Just another lazy afternoon, curled up together on Oz's bed since he had a nice, cozy bedroom, and band practice had been canceled due to an unfortunate rash of food poisoning. It was difficult to practice or do much of anything else when your drummer and singer were busy discovering why there are laws about refrigeration and sanitation in restaurants.

"Oz?" Xander's voice was small and sad, as if he was unsure how his request was going to be accepted -- and was preparing for refusal and rejection. "Can I ask you to do something for me?"

"Yeah." Oz flicked his fingers lazily through Xander's hair. "Anything."

Taking a deep breath, Xander closed his eyes. "Could you not get stoned? At least when you know you're going to be with me?"

The fingers stilled. "Why?"

"I have issues." Xander pulled away from Oz and sat upright. "I... know certain people who drink and then fight and scream, and then when they're not drunk, they pretend things didn't happen the way they did and blame the alcohol for the argument. It's a convenient excuse for them to not accept responsibility for their actions."

Oz sighed. "So you think I'm going to fight with you? 'Cause that's really not part of my game plan."

"No, it's not that. It's just... I have to wonder if you'd be here doing these things and saying these things if you were sober. Like this isn't something you really want to admit you're doing, so you get high. Then when you think about it later, you can dismiss it -- dismiss me because you weren't thinking clearly at the time."

"Is that what you think? That the drug thing is my way of justifying this and allowing myself to be with you?" His heart sank as Xander nodded. It was clear to Oz that this was going to be Heavy Discussion Time. "That's not it. At all. I just get so bored here -- in this town, not with you -- that I have to find some way to entertain myself. Since I met Devon, it's been music and pulling tubes."

"And now? I mean, right now?"

"Force of habit." As he said the words, the truth hit him. It was merely habit. And one that he doubted he would particularly miss if he had to choose between Xander and pot. His buzz was rapidly fading, yet all he wanted to do was pull Xander to him, not take another hit. "But habits can be broken. And it can be kind of expensive, anyway."

Now Xander seemed to reconsider his request. "If you're just going to do this because I'm asking you to, then forget I said anything. You'll just end up resenting me for making you give up something you like."

"Come here." Oz held out his arms and folded them around Xander when the larger teen settled against the smaller body. "You're not making me do anything I don't want to do. You presented valid reasons why this makes you uncomfortable, and I don't want to make you feel weird."

Xander grinned. "You sound like a therapist." He sighed and shifted, resting his head more comfortably against Oz's chest. "And I'm not saying this would be a permanent thing. I mean, when you're not around me, I have no say in what you do. I don't want that sort of control. And if it turns out that you're just the same -- at least with me -- when you're not stoned as when you are, then I think it would okay to reconsider. I just don't want to wonder if you're going to turn around and blame what you do on drugs, like my family."

They sat silent for several long moments while Oz digested Xander's words. He had been wondering why they never went to Xander's house when there was anyone else home. Oz had assumed that Xander didn't want his family to know that he was spending a lot of time alone with Oz because they might jump to the correct conclusion, but now he was reconsidering that assumption. It was clear to Oz that Xander hadn't intended to actually utter the last three words. Things were beginning to fall into place.

"And I don't want you to think of this as an ultimatum. Me or that stuff. It's not. I just... I don't know. I guess I've been wondering if you're really here when you're here. And I don't even mean that I want you to stop all of the time. Not even all of the time you're around me. Just enough for me to figure out what's going on. You know?"

"Yeah. I do. And I will. Stop, I mean." Oz's fingers found their way to Xander's hair once more. "And by the way, it means a lot to me that you're saying this stuff."

Xander pulled his head away from Oz's hand, but the sudden panic Oz felt at the movement vanished when he realized Xander just wanted to face him directly. "Really?" Oz nodded. "Why?"

Oz shrugged. "I don't really know. A few weeks ago, I don't think that saying something would have even crossed your mind. Or else you would have thought it, but you wouldn't have the nerve to mention it. And now we're having an actual discussion about it. You're backing down a bit from your original statement, but you're not taking it completely back." He smiled and reached for Xander's hand. "You're growing up, Xan. Becoming a man."

Flushing, Xander ducked his head in an attempt to avoid Oz's eyes. "No, I'm not."

Fascinated by the color taking over Xander's skin and interested in finding out if he could make it deepen, Oz gently tugged on Xander's hand, pulling the larger teen closer to him. "Yeah. You are. And it looks really, really good on you." He slowly trailed one finger along the side of Xander's face, ending the trail behind Xander's ear and rubbing the spot just behind that ear with his thumb. "I wish you could see that." Now Oz's tongue took over, drawing Xander's earlobe into his mouth.

"Oz..." Xander gasped when Oz carefully closed his teeth on Xander's earlobe, not quite biting but merely letting Xander know that there was more involved than just tongue.

Abruptly, Oz pulled away. "You have to do something for me."

Xander blinked, trying to clear his head. "Huh?"

"I'm breaking a bad habit. You have to do the same."

With obvious trepedition, Xander nodded. "Okay. If I can do it."

"You can. If I need to, I will force you to do it."

Now Xander grew alarmed, pulling away. "Oz, I'm not ready for --"

Oz caught flying hands, moving them to his lap. "I think we're on different wavelengths here." He released Xander's hands and moved his own to Xander's face. "I want you to stop thinking of yourself as just some loser kid."

Xander pulled away once again, this time silently studying his hands for a long moment before speaking in the softest voice Oz had ever heard from the brunette. "But what am I if I'm not a loser kid?"

The response shocked Oz. "Is that all you think you are?" Xander nodded, and Oz felt like crying. If he cried. Which he didn't, but he would seriously consider making an exception this time. "Okay. Lesson number one. I do not hang out with losers. Lesson two. I don't take time out of my busy schedule of skipping class and insulting Devon to try to reform losers. Are you with me so far?" Reluctantly, Xander nodded once more, and Oz continued. "I don't know what you are, but I don't know what I am, either. We don't need to know right now." Now Oz smiled. "We're teenagers, after all. We're not supposed to know, right?"

"Guess not."

"And don't even think that I'm just saying this to be nice. It makes me happy to see you happy, and you deserve to be happy. So are we okay? Will you do this?"

"Okay. I mean, I'll try. You might have to help once in a while."

"It's a deal." Xander moved back to rest against Oz, and silence descended on them once more as they contemplated their last exchange. Finally, Oz spoke again. "Xan? Still with me?"


"Another question."


Deep breath. "What would you think if I told someone I was dating a guy?"

Oz could feel Xander's breath hitch. "Who?"

"You, silly."

"No, I mean --"

"I know what you mean." A smiling Oz returned his fingers to Xander's hair. "I don't know who I would tell. I guess I just want to look at you and think, 'Hey, we should figure out what to do this weekend. I wonder if Devon has any suggestions. And that chick should get away from Xan now before I decide I need to kick her ass.' Well, I do that already. I just don't feel like I have a right to do it. But it would be nice to ask someone else if they had any ideas for things to do and not be afraid that they'll want to meet my non-existent girlfriend."

"'That chick?' Who would that be?"

"Come on, you know who I mean."

"No, I don't." Xander frowned. "At least I don't think I do." His confusion deepened when he realized Oz had pulled away once more to gaze directly at his face. "What's wrong?"

"You really don't know." Oz sighed. "Those so-called friends of yours have you all messed up, don't they? I really don't want to sit here and insult them -- especially when we could be doing things that make you blush. I really like it when you blush." His finger traced up the side of Xander's neck, and he grinned at the embarrassed smile that the brunette tried to hide. "Just like that." He pulled his hand away. "But, seriously, Xan, as much as I like the fact that I can make you forget about being sad, I hate the fact that I have to."

"You don't have to --"

"Don't even start. Yes, I do. I'm responsible for dragging you into this. And I hate seeing you sad like that. So don't you dare think you're alone here as long as I'm around, okay?" Oz waited until Xander nodded in agreement and settled back in position. "So. Back to my question. If I told someone in the band that I was dating a guy, they would know it's you. Honestly, I think they know anyway since I spend all of my time away from them with you."

"Does that bother you?"

"What? That they know I'm not exactly the straightest guy in town?" Xander nodded. "No. Not at all. It probably would if I had my heart set on getting a girlfriend or if I cared what people think. But I'm not, and I don't, so there's no point in worrying about it." He held up one hand, displaying fingernails painted a deep, deep purple that verged on black and a wrist that prominently featured a thin braided black leather bracelet. "Besides, any straight guy who does this doesn't give a damn about what people think, and any not-straight guy is aware it fleeps gaydar." He lowered his hand. "And now we're back to whether you want people to know."

As he closed his eyes, Xander took a deep breath. "This is it, isn't it?"

"Xan --"

"It's time to face reality." He opened his eyes, turning once more to gaze directly into Oz's eyes. "I'm dating a guy. A great guy who takes time out of his busy schedule to listen to me and to agree to do things for me that I don't really have a right to request. Not to mention someone who cares enough about me to have these heart-to-heart talks." He grinned and lifted one hand to Oz's ear. "Did you know you turn bright red when I say nice things to you?"

Oz began to pull his head away from Xander's hand. Then he stopped, reconsidering his actions, and resumed his previous position, moving his own hand to Xander's head. "Does that bother you?"

Xander grinned at his own words being repeated. "Ask me again in half an hour."

"Why? Do you have plans?"

"You could say that." He replaced his hand with his mouth, gently lapping at Oz's ear and smiling to himself when Oz sighed softly.

"You know, you're very good at that."

"Yeah?" Xander pulled away. For a brief second, Oz panicked, thinking he had said exactly the wrong thing at the wrong time. Then he moved his eyes to Xander's. Instead of fear or disgust, he saw pride. "Well, I have a very good teacher who wants me to excel at everything I do." And he leaned back in, this time latching on to Oz's neck.

"You're right." Oz moved his hands to Xander's waist, carefully pushing his way under the fabric he found there. "You have a lot of potential." He jumped when Xander suddenly nipped his neck and then relaxed as a warm tongue soothed to sore spot. "And I intend to help you learn, every step of the way."