That Good Night

It was a weird sound, when it went out. Little buzzing noise, then a flicker that cast Oz's face with this momentary flash of darkness, then brilliant light again, before it really went out and it was all dark, for good.

And then the darkness - the same that had seemed so startlingly unnatural during that one flicker - started to make sense. Or something like that. I don't really know. It fit.

Or maybe it's just that I didn't want to see it. Oz's face, I mean. Because it happened like this: he lying there, holding his head and moaning, and I don't know what the hell to say or do to make it stop.

Then the streetlight blinked. And you know, alleys are fucking dark all on their own. I wasn't so fixated on the alley, of course. I was more staring straight at Oz's face, taking in the pained torment, and during that initial split second before the light returned, it was all ash. His skin went from pale, sheening with sweat, to dull, pasty gray. So fast, and then it was gone.

But the light wasn't the same. It was the same, yeah. Same streetlight, same stream of photons, or whatever, but it just wasn't the same...felt like maybe it was only there to give me one last harsh, illuminating look, so that this time I could really see exactly what was happening.

I saw. I saw, all right. That was the second Oz chose to blink the pain back, to force it behind his eyes and get it just deep enough within his head so that he could look at me. Really look at me, eyes finally clear of all that murky discomfort. So clear I could almost believe it was all better, than he was fine and we could get up and walk away. Except the pain wasn't just gone. It left something in its place, for at least the few seconds it did Oz the not-so-small favor of retreating from immediate attention.

I don't even know what it was. But it made me sick. Looking in his eyes, trying to figure out how to ask what the hell was going on, I saw...whatever. This thing. This really bad knowledge. Then the streetlight went out for the last time, and we were back to ashy pallor. And Oz winced again, and it sucked.

It did, it really sucked. It may have been worse if I'd had any clue what was happening, but as it was, I didn't. Regular old night in Sunnydale, caught up in killing the miscellaneous vampire wandering the streets, and suddenly Oz had just...crumpled. A few seconds after I dusted the sucker he was holding back, we were about to leave the alley, and he sort of leaned against the wall - sagged, more exactly - and touched his fingers to his temples with this confused look on his face, like a scared little kid who can't wrap his brain around what's happening, no matter how hard he tries.

It was bad, I could see that. He groaned and slipped down the ground, and I don't think he even noticed how wet and dirty everything was. You'd think the rain would have washed all the dank filth away, but...some things are just too dirty, I guess. They stay that way.

So after that god-awful look, the one I know I'll remember for a horribly long time, and after it was dark once and for all, and after the pain came back, and after I kept right on being confused - which you'd think I of all people would get used to, but I don't - Oz let his head fall back against the wall he was sitting against and stared up for a second, his breath hissing as it moved its way in and out of his lungs.

Next time he looked at me, things were different yet again. He was...softer, or something. All toned down like only Oz can do, with all the torment still there, right up front but tolerated. Accepted. Lived with, and in a flash I knew what Oz already did, that the living with it part wasn't going to be much longer.

Real fast. No explanation. That's the part I wonder about most of all, the inexplicable part. For so long I've been aware of how many things could just snatch me up and kill me, and the whole time I figured I'd have a least long enough to understand. Like, the pain of teeth in my neck, and I'd know that was it. Xander Harris, his life and all, would end at last because of a vampire. I want to know what kills me, you know?

But Oz...Oz didn't know. He just knew that the killing was happening, and that there was something so fucking painful in his head, and I don't want to have to face that confusion when I die. I just don't. I'm not like Oz. Because the way he is, he actually looked sort of...okay with it. At peace, almost.

That almost freaked me out completely in and of itself. Oz taking hold of my hand, adjusting his grip until our palms fit together just the right way, got to me even more. And then he squeezed, only as tight as he needed to let loose a little of the agony, and I was suddenly wishing he'd squeeze harder, so maybe I could take more of it out of him and into me, maybe make things better that way.

Feeling useless - you'd think I'd get used to that, too. But I'm nothing if not habitual. Good old reliable Xander. You can always count on him to screw things up, or at the very least, to have no chance of making anything better.

Oz's breathing was getting worse - he was only sucking air down in desperate gulps because his body demanded it, and he couldn't even spare any thought to regulating the action. The pain must have spiked, because his hand tightened on mine for a moment, and he curled in around himself, which pulled me closer. So I ignored the filthy, wet ground and sank down with him from where I was kneeling, and I guess it was the right thing to do because he just sort of collapsed against my body.

He wasn't particularly warm or anything, not that I noticed. He was just there, trembling and biting back distressed noises, and it felt so frustrating that the only thing I could think of to do was wrap my arm around his shoulders and hold him.

"Xander?" he finally muttered, everything about his voice taut and anxious. "Xander, this is...bad."

"Nah, this is..." He stiffened and I just couldn't keep going with the stupid lie. "Yeah, I know. But we'll get through it."

"No. Xander, it's bad." He was still all stiff; this time the pain wasn't going to recede and he wouldn't be relaxing again. "It's..."

He didn't finish. He just coiled away from me until only our hands were touching, and that's when I got really fucking scared. Like, realizing that pretty soon, my world wasn't going to have an Oz in it, scared. Nauseated. Horrified. Scared like that. So I just started moving; not thinking, not planning, not understanding or even trying. I just did. I squeezed his hand, just enough to remind him that I was there, that it wasn't just the pain and him dueling it out in a dark alley, and I found myself leaning forward.

Funny how I never once before thought about his lips. How they'd feel, how they'd taste. Nothing like that. Oz's lips were for talking; my whole life is full of things boiled down to simplicity like that. But talking wasn't getting anywhere, and the idea of kissing them was just suddenly there, and it seemed right, and okay, so I did it.

And then I knew everything there was to know about Oz's lips. That they were soft, and had lots of tiny little muscles that could jerk and tremble independently of each other. That he tasted a little like soda, but more of something that was only Oz. Simple, sharp, a little bitter in its sweetness. That they were dry and parched until I eased the tip of my tongue across them, and that little action opened up a floodgate, and he saw through the aching fog he was suffering and opened up.

To me. Even with everything else, that was a gentle surprise, him opening up to me. It couldn't exactly slip my notice that he was taking one of his...last...moments to yank in a hitched breath, to part his lips and press hot, limber heat between my own lips.

One moment. Just one, all he could spare. Short and infinitely sweet, and then he just...fell away. Sank back and let the wall catch him up, and I knew it was happening because of how his breath slowed. He kept sucking in air, but now he didn't seem to be letting any of it out. Just kept pulling and pulling, trying to find something in the air that would make it all better.

None of it did. So eventually those desperate gulps slowed, eased, and with a tiny wheeze, all of it flowed out of him in a final release. And the ashy paste of his skin seemed to change, into a different ashy shade, except not really. It just looked ifferent, because his face smoothed out, relaxed and liquified into a gentle, untroubled stillness. He was gone, easily, all wrapped up in the pain that stole him away as it left.

And I was left with...whatever. A shell, but a damn expressive one at that. One so full of reminders of what had been contained that I couldn't really muster up the will right away to get up and leave it behind, to go get help. I had to watch him for a ew minutes. Just sit and stare, and let myself know that he was gone.

Gone gently, after all. Just like Oz to manage it.