This Human Face Is Just Your Disguise

The trouble was that Oz hadn't exactly planned ahead when he'd ditched Sunnydale like all the hounds of hell -- or something like that -- were on his trail. He was a little guy, but he still needed to eat, and twenty-five days out of the month he wasn't all that adept at catching his own food. About halfway down Route 66 his cash started to run low, and closer he got to the ocean, the more he realized he disliked the idea of eating tree bark. Or maybe shoe leather. Whatever; they both probably smelled bad, and if he busted a tooth he couldn't afford dentures.

Certified genius or not, Oz had only two marketable skills. Since he didn't relish the notion of turning tricks in the Vince Lombardi Service Center restroom, that left joining a band. So he parked the van in the crappier end of this little college town and started looking at "musician wanted" posters. Guitarist, bassist, he didn't care. He had both in the van, though with his luck he'd have to sell one soon. Oh, that one looked promising.

At the eighth audition, he allowed himself to feel optimistic for the first time. The third and sixth auditions hadn't even let him play after he'd explained, in the spirit of honesty, that he pretty much sucked. Most of the others had looked at him askance, let him play, and then don't-call-us-we'll-call-youed him. The guys in this band just laughed. The drummer -- a big bald buddha who'd mostly been sitting at his drums looking uncomfortable, or maybe unhappy -- explained earnestly "dude, you can't suck as much as we do."

He didn't enjoy playing with them very much. Just because he wasn't very good didn't mean he didn't love music, and what was the point of being a crappy band if you couldn't at least enjoy the jam sessions with your boys? But Lester was the kind of kid who seemed more into being in a band then into the music, and Rick was nervous about something. The buddha seemed like he'd probably be fun to play with if you weren't so damn miserable right now.

Still, a job was a job, though Oz strongly doubted that Lester had been telling the truth when he said "oh, tons of paying gigs, man." Even the Dingoes were more employable than these guys, and that was saying something. He finished the bass riff he'd been playing without his usual pang at the music's ending. "Lester? How I do?" he asked, as the door slammed open and a tiny punkster chick stormed in.

"Crap!" And without a word to him, Lester and Rick vanished up the stairs. Oz melted back against the wall as the girl berated the buddhameister.

"At least you guys could have had the decency to tell me you were getting new bass player!" And on and on, with cursing in Spanish, and throwing of small items. Oz watched in admiration approaching awe. She certainly wasn't the most frightening female he'd ever met; after all, he was friends with Buffy, and had just killed Veru -- he pulled that train of thought to a screeching halt before it left the station. But this girl was a bundle of terror, and probably without any superpowers.

After she stormed off, he followed her. It probably wasn't a bright idea, but he was so burned out by Lester and his music-hating band of goons that the danger seemed worth it.

"Yo." She spun around and kicked, but hey, preternatural senses had to be good for something. Actually, that was probably just Sunnydale reflexes kicking in. Never come up behind something and spook it from within tentacle range.

"Leave me the fuck alone, you little prick," she snarled.

He backed up another step and held up his hands peacefully -- probably not the best idea, since he was still carrying his bass. He moved it to safety behind his back and said, "I just wanted to -- look, sorry. They didn't tell me they already had a bass player. I wouldn't have auditioned if I'd known." She looked like she was going to shout again, so he continued, just to give her time (he hoped) to calm down. "Do you know why they wanted you out? Because it can't be that you play too badly for them."

It took her a minute, but he saw her get it. Her sudden smile was as stunning as her rage was impressive. "They play like shit, don't they?" She laughed. "I wasn't coming around no more. Who'd want to spend time with those guys? Except Texas, he's cool." Her smile lessened, probably as she remembered her big bald friend's betrayal. "Or he was. Ah, fuck it. Buy me a beer and we're even."

Oz shrugged. "Underage. Also, pretty much broke. S'why I was auditioning. Needed pizza money."

The girl laughed again. Really, she had a great laugh. Her whole body arched, and her red lips made an O that practically filled her face. "Did those losers tell you they had paying gigs? 'Cause that's fulla shit!" She tucked her arm through his bassless one and kicked out one leg in front of her in a walk almost as energetic as her laugh. "C'mon, I know where we can cadge some burgers. Just let me do the flirting." She winked.

Oz looked at the compact girl holding his hand who was so very much Not Willow, so unlike Willow in all ways except that they both breathed oxygen. Probably. "Burgers?" Sounded perfect. "I'm Oz."

"Hopey. Come on, if we get there and Pat's not around I can probably find some whiskey, too. And maybe if you're lucky an old pair of garters."

She was kidding. He thought.

Burgers sounded good.