On The Way Home

"I'm breaking up with Willow."

They had been walking back to their respective homes silently, and Oz's voice startled Xander. Once the words sank in, he became shocked. "What?"

Oz shrugged. "I wanted you to be the first to know. So you knew what was happening."

"Why, so I could have a second chance with her?" The words were laced with sarcasm, though. Xander hoped Oz understood that it was not something that would happen. For one thing, she would never allow it. "Oz, please. Think about this. It will absolutely wreck her."

"I have to, Xander. I have to get away from you. Really, it has nothing to do with her, but you're part of the deal as long as I'm with her."

"Please. Just... hit me or scream at me or whatever. If I'm the problem, I can go away. Oh, I know. I'll sit here, and you can punch me. Beat me up. Whatever it takes to work out all of your aggressions so you can stay with Will."

And so Xander sat on the closest picnic table bench, leaning back against the tabletop and carefully forcing his facial muscles to go lax. He had a theory that the blows wouldn't hurt as badly if he was relaxed -- like punching a mattress instead of a sheet of glass. He closed his eyes so he didn't have to look at Oz appraising his face and deciding where to hit.

Oz's weight settling across his thighs came as a surprise. Oz's thumb caressing his lower lip came as a shock. "Uh, Oz..."

"You said whatever."

"Oh." Xander kept his eyes closed, trying to keep his face relaxed.

Finally, Oz removed his thumb from Xander's mouth. "Do you really want to know the reason?" Xander nodded, eyes opening just enough to see Oz. "Do you remember that day in the dining hall when Buffy asked why you were there? And you said something about checking up on 'my girls?'" Xander opened his eyes all the way and nodded again, not sure where this was going. "Do you remember what you did when you said that?"

Xander frowned, trying to recall his actions. "Oz, I'm sorry I called you my girl." Oz shook his head. Okay, so that wasn't the problem.

"Actions, not words."

Okay... He had been picking food from Willow's tray before Buffy had arrived. Then once she was there, asking why a non-campus person was on campus, he explained his presence while...

Grabbing Oz's knee. Observing the realization dawning on Xander's face, Oz nodded. "Yeah. And it's not just that. After Buffy knocked us out, our hands were in new places when we woke up. When we were in Buffy's room watching Kathy get sucked into that vortex thing or whatever it was, your hand was right at my neck. All I could think about was that you could just extend your finger and stroke my neck, and there was no way I would stop you." Oz sighed. "And that was just those few days. Like I said, this has nothing to do with Willow. But I just can't be around you any more and not think about this."

That was it. Oz made no more further comment or movement. Xander closed his eyes again, weighing his options.

Oz sighed. "Okay, this was clearly a really bad idea. I'll be going now and hiding from you for the rest of my life due to a case of extreme embarrassment." He began to climb off Xander's lap.

But Xander's hands latched onto Oz's hips, holding the smaller man in place. "Don't go?" Oz froze but didn't settle back in his previous position. "Please?" Now Oz sat back down. "It's just weird. Give me a chance to get used to it?" Oz nodded in agreement. "And don't break up with her until we... figure things out? Because now that I know, there's no way I can be there for her to get her through a breakup. Especially because it sounds like I would be the major cause of it even though she didn't know it."

Oz sighed. "Will it really make a difference? I mean, if you're just asking me to wait so you can figure out how to push me away nicely, I'd rather just get everything over with and not prolong the agony."

Xander let his hands move up Oz's hips to his waist, fingers dipping under clothing to caress skin. "No, I just want time to get used to the idea. To convince myself that I can handle this. I mean, until about five minutes ago, I thought you were getting weird around me because you wanted to beat me to a pulp."

"You noticed the weirdness?" Oz was clearly surprised.

"Yeah. I'm not always oblivious. Just most of the time." Xander closed his eyes again, debating whether to say more. Finally, he decided. He opened his eyes and locked gazes with Oz. "I couldn't figure out what it was, but I guess maybe I was trying to push a confrontation. Honestly, the more I thought about it, the more I was convinced that you hated me. And now I find out that, well, you don't. It's going to take some getting used to. Especially because you seem to have a higher opinion of me than I have of myself."

Oz quietly inhaled. "Xander..."

"What, you think I'm going to run around waving a flag that says 'I hate myself and want to die?' That kind of went out when Kurt Cobain killed himself." He sighed. "Anyway."

"Anyway." Oz pressed his forehead to Xander's. "Look, I don't know if this will make you feel any better, but you don't see yourself the same way I see you."

Xander smiled slightly. "Yeah, actually, it does. Even though I think you're full of crap, the fact that you're saying it means a lot." Now he frowned. "But my feet are falling asleep, so..."

"Oh, sorry." Oz climbed off Xander's lap. "Uh, so."


Oz gazed at his feet for a long moment before meeting Xander's eyes again. "Uh, so."

"You said that already." Now it was Xander's turn to pause before speaking. "In the incredibly brief period of time we've been here talking, I've started having... thoughts. And I just want to know something."

"I'll make you a deal. You can think about me if I can think about you. Deal?"

Xander nodded. "Deal." He turned his attention back to his feet. "Okay, they're awake now." He stood, turning to Oz once more. "Walk me home?"