(maybe cross the country become a rock star)
by Amy

It was never supposed to happen like this.

The first sign that something was off was who was on the trip. Not that he'd spent a lot of time thinking about it, but Oz's rock star road trip fantasies had always included him and Devon, maybe, with a bonus of a drummer or something. Maybe a few fans who paid for the gas and the weed. But when he'd pictured it, it wasn't Giles, and it definitely wasn't Cordelia.

For another thing, he didn't think that he'd be having too many romantic entanglements on the road. Maybe a groupie here and there or something, but not a long-term relationship.

Perhaps most importantly, if you'd asked him a few months ago where he'd end up, "on the road to stardom via the American Air Guitar Championships" would have been pretty damn close to the bottom of his list.

But as these things went, well, didn't suck.


It had all the elements of rock stardom that Oz had been hoping for: guitaring, roadies, torrid relationships on the road.

He just hadn't expected it like this.

The summer was bad, worse than anything they'd expected. Everyone seemed frozen in stasis, like the fire from the high school had gotten into their blood and refused to let go. Everyone needed a release, a way to get it out, but no one had anything.

They all started drifting. Together, but drifting away from anything else. Trying to make plans for how to be different next year, once they got to college.

Oz, not so much into the whole "planning" thing, started hanging around Giles. Asking the questions no one had thought to ask; getting the answers no one expected they'd hear.

"So I was thinking of learning some more stuff for the guitar," Oz said one day in late May.

"I'll teach you," Giles replied.


Cordelia was the roadie, which meant she carried things, except because this was the American Air Guitar Championships, it meant she wore tight shirts and looked sweaty.

Each contestant was allowed one roadie, who could carry the case to the stage and leave it. And she did a good job of that, in a tight white tank top with their names on it. The tank top stretched just right, and she'd smile at the judges and it wasn't really a few extra points for them but it wasn't really not, either.

They had two guitar cases. They had two guitars, too, but those stayed in the van when they went to the competitions each night.

Oz and Giles had to compete against each other, but that was okay. This was the summer of patience, the summer of waiting. No one was playing to win.


They took turns driving the van at night. Driver got to choose the music. Cordelia liked bad pop music, except that she didn't really, she just liked people to think that. She liked hard rock, the kind that Oz and Giles didn't mind listening to for hours on end.

When Giles and Oz drove, they played the music they'd been practicing that day, to see how the pros did it. Sometimes Oz played demo tapes from Dingos, but rarely. It wasn't that he was done with that part of life; it was that it, like so much else, was maintaining its stasis, and for now, he focused on what was tangible in front of him.

Or, more accurately, what wasn't tangible at all.


The air guitar that Oz had was exactly like his real one. If you asked him to describe it, he'd tell all the specifics of his regular guitar. Like it was the same one. Like one morning he just rolled over and picked one up at random. Except he didn't so much pick it up as mime grasping it and pretend to slip the strap over his neck, because the first rule of air guitar is that the instrument has to be invisible.

But once he got used to it, the biggest difference between an air guitar and a regular guitar was the weight. Was the feel in your hands of emptiness instead of wood, string, texture.

Guitar was supposed to be played with all the senses, supposed to be about the smell and the sight and the sound and the touch. And instead it was neither.

But that was the theme of the summer. Oz didn't see why the guitar should be any different.


Giles's skin was rough but familiar. Just like everything else that entire fucking summer.

Flesh pressed against flesh in the back of the van while Cordelia drove and pretended not to notice anything was going on, except for the times when Oz would glance up and see her watching in the rear view mirror.

Eyes on the road, but that wasn't what you pointed out, not that summer, so he reacted by ducking his head to whatever strip of skin happened to be available.

In a summer of uncertainties and transparencies, Giles was the familiar, and he could be touched.


There was something about the way it developed that Oz never quite got. He'd guess he was a little high the first few times, or actually, he had to be. Because he'd done some crazy shit on stage- the Shirtless Polka was kind of a favorite- but he'd never gone on stage without his guitar before. Not even on a bet. Not even when Devon had managed to break five strings in one night and Oz couldn't play any chords.

He and Giles had been drinking a little, talking a lot, and Giles had said that a real guitarist shouldn't even need the guitar in hand to know what he was doing.

Oz had asked how much he'd drank, and they'd both laughed, but there had been no answer.

Oz had discovered the championships online less than a week later. It was a freak thing. It was pointless and odorless and tasteless and the entire concept was too weird for words.

They decided to go for it.


Giles had been ready since the days when he was young, the days none of them had ever really asked about when he was the librarian and they were the students.

Oz still didn't ask, but he got cloaked answers anyway, clouded with tequila and weed and stories about dark magics.

Giles knew music, and he knew performance, and instinctively, Oz understood that when he said that, he wasn't just talking about his life on stage, but also about the past three years in Sunnydale.

Oz stole the mask when Giles wasn't looking, and waited for him to discover it was gone.


Oz had been ready for stardom since the day his parents got him a plastic My First Xylophone and he'd banged out the first few notes of the Sesame Street theme song with the plastic mallet.

He had never played much at being anyone but himself, although he never much played at being himself either. He was... something, which was open to both debate and bottles of hair dye.

Being Giles's protégé was a lot like being someone else for a day, he thought, like putting on pink hair dye and a Hawaiian shirt. Which was maybe his mask, just like being British was Giles's.

But in the summer of the intangible, the costumes fell away because they had to.

Cordelia was less vapid, Giles less stuffy, Oz less...

Oz was not so much less anything, as more, and all the time.

He kissed Giles in the back of the van, and Cordelia drove them to the next competition.


Cordelia, he was guessing, would not have put this on her top five, ten, twenty, or even thousand ways to spend the summer between high school and stardom. After all, this wasn't her game; playing air guitar was what the boys did, and when they were done she'd meet them with a round of drinks and advice on what to do about the bright lights in their eyes or the way they arched their back for the finish.

She was ready, because Cordelia Chase was always ready, and because the end of the world was coming and it wasn't smelling like expensive perfume anymore.

Some nights they parked in a lot and all three of them slept. Oz was used to seeing them all naked now. The curve of a spine, the curve of a breast, the curve of a memory. It was sexual, but it wasn't erotic, because they all knew they could fall through the rabbit hole and disappear at any moment.

No one was who they were supposed to be, in Sunnydale.

In the summer of the abstract, the practical of home ceased to matter. All that mattered was the music, and the silence that took its place.


There was a period of a few weeks where all the regional air guitar championship contests were held, and they made it their mission to get to all of them.

Oz never would have chosen Cordelia and Giles as his traveling companions, but now that it had happened he couldn't imagine anything but.

The sheen of sweat on skin, the taste of salt, the margaritas at the cheap bar they passed on the road that Giles got for all three of them.

The first four times they slept together they were drunk, and afterwards, they didn't bother much with that excuse.

Cordelia said they were acting like teenagers, trying to play at disgusted and really just amused, and Giles just laughed and said he knew.

And Oz was silent. Just like the summer itself.


Oz won the last competition.

He hadn't expected to. He was barely trying. He'd gotten bored, gotten high- or was it the other way around?- and was just playing. He started crying, at one point. Because the world was so beautiful, and half the graduating class was dead, and this was a minute of Stairway to Heaven and the music seemed to have a life of its own. And in the moment the silence made it all profound, as though the harder he played the quieter it got, and he drowned in the noiselessness for what felt like eternity.

He won.

Giles told him dramatic irony had never been richer.


The first time had been filled with jokes about learning fingerings.

Jokes, and then less jokes, and then more jokes and they were laughing so hard they fell into bed.

Giles like Oz had never seen him, the way Buffy refused to let him exist, not Watcher, but human being.

The feeling of flesh on flesh, nothing new except who it was, but that made the world erupt in flames and instead of burning it soothed the scars from May and made everything brighter.

And in his mind there was Willow, but there was not, because she was part of an old life that he was sure existed on some level but not on this one, not now. Maybe not ever.

This world was just him and two other people, and the way their bodies felt against his, and the knowledge that with Giles he could become stronger on his own time, both with music and with life.

And if that was a lie... well, wasn't that the point of the whole summer anyway?

The lies that were more honest than the truth, and Oz breathed in deep and tried not to drown.


"You're going back and you're going to college," Cordelia said one day.


"And you're going back and doing whatever Watchers do when their former home of employment gets blown up."

A nod of affirmation.

"And I'm going off to L.A. to fail as a movie star," and she laughed, because she was too drunk to remember how crushed she'd be when that happened.

"And this will all be just a pleasant memory," Giles said.

"And it'll vanish, like it never happened," Cordelia finished.

They ordered another round of drinks and both of them forgot it, allowing the words to melt into the summer that would stop existing as soon as it was lived.

Oz listened, and for a moment he understood everything there was in the world to know.

The drink pushed him past the melancholia, and he smiled.


The phone calls home were infrequent at best, and Oz knew they realized he wasn't there, but it wasn't particularly pressing at home anymore than their lack was notable here.

He couldn't imagine the summer if he'd just spent it with Willow, with Xander, with the boys in the band. It wasn't that he didn't fit in, or that he'd even be unhappy there, but this was... this was...

This was nothing but a fantasy, nothing but a dream.

The phone calls reminded him of that, and so he didn't call home often, and neither, he noticed, did anyone else.


He didn't even place in the nationals, but then, no one had expected him to. Except for Cordelia and Giles, no one even knew he'd been playing air guitar at all.

Giles, he felt, would have won, but Giles wasn't the one up there on stage. That was just Oz, Oz who had gotten used to playing for fun but never to playing for this much attention. Oz whose chords would have shook if they could have heard him, doing his damnedest but missing the familiar weight in his hands.

Sometimes he squeezed so hard that if it had been a real guitar, it would have splintered and broke. But in the world of the ephemeral it just looked like bad form, and when he stepped off stage he knew he'd already lost.

Giles and Cordelia protested feebly that it wasn't his fault, but they all knew he hadn't deserved the gold. The award belonged to someone who cared, someone who really wanted it. And Oz wanted it the way he wanted anything else that summer, so it made sense that it fell through his grasp.


They took a long time making that final trip home.

There were hotels all around them, but they stayed in the van instead, all piled on top of each other. Taking turns on the mattress, except whoever's turn it was they inevitably all fell in anyway.

Feeling like a cheap porn movie because suddenly it was all very clear that this was the end of mornings without morning afters and wake-ups with the rush of the night before still in their ears.

Time to trade in the air guitar for the real one, once and for all.

Time to act like grown-ups.

They ordered sushi the last night, and even though they were only an hour outside of Sunnydale they slept on the road.

Oz stayed up the latest, just listening to their breathing.

Each breath seemed to last an eternity before it disappeared forever.


It wasn't the best of things Oz had ever done. Wasn't one of the worst, either.

It wasn't noble, wasn't dangerous, wasn't scary or exhilarating or any of those other words you expect about things that happened, that you could say happened.

This didn't really happen at all. It just existed. It just was.

It was just one of those things that developed when you least expected it to: Because, well, no one expects the Spanish Inquisition, and no one expects the American Air Guitar Championships either.