Marked: The End

"So Will and I had a talk last night."

Xander refused to allow his body to shudder. The previous evening had turned out to be a Willow-and-Oz-alone evening, and there was just something about that idea that made him nervous even though Willow had made it perfectly clear that she had no desire to see the relationship between the two males end. In fact, the previous evening's activities for Oz had involved a leisurely dinner out at some Mexican restaurant with Willow before he joined Xander for less-than-wholesome private entertainment. And that had been the secondary plan. The original plan had been for all three of them to get together, but then Xander was called in to work that night at the last minute, so plans changed. Due to Xander's unfortunate schedule, Oz had fallen asleep waiting for the younger man to join him. Obviously, something had happened that evening, and now Oz wanted to talk about it. Before coffee. Xander contemplated justifiable homicide and the ease of hiding a body not killed for supernatural reasons. "Really."

"Yeah." Oz stretched over Xander's body, reaching for the bottle of water on the nightstand next to the brunette's head. Mid-reach, he changed his mind and simply curled up against Xander, wrapping one arm around Xander's waist. "This isn't working. Us, I mean."

"Oh." Absently, Xander decided it was a good thing he was already flat on his back in bed. Otherwise he would have to collapse. "Us."

Now Oz pulled away from Xander, sitting up and frowning. "Oh, no, not us us. Her and me us. And you and her us. Not you and me us."

"Oh." Blinking, Xander grabbed the water bottle and downed half of the contents before handing it to Oz. "Do you think you could repeat that?"

Sighing, Oz shook his head and crawled out of the bed, tossing clothes at Xander as he dressed. "Let's do the breakfast thing first, okay? I'll buy. Morning brain is not helping here."

"No shit, Sherlock." Xander continued to make vague grumbling noises as he pulled on clothes.


Half a pot of coffee, two plates of pecan waffles, and a generous pile of bacon later, the two teens felt human enough to resume their conversation. "Here's the deal. It's not that Willow has an issue with us. I mean, you and me. It's just that she feels like we're becoming distant from her."

Xander sighed, morosely dragging his fork through the syrup on his plate. "So do you think we are? I mean, all of us drifting apart?"

"Not really. Well, okay, yeah, sort of. It's more like she's finding her own life. You and I just happen to have already found our own lives, and I think she's realizing that what you want at seventeen isn't what you're going to want forever. Or even just a year later." Oz frowned at his napkin, not quite sure what conclusions he wanted to draw from his little monologue. Or if he was even making sense. "I think maybe she had this picture of how things were going to go with us -- her and me us, I mean. Then you came along --"

"Oz --"

"No, Xan, I don't mean this in a bad way. Just let me finish?" He waited until Xander nodded his agreement before continuing. "Okay. You came along, and things changed. In a good way. Her life had been laid out for her, and she never questioned things. Now she's been presented with, well, let's face it. This is all pretty new for her. I'm not surprised that it took her a while to figure out that this isn't for her." Oz grinned slightly. "But, hey, it was fun while it lasted, right?"

"Yeah. While it lasted." Xander shifted in his seat, trying to decide what to say next. "So what's over, Oz? I mean, I can tell this is one of those it's-over talks, but I can't quite figure out what 'it' is."

"'It' is Willow, Xan. That's all. She's out of the picture. We're still friends. I mean, my interpretation of this is that she's not going to make voodoo dolls of us or burn us in effigy. Hey, we're still studying together tonight. She just won't be sticking her hands in our pants any time soon."

"Is it going to be hard?" Xander blinked. The question was out before he even realized he was going to ask it. But since it was out, he realized it required clarification. "I mean, lots of tension, awkward moments, half-finished comments because someone remembers how things are?"

Oz shook his head. "Actually --"

"Hey, guys. I didn't expect to see you here." Xander stared in shock at Willow. "So, Oz, are we still on for tonight?"

"I think this is where I go." Xander hastily pulled out his wallet and moved to leave.

"No, Xander, I just want to confirm the time with Oz." She turned her gaze back on the man who claimed to be an ex-boyfriend. "7:30, right? Last time you were late --"

"I know. 7:30, right." He sighed dramatically. "I'm really getting tired of these study sessions."

"Yeah, but after tomorrow, we won't have to do these again until the end of the term." Now she addressed Xander. "Can we talk? I mean, alone."

Xander nodded. "Sure. Like I said, this is where I go."

She shook her head. "No, not you. Him."

Her thumb jerked at Oz, and the older man shrugged. "I know when I'm not wanted."

"Oz --"

"No, Xander." Oz was clearly focused only on his breakfastmate. "You two need this. And I need to go remind that pinball machine who's boss."

As he walked away, two sets of eyes followed him. "If you hurt him, I will hunt you down and make you pay." Willow's voice was cheerful as she examined the remains of Oz's breakfast. "I need some water."

"Will, I didn't --"

"Hey." Now her words were stern. "Look, he got this same speech last night. Except dismemberment was mentioned. You guys are really serious about this. I've been thinking about things, and I've come to the conclusion that I'm not. Serious, I mean. College is a time you're supposed to play around and have fun. At least it is for someone who was serious in high school. Like me. But you and Oz -- well, let's face it. You two weren't exactly buckle-down-and-stick-with-the-program guys." She shrugged. "I guess I thought I could be some sort of stabilizing force. Except you two went out and figured out how to so that for each other. And that doesn't leave much room for me now. At least not that way. And I don't want to be that stable person any more, Xander. I want to be the person that needs the stability. And I didn't realize it until a couple of weeks after you and Oz came back."

"Being unstable isn't all it's cracked up to be."

"Yeah, I know. Maybe that's the wrong word." She glanced at her watch. "But, okay, short version. We've all changed, and what I thought I wanted and needed back in September isn't what I want and need now. And what I want and need now is friendship and support from you guys. That's it. Nothing has changed between you and me except for the fact that you're dating my ex-boyfriend. Well, okay, you're both ex-boyfriends, kind of. You're still my oldest friend, and I'm still going to worry about you more than I probably should." Now she turned her attention to the door of the diner. "And now my date is here. Gotta go." She reached across the table and grasped Xander's arm. "If he's not good to you, just tell me. I'll sic Buffy on him. Okay?"

Xander smiled. "Okay." She released his arm and stood, smiling broadly at a young woman standing tentatively near the cash register. His eyes followed Willow as she made her way to the blonde until Oz stepped back in his field of vision.

"You two done with your talk?" Oz gazed at his plate. "At least she didn't eat everything. Look, there's a bite left."

"Yeah." Clearing his throat, Xander pulled his eyes away from Willow and her mystery date. "Nice timing. I find it hard to believe your game's over already."

"Nah, man, I suck. I played two games already."

"Oh." Xander's eyes dropped to his plate. "So what exactly did you two talk about last night?"

"The usual. The usual polite breakup stuff, I mean. She felt like she was drifting away from us, wants to be friends, doesn't hold any of us responsible, thinks that you and I are complete enough on our own that she's superfluous. She kept using that word." He glanced over his shoulder at the pair of females. "Decided she wanted to explore more possibilities but didn't want to be attached to you and me. Looks like she's a fast worker."

Xander sighed. "Yeah, it looks like we left our mark on her." Willow and the mystery blonde bounced out of the restaurant, and Xander drained his fourth cup of coffee. "So. You said you need a new bookcase. Garage sale day?"

Oz nodded in agreement. "Garage sale day. Then I need to clean out the van. Someone dropped a whole batch of spaghetti in the back."

"Hey, I said I was sorry." Xander grinned. "And you forgot to mention the Jello."

"I'm trying to repress the Jello! I told you that stuff would stain my hair."

Yeah, yeah, like you could notice under all that dye." Each teen dug out their wallets and placed a few bills on top of the breakfast check before continuing to grumble their way out the door.

They climbed into the van, and Oz paused before starting the ignition. "You know we fight like an old married couple, right?"

"Yeah, I know." Xander adjusted the mirror on his side of the van. "I kind of like it."

"Yeah." Oz started the van. "Me, too."