There was something about breathing that had always calmed Oz. It
was easy; it was refreshing. He liked it. And he especially liked to
take deep, careful breaths that pushed all the mustiness from his
lungs. Like sometimes you need to clean under the bed for dust-
bunnies, sometimes Oz just needed to breathe. To breathe deep and
to breathe long; but the real reason behind his breathing had
undergone some changes.
Because Oz used to breathe just because if felt so damn good, and
now he was breathing in a desperate attempt to feel halfway decent.
To admit that his classes were over and there were no other reasons
to avoid going home. To get up the nerve to face Devon.
It was a lot easier said than done, a complete reversal of Oz's life thus
far. Action always came so naturally to him; the thoughts that led to
movement were always more demanding than the thoughts that led to
speech. The difference only got more distinct after he became a wolf
and began needing to give in to instinct more often. But now now
he knew there were things that needed to be said. And the thing that
scared him was that he knew, he knew that once it came down to
it, he wouldn't be able to think things through. He would have to just
say what came to his mind.
That was damn frightening to Oz. It was why he hadn't settled things
with Willow yet, more than two months after they'd broken up. There
was still too much something. The tightening in his chest that would
make him say things he might think better of later. The jolt of
realizing he'd let words fall out of his mouth without thinking about
But he had to go, and he knew he did, and the drive home seemed
abnormally and cruelly short. And then more reversal, because the
front walk seemed so long he would never get up it, so he would be
stuck in the yard forever. In limbo. Lost. Stuck in the same bad place
with Devon as he still was with Willow, because he was a fucking
coward and couldn't deal with his life.
The house was quiet, an eerie type of calm that made Oz sure
someone was going to jump out from around a corner any moment.
But it didn't happen, and he actually made it to his room without
chickening out and inventing some errand he desperately needed to
Irritatingly enough, the room seemed full of sweaty memories and
breathy frustrations as soon as he walked in; he could actually smell
remnants of Devon from the last time they'd wound up in Oz's room.
A week ago. It felt somehow longer than that, and not merely
because his enhanced sense of smell emphasized the stale nature of
the lingering scent. He'd fallen out of the habit of going good lengths
of time without pressing up against the singer's warm flesh and
pulling in deep, fresh gulps of Devon-flavored air.
There was something else, though; a slight shuffle and Oz turned,
catching sight of hair in the pile of clothing that had just moved.
Devon stared up at him, his eyes bleary from his knack for carefully
mixing pills and alcohol. Oz was always waiting for the day he'd
misjudge the ratio and they'd both become very personally
acquainted with the emergency room staff. The obvious lack of sleep
wasn't helping Devon's appearance, either; he looked sullen and far
too tired to be anywhere but curled up in bed. "What are you doing
in here?" Oz muttered.
"Looking for you...I thought maybe you'd come back...Where have
Oz shrugged. "Out. Go to bed, Dev."
"Where have you been?"
"Nowhere. Really, Dev, this isn't the time. I have stuff to do and --"
"Where the fuck have you been?" Devon let his body, previously
tightly compressed in on itself, fall out loosely and sprawl across the
"I don't want to tell you. It's none of your business. Okay?"
He couldn't really determine if he'd grossly misjudged Devon's
current state or just failed to suspect possible coordination; either
way, being shoved backwards and pinned to his bed came as a
surprise. "Not okay," Devon hissed. His breath smelled of cheap
beer and cheaper cigarettes; Oz assumed he'd run out of everything
his own and broken into the drummer's stash. Jake didn't have the
most refined of tastes... "You don't just fucking run out and not
come home and not even fucking call...Where were you, Oz?"
Oz blinked up at him, his face stony hard and his eyes purposefully
blank. "With Willow. Get off."
Devon froze, forcing Oz to nearly wince at the stricken look on his
Nearly. Instead, he just stared up coldly as Devon shoved himself off
and stood up shakily. "You weren't," he whispered, his rasping voice
a betrayal to each and every bodily abuse he'd inflicted upon himself
the previous night. "No...you weren't with her?"
Fuck, he was practically begging, so pathetically Oz was about to
Xander always did have a way of popping up at the strangest of
times. Now, it was just his face, clawing at any shred of pity Oz was
thinking of giving. "I was," he said evenly. "We decided to try and
work things out. We're back together."
Devon rubbed his eyes slowly, shaking his head and trembling.
"You're a liar."
"And you're a slut." Too many almosts for him to deal with in the
past few minutes, this time almost giving in to the urge to pull Devon
down and see if kissing really could make things better.
He could actually see the progression from horrified hurt to bitter
anger in Devon's eyes; his face didn't tighten and he didn't scowl, but
there was a razor-sharp edge to his glare. "Don't fucking say that."
"Don't be such a tramp and I wouldn't have to." Oz had never felt so
involuntarily cruel in his life; he wasn't used to even feeling so
much vindictive anger. "What's it like, Dev? Whoring yourself out to
anyone willing to look at you like you're a god?"
"Shut up, Oz." Devon ran his fingers around his neck, then up the
back of his head and into his greasy mess of hair, tugging at the
short locks. "Shut up."
"Truth hurts, huh? The mighty Devon McLeish, everyone's favorite
little rocker boy. A good hard fuck if ever there was one, and all you
have to do is worship him in return."
"Shut up! You don't fucking know what you're talking about!"
Oz shook his head slowly. "I guess not. I thought I knew you.
Well enough to at least trust you with my friends."
"I'm your friend, Oz," Devon whispered. "I am your friend."
"Right. So, Dev, did you ever make a pass at Willow? Is that why
she never liked you much?"
Devon seemed to shake himself a little further out of his drugged
haze. "Fuck you, Oz. You should know I've never even thought
about her. I may sleep with some skanks, but I don't go for the
bitchy ones. That's slumming it a bit low, even for me."
Even after seeing Devon hit the floor, and feeling the pulsing pain
shoot up his arm, it didn't occur to Oz that he'd really just swung
out and punched his best friend until Devon spit blood onto the floor
and wiped his mouth on his arm, nodding slightly. "Feel good?" he
bit out. "'Cause I really do hope you're getting your kicks out of all
"Out of what?" Oz watched him warily, slowly sinking down to sit
on the edge of the bed and cradling his throbbing hand.
"Nothing." Devon crawled to his knees and stood. "I'm going to
Oz glared at his back, gritting his teeth angrily as the door shut.
"Fuck," he hissed, and flopped backwards onto his bed.
The ER was crowded, and for the additional pleasure of waiting three
hours and having his finger splinted by a foul-tempered hulk of a
doctor, Oz got to pay a lot of money he didn't have, and certainly
wouldn't be able to make through gigs.
He couldn't believe he'd gone and fractured his middle finger on
Devon's stupid jaw. The pain whenever he accidentally moved his
hand had gotten too excruciating to ignore around dawn, and he'd
spent the entire morning in the midst of cranky flu cases. So he'd
probably get sick on top of it all.
With the sun safely up, he drove home and wandered into the
kitchen, to lost in thoughts to worry about avoiding Devon. He and
Jake were both there, leaning against opposite counters and silently
eating bowls of cereal. "Hey," he said softly, glancing at Jake before
turning his attention to Devon.
Devon looked up, and Oz was struck with how he could feel huge
chunks of his life slip away in mere instants, all with a look.
Willow's face when she saw he and Veruca; Xander's mortified
expression when he'd walked into the living room. And now
Devon...his cheek tinged with an angry purple bruise, his eyes still
bleary and not-quite-sober, he looked...sad. Like he knew as well as
Oz did that something in their relationship was over, and they had
yet to figure out how much of a something it was. "Oz," he
acknowledged, just as softly.
Jake's eyes darted between the two, and he slowly put his empty
bowl in the sink. "Hey, Oz. I...I'm gonna leave you guys alone --"
"No." Oz couldn't manage to tear his eyes from Devon's defeated
gaze. "You need to hear this, too...you'll have to tell Gary later. You
guys need to find a new guitarist. To - to replace me."
"Jake, I think leaving us alone is a good idea." Devon's voice was
raspy, highly controlled, but Oz could see the panic in his face. "I'll
let you know what's up later."
With a slow nod, Jake slid around Oz and left, and Oz finally tore
his eyes from Devon and collapsed in a chair, staring at the floor.
"Does it hurt?" he whispered.
"It's fine," Devon snapped. "Oz, you better fucking explain yourself.
"Let's get something straight, Dev. I don't have to explain myself to
you, ever. I don't have to tell you where I go, or who I see, or what
I do and why."
"Yeah, maybe not. Not when it's just between you and me. But if
you're gonna fuck with the whole band, you damn well better have a
good excuse, and it better not be your chicken-shit habit of copping
out when things get tense."
"Oh, that's great, Devon. You lecturing me on copping out. By
the way, just how many pills have you popped in the last two days?"
"You know damn well what I mean. Why would we need to replace
"Because your stinking jaw is just as thick as the rest of your
fucking skull." Oz held up his hand, the inner three fingers bound
together. "I can't play, Devon. For at least 6 weeks. I broke a finger."
It struck Oz that it wasn't all that surprising how easily Devon
managed to get so many people to adore him. He had ways of
speaking with his body that he probably wasn't even aware of; now,
as he sank into a chair and let his head fall to rest on the kitchen
table, one arm wound its way around his head and there was
something in the way his fingertips rubbed absently at the back of
his neck that captivated Oz. Very subtle, but it was expertly giving
him that urge again, to just fling himself at Devon and insist that
everything was right between them.
But it wasn't right, and Oz could see it clearly in the way Devon
finally folded his arms on the tabletop and rested his uninjured cheek
on them, staring sideways at Oz. "Okay," he muttered. "So...we get
another player for awhile. I know a guy who's pretty decent, he'll
probably be able fill in for however long we need. And your hand
will heal and you'll be able to play again --"
"No." Oz couldn't really believe he'd managed to force the word
from his mouth; it didn't feel right even though he knew it was what
he had to do. "Devon...you need to find someone...permanent. I'm
quitting. I'm quitting and I'm moving out and I'm leavig like the
chicken-shit bastard I am, as you put it so well."
"I didn't call you a bastard," Devon whispered, slowly lifting his head
and shaking it in disbelief. "Oz, what the fuck are you talking about?
You can't just quit!"
"Yeah, I can." Oz stood up. "I'm going to go get some sleep. You
might as well tell Jake and Gary; they need to know how things are.
I...Just leave me alone for awhile, okay? I need to figure out some
"Oz." The desperation in Devon's voice forced him to turn.
"You...Look, you know I'm sorry, right? About Xander...I shouldn't
have kissed him."
"No, I didn't know." Oz forced a small smile. "And I believe you.
But it doesn't change anything."
It was entirely too easy to just abandon his entire life, Oz thought as
he dumped his last duffel into the van and shut the doors. A couple
forms to withdraw from school, and brief notes explaining to a few
people that he was leaving Sunnydale. All designed to keep the
questions safe at bay until he wasn't around to answer them, and
perfectly suited to making him feel like more of a jerk than he
It just seemed like it should take longer than three days to tie up 20
years of loose ends. True, he'd always lacked attachments; he'd
drifted through his life and rolled with the punches as best he could,
and to show for it he had a van of belongings and a fistful of
estranged friends. All too easy to pack up and cast away, so that Oz
felt a little directionless even when he knew where he was going.
Devon emerged from his room in a cloud of smoke when Oz
trudged back in to grab his keys and the cassettes he wanted to listen
to. "You cuttin' out?" he muttered, leaning into his doorframe and
fiddling with an unlit cigarette.
Oz froze, reluctantly meeting Devon's eyes. "Yeah." He shifted his
weight to one foot, not quite knowing what to say after three days of
not speaking to the singer. "Just have to get my keys..."
Devon nodded, his gaze dropping and then following Oz's body all
the way back up to his face. It wasn't a predatory or sexual stare;
nowhere near the evaluating look he so often gave young girls. This
was more an intentional effort to file away every detail. "Know where
"I think I'll hit L.A. for awhile. Dev...I need to ask you something."
"Why did you do it?"
Devon went ramrod straight, his jaw tightening. "Because I'm an
"No, really, Oz, you were right. He came over to talk to you and he
was sitting there waiting, and he looked so god damn uncomfortable
around me that I decided to play with him. Repressed little twit, he is.
Took forever just to get anywhere near him." He laughed bitterly.
"He livened up real nice once I had my tongue down his throat,
Oz shook his head. "Fuck you, Devon."
"Like I said, Oz, I'm an ass. Have fun in L.A."
Oz scowled and ducked into his empty room, where he gathered up
his keys and the box of tapes and then just stood for a minute,
breathing with his eyes tightly closed. He didn't want to leave things
like this; twelve years of friendship should count for more than that.
He chewed the inside of his cheek absently; it was several minutes
before he finally opened his eyes and walked slowly out.
Devon had emerged from his room again, and was waiting at the
front door. "You're gonna come back, right?" he asked, his tone full
of undisguised pleading. "Sometime?"
Oz regarded him carefully, his mind racing. "I don't know," he
murmured at last. "You know this isn't just you. It isn't just us.
Something in my head needs fixing, and I can't do it here. I'll come
back when I figure out how to fix it."
Oz got lost somewhere in between reaching for the doorknob and
winding up pressed against the wall, Devon's entire body rolling into
him in one long, desperate kiss. He couldn't spare the concentration
to figure out why it was happening; he was too focused on how
he'd never quite experienced Devon like this before. Needy and
longing, aching to make up for everything that he'd done wrong. And
he just felt different, Oz's nose filled with a scent that was simpler
than he'd ever smelled on Devon, and he tasted only the cloak of
smoke in Devon's mouth. No perfume, no alcohol. Just smoke, and
the way at least two restless days without showering had let Devon's
natural scent tear its way through soap and cologne. It was earthy
and undefined, the entire thing, making Oz dangerously detached.
Dangerous because he knew he needed to pull away and leave; it was
getting harder every minute and he didn't know how much longer he
had before he lost the will to do it at all. So he forced himself to
wrench out of Devon's grasp, twisting from between singer and wall
and isolating himself in the middle of the entryway. His breath came
hard and uneven, and he met Devon's eyes hesitantly. "I have to go."
"Yeah...Listen. Let me know when you get settled...wherever. You
don't have to tell me where...just let me know you're okay?"
Oz smiled sadly. "I'll always let you know where I am, Dev."
Getting out the door turned out to be the hardest part; once he
managed that and couldn't see Devon's face anymore, it was rather
easy to hurry to his van and just get things over with. Things he
wasn't entirely one hundred percent sure where the right things, but
That had to be done, right or wrong.