California was very, very large.

While this was a fact that he'd been aware of for quite some time, it never really meant anything until this particular trip, in which he had gone from top down to bundled under every item of clothing he'd packed, jammed up the heat, and listened to the Cult's "Fire Woman" over and over -- Uncle Rory's musical tastes were ever questionable -- in the hopes of provoking warm thoughts.

Unfortunately, the only thing that popped into his head was an exceedingly Faith-shaped woman made entirely out of fire that kept trying to jump him.

Which was way more of a shudder than a contented sigh of warmth.

This was what happened when a child spent his entire life within a 50 mile radius of his house. No practical information whatsoever. A man should not be able to see his own breath within the safety and security of his chosen automobile.

Automobiles were supposed to provide heat on command -- he was sure of this -- and yet the Chevy was a big, steel refrigerator with the world's shiveriest frosty treat at the wheel.

And yet, although he would've used some of his meager cash to buy something big and heavy to drape himself with, possibly a trucker, he knew he still would've gone.

Oz had called, and Oz, for reasons unspecified, needed Xander. There had been no need to ask why he hadn't come to Sunnydale, but as the world got darker and colder with every mile, Xander did have to wonder why he couldn't have come just a little closer.

But Xander knew exactly why he hadn't asked Oz any questions, and he preferred not to dwell on it, but the fact of the matter was that the words "need" and "you" were directed far too rarely at him. Sure, everybody was trying their best to get close again after the Adventures of the Spikehole, but...

Xander needed a smaller pond to live in. Or at least a pond less encrusted with superheros. Even Cordy had a power now, and his brain yelled unfair everytime he thought of that, which made him whiny as well as (sub) normal, and and and.

It was much better to focus on the good, or at least less pathetic, reasons to go. See, there had been a friendship there. Or something close to it. Something heading slowly, nicely in that direction. Somewhere along the way, Oz had forgiven him, and the proof had come in his disastrous return to Sunnydale.

It was Xander he had gone to, to be caught up, to be listened to -- "It's like... I have to warm up before seeing Willow." And Xander could provide hours of warm up chatter, and Xander told him everything he knew, and Xander was still chagrined -- and a little angry -- that he hadn't known enough to keep Oz from getting hurt.

And Xander knew there was plenty of pathology in those thoughts, too, but they felt better. Cleaner, somehow. Maybe he could make it right this time. Work on that whole friendship thing. He could write letters. He still wrote to Aunt Betsy once a month, though he could admit that he just wanted to be on her good side should the state of California ever choose to release her.

Still, he could write letters.

And you know, he had Oz's address now. It was where he was going, after all and as far as Xander was concerned, it was just bad karma to let anything like a friend get away because.... well, because you never knew.

He gave up on the Cult and dug through the box of tapes on the passenger seat again, popped in the first one that settled nicely in his hand and was treated to...

Waylon Jennings.

He was going to have to learn not to mix his stuff with Uncle Rory's.

But the rule was the rule -- he had to make it through at least three songs before tossing it back in the box, thus appeasing the music gods, so that the next tape he picked would be good.

It was just the way it worked.

Xander often wondered if he had taken too many road trips alone.

Two hours and 6 visits to angry music gods later and he was cruising through Mendocino, wondering if 8 inches of snow was enough to cause a flood when it melted, wondering if it would snow any more tonight. The thought of being snowed into the wrong California was just ugly. There was no one on the street to ask directions of, so Xander just drove and drove.

Mendocino was an actual city by the size of it, but definitely one that slept. Or at least had enough sense to get off the street when it was that darkest-before-the-dawn time of day and the streetlights gleamed off excessively dangerous looking ice.

Xander turned off the radio and looked around and everything was kind of... pretty. House and apartment-like, like the ones on TV that made up Xander's vague ideas about how the Eastern United States looked. The snow suited the city, as though they'd been built for each other.

It was almost shocking to finally find Gold Avenue, and number 1438, to boot, as though somewhere along the way the journey had started to lose its destination. Still, there it was, and there was the parking lot, just as Oz had described, and there Xander was, jogging as fast and carefully as he could up the stairs to lean on the buzzer.

Osbourne. It was just... weird to connect the name to Oz, as though he'd shown up to school one day in a smoking jacket and striped silk pajamas.

Xander belatedly hoped there weren't any other Osbournes in the building.


Which was strange, because it didn't seem like any sound had come out of the speaker and oh shit. Xander jumped and spun and faced an Oz bundled against the cold, and brandishing a key.

Well, not so much brandishing as holding. "That's me. Your friendly neighborhood Xander. Except this isn't my neighborhood. Um. Hey, Oz."


And Oz smiled and Xander smiled back and they sort of just stood there for a minute until Oz didn't quite gesture with the key.

"Oh. Sorry about that." Another smile and Xander was shifting to the side, letting Oz join him on the narrow top step.

Xander was suffering major coat envy.

Brown suede and what seemed to be the fur of a large animal. Xander made a mental note to try not to ask if being a werewolf had affected his sense of aesthetics. In any case, it looked warm.

Inside and greeted with a blast of heat that made Xander's skin prickle, as though he were melting back into himself right there in the narrow foyer with the walls stained just slightly at hand-level.

Up the somewhat too-tall stairs and to a brown metal door, 2A, and then inside where it was slightly cooler than the hall but still warm enough to coddle the wave of sleepiness that had somehow walloped Xander when he wasn't looking. He hung his jacket and first several t-shirts next to Oz's coat and waited for further instructions.

"Have a seat."

And that he could do, on a somewhat battered couch that looked as though it had been born to it's couchly life exactly where it sat.

The walls were bare save for two darkish forest-scapes, and a large poster of Jimi Hendrix that had obviously traveled a lot. There were things too... deep looking to be knickknacks around, things that made Xander wonder, suddenly, if he was really, well, qualified to be Oz's friend.

Like maybe Giles should be here.

And then Oz was next to him on the couch, proffering steaming coffee with an apologetic half-smile that seated itself firmly in his eyes.


Xander took a sip, warm and sweet, no milk -- which is exactly how he preferred it. All those donut sessions. His beverages were officially known. "Sorry for what?"

Oz settled so he was facing forward, ran a hand through his weirdly strawberry blond hair. Xander was never, ever going to get used to seeing Oz on edge. He leaned in a little, but Oz didn't turn around.

"I need you awake," he said, and smiled apologetically again.

"I've been praised on my waking skills, though not so much as on my waking and screaming skills." Xander took another sip and felt immensely better. That first hit of caffeine to the system that makes you wonder why you ever didn't caffeinate yourself. Warm and aware, though considering the length of the road trip and the weird intimacy of being in Oz's apartment, he'd be jittery later.

Oz's apartment was his home, not his parents' house, not a dorm. Everything seemed much too adult all of a sudden, making Xander feel just a bit more slow about things than usual. "So... why do you need me awake?"

"Do you talk in your sleep?"

"Not as often as you might think, according to Anya."

"Then I need you awake."

Xander drank more coffee and nodded, tried to see if he'd been given enough clues to figure out the puzzle, checked his watch, and decided three a.m. was late enough to be as stupid as he wanted. "So you need me to talk."

"And listen."

"Sort of like a conversation, then."

"Yeah." Oz paused. "I... I need something from you, Xander."

No hesitation. "So long as it isn't my immortal soul, I'm your guy. What's up?"

"Don't run."

"What...? Um... OK. I... uh... know you won't hurt me?"

Oz laughed and he sounded like the kind of tired caffeinated goodness had no power over. He looked sort of... defeated, which made Xander reach over, squeeze his shoulder. A little thin and hot as a furnace beneath his t-shirt.

"Are you OK, Oz?"

"I won't hurt you."

"All right --"

"Just don't run."

"I --"

And suddenly Xander was sitting next to half-wolf Oz. Was in fact, holding on to half-wolf Oz, who breathed hard for a moment before settling back into a taller, broader, hotter slump.

His t-shirt fit perfectly, instead of hanging loose.

"I made a mistake, Xander." Half-growled, though more Oz-like than Xander had expected. He'd been... practicing?

"You were supposed to stay human and relatively unscary?"

Oz reached up, held Xander's hand to his shoulder. The fur on the palm tickled Xander's knuckles.

"You won't run away?"

Xander squeezed instinctively, caught himself moving closer and did it anyway. Wondered if Oz could smell his terror. Looked at the broader lines of his nose and decided it was probably a sure thing. "I'm here."

"I never should have separated myself from the moon, Xander. The moon... she controls things. She knows so much that we couldn't even dream of."

"I thought you had things under control, though. Tibet and tattoos and... and stuff."

And Oz laughed, put his face in his hands and laughed harder. "The masters in Tibet only knew how to sever the connection. I... A part of me is always holding on. Twenty four hours a day, every day."

"And if you let go you become the wolf, day or night, full moon or not." It wasn't a question, and Oz didn't bother to respond.

His fangs seemed to grow and retract a little with each breath.

"Oz... do you know what you're going to do?"

And Oz's grin was wolfish, and exactly right on his ridged face. "Stay the hell away from Sunnydale."

"Oh, the Initiative is gone. Big battle, government --"

"Tara isn't gone."

Xander winced. "Willow..."

"Has moved on. I know it. And I don't know it at all. I hate it, it's like living in a cloud of mosquitoes, like being hungry all the time with no meat, no kill..." Oz laughed again. "Shit, listen to me. I'm fading fast, Xand. All I want to do is go back and bite Willow, give her this and take her away..."

"Oz... what can I do?"

"Sit here, drink more coffee, be human... You're the only one, really. You're who I'm trying to get back to. Who I'm trying to want to get back to."

"Heh, well we perfectly normal humans aim to please."

"Normal is maybe not the word I'd use."

"Ah, so it's weird human-ness you want. I'll have you know I can do that, too."


Xander finally let his hand fall from Oz's shoulder, grabbed his hand instead. "I had a good teacher, Oz-man."

And he leaned over to hug him, took a deep breath of really-not- human-but-still-Oz and squeezed once, before letting go and reclaiming his own end of the couch. Oz didn't release his hand, though.

"In people-talk, we call that a 'hug,' unless you're in middle school, in which case we call it 'copping a feel.' Oz, I'm clueless here." And he hated the helplessness, because there ought to be some way he can answer someone's need without.... without whatever.

An Oz was studying Xander's hand, tracing each finger one at a time. Oz's nails were almost claws, and still almost the right color. His fingers were overlong. It happened too fast to think. One eyeblink, Oz was sitting next to him, quiet and withdrawn, the next and Oz was at his throat, half-draped over him and sniffing and holding him down at the same time.

True to disturbing, demon magnet form, his cock asked him if it was OK to respond, and then went ahead and did it anyway.

"Um, Oz?"

And Oz froze, immediately. Pulled back and visibly willed himself back human again. Mostly. His pupils were a little too wide and dark. Xander looked down before he could stop himself, and yes, little Oz was joining the party which was. Which was something he wasn't sure he had a word for. Somewhere between 'aiieeee,' and 'whoa,' and 'sex soon!' and 'hey, this is new.'

"Xander, I'm... you smell so warm. Sweet."

And OK, he'd never had someone compliment him on his scent before, at least, not quite so fervently and before he could say a word Oz breathed deep, eyelids fluttering for a moment before he leaned in again.

"Can I touch you?" Morphing as he spoke until the last word was a breathy growl almost into Xander's mouth. Oz moved slowly, dreamily, never coming close enough to actually touch, just moving in and out and sort of around Xander, and suddenly he could almost see how it would seem, a radiating aura of scent surrounding him and Oz bathing in it.

And maybe there was some sort of... even things out... make him remember... something and Xander moved forward just enough to brush his face against Oz's and immediately earned the firm, utterly unhesitant press of not-hand to cock through his khakis and an extremely careful kiss.

Xander had never really considered the idea that he'd one day kiss someone with, for all intents and purposes, poisonous fangs, and found himself wondering why he hadn't. Surely this would've been in some dream, some wayward fantasy on the times he teased himself a little before getting off.

Fantasy drift, and he'd certainly had enough fangly interaction to have assorted vampires wander in and out of his dreams and jerk-off images... it was just that they never really involved kissing. He moved in and sucked at Oz's lower lip and Oz was riding him with his palm, using the other to press Xander back against the couch.

Oz pulled away just enough to shift into a straddle and offered his mouth again. Tentative tongue over the lips, tracing the slight curve of his fangs. Oz was leaving the responsibility of kissing up to Xander, and he found he could handle that.

There was something so new about kissing like this, being slow and almost methodical for the sake of safety but also just to learn. Slow, careful study of what Oz liked or was indifferent to, what Xander liked to do to him. Reaching up to hold his head absolutely still and

"Oz, open your mouth."

And he did, with a moan that made Xander thrust up against his palm.

Inside and it was awkward. Wanting to just press their faces together but the fangs were there but Xander had to get his tongue in there. Had to taste him. Shifting and moving and leaning and smiling until finally Xander was at a mostly comfortable angle. One fang brushing, brushing.

He could almost feel Oz trying to shorten them, drag himself back... had he made love to anyone since Tibet?

And that was... that was something else, right there. Saying the words. Xander was about to make love to a man, be made love to by a man. Xander was actually in the process of said lovemaking, licking at a tongue that sort of... unfurled into his mouth. Long and a little thin and suggestive. Both of Oz's hands at his crotch now, undoing his pants and slipping inside to hold him there, squeeze and stroke directly on the skin, almost claws tickling just on the edge of real pain and Xander sucked at Oz's tongue hard, lapped the underside with one long stroke.

Clothes, then, and the removal thereof, leaving them barechested, standing dangerously away from the comfort of the static couch and there was nothing underneath when Oz dropped his pants. Good sized cock on the slim side, sprouting mushroom like from the ginger thatch of his groin.

Any spare flesh he might have had was gone now, leaving muscle and white skin mostly hidden by the fur of his torso and the looping tattoo. Scarred in more places than Xander could account for with his own memory. Something like fading claw marks at his shoulder... small claws. Oz saw him looking but didn't say anything until he'd taken off his socks.

"I hunt now, Xander. It's the only way."


"Strays." And Oz simply stood there, waited while Xander digested -- whoa, bad word choice -- the revelation. Oz, prowling the streets, killing and... eating? Whatever he found without a tag of ownership.

"Jesus, Oz..."

Eyes so wide open. Sad and fiercely unashamed and Xander... Xander crouched to undo his sneakers and slip his pants and shorts and socks off.

"I won't run." Thought, impossible to deny: Had Oz been hunting before Xander arrived? Had Xander tasted blood?

Out of his own head and Oz was staring at him, taking him in entirely and Xander felt... much too human. Unadorned with anything beyond his own skin and 98.6 and stunted senses. Oz took his hand and led him back into the bedroom, dark save for the dim yellow light of a lamp decorated, oddly, with leaping gazelle-like things on the shade.

The bed was soft, mattress clearly on it's last legs though not too squeaky. The bed was a massive thing of chipped, scarred wood. Indifferent age and heaviness, just another weird wooden growth of the apartment itself.

Oz next to Xander, kneeling on the bed and nuzzling his neck, making him shiver, his nipples spike. Xander stroked his cock without thinking, flushed hard when he realized he was pretty much jerking himself for an avid audience. He hadn't even done it for Anya, though to be fair, Oz never asked to film it and it sounded like a growl against his ear but it felt like a purr.

Oz shifting behind him, tucking Xander back between his thighs, Xander's legs still dangling off the bed and Oz touching him. Giddy aching joy at providing exactly what was desired. Sideburn fur against his throat, chest fur soft and springy against his back and Oz's hard, hot cock burning its presence just above Xander's ass. Oz leaning over to watch and Xander touched himself, teased and stroked his cock all over, eyes closed and moving to the ways that made Oz thrust against him while Oz's hands roamed Xander's chest.

Blunt, callused fingers rubbing and chafing at his nipples, scratching so, so lightly and Xander.


Allowed himself three short, quick thrusts and let his cock go to continue trying to arch against his belly. Oz started moving his own hands down but Xander shrugged him off. Turned around and found Oz just that much hairier, that much more bestial. Werewolves were attracted to sexual energy, the scents the power, the push and pull and sweat of it...

Xander hadn't needed to be told that... some things just made perfect body sense.

Kissed him, a little reckless this time for just a heartbeat, Oz's rough tongue making him harder, making him have to push and pull them both further on to the big bed, the plain, cool sheets beneath them, the blanket bundled off to one side, Oz pushing his mouth against Xander's chest, less kissing than rubbing, massaging blood-hungry gums against Xander's skin and Oz was...

Oz was beautiful. Struggling half-creature wanting. Wanting him, and maybe wanting to hurt him, but mostly wanting to touch.

And Xander had to test that idea, had to pull back long enough to trace the ridges and feel their own aliveness, just beneath sweat-slick skin. Reach down for his cock, for the difference of it in his palm and just watch for a second. Oz arching and stroking Xander all over his torso, baring a bare throat. Somehow frighteningly bare and Xander had to lean in and kiss. Suck there and mouth and get it wet and be a little harsh with his cock.

Needing to drive Oz a little crazy, stroke him with the sort of action he only indulged himself with in an empty house because it just made him moan like it made Oz moan.

Only without the low, mournful howl at the end of it and the flesh in Xander's hands... changed.

Xander managed, barely, not to jump. Scooted back and straddled Oz's thighs and looked.

At an entirely different cock. Darker, longer hair. Shorter and thicker, smoother and wetter. Oz's scent was high in the air, much sharper now. Glanced up and Oz had thrown an arm over his eyes, laid out flat and... slumping again. Stroke to the larger balls and Oz shuddered and his cock changed again. Something... something different about the base and yes, Aunt Betsy's late husband Maury had had a dog and that was definitely a partial sheath and.

And Xander desperately wished for a pause button to think about this, the ramifications of making love to Oz when his control was just shattering all over the place but --

"Xander, you don't --"

"I said I wouldn't run."

Dark, dark eyes on him, liquid black and just waiting. Xander reached out and took hold. Ran a careful finger around the sheathed base and got very little reaction but around the rim of the sheath and oh.


Oz arching again, as though there'd been no pause, just helpless to it. The inner flesh of the sheath was weirdly moist, tight and pulsing with blood. Xander could barely get a fingertip between the sheath and Oz's cock but he knew what would fit.

Crouched down and kissed the leaking head, which tapered more dramatically now and tasted so sharp and Xander's mouth flooded with spit and he had to suck. Took the head in his mouth, still holding and teasing the base and licked and sucked and tried a graze of his teeth. And the sounds Oz was making... Xander hoped to God the walls were thick.

Nobody had to know he was sucking off a werewolf. And humping said werewolf's leg and Xander abruptly giggled around the cock in his mouth and Oz yipped a laugh in return because he knew, he had to know. Sucked hard for a long moment before pulling off, drool and pre-come leaving long threads connecting him to Oz's cock.

Oz watching and so hard and eyes so wide and hungry and Xander did what he wanted. Pushed Oz's cock down a little and slipped his tongue between sheath and cock and Oz jerked so hard Xander had to hold his hips down but he didn't stop. Tongued and nibbled at the edges which shortened and lengthened as Oz writhed and Xander's cock was screaming for attention and Oz's cock was drooling all over his throat.

And he wanted to stop, crawl up and hump something more important but it was like the inside of Cordelia's elbows and the base of Anya's spine. He had to stay there, take Oz as far as he could go, not stop til it hurt, til it felt so good Oz had to just...

Tongue deep and caught almost painfully and Xander just flexed, shifted over enough that he could heft and toy with Oz's balls at the same time and Oz's big hand was in his hair and then gone. Sound of tearing sheets and Xander was definitely humping fur now. Fur tickling his nose, making soft growing noises and Xander finally had to pull out when Oz's cock thickened too much for him to abuse the sheath anymore.

Xander had just enough time to lift his head entirely before Oz pounced on him, wrestled him fully onto the bed. Crouched over him, hair long, almost unrecognizable except also not. Still Oz under the hair, Oz hungry for him, Oz holding him down with one hand and gathering the pre-come all over his cock and Xander's throat with the other.

Reaching back to slick himself, eyes closed and riding his own fingers, doing it fast and hard and Xander reached back to help. Slipped into incredible heat and too little slickness. Spat in his hand several times and tried it again and Oz just... gave it up.

Slumped forward, panting and growling in his chest, balls brushing against Xander's cock over and over, working himself back and back for a long lost moment and Xander wanted everything and got it when Oz unceremoniously slapped his hand aside, positioned himself, and sat on Xander's cock.

Which was fuck and Oz had his head thrown back, thighs trembling on the edge of a flex which made Xander curse again when it happened. Driving him deep and holding him there. Tighter than anything he'd ever felt, hot and maddening friction. Fist of hot flesh but better, so much better and Xander had to fist the sheets when Oz started to move.

Crouched over him and fucking himself with short strokes that just made Xander.... made him need to...

Flipped Oz off of him and dove in between his legs. Sucked at Oz's cock again, making it rock hard again, making it leak and taking that and spit and slicking his cock better, probing at the inside of him, and Anya loved to do --


No more waiting then, just brought one of Oz's legs up over his shoulder and thrust back in, hard and deep and long. Again and again and watching Oz lose it just a little more with each thrust, slipping forward and back until Xander could permanently see the ghost of Oz's regular features overlaid on the wolf-face, the wolf-face over the man and it was all so fucking hot.

Like taking without care, fucking hard and fast and the taking is the gift, the need and Xander wanted so badly to just crawl inside somehow. Claw and bite and fuck from the inside and yeah, yeah, taste the way Oz hunted. Fur and skin and musk and high heat and Oz reaching between them, jerking himself ragged and fast, and Xander moving fast tight circles, momentum and sex-viciousness driving him harder and he never...

Never wanted to do anything but this. Right here and inside Oz and yes, human, only human or he could stop, hold onto this for just a little --

Shocked himself with a helpless grunt that somehow made every nerve ending sit up and take notice and scream beautiful obscenities like the way he was just saying "yes, oh fuck fuck yes" over and over. Looked down and Oz... oh arched into a bow and he was doing this, no one else no one no one --

Came and came, jerking and groaning and squeezing Oz's shoulder much too hard and then barely, just barely managing not to collapse all the way, Oz's hand and cock trapped a little between them and Oz's fur all wet and curling with sweat... so fucking gorgeous.

"Come with me inside you --"

And barely managed to jump back and away before Oz's teeth clicked over where his shoulder would've been.

"Fuck --"

Oz leaped up, but couldn't stop stroking himself, didn't pursue but just watched Xander with unreadable eyes that sent jolts to Xander's throat, groin, trip-hammering heart and yes, OK, something more won't run Jesus no won't run. Moved back, coming in low and slow. Curled up and opened his mouth for Oz's jutting cock, kissing the moving fist just once before Oz shot with a growl in and around Xander's mouth.

And Xander knew better than to move right away. Laid there, still, swallowing what he could but not bothering to lick anything else away because Oz needed... Oz needed.

Few moments of panting silence, heavy drops of sweat falling on Xander from above. And then Oz pushing him on to his back and shockingly bare. Pale white skin and marching tattoo and kissing him and kissing him.

Pulling back to search Xander's face for some expression, or perhaps just for the droplets of come left behind. Lapping him with short, eager human tongue. Tangling their legs together and kissing until Xander passed out.

And Xander was first aware of simple black, holding him close but being slowly broken by Oz's low, ironic voice, soft against Xander's ear. "... my Aunt Viola. She bought it outright a year ago, but gave it to me as soon as I showed up on her doorstep.

"She's a werewolf, too."

Blinking and half-lost. "That had to be... nice?"

Xander could feel Oz's smile. "Yeah. Yeah it was. My parents weren't too happy with my break from the old ways, but Aunt Vi understood."

Xander snuggled closer and tried to remember if he'd dreamed any other conversation, wanted to ask but didn't want to interrupt.

"She'd been in love, too. But the man -- she never mentioned a name -- found out she was a werewolf anyway and left. Vi counts it as love that he didn't expose her to the world..."

"Did she ever get married?"

"No, but... she gave me this apartment because she's running now. With the pack."


"She understood, and she understood that she'd never really be human. Looked at me with the saddest smile and just... left me the keys and drove off North. To the forests."

Silence then, Oz shifting away for a moment, then back. Getting comfortable with an arm slung over Xander's chest.



"You should feel free to jump in with a witty comment, thus breaking the tension."

"Um... is that a sheath on your dick or are you just happy to see me?"

Oz punched him awkwardly, but with feeling.

"Hey, I made an effort!"

"It's true, you did. I take back my punch." Smoothed the sore spot on Xander's chest.

Xander shifted with mock-satisfaction. "I thought so."

More silence, the dim lamp shut off of its own volition -- "Aunt Vi believed in the power of timers to keep burglars away."

"As opposed to her own wolfly goodness?"

"Well, that was a given."

"Oz... you don't have to go... running."

"There's a chance the packs won't let me in, anyway."

"Fuck, Oz..."

"I won't be staying here long, Xander."

Xander bit back his first four responses before allowing himself to say anything. "That's fair... but where do I send my incriminating homoerotic postcards to, next?"

"I don't know."

And that just... that was just wrong, and unfair, and fuck but "Oz, there's more than one kind of running. You've got too many people who care about you to just bail. Again."

Low growl from beside him, calming into a rueful chuckle. "I know. I know, but... I feel like the Little Mermaid."

"You want shells for your breasts?"

"Nah. Well, maybe. No, I was thinking of the original story. The witch granted the Mermaid's wish, gave her legs and all, but every step was like walking on knives, and she could never go back home, and I'm pretty sure she never gets the prince."

"Well, that's... depressing."

"It was this whole morality tale about trying to be something you're not."

"So you've cursed yourself for life. That's no reason to give up, Oz.

"No, wait, it is."

"This is what I was thinking."

"So you're just going to, what? Hop back in the van and travel the world being hairy and depressed?"

"That seems to be the essence of 'giving up,' yes."

"There are other ways, Oz."


"Well, yes, but also no."

"Talk to me."

"I can do that. Oh, you meant now. Um. You don't have to... you don't have to be alone." There it was.

And yeah, that was definitely the bottom falling out of things, because hey, Xander had just made another promise. Of something.

Oz stiffened but didn't let go. "If you had been slower you'd be a werewolf right now."

"Before tonight, when's the last time you got any?"


"And the last time you got in any violence and ignore that question because --"


"Yeah, that."

"How do you feel right now? Wolfy? Hungry? Predatory?"

"You're suggesting that a good fuck will keep the werewolf at bay."

"I'm saying... the more you relax, the less you need to. So wolf out at home. Hunt strays. Get laid."

"Mmmph. I'll pay your gas bills and fuck." Oz sat up, flipped on the equally dim overhead light and just stared down at Xander, still and utterly expressive of irritatation. It was... strange and less scary than the wolf.

"I could have cursed you to this."

"I could have dealt. Oz... look, whatever... this turns out to be, I refuse to lose a friend."

Oz's hand on his chest, just resting there, warm and human. "Xander. I am so fucking scared."

And the only thing to do was sit up, wrap his arms around Oz and pull him close. "I know. Just let me... us help you. It doesn't have to be this big Angel-style Angstical Mystery tour, man."

Oz snickered softly. "Can I still have the coat?"

"Get in line, pal." Squeezed him a little tighter. "Oz, let me be here for you. I can do the hereness. It's my superpower."

"The Comforter?"

"That's Comfortidor to you, mister."

"No, I can see it. American Maid, Feral Boy, and you, fighting evil with soft, downy goodness."

"Cuddle my justice, evildoer!"


Another silence, punctuated only by what had somehow become the world's most aggressive ticking clock.

"I don't want you to leave, Xander."

"That makes two of us. That's what the cool kids call agreement. Cocoa now?"

"It's not that easy --"

"Nothing ever is."

"Xander, I can't drag you --"

Xander pushed Oz off and stood. "If you say just one fucking word about protecting me, Oz, I swear to God I'll walk out right now.

"Even Jimmy Olsen grew up eventually, Oz. I can make my own decisions, and yeah, I can take care of myself. One way or another.

"And you know what? People without superpowers do that every single goddamned day."

"I'm allowed to care about you, Xander. I don't want you hurt."

"You're not allowed to make my decisions. You want me here, with you. I want to be here."

"I'm in love with Willow."

"And I have Anya. But Oz, even without the sex -- which I'm scheduled to start freaking about in approximately 7 hours, by the way -- I need to be here, too. Don't you see?"

And winced and wanted to turn away, because apparently, he hadn't been obvious enough before, he had to keep slapping Oz with it about the head and shoulders until he finally took that one long look at Xander and saw him as the sucking vortex of need he was. But Xander didn't turn, because that would maybe count as running.

Because he wanted to watch Oz prove him wrong.

"You think you're selfish."

Xander flushed hard. "You think I only want to help you because I'm on some altruistic pity Oz trip."

"Are we wrong?"

"Your honor, as attorney for the defense, I would like these cases separated."

"Sorry, can't do that. Always leads to mistrial." Humor and something... else.

Open and bleak and Xander abruotly understood that Oz had built himself half of an escape hatch and needed Xander to do the rest. Which was... God, he didn't want to lie, and Oz didn't, couldn't understand how being nice sometimes had nothing to do with anything but the person being nice. But.

Xander took a deep breath. "Yeah. Yeah, Oz. We're wrong."

Oz nodded. Scrubbed a hand through his hair and Xander wanted to touch the white skin, the clever calloused human fingers that settled gently against his chest, dry and cool. And just stayed there.

Xander covered Oz's hand with his own. "So..."