He stared up into the tree's branches, watching them shiver ever so slightly to the music. He wasn't sure exactly who the band was, but, hey, they were covering Nancy Sinatra. "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'." He pulled his eyes away from the tree to focus on the Space Needle, rising behind the stage like a guardian. It hadn't moved from the last time he gazed at it. The weather was perfect -- not too hot, not too cold, and sunny -- and so encouraged just lazing on the ground, listening to music and thinking about nothing.

Now he turned his attention to the stamp on his inner wrist. The re-entry stamp from his little burger run. Bright, deep purple ink. "SMO*24." Mysterious.

"So what do you think that means?" A familar voice broke into his musings.


The now-blue-haired guitarist smiled and nodded. "So how's it going?"

"Fine." Xander's nerves suddenly felt frazzled. Jangling. "Uh, what are you doing here anyway?"

Oz just shrugged. "Music." As if that explained why he just so happened to show up in Seattle the same weekend as Xander, at the same music festival, and sitting under the same tree listening to the same band. A band that Xander had never even heard of before. Out of something like ten different bands playing at that particular moment, both teens just happened to pick this band. And they were a blues band. Not even a genre he listened to on any sort of regular basis. "Look, if you're uncomfortable, I can leave."

The brunette shook his head. "Nah, that's okay. Besides, you know me, so I don't have to pretend and try to impress you."

Oz started to open his mouth, as if to comment on Xander's statement, but then shook his head, clearing his mind before the words had time to form.


The next band proved to have a rather enthusiastic following. The crowd at the front of the stage was dense. People were virtually crushed against each other but not pushing each other violently as would be expected in a mosh pit. Oz stood in front of Xander, not blocking the latter's view even when stretched on tiptoes. The music leached into the brains of everyone in the audience, forcing them to bounce up and down, grinning and singing along when they could figure out the words.

Then the lead singer began a little monologue between songs. Something about... Well, to tell the truth, he kind of missed what the singer was saying because Oz's hands were dangling behind the guitarist's back, kind of gently brushing Xander's body. Then one particular sentence jumped out at him. "The word I'm trying to avoid here is... assfucking." At that last word, Oz's fingers curled and grasped Xander's crotch.

Then the hand was gone, joining its mate, applauding the band's next song. Xander wondered if the touch had been his imagination. Until he glanced down to look at Oz's face, twisted up in an expression Xander had never before seen on Oz but had seen many times on himself. Uncertainty, fear, the conviction that he had just done the wrong thing at the wrong time and forever ruined a friendship. He considered his options: ignore what had happened, confront Oz, make a similar move in response, make one of his renowed offhand comments?

Taking a deep breath, he opted for a combination of the last two. Depending on Oz's reaction, he could either laugh it off as a joke or embrace it as the attempted opening line that it was. Leaning down, he murmured in Oz's ear, "This is the best date I've ever been on."

Oz turned around to study Xander's eyes. "Shut up." But the words were delivered in an amused, happy voice. A relieved voice.


Many songs later, including a tune that the singer said would get him banned from the festival forever, a nearly-x-rated monologue about oral sex during menstruation, a song about drinking with Jesus, and an encore of the classic "Elvis Is Everywhere," and the show was over. "So, did you manage to get a room?"

Xander shook his head. "Everything was booked up. I didn't know about this festival thing until I tried to find a place to stay yesterday, as a matter of fact. So it's sleeping in the car for me."

"Well, I was supposed to stay with my aunt, but I forgot to tell her what day I would be here, so of course she picked today for one of her unannounced trips to a mystery locale. I did notice one place that had some vacancies when I drove by it earlier. We could share a room and split the costs. Then when my aunt gets back from wherever she is, I'm sure I could convince her to let you stay at her place with me."

He considered the offer for about two seconds. The idea of sharing a room with Oz was generating interesting images in his mind, but those images were being overshadowed by the thought of a warm shower to wash off all the grime and sweat of the day. It's a bad sign when lustful thoughts are buried by thoughts of grooming. "Okay, sounds good."


They had driven up and down Aurora Avenue for half an hour, searching in vain for a motel with a vacancy. They had left Xander's car parked where it was on a side street near the festival grounds because it was just easier to leave it since they would be back the next day. Finally, they found a place. Oz went in the office to negotiate for a room, returning with an odd look on his face. He sat behind the steering wheel, just gripping it for a long second before Xander spoke up. "Oz? Did we get a room?"

Oz blinked and nodded. "Yeah." He moved the van to the spot in front of their room. "Here we go. You can have the first shower. I'm going to go get some ice for the cooler."

When Xander stepped in the room, he thought he had fallen through some sort of mystical rabbit hole to another time and place. The motel room from A Touch of Evil or Psycho, to be exact. Then he noticed the lack of modern amenities and realized what had happened. They had managed to get the last room in the city -- at a motel that catered to the by-the- hour crowd. No wonder Oz had that weird look on his face. Shrugging, he dropped his bag on the bathroom counter and stepped in the shower. At this point, a room was a room. His previous plan had been to sleep in his car. This at least had a bathroom.


He knew what the room was usually used for. He knew that Oz knew. He was in a bed -- typically utilized for libidinous activities -- with Oz. The earlier conversation ran through his mind. "Hey, man, we're both adults, so I think we're mature enough to handle this, don't you think? It's share a bed, the floor, or the van." The bed seemed the best choice.

And it was. Oddly, the fact that the motel was a no-tell motel discouraged the naughty thoughts that otherwise would have been an obsession. Instead, he just hoped that he didn't catch anything from the bedding.


The next day, they had breakfast at a diner that had at first appeared frightening. As if the clientele would consist of bikers and others unfriendly to teenaged boys that had spent the night in the same bed. After all, it was just a block away from Butch's Gun Shop and Barber Shop. But when they stepped through the door, they had found a room full of people just like themselves. Except many of the others were smoking. And the jukebox was filled with 45s. Vinyl, not cds. Aside from that, it was just like any other diner back home. True, there were more piercings and tattoos at any given table than in all of Sunnydale, but the only reason Xander really felt out of place was that he was of the clean-cut persuasion. Too bad he had bathed the previous evening and shaved that day.

Much food and coffee later, the pair made their way back to the festival grounds. They wandered with the rest of the crowds, allowing themselves to be pushed along to wherever the crush of people took them. Finally, they found a quiet bench behind the Center House building. "Am I making you nervous?"

Until Oz had asked that question, Xander hadn't thought about it. Now that the question was out there, he wasn't sure how to answer. "Oz, I --"

"Because that's not my goal here. I just feel comfortable around you." Oz sighed. "Just... Tell me if I start to get too comfortable for your comfort, okay?"

Xander nodded. "Okay."


The crowds were, once again, extremely dense. At one point, he panicked. Oz had vanished. But then Oz's strong hand caught his own, pulling the Xander through the crowd next to him. "I thought I had lost you."

Xander's only response was to nod mutely. And stare at the hands that remained clasped even though they were no longer in danger of being separated.


Five bands and an unknown number of miles later, Xander was delighted to hear the news that Oz's aunt had returned from her impromptu trip to Canada and had no problem with him tagging along with her nephew for the night. She had even made cookies. Okay, so Oz informed him that the cookie-baking was more likely because she had the munchies ("She's a bit of a stoner chick, so if that makes you uneasy, just say so") than because her beloved nephew was visiting, but, hey, food was food as far as he was concerned. "There's a problem, though."

"And that would be..."

"The basement flooded a few days ago, and all the other rooms are unusable right now since I had to move all the stuff out of the basement until it dries out, so you guys will have to sleep in the living room, out in the yard, or in Oz's van."

Xander shrugged. "As long as I can take a shower, I don't care where I sleep."

Oz nodded in agreement. "Well, then, the van it is. I think it's supposed to rain tonight, and there's no point in making us both targets for the monsters."

At that last word, Xander paled. "Monsters?"

Oz's aunt laughed, plucking a pudgy black pile of fur off his perch, knocking books off the shelves of a bookcase. "This monster. Gonzo. He won't do much except shed on you. Well, he might drool a little, too, but that's about it. He's actually mellowed out a lot in the past couple of years. He no longer deserves the nickname Satan that Oz gave him when I got these two." A second feline made its way out from behind the coat tree. "She might decide to make you her love slave, but, again, that's about it."

Xander sighed with relief. Not monsters. Cats. Ordinary housecats. Oz sat on the couch, cradling the second cat (introduced as Lucy) while Xander showered. When he returned to the living room, he found Oz stretched out with one cat asleep on his stomach and the other sprawled lazily across his thighs. Oz was reading, book in one hand while the other was stroking the cat on his stomach. "Your turn." Oz groaned and shifted the cats to the couch cushion as gently as possible. The cats resumed their hard evening of sleeping on Xander's lap once he took Oz's place on the couch.


After both teens were showered, they returned to the van. "Sorry about the blanket thing." Oz had no blankets -- just a foam mattress and one sleeping bag, and he hadn't thought to ask his aunt for more before she had fallen asleep -- so they unzipped it and used it as a blanket.

Now the awkwardness Xander had expected (but not felt) at the sleazy motel surrounded him. When he closed his eyes, he imagined Oz's hand stroking his groin, just like what had happened at the concert the previous evening. And being in the van -- a small, enclosed space filled with Oz's unique scent -- didn't help. He found himself wondering what Oz tasted like -- if that spicy citrusy scent hanging in the air clung to his skin as well.


Great. Oz was reading his mind, and now he would be unceremoniously dumped outside to fend for himself in some strange and unfamiliar neighborhood. Try to play it cool. "Hmm?"

Silence for a long moment. Then, finally, "I have to tell you something. I'll understand if it upsets or offends you. I won't blame you if you decide you never want to speak to me again. But I have to say it."

"Um, okay." As if there was anything else he could say in response.

Oz sat up and moved away until he was leaning against the wall of the van. He gazed at his hands for a long moment before speaking. "Last night, at the show, when I... Well, it wasn't an accident. Okay, finding you there was. I don't know where I thought you would be this weekend, but it sure wasn't here. It was a great big surprise to find you there. But what happened after wasn't." He lifted his head to meet Xander's eyes. "What I'm saying is that it was premeditated groping."

He couldn't think of a response. What did you say when your best friend's boyfriend just informed you that he deliberately fondled you? And what did you say if you were hoping for a repeat? "Oh." Brilliant. "Do you remember earlier when you asked me to tell you if you got too comfortable around me?"

A resigned sigh. "Yeah."

"Well, you haven't crossed the line yet."


The temperature dropped unexpectedly in the night. The lone sleeping bag wasn't enough to keep the two warm in the van unless they arranged themselves in a manner to conserve body heat. Or, put more simply, snuggled. Xander was the first to awaken. His long legs were tangled with Oz's short limbs -- not to mention the fact that they were both cradled in each others' arms -- in such a manner that Xander realized any movement would mean instant sleep disruption. And so he just held Oz and watched him sleep.

Finally, Oz stirred awake. "Hey, man. How long have you been awake?"

Xander shrugged. "I'm not sure." And he wasn't. He could have been watching Oz for two minutes or two hours. Far too long or not nearly long enough. Time had taken on a warped, liquid quality. But he did know that he wanted -- no, needed to kiss Oz. He moved his head towards Oz's.

And felt his heart yanked from his chest and crushed into his stomach when Oz pulled away, shaking his head. Then Oz's words began to make their way through the haze of disappointment and fear. "Morning breath. I swear a baby dragon crapped and then died in my mouth last night." He gently ran his finger along Xander's jaw. "But I do want to pick this up later, okay?"

Xander nodded. It was all his brain would let him do at that point.


They didn't quite make it to the last day of the music festival. After breakfast, the back of the van proved to be a much more interesting way to spend the day.

And as it turned out, that spicy citrusy smell did indeed cling to Oz's skin. And his clothes and hair. And once they finally left the van, Xander realized it was now clinging to his own skin, hair, and clothes, too.

He smiled. He had Oz's scent. He was marked.