“Oh, my God.”
Cordelia’s voice startled Xander and Willow out of their kiss. They both turned to see their respective significant others staring at them from the stairs. Before either of them could say anything Cordelia turned to run back up. There was a horrible cracking sound and she started to fall through the rotting step. Her scream was abruptly cut off when Oz grabbed her hand and halted her plunge to the debris-strewn floor below. He pulled her up and made sure she was steady on her feet.
Xander and Willow had reached them by then and Xander put his hand out to his girlfriend. “Cordy, are you alright?”
Cordelia slapped his hand away and glared at him and Willow. “Don’t touch me. Don’t touch me, don’t talk to me, don’t even breathe in my direction. We’re done. I cannot believe you would cheat on me, Xander Harris, and with her!” The scathing look she gave Willow made her shrink back in fear. Cordelia turned the same look on Xander. “You are going to rue the damn day, you asshole.” With that parting shot, Cordelia turned on her heel and stalked up the stairs and out of the warehouse.
Xander took a seat right there on the rotting staircase. His head was killing him and his heart…well, he didn’t rightly know what his heart was feeling right now. He couldn’t blame Cordelia for reacting the way she had. He knew what he and Willow had been doing was wrong, but it hadn’t stopped him. He closed his eyes and willed the world to stop. Just for a few minutes.
Willow’s gaze kept darting between Xander and Oz. Her best friend looked awful and her boyfriend…well, Oz was pretty unreadable, which wasn’t unusual, but it seemed to her that he was more indecipherable than normal. This was bad. This was bad on levels she didn’t even know were possible. Damn Spike for leaving them here like this. Damn Xander for finally noticing her when she wasn’t available, and most of all, damn herself for giving into the temptation of finding out if she and Xander could be more than friends.
Oz studied his girlfriend and her best friend, trying to work out what he was feeling. On the surface he knew he should be furious, and part of him was, but it was overshadowed by something… He felt like he was on the edge of understanding something big, like a piece of a puzzle he hadn’t realized he was putting together was about to slide into place. Oz took a deep breath and tried to sort out the different scents. It was something he’d been working on, seeing if he could make use of his wolf’s heightened senses. It was fascinating really, learning that different emotions had different smells. He discarded the scents of rotting and burned out wood, the mustiness of the abandoned warehouse, and focused on what the emotions could tell him.
Fear. Anger. Pain. Despair. Love. Arousal. Hope. Hurt. Wildness. Animal.
He sneezed and shook his head to clear it. He reached for Xander to pull him up, but paused when Xander flinched away from him. “We need to get out of here and get you looked at,” he said by way of explanation. Willow and Xander both looked at him in trepidation and he sighed. “We’re not having this conversation here or now. Let’s just go.”
Xander eventually let Oz help him up, more because he needed someone to lean on than anything. Willow trailed after them and wondered what was going to happen now.
They were puzzle pieces. It maybe could have been all four, but she knew it was supposed to be the three of them. She’d been chewing on that irritating little thought for the last week now.
In the end, Cordelia just didn’t fit. It wasn’t that she was a bad person or that she couldn’t have made a place for herself with them. It was that she knew herself. And she knew her path didn’t lay in Sunnydale. She was destined for something different if she managed to survive high school. Something that would take her from the Hellmouth and hopefully give her the confidence she projected, but didn’t truly own.
That’s why she was here in Oz’s basement having a complete meltdown that she would deny having to her dying day. But she had to get it out of her system and she had to make Oz see that she was right. God, being mature sucked ass.
Finally, she ran out of steam and muttered, “Damn it. There is nothing in this world or the next that will be able to separate them and I’m too selfish to willingly share him with her.” She looked at him for a long moment then softly murmured, “You could, though. I think you might fit with them.”
Oz blinked at her. Share Willow with Xander? Have Xander himself? Oz blinked again. The idea wasn’t unappealing. And maybe that was what he’d started to realize in the warehouse. “What makes you say that?”
Cordelia pursed her lips and wrinkled her nose. “You’re really going to make me say it?”
He just lifted one eyebrow at her.
She huffed and fairly growled out, “You balance them, Oz.” Her hands flailed a little as she tried to voice her thoughts. “You bring Willow out of her shell and you help Xander be calm.” His eyebrow went a little higher and she clenched her jaw in annoyance. “I don’t know how to explain it. I mean with Willow it’s obvious how you’ve affected her, but Xander is…never still. Inside. He’s always second guessing himself and trying to make sure everyone is happy and he forgets that he’s part of the equation. When you’re around something in him seems to settle. I’m not the one for him, as much as I would have liked to be,” she finished quietly as she sat down next to him with a small, sad sigh.
Oz absently put his arm around Cordelia’s shoulders and she let her head rest on his. “You should let people see this side of you more often,” he said after a few minutes of silence.
She snorted softly. “They’d take it as a sign of the apocalypse. I’ve got the Bitch Queen down too well for them to accept anything different. And that’s okay. I know my role.”
“Very Zen,” he murmured. “Also sounds lonely.”
She shrugged and blinked back tears. “I’m gone after graduation anyway. The ties that bind won’t help me get where I need to be.”
“Now that’s just fatalistic.”
She gave a soggy chuckle. “Thank you, Oz.”
He kissed her head and settled back, closing his eyes. “Anytime.”
As Oz watched Cordy tear into Xander yet again he decided it was time to talk. He winced when she called Xander the ‘Zeppo’. That was harsh, even for her, but points for the Marx reference. There was something in the way Xander held himself that said he didn’t care what she was saying. Something had happened in the basement of the school last night and Oz really wished he could remember what it was.
Since he and Cordelia talked two weeks ago, he’d made it a point to watch Xander and he’d noticed what Cordy had been talking about. Xander was restless. He was losing touch with Buffy, Giles, and Willow and Oz could see that it really hurt Xander.
He was losing his pack.
That thought brought him up short. He usually tried to ignore his more animal side, honing his senses aside, but he couldn’t ignore it now. It made so much sense and felt absolutely right. Question was: did he want to do anything about it? He wanted Willow and he knew that she wanted him, but she also wanted Xander. Oz contemplated that as he trailed after Xander. It’s not like it’d be a hardship or anything. Xander was a good guy and from what he’d seen between him and Cordelia, Xander had some skills.
“If you’re going to kill me, could you at least wait until tonight so you can blame it on the cage not being locked properly?”
Oz came out of his thoughts, surprised to find Xander staring at him warily. He wasn’t usually taken unawares like that. He shook his head slightly. “Killing isn’t on my agenda.”
Xander relaxed a little, leaving him looking very tired. “Then why were you following me?”
Oz shrugged. “Thought it was time to talk.”
Xander’s brow furrowed. “Wouldn’t you rather talk to Willow?”
Oz set off towards the parking lot. Xander swallowed and reluctantly followed Oz to his van. Once they were inside silence fell heavily between them. Xander fidgeted and Oz tried to figure out what he wanted to say. Maybe he should have done that before approaching Xander.
Finally, Xander couldn’t take it anymore. “The talking thing usually only works if there’re words being said.” Oz twitched, but Xander carried on before he could say anything. “I can only say I’m sorry in so many ways and I think I’ve used them all. Willow won’t talk to me. Buffy is trying to remain neutral, so that translates into her not talking to me either. Giles just gives me his disappointed-face and gets all tongue-clicky, and Cordelia…well, it’s pretty obvious where she stands.” He wound down and leaned his head against the seat and closed his eyes. “Willow acts like I coerced her or something. She was right there all the way,” he said so softly Oz almost missed it.
Oz inhaled and almost flinched at the overwhelming scent of misery coming off the man next to him. He breathed in again to see what else he could gather and was hit with that same sense of wildnessanimalpackhurt that he caught a glimpse of in the warehouse.
“Why do you smell like a wild animal?” he asked before he thought better of it.
Xander went very still next to him for a long moment before he opened his eyes and slowly turned his head. “What?”
Oz bit his lip in indecision then just went with it. “I smelled it the first time in the warehouse, or maybe that was the first time I consciously recognized it, but you smell like a wild animal. Can’t place which one, though.”
Xander was silent for so long that Oz thought he wasn’t going to answer him. Then, “Hyena.”
Oz’s eyebrows silently and eloquently asked the obvious question and Xander haltingly told him about the hyena possession his sophomore year and his suspicions that she wasn’t as gone as everyone thought she was. When Xander was done, Oz just sat there and processed everything. Eventually, he grunted out a brief, “Huh.”
Xander snorted and scrubbed his hands over his face. “Jesus, Oz. I know laconic is your thing, but do you think you could make an effort here?”
Oz’s lips twitched. He usually liked that his silence threw people off balance, but admitted that Xander had a point. They were trying to work something out here after all. “I think I understand.”
“Something Cordelia tried to explain to me the other night,” he said before he thought better of it. This was another reason he usually kept his mouth shut. It kept him from tasting his foot.
Xander looked at him. “You and Cordelia talked about me? What did she say?” He looked hopeful and scared and Oz was a little sad that he was going to crush that hope. He had a brief thought that he was about to betray her confidence, but this was important.
“That I’m yours and Willow’s balance.” Xander shook his head, not understanding. Oz tried to explain what he was still working out himself. “You were looking for someone to calm the wildness inside you. Buffy was out because she was too wrapped up in Angel. Angel was out because you flat out don’t like him. Giles was out because even though you thought he might understand, what with his past and all, you don’t think he’d take the time to listen. No, don’t interrupt,” he said when Xander opened his mouth to do just that. The more he thought it through the more sense it made. He was on a roll and couldn’t stop now. “I remember how he reacted after the love spell incident. You wouldn’t bother him.” Xander slumped down in his seat, conceding the point.
“Willow was out because she was too timid to stand up against the beast. Cordelia was strong enough, but she couldn’t accept that Willow was always going to own a part of you, so you never really settled. Then I come along and start to bring Willow out of her shell and then I become a werewolf and you’re not the only one with a beast inside anymore. Granted, mine is a lot closer to the surface, but maybe that’s a good thing.” He trailed off, not really knowing what else to say, except, “So yeah, balance.”
Xander gaped at him. “I think that’s the most I’ve ever heard you say at one time,” he said, unable just yet to process everything Oz had just laid out.
Oz smirked at him. “Well, you did ask me to make an effort,” he pointed out.
Xander nodded. “That I did.” He stared at his hands and asked quietly, “So what now?”
What now indeed? Oz studied Xander’s profile and said the first thing that came to mind. “Can I kiss you?”
Xander’s head whipped up and around, his eyes wide, and his mouth opened in shock. “Wha huh?”
Maybe he should have thought that through a little more. Oh well, the only thing to do was move forward. “Well, the way I see it is that you want Willow, I want Willow, and Willow wants me and you. We should see if maybe we could want each other and then the three of us can work on straightening things out. If we don’t have any sparks that’s going to make things more difficult than they already are.”
Xander continued to stare at him, his mouth opening and closing like a fish as he tried to form a response. Oz finally took matters into his own hands, cupping the side of Xander’s face and gently bringing their lips together. At first there was no response and Oz found himself feeling a little disappointed then Xander’s flailing hand landed on Oz’s shoulder and Xander was kissing him back.
It was amazing.
When they finally pulled apart a few minutes later they were both breathing hard. Oz noticed a green shimmer in Xander’s brown eyes that he assumed was the Hyena and he had a strong feeling that his own eyes were tinged amber. He could feel his wolf stirring and it had nothing to do with the impending sunset.
No worries about whether or not they had any chemistry between them.
Xander licked his lips and looked at Oz rather shyly. “Um, so, ah. What now?”
“We talk to Willow,” Oz answered; his voice only a little shaky. It really had been one hell of a kiss.
Xander nodded. “Right. Willow.”
Oz had no idea if the three of them would be able to work something out, but he wanted to. It felt right. The puzzle was finally taking shape.