I Quit

"Here. A Hot Pocket, just for you." Devon grinned at him, lobbing the oozing fold of dough and cheese in the general direction of his paper plate. As celebratory dinners went, it wasn't much to brag about, but it was free food and he never turned that down where people could hear. Someone might stop offering, and then someday when he really wanted something he'd He took the thing carefully, burning his fingers and then his mouth when he bit down. Surprisingly, it was actually halfway decent once he'd gotten past blistering of his tongue, and he grunted out a muffled thanks in the singer's direction.

A small hand clapped him on the back, fingers curling loosely over his shoulder and squeezing. He glances sideways at Oz, who handed him a can of Coke. He didn't know when it had become common practice for him to spend his free evenings slumped in the corner of their secondhand couch, or when it had become the accepted practice that he would wrap himself up in Oz's extra blankets and sleep on his floor. He didn't know, but he didn't really care either. Devon was less self-absorbed when he liked a person, the drummer, Mike, had taught him the cheats for Final Fantasy 8, and Oz never asked him why. Not once, and he'd never asked Xander to leave either.

Willow had made a comment in passing that he and the guitarist finally seemed to be friends, rather than merely acquainted through her, and she'd seemed pleased. Buffy was so engrossed in her newest crush that she barely noticed anything, and he was just as glad of it as not. The less attention, the fewer questions, and the less he really had to examine his reasons for anything. Avoidance was a game he played well.

"So you quit the shitty job. Congratulations. How does it feel to be a free man?"

Xander swallowed his last bite, snorting lightly as half of his mind took a visceral comfort in the strong fingers that were still kneading his shoulder.

"Funny. It feels a lot like being an unemployed man. And since I don't have any money anymore, my sex life is sure to go right downhill." He raised his Coke in salute to that probability, wondering just how much of a freak he was now that he was looking forward to Anya losing interest.

"Shit." Xander broke out of his reverie in time to see Devon glancing at his watch guiltily, and he knew what was coming before the words ever reached air.

"I'm gonna be late for my date. Enjoy the movie, guys." His eyebrows lifted in a less-than convincing waggle, and he was halfway out the door before Xander and Oz had raised their hands to wave goodbye.

"Well, my unemployed friend, shall we retire to the parlour and indulge ourselves with Devon's stolen cable?" Smirking like he was, Oz looked like a demented leprechaun, and his green hair did nothing to help the situation. Xander snorted again, this time having the misfortune to be swallowing Coke, and he felt it dribble out his nose before he could recover himself fully.

"Dammit! Hand me a napkin, you freakish pixie." Dabbing unhappily at the spots on his bowling shirt, Xander could be heard to mutter something about bad days that wouldn't end, though not quite loud enough to be heard.

"Freakish pixie? I like that. What do I get to call you?" Xander looked up to see an eyebrow lifted sardonically in his direction, giving up on the cleaning of his shirt.

"How about "Idiot Who Gives Up Paying Job"?" It could be my Indian name. Ah. 'Scuse me. Native American name. Willow'd kill me." He never knew why his bitterness unleashed itself around Oz, but he'd never heard a complaint. At first it hadn't even been driven by a sense of closeness with the shorter boy, and in fact, he suspected he'd been testing to see how much he could say before he got told to shut up and ship off. It hadn't happened yet, much to his surprise.

"They treated you like shit Xander. Overtime at sweatshop prices, and you had to mop up puke. Cheer up." Xander shrugged, setting the nearly empty can back on the counter with a sigh. He was feeling off-kilter, something he'd gotten used to around Oz, but there was more to it this time. He realized with a start that he wanted to impress the other boy, somehow, and that his stubborn refusal to quit a job he hated was a pretty stupid way to do it. He doubted very much that the guitarist ever would have taken a demeaning job at Chuckee Cheeze anyway.

"Yeah, but now I'm broke."

"You're supposed to be broke. You're a college age male." Oz followed him out of the kitchen, towards the den where Devon's prize possession, his big screen tv, lay waiting for them. Xander flopped down gracelessly on the couch, moving his legs to make room for Oz while he looked around for the remote. Grinning evilly, Oz held the device up in the air, waving it at him in mocking triumph.

"Now you don't get to watch tv until you talk to me." The darker boy clutched his chest, making sounds of false weeping .

"Noooo! A fate worse than death. I don't want to talk about it. My life sucks, and it always will, and now I want to watch pirated cable in the comfort of somebody else's home, okay?"

Oz shrugged, flipping on the tube with careless flick of his wrist, then setting himself in Xander's lap, legs crossed in tailor fashion. The young man in question, who had never really wanted to see what it felt like to hold a werewolf, squirmed under him and poked his ribs less than gently.

"Hey! I can't see."

"Deal. I'm not moving until you tell me why you're always so convinced that you deserve nothing but shit. So either get real well acquainted with my butt in your lap, or talk."

"This, from the guy who thinks "Hm" is a language all by itself."

"It's all in the inflection. And you're not changing the subject that easily."

Assuring himself that it was merely a ploy to throw Oz off, he wrapped his arms around the smaller man's waist and settled back into the corner of the couch. His sigh of contentment was fake, but he could see the Cartoons over his friend's head, and that was really all he cared about. He remained quite stubbornly silent, and Oz, being Oz, stayed true to his word and spent the next few hours sitting in his lap.

"Why do you let me stay here all the time? I'm over here more than I'm at home, and you guys never kick me out."

Oz roused himself, seemingly half-asleep, but in true form, took a minute before he answered. "Is it so hard to believe that maybe we just think you're an okay guy?"

Maybe something of the guitarists ways had rubbed off on him, because Xander didn't immediately snap back with a witty retort. Instead he was silent, the cartoons flickering noisily in the background as he worked his mind around the strange sensation of trust.


"It shouldn't be."

He found himself wanting to insist that he knew that, and instead felt a lump in his throat that stopped all speech. In a single instant he knew what it was that he'd been missing all along, and he couldn't find the words to describe it. In his entire life, Xander had never trusted someone enough to cry in their presence, and he wasn't sure he could even now. As it turned out, he really didn't have a choice. His arms tightened with little or no warning, and his head tipped forward to lean against Oz's back. He knew the tears would be felt through the thin t-shirt, but that didn't stop them from escaping.

At some point, undefined in Xander's reckoning, Oz turned off the tv. He didn't turn around, and he didn't pull away, he was simply there, a warm weight to keep him safe while he lost his mind. In a way it was Oz's fault anyway, since the werewolf had been the first person in so long to treat Xander as more than the donut-toting, wise-cracking appendage. Anya didn't even come close to this, and that was the thought that finally scared him enough to pull away. Anya didn't compare to this at all. Cordelia might have, at one point, but he'd never cried just because she wanted to know what was wrong.

"You okay back there?"

"Yeah. really want to go to bed though. I guess I should go home."

Oz shifted off him, stretching as he got to his feet with a yawn.

"It's Friday. You never go home on Friday."

Xander hadn't known he was so predictable, that his family worked on a set schedule of dysfunction. He resented it, but at the same time, he couldn't deny that going home was the last thing in the world that he wanted to do. His feet shuffled on the once-white carpet, and for lack of a better place, he shoved his hands into the pockets of his jeans. Trust hurt, he was learning, because people knew too much about you. They could shatter you with just the right words.

"Hey, that wasn't a dig. I just thought you'd want to stay."

Xander shrugged again, head ducking lower as he fought for a scowl, or really, anything at all to cover his discomfort with his unexpected self-knowledge. Awkwardly reaching out, he patted Oz haphazardly on the arm before muttering an apology and fleeing. That's all it was, the urge he'd always had to avoid direct confrontation with life's little conundrums. While he didn't hear his friend protest his departure, he knew he'd been followed to the door, and he didn't turn around even when he did hear something.

"You gonna be there to let me out day after tomorrow, or should I ask Willow?"

"I'll be there. It's not like I'm never gonna see you again Oz. You'll understand when you're older. People can go out the door after dark, and still come back later on."

He almost missed the answer to that in the swing of the door behind him, though it was something he'd find himself thinking long and hard about later on.

"Not in Sunnydale, and not when they don't want to face something. Be careful."

His scowl faded on the front stoop as a peal of thunder sounded overhead and the first whiff of rain on the wind hit him square in the face. It was the "be careful" that jarred him, made him stand there for a second so that the rain broke over his head and cooled his tear-burned cheeks.

It was everything else that made him walk home in it, away from the place he actually wanted to be.