The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking

The Remains of Our Love

This is Daniel. Daniel's eighteen years old, a pretty bad bass player and a pretty good Duke Nukem player, and his friends call him Oz. When he was a kid, his friends were geeks and nerds. When he got to high school, he was friends with the same geeks and nerds, but now they played instruments which made them cool, somehow. About a year ago, he made friends with a new set of geeks and nerds, but this group fought demons instead of playing instruments. Usually Daniel -- shall we call him Oz, as his geeky, nerdy friends do? -- is very easygoing, but lately he's been quite the cranky puppy.

Let's ask Oz why he's so irritable, mmm?

Oh my. It seems that about a month ago, Oz caught his girlfriend Willow swapping spit with her childhood sweetheart, Oz's friend Alexander. Willow used to be totally in love with Alexander (whose friends call him Xander; what is it with these nerdy kids and their non-standard nicknames?), but Oz had flattered himself that his suave musician coolness had superceded Xander's gawky dorkosity.

Now, Oz seems to have forgiven Willow. For one thing, she had good reason to believe, during the Xander incident, that she was about to be eaten by a vampire, so really it isn't such a stretch that she'd rather have her last thoughts be of kissing her childhood sweetheart than of cowering in terror. Besides, Willow's so easy to forgive: soft and kissable, with tentatively exploring hands and big shiny eyes like the princess from Star Blazers.

Xander, however, remains unforgiven. We'd really like Oz to explain why. After all, Xander also thought he was about to be eaten by a vampire, and while Xander doesn't have the kissing and groping aspects of expidited forgiveness on his side, he also didn't personally cheat on Oz. In fact, he cheated on Cordelia, and while Oz isn't a big fan of the schadenfreude in general, Cordelia's reported treatment of Willow over the years is enough to make him not regret her suffering too-too much, and Oz spent enough time jealous of Cordy's relationship with Devon, too.

So technically, it's not really fair to Xander that he's forced to sit here, listlessly poking his burrito with his fruit cocktail fork, while Oz mulishly refuses to participate in the slightest bit of manly banter or witty repartee. It's not fair to Xander that Willow gets the chance to be forgiven just because -- well, as Devon (being Devon) once asked "She trying out for the band? Skin flute player?" and Oz was super-protective of Willow but honestly there was no point in getting angry at Devon when he said crap like that, not least because while Willow wasn't trying out for the band, as it were, she still had pretty amazing hands and lips and tongue, almost as much as Dev did. Anyway, Xander wasn't going to get a chance to worm his way back into Oz's good graces like that, or by baking cookies or wearing that ridiculous and sexy little red fuzzy dress.

Dunroamin, Duncarin, Dunlivin

Oz, honey, we ask, don't you think you're being a tad unkind? After all, you have Devon and the guys when you need a little testosterone time, and you're chill enough as to not need that shit usually, anyway. But poor dorky Xander, here, surrounded by hot chicks with superpowers, has only one male friend: Oz. There was that Jesse kid, once, whom Oz knows about because on Jesse's birthday last April Willow lit a candle and cried a little, but he died years ago.

Xander's a good friend, too, when he's not playing tonsil hockey with someone else's girlfriend. Thanksgiving weekend, Oz introduced Xander to bud. He showed Xander how to make a pipe from an apple, and they both smoked a little, which made Xander choke and laugh. They ate Cheetos and Ring Dings and the remains of a block of parmesan cheese they found in the fridge. "I thought parmesan came in a shaky can-thing?" Xander asked, before eating half the chunk of cheese in one bite. Later, Xander found some old Muppet Show episodes on cable and they stayed up late, watching and snarking and laughing at Gonzo. Xander, apparently, had an uncanny ability while stoned to imitate a Doctor Strangelove-style salute -- "Jawohl, Mein Fuhrer!" -- as if he were holding a chicken under each arm. The pot was high quality shit, so soon Xander was conducting an entire orchestra of invisible chicken-based instruments, while Oz played air-chicken-bass. Admittedly, this was mellower-than-usual Oz, so playing air-chicken-bass actually meant "lying on his back absently strumming the air and listening to imaginary squawked riffs".

All in all, getting awesome with Xander was pretty much rock-and-roll, and playing Duke Nukem with him worked, too. But while Oz could do both of those with Devon and the guys, with Xander he could also talk about comic books or second edition D & D. Come to think of it, this is probably why Oz still hasn't forgiven Xander for kissing Willow.

The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking

"So, books," says Xander. He's always been awkward with words, but when he feels too uncomfortable to make jokes his poor way with language becomes almost painful to hear. Lately, though, he's just aimed for monosyllabic around Oz, which ought to be great, as Oz tends toward the laconic himself.

Oddly, the new, quieter Xander is not easier for Oz to bear.

"Books?" asks Oz.

Xander shrugs, uncomfortable. The boys are sitting outside the library on a low stone wall in the sun. Why is Oz with Xander, again, if he's not willing to speak to him?

"Giles' books. Shouldn't we, you know, find them? Scoob them out, or something? While the girls are doing their --" he waves one hand in a mystical spooky gesture that reminds Oz of B-movies on USA Up All Night when he was little, "detectiving thing? Finding the dead kids, I mean."

Right, Oz is here because that's what the slayerettes do. Hang with each other, solve mysteries, stake vamps. Cage wolves. He thinks about book-hunting, turns the idea over in his mind like a sparkling pebble, tastes it. "Nah."

Xander looks more resigned than surprised. "Right. Um, yeah." He pushes himself off the wall and lands clumsily in a tumble of khaki. "I'll just go -- I'll just go look, then. Sorry to bug you."

"Wait." Oz is surprised when he hops down beside Xander. He meant to let Xander go, meant to seek out Devon for a jam session. Instead he grasps Xander's arm. "This way."

Honestly, Oz, if you're not going to be more friendly than that, you might as well stop dangling the poor boy along.

Every Strangers Eyes

Hangdog but hopeful, Xander follows Oz back to the van. His facial expression, when Oz offers him the reefer, is priceless; as good as Willow's when Oz told her he'd be willing to give it another shot. Eagerly, Xander inhales, and predictably, he coughs and chokes, wasting a lungful of precious smoke. Oz feels his mellow kick in before the THC even has a chance to enter the bloodstream -- Pavlovian conditioning, at this point. Oz has a battery-operated tapedeck in the back of the van (he used to use the car stereo, until he and Devon got giggly one too many times and let the car battery die), and there's a Roger Waters tape in there. Clapton's guitar playing rocks as long as he isn't playing his own crap. Chapter six in which Eeyore has a birthday / And gets two presents, Waters recites, and Xander's eyes are big huge enormous Willow-sized as if the music is an epiphany.

Two presents, Oz thinks, and nods sagely. It's his birthday, maybe, and his presents are Willow and what? Xander is humming tunelessly now, just like Dev does when stoned. He's lying back on Devon's old blanket, too, so it's almost like smoking up with Devon instead of Xander.


Pavlovian conditioning.

Oz doesn't remember sitting up or pulling back the ratty afghan that covers Xander. He doesn't remember leaning over and pressing his lips to Xander's soft wet mouth. Xander's kiss isn't as slutty as Devon's or as sweet as Willow's but it's something Xander's own. The stubble of Xander's upper lip rasps on the underside of Oz's tongue and he laps there once, twice, then dives back into Xander's mouth until they clink teeth like awkward junior high schoolers. He'll bet his bass Xander's never done this with a guy before but oh, the magic of MJ, Xander's not even hesistating. Oz feels a clumsy chomp on his lower lip and he pulls back, looks at Xander's shit-eating grin and lust- and pot-glazed eyes, bends and licks an earlobe, slow and steady with the concentration of the stoned. There's no need for hands or hips to get involved when mouths and lips alone taste as good as a pack of Ring Dings and a piece of parmesan.

Oz doesn't know how long they neck, but after a while, he notices the album's ended. He could put in another one, he knows, but why move? He rests his head beside Xander and closes his eyes.

The Moment of Clarity

It's the sound of Snyder bitching about books and weight and storage space outside the van that wakes Oz. He opens one eye, rolls over, and sees Xander is awake, too, looking at Oz but clearly listening to Snyder. Xander makes a comical mime face and mouths "we should follow him," and Oz can't help grinning as he nods. Xander is awake, and Oz isn't alone.