Xander can't believe he's sharing his bed with Oz.

He's not quite sure how it happened, but he suspects that there was more than a little mind whammying going on, 'cause joke as he does (and he really, really does), sometimes he really thinks Oz has more going for him in the supernatural way than just a shapeshifting gig. He's plugged in to something huge and old; Xander can see it lurking behind Oz's eyes, and it's definitely a check in the freaky column. But it's Oz, and Oz, after all, is mostly harmless.

So he's sharing his bed out of a misplaced sense of guilt, and now he can't sleep. It's not that he doesn't trust Oz, it's just that...well, he doesn't trust Oz. Not really. Come to that, he never really trusted Anya either, and he thinks it may be because Faith spoiled him for real relaxation with another person in the bed.

Willow never shared his bed, except when they were like five, and way too young to be naughty.

Oz turns over and Xander peeks despite himself. There are faint scars on Oz's back, thin silvery lines that just barely show up against the pale of Oz's skin and bisect the black lines and knots of Oz's tattoo. The tattoo creeps along Oz's shoulders and neck a thing that creeps. Like ivy. Except black, and kind of not at all like ivy.

His fingers are on Oz's shoulder before he realizes it, and he traces the lines across the sharpness of Oz's shoulder blades.

"Clan markings."

"Huh?" Xander snatches his hand back and blushes. "I thought you were--uh, clan markings?"

"Mm. The werewolf packs I met up north call themselves clans."


"Xander, if you're uncomfortable, I'll be fine on the floor. Really."

"No, it's cool." Xander smiles quickly, nervously, and laughs. "I'm good. I trust you."

Oz doesn't respond and Xander wonders if he's really that obvious.

"So, uh,'d you get the scars?"


Xander's touching Oz again, and he could kick himself for it when he feels tension shiver under Oz's skin. "These." He pulls away. "Sorry. I don't mean to keep, you know. Touching."

"No, s'okay. It's..." Oz goes quiet for a minute. "It's okay." He lets out a breath, and it sounds all shuddery, as if he's scared or something. "Those are from Veruca."

"Ver...oh. Her."


There's a lot in that one word, layers and layers of guilt and regret and something underneath even those, something dark to match whatever's behind Oz's eyes. Xander clears his throat and rolls onto his back, closing his eyes so he won't have to look at Oz. He's going to hurt the smaller boy, and he knows it, but he has to know why Oz left Willow. Left him, and everyone else for one skinny, girly werewolf. "Why?"

Oz doesn't pretend to misunderstand. "I don't know."

"You loved Willow?"

"More than I thought I could. I...Veruca...I don't know, Xander. It all happened so fast, and I had to protect her."

"But why? She didn't mean anything to us."

Oz sighs. "She meant something to me." His voice is gentle and Xander now feels like the biggest jerk in the world. "Veruca meant that I wasn't alone anymore. She understood. I needed that."

"We understood." Xander could kick himself for that too. It's asinine (Willow's word and see, Will? He's not stupid after all) and totally untrue. He fully expects Oz to give him a withering look and say that Xander couldn't possibly understand what he was going through. Willow did that, and she was so wrong that it was almost funny. But Oz isn't Willow, and Xander has to wonder why he insists on comparing them.

"--wake up next to Willow, and all I could think about was what she'd taste like."

Whoa. Rewind. Xander rolls back onto his side and stares at Oz. "What was that?"

Oz sits up and draws his knees up to his chest. "I'd wake up sometimes and wonder what she tasted like."

"Please tell me that's some roundabout way of wanting sex." Xander ignores the tiny voice that whispers about how much he'd wanted to know the same thing about Buffy back when he was a laughing fool.

"No, I knew...uh." Oz ducks his head, and Xander's pretty sure he's blushing. Xander is. It feels vaguely blasphemous to be talking about Willow and sex. "No. Not sex."

"Right. Um." Xander covers his eyes and laughs a little. "Okay, awkward."

"A little."

After several long, silent moments, the bedsprings creak and Xander rolls toward the middle of the sofabed, thank you crappy mattress. Oz has gotten up and is pulling his jeans on. Xander has a brief glimpse of Felix the Cat winking at him before his view is replaced by faded black denim. He realizes, with some surprise, that he has just been ogling Oz's boxer-clad backside.

Well. That's new.

Oz turns to face him, t-shirt in hand, and Xander is struck by how very colorless Oz is. Moonlight strips away any color his skin may have had, and in the dark Oz is made up of varying shades of black, white, and gray. The tattoo curls its way over Oz's shoulder and licks at his collarbone, and from this angle Xander can see eyes and teeth. It's a snake, wrapping itself around Oz's upper body and neck, biting at its own tail.


"Mildly dramatic gesture." Oz pulls the t-shirt over his head and the snake is swallowed by black cotton. "I'll see you at Giles'."

"Okay. Oz?"


"If I said anything--"

Oz covers Xander's mouth and there is the tiniest of smiles wrinkling the corners of his eyes. "Xander. It's okay, we're cool." His hands are cold and a little rough against Xander's cheek and mouth.

Xander nods. "Okay."

Oz leaves quietly, and if the pillow Oz had been sleeping on didn't still feel warm, Xander would think that it had all been a dream.


Everyone pretends that they're totally cool with Oz being back in the good old 'dale. Everyone, Xander thinks, is lying.

They're not totally cool with it, they're not even lukewarm. Willow keeps shooting him looks like he's gonna pull some Tarzan thing and carry her off and ravish her, Buffy sidles closer to Willow and looks at Oz like he's gonna do what Willow thinks, Riley just looks kind of guilty, and Tara doesn't look at Oz at all. Giles just looks like he wants a drink.

Oz isn't helping any of them out, and Xander wonders if that says more about how much everything has changed than anything else. He just sits against the wall near Giles' record collection and stares at the ceiling, or at the floor, or at whoever happens to be standing in his field of vision. His hands are in his lap and his nailpolish is both metallic turquoise and chipped.

Xander clears his throat and everyone looks at him. He smiles broadly. "So." His mind goes totally blank, and he seizes the first possible topic of conversation that comes to mind. "How about those...uh. PBS is cool. You know, with the like...opera and open heart surgery."

Giles ducks his head and Xander thinks he might be smiling. Willow and Buffy look at him like he's got another head and from Oz's corner comes a sound that could possibly be a snort. A chuckle, even.


Xander is touching Oz's guitar. Two of them, actually, one in each hand. He waits patiently as Oz sets up the stands for them, then hands him the Strat. "What's this other one?"


"Oh. And those?"

"Hollowbody and a cheap knockoff Telecaster."

"Oh." Xander feels slightly out of the loop. Giles would know what Oz was talking about, but Xander doesn't really. He can tell the difference between a bass and a guitar, and not a whole lot else. "So why do you have so many?"

"Spice of life, Xander."

"Oh. And you have a bass?"

"I have a couple. There's a keyboard somewhere in the van, too. And a mixing board."

"You're hardcore, aren't you?"

"Nah." Oz glances at Xander and almost has an expression. "You play?"

"A little. No. Not really. Uh, I can sort of do 'House of the Rising Sun.'"

Oz nods. "Good song."

"It's about a brothel." Xander shrugs. "It's easy."

"Seems appropriate."

Xander blinks at Oz. "He jokes."

"He scores."

Xander feels good; he can't pin down why, but he does. He feels better after he pulls out the mailing tube of posters that Oz insists must go up around the apartment, and it makes him laugh to see Lobo and the X-Men glaring at him from the wall opposite posters for the Evil Dead and Mystery Science Theater.



"What's this poster with the cats and the funny looking people?"

"Uh..." Oz sticks his head through the doorway of the kitchen. "That's...'Still Life With Cats.' Huh. I should get that framed."

"It's weird."

"This surprises you?"

He's reminded of Jesse, and trips to the pier in the summer with Willow. There's a dash of Buffy there too, Cordy, and a little Anya. But it's mostly Jesse, and Xander sits down on the couch, looks around, and smiles.


"I hurt."


"A lot."


"Oz, I don't think you properly appreciate my overwhelming agony."

"I appreciate."

Xander nods and holds out his hand. Oz drops a plastic baggie with crushed ice into it and tosses a towel in Xander's lap. "Okay. Mind numbing pain. Just so you know."

"Your head is turning kind of purple."

"That would be from stopping the wall with my face."

Oz falls onto the couch next to Xander with a wince and muffled curse. "You should put a bandaid on your nose."

"Why? I'm not bleeding. Am I? Oh wow, am I bleeding?" Xander straightens up and stares at Oz. "Is there blood?"

"No. But it'll make you look rakish."


"Yeah. Byronic even. Except not really." Oz yawns and slides onto the floor. He blinks at the t.v. "Betty White is cool."

"Yeah. Bea Arthur's kinda scary though."


"Tasty mm or I agree with you mm?"



After a few moments Xander realizes that Oz has fallen asleep. One arm is wrapped around his stomach and his breathing is shallow, and there's kind of a hiccup at the end of each breath. Xander drops a fuzzy blanket onto Oz and closes his own eyes. In the background, Rose is telling a story about St. Olaf, Minnesota which doesn't seem to have any valid point.


Xander's fallen asleep on the couch again; he has a crick in his neck and his toes are cold. He yawns, stretches and wanders toward the door that goes to his basement, and he stares in amazement as he realizes his basement has been stolen. He blinks at the door and carefully tests the floor with his foot, making sure that the stairs are indeed gone and that it's not just some evil elf's idea of a practical joke.

The test proves the floor is solid. His basement has, in fact, been stolen.

Oh well. There's a bed in the room and a blanket.

On his way toward the bed Xander trips over several cables and an acoustic guitar, stubs his toe on a guitar case, and steps heavily on a discarded pile of clothing.

The blanket beckons. Xander can hear it saying, "Wear me! Use me! For I am warm and slightly fuzzy!"

Ahh, the promised land. Oz's unnaturally fuschia-colored hair is visible at one end of the blanket. Xander pulls the blanket off the bed. "Blanket thief."

It takes a moment, but Xander's mind finally wakes up enough to jump up and down and point at Oz.

Naked Oz.

Naked. Oh wow. Xander wraps the blanket around himself and looks around nervously. He's pretty sure that there's some etiquette for this, but all he can do is stare, and then jump as Oz squirms a little and makes a soft noise, like a sigh.

Eyes should close. Yes. Xander sends the command to his eyelids. They don't listen. Okay, feet turn around. They don't listen either.

Oz is naked. Tiny and pale, covered in a spectacular mass of bruises. He curls up on the bed, burying his face in the pillow and shivering a little. Xander looks down at the blanket he's still clutching around himself like a shield. He leans over the bed and settles the blanket back on Oz's body, he touches Oz's hair lightly, and he pulls back before he can do anything else.

Xander turns and leaves the room very quietly. He doesn't step on anything on the way out.


"Okay, Xander? I'm pretty sure that xanacitium is not a word."

"Sure it is. It means, uh... it's one of those things on the table. You know."

"A lazy susan? Candlestick? Cow-shaped cream dispenser?"

Xander shakes his head. "No, the science table."

Oz frowns slightly. "An element."

"Yeah, like, number two hundred and twelve."

"You're making this all up, aren't you."

'Of course."

"Okay." Oz looks down at the table. His hair is black today, with mild splashes of blue and the slightest hint of purple. His earrings are back, and he looks like the indie-rocker that he used to be. "Xander?"


"There's no X."

"There's always an X."

Oz smiles faintly. "Special rules?"

"X's always feel left out. So they should be included."


Xander goes back to sneaking glances at Oz. He feels like he's twelve again, and that if he gets caught staring everyone's going to point and mock and laugh. He stares at the table and all the letters that Oz finds words in and tries really hard not to remember Oz naked, but the image seems like it's been burned onto his eyelids, and it's Oz, and...

Oz is talking. "--so my mother said, 'I told you, never trust a monkey!' and you're not listening to a single word I'm saying."

"Huh?" Xander looks at Oz and he's doing the Idiot Jed thing, but Oz isn't making any sense. "Monkey?"

"You okay?"

"Yeah." Xander nods. "Thinking. I like to think. 'Cause it's...good. Oh God, I'm babbling aren't I? I am." He stands up and starts to wander around Oz's living/dining/sitting room. "We're friends, right? I mean, we spend all sorts of waste-y time together, and we talk, and watch t.v. and that means we're friends. Right?"

"At least."

"Okay. Um." Xander takes a deep breath. "Friends."

"Yes." Oz sounds totally calm, and Xander has to look at him.

"Yes," Xander repeats. He sits back down at the table and nods. "Okay. And...yeah. Okay."


"You know" Xander looks down at his hands, then back up at Oz. "You know..."

Oz tilts his head to the side.

Xander leans across the table and kisses Oz. It's not perfect, their noses bump into each other and Xander can feel Oz smiling, but it's not...imperfect either and Xander feels good. More than good.

He sits back down and looks at Oz, who's still expressing. There's a smile, a visible one, and he looks like he's about to chortle. Or giggle. Or something equally un-Oz-ish.

Xander moves around the table and Oz's t-shirt is warm and soft in his fingers, and Oz's lips are warm against his, and this time it's still not perfect, but it's close enough for government work. Oz is smiling.

So is Xander.


"I liked Jo."

Devon shakes his head and leans forward on the couch. "Dude, it was all about Blaire."

"She was..."


"But Jo had that totally cool biker girl thing happening." Xander attempts to look serious, and Devon throws popcorn at him. "Hey!"



Oz emerges from Devon's bathroom, still damp and smelling like Irish Spring soap. "You're both wrong. Mrs. Garrett was the best of all of them."

Devon rolls his eyes. "Freak."

"Bye, Dev."

"Bye guys. Practice tomorrow, Oz."

"I know." Oz looks at Xander and lifts his eyebrows. "After you."

Xander grins at him, and Oz's hand rests for a moment in the small of his back. He doesn't smile back, not with his mouth, but his eyes do the smiling for him and Xander feels like Superman.

It's a good feeling.