Breakfast Of Champions

The first thing Oz tasted was dirt.

It was always like that, ever since he began using this cage. First dirt, just like it used to be dust and floor grime in the library. Wolves don't care much about letting their tongues lag on the floor while they sleep, so Oz always got to wake up with the residue.

And then it was the light, and the way it hurt his eyes. Like walking from a dark room into a well-lit one; like waking up with your face in a shaft of sunlight from the window. The light was filtered through his eyelashes, in addition to being dusky and underground, but it still hurt, and Oz had to deal with that three mornings a month.

Next it was the gradual realization that he was naked, and that was when consciousness really started to come back. When his mind clamped down on the notion that there were clothes to be found somewhere, and probably donuts if Xander had lived up to last month's form.

Sitting up and looking around, Oz was surprised. There were his clothes, right where they should be, and there were the donuts, in an innocuous box at the bottom of the stairs. The surprise was, there was Xander, sitting next to the box of donuts with his head fallen onto his knees, fast asleep.

Oz let himself out of the cage silently and dressed quickly, his mind tossing around possibilities of what to do. Eventually, it was simple, merely an act of sitting next to Xander and opening the donuts, and the crackle of the cellophane window in the box was enough to wake Xander up. "Donut?" Oz asked, taking one and passing the rest over. The white powder dissolved on his tongue in a thick puddle of sweetness, and the sounds of Xander chewing soon joined in.

"How was --" Xander stopped and swallowed "-- you know, the wolfiness? Long night? Short?"

Oz smiled slightly at Xander's awkward attempt at conversation. "Pretty standard, as wolfy nights go. I expected you to be gone by now. Oversleep?"

Xander looked down, sheepish. "Well, yeah, but...I intended to stay anyway. Whole 'nother month before I get such a prim-o excuse to talk to you. So...why not, right? Seize the day and all."

"Right. Since when do you feel you need an excuse to talk to me?" Oz challenged, feeling more irritable than he should. "Buffy talks to me. Hell, sooner or later even Willow might talk to me. But you need an excuse?"

"Yeah, I do," Xander replied softly. "Don't ask me to explain how my mind works, okay? It's a dark and murky territory and it generally scares people away. I'd be scared away, 'cept it's my mind. I'm sorta stuck with it."

Oz sighed, stuffing another donut into his mouth and taking time to chew it before mumbling, "Yeah. I know that feeling."

"I figured you would." Lapsing into silence, Xander picked at a second donut, uncharacteristically not in the mood to eat. He knew Oz was watching him, and that he needed to go ahead and say what he'd stayed to say, but the words didn't seem to want to form in his mouth.

"So," Oz started, sensing Xander's hesitation. "Thanks for the donuts. It's nice to have breakfast waiting."

"Oh. You're welcome. I just...I hate to wake up hungry and find an empty fridge...thought after a night of not getting to eat any people or anything, you'd need something."

Oz chuckled. "Yeah. Not getting to eat people can get pretty tiresome...How are things going?"

"They're going. I found a new job as a courier. I deliver documents between a bunch of big-wigs downtown. Easier and faster for them than putting it all in the mail. Pays pretty well, too. Keeps me busy, which keeps my dad off my back."

"That's good. You see Buffy and Willow much?"

"Sometimes. Weekends, mostly. School, you know? They're too busy for...they're busy."

Oz frowned and set the donuts aside. "Are you okay, Xander?"

The younger boy nodded vigorously. "Sure. Perfectly. All's okey-dokey here...Why?"

"Because you sound like there's something you want to talk about that you're not talking about yet."

Xander's face scrunched up for a brief moment, his brow furrowed in concentration. "Yeah...Oz, how do you do it?"

"How do I do what?"

"How do you deal so well? With the drifting apart and...I don't know. Never mind." He stood up, but only made it up two steps before descending again and pacing the floor. "Oz, I'm confused."

"I noticed," Oz said lightly. "Let me see if I've got this. Your life doesn't seem to be going anywhere and for one reason or another your friends aren't really so much your friends anymore. That about sum it up?" Xander nodded. "Well, you've obviously figured out that I'm familiar with that particular situation. But if you think I know how to deal with it any better than you --"

"But you do, don't you?" Xander cut in. "You've got your band, and all your band-ish friends, and you've got --" He stopped short, both in speaking and walking. "Buffy's right. I have to learn to think, then speak. Think, then speak. It's a pattern. One and then the other. Not the other, then the one. It's simple --"

"Xander. Finish what you were saying in the first place, then think about speech pattern changes." Oz arched an eyebrow. "I've got..." Xander sat back down on the steps, one step lower than Oz. "You've got Devon. You've got your best male bud figure. I haven't had that since...never mind."

"Stop saying never mind." Crossing his arms over his knees, Oz rested his cheek on them and watched Xander closely. "To be honest, I know really remember his name. I didn't pay much attention towell, pretty much everybody. Not until Willow. He was just another of those faces at school that disappeared."

"Jesse." Xander's eyes scanned the room, finally locking on a scrap of cloth, probably from some previous full moon's changing. "Don't worry about it. Not many people knew his name."

"Just because it was common doesn't mean it was right. Xander, what's going on? What's wrong?"

Xander ran his fingers through his hair and blew out a long breath. "Can I tell you something? Something kinda bad?"


"You know that thing kids in Sunnydale learn to do? When someone turns up missing, just dissociate? Try to not think about how real they were and then maybe it doesn't get so overwhelming when a third of the people you started high school with don't graduate?" Oz nodded slowly. "That's a lot easier to do when you didn't know the person so well. When you didn't really register all the time that they were a person. But...He was my best friend, Oz. Besides Willow, and that's different anyway. He was my friend, and I did that to him. I killed him and then I ignored him, and he was gone. Even when I knew what got him..."

"Even when you knew..." Oz prompted.

"I don't know," Xander muttered. "I did it and it's done, and maybe I should feel better that I feel bad about it. But the point was, for me, he was like Devon to you. And I haven't had anyone like that to go to since then. And now...I don't even have Buffy or Willow to...I'm whining. I'm sorry. You've probably got a lot to get done before the sun sets tonight, so I'll leave you alone --"

"Xander. Stay." Oz spoke with quiet authority, and Xander didn't budge. "As long as we're into soul-baring...I'm curious. What's your impression of Devon?"

"I dunno. I don't know him. I just know you've been friends for a long time."

Oz took a very long minute to form his next sentence. "Xander...I think Devon and I are a bit different than you and Jesse ever were."

"Well, everybody's different."

"No, that's not...Xander, Devon and I...we're close. Closer than I think you think we are."

Xander stared at Oz, his mouth slack and his eyes cloudy as the older boy's meaning sunk in. "You mean..."

"I mean." When no reaction was forthcoming, Oz moved down a step to sit next to Xander. "I most definitely mean."

"But...before or after Willow?"

"Both, actually. Never during, but both." Xander's eyes still hadn't focused quite right, so Oz touched his knee hesitantly. "Xander?"

"Huh?" Xander shook himself back to reality. "Oh. Right. Well...This is new." He rubbed the sides of his legs nervously. "It's cold in here. Do you ever get cold in here, when you're --"

"Not really. The fur helps. Xander, we've gone way off track. You wanted to know how I do it...I don't. Yeah, I have Devon. I've had Devon for a long time, in one way or another. But just because he can talk me out of the panics I start to have when things don't make sense, doesn't mean he can make it all better. Jesse wouldn't have been able to make things better for you, either. Having that person to talk just...Damn. See, Devon's taught me a lot lately without ever knowing what it feels like to be inside my head. It's like he's the one to say all the obvious stuff I'm forgetting because I'm thinking about other things. Does that make any sense?"

Xander nodded slowly. "Yeah. But still, you've got him. I don't have anyone like that."

"What the hell is it we've been doing the past twenty minutes?" Oz nudged Xander with his shoulder. "Works for me, if you're game."

"Maybe." Xander bit his lip, his expression full of nervous hesitation. "I should go to work. I'll get fired if I'm late."

"That wouldn't be good."

"No, probably not."

"We'll talk."

"Yeah. I'll bring breakfast tomorrow?"

"Sounds good."

"Any requests?"

"I'm still diggin' the donuts." Oz chewed one side of his lower lip and raised his eyebrows. "Then..."

"Right. Okay. Donuts. Breakfast of champions." Xander finally stood up. "Tomorrow, then."

"Hey, Xander?" Oz stopped him halfway up the stairs. "Look, about Devon...don't say anything to Willow, okay? She doesn't --"

"Like I said, Oz," Xander interrupted with a sad smile, "I don't have too many deep personal talks with Willow lately."

"Oh. Yeah. Okay. Tomorrow."

Xander jammed his hands into his pockets, steeling himself against a light drizzle outside in the cemetery. "Tomorrow. Oz...Thanks."

As Xander left, Oz reached and grabbed one last donut, pulling off small bits and eating them slowly. He was full of an odd feeling, vaguely unsettled but at the same time, like something had been resolved.

It just wasn't usually like this when he first woke up.