at a run, dressed like the first two.

"Hey, wait for us! You gotta share, you promised!" one of them sounded whiney as he shouted and waved.

"Plenty to go around!" the second kid called back.

Blair suddenly felt very, very worried. There wasn't anything around he could use as a weapon, he was stuck up against the wall of the convenience store, and the clerk inside was only staring in sick horror.

Why didn't he call the cops or do something?

The others were almost there, he was going to be surrounded, something *bad* was going to happen, only he didn't know what, just that he didn't want to wait around and find out

"Hey, skank!" another voice, new. Strong but panting. Yet another young man, this one wearing combat boots and carrying - a sword?! - came around from the back of the store. "Why don't you pick on someone your own size?"

"You're outnumbered, cow!" one of the others shouted back. They divided neatly into two groups.

"But I brought friends." The newcomer stopped a few feet away from Blair and smiled. He looked normal and healthy and Blair thought that maybe he'd fallen asleep at the wheel and he should wake up now, before he crashed the car and his new life was over before it began... would they still give him the job if he had to spend the first semester in the hospital?

"Lots of them." It was a girl. Wearing black leather. She had something in her hand, something he couldn't quite see. And there were others with her. Two more girls, a man Blair only caught glimpses. A petite redhead, a taller blond with doe eyes, and the man looked to be in his forties? Maybe older.

"Shit!" one of his attackers swore. "I thought you said we lost them!"

"Run!" another shouted, and they all turned as one, scattering.

The guy that had been threatening Blair snarled and for a minute he thought he saw his face... change. Then a fist collided with the side of his head and he was spinning, out of control, blackness rising...

***

"Oh, shit. Owwww." he would rather this had been a dream, frankly. He opened his eyes cautiously, his head protesting the whole time, and found himself looking up at the concerned face of the older man. It was a nice face.
Creased with age and his eyes held intelligence and wisdom, his glasses sitting comfortably; a part of it, Blair knew how that felt, after so many years.

"Don't move. Let me see if anything is broken." a British accent, softened by years in America.

Gentle hands stroked his cheek and Blair had to stomp ruthlessly on a surge of desire that came from nowhere.

He didn't - wait a minute... he wasn't in Cascade anymore. If he wanted to date guys again, there was no reason not to. It wasn't like Jim would find out.
It was a nice thought, the idea of being free with himself again. Jim's presence in his life had put some real constraints on what Blair could and couldn't do.

But maybe this wasn't the time or place. He looked around, ignoring the repeated command to be still, hearing exasperation in the man's voice, as if he were used to dealing with people that didn't listen to him.

He was on the hood of his car, half-seated, propped against the body of the stranger. Well, that explained his own arousal. It had been a long time since he was even this close to someone, male or female. Things with Jim had been so bad that he hadn't even been dating. He couldn't remember the last time he got laid.

Chances were this guy, whoever he was, wasn't in the market for a one night stand. Then again, this was California.

"Hey um, hi. I'm -"

"I don't think you need a doctor. Let's get you off the street." The man slid off the car, his hands guiding Blair until he was standing, too. A shock of pain blasted through his head and he moaned, grabbing at it. "You hit your head when you fell. I'm sorry I wasn't faster."

"No, I'm okay. Just need a place to stay for the night." He'd taken harder knocks than this, plenty of them. It was just that he was tired, and surprised and confused.

"I think I can help with that. We don't get a lot of visitors from out-of-town here."

"Not a visitor," Blair mumbled as he was slid into the passenger seat. He'd left the keys in the ignition and wouldn't Jim have bitched about that? so the man just started the engine. He seemed to have a knack for it, the old Volvo could be persnickety and this man convinced it to start on the first turn. "I'm Blair." It seemed silly, to introduce himself like that, but the man may have saved his life.

The man and his friends.

"Blair Sandburg. I'm here to teach at Sunnydale U."

"Ah, the new anthropology professor." A hand was offered and he shook it, feeling odd-ly placed callouses and soft sin weathered by time. "Rupert Giles. I own a shop in town."

"Rupert," Blair tried the name out. It felt good on his tongue. Old fashioned but with strength. "Where are we going?" And what had that all been about? Who were those kids Rupert had been hanging out with? What the heck was going on in this little town?

"I thought I would offer you the sofa at my place. I don't have a lot of room, but it's probably too late for a hotel."

"Is there, like, a town curfew or something?" Maybe the U should have told him this? Or maybe he should have listened and not come into town until tomorrow morning like they'd suggested.

"Or something," Rupert answered. "You need not fear for your safety. I'm only offering the sofa, and perhaps a pillow or two."

"Okay, then. I've got my own blankets." Blair grinned and Rupert smiled back, seeming surprised at the comment.

They took a corner and Blair winced, the ache in his head escalating sharply.

"Close your eyes and rest a minute. I don't think you've got a concussion."

Blair took the advice and rested his head back against the seat. He was tired, his head hurt, the drive was smooth and quiet...

***

Blair could hear people talking around him. His head pounded dully and his eyes felt heavy, so he didn't open them. Memory told him that he was safe but wouldn't cough up anything specific.

"Another Sunnydale introduction." a girl, speaking softly.

"Poor guy. He only just got here and things go all hellmouthy on him." a young man added his comments.

"We need to find a way to predict what these vamps are going to do next." A different girls' voice, this one confident and irritated.

"I've searched all the relevant texts. There's nothing in them to indicate this is anything more than your typical gang of vampires, though their hunting pattern is unorthodox." the older male. Rupert? Rupert Giles.

"Unorthodox?" Disbelief, even mild scorn. "They're knocking off liquor stores and Circle Ks!"

"It makes sense, in a vamp sort of way." Young male, brash, but with a tinge of anxiety.

"Cash and carry, vampire style." Yet another young woman. She spoke more slowly, as if she considered her words carefully. Still, Blair wasn't sure he was hearing clearly. Vampires? Sure, *Sentinels* were real... but the living undead? Gimme a break.

"Guys, virgin ears and all that." the annoyed one spoke again.

"Quite right. A change of subject is in order. We will continue this discussion tomorrow?"

Blair tried to think things through. His head didn't hurt *quite* so badly now. He was on a sofa. There was something soft under his head; the promised pillow? He listened to people saying their goodbyes, their conversation suddenly normal classes, and then everything was quiet.

A warm weight settled beside him. Warm fingertips brushed his forehead.

"Are you awake?" such a proper British accent. Just listening to it made him ache, somewhere inside, missing something he'd never had. And wasn't that just pathetic?

"Uh. Yeah... I think so." He didn't open his eyes, but let his face turn toward the hand now checking his forehead.
"I wasn't sure." Doubt, and then silence, filled by the soft ticking of a clock somewhere in the room. There were no normal people night sounds outside; no cars or bars or people passing by.

"Where are we?" It seemed a little abrupt after he said it, so he had to open his eyes and look at Rupert.

"My home. We talked about coming here, after the attack?" he sounded worried and his hands ghosted over Blair's head, checking for wounds.

"Oh. Oh, yeah. I remember." With a grunt Blair heaved himself up to a sitting position. His hand that was on the sofa slipped and slid under Rupert's leg. He would have moved it, but was suddenly too busy clutching at his head and moaning.

"There, there." The man patted him on the back, a bit absent-minded. The pain eased slowly and after a few minutes Blair though it would be safe to open his eyes again. Still, he didn't move his hand. It seemed happy where it was.

"Will you be alright for a moment?" Warm eyes behind thick lenses studied him.

"Yeah." Not moving, just sitting still. This was okay.

"I'll be right back." Rupert got up and went to the kitchen. Blair watched while he filled a copper teakettle and set it on a flame, then wet a cloth he pulled from a drawer. He wrung it out and carried it back to Blair. "For your face."

"Thank you." Gratefully, Blair took it and pressed the warm wet terrycloth over his eyes. "Oh, that's better."

"Good." Rupert sat again, on Blair's other side. "As soon as the kettle boils we can have a cup of tea. Perhaps then you'll feel up to eating something."

Blair groaned softly. "I don't think so."

"Ah, yes. I see. Then it will be tea, a shower, and bed for you."

Blair scrubbed at his face, ending with the cloth on the back of his neck, under his hair. It was frizzing, the curls wild; in his eyes, in his mouth, all over his face. He probably needed to get at least a trim before the meeting tomorrow. He hoped they weren't going to make him cut it for the job.

If he had stopped to think about it, looking up at this man with big blue eyes from behind a curtain of curls would have seemed like a bad idea. It was a well-practiced seduction trick, after all. At the moment, though, he wasn't thinking about seduction though he had registered the 'get you to bed' portion of Rupert's comments.

Instead of something sexy or wiseass or profound, he said "Vampires?" in a tone just short of outright disbelief.

Rupert sighed, glanced away, and then looked back at him again, meeting his eyes.

"Yes. Vampires."

Lying back down, Blair closed his eyes and pressed the warm cloth closer.

"Anyone else would have taken the badge, but no, not me. Not Blair-where's- the-next-most-dangerous-place-in-the-world-Sandburg. I move to a city where they think they have vampires..." he let his voice trail off, and waited for a response.

Calloused fingers brushed his forehead again and the weight lifted from the sofa.

"I'll check on the tea."

He was left alone, and left to think for a moment. And what he though was, where does someone get callouses like that anyhow?

By the time Rupert had come back he hadn't thought of an answer. Some tiny demon of self preservation refused to let him ask, either. Jim would have been shocked by his restraint. Or by the way his body reacted when Rupert sat down beside him again.

Blair let him help him sit up, and even leaned into his solid warmth as he sipped the hot brew. It was spiked with brandy, just enough to make it sing.

"This is just what I needed." He looked up at this strange man, who looked like nothing more than a librarian and talked about vampires, and smiled wearily.

"A cup of tea is quite soothing," Rupert agreed, his own sitting neglected in its saucer on the coffee table.
His arm stayed over Blair's shoulders, where he'd lifted him, and his hand stroked seemingly absent-minded over Blair's flannel-covered arm. Blair drank his tea, feeling warmth flow through him. An ease he hadn't felt since he met Jim was beginning to creep into his thoughts.

To not watch everything he said. To not worry about how he smelled, how much noise he made doing even normal things, like drinking tea. To be attracted to anyone he wanted. These were things he'd forgotten.
Had he sacrificed even more of his life to Jim than he'd thought? Was his mother right about that?

"You've had a rather typical introduction to Sunnydale, I'm afraid." Rupert removed his arm and Blair missed it. He watched the older man take off his glasses and clean them thoughtfully. It made Blair wonder where his were; he looked and saw them on the end table.

"So that kind of situation is typical here?" He really didn't want to believe it. Couldn't, really. Not without a lot more proof.

"Sunnydale is a special case, but vampires and the undead exist all over the world." Rupert turned to look at him, placing his glasses back on his nose. Blair grinned as he recognized a lecture coming.

"Is this written down somewhere? Because, if it is, I'd just as soon read it. No offense, man."

The man blinked, his train of thought derailed, and then nodded.

"Well, yes. Of course it is. I suppose that would be the quickest method. If you're planning to stay any length of time, you must learn enough to survive."

"I'd like to do more than survive." Blair let his smile grown, and lowered his eyelids just a bit. He could tell, from the faint hint of color in the book-pale cheeks, that his gentle flirting had been detected. "If I could get that shower, maybe?"

"It might be the best thing." Rupert stood and pointed to the first door in the hallway. "I had planned an early night myself, there is always more work to be done, but tomorrow will be soon enough."

Blair stood, a little shaky, and quickly Rupert came to steady him with an arm around the waist.

"Perhaps a bath would be the wiser choice?"

"Yeah." Never nod when you could speak, that was his motto. Blair let himself hang onto the bigger man and found it quite pleasant to think of hanging onto him later, in a much more naked sense. "I hope you don't find me too forward, Rupert -"

"Giles," the man said, leading him to the bathroom. "I am generally called by my surname."

There wasn't anything wrong with 'Rupert', as far as Blair could tell, but what did he know? Maybe it was a British thing.

"Okay. Giles, then," he was careful to give the soft pronunciation to the 'G'. "I'm not usually this easy, but I was thinking -"

"With the knock on the head you took, I'm surprised you can think at all." Giles sat him on the toilet lid and bent over to start the water into the modern fiberglass tub. Steam rose quickly.

"I'm astonishingly hard-headed. Just ask my mother." Blair informed him, feeling mildly giddy just at the thought of hot water and soaking and then there was the slim chance he might be held during the night, by someone stronger and wiser than he. Like many kids, his first crush had been on a teacher, but unlike most, the fascination had continued. Older men would always do it for him. Maybe it was a father-figure thing. He didn't care.

"I venture that most mothers would agree with that assessment." Giles adjusted the water until he was satisfied with it, then stood. "Do you have anything in the car I could reach easily?"

"Backpack. Front seat." Blair hadn't even thought about wether his car was locked or how far away it might be parked. He was too busy stripping, albeit somewhat slowly. His second shirt was off before Giles answered.

"I'll fetch it, then."

"Is that safe? I mean, what with vampires and all -" Third and final shirt, and then he unzipped his jeans. His boots had been taken off for him, he hadn't actually noticed until just now. Probably when he got put on the sofa.

"If I'm careful and quick, I should be fine. They usually don't get too close to populated areas, preferring the cemeteries and clubs."

"I'm not a big fan of suburbia myself." Blair rested both hands on the waistband of his jeans. If Giles was going to stay and watch, that was okay with him, but he was going to take them off in the next ten seconds or so.

Something of the thought must have shown on his face, because Giles paused by the door and returned his look with something mildly challenging.

Blair grinned and peeled off the baggy denim. He wore nothing underneath, the way he liked it. He caught Giles' eyes and the smile was shared this time.

"If I'm not back in ten minutes, there's a list of numbers beside the telephone in the kitchen." Giles gave him a nod, and left the bathroom.

Blair didn't wait long to get into the tub. With the water pouring in and the steam rising, he felt more comfortable than he had the last three months at the loft.

The lack of a bathtub there was something he'd commented on once or twice, but it wasn't something important to Jim, so nothing had ever been done about it. A holdover from the army days, Jim didn't seem to think real men took baths.

And real men definitely didn't do any of the things Blair was considering doing with Rupert Giles. It might not be the romance of the century it might not even last out the week but just the chance to pick up - or was that be picked up by? - an attractive stranger was making him practically giddy.

Or he'd gotten hit on the head harder than he'd thought.
He sank back into the blessed heat to think about that.

He hadn't been mistaken, after all. When Giles came back in he delivered Blair's backpack - complete with toothbrush, paste, hair gel and a change of clothes - directly into the bathroom, then sat on the toilet lid and explained everything about vampires and demons. Most of everything. There was no mention of slayers.

Basically, he gave the highlights, agreeing once again that Blair should read the details for himself, but wanting to have something to chat about while Blair soaked and scrubbed. In return for the confidence, Blair spoke hesitantly about his own research and Sentinels, not completely surprised that Giles knew a bit about the phenomenon and believed him without question. It might have been a betrayal of Jim's privacy, but he didn't use names and the other man didn't ask for details.

Giles washed his back. Jim had never even once washed his back for him. Had never offered. Of course.

When the hot water ran out at last, Blair heaved himself up and Giles casually wrapped him in a large, not-entirely-fluffy towel.

"So. This has all been going on around me and I've never noticed any of it?"

"Not everywhere. Most demon activity is restricted to large cities. Having a Sentinel might have kept them away from Cascade. There's a very good line of communication between the various types." Giles helped him rub the worst of the wet from his hair, which was now curling with a vengeance. "It's harder for them to hide in smaller communities."

"Except here. Because of that Hellmouth thing."

"Yes," Giles seemed on the verge of a chuckle and Blair stopped his hands by covering them with his own.

"What?"

"That 'Hellmouth thing'. I just realized that you cannot possibly be as young as you look or sound, not for the position you've been offered."

"I'm 30."

"You sound like Buffy and her friends."

"From an old fogey like you, that's got to be a compliment." Blair leaned into the larger man to take the sting from his words. "You know, your sofa may be comfortable to sit on, but it's no great shakes as a bed."

Giles pulled the towel from his hair and shook it out carefully. Equally carefully, he folded it and hung it on a rod by the tub before looking back at Blair.

"You are remarkably forthright, Professor Sandburg."

"Just Blair, please, Giles." He waited to see how his comment would be taken.

"I'm not as young as I used to be, and haven't done anything like this for quite some time -" Giles seemed on the verge of talking himself out of it, so Blair leaned up, hooked an arm behind his neck, and kissed him.

After a moment Giles kissed him back. Not as sweetly as Blair would have predicted, and with more-than-welcome hunger and heat.

When Blair pulled away to breathe, Giles had a small, serious smile on his face.

"When you put it that way," he said quietly.

"I'm starting a new life," Blair answered, letting himself be serious, as well. Time and place, all that. "I think I should start as I mean to continue."

"You mean to make a habit of picking up strange shopkeepers and talking yourself into their beds?" Giles was smiling as he said it, and steering Blair down the hallway to the last door. Behind it there was a plain double bed, the usual assortment of bedroom furniture, and sigils that Blair vaguely recognized as wards painted on the walls, over the door and windows. The paint was faded, but the light of the lamp hit it just right to make it glow as if brand new and metallic.

"Cool." Seating himself on the bed, Blair dropped the towel from around his waist and scrambled under the covers.

As he waited for Giles to perform his evening rituals, he thought that this might have been the strangest day of his life, but he wouldn't have traded it for anything, except maybe Jim's undying devotion.

When Giles returned to the bedroom he was wearing plaid boxers and his dress shirt, still buttoned, with the cuffs undone. His expression was an enticing mixture of determination and uncertainty. Blair sat up further against the headboard and managed a small smile.

"You don't strike me as the nervous type," he offered, resting his hands on the quilted velvet comforter. It was a dark, dark red, like dried blood. An interesting choice when considered with the vampire stories Giles had been telling him.

"As a rule, I am not." Giles sat on the side of the bed and reached a hand to brush Blair's hair back from his brow. "You've had a traumatic experience and I don't want to take advantage of that."

"You call that trauma? That wasn't trauma!" Blair laughed, a bit harshly. "Try being kidnapped by a serial killer, drugged, threatened and almost becoming his next victim! Now, *that* was traumatic."

"I see." Giles' hand continued the soothing stroke and Blair leaned into it gently. "It would seem you have had experience with danger before."

"More than I ever wanted, man." Blair closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Giles smelled of leather and book dust and something he couldn't identify. It was like ozone or a touch of electricity...a taste of magic or sorcery, something not quite of the world. He'd felt something like it before, in the houses of a couple of his mother's friends. "But I handled it."

He wasn't ready when Giles leaned down and kissed him, closed-mouthed and firm, both hands holding Blair's head still.

"Perhaps you will survive Sunnydale after all," Giles whispered in his ear as he pulled Blair closer, dragging partially out from under the covers.

"I'll do my best." Blair turned his head and wrapped his arms around Giles, nuzzling into his neck.

"I would appreciate it."

Blair opened his eyes and found Giles smiling at him, only a couple of inches away.

"You and me both, man," he teased back before opening his mouth and initiating a deep, wet kiss.

They kissed for a long time. Giles didn't seem to be in a hurry, and Blair was willing to take his time and enjoy the buildup. It had been years since he'd been with a man. He had to think a little about what he was willing to do, how far he was willing to go.

Giles' hands traveled his body with a firm, knowing touch and soon had him arching and gasping. Blair reached for Giles' groin and was mildly disappointed to find him only half-hard. He was older, though, and Blair was willing to bet he would catch up soon enough. For himself, though, he was ready to go with only a few strokes of Giles' hand on his cock. When the grip tightened and he felt the familiar warning coil in his belly he stopped Giles, grabbing his hands and holding them while he gasped.

"Wait, wait, I'm too close."

He opened his eyes and found himself on his back with Giles straddling his legs and smiling down at him. There was no hint of the mild-mannered shopkeeper in that smile.

Giles freed a hand with a tug and ran a finger over Blair's lips.

"You're very responsive."

"I was hoping you'd catch up soon."

Giles glanced at himself. His shirt had come off, but he was still wearing the boxers.

"Did I mention that I have not done this in quite some time?"

Blair thought about that, and pushed himself up on his elbows, shaking his hair out of his eyes.

"'Quite some time'. That doesn't mean 'never', does it?"

"Indeed not," Giles chuckled warmly. "But it has been - a year. Perhaps two."

"Since you've had sex with a man, or since you've had sex with anyone?"

He was ruining the mood here, but he wanted to know. Giles knew the moves, he seemed completely comfortable with the situation, but maybe he wasn't as ready as Blair thought. It wouldn't be right to push him into casual sex if he wasn't ready for it.

Giles sat back on his heels, his fingers ruffling the hair on Blair's chest rather thoughtfully.

"It's been more than twenty years since I shared a bed with someone of the same sex," he seemed to be reflecting on that.

"And?"

"And what?" he seemed surprised by the question. Blair ran his knuckles down Giles' chest, enjoying the warmth of his skin and the small indrawn breath the movement drew.

"Was that an experience you want to repeat?" It seemed to Blair that there was more going on here than just a one night stand. Giles was attractive -- in a bookish way, a way Blair enjoyed and he appeared to be involved in the activity, but it also seemed like he wasn't completely there. Which was okay with Blair, as long as Giles wasn't thinking about someone else. As they'd just met, it was a lot for him to ask, that they be the only two people in the bed emotionally, but he was starting to realize that this wasn't going to be as carefree as he'd thought.

"Not entirely, no." Giles pushed his glasses up on his nose. He hadn't taken them off yet and Blair found that incredibly sexy. "However, I doubt you and I will encounter the same complications as I did with my first lover."

"Your first, hm? I bet he was older than you. Older and stuffy and mph!" Blair's gentle teasing was cut off by another firm kiss. It was followed by more, equally insistent and even demanding. He slid a hand down Giles' stomach and found that he was ready now; his cock was hard and hot, it felt alive in Blair's hand as he jacked it slowly.

Giles kissed him until Blair thought he was going to pass out who knew the man would have such good breath control? and then sat back up, rocking his hips with the rhythm of Blair's strokes, smiling that not-funny smile.

"I see that I'm going to have to work to keep your attention." His words carried a hint of threat, and it made Blair stretch like a cat, wanting more.

"I love to listen to you talk. It's so dignified, but at the same time I'm doing this, and you're doing that -" Blair pushed his hips into the hands that were once again driving him to distraction.

"I'm pleased that someone enjoys my use of the language."

"Mmm, oh, yeah, like that." Blair tried to sit, but had no leverage with Giles on his legs, so he settled for reaching for him, arms open. "C'mere, man, I want you closer."

"As close as you like, my dear Blair." With a surprisingly graceful move Giles shifted and laid down on top of him, aligning their bodies. Blair groaned and pushed up, happy to have something to push against. Giles balanced himself on his elbows and used his hands to hold Blair's head again, kissing him. He licked Blair's chin and cheeks and nuzzled his eyes. Blair closed them and gave himself over to the sensations, closing his hands on Giles' ass and pulling him closer.

"Get these off." he demanded, tugging at the boxers. Skin against skin, that's what he wanted. Between the two of them they got them down past Giles' knees where he could kick them off. The feel of curly hair against his cock was almost too much for Blair; he had to stop thrusting and bite his lip as he tried again to hold off.

"Let it go, you don't have to wait for me," Giles encouraged. He pressed Blair down into the mattress, using his larger size and weight to keep the advantage.
Blair groaned again, loving the feeling. He was squashed, mashed, covered and protected. It felt so good that after only a few more pushes he was coming, hard and slow.

"Uh, uh, uh, uh -" he heard himself making noise but didn't care. It felt so good, to come without thought of the other person, to just give over and let his body do what it wanted.

When the last shudder left him he relaxed back and sucked in a deep breath, feeling too sated to move.

Giles had kept up the motion until he was done, and now slowed, and stopped. He lifted his head from Blair's neck and now his smile was softer, and somewhat concerned.

"You enjoyed that?" from the expression on his face Blair knew he didn't really have to answer. He made a low sound like a purr and Giles chuckled softly.

"Excellent. Now, if you'd like to just lie there while I finish up, that would be acceptable." He punctuated the words with a slow push of his still-hard cock into Blair's groin, sending shivers through him.

He wrapped his arms around the broad shoulders and held on, relishing the chance to be close to someone.

"I think we can do better than acceptable," he murmured, still too content to speak up.

"You do?" Giles sounded like he was amused, but there was a depth to his voice that hadn't been there before. Blair couldn't quite place it, but he thought Giles sounded - hopeful?

"Oh, yeah, man." Blair spread his legs and felt Giles adjust his body to lie between them, which put his cock against Blair's perineum. "If you've got a condom and something to use for lube, I'm yours."

Giles stilled, and held himself away from Blair for a moment. Reluctantly Blair opened his eyes.

"Or not. I mean, if you don't go in for that sort of thing, we don't have to."

Giles touched his face, his expression oddly tender.

"I do indeed 'go in for' that sort of thing. I only hesitate because we are, for the most part, strangers to one another."

"How about if I promise to become your best friend?" Blair looped a leg around Giles' and pressed upwards. "You want to, and I want to, and we're both grups here."

"Grups?"

"Grownups. Didn't you ever watch Star Trek?"

"I'm afraid I had a relatively sheltered childhood," Giles returned with humor. "Cultural references sometimes escape me. In fact, -"

It seemed he might continue conversing on the subject, so Blair interrupted him.

"Rupert."

"Oh? Yes." Giles smiled again, and stopped talking.

"Condom? Lube?"

"In the drawer to your right."

Blair turned his head and saw that he could reach the mentioned drawer, so he did. After some fumbling he pulled forth the required items and handed them over. Giles took them and sat up.

"If you are certain." he hesitated again. Blair grabbed his own legs at the backs of the knees and lifted them.

"I am if you are," he answered, savoring the way Giles' eyes darkened.

"Well, then."

He opened the lubricant, but instead of applying it immediately he leaned over and took Blair's semi-soft cock into his mouth, sucking with little force. Blair groaned he was always noisy when he was having good sex and flopped his head back on the bed.

"Oooo, yeah, baby."

Giles grunted and continued sucking. Youth was on Blair's side and he hardened again quickly. Only then did Giles begin circling the small pucker with his index finger, easing it in so gently that Blair scarcely noticed. All of his attention was on the hot, wet cavern that held his cock so wonderfully.

One finger, then two and it was uncomfortable, but he didn't mind. Then there were three and it stung, but he had always included dildos in his self-pleasure and knew it wasn't going to hurt badly. With a breath he relaxed further, letting his legs sag wider.

He heard the foil tear but didn't open his eyes. He didn't need to watch, he just wanted to anticipate the burn. The feeling of fullness, the spark of having his prostate rubbed; he'd missed this more than he'd thought.

"Ready?" Giles' hands on his legs, helping to hold the, spreading him.

"Yeah," he lifted his pelvis and waited, holding his breath. The first push was firm, not at all tentative and he sucked in a breath, startled. He'd expected Giles to hesitate, to worry just a little, but the man continued to surprise him. He wasn't exactly the meek fellow his appearance suggested.

"Just a moment -" Giles paused, Blair guessed he was about halfway in, and waited for him to adjust. Blair panted between his teeth and the pain did fade, as he'd known it would.

"Go," he said, and was relieved when Giles followed the command without discussion, pushing his cock the rest of the way in. He fell forward onto his elbows and pressed his forehead to Blair's.

"You're bloody tight," he rasped. "You have done this before?"

"Yeah, of course," Blair whispered back. "It's just been a few years."

"Ah."

They lay still for long moments. The sound of their breathing was loud in the room. At last Blair put his legs over Giles' hips and took a deep breath, the pain becoming a memory. He snuck a hand between the two of them and lifted the man's glasses from his nose, putting them on the night table.

Giles frowned and then kissed him. Blair opened his mouth and kissed him back. He was ready when Giles pulled halfway out and thrust back in, strongly.

"Ah!" a sound escaped him. Giles half-smiled and began fucking him steadily. Not to hard, not too fast, but hard and fast enough that Blair knew he'd remember the other man had been there.

"I haven't felt anything this good in two decades," Giles bit his ear, not too gently, and whispered to him. That accent on hot breath made Blair writhe and move with him. He held on to Giles with both hands, loving what they were doing. "You are a wonder, Professor Sandburg; hot and tight and beautiful and giving. To be a part of you is -" Giles caught his breath and the next thrust was harder. It made Blair moan. "- an honor and a privilege.
To be inside you is -" the thrusts were getting harder and faster and Giles was panting with exertion, though he kept trying to talk. "- a glorious thing, so very -"

Blair moaned and began to rub his cock against Giles' stomach aggressively. He was ready to come again, he wanted to come again, he wanted to feel Giles come inside him, wanted Giles to go nuts and fuck the shit out of him.

"- very good -"

"Please -" Blair gasped, tasting the sweat that dripped on his face. "Please, Rupert, harder -"

"Yes -" without changing position Giles managed to give Blair what he wanted, the movement becoming the pounding Blair craved, hammering him down into the mattress. He was much stronger than Blair had suspected and he reveled in it, letting himself moan and groan and gasp as he held on and was held onto.

"Dear boy, so beautiful, please, please go for me, I want to watch you again, please go -" Giles gripped Blair's shoulders and used them for leverage, and kissed him again, sucking the air from Blair's lungs. Light-headed, his body on fire with the need for release, Blair shuddered hard and moaned into the kiss, feeling his body pumping his seed between them in a cathartic spill of gratification.

"Lovely," Giles whispered. Before Blair started to breathe again he sat up, grabbed Blair's legs and forced them high, and began pumping as hard as he could. Blair could only moan and shake, astonished at this aggressive side of the mild man he had so recently met.

He watched as Giles' eyes fell shut and his breathing stuttered. Sweat rolled off him and dripped onto Blair as a look of intense concentration crossed his face.

"Yeah, come on, man, come for me, come, Giles," Blair could barely get the words out, he was so fascinated with watching him. "Come on, man, *come*."

"Go," Giles grunted, giving him a particularly forceful thrust. Blair groaned and Giles did it again, then froze.

"Go," Blair groaned, agreeing with him. He could feel the swell and heat inside him, he watched the movements of Giles' hips as the man climaxed. "Jesus."

Giles released his legs and settled to the bed with something resembling control, and then just lay there, breathing heavily. Blair stayed where he was, unsure if cuddling would be welcome, but wanting it for reassurance.

"Come here." Giles reached out an arm and wrapped it around him, pulled.

Blair went happily, letting himself be arranged beside the larger man, his head on Giles' chest, the arm tight around him.

"That was marvelous." Giles pressed his lips to the top of Blair's head and held them there for a minute. "Thank you."

"Mm, thank you, man. I didn't know how much I needed it that way until you gave it to me."

"I was not too rough?" he only sounded a little worried.

"Not at all. That was exactly what I wanted. I haven't felt this good well, not since I found that Sentinel I was telling you about."

"I don't remember the last time I felt this relaxed," Giles said, with a touch of sadness. "I hope you won't be leaving too soon, Blair Sandburg. I would like to have you as part of my life."

"Me or this?" Blair asked, then he stiffened. He hadn't meant it like that. He wasn't looking for a relationship or someone to take care of him, not like that at all.

"You know you don't have to ask that." Giles tightened the arm around him. "My life here in Sunnydale is complicated at best, but you are welcome to be as big a part of it as you like."

"Can we - you know - take it slow? Maybe sleep on it?" Blair felt a yawn coming and didn't fight it off. His legs and arms and head felt heavy. His body was sore and sated and perfectly balanced between warm and wanted.

"I don't think we have a choice about that part." Giles' chuckle was welcome, as was the kiss he leaned to put on Blair's nose. "Do you want to clean up first? You are significantly stickier than I, and hirsute as well."

"Nah..." Blair giggled, sleepily. "I can bathe my hirsute self in the morning."

"Then sleep, little professor." There was rustling and then covers were drawn over both of them. Blair snuggled in closer and released his breath in a sigh. He was glad Giles wasn't going to make him move. Jim, he was sure, would have required that they both shower *and* change the sheets before sleeping.

As he dropped off he wondered if he wasn't perhaps thinking about Jim far too often.

***

Blair stood by the campus square, nervously switching his backpack from his left shoulder to his right. It felt like he might have pulled something the night before, he had an ache in his shoulder. It wasn't quite as prominent as the one in his ass, and in retrospect he probably shouldn't have offered that to Rupert the night before, knowing that he had an interview this morning, but hindsight 20-20 and all that.

He shifted his weight from one foot to the other and grinned at a couple of co-eds passing by. They smiled back and he considered flirting, but then Giles pulled up in his red convertible.

His smile was small but welcoming and just as nervous as Blair felt.

Blair smiled back as he opened the car door and climbed into the passenger seat with an ill-concealed wince.

It had been worth it.

"How did it go?"

"Good. An unequivocal good," Blair answered, crossing his legs in the small space and settling back. They had gotten up late this morning and in the rush Giles had offered him a ride. There was always the chance he'd get lost and be late.

"I take it they aren't going to require a haircut?" There was a hint of gentle teasing in the words, because Blair had whined about that on the way there.

"Nope. No hair cutting required. Nor jackboots or any semblance of a uniform."

Giles threw him a curious glance but refrained from questioning the statement.

"Where we going?" Blair reached over the gearshift and laid a hand on Giles' leg.

They hadn't talked about details, but he figured that would be okay. It wasn't where anyone could see it.

"My shop. I left Anya in charge, but there's a shipment coming in and I need to be there in case she decides the items are too expensive. She's been known to send things back that I actually wanted."

"So why does she still work for you? Is she good with customers?"

"Anya is a special case. She's not particularly good with customers she sometimes frightens them off but she has special skills that I find useful."

Blair gave him a sidelong glance.

"I haven't thought this through, have I? You and those kids hunt vampires and demons, it seems that you've made it your life's work to kill them all, I should probably get around to asking you what *kind* of shop you own before I stick my foot in my mouth, shouldn't I?"

"I'm almost afraid to tell you." Giles looked across the car. "Is your door locked?"

"Is my... - whyyy?" Blair let himself smile. It was a lot like joking with Jim, when he was in a good mood and not mad about something and taking it out on everyone around him. "Afraid I'm going to try to bail?"

"Just concerned for your security." Giles turned into an alley and pulled up behind a plain brick building. "Here we are."

"Rupert, man, are you telling me I *should* be afraid?"

Giles got out of the car. Blair saw the indecision on his face as he paused beside Blair's door, clearly thinking he should open it, but not sure how that would be taken.

To relieve the tension Blair got out himself, hauling his backpack with him. Standing up again sent a little stab of pain and he winced again. Giles caught his arm, looking worried.

"I was too rough," he said, and Blair didn't argue. He wanted to put an arm around his waist and hang on, but didn't know how it would be accepted.

"It was my idea. Don't forget that. I'll be okay." He took a step toward the door but Giles stopped him, still holding onto his arm.

"I will take your word for it, Blair, but I must ask; are you certain you don't need a doctor? I would never forgive myself if I did you permanent injury."

"Seriously, Rupert, I'm only sore. I think it's a combination of driving so many hours and the sex combined." Pleased by the concern, Blair met his eyes and tried to let his happiness show on his face without looking completely goofy. It must have worked because Giles smiled, a real smile, and pulled him into his arms.

"We can arrange for me to share that pain, if you like."
Blair shivered at the thought.

"I definitely like," he replied, hugging onto the larger man.

Giles tipped his face up with a grip on the back of his head and kissed him. It was wonderful, to stand there in the late-summer sunshine and kiss someone and be kissed without worrying about who might see them or what people might say. This was Giles' town, he would know what was safe and what wasn't. Maybe with vampires and demons and monsters oh my! the people of Sunnydale weren't inclined toward violence against each other so much.

There was a scraping sound behind them and Blair opened his eyes, even though Giles was still kissing him, and looked at the opening door over his shoulder.

A young man with broad shoulders and dark hair, wide astonished brown eyes stared back at him.

Blair pulled free with a sucking sound and grinned as he pushed at Giles' shoulder.

"Um, Rupert, man we've got company."

"No, you don't," the young man spoke with odd clarity, his words firm and sure. "You absolutely do not. Because I'm not here and I'm not seeing this. Correction, I did not see that. Didn't see anything..."

He actually put one hand up in front of his face as he backed into the open doorway, to be swallowed by darkness.

A girl's voice called out.

"Xander? Was someone out there? Is it Giles?"

"I don't know, Wil, I couldn't see anything. I've been struck blind!"

Blair glanced at Giles, who was taking off his glasses and cleaning them thoughtfully.

"Blind?! What happened? Was it some kind of attack?!" the girl sounded like she was really worried, like it was a real possibility.

"An attack of gratuitous face-sucking..." Xander's voice trailed off as he went all the way inside. Blair glanced at Giles as he put his glasses back on.

"That was Xander," Giles said, unhelpfully.

"I gathered."

They stood for a moment more, and then Giles sighed.
He put a hand on Blair's shoulder and leaned to brush his lips over Blair's gently.

"There is a chance this will be too strange for them to accept," he seemed to be thinking aloud.

"Stranger than vampires and demons?" Blair just barely stopped himself from lapsing into 'Wizard of Oz' territory again.

"Well, strange for them. Because it is strange for me, you know. To form a connection with someone so quickly. They may be some time understanding it."

"So I'm the guy on the outside. I can handle that. It's not like we're going to start playing house."

*Yet*, he thought giddily.

"Indeed." Giles squeezed his shoulder. "I want you to know, Blair Sandburg, that I am already quite fond of you. There is an almost karmic quality to our meeting."

"You felt it too? I thought it was just getting my head bashed."

"Be that as it may," Giles ignored the lame attempt at a joke, "you will not be privy to all of our secrets right away. The trust I give you in bed may not carry over to everyday life."

Blair sucked in a breath and swallowed the disappointment. That hadn't been what he was expecting to hear at all.

"I only ask that you give us all time to get to know you." Giles was staring at him intently.

"Yeah," Blair shrugged. He was hurt more by the previous words than he wanted to admit. "Sure."

"Thank you." He couldn't tell if Giles knew that he'd been hurt or not, but thought he might.

"Everyone won't be here at this hour, but this way you won't have to meet them all at once. They can be a bit overwhelming..."

With the hand still on his shoulder, Giles steered him inside.

They entered a back room that had been emptied out to make room for what looked like a small gym. There were various pieces of exercise equipment, as well as a pell and targets and a wall of very impressive weaponry. It made Blair stop and think, catching Giles' hand in his own.

"Um, hey, I was wondering am I going to be expected to, like, hunt vampires with you and shit? 'Cuz I'm really not into the violence thing if I can avoid it "

"No, no. If you choose to help, that will be your choice, but it will never be a requirement. There may come a time when I ask for your help, or one of the others does, but it will never be taken for granted."

"Uh-huh. Okay, then." Blair stretched up and hooked his arm behind Giles' neck again, pulling him down for a kiss that he felt he needed right this minute. The easy comradery of the morning and the ride had faded, leaving him feeling tense and anxious, none of which he liked. Giles seemed to sense that, because he wrapped his arms around Blair and held him as they kissed more gently than before.

"Oh! Xander was right! There is something back here causing short-term blindness!" the same girl sounded put off, and she was coming closer.

Giles released Blair reluctantly. He was moderately thrilled to recognize that, but then they were facing a short, slender, red-headed young woman who looked like she was ready to bite his head off.

"Giles?" she sounded more unsure than he'd expected.
"Isn't that the vamp-bait we rescued last night? Taking the knight-in-shiny-armor-thing a bit too seriously, Giles?" this from another young woman, this one blond and projecting attitude. She looked not at all happy to see Blair.

"If you lot will hold your comments for a few moments we can go inside and sit down while I explain." Giles held up a hand and spoke with the same authority Blair had felt last night. It made him want to find a bed again, soon.

"Nothing to explain," the blond girl shrugged. "We'll just have to ask Tara to see what kind of spell he's cast on you."

Blair chuckled at the joke, then stopped when he realized that they were all staring at him except Giles. Like he'd committed some major faux pas.

Giles had taken off his glasses and was studiously cleaning them.

Blair considered. Maybe the girl's words hadn't been meant to be funny?

Maybe she'd been serious.

Hm.

"Hi," he said, stepping forward and offering a hand. "I'm Blair Sandburg. I'm the new Anthropology professor at UC Sunnydale."

The redhead smiled brightly, and shook his hand gingerly.

"Buffy! He's a professor! He's just the kind of guy Giles needs!" She beamed at him and Blair felt better.

"Giles doesn't need a *guy*, Wil, that's kind of my point."

"Exactly. I mean, what is this, 'Sunnydale wakes up gay' day?" the young man, Xander, came back in. He had a hand covering his face and was peeking out from between his fingers. "Is it safe to look? Hetero-shock going on here."

The girl the others called 'Wil' walked over to him and hit him in the shoulder, hard.

"Like you weren't friends with Larry. Get over yourself, Xander."

"Ow! Just stating my case," he objected, using his hand to rub his wounded shoulder.

"If we could proceed to the actual shop?" Giles put his glasses back on and patted Blair on the back, a friendly sort of feeling. "Xander, has the truck from Hogwarts arrived yet?"

"It got here an hour ago and, boy, was Anya burned when she saw that Treteleri-whatsis. She was going to send it back, but I reminded her of how you'd *said* you actually *wanted* it and she shouldn't send things back no matter how much they cost -"

"And I reminded her that you were out of Murcho scrapings, and that the Puffin festival is next week, so any Cader demons in town will be needing it, and she took off to find some." Wil added. "So the Treteleri crystal is safe."

"I appreciate that."

Blair stuck close to Giles as they walked through a small storeroom and into a large, well-lit storefront. There were towering shelves filled with jars and boxes, and some with jewelry and crystals, as well as several display cases.

Thinking that it would seem strange if he kept too close to Rupert, he wandered off while the others sat, to look at everything, and was soon absorbed in a case of what he suspected were Myan artifacts. But there was something different about the engraving pattern... a loop where there should have been an angle, a straight line that should have been curved. Like it was almost Mayan, but not quite. He didn't know of any ancient society that was *that* close to Mayan, close enough that only an expert could tell them apart...

"Blair?"

"Hm?" he lifted the latch on the cabinet and snuck a hand in, wanting to feel the texture of the engravings. Were they on stone, as it looked, and, if so, what kind of stone? Could that possibly be some form of pottery, not stone?

"*Blair*." He heard Giles' voice but his mind was too busy sifting facts to pay attention to anything else. If not stone, then what could it be, and was it something the Mayans had access to?

"Hey, anthro-boy!"

The loud shout derailed his train of thought and he turned, hand out of the case, to glare at the blond girl.
She looked so damned young. Like all of his students. The way he'd looked, once. Before he found Jim.

"Yeah?"

"If you could tear yourself away from the Farelan stoneware, I'd like to introduce you properly?" Giles was smiling that soft half smile. Blair got the feeling he was amused. He went over to stand behind Rupert's chair and put a hand on his shoulder. Giles covered it with one of his own.

"Farelan?" he asked, his eyes still on the display case.

"Oh, God, he's just like Giles." Xander groaned.

"You noticed the similarities to Mayan artifacts?" Giles asked, and Blair opened his mouth to answer, but was interrupted by the blond. Buffy?

"Okay, hey, serious work to be done here. Those vamps are still out there, ready to terrorize every convenience store clerk in the city, as we've got to figure out what they're doing and why. Interesting stoneware observations can be saved for later, right?" she glared at Blair, who stared back, confused by her hostility.

"Yes, right. We'll talk about that tonight, then?" Giles was asking him.

"I'll look forward to it." Blair told him. He wanted to do something demonstrative, but decided against it, instead just taking a seat to Giles' right. The table was stacked with books, most of which looked ancient. But there were a few college textbooks among the mix as well.

"Which of you goes to the school?" he asked.

"I haven't found anything about vampire packs that we didn't already know." Wil was saying. Blair got another glare from Buffy for interrupting. "I've gone through everything we have here."

"I called Wesley this morning and he thinks he may have a volume that will shed some light on the situation. A prophecy, of course, seems it can't be avoided, but he remembers thinking it was really just foolishness."

Blair sat back and watched them all, listening.

"We're going to have to keep patrolling together if we have any hope of preventing further killings," Buffy added. "I know we haven't gotten a lot of sleep lately, and Dawn's probably going to throw a tantrum if I leave again tonight, but I don't see any other way to do it. There's only one of me, and too many of them."

"How many are there?" Blair spoke up.

Buffy glared, Wil smiled, Xander rolled his eyes, and Giles answered.

"The pack varies in number, but the highest we've seen hunting together is twenty."

"And this is weird?"

"It's unheard of."

"Which means that something weird is definitely going on." Buffy was sitting on the table; now she slid off. "I'm going to pick Dawn up from school and see if I can head off the fit she's going to throw."

"Bribery time, eh?" Xander seemed to think that was funny. "As I recall, ice cream always worked for me."

"Even when it shouldn't have," Wil told him, her face oddly sad.

"Hey, I got ice cream out of the deal." Xander crossed his arms over his chest and looked defensive.

"Back to the topic on hand -" Giles gave a practiced sigh. "Blair will be staying with me until he finds a flat. That's as much as I'm planning on telling any of you, and I would appreciate it if you asked nothing further."

"You mean like 'when did you decide you dig guys'?" Xander snarked.

"Ethan!" Wil said suddenly, her eyes wide. "Of course! That explains why he's so mad at you whenever he sees you! I mean, if you dumped him...." she trailed off as

Giles glowered at her. "Of course, I'm probably imagining things. Or, you know, projecting, because of the whole lesbian thing -"

"I don't think anyone projected that kiss I saw." Buffy came around the table and stuck her hand out. "And we're being rude about this. I guess we can give him the benefit of the doubt."

"Until he shows his true colors and tries to eat my liver, I'll tolerate him." Xander threw Blair an actual smile.

"Hi. I'm Buffy Summers." Her hand was still in the air in front of him. Feeling that the moment was somehow important, Blair stood, and shook her hand. Her grip was quite strong.

"Blair Sandburg. Pleased to meet you." This girl was clearly important to Giles in some way that he couldn't yet define.

"Willow Rosenberg." The redheaded girl also got up, but she gave him a quick hug. "If you can make Giles happy, you'll be welcome here forever."

"We only just started, well...." Blair sought Rupert's eyes, found them on him, with a mixture of hope and worry in them. "We'll see how it goes," he told Willow, liking her name better than what he'd thought it was.

He got a handshake from Xander as well, and then the girls left, leaving the guys alone.

"So. You're gay?" Xander asked bluntly.

"Um... no? I'd rather not put a label on things." Blair shrugged. Giles had opened a book and seemed pretty set on staying there for the rest of the day.

"Me neither. I mean, there was a time I was just 'loser-that-lives-in-his-parents-basement', but I've progressed beyond that and now I know how much labels like those can hurt people."

"Uh-huh." He wondered just exactly what this young man did for a living. He could be the college student, but the work-calloused hands argued against that.

"Rupert?" He nudged him with a hip. "I need to go apartment-hunting. And furniture-buying."

"Oh! I do actually need to stay here and get this research done..."

"I just need a ride back to my car, man." Blair smiled to see how quickly the man got into his work. "It's still at your place?"

"Yes, it is." Giles seemed relieved that he wasn't being asked to go with him. "Xander, could you give him a ride to his car?"

"I don't have a car, Giles."

"You may take mine."

"Cool." Xander shook his head, as if amused, and accepted the keys. "While we're out there I can show him all the places to avoid, and all the cool places to go."

"There are cool places here?" Blair couldn't resist the urge to tease.

"As many here as any other small town. That means there's two." Xander led him out of the shop front door.

"I've lived in smaller towns."

They were in the car and in traffic a little while late when Xander looked over at him and smirked.

"So, man. Giles, huh? I don't get that."

"What's not to get? He's attractive, he's smart, and a lot more aggressive than he looks." Blair shrugged. There was a lot more traffic than he'd expected here.

Maybe it was because it wasn't safe to be out at night. People had to get everything done before dark.

"I don't think I wanted to know that." Xander grimaced.

"I mean, I know he's a lot tougher than your usual run-of-the-mill high school librarian, but there are just places a man doesn't want to go!"

"Librarian?" Blair smiled, wanting the rest of this story. "Was Giles a *librarian*?"

The rest of the drive was taken up with the story of Sunnydale High and it's explosive, tragic finale.

***

He returned to the shop late that evening. He hadn't meant to be gone so long, but there had been problems at the bank. It seemed that Jim, damn him, had put out a missing person report on him. Oddly enough, it seemed that the *bank* in Sunnydale received copies of that sort of thing as well as the police. This was one screwed-up little town.

Xander had driven him around for a couple of hours. Blair had appreciated the tour, especially as it was illustrated by lively stories of things that had happened here and there. Crazy things, adventures Blair still couldn't quite bring himself to believe, but the young man had seemed to take them seriously. He painted a picture of a rather violent and scary place, but then tried to talk himself out of it by remembering good times as well. The burnt-out shell of the high school had been a place of some fond memories, except for the death of Jenny Calender, whom Blair heard about as Giles' long-lost true love, and various other bad things.

It seemed a lot of bad things happened here. Whether Blair believed that or not, he wasn't sure...

He hadn't found an apartment. Apparently you had to make an appointment to see a realtor around here. He had one scheduled for the weekend. Longer than he'd wanted to wait, he hoped Rupert didn't mind. He'd stopped at a payphone and called the Magic Box, but no one had answered, so he'd driven over to Rupert's apartment, but found it locked. It was getting dark and he wasn't going to hang around outside, even if he *still* wasn't sure he believed all of this nonsense. So he was going to try the shop, just in case they had missed the phone call.

He went to the back door and knocked. There weren't any cars parked there, and he had a moment of fear; alley, darkness, bad things before the door opened and Willow gave him a hesitant smile.

Okay. They weren't sure what to make of him yet. He could work with that.

"Is Rupert here?" he asked, scraping one foot on the ground. His pack was getting heavy and, damn, his butt hurt.

"He had to run to LA to pick up a book," the redhead said quietly. "He said you could wait here."

"Cool. Maybe I can get a look at those almost-Mayan stoneware artifacts..."

Blair stepped past her as she moved into the shop, but stopped when he felt someone step behind him.

The door slammed shut with more force than necessary, and Blair felt a chill run through him.

"Or maybe you can show your true face." Buffy's voice, but what did she mea-

The blow knocked him to his knees, his head ringing with it. He moaned, and heard Willow protest.

"You hit him too hard, Buffy!"

...and then darkness clouded his vision and he, mercifully, passed out.

***

"There is something there. It's not something I've ever seen before. I can't tell you *what* it is." another female voice, this not one he recognized.

Blair groaned as softly as he could. His stomach was churning, he was going to be sick. Two hits on the head in as many days he'd thought Sunnydale was going to be *safer* than Cascade?!

Blair opened his eyes a slit, carefully. He didn't want to draw attention to himself.

There was something warm and soft under his face. He was lying on his side, and someone had thoughtfully provided a pan, sitting inches from his nose. He was going to need it if he tried to move.

His hands were tied together. Very tightly. His fingers felt like sausages. Feet, too.

And someone had taken off all of his shirts. It was cold, on the floor.

"So he's *not* what he's pretending to be." Buffy sounded maliciously pleased. "I knew it. I knew Giles wouldn't fall into bed with just any pretty face that threw itself at him. Gay? Giles? I mean, come *on*."

"I was right about Ethan, though, Buffy." Willow sounded rather - sad? "Tara says he's human."

"And I can't detect any evil in him, or attached to him." an earnest voice. Trying to convince Buffy that he was human?

"Of course I'm *human*," he ground out, the words ending with a choked-back retch. "What the hell else would I be?" Blair opened his eyes all the way now, and scanned the floor he lay on.

He was at the center of a circle. A magic circle, if he were to hazard a guess.

There wad something glittery sprinkled around him, and he realized that his nose itched. He snorted and a tiny shower of glittery-stuff drifted off his face.

"A demon. If there's one thing we've learned, it's not to trust strangers." Buffy stood at the edge of the circle and glared down at him.

"Or even people we know." Xander came up beside her. They were only a few feet away. Blair gingerly rolled his head so he could look up at them.

Xander looked apologetic, but determined.

"I moved to psychoville," Blair said loudly. "I left Cascade 'The Most Dangerous City in America, TM' and moved to fucking *psychoville*."

"Just Sunnyhell," Xander offered almost cheerfully.

"Untie me, you morons," Blair grumbled. "If you're done playing your stupid 'The Craft' game, I'd like to throw up now. Preferably on you."

"Sorry, prof. No can do. Not until you explain what Tara found."

Blair squinted to look past her and saw the woman he vaguely recognized from the attack at the gas station.

The one with the curves and doe eyes. She also looked apologetic. There was a pouch in her hand. He assumed that was where the glittery stuff had come from.

"I don't have any idea what you're talking about."

"Magic," Tara said, coming forward. She knelt at the edge of the circle and met his eyes. "You have - some kind of magic. Something I've never seen before."

"I do not." he huffed, offended by the thought. "I'm a scientist, I don't believe in that stuff."

"Green magic," she told him. "Protective." she looked up at Buffy when she said that part. "Earth magic."

"You're all insane. When Jim finds me -"

"Who's Jim? The guy you're working for? What kind of demon is he? What does he want with Giles?!" Buffy was shouting at him, and Xander had to hold her back. Keep her from breaking the circle, Blair guessed.

"He's the cop I lived with, back in Cascade. He's looking for me, and if he finds out you've done anything to me " he couldn't imagine what Jim's reaction would be.

Not good, that was a definite. Sure, he could belittle and abuse Blair all he wanted, but he would *never* allow anyone else to.

Perhaps he'd been a bit hasty in leaving Cascade.

"You're a cop?" Xander asked.

"I don't think so," Buffy snarked. "Not with that hair. And the whole down-with-the-seventies fashion sense."

"Bitch," was all Blair could get out before his stomach finally rebelled and he began to gag. He'd had a burger for dinner at the Doublemeat Palace, and he was certain it wasn't going to taste nearly as good coming up as it had going down.

"Yeah, show your true colors," she seemed to be mocking him, but there was a note of concern in it. Blair didn't really notice; he was too busy trying to turn his stomach inside-out.

"Buffy, I think you really hurt him." Willow's worry sounded from too far away.

"He's going to choke!" Tara exclaimed.

"He's faking it, trying for sympathy..."

Blair listened to it all as the spasms died down and he lay, panting. Fuck this.

With a massive effort he managed to sit up. He was next to a pole in the middle of the room. He braced himself against as he worked to get his hands in front of his body, folding each leg tight and pulling it through the loop his arms made.

"I am *so* going to sue you brats," he mumbled. "I'm going to call Jim and he's going to bring the whole damned Cascade PD, and I'm going to make *sure* you get locked in a room with Connors, and then I'll send in Simon with a cigar..." he wasn't actually sure they would all come to help, he'd been pretty much cut off from them since the badge thing, but he just knew they wouldn't abandon him when he was in trouble... rescuing Sandburg was kind of a department hobby, after all....

"I think he's okay, Buffy," Tara stood and faced the petite blond woman. "Whatever he's got, it's not evil. It's some kind of earth magic, and I don't think he's ever really used it, at least not consciously."

"I don't trust him."

Earth magic? Blair stopped his wriggling to think for a minute. His hands were in his lap now, he could get the knot on the ropes to his teeth, which meant he could untie them. If they were afraid to come into the circle that would break it, he thought that might give him time to get himself loose.

"Incacha," he whispered to himself.

"What?" Xander looked back at him. Willow stayed on the far side of the room, in the shadows. She seemed afraid to come closer.

"Incacha," Blair said again. "He called it the way of the Shaman. I thought it was, you know, symbolic. He died, and I was there, and I was taking care of Jim... then Jim flipped out and I never really got around to researching it."

"You're a shaman?" Tara seemed to be thinking it over, with a small smile on her face. "That would explain it. Buffy, that explains it!"

"So he's just some other weird magic-using type. Doesn't mean I have to trust him," she crossed arms over her chest. "You get free in there and I'm going to have to beat you down again."

"You're welcome to come in here and try," Blair snapped back, though he wasn't untying anything. His mind was too full of possibilities. What could it mean, if he were a *real* shaman? If magic were real? What would that make him?

"She will do no such thing!"

The new voice snapped into the room with barely-controlled fury. Everyone turned to look at the now-open door.

Giles stood framed in it, his face dark with anger.

"What in God's name is going on here?"

"Giles, I can't see. What is it?! Let me see!"a girl's voice, young and sweet.

Blair wondered how many of these people there actually were.

"Rupert," he sighed, and settled back against the post. Shit, he'd missed the pan somewhat. There were splatters of vomit on his bare chest, in the curly hair. "Man, am I glad to see you." He was shivering. Shock, adrenaline, and maybe a concussion. Too many hits on the head.

"Blair." The man strode into the room like a contained thundercloud. He broke the circle with a kick that scattered sand, and went to his knees, his hands immediately going to the rope that bound Blair's. "Are you hurt?"

"My head," Blair admitted. It was such a relief to lean on the man's back as he turned his attention to the ropes on his feet. "She whacked the shit out of me."

"Giles -" Willow tried to say something, but the glare Rupert sent her shut her up quick. Buffy was more stubborn, though.

"You've got to admit it was weird, Watcher. We rescue this little guy and the next thing we know you're sleeping with him, and letting him move in with you, sucking face all over the place and we didn't know anything about him!"

"*I* know!" Giles thundered at her. "He passed through my wards without a shimmer, he was in my home for an entire night. Do you really think I would have let him stay without knowing he was what he said he was?"

Blair blinked at him as Giles turned to face him again.

"Wards?" he'd seen the symbols on the bedroom walls, but hadn’t thought they were – real.

"I'll explain later." Rupert let the ropes fall from his legs, and then bent to slide an arm around Blair's waist. "Can you walk?"

"Not sure." Grabbing onto Rupert's shoulders, Blair tried to pull himself to his feet, but the wave of dizziness that attacked him answered the question. He groaned, trying to keep it to himself. "Shhhhhiit."

"I've got you," Rupert whispered, and Blair felt the arms shift, and he was lifted. Rupert was *much* stronger than he'd thought. Blessedly strong. He was lifted and cradled to the man's chest and he kept his eyes closed because he really, really didn't want to throw up on him.

"We still don't know who sent him." Buffy was standing her ground, at least verbally. Blair winced when he heard Rupert snarl a reply.

"We will talk about this tomorrow. I suggest you attend to your patrol, *Slayer*, and you lot get to your homes before I decide corporal punishment isn't outdated."

The word 'slayer' didn't mean anything to Blair, but he filed it away, along with 'watcher', because they both seemed to have some esoteric meaning here.

He felt himself being carried and cracked an eye open. A teenager had come through the door after Giles; about sixteen, with long dark hair and a pretty face.

She looked a bit like Buffy. A sister?

She held a very large book in her hands.

"Giles, I've got the book -"

"Put it in the car, please, Dawn, there's a good girl." He spoke as if he wasn't angry with her. As if he didn't want to frighten her. But she sounded frightened anyways.

"Giles? I was supposed to come home with you tonight?" she sounded somewhat lost. Blair had heard that before. Had sounded like that at one point in his life, when Naomi had spent too much time running around and he'd been left with various friends and family members. It was hard, never being sure where you were going to sleep from night to night.

"Oh, yes. Of course. I didn't forget, child, I was just distracted." Giles stopped and Blair couldn't hold back a moan. "Willow, Tara I need to take Blair to the hospital. Since you will not be patrolling with Buffy tonight, could you see Dawn home?" It was phrased as a question, but there was no doubt it was an order.

Blair wondered again what it was between these people.

"Of course, Giles," Tara sounded the least upset of all of them. Blair realized he hadn't heard Xander speak since Giles came in, to the rescue. He dared open his eyes again, looking for the friendly young man.

Who was standing by the wall on the other side of the room, opposite Willow, with his arms wrapped around himself, as if he were hurt. Looking at the floor.

Blair thought he recognized that stance as well. They were just a bunch of misfits, weren't they?

Odds were he should have fit right in.

"Come on, Dawnie. We'll take you home. I'll stay until Buffy gets back." Tara was saying. "Willow?"

"I'm going on patrol with Buffy." She said it as a challenge and Blair felt more than heard Rupert's sigh. "It's not right to send her out there alone."

"And what you've done here, tonight. Is that right, Willow? Was this 'of the good'?" Rupert spoke with weary resignation, and then continued walking. He leaned and Blair felt the brush of lips on his forehead. It made him shiver and he pressed closer to Rupert. "I've got you, Blair. I will care for you."

"I know," Blair got the whisper out before Rupert tucked him into the passenger seat of the car. "But I don't understand, Rupert. I don't understand."

"I promise to explain, as soon as you're up to it."

The car started and Blair had to concentrate on not puking all over the seat. There was no energy left for talking. Whenever he didn't need it for shifting, Rupert put his free hand on Blair's leg. On his chest, on his arm. Anywhere that might offer comfort. Blair appreciated it. Jim had never taken such good care of him.

***

Nine hours and one diagnosis later, he was being carried into Rupert's apartment. Over the threshold and he felt too shitty to even make a joke about it.

"Bed or sofa?" Rupert asked, and Blair croaked an answer.

"Bed."

"Hey, Giles."

The unexpected voice was also unwelcome. Blair groaned and curled closer to Rupert's chest.

"Xander." Rupert didn't sound any happier to see him than Blair felt. "You let yourself in?"

"Isn't that why you gave me a key, G-man?"

"I take it you have something you want to discuss?" The sigh wasn't breathed, but Blair knew it was there.

"When you get a minute. I can see you're doing Blair-care duty right now."

"Put the kettle on, Xander, I'll be out in a few moments."

He carried Blair to the bedroom and lay him gently in the bed, then sat beside him, one hand running through his tangled hair.

"We haven't had a chance to talk about things yet," he sighed again. Blair opened his eyes. It hurt a lot less than it had.

"I'm just going to crash, man. Especially since you've got to wake me every two hours; I think I'll get all the rest I can."

"Do you want to change clothes first?" They had cleaned him up at the hospital, and put him in some baggy scrubs. It was warm in here, but Blair shivered anyhow. He'd only just managed to talk them out of filing a police report, but Giles had backed him up, claiming it was an accident during a workout. He hated to think how fast Jim would have come once he got wind of it. Or not come, which would have been so much worse.

"Just help me out of these things," he tugged at the loose top. With Giles' hands assisting, he got down to bare skin and breathed a sigh of relief.

"Under other circumstances I would stay to enjoy the sight," Rupert told him, untucking the bedspread and holding it up before covering him.

"Please, enjoy." Blair stretched as much as he dared, not wanting to trigger more nausea. "I'm afraid looking is all you're going to get tonight."

"I had assumed that, dear boy." Rupert's smile was soft and fond. "Now, sleep. I will be in to wake you soon enough."

"'m sorry you have to stay up." Blair squirmed carefully as he was tucked in, then relaxed into the pillows with a sigh of relief. Sleep sounded so good.

"I will set the alarm and join you as soon as I've spoken to Xander." Rupert leaned over him and brushed his hair back from his face. His glasses almost hid his eyes, but
Blair thought he saw some strong emotion in them.

He'd brushed his teeth at the hospital, so it was okay to wriggle an arm free and catch Rupert's chin with a hand, and pull his face down so Blair could kiss him. Softly at first, but then Rupert opened his mouth and it deepened. When they finally came up for air he was smiling, and Rupert was looking a trifle rumpled.

"Mmmm," Blair sighed, closing his eyes. "That was nice. Thanks."

"You are quite welcome," Rupert kissed his forehead again. "I'll be in soon."

Blair drifted into sleep, not listening for the conversation in the living room.

He was warm and safe and growing quite attached to his British mystery man.

***

"Mmmm..." Blair shifted. He wanted that warmth the hot, wet heat of it closer to his cock. He was hard, and that mouth was playing with his balls and nibbling at his thighs, not where he wanted it at all.

He reached down with one hand and found short, slightly coarse hair.

"Rupert?" he mumbled, still half-asleep and wanting to hold onto the feeling.

"You are the most stubborn young man,"

Blair looked down and opened his eyes in time to see the man lift his head from between Blair's legs. Their eyes met.

"You insist on calling me by that name." He was smiling as he said it, a gentle scold.

"It's a perfectly good name. Unless you really don't like it?" It could happen, he knew people who flatly hated their given names.

"Only from your lips, Blair," the man continued to smile at him, until Blair got tired of waiting.

"Weren't you doing something?" he asked, lifting his hips to encourage him to get back to it.

"Do you remember me waking you at all?" Instead of returning his attentions where Blair wanted them, Rupert moved up his body until he straddled Blair and touched his face delicately.

"A couple of times. I was pretty out of it."

"You appeared coherent enough." Big, warm hands framed his face, stroked upwards on his cheekbones. "When I woke again this morning I gave in to an impulse. It doesn't mean we must go on if you don't feel up to it."

"Rupert, man, trust me I'm up to it!" Blair punctuated his reply with a lift of his hips that pressed his hard cock to Rupert's thigh.

"If you're sure." Rupert was amused, he could tell by the light in his eyes.

"Like you don't want to," Blair scolded, reaching for him. "Get down here."

Giles came willingly, and they kissed deeply for some time. Swapping spit, Blair would have called it. His erection grew harder and ached and he shifted restlessly, wanting more stimulation. His body had gotten the idea it was going to find release, perhaps on a regular basis, and it wasn't willing to wait much longer.

"How does your head feel?" Giles pulled back long enough to ask.

"Like it got hit too hard twice."

"That was almost poetic."

"Almost being the key word."

The banter was exchanged while Rupert turned Blair to his side with more care than really necessary. But Blair wasn't complaining. He liked the way Rupert treated him. As much as he had enjoyed the aggressive, dominant lovemaking of the night before, that would have been too much this morning. It was good to know that Rupert had more than one style in his repertoire.

"Um, what was going on with Xander? He seemed pretty upset last night... not that I was really up to paying attention, like." With Rupert pressed up against his back, naked and warm, curly chest hair soft and grey, it was a strange time to think about the boy, Xander.... but his mind had always had, well, a mind of its own.

"You don't actually want to discuss that now, do you?" Rupert arranged Blair's legs, keeping them together, his hands holding his thighs firm. Blair wasn't worried. Rupert knew he was too sore to take him inside and wouldn't ask.

"Um, no? Not really, now that I think about it..." Blair trailed off with a groan as Rupert's hands slid around his waist and lower, to circle his cock and stroke it slowly.
He could feel the hot heaviness of Rupert's cock; larger and thicker than you'd think it would be snugged tightly between his thighs, pressing up against his balls. There was the sticky-hot sensation of lubricant, and he was filled with need, wanting Rupert to start, wanting to keep going forever.

"Just lie there," Rupert's whisper was low in his ear. His hands held Blair firmly as he began to move. "Let me do the work."

"Mmmm, uhn... okay," Blair panted. "You feel great."

"I"m glad you approve." Rupert chuckled low, and kissed Blair's neck, right behind his ear, making him shiver and twitch.

It was slow and sweet. Blair hadn't felt anything like it in far too long. He was held firmly, yet tenderly. Not given the chance to move or participate, just forced to lie there and let be done to him.

Rupert built him to orgasm at least three times, each time holding back and slowing until Blair wanted to scream, and the need to come passed. By the end Blair was feeling a little frantic. His brain had long since abandoned him. He was reduced to a puddle of horny Blair-flesh that only wanted one thing.

He finally got it; a particularly hard pull on his cock combined with a bite to his shoulder tipped him over the edge. He heard Rupert come with him; strong arms locked over his chest, a gush of warmth between his thighs, a deep, guttural groan that made him shudder somewhere inside.

He lay quietly, panting and not thinking. Behind him Rupert seemed to be doing the same.

At last Blair felt like moving again. He shifted his hips and Rupert's cock slid free. The arms around him loosened and Blair could turn over to face him.

Rupert lay with his eyes closed, his breathing already steadied. Blair snuggled in close, his face against the sweaty chest, and closed his eyes again with a sigh.

"Do I have to get up anytime soon?"

"Anya is going to open the shop for me. I had planned to spend the day with you."

With an effort Blair rolled his head back and looked up into Rupert's face.

"That's not guilt talking, is it?"

Rupert began running a hand through his hair. A pained expression settled on his face.

"Perhaps a bit."

"You didn't do anything." Blair snuggled closer, taking up all of the space next to him.

"I should have anticipated. They have been out of sorts for months now. It was reasonable for me to expect them to do something foolish, when presented with something outside their experience."

"Foolish?" Blair snorted, and kissed Rupert's chest quickly. "More like insane. Homicidal."

"There are things you don't know," Rupert said gently. "Reasons for their behavior."

"And you're not going to explain, right?" Blair grimaced and wiggled away from his bedmate. "I get it. Big secret stuff." He got his feet on the floor and left the bed, standing, turning and looking at Rupert. "Y'know, that was okay before yesterday. I was cool with the whole 'not knowing everything' thing. I mean, okay, you're paranoid and in my experience that usually means some *is* out to get you. But things change when somebody hits you on the head. Things change when stupid little girls start playing with potions and casting 'spells', thinking they're Alyssa Milano on *Charmed*," his voice dropped as he spoke, growling at the end. He was more angry than he'd thought. Sometimes it snuck up on him like that.

He looked at the floor and took a couple of deep breaths.

"I like you, Rupert. I find you sexy and hot and really rather interesting. And I think a concussion delivered by one of your teenage posse should earn me the truth."

He looked up, and saw Rupert watching him, with still intensity.

"I'm going to take a shower."

Blair went into the bathroom, unable to stand the tension in the room any longer.

Way to start a new life, Blair. Just way to go, man. Find a guy you actually like that likes you back, and throw it all away because some girls get a little weird.

Well, Xander had been in on it, too, but it seemed the girls ran the show.

He stood under the hot water and let his thoughts run away with it. Streaming over his shoulders and down his back. Into the drain.

Like his new life?

The shower-stall door opened and Rupert stood there, a concerned expression on his face. He was still nude, and gracefully comfortable with it.

"May I join you?"

"It's your shower."

"Still, I would not want to intrude where I am not wanted." He stepped in behind Blair and shut the door.
It was close quarters; not too small, but small enough that they couldn't get too far from one another. "I worried that you might become dizzy or slip."

"Nah, my head's fine." Already Blair was regretting his outburst. He knew what it was like to have a secret one so big you didn't tell the most important people in your life. And he was an outsider, only recently arrived.

"Rupert, I -"

"Blair, I wanted -"

Blair turned and they smiled at each other. The older man brought a hand up and spent a few seconds tucking Blair's wet hair behind his ears. "I like you hair," he said at last. "I like the way it gets in your face when I make love to you. It's soft when I put my face in it to breathe, and the scent of it fills my lungs."

Blair stared, dazzled by the flow of words. Rupert smiled at him.

"I will tell you everything. I would ask for some confidence in turn, but I suspect that the secrets you keep aren't yours to give. Just give me some time to make the others understand that it's safe. That you aren't going to hurt them or me."

"I can't promise that, man." Suddenly Blair was aware that his head *did* hurt, and his stomach felt queasy. He put a hand to the tile wall and used it for support. "I don't know what's going to happen not next week or next month or even next year..."

If Jim came for him, and asked him to come back... if Jim wanted him the way Blair wanted Jim.... he didn't know what he would do.

Rupert nodded.

"I'm not speaking in a personal sense. I spoke with Tara last night before coming to bed. She told me what she found. I can help you understand, and use the gift you have."

"Incacha," Blair said quietly. "Shaman of a Peruvian tribe that sheltered Jim. He said I was 'The Shaman of the City."

Rupert wet a cloth and rubbed bar soap on it, then began washing Blair.

"You thought he was speaking figuratively?"

"Well, yea-ah." Blair gave him the 'duh' look. Rupert chuckled.

"Sometimes you seem no older than Xander and the others."

"Sometimes I feel like it." Blair lifted his arms so his sides could be washed, then turned around, leaning on the wall with both hands. He hung his head, hair in his eyes, and sighed.

"I ask no more of you than you can give," Rupert leaned over him to nuzzle the back of his neck as he whispered. "If this lasts a day, a week, a month. It is more than I have felt in years."

"Good," Blair sighed again. His head hurt, and he had a meeting today with his new department head, to go over lesson plans. He hoped he could find them quickly, in the mess that currently inhabited his car. "As long as you understand. I don't do commitment very well."

"Not to be trite, but one day at a time, then?" Rupert pulled him upright, and backwards into his arms. Blair leaned back against his chest, still surprised at the strength of the man.

"Sounds good." He turned and put his arms around Rupert's waist. The water was beginning to cool. "I didn't ask, but I was wondering..."

"Yes?" Pleasant look of curiosity.

"Um, just how old are you?"

"Forty-eight."

"That's - "

"Older than you expected?" There was no sign of hurt in the man's eyes or on his face. Just acceptance.

"No, actually, I was going to say older than Jim. But I think I need to stop comparing the two of you, like, right now."

"This very instant." Rupert agreed with a fierce grin, turning off the water.

"Sometimes I get the feeling there's more to you than mild-mannered librarian-cum-shopkeeper," Blair told him as they were getting out, Rupert really only rinsed, not washed.

"Librarian? Someone's been telling tales."

"I love it. My mom will love it. She won't be the least bit surprised that I'm sleeping with a librarian. She'll probably want to meet you."

Back in the bedroom, drying off.

"Indeed?"

"Well, after she forgives herself for the big screw-up. And that's a story for another time, 'cuz I just don't want to think about it right now, if that's okay with you. In fact, I think I'm going to go back to bed and take a nap and be really supremely boring."

"Does your head hurt?" Rupert was quick to tidy the bed and stack pillows. "I could bring the telly in here. It's only a little one."

"I think just a nap. Sorry to go all invalidy on you. But I'm supposed to meet with the anthro chair at 2 - could you make sure I get up by then?"

"Of course." Rupert sat on the bed and stroked Blair's head for a moment. "I have some research to do..."

"I think your life is a lot like mine, man." Blair grinned at him, eyes slipping closed.

"I find that rather frightening." A soft chuckle accompanied the words.

Blair felt the soft kiss and returned it, but didn't move otherwise. Rupert covered him with the sheet and left the room.

Blair opened his eyes and looked at the symbols on the walls. There was a decorative cluster of them over and around the doorway, others evenly spaced along the edge of the ceiling.

The concept of real magic meant that not all of his mother's friends were nuts. He owed some apologies, if that were the case.

***

When he woke again it was dark in the room. There were two windows that flanked the bed, with curtains drawn back, overlooking the playground in the center of the apartment complex.

It was dark outside.

There was a clock on top of the chest-of-drawers across the room. He could see the red numbers -- larger than usual, he thought -- holding steady.

At 7:19 p.m.

Shit. The meeting! How could Rupert have --

He sat up fast, and was relieved that neither dizziness nor nausea followed.

Rupert. Of course, he must have called to reschedule or something. He wouldn't have let Blair just miss the first meeting with his new boss.

That was something Jim might have done, but not Giles. Blair was mildly upset that he'd missed the meeting, but acknowledged to himself that he felt at least 100% better than he had earlier.

There was a burst of faint laughter from downstairs. Blair crawled from beneath the covers, noting that it had grown chilly and he was warm, with the duvet pulled up over him. So someone had been in to check on him.

He still hadn't gotten his stuff from the car, so there wasn't much choice of things to wear. He pulled on his ragged traveling jeans -- he wasn't going to wear his suit down, the one he'd had out for the interview -- that left jeans and a couple of none-too-clean tees.

Rupert had to have something around here besides oxfords and dress shirts and sweaters. He didn't want to be rude, though, and go through the man's clothes. After a moment's consideration, he decided to just act normally. That meant going downstairs just the way he was.

Well, after he did something with his hair, and emptied his bladder.

It was hard to comb his hair out because it pulled at the knot, but he got it more-or-less neat and pulled back. This way the bruise on his face from the punch showed clearly, and there was a hint of the knot visible as well.
He washed his face, thought about it, and then brushed his teeth. There was no more laughter, but he could hear the voices, and knew there were several people down there. Probably including the psychoblond that had tried to rearrange his grey matter.

He stood at the top of the stairs and looked down. The living room wasn't visible from here, so he stoically went down the stairs.

His head began to hurt by the time he got to the bottom, so he leaned on the railing for a minute, waiting for someone to look up, studying the people sitting on the sofa and at the table.

Giles. Xander. Buffy and Tara and Willow. And another blond woman that looked older than the others. More serious, though she was dressed the same way. Buffy looked up first. Her eyes were cool and her face didn't show any emotion. She just reached over the table and nudged Giles' arm.

"He's up."

Blair met Rupert's eyes as he stood from the table and came across the room, a bit hurried.

"How are you feeling?" He came up the bottom couple of steps and took Blair's arm, encouraging him to lean on him. "I tried to wake you for your meeting but you were having none of it."

"Did you-?" Blair didn't get to finish the question before Giles was reassuring him that he'd called and explained the situation, and rescheduled for two days hence.

He had Blair down the stairs and seated on the sofa beside Xander before Blair really had a chance to get a word in. Not that Giles was chattering, he just spoke.

And Blair listened.

He was aware that the others were all looking away from them as Giles leaned down and touched his face, then kissed him gently. Irritated with them -- they were in the wrong here, not him -- he caught Rupert's chin with a hand and deepened the kiss, teasing at his lips until his mouth opened and Blair could slip his tongue in to seek out the wet places.

Rupert didn't seem to mind. In fact, when he pulled away at last, his eyes were warm and he was grinning.

Blair licked his lips and grinned back.

"You look cold."

The words were cross and Blair didn't have a chance to reply before Xander practically threw a flannel throw at him.

Blair gathered it up almost reluctantly, but it was chillier down here, so he covered himself with it and leaned back on the couch.

"Are you hungry?" Giles asked, still not paying any attention to the others in the room.

"Not really." His stomach still sort of ached.

"Some tea?"

Blair smiled for real.

"Do you have peppermint?" That would settle his stomach and wake him up.

"I just happen to."

Giles went into the kitchen and Blair watched him through the pass-through window, well aware the others were watching him.

"You're making yourself at home," Buffy observed finally.

"Buffy!" Willow protested, her cheeks blushing scarlet. "After what we did, how can you talk to him like that?"

"He's flaunting himself." Buffy crossed her arms over her chest and flat-out pouted.

Blair laughed out loud. That earned him a dirty look from Buffy and a none-too-gentle shove from Xander.

"Oops, sorry there, just shifting..." the tall teenager glared at him.

"Xander, leave Blair alone," Giles spoke like he was teaching a class. Blair decided that he'd probably done that at some point.

He came back into the room and handed Blair a cup of tea. A proper cuppa, with a saucer and a spoon. Blair accepted and sat back with a sigh. Xander showed no sign of moving again, and Giles went back to the table. Blair was disappointed.

"We've got something to say to you, um, Blair." Willow got up from the table and came over to him. Xander shifted away.

Blair looked at her expectantly, cup held in his lap.

"What we did last night -- it wasn't right. I'm not apologizing, because we needed to do it. We just could have found a better way."

"If he'd known he would have hidden it somehow," Buffy objected. "We couldn't trust him just because Giles likes him."

"Right. We trusted Miss. Calendar, and look how that worked out." Xander gave them all a glare that Blair could only describe as hateful.

The temperature in the room dropped by at least ten degrees. Blair held himself still, unsure if violence was going to erupt. It was obvious that what Xander had said was hurtful and that everyone was confused about why he'd done it.

"That was uncalled for, Xander," Giles spoke mildly, but Blair heard the hurt in his voice.

Laboriously, Blair got up from the sofa, blanket wrapped over his shoulders, and went to stand beside him, a hand on his back.

"It's okay, Rupert. I've seen enough weird stuff that I can just barely understand how they rationalized that."

"Rationalized!"

Buffy shoved her chair back from the table and stood, threatening.

"I don't know what's made you the way you are, but I wouldn't say your thought processes are by any means typical," Blair replied calmly. "I suspect that you reach conclusions based on entirely different criteria than the rest of the world."

"You can't talk to her like that!" Now Xander was standing, too. "She's the Slayer, and she'll kick your gay white ass."

"So now we get to the root of the problem?" Blair asked them all, eyes traveling the group.

Rupert was stiff and silent under his hand. tense.

"No - I mean, that's not -" for some reason Xander was staring at Willow with big eyes. After a second of that Blair came to a belated realization. Willow and Tara were a couple.

But a lot of guys who could get into lesbianism still flipped over homos.

"I don't have anything funny to say," Xander muttered at last. He sat back down with a thump that couldn't have been good for the sofa.

"There's a first." Willow was still glaring at him. Tara leaned over the table and put her hand on Willow's.

"I'll work on it, okay?" Xander snapped. Blair was reminded of the way he'd reacted when he saw Giles kissing Blair. With humor, but real unhappiness. Giles seemed equally unhappy at this moment. Blair wished he felt comfortable enough to lean over and put his arms around him.

But why should he let these brats stop him? He did, after all. Leaned over and put his arms around Rupert's shoulders, his hands clasped on his chest, his chin on the top of his head. A little more possessive than he'd intended . Rupert stiffened, then brought a hand up to cover Blair's. Blair gave them all a challenging look.

"This isn't like you, Giles." Buffy stayed on her feet. "There's something weird going on here, and I'm going to find out what."

"Something weird?" Blair spoke though he knew Rupert wanted to. "You mean, like vampires? And 'Slayers'? That kind of weird?"

"Blair," Rupert's hand tightened on his and he tilted his head to look at him. "I will tell you everything."

"You can't do that." Buffy hissed.

"It's my decision."

Blair was aware of the anger crackling in the air between them. There was a lot more going on than just a teacher and student.

"I don't get a say in it?"

"For goodness' sakes, Buffy." Tara was trying to look her in the eye, but kept glancing away. "H-he isn't g-going to do anything. I told you, he-he isn't evil."

Blair threw her a thankful glance. She didn't seem to quite fit in with this group. Maybe it was because she seemed somehow serene. Above it, a little bit.

Buffy looked like she was angry with Tara for speaking, but there was some interplay between her and Willow that prevented. Blair thought briefly of the dissertation he should have written, the one on closed societies; this little group had some kind of gestalt thing going. It would be interesting to write a paper on them if there was a journal left that would accept one of his papers, which there wasn't.

He'd given up so much for Jim, but Jim didn't seem to understand. He only saw the risk he'd been put at and the pain he'd been put through.

Blair sighed and moved to the empty chair beside Rupert.

"Are you alright?" A gentle hand on the back of his neck, brush of skin against his cheek, warm voice in his ear.
Blair nodded, not trusting his voice right this minute. If Rupert never did anything else, he would remember the care the man had taken of him.

"Are you hungry?" Willow came to his side, apparently forgetting that Rupert had just asked him that minutes ago. His stomach still hurt, but maybe it would be better if he put something in it.

"I could try something dry. Crackers, or maybe toast?" he offered it as an olive branch.

"I'll get it," Tara was up and away before Willow had the chance to protest.

"So," Blair looked at them, noting the varying degrees of hostility. "Do I get my explanation now?" He was careful to not look at Rupert, because it wasn't him he was asking.

Xander was on the sofa, draw into himself and still angry-looking. The other woman looked like she wanted to comfort him but didn't approach him.

It was Buffy that spoke at last.

"I'm the Slayer. I kill vampires. That pretty much covers it."

Giles cleared his throat and glared at her. Willow made an exasperated sound.

"Oh, all right!" Buffy grimaced. "Willow, you do the opening monologue , please?"

The redheaded woman rolled her eyes and stepped to Buffy's side of the table. Rupert kept his hand on the back of Blair's neck.

"It goes like this," Willow said. "It sortof sounds stupid, but there was this one time when we all thought about what if there were a TV show, about the Slayer, and how the opening monologue would go and we came up with this, even though it's kinda lame -"

"Willow, please," Giles said.

"Okay, okay, let me just get it straight, it's been a long time since I wrote it down."

"You actually wrote this down?" Giles seemed astonished.

"Yes, but I burned it afterward, so nobody could find it and read it, I mean, like my mother or anything..."

"So you're working from memory here," Blair tried to encourage her. He couldn't wait to hear this. He might laugh out loud and Buffy might kill him, but he couldn't wait.

"Okay... think a man's voice, something dark and ominous... think Snyder!"

Willow seemed to reconsider and Buffy sat down with a shake of her head, one hand pushing her hair back from her face. "Okay, you didn't know Snyder... think James Earl Jones..."

"I'm picturing it," Blair assured her, wondering who the hell Snyder was. He thought he remembered Xander mentioning him yesterday.

Willow took a deep breath and spoke slowly.

"Into each generation a Slayer is born. One girl in all the world, a Chosen One. One born with the strength and skill to fight the vampires, to stop the spread of their evil and the swell of their numbers..."

Blair was right. He laughed. He tried to muffle it with a hand over his mouth and even considered attempting to disguise it as a cough, but Giles was staring down at him with sad, serious eyes and the sound died almost before it was born.

"You believe this," he said, with ironic disbelief.

The others were silent.

"Blair, I -" Giles hesitated, then took his glasses off and began to clean them, taking his hand from Blair's neck. "I am... well."

Fascinated by the concept of a stuttering Giles, Blair turned and rose on his knees, feeling unsteady but determined. He stared at him.

"You encourage this?" he asked it mildly, not wanting to accuse. "Adults leading adolescents in cult behavior are generally attempting to exploit the children in some fashion, most often sexually." He waited a moment to see how his words were taken. Everyone was staring at him, and Giles looked he looked hurt. Blair forced himself to go on. "There are dozens of recorded cases; the 'Satanists' of East Texas, the so-called 'Covens' of California, scattered groups of 'Goths', kids who worship vampire myths and leave themselves vulnerable to the adults that draw them into that lifestyle..." he paused, and abruptly found his throat gripped quite tightly.
Painfully tight.

By Buffy.

"You're not going to say things like that about Giles." she hissed the words, punctuating them with more pain from her ridiculously strong grip. "Say what you want about *me*, but leave Giles out of it."

"Like you've got any room to talk, you - you queer! You changed him, made him like you!" Xander's shout startled them all, but Buffy's grip didn't relent. Blair held as still as he could, but the further conflict was only making him feel sicker.

He gasped and bit back a moan, but refused to retract his statements. They were, after all, true.

"Buffy, please." Giles had his glasses back on, and he was gently prying her hand from his neck.

She resisted and Blair felt momentarily like the rope in a tug-of-war, then he was free and falling to the floor, hands touching the rapidly swelling flesh as he coughed roughly. The coughing made his stomach rebel. He was off the floor and staggering to the half-bath under the stairs, but didn't reach it before he was doubled over, retching dry heaves. Pain flamed through his body and he wondered again just what he'd been thinking. Leaving Cascade. In comparison, it was almost *safe*.

He hadn't finished before strong arms were once again around him, and he was being carefully lifted. Giles tried to carry him into the bathroom, but Blair wriggled until he was forced to put him down or drop him.

"Eh - eh - ex-p-p-p-*lain*!" Blair demanded between clenched teeth. "Make me understand." the words became easier as he caught his breath and leaned against the wall, his stomach a hard knot. He wrapped his arms around his middle, as much for the comfort as defensively.

"Blair." Giles knelt before him. Behind him the others hovered, with Xander far at the back. Blair ignored them and focused on his new lover.

"Tell me."

"I am part of an organization that records paranormal activity across the world. I was born into a family that has been in this organization for generations. My entire life was spent studying to become what I am now, the Watcher of the Slayer."

"She's the slayer, you're the watcher. Like Highlander, except there's only one of you. I got that."

"Highlander," Buffy snorted.

Giles waved a hand at her, not taking his gaze from Blair.

"Everything I've told you is true. It all exists. Vampires, Demons, Witches. All of it is true."

"There would be proof. Someone would have said something," Blair insisted. "You can't hide anything this big in the USA."

"If you spend enough money and sacrifice enough lives, you can." Willow offered quietly. Beside her, Tara nodded. She didn't seem to speak much.

"Sacrifice?"

"To the cause, Blair, not literally." Giles touched his hand. "May I please take you back up to bed?"

"If this is true, there'll be proof. I want to see it." Blair pulled his hand away from Giles'.

"What kind of proof would you accept?" Buffy was eyeing him, untrusting. It seemed to Blair that she felt more of a need to calm him for Giles' sake than his own.

"I suppose an actual vampire is out of the question?" he tried a small smile, but it wasn't returned and faded quickly.

Giles looked over his shoulder at Buffy and sighed.
"That could be arranged."

"Hey, man, no - I mean, I don't want anyone to get hurt just to prove this to me."

"Trust me," Buffy was smiling now, grimly. "No one will get hurt. If a certain someone behaves himself."

"You'll get him?" Giles asked her.

"I'll take Xander for backup."

"Oh, *there's* an idea," Xander protested loudly. "I can't stand him on a good day and you want me to tag along with you and beg him to come get all vampy for Giles' *boyfriend*..."

"Blair, let Giles take you upstairs. I'll answer any questions you want to ask or anything." Willow was looking worried.

"I don't think you're going to show up with proof." Blair allowed Giles to bend over him, to lift him in his arms. On his knees, it was an effort for the older man to gain his feet with Blair cradled against his chest, but he managed it. No one offered him help. "Tell me what I should do then, huh? When you come back with some clever excuse and try to make everything go back to normal?"

"Nothing in Sunnydale is normal," Tara said softly. She laced her fingers with Willow's. "Just trust us, once more."

"Please."

He couldn't ignore Rupert's soft plea. Closing his eyes, Blair let himself accept the inevitable, and be carried upstairs.

Giles helped him change into a clean tee and tenderly gathered his hair so he could lie down without tangling it. Willow and Tara brought two ice packs; one for his head and one for his neck.

When he was finally settled, Willow left to bring him more tea, and toast, and Giles kissed him on the forehead.

"I'm going to be downstairs for a while." he stroked Blair's cheek with the back of his hand. "There's something I need to look up."

"Yeah, alright." Not interested in anything but lying still for the moment, Blair watched him go with a pang.

Given time to think about it, with Tara watching over him, he decided that he didn't really think Giles was using them as the base of some sex-cult. The research he'd been thinking of was solid and those things did happen, but he was finding it hard to believe that of this man.

"How long have you known him?" he had to whisper, because his throat hurt badly.

"Since I met Willow. Almost two years." She sat on the end of the bed and touched his foot, under the covers.
"He protected me, from my family."

"What did they do?"

She looked away, and answered softly.

"Nothing, exactly. They lied to me and tried to force me to go home with them -" she stopped abruptly. "They all protected me."

"Do you believe all of this?"

"Look."

She turned her attention back to him, and held a hand in the air, palm up. He saw her brow furrow in concentration.

In the air an inch above her hand, a small glowing light appeared. It hung there, pulsing and unsteady.
Blair was so busy staring at it that he didn't see Willow come in until she sat on the bed beside Tara. Taking her girlfriend's hand, she grinned.

The light suddenly expanded. It became large, at least a foot across. It glowed with the brilliance of a small silver sun.

It began to spin, slowly.

It was beautiful.

"She's much stronger than I am," Tara said, giving Willow a loving smile.

Blair just stared. It could be a trick, but they hadn't had
any time to prepare... he searched the corners of the room with his eyes, looking for a projector.

"Look here, Blair," Willow tapped his knee with her knuckles. "This is real; we're real. This is something we can do."

"It may be something you can do, too."

There were footsteps on the stairs. Tara leaned in and kissed Willow before she closed her hand into a fist. The spinning light vanished as if it had never been there.

"Can you sit up higher?" Willow came to the head of the bed and helped him prop himself up against the headboard, stuffing pillows behind him until he nodded.
"Your tea is beside you."

It was, on the tray on the nightstand. He picked up the cup with steady hands, blew on the surface, and sipped.
Willow had left the door barely ajar. It opened now, and Buffy came in with the slight blond man behind her. He was grinning it looked disturbing and behind her Xander looked thoroughly pissed.

They all came in, Giles bringing up the rear.

"I don't think we need an audience for this," he waved at them. "Willow, Tara, thank you for your care, but it would be best if you left now."

"What time are we getting together tomorrow?" Willow asked.

"I don't know. Someone will call you."

It seemed a callous dismissal, but the girls accepted it quietly. They said their goodbyes, Willow giving Buffy a look Blair couldn't decipher, and then left.

"Xander, you too."

He crossed his arms over his chest and stood his ground.

"Giles, do you know what she offered him to do this?"

"Buffy?" Giles sounded surprised.

Spike hung between them, apparently enjoying the fuss.

"A date, mate!" he said happily. There was an edge to it, though. "One date. Dinner. Dancing or a play or a
movie. My choice."

Glaring at him, Buffy rolled her eyes.

"Yes, Spike. *One* date. One totally platonic, no touchy-feely, single date."

"All's I need is one, luv." his grin was snarky.

"Buffy, are you sure?" Giles sounded worried, too. Blair considered withdrawing his request, but this was becoming too interesting for him to let it go.

A date with the blond guy wouldn't kill Buffy and he owed her, twice now.

"It's just a date, Giles. I won't forget what he is."
Spike smirked.

Xander glowered.

"Go downstairs, Xander," Giles told him. "I have things I wish to discuss with you."

"Right. Go away, Xander. Find something else to do, Xander. Go out and play, Xander, while the grownups talk..."

They could hear him reciting his litany all the way down the stairs.

Blair set his teacup down and looked at them expectantly.

"Well?"

"You asked for proof," Buffy shrugged and pointed at Spike. "Here he is."

"He's British," Blair snarked at her. "That doesn't make him a vampire. Besides, he's not even wearing -"

"To hell with this," Spike snarled. He jumped up on the bed, straddling Blair, too quickly for anyone to stop him, and leaned down, his face only inches away.

He held Blair's head with both hands, but gently, like he was actually trying to not hurt him. "This is what I am, little scientist."

As Blair stared, shocked and frightened why wasn't Giles doing something?!

Spike's face *changed*.

"Yaah!!!" Blair scrambled to get away, but he was up against the headboard and there was nowhere to go.

"It's okay, calm down." Buffy grabbed his shoulder and held him. "Just take a minute and look at him."

"It's stage makeup - a trick!" Blair turned his eyes to Giles. "Get him off me!"

"You wanted proof." Giles wasn't smiling, but Blair thought he saw amusement in his eyes. He was learning that there was a *lot* more to Rupert than mild-mannered librarian.

"Touch it," Spike suggested. "See how real it is."

Buffy backed off, and Blair out his fingers on Spike's brow.

The ridges were hard but felt like skin cold skin. He traced them down past the odd eyes and over the cheeks, where the change was less drastic.

"Don't bite me, okay?" he hesitated, fingers hovering on Spike's chin.

"Couldn't if I wanted to." Spike sounded genuinely friendly now. The statement was strange, but Blair left it for later. He ran the tips of his fingers over the bright white fangs.

"Ow!" They were very sharp; he nicked himself. Spike grinned widely and licked it. Blair yanked the finger away, and watched as the... vampire... licked his lips with pleasure.

"Thanks, mate."

"That's enough, Spike." Buffy grabbed his shoulder. He didn't even flinch.

"He's not quite convinced yet, sweetheart." Spike sat up, his ass resting firmly against Blair's groin, and began undoing the top button on his shirt.

"That's *enough*, Spike," Giles growled behind him.

"Just letting him check for a heartbeat. Keep your shorts on, I'm not poaching your territory, Rupert."

He undid three buttons, then took Blair's hand in his own. He gave the nicked finger a hard suck - it stung - then put the hand on his own chest.

"You're so cold," Blair said with wonder.
Spike shrugged.

"I'm dead, ain't I?"

"Listen," Giles said. He'd come around to the other side of the bed and sat down. Now he leaned over and spoke into Blair's ear, his breath warm and tea- scented. "Feel it. The lack."

Blair closed his eyes and felt.

There was absolutely no movement in the chest under his skin. The diaphragm didn't rise or fall.

There was no reassuring lub, lub-dub safely beneath the ribs.

Spike held very still, his head tipped back, mouth open. His fangs were very bright.

Blair pulled his hand back and reached for Rupert.

"I'm tired," he whispered.

"I know."

He was gathered once again into strong arms. He lay his head on a warm chest, where a living heart pounded soothingly in his ear, and closed his eyes. He was aware of the weight leaving im as Spike got up, and heard part of the whispered argument as he left with Buffy, and then it was just him and Rupert again, cuddled close on the bed. Rupert shifted and lay back, pulling Blair down with him.

Blair sighed.

"I didn't mean those things I said."

"Yes."

"It's just it all seemed so strange, you and these kids and their stories "

"Yes."

"There's so much for me to learn." Blair opened his eyes. "It's like new world opening up."

Rupert blinked, and then stared at him in disbelief. It was returned when he tipped his head back and laughed out loud.

"I didn't think I was that funny looking!" Blair grumped, turning away from him. The movement hurt him everywhere and he had to lie still and gasp for a minute.
Rupert spooned up behind him, one hand smoothing his hair while the other crept up under his shirt to rub circles on his tense, sore belly.

"You aren't at all funny looking, as I am certain you know." he held Blair close and nuzzled his neck. "But you are the only person I have ever met that greeted this revelation with an absolute eagerness to learn."

"How did you react when you found out?" Willing to let himself be soothed, Blair relaxed back into the embrace.

"I never 'found out'. As I told you, I was raised with this knowledge. This is what I studied, from the day I learned to read."

"What a rotten childhood."

Rupert stopped for a moment, then resumed the motion.
"It had it's moments."

"I can learn this, right? I mean, I know I can never write a paper on it or anything public, but there must be a huge amount of information already gathered, if your family has studied it for generations, but I don't know any of it. A whole new definition of life on this planet, and I can study all of it -"

"Starting in the morning," Rupert said gently.

On cue, Blair yawned.

"Or maybe tomorrow afternoon sometime. Like, around three."

"Or even then."

He felt himself starting to drift off, yet another astonishing day taking its toll.

With the last of his energy he made his tired, sore body turn over, and snuggled to Rupert's chest, smiling when strong arms closed tightly around him. But not too tight.
The last thing he remembered was Rupert's lips on his skin, pressing tender kisses to his face and forehead.

He dreamed about laughing bleached-blond vampires that danced with pretty girls, blood dripping from their wide open mouths.

***

"Honey, I'm ho-ome!"

Blair closed the apartment door behind himself with a quick grin. It was earlier than he'd expected to get here, and he was pretty sure Rupert hadn't closed up the shop yet, so he was alone.

He dropped his backpack on the coffee table with a little sigh and wandered into the kitchen.

They'd made a much-needed grocery run last night, and he'd paid for his share, so he didn't feel guilty about taking the last mango and a soft roll.

Tea was a possibility, but he passed over it in favor of a secret vice; Yoohoo. It was a combination guaranteed to make either Jim or Rupert grimace in distaste, and he was going to enjoy it in front of the TV while watching the Discovery channel.

It has been a busy day. Apartment-hunting, setting up his office at the University, arranging for things in storage to be sent here. A productive day.

Settling back, he relaxed into the sensation of non-pain. His head was fine, everything was mended, and he'd had a fruitful day.

He smirked at the pun, and cut into his mango.

Caught up in a report on efforts to re-establish Salmon runs destroyed by decades of river diversion, he didn't notice the time passing until it was over. Feeling lighter of heart at the potential for success in the attempts of both the government and environmental groups, he clicked off the small set and stretched before looking at the clock.

It was well past 7. Rupert closed up at 5 most nights, or left Anya to close up for him. It seemed there wasn't any apocalyptic threat hanging over their heads at the moment - and that seemed to be the exception around here, rather than the norm - so there was no reason for all-night research sessions, other than the ongoing problem of the traveling band of vampires. Rupert said Buffy had them well in hand, and Blair wasn't about to ask about it. He hadn't been to the Magic Box since the attack - and that was what he considered it, no matter what their intentions had been - and he hadn't seen any of the teens except Dawn, who had come over for dinner the night before. He'd found her interesting, and a little bit strange. There was something about her Rupert wasn't telling him, he could tell by the questions his lover had asked him after Buffy came by to pick her up. Whether he had noticed anything odd about her, if he thought she was behaving normally for her age. No and yes, Blair had answered.

Now he stood, and considered his choices.

Things with Rupert were good. Better than good. He was comfortable with this man and his life. They had great sex, and Rupert was always an interesting companion that understood the life of an academic, and the pressures of having once been an over-achieving child prodigy.

He might not be in love with him, but he could get there, if he let himself.

Blair was reasonably sure Rupert felt the same way. It just seemed there was something holding them back, on both sides.

He wasn't going to push it. Not yet.

But if he ever wanted them to become something more... serious... then he needed to get over the anger he was holding inside. The one inspired by the kids' thoughtless cruelty and careless attitude toward him.

The first step would be to go the shop. If there was something going on, he could offer his help. He'd been reading a lot about this new reality he was just beginning to understand, and if there was anything he was good at - besides that - it was research.

He would go to the Magic Box and offer his help. If they didn't need it, fine he could drag Rupert out to dinner and maybe even talk him into a movie. If they did need it, he could arm-wrestle Xander for the last jelly donut and maybe they could start making peace between them. Perhaps a peace offering, too - call it a bribe already - he would *bring* the donuts.

***

The front door was unlocked, so he walked in, white bakery box in one hand, backpack in the other.

He stopped as the door swung shut behind him, and looked.

Everyone in the room looked back.

"Blair." Rupert carefully laid down the very large, duty volume he was reading from, and came the stairs from the upper level, where the majority of the books were kept.

"Hi, Sandburg!" Dawn popped up from behind the counter, a big grin on her face. They'd had a lot of fun talking the night before.

"Hey, Sunshine." it was a natural extension of her name, after all.

At the small round table, Xander glowered at him. He and Anya and Tara and Willow all seemed to be working their way through an *enormous* stack of books.

Buffy appeared in the doorway that led into the back. She crossed her arms over her chest and gave him what could only be called a dirty look.

Dawn saw it. Her smile faded, and she ducked back behind the counter, apparently to continue whatever it was she'd been doing.

Rupert stepped in front of him.

"You could have called," he said quietly, but there was amusement pulling at his mouth. "You didn't have to come."

"Extra brain here." Blair pointed to his head and shrugged. "Just going to waste until the semester starts."

He was infinitely pleased when Rupert leaned forward and kissed him gently.

"Mm."

"You come bearing sugar?" Xander was eyeing the box. He looked like he was angry at Blair for bringing it, but couldn't resist the notion of it.

"Bearrrrr-claws..." Blair sang softly, holding the box over his head with the one hand while the other reached for Rupert's shirt, fisting in the front of it. "Bavari-ans..." He pulled Rupert closer for a proper kiss. If the man had wanted to resist, he could have, but he didn't. Instead he slipped his arms carefully around Blair and opened his mouth to return the favor.

The backpack hit the floor with a thump.

"Aw, c'mon, man, don't drop the donuts to get suckyface!" Xander's protest was a touch too loud, as if forced, and then he was there, lifting the box from Blair's hand.

It gave Blair the chance to wrap his arms around Rupert, and he took it, gladly.

By the time their tongues had been properly re-introduced, the box was open on the table and everyone but Buffy and Dawn had a donut in hand. She was looking at Buffy, pleadingly.

"Just one? I promise it won't make me hyper and I'll still go to bed on time."

"Alright," Buffy relented. "Just one. And don't take the last bearclaw!" She headed for the box herself.

Rupert shifted to stand beside Blair, an arm around his waist.

"You resorted to bribery?" he said, sotto-voice.

"If the donut fits..." Blair shrugged, and grinned up at him. "I couldn't wait for you to get home. I found an apartment and wanted to tell you about it."

A shadow passed over Rupert's face, but his small smile remained in place.

"Is it nice?"

"It's an apartment," Blair shrugged again. "Kitchen, bed room, living room, really tiny bathroom..."

"But it's yours." Rupert gave him a squeeze.

"Better."

He got a quizzical look in response.

"It's in the same complex as yours."

Rupert took off his glasses and began to clean them.

"I hope that's okay? I know, we haven't made any promises, but I like this thing between us and I thought you did too... I don't have to be over all the time or anything..."

Glasses back in place, Rupert took his chin with one hand and gave his head a little shake.

"I'm thrilled," he said simply.

"You are?"

"I was afraid that by looking for an apartment you were telling me that you were getting tired of 'this thing between us'."

"No way, man! I just thought you needed your space."

"We both need our own space," Rupert brushed a kiss over his lips. "But if those spaces can be within walking distance, I am much happier about it."

"Me, too, man." Blair leaned over to pick up his back pack and grinned widely. "Me, too."

"Hairboy, you want one of these? They're going fast." Buffy held up a bearclaw, but Blair was staring at her. He could feel the blood draining from his face.

"What did you call me?"

"Blair?" Rupert asked, sounding worried.

"Um yeah. Well, it's your most distinguishing feature, okay? Takes a brave man to wear his hair like that in California in this day and age." Buffy bit into the treat and chewed. "Hairboy."

"It kinda suits you," Willow offered. Tara nodded agreement.

"Blair, what's wrong?" Rupert was definitely worried.

"Nothing, really. It's just that's what that's what the guys in Major Crimes called me. A couple of them. The guys Jim worked with."

"Bad mojo?" Willow asked sympathetically. Blair shook his head.

"Nah, it's I kinda like it. Just hadn't heard it in a while. Left field, y'know?"

"I think that's what I'll call you, then." Buffy seemed to think it was settled. She wiped her sticky hand on her workout pants. He noticed, for the first time, the patches of sweat gathered under her arms and beneath her breasts.

"Sure thing, Blondie." He went to claim a donut before they were all gone. He'd had fruit for dinner, he was entitled.

"Oh, I don't *think* so... Dawn, are you finished with that puzzle yet?"

"All glued up."

"Then we need to go. I want you in bed before I leave on patrol tonight."

"Who's going to stay with me?" she seemed on the verge of pouting; such a normal kid.

"Willow said she and Tara would." Buffy looked at them. But the lesbians were busy playing footsie under the table, and Willow was doing something suggestive with a cinnamon twist. "Or not?"

They stopped and looked guilty.

"I could do it," Blair offered.

Xander smirked.

"You'd provide a lot of protection, I bet."

It seemed a couple dozen donuts weren't enough to win his undying loyalty.

"Or " Blair had a moment's inspiration, "-- *you* could stay with Sunshine and I could patrol with Buffy. I've been wanting to get a look at one of those things up close."

He knew as soon as he said it that they were going to say no. But Dawn had other ideas.

"Xander, that would be great! We never get to hang anymore!"

"You're going to be in bed," Buffy told her.

"I don't trust you to protect her, Hairboy," Xander snapped. "There might be something on a high shelf she needed."

Blair winced. The old new nickname had just lost its luster.

"It's you or me, Alex."

"No, we " Willow tried to speak up, but Rupert interrupted.

"You all know how I feel about the events of this past week. If you are given any opportunity, no matter how mundane, to earn Blair's forgiveness, I think that's a goal you should pursue."

He glared at Xander. "Dawn would like you to spend some time with her. Willow and Tara haven't had an evening to themselves since this started. Unless *Buffy* has an objection, I think it's a reasonable plan."

She shrugged.

"It won't be just the two of us. I'm sure Spike will show up exactly when he's not supposed to."

"I'll be going along as well," Rupert told her. "I've been putting off that evaluation of your hunting pattern."

She frowned, but nodded. Then she turned and went back into the back room.

"That's settled, then." Rupert made shooing motions at the table. "Willow, Tara, go spend some time spoiling each other. Xander, take my car and take Dawn home. See that she gets to bed at a decent hour."

They all cleared out faster than Blair would have predicted. He turned to Rupert, his donut gone, and licked his fingers. Slowly, one at a time.

"We're going to have to outfit you with some kind of weapon," Rupert was studying him with an eye for something other than a lover. "Have you ever done any fighting at all?"

"Only with kids like Xander, who thought short meant vulnerable..."

"This is serious, Blair." Rupert was waiting for him to respond appropriately.

"No. I don't like to fight. I'm not very good at the hitting back part. If I can't talk it into submission, I usually run."

"That actually makes sense." There were weapons on the walls, weapons in trunks and cabinets and chests he went to a wall cabinet and opened it. "A staff is a simple weapon. You can use it like a club or a spear. It doesn't matter if the tip isn't sharpened, it will still hurt. And it's good for keeping the enemy at arm's length."

"Or further." Blair accepted the eight-foot stick, as big around as his forearm. "It's heavy."

"Think of it as an extra-long baseball bat," Buffy advised, from behind the screen where she was changing clothes.

"Okay. I can play ball."

"Just don't strike out."

"As I was saying," Rupert chose a short crossbow for himself. Buffy gave him a strange look. "We have a novice accompanying us tonight," he explained.

"It was your idea."

"And yet a good one nonetheless." The smile he gave Blair made him quit stroking the smooth-worn surface of the staff and smile back.

He was really glad he'd found an apartment so close to Rupert's. He wasn't ready to move in with anyone again the years with Jim had been too long but to have him nearby was perfect.

They loaded up in Giles' car. There was some discussion of where the patrol was supposed to be. Buffy wanted to hit the cemeteries - and what pretty young thing
*preferred* hanging out in graveyards?? - because Willow had identified two suspicious deaths three days before. Apparently there was some chance they were going to 'rise' as vampires and she wanted a couple of easy kills.

Rupert thought a swing through the 'burbs would prove more fruitful. They had made inroads into the numbers of the vampire gang, but the leaders were still at large and probably recruiting more members.

"Where are the suspicious graves located?" Rupert asked as they parked alongside one of Sunnydale's 27 cemeteries.

Buffy had to concentrate for a minute. Blair had to hide a smile in his shirt collar.

"Walken and Curtis," she said a last. "I don't remember the first names, but we should be able to locate them from that."

"Isn't there a map or something you could download from the 'net?" Blair asked as they started down a paved path. He wondered if they wouldn't be stopped, walking here so late at night.

"We would have, if Willow hadn't been so ready to abandon me for Tara."

"Ooo, jealous much?"

"Back off, Hairboy, or we'll see if 'Shamans' bleed like the rest of us."

"Like I said -" Blair moved to put Rupert between them. "Touchy much?"

As he'd expected, the Watcher put an end to the bickering with a glare at Buffy and a similar one directed at Blair himself. He hadn't expected that part, and promised himself he would make it up to his lover.

It turned out that patrolling was pretty boring. A little better than being on stakeout, because he got to walk around, but that advantage was counterbalanced by the fact that he had no safe steel cage around him in the form of a vehicle and no men with guns beside him or only a radio-call away.

The night was dark and cloudy, normal for California fall. His mind skittered over topics, subjects, information he'd absorbed. There had been a lot of it in the past two weeks. Most of it wad related to the reality he now inhabited; the one the vast majority of Earth's inhabitants weren't privy to. For some reason, he hadn't really started studied the information on Shamans lore that Rupert had made available. He told himself it was because he needed to know more about the world before he worked on how he fit into it, but really, he knew, he was just scared. To be a real Shaman; with magic and the responsibility that carried, that was too much for him to face. Yet.

His thoughts caught up to what Rupert had said earlier, in the back room of the shop. He addressed it, belatedly.

"What makes sense?" he stopped walking for a second to turn to the man and ask him.

"Excuse me?" Giles was keeping a sharp lookout. They were off the path now and traveling through a wooded area that seemed perfect for an ambush. Blair knew timing was everything.

"Earlier when you gave me this. You said my feelings about violence made sense, and you seemed surprised by it."

It took him a few seconds to sort out what Blair was saying.

"Oh. Yes. Shamanism is related to Druidic practices, and other earth- religions."

"It's not a religion." Blair protested. They had all stopped, but Buffy was walking around them in a circle.

"No, it's not. It's a connection with the Earth and the lifeforces that make up our reality."

"Lifeforces. Reality." Blair sighed. This was as bad as some of his mother's friends' phsychobabble.

"Yes." Rupert was insistent. "The gist of it is this: everything that exists is part of the whole. That whole is the Earth, and everything that lives on it. 'Shaman' is just a name given to those few that can touch that pattern and affect it."

"So, you're saying that there really is no spoon."

Rupert looked at him blankly, and Buffy snickered. "I told you to see The Matrix, Giles."

"If what you're saying is that a spoon is only a spoon because we perceive it to be so, then, yes. There is no spoon."

"And if *I* say there *is* a spoon, it is one?"

"Blair." Rupert let his crossbow sag to point at the ground, and stepped closer to him, he put his hand on Blair's chest, over his heart. "I'm telling you that you can tell the spoon to be whatever you want it to be."

"That's not possible."

"It is."

"If I could do something like that, I would know it."

"You've never been in a position to use it."

"I've been kidnapped, shot at and drowned, man! If I could *change* things, believe me, I would have!"

"You told me that when you were kidnapped, you talked your way out of it, and you knew Jim was coming to save you."

Blair nodded. He felt cold. He was sweating.

"Guns are not a thing of nature. It's unlikely you would be able to affect them, even if you tried. And when you were shot at, you had Jim there once again, did you not?"

"Um, yeah... he's the he's the one that does the protecting."

"So you weren't really in danger."

"But I drowned."

"A completely natural experience."

Buffy was standing close now, looking interested.

"You drowned? So did I! How long were you dead? Who brought you back?"

He stared at her, startled. She was so young.

"I, uh about fifteen minutes, I think. They worked on me for a while. The EMTs. Jim wouldn't let them stop. I had a vision, of the panther, and the wolf, they came together and I - I came back."

"That's much cooler than my drowning. All I got was Xander doing CPR and sore ribs."

"I got the sore ribs, too."

"As happy as I am to see the two of you bonding, could you please choose another subject?"

Blair looked from Buffy to Rupert and was startled to see tears in his eyes.

"Aw, hey, man, I'm sorry, we weren't thinking. That must have been hard for you, for her to die and you not be there."

"I sent her there, Blair. She begged me not to and I sent her to her death." He looked away.

Buffy took his chin and turned him to face her.

"And I would do it again. Just like I would jump off that tower again. It's what I do. It's who I am."

Blair blinked, and wondered if that meant she had died more than once. He wasn't about to ask.

"So, the theory is that I can simply want one thing to become something else, and it will?"

"It is easier if the something doesn't really object to becoming the other thing, but, yes, that's essentially it."
Blair held up a hand.

"Hold up. Hang on. If it doesn't *object*? Matter isn't self-aware."

"But it knows its place. It knows where it belongs. That's how it hold its shape."

"So I could, maybe, convince a daisy to become a rose, but not a turtle." he was guessing, floundering, out of his depth.

"You could probably convince it to become a turtle. Another living, natural thing. Or anything that it might become in its lifespan. For example; every living thing will at some point decompose. Speeding up the process shouldn't be that difficult."

"Since it's already headed that way." That made sense, as much as any of this did.

"Asking it to become a steel bar might be more of a challenge."

"So there is no daisy-that's-become-a-spoon."

"You have to see the movie, Giles. We'll rent it."

"I will watch Keanu Reeves over my dead body."

"Now, that would be a trick..."

Blair caught movement out of the corner of his eyes and whirled, but Buffy was faster. She had her sword up and swinging before the newcomer had a chance to announce himself.

Spike ducked under the swing and rolled out of range. He stood and dusted himself off with a disgusted look.

"You lot got time to stand around discussin' metaphysics? I've a mind to go on home and have a cuppa, there's clearly no danger here."

"Shut up, Spike."

"There's a nice thing to say to a bloke that's come to offer a hand."

"We're full up, thanks."

Blair remembered how Buffy had said this vampire would be joining them. But now that he had she didn't seem very happy about it. Unresolved sexual tension. He could see it. What a weird twist; the Vampire Slayer wanted a vampire.

"Yeah, I can see that. Ya got yourself an old academic, and a nice, fresh new one."

He almost sounded jealous. It made Blair want to laugh.

"Buffy, we can use the firepower." Giles told her.

"I *guess* he can come along..."

"We have been talking too long. It's past midnight. We'd better find those graves, and soon." Buffy shouldered her sword. Blair wondered why it didn't cut her shoulder.

"The fresh ones? Already located, luv."

"Where?" she demanded, and seemed pissed that he hadn't said that first thing.

"One that-a-way " Spike point to the east. "- and one in the opposite direction."

"That's convenient. Not."

"These are only babies," Blair heard himself say. "Rupert and I can handle one of them." He wanted to make her go with Spike, to torment her. Petty revenge.

"Of course we can." He hadn't expected Rupert to agree with him! "Walken was older and larger, Buffy, you and Spike take that one. Blair and I will wait for Curtis."

"Um, Rupert..."

"We'll be fine, Blair." Giles put a hand on his shoulder and steered him toward the west. "Meet us back at my place?"

"I may just go straight home. If this one rises soon, I can still get a decent night's sleep." Buffy told him.

"Be sure to call me when you get in."

"I will."

"No message - wait for me to answer."

"I *will*, Giles."

"You know how I worry."

"Giles!" Buffy raised her voice. Blair saw the smile Rupert hid as he turned away from her. He wanted to ask what that was all about, but didn't think this was the time.
Soon, very soon, he was going to have a vampire to kill. Could he do it?

Shove a large stick through the chest of what had once been a living, breathing person?

Frankly, he had his doubts.

***

Forty minutes later found him sitting on a cold, damp headstone a couple of feet away from Rupert, who was sitting on another cold, damp headstone. Bored, and tired of keeping quiet, he read the names chiseled into them. "Madeleine Constance MacGregor. Born 1901. Died 1991."

Rupert gave him a long stare.

"Anthony Howard MacGregor. Born 1881. Died 1985."
Rupert rolled his eyes and looked to the sky.

"He was twenty years older than she was," Blair observed thoughtfully. "They stayed together until he died."

"How do you know that?"

"Divorced people don't usually get buried next to each other, even if they don't remarry."

"That kind of age difference was common back then."

"Back then? You mean you don't remember 1881, Rupert?" Blair teased.

"I hardly remember 1981."

"You know that it doesn't bother me, right?" Blair pushed. Not always one of his more attractive traits.

"I hadn't really thought about it."

"Well, it doesn't. I like you the way you are. I'm not sure you'd be the way you are if you were my age."

"I assure you I would not."

"So we're good on that, then."

"We are indeed 'good'." His lover smiled at him and held out an arm. "Are you cold?"

"Not really. Soon, though." Blair studied the sky. It was dark enough that he could see a lot of stars. "Winter will get here."

"It doesn't get that cold. If you want cold, you should try England. Cold and wet."

"No thank you," Blair shuddered.

"I might like to take you there, on a visit. Introduce you to my family. Where I grew up."

Surprised by the offer, Blair smiled slowly. He got up and went to sit on Rupert's lap, carefully, an arm around his waist.

"Take me to meet your parents? Cool."

"Perhaps it was a hasty offer, but I certainly meant it -" Giles stopped mid-sentence, then stood, dumping Blair off his lap. Without protest Blair rolled to his feet and bounced back up, right behind him.

The ground rippled on the grave across from them. Yolanda Curtis' grave. She'd been forty-three when she died from massive unexplained blood loss.

Now she was coming back to hunt them down and drink their blood.

Blair couldn't get over how cheesy that sounded.

"Stay behind me, Blair."

He wasn't going to argue. It annoyed him when Jim relegated him to the status of 'phone boy' but here he was out of his element. He didn't think one could out-talk a vampire. At least, not a newly risen one that would be suffering from a great and terrible hunger.

The Earth rippled again, and heaved.

She rose headfirst, arms at her sides, as if she were thrusting herself from the bottom of a pool, breaking the surface to gasp for air. Only she didn't gasp, or even breath. She landed on her feet a yard away from the grave and Blair knew he just *knew* that this wasn't the way baby vampires were supposed to act.

Rupert had the crossbow up and aimed at her chest. He pulled the trigger, the bolt flew and she caught it with her left hand. Snapped it in both.

"Bloody hell," Rupert said, and then she was on him.

"Rupert!" Blair shouted.

Her mouth opened and he saw the fangs and it wasn't just intellectual curiosity anymore, she was going to eat his boyfriend!

"Rupert!!!!" he screamed, rushing forward.

A single blow from her arm and he went flying back. He could hear he thought he heard Rupert telling him to run. Voices in the distance; Buffy and Spike, calling for them.

He ignored it all.

Something inside him moved.

He felt it, like a parasite. Something *inside*, in his chest, down low above his belly. Something real.

He'd seen Jim in danger many times. Jim and his mother and his friends.

He'd never felt this.

Maybe it was like Rupert said; he was meant to fight unnatural enemies, not common and uncommon criminals.

Only a threat like this one would bring it out of him.
Blair shoved himself off the ground and staggered to his feet, still dizzy from the force of the blow. He saw Rupert's eyes, the expression of pain on his face.

He saw the blood streaming from the ragged wound on his neck and the smeared visage of the thing feeding on him.

Without being aware of it, he raised his hands. What was it they had told him? Not the spoon thing, but everything wants to be what it is. It wants to continue on the path it's on.

"Ashes to ashes..." he whispered to himself, feeling a cold stir in the air around him.

"Giles!" Buffy's scream rang in his ears. She was too far away to save him.

"Flesh we are, dust we become!" Blair shouted, feeling suddenly calm. The vampire dropped Rupert and turned to him, without grace, her eyes the only things that looked alive.

The blood sparkled in the moonlight.

"Flesh we are..." Blair said slowly, trying out the words in his mouth. She was coming for him, but she was moving slowly, as if trying to figure him out. "Kansas in the Depression... drought in Africa.... little birds bathing on the sidewalks in piles of *dust*!" the words poured out of him like a song. A poem.

Reworking the nature of the Universe.

Remaking.

There was a sound of chirping, and then the vampire dissolved, her eyes wide and frightened.

Blair stared, and heard a rush of fluttering wings as the dust cloud dissipated in a sudden breeze.

"Rupert..." he breathed. All of a sudden he was terrified.
Had he taken too long? Was it too late? Would he have to kill him, too?

On his knees beside his lover, holding him in his arms, blood still pouring.

The color screamed at Blair.

Buffy running up, crying. Bawling, her eyes puffy and red already. She shoved Blair away with that amazing strength, took Rupert from him, hit him.

"How could you, you killed him, you killed him, Giles! Giles, Giles!"

"Give him back..." his head hurt, she'd hit him hard, again. Spike was standing to one side, staring at him with a combination of disbelief and hurt resentment.

"You weren't supposed to get him killed, ye little bugger."

"I can fix him..." Blair crawled to Buffy, grabbed at Rupert, got his foot in both hands, pulled.

He surprised her, because she wasn't holding on tightly and Giles fell free. Blair crawled on top of him.

He could feel it again, and it made him sick to his stomach. Like having something living inside him. Like the movie Alien. Maybe he'd get used to it someday.

He sat up, straddling Rupert's hip, and put his hands in the blood. On his chest, on his throat, it was everywhere. Blair washed his hands in it, and then quietly; politely, gently, he suggested it go back home.

There was a moment of taut silence; the world stopped breathing.

Then the blood began to flow backwards.

Not the stuff on the ground. Just what was touching him. Like it was doing what it was supposed to do.

It crept back into Rupert, a drop at a time.

"Bloody hell," Spike said, and he sounded just like Rupert had. Only more awed and less angry.

Buffy didn't say anything. She sat on the ground beside Blair and watched.

It left stains on their clothes, on Blair's and Buffy's hands. A shadow of deep red that only proved something had happened.

After it went back into the wound, Blair put his hand over it and held it there, willing the blood to stay inside. To respect the less-than-ironclad barrier.

"Get something to wrap it with," he told Buffy, mildly shocked at the sound of his own voice. It was deeper. Rougher.

"Here." Spike dangled a bandana in front of her. She took it and sniffed it. It seemed to pass the test, because she wound it round Giles' neck and carefully edged it under Blair's hand.

"Can you keep it from bleeding?"

"I think I've done all I can."

"You think?"

"It's not like I've ever done this before." He resisted the urge to get mad at her. It wasn't a big urge and he wondered idly if he was going to be calmer from now on. There were so many things so much more important than getting angry, especially at what was only a girl. A girl with a great gift and dedication and nobility, but still only a girl.

When she had the bandana tied tightly he removed his hand, wiping it on the grass. It seemed that the blades reached for him, so he put both hands down flat, palms to the Earth.

And felt warmth.

"The Earth welcomes me," he said in wonder. "She knows me."

"Now that you've used what was given to you." Rupert's voice was raspy and faint, but he heard it. He leaned over his lover and kissed him, tenderly.

"Welcome back. I'm sorry I didn't get to her sooner."

"I'm astonished you got to her at all."

"We need to get you to a hospital." Buffy began trying to pick him up. Giles resisted.

"No, I'm fine. I didn't lose enough blood to be in danger, and I can feel the wound knitting."

"You can heal." Spike sounded more angry this time.

Blair shrugged. The grass was curling around his fingers, happy to have him touching it.

"Only damage caused by unnatural things, I would guess."

Rupert nodded. Blair lifted his hands from the grass, grinning at the way the blades followed his fingers, reaching into the air for them.

"Grow bright and green here," he told it. "Grow strong and pretty."

There was no reaction. The blades settled down like a sigh, and the night returned to normal.

"Too much, I suppose." Blair looked at it regretfully.

"We will come back in January and see if it took you at your word." Rupert smiled at him, and then offered him a hand. "Help me up? I think I can walk."

He was on his feet and swaying. Buffy held him up on one side and Blair on the other.

"Did you get Walken?" Giles asked as they walked back toward the car.

"Yeah that's why we were looking for you. He was way more powerful that he should have been."

"Any clue why?"

"He said something about the curse of normality. I couldn't tell if it was, y'know, like rhetorical or something."

"You couldn't tell if it meant anything?" Blair tried to make sense of the statement.

"You know, I am going to *hate* having another smart person around to show me how smart I'm not."

"You are very intelligent, Buffy," Rupert cut in. "In fact, I think you're intelligent enough to understand when I ask you to stay with me while I send Blair to get the car. He can drive it around to the nearest entrance and save me the length of this trek."

"I should have thought of that." Blair fished the keys from Rupert's pocket and slipped in front of him to kiss him. "Let him rest a minute, Blondie, and I'll be right back."

"I'll go with." Spike volunteered. "No sense letting you get yourself killed fetching the auto. This thing you do doesn't work all the time does it?"

"I don't know. But I would appreciate the company."
They went off, leaving Buffy and Giles sitting with their backs to a large tree.

Blair thought the Slayer and Watcher needed a chance to talk.

***

Hours later, everything was better. Blair stood in the shower, letting hot water rain down on him. He thought about asking it to change temperature for him, but knew instinctively that was a bad idea. He shouldn't ask the Universe for things on a whim. There was a pattern and structure to the world, and things he changed affected that pattern. If he changed it too much, the pattern might not be able to re-establish itself.

It was like the old riddle; if you turn on a faucet in Cleveland, does a butterfly die in Australia?

If everything was *that* connected, he needed to be very careful about this.

If he could ever do it again.

When he got out of the shower, his foot slipped when he missed the mat. But he didn't fall. The mat slid two inches until it was under him and the slip was over.

"That's just weird."

He went into the bedroom. Rupert was propped up on pillows, a stack of books beside him on the bedspread, two open and stacked on his bent knees.

Blair crawled into bed and leaned carefully to kiss him without knocking anything over.

"I won't be much longer," Rupert told him, distracted. The bandana had been replaced by a neat gauze patch, but the bite was almost healed already. "I just want to see if there's any mention of healing in any of the references for Shamans and shamanistic magics."

"Okay," Blair smiled and slid down into the bed,
covering himself up to his nose. "I'll be here when you're done."

"Good. I'll wake you, then."

Blair closed his eyes. He was pleasantly tired. No more than if he'd had a good workout or a game of touch football with Jim and the Major Crimes gang. At one of Simon's annual picnics.

Thoughts drifting, he wondered what they would do if he showed up to one of those picnics with Rupert in tow. His slightly stuffy, super-intelligent, extremely educated, significantly older male lover.

It would be a sight to see.

"Mmmm... Rupert." Blair smiled and stretched as he turned over. His lover's mouth traveled over his neck as he did, winding up under his chin. Blair tilted his head back, offering his throat.

"I thought I would wake you and thank you properly."

"Mm, yeah, gotta do everything proper." Blair moved closer to him and wrapped his arms around the smooth body without opening his eyes.

"Unfortunately, I am tired from the night. Perhaps a raincheck?" Rupert lay still.

Blair opened his eyes, meeting his lover's, only inches away.

"Are you really, really tired or only mostly tired?"

He got a stare as a response, and a quirk that might have been a grin.

"On a scale of one to ten..."

"Eight," Rupert said, grumpy now. "I'm not exhausted or decrepit."

"Then, how about you just lie quietly and let me have my wicked way with you?" Blair suggested it quietly, not quite sure how Rupert would react. They had talked idly of changing roles; he had always bottomed and enjoyed it, but tonight he wanted to be the one in charge.

"I think -" Rupert closed his eyes and a smile spread across his face. "I think that would be lovely."

"Me too." Deeply satisfied with this response, Blair began to touch his lover. He wanted it to be just as sweet as sleep sex should be, so he took his time.

It was important that Rupert know how much he appreciated this surrender. And surrender it was. Rupert was malleable; he rolled when Blair told him to roll, left his shoulders and hands where Blair put them. Only the shortness of his breath and the light sweat that coated his body betrayed his excitement. That and the fiercely hard erection Blair stroked every now and then, just to make sure it was paying attention.

He lubed and stretched carefully, well aware it had probably been years since Rupert last bottomed.
Everything was perfect, or as close to it as it could be. But, for somehow, when he used a pillow to raise his lover's hips, when he opened him and sought entry, Blair felt as if something were not right.

Something felt....wrong.

The feeling persisted as they made love. Blair lay over Rupert's back like a blanket, not leaving him any room for movement. Rupert moaned articulate approval. Blair reached under him and fisted his heavy cock in time with the deep, slow thrusts he wanted. Rupert turned his head and gripped the sheets, his body tense.

It felt good to Blair, too, but something was missing. Some spark. It had been there before... he decided they were both tired and he'd wanted this slow, but maybe it was too slow to ignite that raging fire. That burning need and powerful passion he'd become used to. This was nice, too. Lovely, even.

Rupert opened to him further. It felt like Blair could sink right into him. He tightened his grip on Rupert's cock and increased the force of his strokes. He was rewarded by a long, drawn-out moan and a handful of warm sticky.
The massage Rupert's ass gave his cock pulled his own orgasm from him. It wasn't earth-shattering, but he figured they all couldn't be.

Rupert hummed softly while Blair cleaned them up. He seemed as sated as Blair'd ever seen him. Despite the hour, they fell back asleep, warm and comfortable in each others' arms. Blair forgot all about the something wrong he'd been feeling and relaxed in contended warmth.

***

"Good morning, students."

Titters greeted this statement and Blair grinned widely. It was, after all, one o'clock in the afternoon. Sunnydale U had proven amazingly willing to let him set his own schedule, even changing the times of two already-scheduled classes from morning to afternoon. This had probably caused some switching of students and complaints but he thought it absolutely necessary. Between research demon hunting and lovemaking, his nights were going to be too full for sleep.

"You've probably already heard that I'm sort of a weird guy." More giggles for this, and a couple of silent groans from boys. "I am. I don't always follow the rules. In fact, I often make it a point to break them. This is going to be your first demonstration of that." he gestured at the board behind him, where he’d written all the information they needed. "I don't hand out a syllabus. I know, it's terrible, but I expect you to actually *write it down* on your own. With your poor little pencil and paper. I will tell you that everything you need is up there, ready to be copied. What you do with it, hey. Not my problem."

He grinned again. Several kids were looking wide-eyed, perhaps in shock. Several looked pissed.

"So, what are you waiting for? Start writing."

He leaned back and crossed his arms over his chest, looking smug. This was a trick he'd developed years ago, when teaching his first classes. If he gave them a syllabus, they would lose it and ask for another. This way he made it their responsibility.

They always seemed better able to keep up with it when they had to do the work themselves.

While they wrote, Blair reflected. It felt good to stand in front of a classroom again. He'd been excited about it all weekend. They'd spent the days moving him into his new apartment. The manager had waived first-and-last, as he was a friend of Giles'. And no doubt just because this was Sunnydale and renters weren't going to be crawling out of the woodwork. Unless Mulder showed up. Then they might. And how *had* Washington, etc, not noticed what was going on here? But, because he hadn't had to pay those, he'd been able to order furniture off the net and get it at a better price than here in town. Stuff he liked better, too. So the apartment was all set. A little Spartan, but he would spread out soon enough. Less horizontal surfaces meant fewer places to dump stuff.

Last night he cooked for Rupert in his own home for the first time since the warehouse. Then they slept together on his new futon. The sex had been good, but not spectacular. Blair was a little worried about that. It had never happened before.

If the chemistry was good between he and a lover, it stayed good, even when the relationship didn't. The thing with Sam was a perfect example of that. By the end he'd thought he hated her, but she still turned him on wildly.

Giles hadn't seemed to notice a problem, so Blair was adopting a wait and see attitude.

Tonight he would go to Giles' place after patrol, and maybe it would be better.

Now that he was teaching again, everything would be better.

***

"I'll get it," Blair said, swinging off the sofa. Giles, settled in his favorite chair, didn't even look up from his book, though he did mutter "Thank you."

They had returned from patrol frustrated. There was a distinct lack of vampire activity that was making everyone edgy. The 'Scooby Gang' had declared it 'of the bad'. So, instead of going to bed and working out those frustrations through some energetic, passionate sex, Blair found himself scanning books written in two of the other languages he knew, looking for clues. None of the reference books were written in Chopek, but it had surprised him to learn how many were in Hebrew.

He opened the door, biting back automatic words of welcome. That wasn't a good idea, here. And found himself at a loss for words entirely.

Xander was on the step. Wearing only jeans and a tee, he looked cold and deeply unhappy. The expression made him look older than his years. For the first time, Blair wondered what kind of childhood he'd had. How he'd grown up, here. He realized that Xander and Tara were the only humans in the group that didn't talk about their families. Blair didn't know if Xander's parents were alive, or if he had brothers or sisters or anything.

"Sandburg." The look he gave Blair was just hurt. As if Blair's presence had somehow punched him, right in the gut.

"Giles is right over there." Blair stepped aside, feeling as if he'd been mean. At the very least unfair.

Xander nodded as he walked past. Blair saw that he was barefoot. And shivering. Fall nights got cold in the desert.

"I'll make some coffee." He knew that was what Xander preferred. Giles never drank it, but he kept it here for Blair.

He didn't listen as Xander sat on the sofa and Giles moved to sit beside him. He could hear that they were talking, but didn't try to make out the words. If he had been Jim, or a Sentinel in his own right, he wasn't sure he'd have been able to resist. So it was a good thing Jim was the Sentinel and not Blair. Frankly, Jim was the more honest person.

"Two sugars?" he called out, not looking up from the pot.

"Please."

Blair carried in two mugs. Giles gave him a look and he smiled.

"I put the kettle on."

Xander blew on the coffee before sipping gingerly. Blair wasn't sure, but he thought the boy's eyes were red, as if he'd been crying.

"Blair, I'm sorry to ask -" Giles gave him an apologetic frown. Blair grinned and nodded.

"It's okay. As long as I've got someplace to go. Give me a call when you're through?"

"Thank you for understanding."

Blair waited a moment, then walked to the door. Giles didn’t move to follow him. It stung, but Blair shook it off. He was in no position to get jealous. Especially not over 21-year-old Xander Harris.

He let himself out, locking the door behind himself.
His apartment was only a few yards away, in the next building. Giles' was a townhouse, while Blair's was a single bedroom in a single-story building. Much nicer than a warehouse. Not quite as cool as a loft, though.
It was the last building in the complex and his door faced the woods just beyond.

Stopping on the doorstep, he unlocked it just in case he needed to get inside quickly and looked out over the trees.

It was very peaceful here. In Cascade, to get a place this close to woodland, he'd have had to married rich. Sunnydale was small enough, and set down in the middle, so there was lots for everyone.

The shadows beckoned, but he knew better than to be lured. It was nice to look, though. Pretty.

Then, suddenly, he wasn't looking at a shadow, but at a still, crouched figure. It sort of looked human Blair took a step toward it before he remembered the rules he lived by here.

Stilling himself, he tried to see it more clearly.

He was pretty sure it was human. Small, though. Not a child. Maybe a slight teenager. A girl?

If someone needed help, he'd throw the rules out the window. He started toward it, slowly.

The figure moved. It crept behind a bush. Blair could feel it watching him. He stopped.

The bush shivered, and whatever it was, was suddenly gone. Blair thought he saw red hair. There was enough white skin for him to know it was naked, or nearly so.

But it was gone.

Tired, he went inside. Finished his coffee, picked up his own personal research. It was almost more interesting than Sentinels. Probably because he was studying something that affected him directly, now, not just something that he needed to learn to help Jim.

When Giles hadn't called after an hour, he got ready for bed. He would tell Giles to come over and sleep in his bed.

When he hadn't called in two hours, Blair turned off the light. Giles could just slip in and wake him up. He had a phone by the bed, so he wouldn't miss the call.

He woke to the noxious buzzing of his alarm clock at eleven the next morning.

Alone.

***

Three nights later he found himself if practically the same situation. Xander had once again interrupted his evening with Giles, showing up unannounced, upset and unhappy. Blair made himself scarce once again, remembering with a smile Giles' apology for the last time. It sat now on the bookshelf in his bedroom; a small clay statue. It looked Myan. Blair was certain that many of his more reputable colleagues would claim it *was* Myan. But it wasn't.

It made him want to go search museums, to find what they thought they had and what they actually had.

It wasn't so late tonight. He'd put a plastic porch chair beside his front steps the night before, so he could sit and watch the woods. Not that he expected to see anything...just so.

He had some papers to grade and several articles to read. With a cup of tea on the little round table that had come with the chair, it was pretty comfy. The light over the door was plenty bright enough to read by. Maybe for summer he'd get one of those lounge chairs where he could stretch out and work on his tan. It was California, after all. Especially now that he had someone to show it off to again.

Giles liked his skin. Had specifically commented on it. said it felt smooth and silky...

Thoughts like that weren't going to get any work done. Blair put down his red pen and went inside to make a sandwich.

When he came back out again he felt a presence. He paid a lot more attention to these feelings since that night in the cemetery. Now he knew they meant something.

He sat, sandwich on napkin on table beside teacup, and picked up a magazine, Archeology Today.

Halfway through a dry recitation of artifacts found at a new site in Alaska, something moved in the woods. Blair saw it out of the corner of his eye. Without moving too much, he turned the page and lifted his glance to scan the area.

There was white, there just off to the left. Toward the wilder part of this patch that buffered the complex from yet another cemetery. Whatever it was, it was watching him. Blair shifted, picked up his sandwich, took a bite.
He ate half of it while he watched. Going back to his reading, he almost forgot about it, out there, until the phone rang inside.

He got up, hoping it was Giles wanting him to come back, or wanting to join him.

The bushes shifted. Thinking, Blair set the napkin and sandwich on the ground, shutting the door and grabbing for the phone.

"Blair?" Giles' voice, sounding weary.

"Who else would be answering my phone?"

A soft laugh and "Of course."

"Xander gone home?" Casual and concerned. He could do that.

"Actually, no. I offered to let him stay, on the sofa."

"Oh."

"Are you coming back to stay the night?"

"Yeah, I'll be right there."

Outside, the half-sandwich lay untouched. The watcher was still in the woods. Still watching. With a grin, Blair used his foot to push the food further out onto the grass. With a change of clothes and his briefcase, eh wandered toward Giles' place.

It was still watching.

***

Next morning, Blair rolled over, feeling the emptiness of the bed beside him. The shower was running, so he guessed Giles was in there, though he knew his lover usually showered the night before. Eyeing the clock, Blair figured they had about fifteen minutes to burn. Maybe a little spontaneity would improve their love life.

Last night had been physically satisfying, but emotionally stale. The early connection he'd felt with Rupert was somehow faded.

Rolling out of bed, he smoothed his wild hair with both hands as he walked to the bathroom.

Giles' form was hidden by the frosted glass door of the shower stall. Blair stopped long enough to rinse his mouth with Scope, then opened the door, expecting a welcoming smile and meaningful squint.

"HEY! Naked man here! *Heterosexual* naked man!"

The shout startled Blair right into a jump Xander's hand shot out, grabbed the door and slammed it shut so hard that the frame rattled . For a second Blair afraid the glass would break. The bathroom door opened and Giles came in, looking worried.

"Blair? Xander?"

"Misunderstanding." With both hands in the ir, Blair pushed past Giles and into the bedroom, picking up his clean clothes. He could shower at his apartment.

"Blair, you don't have to go " Giles followed him, forehead creased into a frown.

"I know. I'm just...something feels weird, Rupert. Something's not right." With his boxers on, Blair sat on the bed and looked up at him. "I can't -"

"I've felt it as well." Giles' hands on his shoulders, warm, with strange weapons-related callouses. Safe, comforting, arousing.

But Blair wasn't aroused, whatever the reason. He gripped Rupert's forearms.

"I don't like what I'm feeling."

"As soon as we deal with this latest vampire crisis, we'll take some time and together explore this problem." Rupert looked quite serious. His voice was tender.
"I am not ready to lose what we have."

"Oh, man. Me either." Blair used both hands to pull him down into a kiss. For a few minutes it felt just as it had before.

"Get a room, G-man."

Xander's defensive sarcasm broke the embrace. Blair grinned as Giles straightened and eyed the younger man.

"Point of fact, this is my room."

"Oh, yeah. Well, wait until the straight guy makes his escape. Is there any coffee yet?"

"Yes."

"Morning, Sandburg." Xander gave him a half-hearted wave, and left the room.

"Did I hear coffee?" Blair asked, even though he already felt quite awake.

"Indeed. I was going to make eggs?"

"Give me ten." On his way to the bathroom Xander had recently vacated, Blair delayed long enough to steal one more kiss. It was sweet, but once again the depth of connection was missing.

Rupert watched as the bathroom door shut. Blair thought he looked sad.

***

Downstairs Blair found a plate of eggs, scrambled with turkey ham and peppers, and Xander sitting on the other side of the table. It wasn't what most would consider a small dining table, but the piles of books shoved to one end took up the majority of the room.

He ate without talking, which was good, because Xander rambled on. He talked about what Anya thought of this and that, what Anya wanted to do on their first big vacation, how he felt so comfortable with her. Long accustomed to young adult chatter, it wasn't hard for Blair to pick out the important bits, though he was certain they weren't the ones Xander would choose.
He was hearing an entirely different message than what Xander was actually saying. Looking at Giles, seated at the head of the table, he could tell from the sadness on his lover's face that he was as well.

Finally the meal was over, and Blair had to leave. Well, didn't have to – Rupert would have been happy to give him a ride to school and pick him up. Probably even carry his books for him. But as liberal as Sunnydale U had proven to be, Blair didn't think it was ready for one of their kisses.

Sadly, the goodbye kiss he got wasn't as exciting as he'd hoped.

He had several exams to give that day. During the exam time he cracked a few books for Scooby research. The sooner they got this odd vampire group out of the way, the sooner he'd be able to concentrate on what was happening between he and Rupert.

His phone vibrated in the middle of his third class. He pulled it out and flipped it open, answering quietly, so as not to disturb the test-takers.

"Hey, are we having dinner tonight?" he asked, distracted, still scanning the pages he was reading. He though he might be on to something. "I skipped lunch, but I think I've --"

"Hey, Chief. You sound good."

Blair sat straight up in his chair. He must have lost color fast, because two of his students were getting up to come to him, and they looked worried. He waved them away, but they hovered.

"Hello, Jim." It hadn't been that long. He'd really thought Jim would let more time pass before he made contact. "How are you?"

"Pretty good. You?" Jim didn't do forced casual well.

"Really good. I've got a nice place, I like my classes, the administrators aren't jerks."

"That's - good. Very good."

Blair waited, but Jim didn't say anything else. His students were going slowly back to their seats.

"Was there a reason you called? I can all you back later, if that's better for you."

He didn't want to be a doormat, but Jim was - he was Blair's Sentinel. No matter what else happened, he would always be that. And so Blair's responsibility.

"No, everything really is good, Chief. I wanted to make sure you were okay. Settled in. Thought I might drive down for a visit soon."

"Must be bad if Simon's giving you time off."

"Not like that. Really. I just -" Blair heard him pause and then take a deep breath. "I don't like the way things ended. There's no reason for us to not be friends. We were good friends, Blair."

"We were," he answered, and felt himself smile fondly. "Just give me a call so I can make up the sofa and we're good. You know that."

"Good. So. I'll call. Okay?"

"Okay. I'm glad you called, Jim."

"I guess I am, too."

Blair waited for him to say goodbye, then realized Jim had cut off. He sat back and took a few deep breaths, then ran his hands through his hair, leaving it messy. The timer went off on his watch and he shook his head. He stood, returning to the task of teaching. As he gathered papers and chatted with students, he tried to put the worries to the back of his mind, but they kept surfacing; how would Blair react to Rupert? Would he be able to tell him the truth? How would a Sentinel react to vampires?!

As he left the classroom, he decided that it was too nice a day out to stay in and give another exam. It would give his advanced anthro students a thrill, too, so he posted a quick note on the door giving them a walk, and set off to find Rupert.

He could put Jim off, at least until they finished with the vampire gang, and then maybe he'd feel comfortable enough to tell the man who had been his best friend just what was going on in his life. In his personal life, at least. Without mention of vampires or demons or magic....

***

"I'll catch you later then." Blair was holding Rupert's hand as they walked. They'd spent the afternoon together and evening. It had been pleasant and comfortable.
They'd talked, debated, argued and discussed. Blair worked on some Shaman tricks, and together they dug deeper into the information Blair had found today.
While talking about their relationship, it had occurred to them both that proximity might be a factor. They'd spent practically every waking minute together since they met. If they took a night off once in a while, the fire might burn brighter.

So tonight Rupert had walked him halfway home. Halfway between their apartments he stopped. They kissed, tenderly, and Rupert rubbed Blair's hand on his own cheek.

"I'll see you tomorrow lunch, then?"

"Absolutely." Secretly pleased by the romantic gesture, Blair took his hand back.

Then he turned and walked away without looking back.

They'd agreed to no calls, no contact, for twelve hours.

He opened his door, but instead of going right inside he sat in his chair for a few minutes. Just looking up at the clear California night sky. With one eye on the woods not so far away.

His 'visitor' had come several times in the last few days. He had started leaving out bowls of food nothing bought, not really pet food at all, or even scraps. Just whatever he had around that he though might be good. A tuna sandwich. Some barley salad. The chicken stew he'd made.

It was always gone the next morning, the bowl returned to the same place and licked clean.

He had a very tidy semi-invisible pet.

The thought made him grin. He got up and went inside, pulling some ostrich chili out of the fridge and pouring it into a bowl. The same bowl he's used the last three nights, a dark blue hand-thrown dish his mother had sent him. She'd probably like this use for it.

Grinning, he heated the chili in the microwave, and then went to set it out on the grass. He scanned the woods with his eyes, and saw a familiar flash of white.

He went inside and shut the door, content to know that whatever it was, it would come visit again, and not go hungry.

***

"Okay. I think we’re set for this."

Back against the wall – defensive posture for the shortest kid, always – Blair cracked his knuckles and stretched his fingers. Willow looked over at They were going in two groups. Apparently when the military abandoned the secret base and blocked the official entrances with poured concrete, they had, either by chance or design, left a couple of highly unofficial ones open.

Buffy's team, with Willow, Tara and Giles, was taking the high road, while Blair, led by sun-sensitive Spike with Xander and a terrified but determined-looking Anya, was going low.

They were going in early, so they would have all day to kill the undead.

"I don't see any rats," Anya spoke in front of Blair. Spike knew the way, and Blair was potentially the most powerful in the group, so he was in the back, the two humans safely between them.

Blair had watched Xander train and sparred with him enough to know that given half a chance, the carpenter could hold his own.

Anya made him really nervous, though. Aside from the girl factor, something he was learning to look past because of, well, Buffy, Slayer, Anya was just an unknown quantity.

"There should be rats," she said now, as if the very lack offended her.

"Sweetheart, maybe they got ate," Xander said, looking back at her. He carried an enormous Axe over one shoulder.

"'Got ate'?" Spike mocked.

"Hey, guys, shouldn't we at least *try* to be quiet?" Blair interrupted. These people squabbled like they were 12.

"It's not like they're gonna hear us, toyboy. All the proper vampires should be safely tucked away by now."

"But you're not sleepy, are ya, Spiky?" It seemed Xander couldn't let it pass. "Not a proper vamp anymore, just a blond bimbo with an attitude problem."

"Shut up or I swear I’ll find out of all the Matrix crap is real," Blair snarled suddenly, pulling out the teacher in him.

"Matrix crap?" Xander seemed honestly confused.
"You think I can’t convince The Powers That Be that removing your mouth is a bad idea?" stopping in place, Blair racheted up the level of his glare.

"You wouldn’t dare." Spike smirked.

"That goes for you, too, Vampire. You don’t feel all that natural to me as it is."

"Cuz I’m not. Who’d wanna be?"

Deciding the question was rhetorical, Blair urged everyone to start moving again. They reached the door a lot sooner than he wanted to.

"Okay - you’re in first, *Shaman*, to provide cover, then those two and then me." Spike opened it just far enough to let Blair slip through. "And canya give us a bit of light?"

As they’d traveled in almost complete darkness to this point, Blair wasn’t sure that was such a good idea. But he did need to see what was on the other side of the door... pulling a small stick out of the pouch Rupert had given him. A little leather pouch with pretty runes drawn on it in some substance Blair tried not to think about. The little stick had a few rough carvings as well. There wasn’t much else in there except sticks and a few stones. A couple of feathers. Blair had no idea how to use any of it. Then again, he shouldn’t have to know how. Should just be able to do it.

Lifting the twig, he touche d it to his lips and just thought the words. Nothing happened, so he whispered them, feeling silly as he sang an old TV jingle for a kids toy he’d loved.

"Lite Brite, Lite Brite, turn on the magic of colored light..." He grinned when he realized Xander was singing along with him.

The end of the twig burst into heated flame, providing a suprising amount of illumination.

"It should stay lit and not catch anything else on fire." Blair ran his fingers through the flame and didn’t feel anything. This wasn’t a natural fire, then. He’d have to ask Rupert how that worked in with his shaman abilities.

He stuck the lit stick on a hole in one of his leather bracelets. He had a dozen of them, and had just felt like wearing one tonight. Apparently he was supposed to go with those feelings.

With the hand held close to his face, he slipped through the door and dropped it to shield the light with his body while still leaving it where the others could see it.

"I don’t see anything," he whispered back. First Anya and then Xander slipped through, and Spike last, just as planned.

It was the last thing that went as planned.

The minute Spike shut the door behind them a bright light flashed on high above them. A hoarse voice yelled "SUPPERTIME!"

"Not yet, you assholes!" another yelled. "You were supposed to let them get all the way inside!!!"

"Shit!" Xander bellowed behind Blair, who moved forward as fats as he could. They all acted to get Anya behind them, leading to a confused muddle. As their eyes adjusted to the super-bright light, Blair saw that they were facing not a couple of vampires, but at least twenty, probably more. He recognized the faces of the teenagers he’d met his first night in town, the ones that attacked him.

"I thought you dusted those guys, Xander...?"

"We did, I did that one personally!" Xander was staring as if in shock. "This is too weird even for Sunnydale, Blair!"

"Not dead enough, bloodbag!" one of them called. "Now I get to repay the favor!"

"What the hell we going to do now?" Spike seemed just as dumbstruck as the others.

"Run," Blair said firmly. "I’ll cover you."

"Blair, you can’t -" Xander tried to argue, but Anya yanked on his arm urgently.

"Giles would let him."

Spike gave Blair an odd look, something dark he couldn’t comprehend, then the vampire was opening the door again and shoving the two mortals out of it. the instant he moved a wave of distorted faces flowed toward them.

"Bloody hell," Spike mumbled as he was forced into the corner, three of them on him. he was bleeding and vamped-out and struggling furiously – Blair was caught by another four, his hands his only weapon, a stake in one and the big silver Star of David he’d bought in the other.

They hissed and snarled and swung at him, but couldn’t get any closer for the moment.

Then someone started throwing things from the back. Rocks and chunks of concrete. Blair flinched, was hit on the head – he groaned inwardly and hoped some brain cells survived this new affront – and blood ran down his face, coloring his vision red and dangerous.

To his left he heard Spike’s increasingly angry snarls – to his right, more vampires, muttering and shouting, their words running together to form one big noise.

Sudden hot pain across his midsection – he shouted and dropped the religious symbol. A vampire screamed, must have stepped on it. he tried desperately to clear his eyes, but shaking is head made him dizzy –

"Shaman, get out of here!" Spike’s bellow startled him, it was too close. Rough hands grabbed and shoved, he hit the edge of the door, the breath knocked out of him.

Where was the light? Why was it so dark?!

"Spike? Spike?!!"

A shriek that must have been pain, somewhere behind him. Had he abandoned the vampire? Evil or no, he was on Blair’s side.

Jim always said we don’t leave our own behind.

Reaching for his center, searching for calm, Blair turned around, vaguely aware of Xander trying to stop him, and went back into the dark place.

He hit the door hard, his shoulder adding its protest to the chorus, and fell to his knees. It seemed this ability worked better there.

This place held nothing natural. Everything was artificial, unnatural, or evil. Concrete and glass and vampire.

With his hands flat in what might have been his own blood, Blair bowed his head and called. Words came to lips but he didn’t hear himself say them; didn’t hear the song that rolled from his chest, slow and low and far too sweet for the circumstances.

"Ain’t no sunshine when he’s gone... ain’t no sunshine when he’s gone, and he’s always gone too long, anytime he goes away..."

Spike howled again, this time further away.

"And I know, I know, I know, I know ..." the words came stronger, his voice grew louder. Blair felt strength from somewhere and stood, his arms rising above his head, hair tickling his back as he tipped his head back and gave voice to it.

"Ain’t no sunshine when *he’s* gone and he’s always gone too long, anytime *he* goes away!"

There was a flash of light he felt even through his tightly closed eyelids – a second of panic as he realized what he’d done and who had been exposed to it – and then the place was silent.

All the strength flowed from his legs and he staggered. Something – somebody – propped him up and drug him back toward the door again. he managed to get this eyes open and stare at a rather red-looking, bloodied and battered Spike.

"I wasn’t trying to toast you," he muttered as the door slammed shut behind them and he was shifted toward Xander, who wrapped an arm around his shoulders and started pulling him back the way they’d come.

"Good thing, cuz it didn’t work. You fried a couple, but the others just ran. They’ll be after us right soon. Daft sods."

He could hear them already, regathering themselves. The door banged open. Blair pulled away from Xander, adrenaline giving him the strength to run on his own.

They made the safety of daylight before they were caught, but that was the only good thing to be said for the adventure. Spike rolled for his blanket and the car,

Xander stood half-bent, blowing, and Anya was scolding them all like a psychotic schoolteacher.

"I am going to have a word with that Watcher - what was he doing, sending us into that? We weren’t even a little bit ready. Not even a teeny bit."

"Anya, shut up," Xander gasped. From his own awkward position, Blair turned his head enough to look and saw that the younger man was looking worse for wear as well.

"You can’t talk to me like that." Anya pouted.

"The others – " Blair gasped. "We have to find out what happened to them."

He doubted they were the only ones that walked into a force ten times larger than expected. Buffy was the Slayer, sure, but even she couldn’t handle those kinds of numbers.

With far too much effort, Blair got his legs to work and stumbled to the car. He fell on top of Spike, who twitched and grumbled but didn’t really say anything, and pulled out his cell phone, which he’d left behind.

Stupidly. Like Jim always said. Sometimes it seemed like his brain didn’t even work.

It rang and rang. He hung on, lifting the edge of the blanket and blocking the sun with his body to see how much damage Spike had suffered. The vampire was swollen and bruised-looking, one eye a purple slit, but Blair suspected he’d survive. He gave Blair a pained look and pulled the blanket back down.

"Blair?!" Giles’ voice burst into his ear, frantic and raw.

"We got out! You okay?" he was shouting, all the worry pouring into those words.

"Minor injuries! We’re re-grouping at the shop - go straight back there." he paused and seemed to calm himself. "Unless you have any life-threatening injuries on your team. Xander, Anya?"

Blair was annoyed he didn’t ask about Spike, but decided his lover couldn’t be held responsible for a lifetime’s training of hate.

"We’re okay. Beat up, but that’s all. Spike got me out." it was exactly accurate, but the vampire had saved his life and damned if Blair wasn’t going to make sure he got credit for it.

"Really, hm... we’ll see you back there."

Blair felt stung when Rupert hung up without an exchange of affection, but maybe he was occupied. They had just discovered a huge vamp nest, after all.

"We’re going back to the shop. They’re all okay," he told the others, moving to slide behind the wheel, lifting Spike’s head to his leg. Xander and Anya climbed in the back.

No one spoke for the short drive back. Blair looked at the people on the sidewalks, people carrying shopping bags, pushing strollers. Driving, running errands, going to work and school.

He wondered how they could not know how close their world was to ending, all the time.

He wondered how he could have not known.

***

"You’ve never heard of this? You don’t have any idea?!"

A strong echo of ‘what good are you’ filled Buffy’s words, the first thing Blair heard when they walked into the shop. Watcher and Slayer were faced off across the big table. Taking minute, he absorbed the situation; there was dried blood on Buffy’s face, her teeny tee was almost pornographically ripped. Rupert didn’t look better, his face swollen and puffy, but his wounds weren’t healing.
Behind the two, on the other side of the sales counter, Tara was holding an ice pack to Willow’s forehead. Blunt force trauma seemed to be the them of the day.

Rupert looked at him, gave him a brief once-over, and his eyes traveled to the others, his face twisting when he saw Spike. Still slightly smoky, the vampire had a cigarette lit and was inhaling deeply.

Blair frowned, knew it was noted, and decided to not go to Rupert’s side and offer support. Buffy was his responsibility, he’d just have to deal with her on his own.

Xander was fussing over Anya, getting her a water, into a chair. Blair went to the witches, meaning to offer healing services, but Willow managed a wan smile and shook her head at him.

"I don’t think our magics are compatible. It’s just a bump, I’ll be fine."

"I could debate that, but we’ll find out at a safer time," he told her, smiling at the way Tara hovered. "You should go home and get some rest."

"We have to do more research!" Buffy snarled at him suddenly, like a switch had been thrown just in time for her to hear his words. "We’ve never been up against anything like this before! There’s just too many of them."

"Don’t you think it’s time to call the cavalry?" Blair asked, feeling suddenly angry. His head was aching, his body hurt. He was drained by the magic he’d used. "We barely made it out of there alive! We can’t handle this alone!"

"Who should we call? The army?! They made this mess! Who is there to call, professor?" she stormed over to him and crowded him into the counter. He raised a hand to his waist, words on his tongue just waiting to get out. Shaman vs. Slayer – that would be a real test.

"Buffy! Blair!" Rupert looked equally angry at both of them.

He looked at his lover and felt a shock run through him.
The darkness he knew as Ripper peaked out of Rupert’s eyes. Tonight’s battle had woken something Blair had only heard about, but he recognized it when he saw it.

Something a part of him found revolting.

Sickness settled in his stomach in a cold, wet lump and he realized he couldn’t blame this on the battle or being hurt. This was about Rupert; who he’d been. What he’d done.

Every since the night he used his Shaman abilities for the first time, the magic had been trying to tell him this.

Something he just hadn’t wanted to hear.

Rupert and Buffy had continued their argument while his thoughts raced. Now Blair ducked under her arm and went to Spike, touching his shoulder as the vampire hunched over and smoked.

"Put that damned thing out," Rupert spat.

"He just saved my life, and theirs," Blair said slowly, trying to stay calm. "I think he’s earned a smoke if he wants it."

Spike shrugged, and dropped the thing to the floor, crushing it with his boot.

"That better, Watcher?"

"I’m sure you have someplace else to be." Their eyes held over the room, sparks flying. Still reeling from the shock of his recent realization, Blair lost the battle with his temper and stepped between them.

"Rupert, did you *hear* what I said? He saved me. He *saved* Xander and Anya. None of us would have gotten out of there alive if not for him!"

"Blair, you don’t know what he’s done."

"I know everyone that earns a second chance deserves one." peeling off his top shirt, Blair used a corner of it to wipe congealed blood off Spike’s face. The vampire stood sullenly. The blood was darker than Blair would have expected.

"Not vampires," Buffy said snarkily.

"Except that bloody poof Angelus," Spike snarled. "Ta, Blair, and I’m off now."

He left too quickly for them to actually see. Blair wondered how fast he could move and why he never did it around them. But he knew why. Spike wanted them to forget what he was and see him for himself.

The way Blair now saw Rupert.

"I’m tired, and my head hurts," Blair said slowly. "I’m going home, and I’d like to be left alone, if that’s okay."

"Blair..." Rupert, his eyes looking as they had the first night Blair saw him, sad and kind, Rupert looked at him and Blair knew he understood what was happening.

"You could at least stay to help with the research," Buffy flopped into a chair, pouting.

"I’ll be doing my own research, Buf." his hand wanted to move. His feet did to. Most of him wanted nothing more than to cross the room to Rupert, wrap his arms around him and hold on tight. He’d only just found this part of himself again, he wasn’t ready to lose it.

"I told you not to call me that."

Walking past her, to get to Rupert – he couldn’t go without at least saying goodbye – he touched her shoulder. With kindness, because he understood a lot more than she thought he did.

"It doesn’t hurt," he whispered.

Then he reached Rupert, and he did wrap his arms around him. He was aware that the others were staring. And that he saw tears in Rupert’s eyes.

After a moment he freed himself – feeling those arms tighten around him for just a second, as if they wouldn’t let him go – and headed for the back door. He could walk home safely, there wasn’t much for him to be afraid of here, now.

"See ya tomorrow, guys."

He didn’t hear anything, even when he lingered at the back door. No one was talking.

The next time he saw them would be awkward but they would get through it. Even if he couldn’t have Rupert as a lover anymore – and really, if he was willing to settle for what they had now, he could – they would be friends.

They would work together. They would save the world.

The walk home was longer than he’d thought. By the time he got there his head was really aching and he wished he’d taken the car. Rupert would have gotten a ride.

He was slightly dizzy and felt almost hungover, a potential side affect of his abilities, when he got to the apartment complex. Rupert hadn’t managed to beat him there, was probably still at the shop with his Scoobies, working on the problem.

Coming around the corner of his building as he took a shortcut through the grass, Blair stopped, suddenly, seeing something on his little front porch. In his plastic chair. Something small and pale and vulnerable-looking, that shivered in the night air and flinched when he approached.

He walked up as slowly as he could, not wanting to startle it, and recognized it as a man only when it turned over and looked at him with big dark eyes filled with pain.

He didn’t say anything. Blair wondered if he could talk. He saw, in the light from his porch, that he was far too thin, ribs sticking out, hips jutting. Naked and not ashamed of it.

Dirty and smelly and wanting, but Blair could help with that.

He unlocked the door and motioned inside. The man crawled off the chair and slunk in, almost on all fours, like he was used to being on all flours and Blair saw, for a minute, that he knew this creature, that he’d been feeding it since he got here and he was glad it had finally come to him for refuge.

Once inside, Blair turned on the kitchen light but not any other, thinking his ‘guest’ might be more comfortable in the dark. For the moment he crouched in front of the closed door, clearly frightened, obviously searching the space with all his senses. Looking for danger.

The observation stopped Blair in his tracks. Could it be...? Could he have found another Sentinel? More animalistic than Jim, but if he’d been out there in the woods alone for a long time... besides, this was Sunnyhell. Who knew how that level of evil would affect someone so spiritually inclined as a Sentinel?

He’d have to keep an eye on Jim when he visited, and ask questions. See if *his* Sentinel could feel the evil the way Blair was learning to. He wanted to go over and examine the small man, get him talking, but it would make things worse if he did it right now.

From the vantage point of the kitchen, he watched him as his own hands went through the motions, making several thick tongue sandwiches. Meat was always a good idea.

He put one on a plate for himself and the others on a paper plate – recycled post-consumer paper, of course – and set it on the coffee table. It seemed rude to put it on the floor like he was a dog.

Grabbing a beer, he sat in his armchair and turned on the TV, not looking directly at his guest.

There was something on Egyptians on Discovery Civilizations. He’d seen it, but he really just wanted the sound and company for the moment, so he left it there.

His food and beer were gone by the time the man the man moved. Apparently deciding it was safe for now, he crept over to the coffee table and sort of squished himself half-under it before snatching a sandwich and cramming most of it in his mouth. Blair winced, but grinned, and detoured around the back of the couch to the kitchen, pouring a big glass of milk. Maybe he wouldn’t choke if he had something to wash it down with.

He reached to put it on the table, then grinned widely as it was grabbed up and drained. It was offered back to him, and he stood still, looking at the face he could barely see in the reflected light of the TV screen.

Younger than he was. Very dirty. There were traces of blood but no obvious injuries, and he seemed to move okay. He looked so thin – Blair felt a twist in his chest, at how starved he looked. He’d seen people, children, in Ethiopia and other third world countries that looked like that. It shouldn’t be that way in America. It made him want to know why – what happened to this guy that he wound up like this? Living wild in the woods, starving and filthy.

Probably wasn’t going to find out tonight. The scientist in Blair knew time would give him answers, if he was patient.

"Okay, I’m gonna get ready for bed," he spoke as if to a friend, not too loud. "I’ll put some clean towels and things in the bathroom for you, if you want them, and get a blanket and pillow for the couch. If you want to drag them off to a corner someplace, that’s okay too. The door’s unlocked so you can leave if you need to. But it’s supposed to be cold tonight..." he walked as he talked, fitting action to words. "I’m going to make a phone call and then shower myself, so you’ll be alone for a few minutes."

He came back into the living room and saw that he’d gone back to sitting in front of the door. He looked less anxious now.

The phone rang and Blair grinned to himself. Timing was everything.

"‘lo?"

"Blair." Rupert sounded tired. "I’m glad you’re still up. You left your car here?"

"For you, man. Didn’t want to leave you stranded."

"That was thoughtful, but you shouldn’t have walked alone after dark. That’s particularly dangerous right now..."

"I know how dangerous it is, Rupert. I needed to clear my head."

A brief moment of silence. Blair noted that his guest was creeping closer, listening.

"Are your thoughts more organized now?" he thought he heard worry in that kind voice. Thought he heard fear.

"Yeah. I figured out what I needed to."

"This means we ‘have to have to talk’, as the girls would say, doesn’t it."

"We do, yeah. But not tonight, Rupert. Maybe not anytime soon. I’m having a real problem with some of the things I saw tonight. Some of what I heard."

"We’ve been doing this – I’ve been doing this – a very long time, Blair. As much as I admire your intellect and determination, I don’t think you can understand every nuance of a situation after this short an exposure."

"That was nicely said," Blair grinned and it hurt his face. Somewhere inside him something was tingling. It wasn’t something he’d felt before. But it felt good, in a weird way. "But I have to say something, too. You have been doing this a long time, like you say. I wonder – I think – " he was unable to finish the sentence and stuttered to a stop.

"I truly wish you would tell me," Rupert’s voice was perfect kindness. How could there be anything but good in the man?

"I think you were trained to look at things in a certain way and you can’t even begin to step outside of that for a different angle."

"I can see how you might think that."

"There are other options that this perpetual hand-to-hand fighting thing you’ve got going on. That’s all I’m saying. Why not just blow the place to hell and be done with it?"

"It would be noticed, Blair."

"When thirty or forty dead in a month hasn’t been? I’d be willing to take the chance."

"Blair...." Rupert sighed. "Even if I were willing, we don’t have access to that kind of equipment, and we don’t know how to use it."

"Uh-huh." he was watching the small man at the door, who was curling into a ball as if he meant to sleep right there on the tiled patch of the floor.

"Blair?"

"I understand, man, I really do. We’ll get together and talk things out soon, right?"

"Yes, of course. The sooner the better."

It would be too cold and hard to sleep there. Blair was going to have to find a way to convince him to move.

"Okay, then. G’nite, Rupert."

"Goodnight, Blair, dear."

He hung up with a disquieted feeling in his stomach, but feeling oddly better, too. This was the right thing to do. He was learning to listen to that inner sense, the way he’d always encouraged Jim to.

It was pulling him toward his strange guest. He made himself wait a couple more minutes, just long enough to call Jim and leave a message.

"Jim, man, hi. Listen, I need a big favor – okay, a huge
one – and you’re gonna have to trust me this time. I know it’s a lot to ask, but I know you’ll do it. Okay. Call me tomorrow. Love you, man."

He couldn’t remember ever saying that to Jim before, and it felt like he should have. Now, he stood still and listened to what his soul was saying for a moment. It wasn’t perfectly clear, but having the young man here was something very very right.

He went over, grabbing a blanket from where he’d dropped it on the sofa, and crouched in front of the guy.

"Hey... you’re gonna get cold down there. Will you come sleep on the couch?"

Huge green eyes, red-rimmed and tired, but with a spark deep within. They stared at him like he was speaking Aramaic. Too-thin hands clenched on the ropey muscles of wasted thighs.

"Okay, then. If you need anything, come and get me. I’ll wake up, and I won’t be mad."

He stood and unfolded the blanket. When there wasn’t a reaction, except those eyes tracking him, he draped it over the small body and smiled when it was clutched and pulled tighter.

Going through the apartment, he turned off the lights same as he always would. Something told him this guy didn’t need much light to see, but he left the bathroom one on, in case he wanted to bathe.

His bed felt lonely. He would just have to get used to it again. it had been really nice, having a lover, though it wasn’t ending the way he’d thought. And Sunnyhell wasn’t the place to go looking for a new partner every night the way he had once in Cascade. Of the people he knew, only one other than Rupert interested him, and Spike... well, aside from being a vampire, Spike was completely in love with Buffy, no matter how bad that was for him.

There were soft footsteps, and then the shower running. Good. Being clean always made you feel better.

Blair turned on his side, facing his door, and dozed off, the day’s activity catching up to him.

When a small, thin man crawled onto the bed, trailing his own blanket, and curled up near his feet, he barely noticed, except to drowsily push a pillow sort of down to him in the darkness.

The fierce ring of his phone yanked him from sleep.

Startled, Blair half-sat, feeling a weight on his feet -- some instinct told him it was nothing to fear and he ignored it as he groped on the floor for the phone.

He glanced at the clock as he hit the talk button with his thumb -- just past 5. One guess who this was.

"Good morning, Jim."

"Sandburg! I didn't want to wake, but I've got an early shift -- Connor's car is in the shop, so I've got to pick her up across town at that fancy place she calls a condo."

"Sokay," Blair mumbled, knowing Jim could hear him. He wriggled his feet and the lump on them shifted slightly, enough to make it more comfortable.

"So, what's going on?" Jim sounded his usual endearingly worried self. Gruff and affectionate. A balm to Blair's heart after the week he'd had.

"It's kindof a long story.... see, I moved here to Sunnydale and -- no, wait, I'll sum up; I need a large quantity of explosives and someone that can set them off, and I need that someone to be you."

The silence on the other end of the line was priceless. He wished he could see Jim's face.

"Okay. I guess this place is as weird as Simon said it was."

"Simon's heard of Sunnydale?"

"Yeah, Chief," Jim sounded comfortable talking to him. Happy about it. That made Blair feel pretty damned good.

"He said they have the highest ratio of missing people in the country. Possibly the world."

"I'm not going to explain right now, Jim, but he's right. And there's a reason for it."

"And, of course, you're involved."

"Well, not *that* involved..." he knew Jim could tell he was lying.

"Next weekend sound good, Chief?"

Almost six days away. How many more people would be killed or turned before then?

But it might take even Jim a few days to find the stuff they wanted.

"That'd be great. Friday night?"

"Yeah. I"ll see you around 8."

And he'd be there exactly at 8. It was nice to have some things in life so dependable.

"Listen, Chief, I've got to get on the road here. Connor's place is like in a whole other time zone."

"Okay, Jim. And, y'know, thanks, man."

"You're my Guide, Sandburg. What else was I gonna do?" Jim was chuckling as he hung up the phone. Blair clicked his off, feeling better than he had in longer than he could remember.

There was movement by his feet. A ragged-looking red head popped out from under the covers and big green eyes stared at him. They had a yellowish cast Blair thought was interesting. Perhaps an Oriental in the woodpile? With that slight stature, it was possible.

The man, boy, leaned his face into Blair's leg -- he'd kicked the covers off again -- and rubbed. His breath whooshed over Blair's skin warmly, making the hairs rise up.

His skin tingled, he felt the magic inside him, answering the affection of this strange small person.

Slowly, he reached a hand down. The man -- apparently his mind had decided which it was, man or boy -- tensed, but didn't pull away. Blair rubbed the back of his head, the hair spiky and coarse.

His alarm wouldn't go off for hours... he lay back down, hand slipping to the covers beside his guest, and closed his eyes, slipping easily back to sleep.

***

"Professor Sandburg?"

"Yeah, Claire?" Blair looked up from the diagram he was drawing. He was trying to remember the exact layout of the room he’d seen, to help Jim decide where the explosives should be placed. He could have just asked Giles for a copy of the map his ex had, but that might mean a discussion about why he wanted it, and he wasn’t ready to tell the Watcher what he was planning to do.

Not until he was more ready to do it, anyhow.

Claire was pretty, small and dark, and clearly had a crush on him. He enjoyed the attention with the sort of distance he’d seen other teachers use on him all his life.
Falling for a teacher seemed to be in his nature.

"I was just thinking... about you."

Blair tensed. This kind of complication with a student he didn’t need. Sunnydale U was surprisingly liberal – and of course he knew why, now – but...

"You haven’t been here long, and Sunnydale can be a, well, strange place to live." her eyes were earnest and concerned.

"Oh, yes," he smiled, understanding. Things were never spoken of, but most people seemed to get a warning soon after moving here. Not that many did. Move here. "I’ve already had that conversation." And more, but she didn’t need to know that. Chances were she wasn’t even sure what made Sunnydale such a ‘strange’ place to live, as most people simply refused to believe what they saw and their minds made up excuses.

"Oh, good. I was just worried. I thought I’d seen you out after dark one night and I thought maybe you didn’t know. That you shouldn’t."

"I’ll be fine, Claire," he reached over and patted her hand, like a man twice his age might. "But thank you for worrying."

"Okay," she didn’t look convinced. "You know, I moved away after high school. Went to Santa Fe for a year. But things were so different there – I never felt like I fit in. It was like I was always watching over my shoulder... so I came back here, back home, and it’s like it always was. Like the whole world should be like this. Only now I know it isn’t."

"You know the world isn’t all like Sunnydale, don’t you, Claire?" Blair asked, worried for her. "Leaving here could be the best thing for you. That feeling of not belonging. It passes after a while. You just have to give it a chance."

She nodded. Then, suddenly, she seemed to realize she was practically holding his hand, and pulled hers away with a faint blush.

"Thanks for talking to me. Be careful after dark, okay? Promise?"

"I promise. You too."

Watching her go out the door, he wondered if there wasn’t more he could do to help these kids. The ones that had been here all their lives – most of his students were Sunnydale born and bred – they needed something to help them adjust after leaving here.

Thinking about that, he gathered his things and left. On the way to his car he remembered that he had a dinner appointment with Giles. Not a date, it had been nearly a week since the failed attack on the nest and they had barely spoken for any other reason than Slayer work since then.

Giles knew something was wrong. Smart as he was, he probably knew what it was, too. It was like they were waiting for the right time to talk about it. Without this threat of imminent destruction hanging over their heads.

He would bring it up tonight, along with what Claire had said. Do some research into what happened to kids that grew up in combat zones. Maybe there were things he could do, could say, without destroying the protections their brains gave them.

"Giles?" he let himself in, using his key. It was already dark and he didn’t want to stand outside any longer than he had to. Lights were on in the living room, but he didn’t see anyone. Good smells came from the kitchen, so he headed that way.

A pot of cream sauce simmered and pasta bubbled. It also smelled a little like something was burning – he opened the oven door and rescued the loaf of garlic bread beginning to turn dark.

"Giles?" he called out, a little more loudly, thinking his ex might have fallen asleep. Thinking of him as his ex.

"Blair? I didn’t hear you come in." worried crease between his brows, hands drying on a towel as he came from the hallway.

"Sorry. Thought I would rescue the bread." he waved his hand at the counter. "Veggies?"

"In the microwave," Giles said. He seemed distracted as he started putting plates on the table.

"Hey -" Blair went to him, put a hand on his arm. "Is everything okay?" Just a few days ago he’d wanted to love this man. That couldn’t happen now, but he would always like and respect him.

"It’s Xander." Giles took off his glasses and sat, cleaning them intently.

"What happened to Xander?" if it were serious he would have already heard about it.

"Anya left him. Last night."

Ouch, Blair thought. But he also thought he’d seen it coming.

"She said she’ll never learn how to be mortal if she's always in mortal danger."

The voice spoke from the hallway. They both looked up, and Blair winced.

Xander looked...beaten.

Like he would have looked if he was six and his father slapped him for asking for seconds at dinner. Which had actually happened, for all Blair knew. He certainly suspected something like it. A lifetime of something-like-its. It didn’t surprise him Xander Harris had chosen to fall in love with an ex-vengeance demon who carried a huge grudge against men. Abused children often found other people in their lives to abuse them.

"She kinda has a point," he suggested now, kindly.

Xander shrugged and came to sit at the table. Giles got up and started bringing in food. Blair grinned when he saw further proof of the man’s British childhood; the broccoli was boiled to a greyish paste. He caught Xander grinning too, before he went to get sodas for the two of them, leaving Giles to his tea.

The pasta was lovely, the bread just right. He put enough broccoli on his plate to make it look like he’d taken some and mashed it around a bit. In the silence as they ate he thought about the man he’d left at his place, the small silent man that had been listening to his old cassette tapes when he got home.

A quick look, big green eyes, to make sure it was okay. An encouraging smile from Blair, and a small smile returned.

He’d been clean and wrapped in Blair’s afghan, the only one Naomi had ever finished. Blair figured she’d like this guy using it. The dark green went well with his pale skin and bright red hair.

He was pleased to think of him there, waiting for him to get home. Waiting for him to go to bed. Then the little man would crawl into the bed after him, waiting just long enough for Blair to be settled. He might even come up to use a pillow tonight.

Whatever he was and whyever he was there, in Blair’s place, he was meant to be there. Blair felt that way deep inside. The way he knew he was meant to be here, in Sunnydale.

Maybe he should have been here years ago. If he hadn’t gotten sidetracked with Jim – maybe finding a Sentinel *hadn’t* been his real purpose in life.

He snickered and the others looked at him. Grinning at Xander, Blair said "I think I’ve found my special purpose."

Obligingly, Xander groaned. "I thought *he* found it months ago."

Giles looked at them like they were both nuts.

"I’m not going to ask." he wiped his mouth with a cloth napkin, an affectation Blair loved. "So, Blair, how was your day?"

Swallowing a last bite of pasta, Blair launched into a description of the conversation he’d had with Claire, including his plans for further research and hopes for starting some sort of rumor, at the least, that would help these kids better deal with life during and after Sunnydale.

"They can’t all leave, Blair," Giles said, sounding both sad and worried. "If they leave the vampires will leave as well."

"And they’ll have to *go* somewhere*," Xander added unhelpfully, scraping the bowl for the last of the sauce and drizzling it over his bread.

"*Duh*," Blair snorted. "But maybe without the Hellmouth they wouldn’t be so bad."

"There are people here that can’t live anywhere else," Giles said gently. He stood and began to clear the table.

Blair followed him, helping, and realized he wanted to go home. Grade papers and go to bed and not think about this stuff for a while.

See if he could find a name for the silent redhaired man living in his apartment.

"Dinner was great, but I’ve got a lot of papers to grade," he said when the dishes were finished, hanging his dishtowel on the edge of the sink. He smoothed the wrinkles in the damp cotton, not looking at Giles. Even in his head the man had become Giles. His one-time lover, Rupert, was no more. "I think I’ll call it a night."

He expected some disagreement, and was perversely disappointed when he didn’t get any. Giles just looked over at Xander, who had settled on the couch in a slump, and nodded at him.

"We’re having a meeting tonight, after Buffy’s patrol, to go over options again." he offered. Blair shook his head.

"I think I’ll skip this one."

Giles’ face hardened and Blair was again aware of the power this man possessed and what he had done with it in the past.

"I’ll walk you halfway," Giles replied, more gently than Blair had expected. he wasn’t given a chance to protest; they were out the door, Giles’ hand on his arm, before he got his mouth open.

They walked a few feet without saying anything. Blair knew he didn’t want Giles at his place tonight. He wasn’t ready to share the stranger’s existence with anyone he knew. They would say it was dangerous and stupid. Maybe worse.

"Things have changed," he said suddenly, stopping. If Giles sensed his reluctance, he would blame it on their changing relationship.

"Yes," Giles stopped as well. He looked more determined than hurt, but the hurt was there. "I didn’t expect it to happen like this."

Blair waited, feeling there was more the man wanted to say. It took him a few minutes to get it out, but Blair was right.

"I am accustomed to rejection, Blair." Giles looked at him, his eyes dark and deep with emotion. "As well as being rejected for what I do and who I am. A Watcher’s life is governed by forces beyond his control, for a large part. I have known women that could not accept my attachment to my students – to Buffy. Even the rare one that actually knew what it is I do often found they could not tolerate this - devotion to duty."

He gave a small smile, tight-lipped.

"I never anticipated losing a lover because I was once on the side of evil."

"I know you aren’t, not any more," Blair protested. "But it’s inside me and I can’t look at you the same way. Some part of me knows you now, and won’t let me."

"For many years, I studied to redeem myself. In the eyes of my father and the Council. Then I found that I wanted a Slayer of my own. I was amazed when I was given one."

"Untrained, undisciplined..." Blair smiled encouragement.

"Yes, well," Giles smiled back. "Be that as it may. I was given the Slayer – and my rebellion proved of benefit, because she had never been found. The others already had theirs, had had them for years. I fell into an important posting. I thought that would be enough for the rest of my life. There were people I loved... but none that I thought I might spend the rest of my life with."

It was silent out there. Still early enough to not be completely stupid for standing there, but getting on toward dangerous.

"Until you."

The words dropped into the silence like a proverbial pin. Crystal-tipped and sharp.

"To know that I lost you before I even met you..." Giles sighed.

"It’s not my choice," Blair said softly. He couldn’t even touch him. Hug him. "It doesn’t mean I’m abandoning the effort, though." He had a vision of Jim in fatigues, giving some army pep talk. "I’m the Shaman of Sunnyhell now." That startled a chuckle from Giles. Relieved, Blair pressed on. "Besides, I think there’s someone closer that needs you more than I did. He needs someone to be kind to him and take care of him. He would reward you with all the love in his heart, he’s been trying to find someone to give it to all his life."

"Alexander?!" Giles looked more than startled; he looked shocked. Blair was secretly pleased.

"Why does he always come to you, Giles? From what heard, he’s been coming to you for solace since you met him."

Giles still looked shell-shocked.

"I’ll be at the next meeting," Blair told him. "We’ll be okay, y’know. Friends and everything."

"I would like that."

A touch on his shoulder and it didn’t make him flinch. But it didn’t make him lean, either.

"Okay. G’night, then. Go home to Xander."

Without another word Giles lifted his hand, turned and walked back. Blair watched him go, playing out the scene he imagined in his head. Giles would go in and say ‘Alexander’ in that quiet way he had. Xander would look at him like he was crazy, but let the man hug him when he got close.

After that, they would be fine. Blair had a feeling about it.

He had one about his place tonight, too. Some reason he knew he needed to get back. Something he needed to do.
He hurried home. Opening the door, he knew something was going on by the way his guest was crouched in the corner. Snarling.

Blair turned and tried to slam the door, but it was caught before he had the chance. He struggled, but whatever held it had great strength -

"Relax, Sandy, it’s only me." A blond head poked round the door and Spike smirked at him. "You going to invite me in?"

Behind him, Blair heard his guest growl. Not a human sound, not at all.

Spike looked over his head, interested. Then his smirk became a fanged grin.

"What?" Blair asked.

"Nothing. See you got yourself a new pet, then."

"He just showed up. Seemed to need a place," Blair shrugged. "Do you need something, Spike?"

"I want you to call me William."

"Oookay. Why?" Blair still held the door. He was over the threshold, and knew Spike couldn’t get to him. He was safe.

But Spike wouldn’t hurt him anyhow. That was exactly what he’d been trying to explain to the others that night. To be good when everything in him drove him to evil... William was more profoundly good at this point than any of the others, except maybe Giles.

"What can I do for you, William? Would you like to come in? I don’t have any blood to offer, but maybe a cup of tea?"

"That would be lovely." The vampire’s face softened as he gave a real smile. Something Blair was sure he hadn’t seen before. He held the door open.

"Come in, Spike."

The redhead scrambled out of his crouch and bounded down the hall, looking more animal than human. Blair watched him go, thoughtfully, and heard the bedroom door slam loudly.

William just grinned at him.

"I’ll put the kettle on," he said.

While Blair tidied up a little and put away his books and pack, the vampire made a pot of tea and put it on the coffee table. On the sofa, Blair watched him sit. He wanted to go and check on the redhead, but for the moment William had his attention.

Tea poured, cups in hand, he looked over and saw what he thought was pensiveness on the pale pale face.

"Okay, again," he said, and was surprised by how steady his voice was. "You want me to do it now?"

Head snapped up, blue eyes like crystal, bright and clear and deadly.

"Do what?"

"I can’t decide, which you want more." the words came like he’d rehearsed them, and maybe a part of him had. This wasn’t something he’d thought seriously about, but clearly it was something he was meant to do. "Do you want your soul back, William? Knowing the pain you would suffer with your conscience returned, whole?" he sipped tea, letting the warm sweet bitterness sooth him. Give him strength for this conversation. "Or do you just want that fucking chip out of your head?"

William wasn’t looking at him now. The tea in his cup had his full attention. It was long minutes before he answered.

"Am I a coward if I say just the bloody chip?"

"Not for me to decide, man." Blair poured himself a second cup, added honey, stirred. Killing time. "The real question may be, will she love you without the soul?"

"It’s too late for that."

"It might be, yeah."

A growl ran through the room, low and deep, angry. Spike laughed and looked at him again.

"He doesn’t like me being here, does ‘e?"

"Apparently not," Blair smiled. "The chip’s not that big a deal. It doesn’t belong there. Even from here I can feel it wanting to get out. And your body, wanting it out."

"Really?" Blair’s thoughts were aught by the beauty in those eyes, the sculpted lines of Spike’s face. What had he looked like, when Angel found him? Before the crazy one, Drusilla, took him and changed him, made him this thing?

Had he been this beautiful, or was it the years?

For the second time in the night, Blair felt a pang of sorrow for things he was not allowed to have, now. He couldn’t fall in love with a vampire, souled or no. Any more than he was allowed to love the man who had been Ripper.

William was beautiful in his survival. His strength and paleness and the love than ate at him like a cancer. In the end it might kill him, or the one he loved, but Blair knew - he *knew* - that the vampire needed the chance to find out for himself. In the end, it wasn’t Blair’s decision.

"Is it really what you want?" he asked, setting down his cup and standing. "Will it be harder to not kill if you know it’s not going to hurt?"

"I don’t know." William looked up at him as Blair stood beside him. He looked frightened, in a way Blair had never seen.

"You need to know."

"Yeah. That."

"Just say yes." Blair held out his hand, letting his fingers brush the stiff hair. It wasn’t as hard as it looked, just thick with gel or something.

William... William closed his eyes. His hands tightened on the teacup.

"Yes. Please."

Blair hesitated.

The teacup crunched to shards in the vampire’s hands.

"Do it."

It was little effort, to focus on the piece of plastic and metal that sat in the brain and ate away at what was left of the creature’s mind. Blair only flexed his fingers and it tore free.

William screamed and fell forward, clutching his head. Blood, thick and too dark, oozed from the wound as the chip worked its way free and Blair caught it.

He watched, curious, as the gaping hole closed slowly.
After the single scream William was silent, his fangs biting through his lower lip.

After a few more minutes it was all gone. Even the hair came back. Blair wiped the chip on his shirt and studied it.

The vampire licked blood off his lip and slowly sat back up. Pottery shards hit the floor with a light tinkling sound.

"Don’t feel much different."

"Good." Blair touched his head, a part of him truly awed at what he’d done and what the vampire had done. Afraid, too, that he’d made a horrible mistake. "You know I’m going to have to kill you if you screw this up, right?"

"You can try." with half his usual smirk, it wasn’t
convincing. Blair held out the chip, so small on the palm of his hand.

"Do you want it?"

A long look, a finger poking but not quite touching.

"Yeah."

"I can put it in something."

A nod, and Spike was up. Going to the kitchen, to get another cup for his tea.

***

He let Spike out the door almost an hour later. The vampire was already moving more freely, as if the chip’s simple existence had affected him that strongly. Blair was glad to see it, but a part of him was afraid, too. He didn’t want to have to kill him, but if Spike began acting on his nature again it would be his duty. And he hadn’t thought through the consequences. Would he let Spike leave Sunnydale, if the vampire wanted? What if things didn’t work out with Buffy?

He’d created the kind of responsibility that used to make him shiver with fear just at the thought of it. Did that mean he was growing up, or that he’d acted irresponsibly?

He was standing in front of the closed door, lost in thought, when his guest came creeping back out of the room. Creeping literally, on the floor, hands and toes, legs bunched under his body. He stopped, pressed tight to the hallway wall, head tilted up and big eyes staring at Blair.

"What do you think, Red?" Blair asked him. His knees felt suddenly weak and he slid to the floor, to sit, sprawled. Exhaustion snuck up on him and hit him over the head. He closed his eyes and concentrated on taking deep breaths.

Delayed reaction. Stress. The words wandered round his head, lonely.

There was a touch on his leg, and then weight in his lap. Warmth and a feeling of worry emanating from Red, who was snuggling close.

Blair opened his eyes and looked at the head on his chest. Big worried eyes looked back at him.

"Yeah, I did the right thing. I feel it. It’s just been a long, hard day," he wrapped his arms around the smaller man and held onto him. "This is exactly what I need right now. Thanks."

They cuddled on the floor until he got cold, then moved to the bed, where Blair read quietly, Red curled back to his side, until they both fell asleep.

***

He was woken by the phone too early again.

"Blair?!"

He struggled to wake. Were those gunshots in the background?

"Jim?!"

"Blair! Hey, I’m at the range. Just wanted to give you a call and tell you everything’s set up. Simon and I will be there tonight."

"Simon?" Blair sat up now, aware of the smaller man that moved with him. Weight on his chest slid to his legs and he was comforted by this silent warm presence. "Why is Simon coming, Jim?!"

"I’m going to need backup for this. I would’ve asked Joel, but they’re gonna have a grandbaby any day now. Couldn’t get him out of the city with a winning lotto ticket."

"No, Jim – there’s a ‘too many good guys spoils the soup’ clause on this one..."

"I don’t know *what* you’ve gotten yourself into there, Sandburg, but I’m not coming in without some trained backup. Expect us around seven."

"Jim, I mean it, -"

"Gotta go, Chief - don’t want anyone else to hear about this!"

"Jim!" Blair shouted as he heard the phone disconnect.
"Drat," he grumbled, falling back onto the bed. "Have to have it your way, same as always, anal-retentive over- achieving *Sentinel*..."

He looked down to see green eyes staring back up at him. The thin face seemed concerned. Worried a little.

"Hey, it’s okay. Just letting off steam. Jim’s a good guy, he’s gonna do the right thing." Without thinking Blair opened his arms, welcoming. He wasn’t surprised when the redhead crawled up and into them.

The kiss he got, though – that *was* a surprise.

Open-mouthed, hot and wet, small tight body squirming on top of his – wow.

"Wow," he murmured when they broke for air. "I’m not sure we should do this. I don’t even know your name. Or how old you are. I don’t want to take advantage..."

A mischievous smile transformed the sharp features. Blair stared into the eyes he felt like he knew, and found himself smiling back.

"I’m in big trouble here, aren’t I?" he asked. All the answer he got was another mouthful of twisty slick tongue.

The redhead wouldn’t be still. Blair tried to hold onto him, to slow them down, but he was much stronger than he looked. Before he knew it, Blair was naked and his guest was naked and then they were pushing against each other. Slower now, and almost sweet, like it had never been with Rupert.

"Hang on, wait, wait –" he panted and tried to lift him off. He clung and Blair had to wriggle up to lean on the wall, with him in his lap. "I can’t do this. I just can’t. It’s not right – you’re, man, you’re vulnerable and shit."

Red chuckled low, his bright eyes laughing at Blair. His hands on Blair’s shoulders, holding him back while the smaller man leaned in and scented him. The warm nose ran from the tip of his ear, down his face and into the hollow of his neck. Blair shivered. He could feel the length of cock on his thigh, scarcely covered by too-thin jeans. He was hard himself, and the pressure in his groin was unlike anything he’d felt before. Being with Rupert had felt right and natural, but this – this felt like something big. Like what he imagined destiny might feel like.

He thought he’d felt it ounce before; when he found Jim. But this was...this was stronger.

The mouth hovering over his neck closed. Strong teeth hung on while lips sucked and Blair twisted in slow motion, trying to decide if he should stop this or flip them over so he could be on top.

"This is good," a quiet, whispery voice purred into his ear. Shocked into stillness, Blair waited, but there was no more. With more effort than it should have taken, he lifted Red back so he could see the sharp-featured face.
Green eyes so bright they almost glowed. With a touch of yellow...

"Yeah, this is good," he agreed, spreading his legs and pulling him closer. He wrapped his arms around Red and held him tightly. In a quick change of pace the smaller man snuggled in, his arms curled to his chest as he settled his weight on Blair.

The moment of peace was soothing, but their bodies soon decided that resting wasn’t what they wanted. Blair felt the heartbeat speed up next to his, and wasn’t surprised when a hand slid down between them to palm him through his boxers.

He pushed into the hand slowly. He wasn’t worried, Red had already shown he was strong enough to take anything Blair could dish out. The hand closed tight and he gasped, grabbing at Red and pulling him up face-to-face. Their eyes met, something passed between them – Blair didn’t take the time to analyze it – and then their mouths came together. Like a battle, hard and fast and so hot. Panting, Blair struggled to get the clothes off him while his own boxers gave way with a ripping sound.

"Damn, man," Blair pulled his head away long enough to gasp. "In a hurry much?"

Strong teeth bit his chin, then it was licked. The tongue traveled over his face; eyes, forehead, then ear. Blair moaned and tried to force him back, but Red had other plans. He forced Blair’s legs wider, then sat back on his knees, catching Blair’s cock under his ass.

"Oh, God," Blair panted. Red made a small sound, like a soft growl. He straightened and used one hand on Blair’s chest to hold him in place while he reached behind himself with the other. Blair shuddered as he realized what Red was doing, and reached for his drawer beside the bed to get something, but his arm was yanked back.
"You need - we need -"

"Shaman," Red said quietly.

"Yeah, that’s me." Confused, Blair pulled his arm back and wrapped his fingers over a narrow hip. The skin was stretched tight, too tight, as if Red had been starved at some point.

A soft, chaste kiss pressed to his mouth. Then Red was taking him in, slowly. A quarter inch at a time. Painfully slow, but Blair would do nothing to hurry him.

He wasn’t doing anything to help, either. As soon as the thought hit he reached out, with his soul and not his hands, digging through his own worries to find a thread of rightness. Destiny, yes, and something more. Destiny and sex. Love and lust, and there was no way he’d known this little guy long enough for that, but there it was.
He was filled with it. With a push he sent it out, into the air, and into the man straddling him. Eyes closed, head thrown back, nostrils wide.

Breathing deep and slow and fast.

Startled into seeing beauty here as well – more than he’d ever seen in William’s bloodless countenance, Blair shoved what he was feeling at Red and shuddered with him as he felt it.

With a moan and bared teeth, Red shoved himself all the way down and it was Blair that yelled.

"Damn!"

It wasn’t what he’d expected. Red was so small, so tight – he couldn’t help but think he was hurting him.

"Okay?" he gasped, suddenly aware of the sweat dripping in his eyes. He wiped it away impatiently.

The green eyes opened and he got a wolfish grin in return before Red started moving. Blair held on with both hands, his body completely committed as he was ridden. Not expertly; it took several minutes to get a rhythm they could both respond too. There was no embarrassment on the thin face, only concentration and pleasure.

Climax came quickly. They moved, and Red growled and Blair felt something under his fingers – fur?! – and that was all. His body jerked and he clutched at Red, pulling at him, working his cock as his own body faded in the aftermath.

Red came, hot slick dripping on Blair’s hand, and sagged down onto him, where he was gathered up and held. Eyes closed, Blair tried to define the sensation of short, sparse fur against his skin; warm, soft, scratchy.

Red made a questioning sound and Blair stroked his back to sooth him as his cock slipped out and Red could stretch out more.

"Shh, it’s okay. We’re okay. Everything’s fine. You were fabulous." I think I love you, his mind finished silently, but he didn’t let himself say it. It was too soon, even if he was certain.

It was still very early. Jim and Simon were coming tonight, but for the moment he had nothing better to do than lie here and hold his new lover in his arms and breath the forest scent of him.

Red wasn’t human, or not entirely so, but the Shaman in Blair welcomed him wholeheartedly, like he was meant to be there. Feeling the best he had since arriving in Sunnyhell, Blair closed his eyes and let himself drift back to sleep, Red’s weight heavy on him.

***

"Blair?"

Stirring, Blair hardly even opened his eyes, just wanted to know who was at the door. Without thinking about it he touched the wards, the ones Willow had set for him, touched them with his heart, and saw that there was no danger.

"Sandburg!"

These voices were early, though. Finally managing to get his eyes open, he blinked at the clock. They’d slept until past noon; he’d missed his classes.

Feeling surprisingly philosophical about that, he rolled over and threw an arm over Red, heart swelling when the smaller man scooted closer, nuzzling under his chin. He made a sound like a growl when Blair kissed his forehead and tried to get up, so Blair just lay there for a few minutes and listened to the men outside.

"Maybe he’s not home, Jim. We should have checked the University first."

"That’s his car over there, Simon. He’s here, I can smell him. And I think he got himself a dog."

Dog? Blair twitched and bit back a grin. Whatever Red was, he wasn’t some mundane *dog*.

"Better get up before he breaks the door down," he sighed, and kissed his bedmate once again. This time Red let him get up, rolling back over and curling into a tight puppy-ball in the center of the bed, completely under the covers.

"Blair, I know you’re in there! I can hear you breathing!"

"I’m coming, I’m coming! Man, Ellison, you need to meditate already..." with his jeans on but not buttoned all the way up he stomped to the door and yanked it open. "Keep it down, willya? I was asleep."

"I thought Professors actually went to class, Chief." Jim walked past him without being invited. Blair rolled his eyes at Simon and turned for the kitchen.

"I thought you said seven tonight. Coffee?" the machine was ready to start dripping. All he had to do was push the button. While he did, Jim hovered behind him, sniffing. When Blair turned around, trapped between the counter and his friend, he crossed his arms over his bare chest and glared. "What?"

"You got a dog fetish now, Chief?"

"You’re sick, Jim." he wanted to go into the bedroom to get a shirt, but Jim would most likely follow. Blair thought there were better ways to tell him he was involved with a man.

His senses tingled and he turned toward the door, feeling mild panic. What were they doing here?!

"Blair?" more voices calling his name. Giles and Buffy and Xander and he didn’t know who else. Probably Spike.

"Just perfect," he groaned, pushing past Jim, who made no move to stop him. "Sit, Simon, these are friends. People I work with."

He got there just as they started knocking. With the door open, he stared out at the group of worried faces and frowned.

"Either we just got another ‘the-world’s-gonna-end-and-take-me-with-it’ prophecy or there’s something completely screwy about my karma today."

"You weren’t answering your phone," Giles explained gently.

"You didn’t go to class!" Buffy seemed shocked by this.

"I tried the phone company and they said it was off the hook," Willow added.

Damn, damn and triple damn.

"Uh," he started, but didn’t know what else to say. "I -"

He felt the heat and size behind him and sighed, giving in.
They all stared.

"You better come in." he needed more chairs.

They crowded in and he wished he had a bigger apartment. Everyone was tense and uncomfortable; Giles sat in the armchair with Xander leaning uncomfortably on the back, Willow and Tara on the sofa beside Simon, Buffy taking a defensive position on one wall mirrored by Jim’s on the other.

Spike leaned on the door and smirked at all of it.

Blair stood in the kitchen doorway and watched.

"Introductions. Okay." He could do this. "Scoobies, this is Jim, and Simon. From Cascade." he held up a hand when Giles started to talk, followed quickly by Buffy. "Nope. You’re not gonna talk, got that? I’ll quiet you if you do."

"Oh, right, Sandburg," Simon snorted.

Blair just looked at him, then spoke very softly. "Voices I don’t want to hear, everything is coming clear." It was one he’d been thinking of for a couple of weeks; the cadence was perfect, almost seductive. It rolled off his tongue like ice cream.

Simon opened his mouth again, then shut it, suddenly looking confused and very unhappy.

"I said no talking until I’m done. Does everyone understand that?"

"You’re getting very bold, young man," Giles said, but Blair could tell from his eyes that he was amused, if reserving judgement.

"Last warning," he grinned at them all. Jim pushed off the wall and came closer to him. "You too, man. Don’t push me. I’m not very happy to have all of you here today. I had other plans."

With his arms crossed so the muscles bulged and his jaw so tight it had to hurt, Jim nodded once, then went to stand beside Simon.

"Okay. Jim, Simon, these are the Scoobies; Rupert Giles, Buffy Summers, Xander Harris, Willow, Tara and William. They do things. Giles is a Watcher, Buffy is the Vampire Slayer, Willow and Tara are witches...and William is a vampire."

"What the fuck are you playing at, Sandburg?!" Jim’s roar was predictable. Blair let him make his rush; Jim’s first reaction was almost always violence. He side-stepped without moving, letting Buffy catch him and throw him back.

Sprawled on the floor, Jim snarled and started to jump up, but Willow made a sound Blair had never heard before. So he turned to see what she was staring at.
Red was standing in the hallway; rumpled, naked, one hand on the wall as if he’d been shocked.

"Oh my God." Only it wasn’t Jim that said it, but Buffy.

Moving quickly, Blair went to shield the small man with his body. Arms wrapped around him and the firm body pressed up against him from behind. The red head peeked out from under his arm.

"Good Lord, it is." Giles stood and came closer. "Blair, what have you done?"

He didn’t understand. But the looks on their faces; Willow looked especially pale; Tara was holding her hand tight enough to stop the bloodflow. He wanted to loosen it before they hurt each other.

A weight settled over the room as Willow stood, still clinging to Tara’s hand. She took a few steps, but Jim was in her way and she stopped. Her face creased in anguish, she whispered a name Blair had heard in their stories but never connected with the strange quiet man he’d taken as his lover.

"*Oz*?"

"Hi, Willow."

Now it was Blair’s turn to stare. He pulled - Oz? - out from behind him, still shielding him, and stared at his face. It was tight with fear, and worry – he couldn’t say anything that would encourage that.

"Good to know your name," he said, a weak joke.

"Daniel," Xander said, standing and coming closer, stepping over Jim casually. "His name’s Daniel. God, man we were worried about you! Where have you been?"

"We thought something terrible happened!" Willow seemed on the verge of tears.

"You stopped writing," Tara added in her quiet, sincere way.

Xander came close and Blair smiled when Red flung himself at the taller young man. Xander caught him up in a hug, then all the others crowded close, except William, all of them touching him, petting him, hugging him. He bore it for a few minutes, then retreated again to Blair.

"This is the one you were talking about?" Giles asked, hovering close. "The invisible pet?"

"Yeah. The one I talked about. He came in a few days ago, and just kept coming."

A strangled sound made him remember what he’d done to Simon. With a wave of his hand he released him, and the bellowing started.

"What the hell is going on here?! What are you playing at, Sandburg?!" he spluttered, he was so angry. With roll of his eyes Blair repeated the spell, it came more quickly this time, and Simon was left with his mouth hanging open, looking apoplectic.

"What the hell is that?!" Jim yelled.

"Blair," Giles warned.

"Not now." The body in his arms was shaking slightly.
Still naked, though Red – Oz – didn’t seem to mind. Blair minded. "Hand me that afghan, please, Xander." he held out a hand. Oz clung to him more tightly.

With his shouting ignored, Jim advanced. Blair was paying attention to his lover, wrapping the afghan around him, Xander’s hands helping to tuck it warmly.

"So you’re gay now? Dammit, Sandburg, I always knew you were into this occult bullshit, but this is ridiculous! There’s no such things as vampires, and the rest of this crap..."

He was in front of Blair, reaching for him, and then Buffy was there between them. Blair didn’t think he needed the protection, but he appreciated the gesture. It would be good for Jim to be taken down a notch, by this slip of a girl.

"Back off, tall-loud-and-handsome," she ordered. With a flip of her hair, she looked even younger than her twenty-one years.

"Out of the way before you get hurt."

Blair could see Jim’s rage growing. It was never a rational thing. He didn’t want this to escalate to violence.

"Buffy, could you put Jim on the sofa, please?"

Simon was turning purple, trying to hard to speak.

"With pleasure." Buffy moved, faster than a Sentinel. With a couple of grabs and a well-placed shove, she planted Jim on his ass and he stared, rage dissolving into shock.

"Now that everyone is comfortable..." Blair said quietly, Oz calming in his arms. Xander hovered behind him in quiet communication with his friend. "Giles, would you mind?" he gestured and Giles gracefully relinquished the armchair so Blair could sit. Slight as he was, Oz was starting to get heavy.

Buffy was standing over Jim. William was watching her, his eyes half-closed with a bored expression, but Blair knew what that hid.

"Sandburg," Jim snarled.

"I think a demonstration is in order." Settling in the chair, Blair shifted Oz to sit across his lap with his face pressed to Blair’s neck. Blair held him firmly. The fear and anger he felt from his lover was disturbing. They would have to talk about it, when Oz was able. He pressed a kiss to the furrowed brow and looked over to William. "If you don’t mind."

"Not at all, luv." the vampire padded to the sofa and took Buffy’s place as she stepped aside. Blair saw his hand hover at her back, wanting to touch, knowing it would be rejected. " ‘Allo. My name is William the Bloody, but you can call me Spike."

With no further ado he vamped. Blair’s chair was positioned to the side, where he could see everyone involved in the little drama. Simon scrambled backwards into the corner of the sofa but Jim only glared.

"Nice parlor trick. I’ve seen better."

"Jim." Blair pitched his voice low. The Sentinel frequency, the one his Sentinel couldn’t ignore. "Let yourself feel him. Smell him. Hear him."

Spike growled, deep in his throat.

"I know what you smell," Blair continued. He saw Giles’ expression out of the corner of his eye. The watcher approved. "What you’re not hearing. There’s no heartbeat. No blood rushing through his veins. He smells like death. He smells like the grave."

Responding instinctively to that voice, Jim closed his eyes. It was obvious to everyone that he was centering himself.

The room was silent. Tension hung in the air. Blair felt Oz’s heart, beating slow and steady against his chest.
When Jim spoke, the words echoed in the silence.

"He’s dead."

"Undead, if you please. Or the living dead if you want to be dramatic." Spike grinned, his fangs bright and sharp.

It looked like Simon was going to burst something, so Blair released the spell again.

"God damn!" Simon was off the sofa and going for his gun. Willow reacted before Blair, who was still paying attention to Jim. A wave of her hand and the gun floated through the air to land in it. "*Shit*," Simon snarled.
"Sandburg..."

"I tried to tell you." he nuzzled Oz’s hair. He smelled like sweat and sex and the woods. "I would have explained in private, if you had come when you said you were gonna."

"Get away from me, you freak!" Jim barked at Spike.

"Well, I’m hurt, I am," Spike said, but he backed off. Buffy didn’t move, so he bumped up against her. Blair watched his body language change, becoming softer. He was glad Buffy didn’t move away.

"So now what?" Simon was still way too tense.

"Now we all have a cup of coffee or some tea and we talk about things."

"Blair, if I may?" Giles stepped forward, to the center of the room. The way his voice changed, his stance; he was suddenly again more than a librarian. Blair watched his Cascade friends react to this. "Perhaps it would be better to move this to my flat? There’s more room for everyone, and all the research materials are there."

"I was thinking the shop," Blair said. "But later. Your place would be good now. Why don’t you guys go on over and we’ll catch up?"

Buffy looked from him to Jim and back again.

"I’ll be fine, Buff." Blair almost laughed. Jim would soon find he’d met his match in the slim blond girl. "Jim’s never actually hurt me."

"Blair can defend himself adequately," Giles added. Jim snorted.

Spike slipped an arm around Buffy’s waist.

"C’mon, luv, I’ll walk you back."

"I’m not coming near you under that smoking cloak!" she let herself be lead to the door. The girls followed, hand-in-hand, then Giles. He paused to look at Blair. Xander was last. He walked behind Giles, his hand tucked into the waistband of the Watcher’s slacks. The sight made Blair smile.

Then they were alone.

"I’m gonna need a few minutes," he said, standing. Oz was so light it was almost frightening. "Make yourselves at home."

"I’m turning everything down, Chief." Jim grimaced. Simon just looked away.

Oz made a quiet, inquisitive sound as they entered the bedroom. He let Blair put him on the bed but clutched the edges of the afghan close and watched with big dark eyes while Blair closed the door.

"Okay. It’s good to know your name." Blair knelt on the floor in front of him. "I don’t know if you feel you can talk right now, so I won’t ask much." He paused. Oz’s hand came out and grabbed his, holding it tight. He was smiling, just a little bit. Blair smiled back. Oz’s presence made him feel alive. Like everything in the world was good.

"What would you like me to call you? Daniel or Oz?" Blair might still think of him as Red, but that wasn’t one of his names.

The reply was whispered; "Daniel."

"Okay. Daniel." Blair tried the name out and like dhow it felt on his tongue. "Daniel, he repeated, enjoying it.
The man in question leaned forward, their hands still clasped, and kissed him deeply. Blair moaned softly when he pulled away. Daniel licked his lips.

"Do you want to stay here or go to Giles’?"

He watched while Daniel thought it through. The hand holding his tightened and he nodded.

"Can you tell me what happened to you? Why you were living out in the woods?"

A shake of the red head, sad eyes. Blair raised their hands to his mouth and kissed Daniel’s.

"It’s okay. When you’re ready. Now... do you want to take a shower with me?"

The words had hardly left his mouth before Daniel was up and pulling him toward the bathroom. Blair spared a thought for Jim, who said he wasn’t listening, and decided he didn’t care. This was his new life, and he was going to live it the way he wanted.

***

Fifty minutes later; clean, dry and neatly dressed – some of Blair’s old jeans and a baggy sweater for Daniel – and they emerged from the bedroom to find Simon and Jim engaged in quiet conversation. They both looked up, words stopping.

Daniel half hid behind Blair, a hand on his back. They stopped near the sofa. Blair studied his friends, gauging their reaction to the past couple of hours.

"So you’re gay now." Simon spoke first.

"As I plan to spend the rest of my life with this man, yes, I guess you could say that." Blair pulled him up to his side. He felt rather than heard the low growl Daniel issued.

"You could have told me." Jim looked...hurt?

Definitely not the reaction Blair expected.

"It didn’t seem important.

"Have I ever given you reason to believe I’d be some stupid homophobe?"

"No," Blair put a hand on Jim’s shoulder, trying to convey his sincerity. "It was me, man. Working with the cops, the whole military background – and it really wasn’t important. I like women just fine."

"You could have told me," Jim repeated, unappeased.

"I wish I had."

"I don’t care about any of that," Simon was still angry. It was in his voice, the way he sat. Daniel growled again, louder this time. Both men stared at him. "What the *hell* is going on here?! Vampires? What did that girl do to my gun?!"

"She’s a witch, Simon, I told you. Willow’s probably the most powerful witch in the US right now."

"And what are you, hanging out with - people - like that?" Jim demanded. He leaned forward but Blair didn’t retreat.

"I’m the Shaman," Blair said simply.

"That was Incacha's thing. You know I never really believed in it."

"Shall I show you your spirit guide, Jim? Do you want me to make him real, so you can see him all the time?" Blair wasn’t sure he could actually do that, but it was a good reminder for the Sentinel that what wasn’t real sometimes was.

Jim glared but remained silent.

"I figured." moving to the armchair, Blair sat, pulling Daniel into his lap. He fit there, as if they were made for each other. "Sorry," he gave a half-shrug. "This is still new for us. I don’t like him too far away."

"Beside you would be too far away?" Simon asked, and Jim almost grinned. Blair could see him fighting it.

"Well, duh," he felt like it was safe to smile now, so he did. "I would have liked you to meet under different circumstances, but now you’ve met. And I’m the Shaman, and vampires are real. That’s why I asked you to come."

"Because you’re the Shaman and vampires are real." Simon rolled his eyes.

"Yes. We need your help to take out the biggest nest we’ve ever found."

***

It took four threats of the silencing spell and Daniel’s constant growl to keep the men quiet until they got to Giles’. They were invited inside right away. Daniel remained close enough to touch Blair. Willow stayed on the other side of the room, away from them and Blair remembered, belatedly, the stories he’d heard. Oz had been Willow’s first love, yes, but there had been something else. Mentioned almost in passing, in reference to the Initiative, the military force that built the underground bunker...and something else, about Giles, and the library, and the book cage...

Giles puttered around, serving tea and sandwiches. So perfectly British it was hard to believe he could ever be anything but. Xander worked with him quietly. It seemed the presence of burly strangers hampered his abilities to crack bad jokes.

Or maybe it was Daniel. Shaking off the distractions of the situation, Blair ran through his memories again. Snuggled to his side on the sofa, Daniel was still. Calm, though Blair felt his unease as the conversation flowed around them.

The Initiative took demons and experimented on them. Some things they killed. Others, like William, got lucky. Despite the chip in his head, he was one of the few that survived.

The few that escaped. Buffy and her ex, the army guy Riley, they had helped...

"You’re a werewolf," turning to Daniel, Blair cradled his face in both hands, tipped it up so he could look into wide green eyes. "Daniel?"

One slow blink. Mouth parted red tongue swiped over upper lip.

"Daniel," Blair murmured. He kissed him. Slow, unhurried, tasting the magic in the tense body. Earth magic, strong and pure. "It’s okay," he said when he finally let him go. "Now I know."

"Really okay?" he didn’t look too upset.

"You know it is."

"Yeah."

"Werewolf?" coffee cup in hand, Jim hunched his shoulders and have a half-hearted glare.

"Got a vampire and a superhero valley girl," Blair shrugged, wrapping an arm around his lover and holding him. "Why not?"

"More than that, Blair." Passing the sofa on the way to his chair, Giles let his hand pass over Blair’s head and then Daniel’s. The touch didn’t disturb the Shaman. With Daniel’s presence his sensitivity had settled. It felt friendly and affectionate. Held a hint of nostalgia.

He smiled up at Giles and Giles smiled back down at him.

"Not there’s the guy I’d expect you to fall for," Jim snorted, sitting up straight. "But he’s too busy robbing the cradle with that one." he gestured toward Xander with his cup.

"What, who, me?" Xander did a classic double-take.

"What? Wil, did you stick a sign on my back?" he contorted himself checking.

"Is everyone here gay?!" Simon roared. "No wonder this place is crazy!"

"Not me," Buffy declared. "Or Spike."

William rolled his eyes as he leaned back on the wall.

"Speak for yourself, luv."

"What?!" Buffy’s screech was barely audible over the assortment of vigorous discussions suddenly going on in the room.

"*His* name is Alexander and I would thank you to refer to him so." Giles warned Jim.

"Actually, we did have an intense thing," Blair said at the same time, smirking at the two cops.

"Xander, I didn’t do anything! I didn’t even know. What happened to Anya?" Willow was looking from Xander to Giles and back again, helplessly.

"*Who*?" Buffy had Spike by the shirt front, hoisting him up in the air. He didn’t fight back, just smirked at her.

"We’ve got more in common than you think, pet."

"*ANGEL*?!"

Blair had thought only nine-year-old girls could hit that note.

"Ewwwww!" Willow, Tara and Xander echoed.

"Who’s Angel?" Simon asked into the sudden silence.
Spike finally broke it.

"Put me down if you’re not gonna stake me already."

Buffy dropped him. he landed on his feet, dusting himself off with aplomb.

"It’s to be expected, Buffy." With a familiar sigh, Giles took off his glasses and cleaned them on his shirt. A subdued Xander went to his side, then behind him, where Blair could see him resting his head on Giles’ back. "Angel is his grandsire. Records show that he did most of Spike’s early training."

"But Drusilla’s his sire!"

"Dru wasn’t much there, luv. Even worse than she was before I killed her."

"I can hardly imagine," Willow commented.

"I ask again." Simon was glaring now. "*Who* is Angel?"

"Vampire. Has a soul. Buffy’s ex." Blair provided.

"This is absolutely insane." Jim finished his coffee and stood, setting the cup on Giles’ table. "I never expected anything else, Chief."

"Jim?" Startled, Blair reached out with his new senses. The only one in the room he could feel more strongly than Daniel was his Sentinel.

"Let’s get this show on the road. We’ve got a nest of vampires to kill, and a P.D. picnic to get to on Saturday."

"Jesus, Jim." Blair stood and walked around the table. his arms were out. Jim gathered him in for a hug.

"I’m sorry it couldn’t be me, Chief." Blair just barely heard the whisper. "I think this is where you were supposed to be all along." the last was said where everyone could hear it.

"I will admit I sometimes wondered why the Hellmouth did not attract a more powerful spellcaster," Giles said.

"Still here!" Willow protested.

"I meant a spellcaster more attuned with Earth magic. You were not powerful enough to make a difference when we began." Giles gave her a nod. "A Shaman is the perfect addition to our ranks. His presence may be enough to turn the tide against evil."

"Me and a few well-placed explosives." With a laugh Blair freed himself from Jim’s hug and went back to the sofa. Daniel growled and climbed into his lap.

"Don’t worry, Red." Wrapping his arms around the smaller man, Blair grinned over the top of his head. "If it comes to Sentinel versus werewolf, I think you have the upper hand."

"Paw," Spike grinned.

"Wasn’t that a Godzilla movie?" Xander poked his head around Giles’ shoulder.

"I think it was the Stooges," Tara said seriously. She and Willow exchanged nods.

"Better get to the video store and find out!" Xander popped out into the open.

"Video, schmideo," Willow scoffed. "I’ll download it." She moved as if to go to her laptop, but Tara stopped her.

"No, baby. We have to kill the vampires first."

"Darn those pesky vampires anyhow. Always spoiling our fun."

Everyone in the room – except Daniel – was staring at them.

"Girls," Giles cleared his throat.

"Put your glasses back on, they’re not doing anything." Standing next to Spike, against the wall, Buffy copied his position.

"He wouldn’t mind." Xander cuddled up to Giles, who put an arm around him almost automatically. "He’s loose and free now."

"TMI!" a chorus of voices rang out.

"This is worse than Daryl’s friends," Simon was cleaning his glasses now. It reminded Blair of Giles. He stood, one hand still holding Daniel’s.

"He’s right. We’ve got a serious situation here, and it doesn’t involve William’s sexual history, vampiric or otherwise."

Willow and Tara obliged with another, quieter "Ewww."

"Let’s explain the situation to Simon and Jim, pull out the blueprints, and make ourselves a plan."

"As you say, Blair." Giles’ smile was moderately tense, but Blair figured he would forgive the assistance once they were done.

"I’ll get the snacks!" Xander yelled and headed for the kitchen.

"Stick with what you’re good at!" Buffy yelled after him.

Blair joined Giles and the girls clearing off the large table. they all knew where everything went’ Giles’ library was better organized than any Blair had seen before. In almost no time the table and books were in order and everyone was seated, blueprints at the ready.

"William, you know the place best. Explain the situation, please." Blair had Daniel sitting on the floor beside his chair. He didn’t like the position very much, but his lover seemed happy there, with his head on Blair’s leg. He put his hand in the red hair and petted gently.

Buffy watched Spike talk. Blair watched all of them.

***

Moments later, there was a knock at the door. Everyone watched while Giles went to open it. Jim made a face. Blair wondered what he was smelling.

"Anya." Giles sounded surprised.

"Anya!" Xander sounded scared.

"Hello, everyone," the one-time vengeance demon stepped in. She was wearing a short, tight skirt and a pink sweater.

And carrying a very large axe.

"I thought you had left town." Giles held the door open and welcomed her with a wave of his hand.

"I did. Then I felt guilty, for abandoning everyone to certain death. So I came back to help." her words were earnest. "Look. I brought a weapon."

Entering the room, she stopped when she saw Jim and Simon.

"You’ve already replaced me? At least they look like they can fight."

Xander was basically hiding in the kitchen. She called to him.

"You can come out. I’ve decided not to kill you."

"Thanks, but I’m okay!" Xander yelled back. Anya went to Jim’s side and spoke like a conspirator.

"It’s not his fault, you know. It’s genetics or something. Of course, a couple hundred years ago I would have tortured him until his voice was bloody, then stopped and started again." Her smile was wide and kind of scary. "But things are different now."

Giles cleared his throat.

"Anya."

"Yes. Destruction, murder, mayhem. That’s why I’m here." she took Xander’s empty seat.

Jim was staring like he’d been hit on the head. Blair had to bite the inside of his cheek to keep from laughing.

"What is she?" Simon asked, with a casualness that seemed forced.

"Not human," Jim said. Giles sighed and sat back down.

"Anya is a thousand year old ex-Vengeance Demon."

"And Xander’s ex-sex partner," she added brightly.

Xander’s groan was audible from the kitchen.

"Yes." Giles was looking away from them all. Blair reached out, unsure if he would still be allowed to, and rubbed his knuckles on the man’s cheek. He got a weary smile in return.

"You look like you’re very good at orgasms,"Anya told Jim. Simon snorted coffee up his nose, which led to Buffy pounding on his back while everyone else cracked up. Even Giles laughed aloud.

"Enough, enough, I need those ribs!" With his eyes watering, Simon shook Buffy off. Jim half stood and held out a hand.

"Hi, Anya. I’m Jim Ellison, Blair’s friend, and this is my boss, Simon Banks. It’s nice to meet you."

Beaming, Anya shook his hand.

"Now that’s settled," Blair could hear the sigh in Giles’ voice, "Can we get down to work?"

***

The tunnel felt familiar, in a bad way. The three of them moved so quietly; Blair let himself enjoy this new sensation for a moment as they crept up on the door.
It was an hour past dawn. The time when vamps were the most vulnerable. Most of them would be sleeping. Only the older and stronger ones would be able to resist the need. The attack would wake the others, but hopefully they would be disoriented for precious moments.

They were all counting on at least a few minutes’ grace to execute the plan.

The Plan. He had to think of it capitalized. It was important that way.

They were at the end of the tunnel. Blair eyed the door. If there were vamps on the other side, guarding it, it was his job to take them out. As quietly as possible.

It was hard to attack by stealth when there were only three ways in and the bad guys were watching all of them.
In front of the door, Jim bent his head, fingers spread to touch the cool metal. Blair watched, with Daniel pressed up behind him. he wasn’t worried about his partner; he’d been assured that, as a werewolf, Daniel could heal significant damage. It would be better if he didn’t have to, naturally. But he could.

Jim held up three fingers. There were three vampires awake on the other side of the door. Blair swore mentally. Obviously they were expecting another attack.
Not being able to talk was irritating. He knew Willow could mind-speak. It was something he might want to work on.

The vamps knew they were there. If Jim could smell them...it worked both ways. if he could run some tests comparing Jim’s senses to Spike’s they would have a good baseline for vampire senses, something the Watcher Council had never bothered with. All they worried about was how to kill them.

Knowledge for knowledge’s sake was appealing to Blair, though it could prove useful eventually. He could publish in one of the underground periodicals Giles read. "A comparison of Sentinel vs. Vampire senses".

Jim nudged him with a hip. Looking up, Blair saw a familiar expression of comfortable exasperation. He grinned back and nodded, then closed his eyes and centered himself.

How to distract the vamps without making it noticeable? He didn’t think he could dust all three of them at once. Trying and failing would create exactly the situation they didn’t want, with survivors waking the others.

There was a soft shuffling, scratching sound on the other side of the door. Blair whispered in his head, only air passing between his lips.

He called on the sun, called to Ra and asked him to lure the vampires to sleep. Daylight means sleep, he thought steadily. Time to sleep deep. Under the ground, making no sound. Daylight means sleep.

He opened his eyes as the energy left him. Daniel took his hand and squeezed it.

They waited. Jim listened.

Blair thought it hadn’t worked. Then Jim smiled and gave him a thumbs-up.

He went to work on the lock.

Ten minutes later they were slipping into the cavernous room. It was darker than night. Blair couldn’t see a thing.

He followed, Daniel pulling him along, Jim leading the way. Blair trusted them to keep him safe from stumbling.
Everyone had agreed to divide into three groups. Each consisted of a man with explosives and the know-how to set them, and several others to cover him.

Hearing Xander’s story about becoming Army guy one Halloween had been interesting, especially as he’d retained the knowledge gained in the transformation.

Xander was with Giles, Buffy and Anya. Simon had Spike for muscle and the two witches. It wasn’t a perfect distribution of resources, but it would have to do.

Daniel moved quickly to one side, Blair following. He wanted to hold off on a lighting spell as long as he could.
They stopped three times so Jim could place explosives. Each time Blair reached out with his energy, searching for danger or waking vampires. The third time he realized he could map the place if he wanted to. So he did, moving more slowly as he divided his attention.
The other groups were just getting in through the door and hole, respectively. He didn’t know how Giles had managed to get the elevator to operate silently, but they were there now. Blair recoiled from the taste of the Watcher’s magic. After so many years it was still corrupted. He understood the man’s unwillingness to use it now.

The others were carrying lights, shielded to various levels. Giles had taken care of the guards at his entry point. Reaching further, Blair found that Simon and the others hadn’t yet. Perhaps Willow and Tara needed help? His magic brushed against theirs’. It was repelled, but gently, like soap chasing pepper. Across still water, smooth and somehow spooky.

Several vampires were stirring. Daniel was trying to hurry him. wiring this place to implode was taking more firepower than Blair had expected when he first asked Jim to help. Fifteen charges, all set to the same timer, with the humans at the exits to prevent escape.

He hoped it worked.

As soon as Daniel stopped again, Blair squeezed his hand, his heart lifting at the answering touch. He opened himself again, as wide as he could, projecting the daylight spell as far as he could. Stirring vamps settled, rousing ones drifted back into the undead netherworld. He could feel the lack of souls. It was deeply disturbing. The presence of demons within them reminded him that they weren’t human anymore. It would be wrong to kill them all – another difference of opinion to explore with Giles, in a strictly academic sense – but this was too large a group. It disrupted the balance. He knew, instinctively, that it was good for them to restore it. This wasn’t the way it was supposed to be.

The Hellmouth hung over everything, tainting it. He knew it had a place as well. Probably better if he didn’t share that awareness with the others.

He repeated the spell in his mind until all was quiet and still. The he did this, the more he knew the words were just a prop. Willow didn’t need them anymore, not for little things. He’d have to see what he could do without them. Needing the words left him vulnerable.

Jim turned to him. Blair felt him in the dark. A touch on his shoulder meant they were done. Daniel tugged on his hand, Blair took a step – and his knees buckled.

He fell, awkwardly, saved from a painful and noisy landing by Jim’s strong arms and Daniel’s tight grip.

What was wrong with him?! It felt like he’d pulled a 48-hour cram session. His arms and legs were limp. No more strength than cooked pasta.

Lifted in Jim’s arms, he would have spoken, but a hand covered his mouth. He licked the palm, tasting it, though he knew from scent it was Daniel’s.

Okay, a bad time to panic. He got that. He was safe, in Jim’s arms, with his lover beside them.

Closing his eyes, Blair resisted the urge ti map the facility again. he was too drained. Better if he took this chance to rest. Maybe he could get some strength back before the explosives went up.

They couldn’t just go above ground and wait there. The Initiative compound joined to a cave system as well as the sewers. There would be vampires that escaped the initial blast. Escaped to build their numbers again. Those vampires would have to be stopped the old fashioned way.

The most dangerous part of the day was still ahead of them.

"I’m feeling better." Blair pushed away from Jim, the weakness of the movement belying the words. "It’s going to blow, Jim, I gotta –"

"How much longer?" Daniel’s voice, still unfamiliar and yet a part of him.

Jim moved, looking at his watch.

"Seven minutes, thirteen seconds."

Blair giggled.

"Blair?" Daniel sounded worried. Blair tried to remember if his lover had ever said his name before. He thought about the time, and giggled again.

"Chief?" Jim gave him a gentle shake.

"‘m fine," Blair swallowed the humor. "If that was an omen, we’re screwed."

"Wave of glory time." Blair couldn’t see him, but he knew Daniel was nodding.

"Yeah."

"You deserve each other, you know that?" Jim fussed. "Lie back, Chief, rest a few more minutes. I’ll tell you when we have to move."

"Okay, man." he did feel a little too happy, considering the circumstances. "Red?"

There was no verbal answer, but warm, chapped lips covered his and a slick tongue snuck into his mouth. Almost worried about this, about doing this so close to Jim, Blair realized halfway through the kiss that he didn’t care. He reached out and found Daniel’s neck with his hand, held him in place until the kiss was finished.
They broke for air and Blair thought he heard his lover licking his lips.

"Four minutes," Jim said shortly. But he didn’t sound really annoyed.

"Let me up." Blair pushed away again, stronger this time. Hands grabbed him and helped, two sets.

"Just sit here. You’ll be able to see as soon as it happens."

"I’ll light it up." Propped back-against-the-wall, legs straight in front of him, Blair was comfortable with this. He held up a hand, blind in the darkness. Daniel took it.

"Give us some warning first," Jim reminded. He hadn’t had any trouble believing that Daniel could see as well as he.

"Of course." Blair felt too drained to do much, so he sat quietly. This was something new, he would have to talk to Giles about it. it felt like he’d overdone. Daniel was still holding his hand. Blair tugged on it.

"Will you change?"

"Yeah."

"Here, for this?"

"Yeah."

"What about later?" He hadn’t thought much about this, they’d been so busy planning the assault.

"Eight days." And that was the most Blair had ever heard him say.

Jim’s presence changed in the dark. "Get ready."

"You got it."

It was almost time.

Jim counted the last ten seconds. Blair sent up a short prayer that everyone got out safely.

"Ten. Nine. Eight."

If any vampires escaped tonight, they would have to look hard to find another place to nest.

"Seven. Six."

Daniel let go of Blair’s hand. Blair felt the energy flow as his boyfriend shifted.

"Five. Four. Shit," Jim swore softly.

There was a low growl. Blair felt him, inside. His connection, equal parts Earth and magic.

"Three. Two." Blair covered his ears. It might help.

"One."

The blast – blasts – rocked the tunnel. Rocks fell, Blair was covered by a shower of dirt. He spat, brushing his face, clearing his eyes.

"Now, Blair." Jim’s voice was close.

Summoning light – it was hard, like the air was thick – Blair saw his friend crouched beside him protectively, and the werewolf on his other side.

"I can keep this up, but not much else," he warned.

"We can handle it." Jim stood, looking at Daniel with open curiosity. They moved toward the door. Blair felt himself reach to see what was happening inside; he pulled it back, unwilling to use the energy.

"Can you understand me like that?" Jim asked the werewolf. Daniel nodded. Blair watched him. He didn’t look much like Lon Chaney or Jack Nicholson. His monster, though not much bigger than Daniel himself, was more real than anything on television. There was a presence, a scent, a *weight* to his transformation Blair had never dreamed of.

It was probably the wrong time in every sense, but he had to say it.

"Daniel."

Gleaming yellow eyes stared at him, the rough head swinging them around. The tip of a pink tongue stuck out between very large, very sharp teeth.

"I love you," Blair said. And he smiled.

The werewolf shook his head and gave a short whine. Blair decided to interpret it as ‘now you tell me?’.

"As the Hellmouth Turns is over, boys," Jim dropped into a fighting stance, a stake in his right hand. He’d worked a little with Buffy, he knew what he was doing. "Change the channel. The bad guys are coming."

It had only been a minute or two since the explosions, but Blair felt that Jim was right. There was a wave of darkness pushing toward them, he didn’t even need to try to feel it. A mob of angry, frightened, injured vampires was headed for this door.

"Can you tell how many, Sandburg?"

"More than ten - less than a hundred!" struggling against the weakness that threatened to return, Blair forced himself to his feet, using the wall. He spread his hands, and the light brightened in the tunnel. Daniel growled, Jim swore again, and the door burst open.

They were overrun. Blair felt Daniel’s scream more than he heard it, saw Jim’s face, bleeding as fangs narrowly missed his neck.

There were too many. He screamed, his arm gripped, wrist torn open. The blood gushed, he felt light-headed, but didn’t fall. Couldn’t fall, there were too many cold, dead bodies packed into the tunnel. With more pushing out behind them.

"Blair!" Jim’s shout was the only human thing in the world.

He heard growling, vicious and bestial, then the vampire eating him alive was yanked away, taking another chunk of flesh with it. He managed to open his eyes, just enough to see the werewolf throwing vampires into the wall, picking them up and ripping their heads off. Dark dead blood sprayed everywhere. Blair wondered, his mind working in slow motion, what a forensic specialist would make of this.

A vampire was behind Daniel. His hands - paws - were full, his mouth open, bared teeth shiny red. Then there were two and they were grabbing him, pulling him.

Trying to tear him in two.

Daniel yelped, a short, high sound that echoed in the tight confines. Then he squealed, the pain-filled sound of a puppy, and Blair slipped control.

It didn’t matter that he’d overdone it and he was tired, sore, hardly strong enough to stand. His life’s blood was dripping to the floor, a never-ending river of badness.

Without thought or word, he called the daylight from the world above them. The bright, strong sunlight that would fry the vampires where they stood. Sunlight, the
antithesis of evil.

It came to him in a great rushing crash of rock and dirt. The ceiling of the tunnel collapsed, Jim barely pulling him out from under the rockfall in time, and sunlight filled the space.

The vampires screamed and cowered, and burned. A few, with more self-possession, turned and tried to run back into the facility, but the sunlight followed them. It came and came and kept coming until Blair knew it filled every nook and cranny of the space. Until he knew that every vampire left alive was gone. Permanently gone, not even ash left to resurrect.

He fell. Daniel’s face, human again, creased with worry and streaked with dirt, was close to his.

"Don’t go," he whispered, under Blair to catch him and cradle him, both of them on the ground. "Don’t leave me."

Blair tried to speak, but his mouth wouldn’t move. He felt pain and pressure, turned his head so slowly. Saw that Jim had taken off his belt and fashioned a tourniquet, cinching it tightly above his elbow to stop the blood. As the flow eased the pain increased. He whimpered and thrashed, hardly moving despite the agony.

"Hang in there, Chief, we’ll get an ambulance here, just keep breathing. You’re going to be fine."

Daniel petted him while Jim got on the cell phone.

Before he could dial there were voices. Excited, loud ones.

"They all went for this exit!" only Xander could be that enthusiastic about it.

"I hope everyone’s okay," Willow’s concern was audible as she came through the door hesitantly. Her eyes widened when she saw Blair. Dropping to her knees beside him, she grabbed his free hand. He wanted to shake his head, to tell her no, don’t try, but she was already reaching for Tara’s hand with the other.

"Willow, don’t." Daniel put his hand over hers.

"He’s going to die, Oz! I have to try."

"He hasn’t lost that much blood, miss," Jim said. "If he says you shouldn’t do anything, then you shouldn’t. He knows."

"You hardly know him, why do you think he’s right?"
She was really touchy when her judgement was questioned. Blair made a mental note of that.

The pain was still bad. He twisted his neck, trying to see Daniel’s face. He wanted reassurance, perhaps a kiss to distract him. His lover shifted, scooting further down and moving Blair to the side, still on his lap, but face to face now. He leaned in and nuzzled Blair, his nose warm, breath puffing softly.

Willow backed off.

"We should check for stragglers," Xander appeared behind her, an enormous axe held lightly in his hands. He looked more competent than Blair could remember having ever seen him. Competent and confident.

"There aren’t any," Tara told him. "The Shaman burned them all."

"Cleansed," Blair gasped.

"Yes." Tara looked serious. For a moment, it seemed like she was the one with the power. "You did well."

Blair nodded, then his attention was taken by Daniel again. Soft kisses scattered over his face, a tongue-tip tracing his nose and eyebrows, hot breath warming his skin.

He barely felt the pain in his arm anymore. A twinge each time Jim loosened or tightened it, but it really wasn’t that bad.

The ambulance was called. Between them, Daniel and Xander carried him to the tunnel entrance, coming out in the mausoleum, then the sunlight.

Blessed sunlight, which had saved them all.

***

"Is this okay?" seated on the floor, a soft blanket spread in front of the sofa, Blair patted the spot beside him.

Daniel stopped his slow pacing long enough to look at him and nod. Blair watched, legs crossed, elbows on his knees. He was nervous about the night, but trying hard to not show it, because he didn’t want to upset his lover.

"Giles said that you won’t hurt me. You won’t hurt your mate."

Daniel shook his head, small body tense. He looked at the floor.

"Come sit down. Let me hold you until the moon rises."

It was just twilight. They had a few minutes until the moon came above the horizon. He reached out with both hands and Daniel slowed to a stop. He fell into Blair’s arms with a sound too much like a whimper, curling up.

"It’s okay," Blair petted his head as his lover rubbed his face into Blair’s chest. His hands fisted in Blair’s shirt."Nothing’s going to hurt you here."

"Scared," the word was muffled by flannel.

"I am too. Never seen anything like this before, except that one time. You’ll be fine. Here with me. Safe in our home."

A nod that tickled. Wetness; Daniel’s open mouth kissing Blair’s skin through the shirt.

Blair pulled Daniel up with both hands and wrapped his legs around Blair’s waist. They were pressed together. He kissed him, mouth open, tongues going deep.

Hyper-aware of the darkness outside deepening, he kept it up until Daniel pulled away, tugging himself free of the embrace.

"You don’t have to do it here," Blair told him, seeing the fear in his eyes. An unwarranted fear; Blair had already seen him change once. But a change of the moon was liable to be more violent.

Daniel looked toward the hall and then back at Blair.

"We can save that for next month." Blair tried to encourage him with a grin.

The redhead smiled. A small, sweet smile that made Blair warm.

"Go," he said, not looking at the window. He could feel the moon coming.

He could feel that maybe he could slow the change if he ever needed to. Daniel’s magic called to him. Blair let it flow through him, twining with his own. The bonds tightened each time they did this. He wasn’t afraid of that. In fact, it calmed him, to know Daniel would always be there inside him. It was something he’d onced hoped would happen with Jim. The information on Sentinels and Guides had suggested it – but it had never developed. They had probably met too late in Jim’s life.

Daniel had vanished while he was thinking. The moon was visible now, clear and bright in the sky. Blair stood and went to the window to watch it. He felt the harsh yank and tear as Daniel shifted, then turned to face the room as the bathroom door opened.

The wolf slunk out, head low, tail low. A line of fur down his back bristled and he stopped, staring. He growled, low in the back of his throat. Startled, Blair moved slowly, returning to his seated position. This time he spread his legs wide. The wolf chuffed, approving, and came to lie between them, his head on Blair’s thigh.

Blair laughed, delighted, and hugged the animal. Oz tolerated it for a moment, then shook him off, pushing his nose under Blair’s leg and closing his eyes.

"Tired, huh?" Blair petted him as he picked up his book, chosen for this night. "You rest a bit, then we’ll go out for a walk." It would be safe for him to walk at night now. At least with his werewolf beside him.

It had been a long time since he read this book. He leaned back on the sofa and opened it.

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..."

Dawn came with a steady glow. Blair stirred, sleeping on the floor cuddled to Oz. When he opened his eyes, he found that he no longer held the werewolf, but his lover. His skin looked pink and new, and his eyes were
watching Blair solemnly.

"Hey," Blair felt his lips curve into a smile.

"Hey." More serious staring. Relaxed, his body heavy with sleep, Blair lay there and let him. Daniel was nude, his clothes still in the bathroom from the change. Blair’s body noticed and reacted slowly.

Daniel moved closer, his hands going to Balir’s fly. He unbuttoned them gracefully, then pulled them off with Blair’s languid help. Blair reached for him, intending to pull him up and kiss him, but Daniel had other ides. He straddled Blair’s legs and lowered his head, nuzzling into pubic hair and licking the crease between groin and thigh.

"Oh yeah," Blair sighed. "Just like that."

Daniel made a soft noise and lowered his body to the blanket, his head moving slowly. He licked Blair’s groin top to bottom, then continued down to suckle his balls.

Squirming slightly, Balir stilled when his lover went lower. His shoulders pushed at Blair’s legs and he spread them wider, shivering with anticipation.

"Yes, please!"

Warm lips sucked at the perineum until he was moaning, then finally went lower, Blair’s hips tilted up, feet planted flat to either side. He grabbed the pillow under his head with both hands, quivering.

"Good," Daniel said, just loudly enough for him to hear. "You taste right."

"Gods," Blair panted. Daniel wriggled closer and licked his ass, passing over the hole with long, flat strokes until it was wet and dripping. His nose bumped the skin, Blair moaned, and then the tongue paused to tease and tickle at the edges.

"Please," Blair repeated. There was no shame in begging. He knew Daniel loved to hear it. This was the most intimate thing they’d ever done. Not something anyone had ever done to him before. "Love -"

The tongue thrust deep. Blair arched, breath caught in his throat. He could hardly contain himself. A scream built in his throat and he held it back, gasping as pleasure rolled over him in waves. Daniel worked his tongue, fucking Blair’s ass with it until he felt as open as if he’d just been fucked literally. When Daniel pulled back Blair grabbed at him with his legs, wanting him closer, wanting him *inside*.

Daniel grinned and shifted to his knees, moving up until his cock touched Blair’s hole. It felt hot and rubbery and Blair wanted it more than he wanted his next breath.

"Yes," he gasped, shoving the pillow away from his head, hands going to Daniel’s shoulders. "Yes, please." He had wondered if they would ever do this. Daniel seemed perfectly happy on the receiving end, but Blair needed it, too. Needed it the way he needed sunlight. To feel his lover above him, in him, taking him – it made his heart swell until he thought he might pass out.

He was so full, there was so *much* of him. Blair hissed and grunted, shaking with the effort of staying still while Daniel worked his way in. When they were as close as two people could be, Daniel stopped and leaned over him. He was sweating, his skin flushed dark. Blair tried to find the words to tell him how good he looked, but it was beyond him.

"Okay," Daniel said, and it wasn’t a question. Blair grunted and pushed his hips up, almost lifting the smaller man. Instead of taking the hint, Daniel leaned further and kissed him. It should have been gross, but wasn’t; Blair tasted himself on his lover’s tongue and felt whole. The circuit between them was completed.

Daniel pulled out, thrust back in, not too hard. Blair moaned and tightened his body. Gradually they built a rhythm, both of them panting, kissing, breaking for air and just staring at each other. Blair’s eyes burned, sweat dripped into them, he wanted to close them. But he couldn’t. Couldn’t miss one second of this; Daniel staring down at him, eyes dark. Daniel’s breath coming in shallow pants, his chest heaving with the need for air.
His hips thrusting, pounding, into Blair’s body, filling him over and over again.

Daniel’s mouth was on his again, lips not moving, just touching his. Their breath collided, heating the space between them.

He pushed in, deeper than before, and held the position. One hand moved, from Blair’s hip to his cock. It circled and squeezed. Blair shouted, Daniel giving a quicksilver grin and thrusting in-and-out so fast - Blair came, shuddering, clinging to his lover.

Sated and spent, he lay back, legs still around Daniel’s waist. His hands mapped his lover’s face as he watched, waiting. Aftershocks ran through him, making him groan.
Daniel slowed, his thrusts going deeper and taking longer. His arms were shaking. Blair ran his hands over them, then down to his ass, pulling him in tighter. Daniel closed his eyes, then opened them again, lip caught between his teeth.

"Come one, baby," Blair crooned, feeling full and lazy. "Come for me."

"Uhn..." Daniel wiggled his hips, trying to get an fraction, deeper, then froze. He growled low and long as he came, his seed pumping into Blair, hot and deep.

He fell, Blair catching him, and they lay together, hot and sticky and happy. Eventually Blair craned his neck to see a clock, and smiled to see it was almost noon. They’d spent the morning making love. It was just the perfect way.

They were going to Cascade tomorrow. Giving Anya a ride down. Jim had invited her for dinner. That was a pairing Blair could see and be pleased with. Anya was strange enough in her own way that she wouldn’t question Jim’s oddness. They had to be home before dark, though, so it would be a quick trip. Jim would bring her back and stay the night with them, giving Blair a chance to start convincing him to participate in Blair’s next study; a comparison between Sentinel, Vampire and Werewolf senses. It would be historic, though only a handful of people would read it.

Resting with Daniel in his arms, his lover dozing lightly, Blair knew, as he’d known since he arrived, that this was where he was supposed to be. He’d taken a few detours along the way, but Sunnydale – Sunnyhell, as Xander liked to say – was his ultimate destination. He’d met the right people and made the right friends along the way, and now he was here. With everything he’d ever wanted.
Everything he’d ever wanted as sleeping in his arms.

The floor was softened by the blanket, he was pleasantly tired. Blair kissed the top of Oz’s head and closed his eyes.

There would be time enough to think tomorrow.

~~ finish ~~

The End

You have reached the end of "Shaman on a Hellmouth". This story is complete.

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