Bachelor Boy
by glossolalia

It's one of those stories that Oz has told for years. It kept him company while on the road and during sleepless nights on cold grass, it once earned him a free plate of fries at a diner west of Madison, Wisconsin, and it still speaks to him of not only how far he'd come but how easy it would be to return.

He left fairly abruptly for one of his weekend retreats. Just himself, the van, a shoebox full of mix-tapes, a couple changes of underwear, and a half-ounce of some lower-Cascades-grown greengold goodness rolled in his right sock.

Time to settle his head, let the road take him where it would, accept the contingencies of fate.

Also, get the hell out of Sunnydale and try to forget for another couple days about college starting up in the fall.

Willow was merrily ensconced in early-registration comp sci, Buffy was patrolling and lending a hand at her mom's gallery, Devon was doing community service for the county after an ill-advised shoplifting spree, and Xander was -- well, no one quite knew where Xander was. Oz hoped he was up in Alaska, making tons of dough hand over fist in the canneries, or maybe in Chicago, discovering the great American folk art of improv comedy.

Even Giles was doing something constructive with his summer: Visiting his mum in East Anglia.

Oz kind of missed having people around to talk to. Or, really, to hang with.

It was a beautiful day, blue sky just aching for him to drive into it, and no one was going to miss him anyway.

So he drove, his lucky 1923 nickel on the passenger seat, and he flipped it at every intersection.

Heads: South out of town. Heads: South onto the interstate. Tails: West on the old freeway. Heads: No exit. Heads, another seven times: Still no exit, getting closer and closer to LA. Tails: Exit 83 to I-19. Tails: Off the I-19 into the inner burbs, and then a sequence of tails-tails-heads that he was starting to suspect might be meaningful, and he parked in a public lot off Westwood. Tails, and, shouldering his guitar and knapsack, he turned left.

He found himself in front of a perfectly generic prewar office building. Thick curlicues of cement atop the windows and around the door, stunted attempts at Art Deco ornamentation that just made the place seem grayer and more boring.

Inside, he didn't bother looking at the directory board, just jabbed the elevator's up button. Lucky buffalo told him to get off at 3, but it was his own random whimsy - and 'whimsy' was a damn cool word, he made a note to remember it - that bypassed an immigration lawyer's office and a dental clinic. He knocked on the only blank door.

His nose twitched; probably laughing gas from the dentist's, all powdery but dark.


Looking up, he realized it wasn't ether, just - "Angel. Hey."

"What brings you here?"

Oz looked at the nickel in his palm. "Fate?"

"You need some help, or -?"

Oz shook his head. "I'm good."

Angel didn't seem to want to let him in. He blocked the entrance, scrutinizing Oz from beneath those big eyebrows.

Shifting his guitar case to the other hand, Oz said, "Didn't know you'd landed in LA."

"You either."

"Me? No, just driving."

He'd never been sure if Angel was quiet because he was thinking things over, giving them their due consideration, or because he just didn't care and didn't even really hear you. Oz liked to think that he thought stuff over, but truth be told, sometimes he just liked to zone.

Finally, Angel opened the door another fraction of an inch. "Got a place to stay?"

"Not as such, no," Oz said. He watched Angel think: Brows furrowing, eyelids dropping, shoulders sagging, first one, then the other. It was like a choreographed performance, or someone in a silent movie. "Look, I'll get out of your hair -"

Angel pushed the door all the way open. "No, stay."

"But -"

"Stay?" Glancing over his shoulder into what looked to Oz like an empty office, Angel gripped the doorjamb. "Sorry. Haven't talked to anyone for a while."

Right, Oz thought. And this is news? He moved his guitar case back to his left hand and checked his nickel. Can't argue with fate, whether it's five cents or a wolf's bite. "Never knew you to be all that chatty."

"Yeah, well." Angel looked back at him and then it seemed to occur to him to move; he stepped back and said, "There's chatty, and then --. Stay. It's good to see you."

Oz met Angel's eyes and the gaze held for three accelerating heartbeats. Something there, something mutual. "Cool. Thanks."

He wasn't sure what Fate would have to say about the fact that he had to take another elevator back down to reach Angel's apartment. Did that negate the luck of going up to the third floor in the first place? It was entirely possible.

"Make yourself comfortable," Angel said, hovering at the elevator while Oz set down his bag and case. He waved at the little kitchenette off to the left. "I don't really have anything to offer you -"

"It's okay," Oz said, taking a step backward and looking around. Low-ceilinged, like most basements, but without that creepy dampness to the air. Not bad; heavily decorated and dark, but he figured that, after living in a ruined mansion with broken furniture and bedsheets that smelled like mildew, Angel was entitled to a little comfort. Lonely, though; stronger than the silence was the sense that one person, and only one person alone, lived here.

"No, I'll go get some - stuff." Angel nodded, as if to confirm the announcement to himself. "Be right back."

While he was alone, Oz poked around unobtrusively. Sharp weapons, some intriguing books with nice old spines - My Secret Life, an album of Lewis Carroll's private photographs of Alice Liddell, Confessions of a German Maid - and a beautiful turntable. Technics SL-1200, not an original but the later model with separate ground. His fingers itched to touch it, and he let himself stroke the headshell, then the pitch control tab, savoring the sleek plastic and barely-touched chrome.

The record player perched like a confident nesting bird on an open cabinet stocked with vinyl. Oz dropped to a crouch, eager to test the quality of Angel's speakers, but one glance at the LPs' spines sent him back to his feet and well across the room.

That, right there, was some truly horrifying music. Not just the Manilow, because you've got to be willing to give a guy the benefit of the ironic doubt, but Irish folk classics sung by Vegas rejects and "authentic!" Cape Breton fiddlers and what he thought was Engelbert Does Easter, but he wasn't willing to go back and check.

Angel returned then, thankfully; loaded down with sacks of groceries, enough for a large family for a week or two. Setting down one clinking bag, he passed another to Oz. Inside were three six-packs of beer. Molson, at least.

"Guys like you like beer, right?"

Oz twisted the cap off a bottle and sipped it. "Guys like me?"

"College guys."

Frat parties and beer bongs and midterms: He really wasn't looking forward to college at all. Somehow he knew it wasn't going to be turrets at Cambridge, intellectual liberation, and intense sessions of Elizabethan scansion. "Oh. Yeah, guess so."

Angel started unpacking another sack. Oz saw sausages and a slab of liver before he had to look away. Blood and intestines, and his stomach gulped disgustedly; several swigs of beer quieted the revulsion, but didn't remove it. "I'll cook. You - I don't know. Put some music on?"

"Yeah," Oz said. Bought some time by drinking down three long gulps of beer. "About that -"

"What?" Angel asked.

Shortest line's the straight one, and honesty was always the best policy. "You've been around a while. What's with the music?"

Angel ducked his head and stroked one of the sausages. When he spoke, his voice was rough and sad. "You don't like my music?"

Oz took his time explaining, lubricating his voice with generous sips of the beer. He used his hands, and his guitar, even played a couple snippets from Angel's collection. He didn't want to be cruel - the guy was, after all, giving him a place to stay for the night and dinner, even if by the smell of it he'd only be able to eat the salad - but when he brought up, just as an example, the British Invasion, Angel got really excited. He dropped the sausage he was flipping. "British music, I've got that. Cliff Richard. Major guy over there. You like him?"

"Thinking more like the Stones and the Kinks," Oz said carefully. "Who's Cliff Richard?"

Upside was, thanks to Angel's enthusiasm, the sausage burned irretrievably, so Oz just drank beer for dinner. Downside, he had to hear Cliff Richard. Several different albums, all the same horror. The guy made Mel Torme sound sincere, reached for registers and sentiments that would embarrass Celine, and wrapped it all in brassy pseudo-"Latin" arrangements that made Oz's molars throb.

"Yeah, okay," Oz said when Angel finally gave up both on cooking dinner and converting Oz to fanboying Richard. "So we've got different - uh. Needs from our music."

"I like a good tune," Angel said, cracking open another bottle of beer and sitting gingerly down on the couch, half a cushionwidth away from Oz. "Maybe you just don't like Englishmen. I'd be with you on that."

"No beef with the English," Oz said. He was cradling his guitar in his lap and it occurred to him that he was using it as a shield. Or a security blanket. Maybe he was drunk. He couldn't really tell, not sitting down. "Syd Barrett's English. So's Keith. And Pete Townshend."

Rather than replying, Angel took another long sip from his beer. He looked hurt, and confused, and Oz reached over to pat his shoulder.

"Does that stuff even affect you?" His hand was still moving through the air, hovering very pale and small over Angel's black sweater.

"What, this?" Angel handed Oz the beer and Oz took a sip. "Yeah. Well, sort of."

He could taste Angel on the lip of the bottle, old vegetation, turned earth in the rain, and blood. Oz took another sip and realized that Angel was watching him. Intently. Dark eyes in the shadows of his eyesockets, kind of creepy but also pretty hot.

Raising an eyebrow - both, actually, so maybe he was drunk - Oz passed the beer back and set the guitar down on the floor. His skin felt thick and warm and his hands were shaking a little. Yeah. Drunk. He opened another bottle.

"...He claims he can get drunk," Angel was saying, "but Spike, Spike lies a lot. Known for it, in fact, so you don't really know if he's --"

"Angel -" Oz closed his hand around Angel's shoulder and shook a little, just to see if he could. "You're drunk."

Blinking slowly, Angel cocked his head. "No, I'm not. I'm just saying, Spike's a liar. Drinking and eating human food, claiming he can taste it, acting all drunk like it makes him --"

"You're talking," Oz said. His mouth was dry and he finished off the beer. It didn't exactly help. "A lot."

"I'm --" Angel stopped and frowned. "Am I?"


"Why aren't you?"

"Why aren't I what?"

"Yeah," Angel said. "How come?"

"Dude," Oz said. Angel was leaning forward and Oz's hand was slipping across his back. Serious musculature there, bunches and cords under taut skin, and Oz bit his lip. Angel's eyes had a way of just fastening on you, black and bright, and a shiver crept up Oz's spine. "What?"

Angel grinned then, so he must be drunk; Oz had never seen such a wide and unguarded expression on his face. Not when he wasn't evil, anyway, and that wasn't a grin so much as an elegant sneer. Oz smiled in return and shook his head slowly, like that would dislodge the foam clouding his thoughts and let him get back to normal. Instead, it just made him dizzy.

Also, his hands felt like his fingerbones had turned to Pixie Sticks, hollow and half-filled with bright, sour sugar. He needed to do something with them before they effervesced right out. He drew one knee up against his chest and tugged the dime bag out of his sock.

"You smoke?" he asked, waving the baggie.

Finishing off the beer and rolling the bottle in his hands, Angel continued grinning, even as he squinted at Oz. "Only when I'm evil."

"I can go outside -" Oz smoothed out a rolling paper and concentrated very hard on tipping the buds into the paper's fold. He didn't want to go outside. He didn't, really, want to move at all, not from the depths of this couch with Angel's seriously large hand on his shoulder now and those eyes on him, watching like Oz was doing magic.

Angel sniffed carefully as Oz licked the seal and twisted the joint back and forth. "Oh -" He curled his fingers around Oz's neck and smiled again. Shyer this time, not quite meeting Oz's eyes. "That's -"

"Yeah," Oz said. "You want?"

With his free hand, Angel extracted a lighter from his pants pocket. So he didn't smoke, but he had a lighter? Interesting; man really was a knot of contradictions. Oz rolled his head against Angel's hand, fingers in his hair now, and lit up.

"C'mere," Oz whispered, since Angel hadn't exactly replied, yay or nay, just enabled the sparkage. Brows lifting, smile flickering around the corners of his mouth, Angel leaned in more closely, Definitely drunk, the both of them, and when Oz started to blow a stream of sweet smoke, Angel's mouth gaped like a fish's for a moment before settling over Oz's own.

Oz murmured in his throat and Angel pulled back enough for Oz to take another drag.

"Stoner's oldest seduction trick," Oz said, moving forward again until he held Angel around the waist and Angel tilted his head just right.

"Stoner?" Angel started to ask, but Oz was already shotgunning him again.

Smoke curled up between their faces, a thin foggy blanket, and Oz's lungs were emptying even as Angel's tongue pushed at his lips, nudging and asking. His hand tightened in Oz's hair as he kissed, softly at first, then more insistently. Foam swirling sloppily around his thoughts, his body doing its here-now-gone-then jig of beer and weed, slow flashes in and out, and Oz kissed back, gave Angel the wide, deep kiss he seemed to want, made it even better.

He pressed up against Angel's chest, nails digging into lambswool and tight muscle, building the kiss into something Angel would never forget. Even if it just made a footnote to three centuries' worth of perversion and exploration, Oz was drunk (lonely) enough to give it a go.

"Oz?" Angel asked as Oz kissed his way down the side of Angel's neck, then buried his face in the curve of Angel's shoulder. Angel rubbed the back of his head and Oz murmured something - even he wasn't quite sure which words it was supposed to be - in reply. "You okay?"

When he asked questions, Angel sounded more uncomfortable than ever, like they were chewable aspirin tablets, bitter and fakely sweet. His face looked like he was sucking on that aspirin, slightly puckered and distinctly uncomfortable. Oz stroked his knuckles over Angel's cheek, cool soft skin, unmarred by time. Amazing, the more he thought about it.

"Sure," Oz said, tilting back his head and reaching for the joint again. "Never better."

Angel watched him take another drag, deeper than the previous ones, then hauled him forward, sucking the smoke out of Oz's lungs. No words, which was a little creepy, but Oz was grateful for it. More grateful for the strength of Angel's kiss, the pressure of his lips and throb of his tongue, swallowing the words and erasing them.

The paper spluttered and spit between Oz's fingers and he was starting to choke on the need to breathe. Angel pounded his back, the joint dropped, and Oz both hacked up a lung and ground out the ember with the toe of his boot.

"Sorry. Thanks." Oz swiped the back of his hand over his watering eyes and took a shaky, wheezing breath.

"Beer?" Angel handed him a fresh bottle, already opened, and Oz nodded.

"Thanks," he said and raised the bottle slightly before drinking. It wasn't guilt tightening his throat and tangling in his chest, though making out with Angel did qualify for the Boys I Kissed Recently talk with Willow. It was - Oz searched for the word - the dark and the quiet all around them. It was coming to understand that solitude wasn't always good. That alone and lonely really were pretty closely related. "To bachelorhood."

"Huh?" Angel asked. His brows knit together and he leaned back into the corner of the couch. "You and Willow -?"

"We're good," Oz said. Tight, firehot aches branched through his chest in the wake of his coughing fit. "Aside from, you know. Me macking on the friendly neighborhood vamp. Or most any hot guy. And me going all rabid Yeti three nights a month. And -"

"Got it." Angel held up his palm. "My bachelorhood, then."

"'xactly," Oz said. He drained half the beer and it went straight to his bladder. One more sip, however tiny, and he would have to get up. He still didn't want to get up. It was a good couch, deep and soft, and Angel was right there, and Oz's bones had long ago reached the not-ready-yet-Jell-O stage, and he rested his cheek on the cushion and nodded a little. Maybe Angel was onto something; nodding did help him feel even more certain. "Your silent, unreachable basement dead-of-night bachelorhood."

"I get along all right," Angel said quietly, knitting his fingers together in his lap and staring hard down at his palms.

"Kiss like you're drowning, man."

"Yeah." Angel glanced over without raising his head. His shoulders looked they were caving in and Oz realized they'd reached the maudlin part of the evening.

Oz did a lot of moods, from lazy to interested to engaged to disaffected, but maudlin was definitely not one of them. He knocked a loose fist against the side of Angel's head and, when Angel finally looked up, closed his fingers in the neck of his sweater and pulled him forward. "C'mere."

Angel landed against him like several sacks of wet laundry, but when he looked up at Oz, his face was open, worried as a child's. "We're not going to smoke more?"

"Nah," Oz said. "I'll skip right to the kissing this time."

Oz liked this story.

There was more to it, a lot more; much more kissing and an awkward mutual handjob that stained Angel's couch and Oz's good pair of indigo cords and then some more kissing until they passed out and Oz woke up an hour later with the weight of an adult bear on him and his bladder screaming for release. He spent the rest of the night on the floor and Angel made him breakfast in the morning - the man worked some serious mojo with eggs and basil - before a shyly shared shower, a blowjob that just about exploded every circuit in his hangover-addled little head, and some quality time spent with Angel's vintage porn collection.

But the story really did end there, because, for Oz, it was about refusing the easy way.

"All I'm saying is - no maudlin." Oz crosses his arms and leans back against the entirely-eerie necrotempered glass. "Fight the maudlin, find the joy."

"That's your big message? Find the joy?" Angel is even bigger these days, like a log caught in the winter runoff, plumping up with moisture from the inside out. "Isn't that a bumpersticker?"

"Dunno," Gunn says and Oz slides him a quick smile. Somehow, soon as he met the guy, he knew Gunn would get it. "Frodo here's got a point. Even without all the hot gay lovin'."

"Not Frodo," Oz says and uncrosses his arms. Years of meditation and solitude, thousands of miles clocked on the odometer, and he still hates talking in public. Never knows what to do with his hands. "Merry, maybe."

"Merry, yeah. Hence the gay stuff." Gunn grins and Oz slaps his proffered hand. "What d'you think, Angel?"

"Think this trip down memory lane's for the birds." Puffier now, so his eyes aren't nearly so deep and wide, and Oz misses their intent scrutiny. "Think there's a war on and an apocalypse coming and I just spent half an hour on The Dopehead's Guide to Life."

"Okay," Oz says, pushing off from the sill, clapping Gunn's shoulder, and pausing at the edge of Angel's massive desk. Angel's looking down at his blotter, his hands on its edges, fingers spread. Oz wants to touch the back of one hand, but he can't seem to. "You reconsider, Gunn knows how to get in touch with me."

He's got his hands in his pockets as he mosies out of the room and Oz just knows this isn't the last time he's going to tell that particular story. Knows it the way your fingers know the scales, your mouth knows a good kiss, and your nickel knows which direction to point you in.

Tonight, when the knock comes on his door, he'll kiss Angel before issuing the invitation.


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