by Kate

Oz baked.

Okay, most people would make a joke about drugs now, but, seriously, truly, he liked to bake. It was something he learned at his mother's knee, or some other cliché to indicate childhood. She taught him the precision of measuring and the variables that would always appear, plus the simple sensual satisfaction of plunging your hands into dough.

She taught him to make bread, biscuits, cookies, cakes, anything that was simple, hearty, and natural — her own personal karmic revenge against the plastic lifestyle her own mother tried to impose upon her. They would turn jack-o-lanterns into pumpkin bread on November 1st, steam tamales on Christmas Eve, cut out sugar cookie hearts on February 13th, tortillas, birthday cakes, zucchini bread, king cakes, sourdough rolls, even the occasional finely rolled pastry layer for fine apple tarts.

She gave him her hand-written cookbook during his senior year (his first time around), one month after she discovered the lump in her breast and one day before she was to leave to see every city she never had a chance to see before. In it was everything he remembered making as a child, and he took it reverently.

Wandering ran in his family, and when it was his time, he took the book with him, adding his own recipes and improvisations in his thin block print. He baked corn empanadas for the Mexican family that looked after his van, sourdough bread bowls with seafood stew for a fisherman in Hawaii, yak's cheese bread for Tibetan monks.

He carried the book back to Sunnydale when he felt it was time to return, and carried it away with him when he left again, his heart bruised and his mother's ashes in a small clay jar next to it. He wandered, because his mother would want him to wander, and while he wandered, he baked.

There was wheat-free vegan chocolate birthday cake for his landlady in Seattle, who smiled and overlooked his late rent. There were buttermilk biscuits on a cattle ranch in Wyoming, where a blue-eyed cowboy smiled and asked him about the weather in Los Angeles. There were six months in a pizzeria in Chicago, sprinkling dough with fresh sage and garlic from the small herb garden he starts in the empty lot next door.

There, he got a letter and a plane ticket soon after the first frost killed the basil, so he flew to London, his mother's cookbook and his mother's ashes tucked carefully into his carry-on. Familiar faces greeted him at the airport, and one in particular looked particularly pleased to see him.

To his surprise, it wasn't Willow.

Even more to his surprise, he found that he was even more pleased to see him.

Although he was happy to see Buffy, Dawn, Xander, and Willow, he realized, as they sat on the train on their way to Giles's home, that the only reason he came was because of Giles.

At what was now his new home, the kitchen was huge and filled with a variety of pans, dishes, and devices. Oz placed his mother in the small grove on Giles' land (she always wanted to live in England), put his cookbook on the kitchen shelf, and began to plan for Christmas.

Giles walked in one day close to Christmas and found Oz buried up to the elbow in sweet-smelling dough and singing softly off-key to Slade's Christmas song. He paused, watching him for a few minutes, until the song was over, until Oz looked up, until the moment seemed right, like when loose ingredients form into dough, and walked over to kiss him.