The day had passed without either of them really noticing. True to her helpful but absent-minded form, Molly had left bus passes but not maps, and they spent several hours lost on the bus system, trying to figure out where they were and how to get to their destination. But they didn't care that they didn't know where they were. At least Xander didn't know where they were. He was with his friend, and he was happy just to be in Oz's presence.

"Let's get off here." Xander nodded and followed Oz off the bus. Judging by the signs on the businesses lining the street, he guessed that they were in the semi-famed U District.

Xander pointed to a movie marquee. The Neptune. "Hey, wasn't that movie theatre in the opening of singles?"

Oz nodded, grinning. "One of Moll's housemates made me watch the opening sequence over and over because of that sign and the old Food Giant sign. The Food Giant sign is gone now, though. Some local grocery chain bought the store and replaced the sign with one that says 'Wallingford.'" As they continued up the street, Oz's steps slowed, and the grin faded.

"Oz? Are you okay?"

Slowly, the smaller man blinked. "Yeah." Then he stopped, reaching for Xander. "Just stay close to me, okay?"

Nodding, Xander watched Oz. At first, he thought he was given the directive for his own good, just like he had been told to do various things for his own good many times over the past few years. Stay close, so he could be saved if something went wrong. Or stay out of the way so he wouldn't get hurt. Then he noticed Oz's posture changing. Slumping, turning in on himself. No, this wasn't for his own good at all. It was for Oz, pure and simple.

Oz was asking for his support. Oz needed his support.

Now Oz squared his shoulders and took a deep breath. "Hey, Ian. How's it going?"

The punkish-looking young man -- Xander couldn't pinpoint his age, but he was definitely around their age -- addressed looked at Oz suspiciously for a long moment before breaking into a wide smile. "Oz? Is that really you? You made it back!"

"Yeah. It's me." He turned to Xander, gripping his hand a bit more tightly and pulling him close. For comfort, Xander realized. "This is my friend, Xander."

Xander waved nervously. "Hey."

"So." Oz clearly wanted to get issues addressed and get out of there. "How are Rick and Emily? And did Annie have a girl or a boy?"

Ian stared at the sidewalk for a long moment before answering. In the silence, Xander wrapped his arm around Oz's waist. He had a feeling Oz would bolt if not forced to stay, and this seemed like something that had to be faced. Otherwise, they wouldn't be there, talking to a piece of the past that Oz had carefully left behind. Buried. "I'm not sure about Rick. You know that he decided to hitch to San Francisco, right?" Oz nodded. "He was supposed to write to us and let us know when he got there, but we never heard anything. And Emily... Well, we found her in an alley." Oz made a small choking noise. "She's okay now, but back then..." His voice trailed off.

Xander did the only thing he could think of. He pulled Oz tight against him in a hug, stroking the smaller man's hair in what he hoped were soothing motions. "Hey, Oz, you're okay. You've helped save people." He was fully aware that this person from Oz's past was staring at him like he was insane, but, at that point, he really didn't care. Gently, he moved his hands to Oz's face, cradling it so they were gazing into each others' eyes. "Just take a deep breath, okay? I'm not going anywhere."

Oz pulled his face away from Xander's hands. And wrapped his arms around Xander's waist, resting his head against the larger man's chest. He took the requested deep breath. Xander noticed that Oz's eyes were closed and that a slightly dreamy look -- almost a smile -- crossed his face while inhaling, but it faded when he opened his eyes and turned his attention back to Ian. "And Annie?"

Now Ian beamed. "Twins, man. A matched set. Boy and girl. Her parents had tracked her down, and she went into labor right when they showed up to take her home." He pulled out his wallet. "Here's a picture." Now his face grew clouded. "But I haven't actually seen them. Maybe some day I can scrape together enough for a trip to Portland to see them. Or maybe she'll come back." He sighed. "But I don't know if I want that. To see her again and have her see me. I mean, what kind of future can I offer her and my kids?" He closed the wallet and returned it to his pocket. "And can you imagine explaining how Mommy and Daddy met to them? 'Daddy's parents were mad at him for doing some bad things, so they kicked him out. Mommy was going out with an older man that her parents didn't like, so she ran away to Seattle with him, but then he left her stranded when he met someone else. Then Mommy and Daddy met while digging through the same garbage can for food.'" Silently, he stared at his shoes. "But I'm glad she got out. Even if it's not me, I'm glad someone got back on track." Now he lifted his eyes to Oz's. "And I'm glad you made it out. Makes me feel like there's still a future to look forward to." With those words, he walked away and back out of Oz's life.

The two stood in the middle of the sidewalk for what seemed like hours even though Xander knew it could only be minutes. Oz's silence frightened Xander. "Oz? Are you okay? I mean, you don't have to answer that, but I do want to know if you're going to flip out."

"Why do you care?" A small, dead voice.

Of all the possible responses he expected from Oz, this was not something that would have ever occurred to him. He hugged Oz closer. "Because I do."

Oz laughed harshly. "That's not a reason." But he didn't pull away. He did, however, rub his fingers over the stiff spot on Xander's shirt -- evidence of their morning activities. "It's dry now."

The absent, empty quality of Oz's voice made Xander nervous, as did the statement that came out of nowhere. "Oz? It's me. Xander. Remember? You're the one who told me about paths. About how you don't have to have your life mapped out ahead of you. And you made me think about things. Destiny. We found each other up here for a reason. And I think you found Ian for a reason, too. That could have been you." Now Oz whimpered and tried to pull away from Xander, but he was held firmly in place by Xander's arms. "But you had Moll to pull you back up and help you get back on track."

"And what good have I done? Name one accomplishment that has made that not a waste of her time, money, and energy."

Xander leaned back, gazing into Oz's eyes and considering the question. "Well, let's see. You've raised our awareness about werewolves."

"If I hadn't gone back home, I wouldn't have been turned."

"But if you hadn't gone back, Jordy wouldn't know his cool cousin Oz." Xander waited until Oz nodded. He wasn't sure if it was agreement or simply a signal to hurry up and get on with things, but, either way, it was time to move ahead. "Without your van, we wouldn't have been able to steal that rocket launcher."

At that, Oz's expression changed slightly. Wistful. "That was an experience, wasn't it?" He rested his head on Xander's chest.

"We saved the world. None of the rest of us had a car that would have worked, and you helped calm everyone down in the aftermath. We needed you." A simple statement, a true statement, and a statement that may or may not be making the desired impression. After another long pause, Oz nodded. "And I need you now. I'm going to be selfish, but I don't care. You're showing me how to be an adult. I don't have the greatest role models at home." He waited for Oz to lift his head, but that didn't happen. "And you're making me face some things about myself that I kept pushing down and trying to ignore and deny."

Now Oz lifted his head. "I'm sorry, Xan. I have no right to force --"

Xander cut him off with a soft kiss, a mere brush of his lips. "No. Don't say that. This isn't a mistake. I've had other people -- okay, one person, but it happened more than once -- try to push me into thinking things over, and I resisted. I didn't want to be forced. I was happy to live in denial. What you've done is just kind of step back and show me that certain things aren't as horrible as I had convinced myself. Things are changing, but they haven't been forced changes." Now he smiled. "And maybe these things are just because of you. Not because you're trying but just because you are who you are."

Oz didn't respond. Finally, Xander decided it was time to go back to Molly's house. Maybe being away from scenes of the past and in a place that represented the present -- and change for the better -- would help.


Back at the house, the two sat on the couch, Oz sitting in the center with very proper posture, Xander slouched against one end contemplating Oz.

The front door banged open. "Man, I hate that traffic. Hey, you two are on your own for dinner. I'll pay. I am not cooking tonight." Molly made her way to the kitchen, cooing at the cats frantically dashing about her feet.

Xander followed her. "Molly? Can I talk to you for a minute?"

"Of course."

He watched her, cats attempting to climb up her legs while she fed them. "It's Oz. We went to the U District today, and he ran into someone from before. He kind of flipped out -- just shut down." He took a deep breath. "What should I do? Should I leave him alone?"

She sighed heavily, carefully considering her words. "I'm sure you've noticed that Oz is a very private person. He doesn't always reach out or ask for help when he should. Sometimes you just have to step in and clear the way for him to follow. And sometimes you have to guide him. Pull him, push him, just be there so he knows he's not alone, whatever."

Now he gazed out the window, debating whether to tell her what had happened before they had left that morning. Finally, he made a decision. "He and I had sex this morning."



"Why do I need to know this?"

"Um..." He hadn't thought that far ahead.

"Okay." She was silent for a long moment. Xander began to wonder if he should have shared that incredibly personal bit of information. "So. Think about this. Who was in charge? Who was in whom?"

After another moment of silent debate, he decided to duck a direct answer to the questions. "So what does it mean?"

"Well, theoretically, whoever took control was dominant." And that would most definitely be Oz, he decided. "And whoever was, well, receiving was submissive." Oz again.

"So what if the one who took control was the receiver?"

She smiled. "Oz is putting himself in your hands. So to speak."

"Wait -- How did you --"

"I know him. You don't know your way around this city, and he does. If you ended up in the U District, it was because he wanted to go there. But he wouldn't have gone if he hadn't known someone would be there with him -- someone he trusted wholeheartedly and without question -- to help him pick up the pieces if something went wrong. What do you think? Am I even close yet?" He nodded. "What did he tell you about before?"

He shifted uncomfortably. "I'm not sure I should say. I mean, he told me those things in confidence." He paused. "But he did say that you helped him. A lot."

"Did he tell you about the nightmares?" His response was a blank look that slowly turned to shock. "I'll take that as a no." She stared into space for a moment. "Okay, here's the deal. I'm going to take tomorrow off -- call in sick -- and you and I are going to have a nice, long talk." He began to protest, but she continued. "But right now, he needs you. Maybe just for tonight, maybe for a lot longer. Either way, there's nothing I can do for him. Not right now. The things he did this morning were his way of placing his trust in you. Trust that you will stand by him and get him through this. Do this for me now, and we'll have that talk tomorrow, all right?"

"But skipping a day of work? Your job --"

"I'm a teeny, tiny cog -- with a lot of sick time and vacation time that I never use -- in a very, very big wheel. It won't matter." Finally, he agreed. She noticed a spot on his shirt. "Do you need to do laundry?" At his confused expression, she pointed to the mark.

First, he followed her finger. Then, he realized what she was looking at. Finally, he flushed. "Um, well..." And he explained what it was.

"Ah." Now she smiled. "And whose idea was it?"

His flush deepened. "Mine."

"And did you do the same thing to him?" He nodded. "Well, that's something else to pick at and analyze." She tilted her head, considering what to say next. "Did you know I was a sociology major?" He shook his head. "Well, I was. And I read a lot of psychology and anthropology stuff, too. Useless degrees, but it's fun to use the skills you learn in those programs to analyze people and situations. Once you get used to doing it in school, it follows you for the rest of your life. Animals use sex as a way of establishing dominance. And scent markers are territorial things. What Oz did was first very deliberately hand you control of this relationship, and then he let you mark him as yours." Now she stopped. He had recognized Giles' enthusiasm for explaining signs and portents in her posture and voice, and he realized she could go on for hours dissecting the events of that day.

He also realized she had referred to 'animals.' "Um, do you know that Oz is..."

"A werewolf?" He nodded. "Yeah. He called me when he first found out. The way we saw it, he had two options: Let those close to him know all about it and let them help him, or cut himself off from everyone." She sighed once more. "But for some reason, he chose the wrong option. At least I thought it was wrong. Stepping away from everyone would have put a big distance between him and the rest of the world, and that's not what he needed. I'm glad he had you guys to change his mind." Her voice softened. "But we should talk about this tomorrow, okay? Right now, there's a small man sitting in the living room feeling very alone and guilty."

At that last word, Xander's expression grew confused. "Guilty? Why?"

She shrugged. "Very simple. He made it out, and the rest of the people he knew when he was living on the streets didn't. Why was he saved and they weren't? Survivor's guilt. But I'm a big believer in destiny. There is a reason for everything. It may not be apparent, and it may take years to show up, but things will eventually fall into place. I was meant to help him, and now it's your turn. I think I'm just here to help you help him."

"Destiny." That word rang in his head for some reason. Wait -- he had used that word earlier when he was trying to talk Oz out of whatever hole he was in. "Great minds think alike. I told him that it was destiny that made us run into each other up here."

Their discussion was interrupted by Oz. "Hey, is it okay if I get something to drink?"

Molly handed him a glass. "Of course." She stepped away from the sink, moving next to Xander and watching Oz carefully.

Xander's stomach rumbled, reminding him of Molly's earlier offer. "Hey, want to go get something to eat? Moll said she'll pay."

Oz nodded. "Stress and hardcore crying makes me hungry." To the surprise of both Molly and Xander, he embraced them both at the same time. "Thanks, you two. I know you were talking about me." Molly and Xander exchanged a guilty look. "No, it's okay. It's good to know that someone cares enough to meddle like this." He pulled away, wiping away tears. "And now I don't want to disappoint Xander. If I'm this hungry, he must be about ready to pass out."

After Molly left them alone, Xander watched Oz nervously out of the corner of his eye. "So, Oz, is it really okay for me to talk about this with Moll? I mean, we're talking about you. I don't want to do this if it makes you upset or uneasy. It's invading your privacy. Violating your trust. Or something like that."

Oz shook his head. "No, it's cool. I think you two will be able to help each other see things that I don't. And I'm messed up, Xander. There's no way around it. It's not fair to dump all of this on you -- expecting you to support me and help me through all of this, especially since I essentially dragged you into this without telling you what was going on up front -- without letting you turn to someone else to support you. And the same for Moll. You're going to need her, and she's going to need you. And I need both of you." Shyly, he finished with, "Please?"

Xander was stunned. In a good way. Someone needing him? Oz, basically begging him for support?

Apparently, he was taking too long to get over his shock. "I'm sorry, Xan. I guess I stepped over a line. I didn't mean to get all heavy and intense like this on you." Oz moved to exit the kitchen.

"No, no, that's not it. Please don't take it like that. It's just... You need me? It's not what I had expected. No one needs me. I'm just the comic sidekick. Expendable." He pulled Oz into a position they had spent much of the day in: a tight, reassuring hug.

Oz laughed. A real laugh. "Do you realize you've gone from being nervous about kissing me in an empty house to telling my aunt about us having sex in the space of two days?"

Xander turned a brilliant shade of red. "How did you know?"

"Sharpened senses, remember? I heard every word." He smiled, gently tracing Xander's worried frown, softening his voice to match his touch. "Hey, it's okay. I trust you and Moll equally. You wouldn't do anything to deliberately hurt me, and neither would she." He turned his attention to Xander's chest, lightly caressing a nipple through the fabric and carefully avoiding looking at Xander's face. "And she's right, you know. About the dominance thing."

"What --"

Now Oz gently brushed his lips against Xander's. "How about we talk about that after dinner."

Xander nodded silently. As if he could speak after Oz's little bombshell.

It was going to be a very long dinner.