Xander could hear the rattling of metal before he ever descended the stone
steps into the vault, and he wasn't too surprised to find Oz the wolf
pacing round and round, growling low in his throat. The young man paused
at the base of the stairwell, half-afraid that the cage would give way
while he was there. Then again, half of him didn't really care.
He held a box of powdered sugar donuts in one hand, and a blanket in the
other. Oz settled down for a minute as he spread the blanket out on the
floor, only taking up the pacing again once Xander had settled himself on
the floor and was staring intently ahead, though not seeing much of
"You were right about Friday Oz. I shouldn't have gone home." Brown eyes
lifted slowly, hoping not to see a spark of his friend in the creature
before him, hoping to keep this a one-sided exchange. When he received
nothing in reply but another snarling track of paws on cement, he
continued, voice soft. It didn't matter so much, if Oz didn't know what he
was saying -- it wasn't the outcome that mattered to Xander as much as the
telling itself. His fingers slid to the hem of his shirt, hesitantly
curling in the fabric before lifting it to display his bare stomach to the
crisp night air. And the wolf. He couldn't forget the wolf.
You'd never guess I was an ashtray, would you?" The fingers that run over
the barely healed cigarette burns don't shake at all, confident in the path
they trace as Xander himself is in his resolve.
"You know, Anya notices. She used to kiss the bruises sometimes, but I
don't think she'd really get it if I wanted to explain. She must know,
right? She's a good person, but with her, I don't even want to talk. I
think she's getting tired of me anyway."
When he looked up, Oz was sitting in front of him, nose to the bars, as if
he scented something tasty to eat. Xander shuddered and let his shirt drop
again, unconsciously backing away a few inches.
"Will you even remember what I'm saying? Shit. I hope not."
The younger boy stretched out on his side, wincing as fabric made contact
with burned skin and the skin itself pulled with every movement. He tried
to remember why he'd gone back home after his road trip, why he'd moved
into the basement under a house that had brought him unhappiness throughout
most of his life. It was foggy, the feeling that he'd needed to watch over
his parents somehow, the sense of adulthood springing from time alone that
had made him realize how unable to cope with life they really were.
Fainter still was his voice, thoughts meandering out of his mouth as he
slowly spilled out everything he'd never told Oz while sleeping on the
floor of his room.
Through the night he talked, voice growing rough every now and then as he
closed his eyes to recount humiliations and failures. By the time he grew
tired it was nearly gone, a rusty whisper that the wolf seemed to have
grown used to, resting his huge head on crossed paws as yellow eyes stared
someplace beyond Xander.
"So I'm not going back, even if I have to move in here. Thanks for
listening Oz." It was the first time he'd addressed the wolf by his
friend's name, the first acknowledgement he'd really given that the being
locked in the cage mere feet from him was something more than an animal.
"I think this is what they mean by captive audience."
Caught for a moment by the recognition and understanding he saw lurking
below raw bloodlust, Xander almost reached out towards the cage. He
stopped himself, hand falling on the floor as he let it go limp.
"Sorry bud...don't really want to join you in there."
He yawned then, a huge, ear-splitting inhalation that would have made him
dizzy if he'd been sitting upright at the time. With one arm curled under
his head and the other stretched towards the cage where it had fallen, he
drifted to sleep.
Somewhere after dawn, when the first rays of pinkish light were unfurling
down into the crypt, another hand joined his, slipped between the bars to
clasp warm fingers before Oz fell asleep as well.