Shadow Boxing

He'd come back again, and was now cradling himself in a stairwell. These things happen, but why?

He's pissed at himself because of this; you think he would have learned the first time he had come back. When he had found out about Will and Tara. He knew it had been a bad idea, knew that he should just keep going, ignoring the exit ramp into Sunnydale.

But he must be some kind of glutton, must have a nearsighted soul-- because here he is. Despite. In Spite.

And...and all Oz wants now is to stay in this stairwell, alone. Stay here and grow hard and old old old; perhaps just eventually turn into another little puddle of the petrified goop to be found on the floor. An God, he aches at being in this spectacularly ruined place that's now his mind. Inertia is something he hates. Not inertia of the body or mind, but of the Goddamn soul....

Granted, he knows that no, he won't stay here until he's just another hunk of dusty chewing gum on the steps. He'll probably get up in a while and go back to Devon's, pack up yet again.

Yet he still would have liked to have a little time to baste in this, cook until the edges crackle and have no feeling.

Trust Xander to find an inopportune moment to feel caring.

Xander is standing a few steps above Oz, looking surprised to even see him there. Oz lets himself latch on that. Childishly thinks that yeah, he'd be surprised to see he hadn't already run away again, if he was one of his friends.

Oz knows he's being petty and his thoughts are unwarranted and filled with the "goop that comes and fills the corners of your brain when you are sleeping. Like your eyes. Blinding."

But he doesn't give a flying fuck.

And thinking of Devon, and things Devon was fond of saying, wasn't helping matters.

Xander lets the door fall shut behind him, sending metal echoes through the stairwell. It seems to have taken him a moment, as it always does, to come to some sort of decision.

Oz mentally cusses at Xander, because he knows that once Xander has made up his mind in something, it's damn hard to deter him.

So Oz just huddles over and away when Xander sits down next to him on the step. Leans his head against the grimy wall and prepares to pretend to listen.

"What the hell was that about?" And that makes Oz look at Xander warily, because he just isn't used to hearing such control coming from Xander.

He expected to hear a few feeble words to the effect of "cheer up buddy", not this wholly unexpected tone in Xander's voice of...well, completeness.

Oz shrugs, opting to emulate "Mr. Tightlipped". There's broken glass within reach, and he slides one foot out, knocking the glass over the edge of the step to tinkle its way to the landing, smashing into smaller pieces as it tumbles.

Xander is up almost immediately to retrieve the broken shards. He picks them up gingery, and berates Oz.

"Oz, man. Someone could get really hurt stepping on this. Granted, anyone who would take these steps barefooted almost deserves it. But it's the theory that counts. You know that. Why'd you do that, huh?" A touch of the old Xander. In wordage only; habit. The slant of the voice is still decidedly new and improved in Oz's ears.

Oz doesn't answer, just stares at the wall a few inches from his head. Pretends to be interested in the ambiguous shapes caused by the chipped, flaked grey paint.

Xander looks like he might sigh, pulling his body upwards and hitching a breath in. He then looks as if he has decided against it, however, dismantling it by easing his breath out carefully.

Oz wants the sigh. Prefers it to the patient sympathy being offered to him, the subdued disapproval. A sigh seems to him more final, more accusatory.

Oz doesn't want to be made to feel better. What he wants is to douse himself with blame and be the one to light the match that sets it ablaze. Alone. No company.

Xander returns to his place next to Oz, politely looking at his feet.

As if I'm some sort of animal to not look in the eyes, thinks Oz, or I might bolt.


The word is questioning, a simple invitation to talk. Show and Tell time, Oz. What are you internalizing today?

Oz smirks sourly at that thought, and attempts to stand up. He's outta there, doesn't need it, nice try Xander.

Xander easily restrains him from standing by grasping his shoulder with one hand. The man isn't small, realizes Oz. One Xander bicep almost equals one Oz neck.

Oz makes a show of thumping back down on the step, not even attempting to cover the wince caused by scraping his back along the step above the one he is sitting on. He resumes his careful examination of the wall.

They sit there like that for a while, in silence that has not even a nodding acquaintance to companionship, until Xander slightly turns to Oz once more, studying his bent profile.

"You knew I admired and envied you, right? Never mind. Not a question. You knew."

Oz answers by tracing a finger along a crack in the wall, crumbling away more loose paint flecks in its wake.

Xander continues, apparently not caring--so Oz thinks--that his audience could care less what he has to say. Go take flying fuck at a rolling doughnut, Xander. Lemme alone. Oz likes that thought, and adds several others to the internal arsenal.

"It's stupid in retrospect, yeah, but I always felt that you were above and beyond it all. Like Oz wasn't just a name, but an actual place where one could go, like in the movie, and...and just chill. Be cool. And everything there would be coated so that the rain just slid right off the surface. Because in that place, well, the rain wasn't even rain. It didn't get you wet and leave you dying with pneumonia. It was interesting, instead. Something that might not be fun, sure. But it didn't matter, just crawl into your hammock and take a nice nap."

Oz is listening despite himself, listening to Xander's metaphoric tale and getting a bit pissed off. It's not fair, and it's a bit disheartening. Why does Xander always have to be so damn good?

"So what, you thought I never hurt? That the moral of you little fairytale? Take a class, it sucked." Oz flicks one acid glazed glance towards Xander and returns to his mauling of the wall, scraping harder. He can be a bastard if he put his mind to it. Like that little story?

He can hear Xander shift behind him, and continue, the tone still light and unmollified. "Yeah, you're right. I never thought you hurt. Because I never thought of you. And my story was fine, you're just jealous."

"Oh, thanks. So nice to know you cared." Oz's voice sounds a little waspish even to his own ears.

"I cared, you ninny." Only Xander seemed to pull words like ninny into a conversation and make them seem natural. "I just never thought of you as a real person, going through your real person problems, because I was so caught up in my own. You were my ideal, see? Sometimes a barrier around Willow, too---but let's stay on topic, huh?"

Oz stops his scraping and leans his forehead against the wall. Cool. Pleasant sensation compared to Xander and the life Xander represents. Oz imagines salving his skin with cool cement and grey paint. Blocking it all out.

"God Oz, if I can make it somewhat through all this shit, why can't you?" Simple questioning tone, more hurtful than if it had been said with obvious disgust.

"You ever try to eat someone? Ever go on a fucking odyssey for nothing?"

"You're wrong."

"Pardon me?" Oz feels his spine tighten, and thinks momentarily about hitting Xander. He quickly gives the idea up as being too much work and effort.

"About it being for nothing. My god, don't you see? You did it, man, you beat the beast. And just because Willow didn't respond with her own version of a ticker tape parade, it makes it worthless?" Heat in that voice, unadulterated bewilderment also. Xander speaks on, speeding up.

"You ever think to look at it like that?

I mean, hell--you're a myth, Oz. Some sort of mythical beastie-man, but on your own terms. You have your cake, and you can eat it if you want--no harm, no foul. But instead you're acting like it's poisoned, like it's gonna eat you instead.

And anyways, I have a theory.

Every relationship you're in has one of two possible purposes. Either it is the person you are supposed to be with. Or you're supposed to learn something from that person to aid you in recognizing and keeping the right person when they do come along. Not original, no. But I stand by my plagiarism.

Ever think that you and Will were just not meant to be forever, Oz?"

Oz has been motionless this entire time, except for his shoulders. They have hunched further and further up, as if to reflect the words he had never heard said except by himself at night. Alone. It's like deja vu without the feeling he had been there before.

"Yeah, Xander. I know. I know we aren't meant to be."

Xander is silent behind him. Oz wonders if he looks surprised, or knowing. But that would require turning his face around. To much work. Too much acknowledgement of what he has just admitted. This isn't a sudden realization. He has known since he left the first time, perhaps even sooner. It just grinds at his ideals of what is right and just to let go enough to say it out loud.

Finally Xander speaks, softly, almost wonderingly. "But why? Why Oz? Why try to get Willow back yet again? Why run away like you did? Why put yourself through this?"

"I...I dunno. No, fuck that. I do. I do know. I hate change." Oz positions himself away from the wall a bit, enough to actually look at Xander as he says this. Crossing the line he had placed in the sand to keep Xander away, keep himself trapped. "Isn't that just the craziest, most moronic excuse you've ever heard?"

"Not really. It's truthful. That's not moronic or crazy." Xander gives him a little smile, barely large enough to affect the curve of his lips. "It's real."

"Why'd you come out here, Xander?"

"To see if my suspicions were right, to see if you were really a person and not a place. 'cause, you know, it could happen. This is sunnydale, after all."

Oz has to grin at this quip, so Xanderesque, a security blanket of words. He feels a vague sense of embarassment. He's suppossed to be mad at Xander right now. But damn it, it was funny, what Xander just said.

"Yeah, yeah, yeah. Would I be desert, forest, or sea?"

Xander pauses for a complete space of immediately. "None of those. Deserted island, complete with palm trees and white sands and hermit crabs"

"Crabs? Why do I have to have crabs?"

"Well, how about a waterfall? Willow said once you drooled in your sleep."

Oz laughs, and it's strange. Odd to be laughing about a memory of his and Willow's and not feel melancholy. Shadowed. Maybe this speaking thing, this cashing in the saved words, maybe it has merit.

Xander grins, seeing an entrance, perhaps. "And I always figured a volcano. Red headed, you know? And the white sanded beach would be rocky."

Oz cocks his head. "Why rocky?"


"Ahhh." Oz nods, pleased with the explanation. A sudden thought occurs to him, and the question is out before he can suck it back in. "You looked me over that well?"

Xander stops grinning with his mouth, but the smile refuses to die. Instead, it immigrates to his eyes, sees what it likes, and hunkers down.

"Yeah. When's the last time you've been kissed, Oz?"

And Oz thinks that Xander has been taught well in the art of tactless forwardness by Anya. And then he's overcome with such uncharacteristic shyness that all he can do is look at his feet and hope his ears don't melt off from the blush settling there.

Yes, change is like a weed, sprouting to send shoots from one aspect to another of one's life. All it takes is time, and looking away for a moment...

Oz has always thought that weeds were bad because they choked away the healthy plants until they were gone, skeleton memories.

But, well, while this sudden thing--he doesn't know quite what to call it--is change so large it is flushing into his head a strong dose of surreal adrenaline...

...It's also rather...interesting. Like dandelions. Bright. Carefree, something Oz has forgotten the hue of.

Xander is still looking at him without a splatter of doubt or shyness across his features, and Oz is suddenly left wondering if he misinterpreted Xander's meaning. After all, he has a girlfriend he loves.

"Not since Willow." No embarrassment. Yes, some wistfulness. But that's to be expected.

Suddenly the amusement in Xander's eyes invites company over, introducing Oz to something he can't mistake.

Lust, and oh, yeah, Oz's first impression had been right. His ears renew their throbbing, and Oz is treated to yet another dose of the bashfuls.

"Can I kiss you, Oz?"

Xander waits for no answer, leans over and uses one of those strong, strong arms to draw Oz's head towards his. Cupping his skull, tilting Oz's head upwards slightly with no problem. Oz is giddily shocked again by the strength Xander possesses, before he's not thinking at all.

Not aware of anything other than the fact that--oohhh--he is really being kissed, and that it has been so long, too long, and Xander tastes gooood. And ripe. With a wetly exotic undercurrent. Strange how the classification process works at odd times...

Xander draws back, licking Oz from his lips, and raises an eyebrow at Oz. "Okay?"

Oz nods, and suddenly giggles softly. "Yeah, I can handle oddities, Xander. Hence, I can handle you."

Xander replies with a full throated laugh, letting it roll up and down the stairwell awhile, languidly. "Oh, yeah, whatever. Anya likes 'em. So fuck you, Buttmunch."

Something that perhaps should be questioned now instead of later. "Speaking of Anya..."

"She won't care. She'll find out, I'll tell her. She'll approve."

Oz digests that. Cool chica.

Xander shifts so he is closer to Oz. "See, she'll be flattered when I tell her why I did it, you see."

"Oh, so I'm brownie points?"

Xander nods. "Well, that, and...and I was racking my brain on how to cheer you up a bit. I mean, I'n not gonna fix your problems. That's more Anya's gig than mine. I just hate seeing people bummed, y' know? So I just thought, well, what makes me happy? What would be nice yet quite a strange vacation from the norm?"

"So you kissed me..."

Xander nods, spreads his hands. "So I kissed you. Did it work?"

Oz thinks it over. Is amazed to find that yes, along with the simple act of telling Xander he knew the truth of Willow and his chances to reunite, he felt quite a lot better. Take a look at that and be damned, boys and girls...

"Huh." Simple little word to sum it all up, tuck it in a corner.

Xander nods in agreement before reaching for Oz one last time. Oz is sure of that. Because after this kiss, he'll get up.

Get up, open the door, go back to the room with Willow and Tara and Buffy and the rest. Plant some change-weeds, box a few shadows, whatever.

Change some more.

And as Xander's lips brush against his, he opens his own lips to them eagerly, resulting in Xander running large hands over Oz's thighs. Oz gasps at that, breaking lips contact with the gleaming shock of it, the sound echoing through the stairwell. Xander hushes him, forcing Oz's lips back his own, forcing surrender. No mutiny in sight, though.

Huh. Huh and looky here, he's suddenly not questioning why these things happen anymore.

Least not today.

Of course Oz will again, someday. Will probably see more stairwells, too. So will Xander, and so will everybody else. No question there.

But not today.