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Defender Finds a Guide

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This story is No. 1 in the series "Guardian in Pegasus". You may wish to read the series introduction first.

Summary: Xander's come back from a year in Africa, traumatised by the violence, by his losses from Sunnydale, and by newly-explosive senses.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Television > Sentinel, The > Xander-Centered
Stargate > Xander-Centered > Theme: Atlantis Project
MissEFR1515,8145228,76120 Feb 1020 Feb 10Yes
Disclaimer: don't own or claim rights to BtVS, The Sentinel, or SG1.

A/N: This is a totally separate story to the other Sentinel fic I'm currently working on (A New Guardian)

~~~~~

Blair opened the door to two women. The first, who had been knocking, was devastated looking redhead, eyes bloodshot and face pale from weeping. Behind her, to the side, was a tiny but grim looking blonde.

“Blair Sandburg?” the redhead asked softly.

“Uh, yeah. Can I help you?”

The redhead looked helplessly at the blonde, who sighed and took over. “We found your thesis on the net, and we need your help.”

“Ah, man, if it's the one I'm thinking about, that's not for real, you know. It was just fiction, and it was released against my wishes, and I've since retracted it.”

The blonde rolled her eyes again. “Look, we've got someone that seriously needs your help. He's got the spiking, and the zoning, and it's not like we're not with the weird, here. Can we just come in and talk?”

Blair looked back to Jim, who had been listening to the conversation. At his nod, Blair turned back to the women. “Come -”

“Don't,” the blonde commanded. “Don't even say the words. Just step aside and let us in.”

So ordered, Blair stepped back away from the door, and watched as the blonde strode through. As he watched, she quickly checked out the loft, and then eyed Jim, standing in the living room, arms folded. She walked up to him at matched his posture. The redhead followed through the doorway, but, while she quickly looked around the apartment, she didn't appear to have anywhere near the aura of aggressive competence that the little blonde had.

“Um, I'm Blair, and this is Jim. So what can we do for you?”

“We need to talk about Sentinels and Guides,” the blonde asserted.

“Ah, sure. How about we all sit down. Would anyone like a drink?”

The redhead smiled sadly, and asked for water for the two of them, then drifted to the couch. Watching where Jim sat, she made sure to sit the opposite end of the couch. The blonde sat beside her, and took her hand. Once they had their drinks, the blonde took up the conversation again.

“My name's Buffy, and this is my friend, Willow. No jokes about the names, and yes, we're from California. We're here about our friend.” Both women looked sad at the thought of their friend, but Buffy continued. “We know he needs help. Gods, we all need help, but Xander more than most. He needs serious therapy, we get that, but he also needs you guys.”

“What happened to him?” Blair asked, worried.

Buffy huffed. “What hasn't happened to him? We've been fighting a war since we were teenagers. He lost an eye, and he lost his girlfriend, and then, then he went to Africa for a year.”

“Oh, man,” Blair moaned.

Jim frowned. “So you're thinking PTSD?”

“Seriously. But there's also the other stuff. He came back to us when it started getting too much, but he never should have gone. We know that, but... After the last battle, we regrouped in LA,” Buffy went on, not noticing the shocked looks on the mens' faces. “We were busy trying to get things sorted, and like three days afterwards, my sister went to his room, and he had just walked out. We know he was there the night before, I spoke to him just the night before, and he didn't say a thing to me about leaving. He just up and left, and was in Africa before we could do anything about it. And we needed someone there – gods, how we needed someone there – and he did amazing work there, but I think it almost tore him apart. Finally...” She took a deep breath. “And now he's home, and now he needs help.”

“Man, what were you doing?”

Buffy frowned, and looked at Willow before turning back to Jim and Blair. “Oh. Well, like I said earlier, we're used to the weird.” She sighed. “Okay. I'm a mystical warrior of the people, and Will here is a powerful witch. We fight the things that fill normal peoples' nightmares, have done since we were fifteen-sixteen years old. We've all done bad things, and we've all saved the world, literally. If you want, I can bend a piece of steel for you,” she offered.

Jim thought about it, but dismissed the offer for the moment. He was a Sentinel, with enhanced senses, a spirit guide, and mystical dreams. Blair was his Guide, with a separate spirit guide, and other gifts to help him out. If this girl said she was a warrior who could bend steel, and her friend was a witch, who was he really to argue. For now, anyway.

“Later, maybe,” he decided. “So you think your friend's a Sentinel?”

The redhead nodded. “I read Blair's thesis, and it totally fits what Xander's going through right now.”

“So we're off to LA, then?”

“No, Cleveland. Except, not Cleveland. Which is to say,” Buffy went on, trying to clarify things, “we're based in Cleveland, and that's where Xander went back to, but he's gone again. He came home to talk about what had happened to him, but then yesterday morning he was gone again. Done another runner. Giles and Dawn went after him, while we came here for you. Will you come with us?”

Jim looked at Blair, then nodded. “We can come for a short time, to help get things sorted out. But your friend needs to get into therapy, too. I just need to make a call,” he added as he got up and walked out.

“Oh, thank the goddess,” Willow murmured. Pulling out a cell phone, she dialled a number. “I'll just see if they've caught up to him,” she explained to Blair.

Blair nodded, then turned to Buffy. “I noticed that you and your friend say 'gods' and she just said 'goddess' instead of God. Why is that?”

Buffy made a face. “I'm not sure if any of us believe in the god of the Christians anymore. We've seen too much bad in our lives. But we've fought a hell goddess, and I've been to Heaven, or something like it, and we've all been affected in one way or another by powerful beings. So, I guess we just, I don't know, diversified?”

“You... Oh, man. You fought a hell goddess? What was that like?”

“She was mental, wanted to kill my sister, had a tacky, skanky fashion sense, and sucked the sanity out of Willow's girlfriend. She's the reason I died.”

“Died. You mean like, just for a minute or two, don't you,” he added, pale-faced.

“No, that happened when I was sixteen. A master vampire called, originally enough, The Master, thralled me, bit me, and dropped me in a pool of water. I died, and Xander gave me CPR, brought me back. That was the first time. The second time was leaping off the tower to close the dimensional rift that Glory-the-skank opened with my sister's blood, and the third time was again just for a moment, after that bastard Warren shot me, and killed Tara, Willow's girlfriend. I flat-lined on the operating table. Willow pulled the bullet out.”

Willow paled, and pressed her hand to her mouth at that memory. Buffy tightened her hand, and leaned into the other woman. “What's done is done, Will. The world goes on. You're better, now.”

Willow gave a shaky smile, as Jim walked back into the room.

“Okay, it's organised. We have a week. Where are we going?”

“Oh, he's in Colorado right now, but they don't think he's going anywhere for a couple of days. He may have found someone,” she added, smiling softly.

“Okay, people, do what you need to do. I want to get there yesterday.”

The men quickly packed, and came back to the living room to find Willow fiddling with a number of odd things. She had a small mortar and pestle on the table in front of her, and a few pouches of what looked like herbs scattered around the table. Blair noticed, queasily, that she also appeared to have a vial of blood sitting to one side.

Jim frowned. “What's all this? I thought you wanted to get going. Now's not the time to start grinding herbs.”

“Now's exactly the time to start grinding herbs,” Buffy countered. “Like I said, Willow's a witch. She's setting up our transportation. Just a moment,” she added as she picked up her cell. “Giles,” she said into the phone. “Yeah, we're just about ready. Okay. Oh, that sounds great,” she added, sounding pleased. “Okay, see you in a few,” she finished. Turning to Willow, she explained, “Dawn's setting up the landing pad, so we're clear to go in five.”

“Good. That will give me time to finish this. Set out the drop sheet, will you?”

Buffy stood, and pulled a thin plastic sheet, which she laid on a clear section of floor. On it someone had drawn, in permanent marker, a circle edged with arcane symbols.

“What's that?” Jim asked, wary.

“We need a circle to leave from, and a circle to arrive in. Because we're at your place, and not somewhere more convenient, we're using the plastic sheet. That way you won't get any blood or muck on your floor.”

“Oh, wow. That's really, um, thoughtful of you.”

“Yeah,” Willow smiled, “after a while you realise you can't keep losing the hotel bond. Okay, now, everyone get their stuff and stand in the circle. All hands, feet, and other necessary parts inside the circle if you want to keep them. Luggage, too.” Once everything was arranged, Willow poured the vial of blood into the mortar and uttered a short incantation. There was a short flash of light, and Cascade was gone.

~~~~~

John frowned as he slowly woke up. He could feel that he was uncomfortable, half sitting, half lying on a couch, and there was a weight against his body, pinning him down. As he became more alert, he realised that there was someone, a man, lying on top of him, head tucked into his neck, arm slung around his waist. After a quick check, he realised that both of them were dressed, but, other than that, he could figure out no more.

The man above him stirred, and started to push himself up, and John found himself looking into a single brown eye. John blinked, and took another look at the man above him. Tousled hair, unshaven, wan, the man was in terrible shape. He started to remember something about the previous night, the deep horror on a man too young to know such a thing.

“Hey, there,” John said softly. “You okay?”

“Yeah. Slept,” he murmured before sitting back.

John sat up, stretching his back to try and work out some kinks, but was swiftly pushed back down when a bright light flashed in the room. He looked up, startled, to see them young man holding him down, looking over the back of the couch, and growling? Who growled?

“Xan?” came a woman's voice, soft and worried. “It's okay, Xander. It's alright. They're just here to help you. It's okay, Xander. You can let him up, now.”

Slowly, the man above him relaxed and sat back. He kept his eye on something or someone behind the couch, and when John finally managed to sit up, he turned to look. Actually the area behind the couch was looking pretty crowded. Three women and three men were scattered around the area, but Xander appeared to be looking at the two men standing together, behind a redhead who was reaching to the man on the couch with him.

“Ah, perhaps introductions would be in order? And maybe coffee? And something to eat?” he asked plaintively.

“Oh, yes,” the oldest man, and Englishman, by the sound, said. “Yes, of course.” With that, he turned to go into the kitchen. “I'll get the coffee. Dawn, would you mind?”

The youngest woman, a tall brunette, stepped forward. “Okay, there's three groups of us here, although I'm not sure you really qualify as a group,” she added, smiling at John. “Okay, I'm Dawn, for those who weren't paying attention. The man on the couch is Xander. He's why we're all here.” At that introduction, the younger man blushed fiercely. “The gentleman in the kitchen is Rupert Giles, though we call him Giles. The blonde is my sister, Buffy, and the redhead is Willow. Can you take over, Will?”

“Sure. Um, the taller guy is Jim, and the other one is Blair. Blair has the research for you, Xander, and Jim has the experience. Okay?” When Xander nodded, Willow smiled to John. “Sorry to be big with the cryptic, but we don't really know who you are, or anything, so, well...”

“That's fine, know all about secrets,” he assured her. “I am Lieutenant-”

It seemed that everyone in the room startled at the sound of his rank. The blonde put out her hand to stop him. “Okay, first up, we only want first names, okay? And second, you better not be part of some highly classified super-secret op, or I'm going to start making calls.”

John blanched. “Er... you better start making calls, then. If you just want my first name, it's John. And I kind of need to make a call, too. I don't know how long I've been gone, but I was supposed to go out with my team this morning. Er... Tuesday morning. Is it still Tuesday?”

“Yeah, but afternoon. You guys must have really tied one on,” Dawn grinned admiringly.

Xander shrugged self-consciously. “We got talking.”

“And that's good,” Buffy assured him. “You need it. And you're going to need more. You should never have -” with that, she stopped herself. “I'm not going to do this now. I'm going to give you time.” With that, she stroked his hair.

John watched as Xander leaned tiredly into that touch. “I know I need help, Buff,” he said. He looked at the strangers. “So what are Jim and Blair here for?”

Willow bit her lip. “Um, how about we let John make his phone calls while we talk about that? Do you need a cell?”

When John nodded, Xander grabbed his jacket off the coffee table, and pulled out his cell and handed it to John. With a nod, he walked outside to make his call.

“Okay, so why are they here?”

Jim nodded. “Your friends tell us you're having problems with your senses.”

Xander sighed. “Yeah. One moment it feels like my ears are going to bleed, the next, I can't hear anything. Sometimes I'm hot, sometimes I'm cold, sometimes it feels like I can't bear the feel of my clothes. Everything. All the senses, they just go kerflooey at the oddest times, and it just doesn't seem like -” he cut himself off with a gasp.

Blair went to him, and started rubbing his back. “It's okay, Xander. You just need to calm down a little. How is everything at the moment. Does anything feel out of whack? Is there anything you feel like you need to turn up or down?”

“No. No, things are okay for now. I just... I'm just tired. I can't stand it anymore. I just can't do it,” he added softly.

“I'm just going to check on the good Lieutenant,” Jim decided.

“Yes, please do,” Giles affirmed. “Xander got his first good night's sleep in I don't know how long, and in good part, I dare say, because of that man.”

Jim stepped out onto the path running in front of the motel rooms and looked around. A few feet away, John was standing there, fidgeting with the cell. “Everything okay?” Jim asked.

“I haven't made the call, yet. Don't know what I'm going to say, and a few more minutes are not going to make that much of a difference.”

“What do you need to know?”

“What's wrong with him? With Xander? He looks like shit now, but last night he looked like he'd just walked through hell.”

“He's had a bad time. A really long, really bad time, by the sounds of it. You stay in his life, and you're bound for some weirdness.”

“And why would I be staying in his life?”

“'Cause I think he needs you.” He looked at John for a moment before going on. “People like Xander, like me, we have… It's like hyperactive senses. Hearing, smell, taste, touch and sight. They all work far better than normal. And they're controllable. If I want, I can dial my hearing up until I can hear Xander's heartbeat. In the right circumstances, he'll learn the same. However, and here's the catch, people like me need people like Blair. We need someone to guide us, to keep us, I don't know, sane, to make sure we don't just disappear into our senses. That's a real danger. It's how I first came to understand exactly what I was,” he added. “I was walking across the road, and I saw a frisbee flying through the air. I saw it, and I zoned. Blair saw the garbage truck heading right for me, unable to stop in time, and he pushed me down, out of the way. Saved my life. That's what a Guide is about.”

“And what happens if he doesn't get a Guide?”

“The spikes and zones increase. It just gets worse, and he could end up catatonic. Especially considering he already is probably suffering pretty badly with PTSD.”

“And what do I get out of it? So far it's sounding like a one-way street. Sorry to sound selfish, but I need to know. I have duties.” He laughed. “And, man, if people could hear me now.”

Jim grinned. “I'll tell you what you get. You get a somewhat possessive, overbearing, overprotective mother hen type who will try to get you to stay safe while they go off to save the world.”

“Not sounding that good,” the younger man suggested.

“You get a friend that will stick by you. You get loyalty. You get their strength around you, and for you. I would die to keep Blair safe, and it makes me a little insane when something happens to him. I tolerate things from him that I would never tolerate from anyone else. Especially the damn testing, and his kooky food.” Jim made a face.

John chuckled. “I still have to make that phone call. At least my team will have to come around, probably a lot more.”

“I'll just be over here,” Jim advised, settling back beside the door.

John looked over to the other man. He knew he was being give the illusion of privacy only. Jim had already said he could hear the heartbeat of a man further away, and behind a closed door, so hearing the other end of a phone conversation as easily as he could hear it probably wasn't that much of a problem for the man. Sighing, he dialled the number.

“General Landry, please... Lieutenant-Colonel John Sheppard... Yes, I'll hold... General,” John said, straightening unconsciously. “Yes, sir, I'm fine. I started talking to someone last night, and, well, we ended up just talking the night away. Kind of fell asleep, and pretty much just woke up... Actually, I need to talk to you about something... Yes, sir, it's important...” John looked back at Jim, who was looking across the carpark, not seeming to pay any attention to him or his conversation. He wasn't fooled.

John took a deep breath. “Sir, it seems that there is an unusual situation here, where I might be linked with another person, in a sort of, um, metaphysical way.” And silently John thanked whatever gods may be that he was talking to the CO of the SGC, where the weird was normal. “Yes, sir, I said metaphysical. He has a, um, genetic condition which requires a counterpart to assist him, and I appear to be, well, able to fill that position. Hence the all-night talk-fest... No sir, I'm not sure what it is that makes me suitable. It could be that, but I seriously don't know. I'm thinking genetic in some way, but... Yes, sir, I think it would be very good for you to come here and talk to these people. I think it would be good for my team to come here, too... No, I'm not in trouble. I'm pretty sure they would let me go, even though it would be to their guy's detriment... Yes, sir, I would also welcome their presence... Very well, sir. Thank you... Goodbye, sir.” With a quick sigh, John ended the call.

“You get all that?” he asked the Sentinel.

“Pretty understanding for a CO,” Jim commented mildly.

“Yeah. Seems like we've each got our own very weird stuff going on. Okay, let's get this done,” he added, heading back to the room.

~~~~~

Everyone looked up when the door opened again. When John walked through, the first thing he noticed was the desperate look on the face of the young man on the couch. The second thing he noticed was the tiny blonde, easily the smallest person in the room, though you wouldn't know it from the force of her personality.

Coming to a stop bare feet from him, she folded her hands behind her back and pierced him with a gaze. “So what's happening?” she demanded.

“I've spoken to my people, explained the situation as vaguely as all hell, and they're coming around to make sure that a) I'm not about to be kidnapped, and b) to see if there's anything that can be done. The base CO, my team, and probably the lead team at the base, will be here in about a half hour. They will probably be bringing Marines for security reasons.”

Buffy raised an eyebrow. “The CO, your team, and the local team get to come in. That's it. Anyone else stays outside. I've made a few calls of my own, John, and have a couple of people coming in as well. Looks like we're going to have a downright shindig,” she added, with a smirk at her friends.

“Good, 'cause I don't think I could stand a hootenanny,” Xander offered.

“I'm not even sure you could stand a gathering at the moment,” Willow warned, stroking his hair.

When the others in the room fell silent in consternation, Dawn waved a hand. “In joke. Hang around long enough and you'll hear lots of them.”

“Not to mention language that we laughingly refer to as English,” Giles commented.

“You want me to call you G-man? I only just got out of the habit, you know.

“Perish the thought,” Giles retorted, with a fond smile for the weary man.

Xander tilted his head for a moment. “Faith's here,” he commented. When the others looked at him for an explanation, he shrugged. “Could hear her bike.”

“That's good,” Blair assured. “You're doing well. How are you feeling at the moment?”

“Okay. I'm feeling okay at the moment. I sort of feel like I should be feeling claustrophobic, but I think I don't because I know most of the people here, and those last few weeks before...” His breath hitched.

Dawn perched herself on the corner of the couch behind Xander's head. Running her fingers through his hair, she murmured, “It's okay, Xan. You can calm down, now. You're safe here. We're all here for you. You know you're safe, don't you?”

Eyes closed, he nodded. Without opening his eyes, he muttered, “Door.”

There was a knock at the door, which, even with the warning, startled John. Buffy went to open the door. At the entrance stood a sexy woman in tight leathers, with her arm around a man who was clearly military. “Look what I found, Ma. Can I keep him?”

Buffy rolled her eyes. “You don't even know where he's been, Faith. Has he even had his shots?”

“Yes, ma'am. All shots present and accounted for,” the man assured with a quiet smile.

Xander chuffed in laughter. “You called her 'ma'am', Miller. You're so in for it now.”

The other man grimaced, then bowed. “I am eternally sorry, oh, Buffster the Magnificent. Will you please forgive me in your ever-generous kindness?”

Buffy folded her arms, and scowled at the soldier. “You called me 'ma'am'. You implied that I have ma'am hair. This is not acceptable, Graham Miller.”

“Please?”

Unable to hold it back any longer, Buffy grinned. “Forgiven, Gray. Besides, you'll earn your forgiveness today.”

He sighed as he looked around the room. “What's the deal?”

“Okay, then. As you know, straight after Sunnydale, Xander here took off for Africa, and you can tell him off later for that.” Graham nodded, frowning at Xander, who just sighed. “Year and a bit later, he finally drags his ass home, and – get this – only because his senses are going haywire, and he can't control it anymore.”

Graham stiffened, and looked over to Blair. “That's where I knew you from. We got a copy of your thesis. Brilliant work. It probably won't be accepted in your lifetime, but it's brilliant, all the same.”

Blair stared back in shock. “You believe me?”

Graham laughed, and looked at the people he knew as The Scoobies. “Ah, yeah. I have plenty of time for theories like that. Besides, we've been working with Shamans for years, now.”

“Shamans work with the military?” Oddly enough, both Blair and John asked that question.

“It's very secret, covered so deep only a few people know, but, yeah, Shamans work with the military.” He turned to John. “Where are you based?”

“Er... I'm stationed out of Cheyenne Mountain.”

Graham frowned in thought, while Jim lifted his head. “Visitors,” he announced. “Four vehicles. Large SUVs, maybe Hummers.”

Xander tilted his head to listen, then nodded.

“Let's get this shindig underway, then. Dawnie, did you order the food?”

“Yep. Chinese and pizza. Drinks, too. Should be enough for everyone, provided certain people don't go inhaling all the food.”

“Hey!” Buffy and Faith protested.

John looked at them for a moment, puzzled, before opening the door and stepping out to greet his people. Without looking, he was sure that the blonde and brunette were flanking him, and he suspected that the other man, Graham, was also there.

“So what seems to be the problem, Colonel?”

Even without looking, he could feel Buffy's glare, and winced. “Sir, I would like you to meet Buffy, Faith, and Graham Miller. I'm afraid that the ladies were disinclined to offer their surnames, which is why I can't provide them at this time. Neither did they want to know my surname nor actual rank, other than to know that I am in the military in some degree, and am based out of Cheyenne Mountain.” Hopefully that covered all bases. Turning to Buffy, he said, “Buffy, I would like you to meet General Hank Landry, who is the Commanding Officer of Deep Space Radar Telemetry.”

Glancing up, he thought he noticed a sudden recognition in Miller's eyes.

“Gray, you know anything about this?”

“Yes, Buffy, I do. General Landry, would I be right in assuming that you've been briefed on Operation Lilac? A few years back, now.”

Hank's eyes grew wide, and he looked at Buffy with new respect. “Yes. What files that still exist are shown to selected personnel. I was included.”

“The core group that evacuated the site is either out here or inside. There are also some others with secrets of their own, just as important as what you already know. Also, please be aware that only yourself and the two teams will be permitted inside. Buffy has been authorised directly by the Joint Chiefs to make this type of restriction. Are you ready to go inside?”

“Yes. Yes, of course.” Turning to his people, Hank declared, “What you hear and see inside this apartment is to be treated with the same respect and security as your own work. Is that understood?”

When the various team members agreed, they proceeded inside. Catching Graham's elbow, Buffy whispered, “We are going to have a discussion about this, Miller.”

Graham winked. “Yes, m-... Buffy.”

~~~~~

The motel apartment was now feeling entirely too crowded for Xander. Less than half the people in the living areas were people he knew well, and his skin was starting to crawl. Dawn had perched herself on the corner of the couch, behind his shoulder, and was running her fingers through his hair. Faith was perched on the arm of the couch, in front of Dawn. Willow was sitting on the back of the couch, behind his other shoulder, and Buffy sat beside him. He found it faintly amusing that he was surrounded, guarded, even, by the women in his life.

John sat at the other end of the couch, while General Landry sat in a chair opposite them. The members of the two teams had scattered themselves near to their General, either propped up against walls, or finding what seating they could without resorting to the floor. Without looking, he could vaguely sense Jim and Blair at the table, behind John, and to the side, while Giles stood near Dawn.

All very official, and two-distinct-side-like, Xander decided.

“May I ask who were involved in the team at the end of Lilac?”

When Buffy raised her hand, Willow, Xander and Giles copied her. Hank's eyebrows flew up. “This was four years ago. How old are you people?”

Xander grinned. “It's not really polite to ask a lady her age, General, and I don't really think you have any right to question Giles, but I'll let you know that I'm twenty-four years old. How's that work for you?”

“Not very well, as it happens,” Hank replied grimly.

“Why?” Buffy demanded. “What's wrong with our ages?”

“Buffy,” Graham interjected. “You need to understand. You took down a major threat, something trained special ops soldiers couldn't do, something neither of these teams could do, and you did it, er, when Xander was twenty years old. It's kind of big for military types.”

Buffy blinked. “Oh. Yeah, I guess so. I'm just so used to … well, you know,” she shrugged. “And we did, er, you know,” she added, waving her hands vaguely.

“Yeah, Buffy, I know.”

While the conversation flowed on around him, Xander found himself concentrating on heart rhythms. The revelation of their youth and ability had caused any number of heart rates to spike, including Jim's. For some reason, though, John's was the easiest heart to hear. He let himself get caught up in that thought: how easy it was to hear, how soothing the rhythm was...

“Xander, come back to me, Xander,” came Dawn's voice as she gently scratched his scalp. “Do you hear me, Xander? You need to come back to us now.”

He took a breath and looked around, embarrassed. “Sorry about that,” he mumbled.

“Where were you, Xan?” Buffy asked gently.

“Uh. Listening.” Please don't ask what to...

Blair was right behind him, and dropped a hand on his shoulder and rubbed it. “Try not to focus too much on any one thing, hey, Xander? That's how you drift off into zones, and they're so not cool. I've already told you how dangerous those are, haven't I?”

Xander nodded.

John looked over to the younger man. “Was it me?”

Xander shrugged. “Sorry.”

John looked back to the General. “Sir, remember what I was saying, about a metaphysical link? That,” he continued, gesturing to Xander, “is what I meant. Xander has hyperacute senses, which can be very useful for protecting wherever it is that he is stationed, but he needs someone with him, someone to whom he is attuned, to help him deal with these senses. To prevent situations like what just happened.”

“But it was the young lady who got him out of that... whatever it was.”

“Dawn's not Xander's Guide, though,” Blair objected. “In fact, she's not anyone's Guide. She doesn't have the characteristics. I'd say she is only able to help because she and Xander have a strong relationship already.”

Xander leaned back into Dawn's touch. “She's my Dawn-patrol. My little sister,” he smiled.

“So, what, you want to just make off with my Colonel?”

Buffy looked over to Graham. “What's your take on these people, Gray? You seem to know them best.”

“Word is they are white hats. Some of them piss off the Maggie Walsh's of the world about as much as you did. As for what they do? Well, let's just say, you go down, they go up.”

The collected Scoobies gawped at him, and then Xander laughed. “I am not telling Andrew. No way in hell.”

“I ain't telling him squat,” Faith quickly objected.

Willow bit her lip. “We don't actually have to tell him anything, do we? I mean, I'm sure we could go all 'Official Secrets Act' on him, can't we?”

Xander looked around to Giles accusingly. “You've corrupted her, sweet girl that she is.”

Giles contented himself with merely rolling his eyes before speaking. “Do you think, Graham, it would be suitable for Xander, once appropriately trained and supported, to work among these people?”

Graham looked at Buffy and Faith. “I don't know. I'm not sure he would fit in among all these plain, old, vanilla human beings.”

At that, the two Slayers stiffened, and concentrated on the people before them. First, they glared at Teal'c, then moved on to glare, lips thinned, at Teyla and Ronon. “Oh, goddess,” Willow murmured.

“You three,” Buffy interrogated. “How do you feel about working for the military?”

Teyla glanced at her Ronon, and then Teal'c. “I am very happy to work with Colonel Sheppard,” she answered serenely. Ronon nodded in agreement.

“I have found these people to be honourable,” added Teal'c.

Buffy considered that, then laid her hand on Xander's knee. “It's up to you, Xan. You know we'll support you, whatever you choose.”

He shook his head. “It's John's decision. It'll mess up his life way more than mine.”

John shook his head. “You come with me, it's essentially a one way trip. We're too far away, and it's very difficult to get back. It could be years,” he added. “And it's a war zone.”

Xander gave a huff of laughter. “Didn't you hear anything last night? I've been at war since I was a teenager, and I've just spent a year in Africa. And not in the nice safari part of Africa, either.”

“You're going to have to have therapy,” he warned.

“Already heading that way. I know I'm mixed up.”

“It's a hell of a long way to go for a Guide, Xander,” was his final warning.

Xander looked him full in the eye and shrugged. “You fit,” he said simply.

The End

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