Family Romance
by glossolalia

There's no destiny here, no grand schemes.

Funny, that Oz feels more at home - here, in a huge city swept by shadows - than he ever did in the town where he was born. Where he grew up, weird and silent, where for a while he thought things were good.

He's tired like he never was in Sunnydale, aches throbbing inside his bones, a constant headache thrumming along the seams of his skull, muscle knots gone hard and smooth as beach glass under his skin.

But it's worth it. Usually.

"You're welcome to stay here," Wes says when Oz emerges from Angel's room. He passes Oz a bandage for his arm, then leaves his hand on Oz's. "You know that?"

Wes's fingers are long and intelligent, the nails broken and dirty. Oz glances over at Gunn, who nods and passes his hand over his head.

"He knows," Gunn says. "Stay, man. No reason to go back there."

Oz wraps the bandage around his elbow, over Angel's bite, and pulls it too tight. He just wants to get back and lie down. Do things like he always does. "Thanks. I'll be okay."

"Martyr," Gunn says. "Cross your legs, we're running out of nails."

Grinning now, Oz shrugs. "Yeah, probably. Call me about tonight?"

Wes releases Oz's arm and his eyes are sad and squinty behind his glasses. "Of course."

"Cool," Oz says. "Night, then. Sleep well."


The sky has gone green and dun, straining a little, thinning against the pressure of dawn, by the time Oz gets back to the apartment. It might already technically be morning as he pulls off his boots in the doorway, unzips his pants and drops another ruined shirt into the trash. Papers are being folded for delivery, stay-at-home moms are rising to savor half an hour to themselves before the day really gets going, and Oz is padding to the bathroom to splash his face and neck desultorily.

He leaves the lights off, doesn't run the tap too long; Tara's got the breakfast shift this week and needs all the sleep she can get.

He's hungry and aching after the night's fighting, but if he goes to sleep now, he'll be up when she gets off work and returns with the unsold muffins.

Brighter already, lavender around the contrails, coffee brewing in every kitchen and schoolbuses pulling out of the depot as he slides open the window and climbs out onto the fire escape.

He never used to like routine; even Devon would get irritated by his habit of forgetting appointments and rehearsals, and that's saying something. But these days, these mornings, Oz gets crotchety as a senile old man if he doesn't do everything, all of this, in order. Wash up, pop half a Xanax, and smoke a joint on the fire escape; get good and loose, let the night darken and recede from immediate memory, and relax enough so then he can crawl onto the futon and hold Tara for the last half hour, twenty minutes, of her sleep.

Nothing like it; she sleeps on her side, one knee drawn up, and he fits just so between her back and the wall. Then he'll slide his hand under her blue nightshirt, tip his face into the curve of her neck and the tangled fall of her hair.

With any luck, he'll be asleep by the time she has to get up.

But that's a little ways off yet. For now, he needs to chill, let himself look forward to the good stuff. He's got his feet up on the rust-ravaged railing and joint in his fingers, its blue smoke breaking against the old bruise of the sky and the same pharmaceutical smoke slipping through his veins, creeping through his stupid aching back and wrenched knee.

Oz rolls his head against the prickly stucco wall, closing his eyes, holding the smoke a beat longer in his lungs. He can already feel the weight of Tara's breast against his palm, already smell the balsam of her shampoo.

It's all about expectation. Expectation's better than a promise, because if it doesn't pan out, you've only got yourself to blame. And expectation's warmer, truer, than a secret; secrets can make you sick, invisibly, like CO^2 or slime mold but expectation just jacks up hope.

He'll get up in a second. Sky's dove-gray now, except there are no doves in LA. Just pigeons.

So it's pigeon-gray.

Doyle tried to feed him baked pigeon once. He went down to Griffith Park, caught three, broke their necks and plucked them himself.

Dinner's walking the streets, man! Come on.

It's an intricate operation, standing up. He grips the railing with both hands, kicks out his bad leg, and kind of hops and unfolds like one of those crouching Russian dancers in reverse. The horizon, then the ground, tilts and smears fluidly as he rises; careful breath, and he's okay.

Definitely time for bed; kids are probably chowing down on cereal and Eggos already as he crawls clumsily through the window and heads for the futon.

Tara's on her back, hair over her face, and Willow's curled like a flowering vine, white and crimsongold, around her.

Oz takes the sofa. It smells like Will.


"Why won't you talk to me?" Willow asks after he's up and showered and making lunch for her, tea for himself.

"Here -" Oz hands her a mug of chicken soup and takes his own mug of steeping marifasa over to the window.

There's nothing to say, nothing he can think of saying that isn't ridiculous and wrong. How'd you sleep? I'm sorry about Buffy. Nothing that doesn't mean too much, say far more than he'd like.

Willow has set the mug down on the floor beside her and reopened her book.

Oz sits in a patch of sun under the window, legs folded up, attempting pitifully to empty his mind. He goes through his chants under his breath, and the rhythm is more familiar than his heartbeat. Singing to himself like a lonely child about release and balance, swandives from the tightrope, flying through change.

He never went to Tibet, but he's got the gist of it.

When he finishes, he opens his eyes and drinks half the mug down. Willow's watching him.

"That was -- Oz, you -" Her eyes drop and the book starts to slip from her lap.

"Sorry," he says. "Gotta do it or else. You know the else."

She pushes back her hair and looks away. "Yeah."

This is the girl he loved, so uncertain in the world, knowing so much but never quite being whole.

Oz rises and joins her on the futon, one hand held out. Look ma, no claws. He used to daydream about her skin, how the red of her hair reflected slightly on her long neck so it looked like she was always faintly blushing.

She looks at him, eyes wide and brimming, and he doesn't want to, but Oz can't help but remember other moments just like this. Trembling under unshed tears, the way her jaw sets, the wide blank gaze. Other rejections, other cruelties.

"Will -" Oz starts to say, and then brushes her cheek and hair with his fingers. Her mouth opens and Oz pulls her close, hand cupping the back of her neck, and she's stiff in his arms. A bundle of balsa, awkward and poking.

Then she relaxes, curls against him.

The first time they had what she called "real sex", on her bed before graduation, she was just like this, scared and big-eyed, and he kissed the side of her neck until she started breathing through her mouth and relaxation ran down her body. She wanted him to talk - Keep talking, don't go away - and he kissed down her shoulder, to the hollow between her breasts that smelled like lilies of the valley, and he whispered. Repeating himself, like prayer or memorization, hoping there was some power in repetition: Love you, just relax, going to be all right, love you.

Her skin is just as soft as it was then, like clean sheets, bleached so many times they've gone to felt.

"It's all right," Oz whispers again now, combing his fingers through her hair.

"I don't have anybody now -" She gulps and looks up at him. "You don't understand, you -"

Oz is holding her, but he doesn't know what the rules are for this. There aren't any, as far as he knows, and he still doesn't know what to say. "I understand."

"Everyone leaves. Goes away and now I -" Willow's voice is wet and thick with snot and swallowed tears. She blinks like a hummingbird, trying to pretend she's not crying.

Oz tightens the hug. "Sssh. Not alone."

She laughs then, hiccupy and bitter. "Sure feels like it."

"Maybe," Oz says. "Still not true."

"You've still got -- people." He hears just as well what she meant. Tara. "Friends. Maybe that's what it's all about, when you get right down to it. Maybe it's just being around people."

Willow always needed to talk over her thoughts; never content with just thinking them, she needed to pull them out of her beautiful, twisty brain and put them in words and examine them. Make sure you understood just like she did. Oz smiles now, not sure what the "it" is, but relieved that she sounds slightly more normal. He kisses her hair and draws it behind her ear.

"Always thought you'd be -" She stops and shivers, wrapping her arms around her chest. "Waiting or something. Mine."

He has to close his eyes at that. They've both done everything they can to keep alive this history, this long maybe-happy-ending story about what they were together and what they'll always be, and they've both used it for comfort, like a kid who wants the same book read to him night after night. The reassurance is in the familiarity, the repetition.

"Yours?" he asks. Because he's down with the waiting thing; he made the drive back to the hellmouth because he thought he might have a girl who loved him waiting there like some kind of stupid fairytale.

When she sighs, Willow sounds about a hundred years old, emphysematic and weary. "You know what I mean. Like, like, the way we used to talk about college, and then I'd be a wicca and you'd be -"

"Got that," Oz says and circles his thumb softly over the base of her neck. "Just the whole yours thing I'm stumbling on."

This is his city now; they're not in Sunnydale any more, and stories are different here. Looser, longer, far less deterministic as they spun off centripetally from the hellmouth. He and Tara and Wes all ended up here, in a city of shadows and quartz, and they've made something out of it.

"Sorry," Willow says. "Stupid me, clingy. Not like I waited for you, right? That's what you're thinking."

"No," Oz says. "I -"

She sits back, away from him, shaking out her hair and lifting her chin. "You ought to understand, though. Never occurred to you to tell me you like boys."

He never let himself think it while Doyle was alive, but he and Willow had the same eyes. Bright and glittery, and they remind Oz of the gems in cheap rings, which isn't an insult; they just do. Bright, intelligent eyes, watching and moving and scanning everything.

But now he's thinking about Doyle, and a shiver creeps slowly up Oz's back. He covers his eyes for a second.

"You said you loved me." Willow sounds tiny, a recording played on an old music-box, tinny and thin and small.

Oz looks up, the shiver branching, embracing his chest and squeezing too tight. "I did. Do. Not -"

"She said she did, too." Willow pulls her knees up to her chest and looks away.

He shouldn't speak for Tara, but Oz knows, maybe better than Willow or Tara, what Tara feels for her.

"She does," he says. No past tense, and no doubt about it.

Willow tips her head forward, hides her face in the pillow of her arms, and Oz chances it. Scoots over, touches her back again and strokes her hair.

"She does love you," he says, and maybe Gunn's right. He is a martyr, all the more so for speaking what he knows is the truth. "So do I."


When Gunn's friend Anne found Tara beat up and half-conscious downtown and recognized the UC Sunnydale patch on her backpack, she called them and Oz took Tara in.

She was scared of Angel, like any normal person would be, and needed somewhere quieter. "N-n-not gonna be here long," she said, never looking at Oz, her voice soft and scared, "Something's coming and I'm gonna change."

"S'okay," Oz told her, and meant it. "Pretty much routine around here."

She never did change. Just like Oz never went to Tibet. There are secrets everywhere, secrets that bind you to people or push you away, open the door or lock it up tight.

"Tell you what," he said, and made her smile, "Promise not to eat you if you promise not to - whatever it is."

She'd run from Sunnydale, just like he had, and that was enough at first to pull them together. After that, it was her that he loved.

He loves her economy, the simple bravery of her words. Sometimes she reminds him of Buffy, which is just bizarre when he thinks about it. They're nothing alike, shy versus voluble, thoughtful versus impulsive, but Tara sees things clearly, like Buffy always did. Sees and speaks them plain.

The Quiet Ones, Wes calls him and Tara, and maybe Oz is so comfortable with her because she's not different.

He knows Tara likes girls, same as she knows he likes boys. What counts, though, is that they like each other, too, and they take care of each other.

Willow's always been there, between them, around them, and Oz is pretty sure neither of them minds much. You can't shake ghosts, so you might as well make them feel at home.

Ghosts and lovers; Doyle passed him by and kissed Angel at the last minute, and that was right. Doyle always loved Angel, even if it was Oz in his bed. And Oz did the best he could with Angel afterward; gave him blood from his own arm and found an ally in Gunn to back him up when he went out chasing Angel's visions. He found Wesley next, leather-clad, nursing the loss of his arm to an Aronsor demon, pain and fear glittering in blue eyes.

For a while there, Wes loved him and Oz loved him back; he reminded Oz of Giles, only the melancholy was replaced with anger like steel wire, thin, strong, deadly. But he wasn't enough for Wes; not good enough a fighter, too small, too quiet. When Oz returned from an ammo run and found Wes wrapped around Gunn, sliding his long pale hand over Gunn's beautiful face, it felt right. They were already closer than Oz had ever been to either one.

People keep pairing off. They always have, like it's natural, and it wasn't until Veruca that Oz started to understand he might be different.

He knows you're never alone, even if it's just the two of you. He could be deep inside Doyle, thrusting until green eyes went black and spines sprouted, terror and beauty, over Doyle's face, and Angel was always there, his name in Doyle's mouth, his skin under Doyle's hand. Kissing Wes, Oz would think about Giles, and Willow, and Doyle; Wes, probably, felt twiggy bones and wished for Gunn's brawn, heard Oz's sighs and wanted Gunn's belly-laugh.

You're never alone, and Oz thinks that might be his problem, if it's even a problem. He knows that and doesn't really mind. Willow loved her best friends more than she ever loved him - she knew Xander and Buffy, while she admired Oz's clothes, cool, band - and that was okay.

He and Tara both loved Willow; they just weren't there early enough. He was never Xander, and nobody could be Buffy.

The last time he was in Sunnydale, he almost killed Tara. He followed the hellmouth's rules about pairs and love, and it almost got them both dead and Willow alone.

He's never going back.

When Tara returns from work, he and Willow are leaning against the wall and his arm is around her. She's telling him about Dawn, her head resting on his shoulder.

Tara freezes for a second in the doorway, seeing them there. Her face sets like plaster, smooth and blank, but when Oz smiles at her, she loosens a little. Locks the door behind her, kicks off her shoes, and joins them.

She settles in on Willow's other side, sliding her arm around Willow's waist, grazing her fingers against Oz's ribs and curling them into his shirt. Willow shifts so she's leaning against Tara.

"How was work?" Willow asks, voice gone soft and sweet, almost childish.

"Long and awful," Tara says and glances over Willow's head at Oz, smiling a little.

He gets a weird flash of -- he doesn't know what to call it. Willow's little-kid voice, Tara's fond, bemused smile, their whole arrangement on the bed. His own uncertainty. It's almost domestic. It is domestic, with all the stereotyped roles mixed up. Tara the breadwinner, Willow the who sneaks into her parents' bed when she can't sleep, Oz the confused sap who just wants everyone to smile.

That they're all about the same age, that they've all in various combinations slept with one another, as well as been in love, none of that exactly seems to matter.

Or it does matter, especially the love, but instead of negating the family portrait, it just makes the picture brighter and sharper.

Tara's telling Willow about the diner, about her regulars and Mark the manager with the roving hands, and her voice is low and quiet. Soothing. Oz watches her as she talks, the way her gaze drifts from Willow to Oz to the middle of the room and back again, and he sees such kindness there he wishes he knew how to say thank you.

He reaches over Willow to touch Tara's cheek. "Got some schmutz -" Syrup or jam, he can't tell.

Willow gasps and sits up, knocking his arm away. "Wait. Do that again. Oh my god, I had this dream once, and -"

She always thought it was a nightmare, she says, and she's sitting up very straight now, rearranging them with waves of the hand and tilts of the head until she has them where she wants them, and Tara's leaning against Oz, her legs folded back, as Willow speaks more and more quickly, broken phrases and enthusiasm, and Oz knows that Tara is smiling, just like he is, at the sudden reappearance of Willow, excited and babbling. He wonders for half a second if that's weird, this flush of paternal-or-whatever pride and relief.

"And I had on my old jumper and white tights -- like these, just like these!" She snaps Tara's work stockings. "And it wasn't a nightmare. Not that part of it, anyway. Think the original slayer sucking out my lungs probably was, that was terrifying, but this part, this was like, like precognition. Like a glimpse of something -"

"Premonition," Tara says. It could be a question or a suggestion.

"Yeah! Exactly. Exactly."

Oz thinks her dream sounds creepy, period, but then again - "Always liked those tights of yours."

Willow grins, and he must have made himself forget just how wide her smile is. "Dorky. I'm such a hideous dork."

"No," Tara says. "You're not."

"You weren't there, I was awful, it's amazing he ever noticed me -" She gestures vaguely at Oz.

"I saw the pictures." Tara sits up, shaking out the pins and needles from her hand. Her head's down a fraction and she's got her concentrating face on, the careful one. "Y-you were adorable. Pretty."

She hasn't stuttered in months. Oz slides his hand up her back, over the rough polyester of the stupid uniform they make her wear, and rubs her neck until she sighs and glances over at him, a small grateful smile. She swallowed the stutters when Wes told them about Buffy, told them Willow was coming, but Oz could feel them in her chest, rattling around, so much nervousness she could have choked.

He always wondered what Tara was like with Willow; yet another thing he couldn't ask, couldn't talk about. They talked about Willow, they always do, but not about that.

The rules, though, are lifting, and he's not sure why or how, but anything's better than frozen, grief-stricken silence. Tara, he's finding out, is just herself with Willow, patient and kind. She's actually, if he's going to think this all the way through, pretty much like Oz himself always was with Willow. No wonder they popped into that dream together.

Willow's hand is still on Tara's shin. If anyone's noticed, no one seems to care.

"You should show her, Will," Oz says. To his own ears, he sounds croaky and kind of gross, but neither of them notices.

They both look at him. He can't be the only thinking about this. Tara lifts her eyes and her smile's slow as honey across her face. Willow bites her lips and squeezes Tara's leg. No, he isn't the only one.

"I'd like that." Tara turns back to Willow and laces their fingers together. "Like to see, honey."

Maybe it's the endearment that makes Willow's eyes widen and dart, her mouth opening, or maybe it's the sweet velveteen tone Tara always gets when she's turned on, or everything, all together.

Willow nods slowly. "I, I could -"

"Would you like that?" Oz leans in, touches Willow's cheek. He and Tara both know her, know she needs help saying what it is she wants. Needs permission. He never knew, though, not until he'd been away for a while, when Wes laughingly called him a pushy top, that he'd gotten so good at, so habituated to, coaxing. "That what you need?"

Willow squeezes her eyes shut; her skin's hot under his fingertips. "Maybe? Yeah. Want to, to, to see you. You two."

Tara wraps her arm around Willow's shoulders and kisses her ear. "It's all right," she says softly. "I want to see you. And he -"

"Want to make you happy," Oz says. "We both do."

Willow shudders and buries her face in Tara's hair. Oz runs his palm down her arm and squeezes her hand.

"Please," Willow whispers. "Yes, please."

Guilt tastes like Pine-Sol to him, it always has, astringent and cloying and not clean so much as masking the bad stuff. He should know by now that atonement's an impossible thing. Look at Angel; he started trying to atone in Sunnydale, and maybe he'd have succeeded, but here, he's crazy and barefoot and feeding off werewolf blood and only three times out of twenty giving them a reliable vision to go on.

Tara loans Willow a pair of tights and they're across the room, choosing a shirt for Willow to wear and Tara's changing out of her uniform, and Oz just rocks back and forth in place. He knows this is a bad idea, or, more fairly, could turn out to be a really bad idea. It could also just be okay. It might even help.

Here, he's doing something, and it's nothing like Sunnydale. He doesn't expect he'll ever know if they're ahead of the game, if they're making so much as a dent in the darkness, but fighting and helping are what he cares about. The people here, his friends, they're fighters; they all do what needs to be done. Links and latches, caring for what you have and trying to lessen the pain.

There are big words for big concepts -- mission, duty, love -- but Oz never understood them, even in Sunnydale. Here, you scrabble and help and hope to survive. Things arrange themselves, people hook up, and the words don't matter, not nearly as much as the activity.

"Oz, man, it's just - just what you do. Everybody's got something to atone for, something to do." Doyle got it, knew exactly what it's like having something inside you. Angel did, too, but that was different; he could hardly bear his doubled nature, veered from human to monster and back again. Doyle lived, and Oz wanted to live.

Doyle got it. He bitched and moaned and didn't want to do the work, but he got the spirit of the whole thing and Oz misses him more than he can say.

Sometimes, Oz thinks, ghosts are realer than most people. Buffy's certainly real for Angel still, and now for Willow, too. Doyle's just as real for him as Tara is. Willow used to be a ghost for both of them.

"Oh my god!" Half-dressed, Willow's rattling through the top drawer of the dresser, pulling something out. "This is so gross, what is this?"

She waves around the double-headed dildo like a toddler with a sparkler and Oz gets up off the futon.

If he wanted to, Oz could probably identify most of the thoughts going through her head at the sight of the dildo. Things about substitutes, approximations, pathos. He runs his hand through his hair instead and decides to treat himself. Violates his ration of weed and sparks up a long joint as he settles back down.

"How's she look?" Tara asks, leading Willow over by the hand, then stepping away.

Willow stands in front of him, fidgeting with the hem of her skirt, not looking him in the eye.

"Pretty," Oz says. Next to him, Tara reaches for the joint and Oz pulls her in, kisses her first.

It'd be too easy for him and Tara to make this all about Willow, to go back to Sunnydale habits, hide under the guise of helping.

Anyway, he loves kissing Tara, loves the solidity and warm pressure of her body against his, the sweet taste of her tongue. He knows this could end badly, but right now, he knows he want to kiss her more. Willow's not just the geek in white tights, not just the girl they both loved, and Tara's not just the woman who still loves Willow, so Oz takes another deep drag and shotguns Tara the smoke, fingers sliding down her side, grasping her hip, and she sucks hard at his mouth, bucking a little against him.

"Hey," he whispers against her cheek. "You okay?"

She flushes fast and he licks the blush high on her cheek. "I'm good -" She looks at Willow, still standing there, her mouth open. "So pretty, huh?"

"Yeah," Oz says, taking one last deep drag, then stubbing out the joint. Irritation keeps prickling up, every time Tara's glance slides over to Willow, every time Willow won't look at him, and he's being an asshole. He makes himself smile; Willow looks all of fourteen, scared and excited. "Hey, Will. Like your costume?"

"I don't know," she says. "I don't know." Her hand circles in the air, takes in the futon, Oz and Tara, the whole room. "I mean, isn't this wrong? A guy and two girls, isn't that like exploitation? And, and, objectification? Lots of womens-studies words, you know -"

"Sure." Oz wishes he hadn't ground out the joint; he'd really like something to do with his hands, some sweet haze snaking through him. "'cause you know me. All about the patriarchy, me and my phallus."

Willow frowns and curls her hands into small white fists.

"C'mere," Tara says, soft and insistent, and pulls Willow into her lap. Willow's legs are askew, bony knees apart, and Oz gets that vibe again, stirring hot and bright at the base of his spine and behind his eyes at the sight. Tara kisses Willow's neck and cheek and whispers, "Pretend it's like the first time, honey. Remember the dream? We love you, want to make you feel good. Just relax."

Yeah, he's totally getting that vibe, knitting fast up his vertebrae and winding tight around the base of his dick, drying out his mouth a little. Willow's in her costume, and Tara's playing mommy, and maybe they're all hiding. Dances of veils, reality peeking through, and Oz touches Willow's legs as Tara kisses her.

Off-balance, heat slipsliding through him. Willow cradled in Tara's arm, Tara's hand up Willow's shirt and Oz goes on his knees, kissing Willow's arm, Tara's hand, the smooth stretch of Willow's belly, and the vibe's throbbing in his throat, watching, burning, sliding.

There's no center here, and it feels so much better like this, the way everything's shifting. He can see the worry in Willow's eyes when his hand moves to Tara, when Tara kisses him: Whenever there's a hint that she might not be the most important one here.

Love, desire, attention: They were always all or nothing in Sunnydale. You had to go whole hog or clear out of Dodge.

Oz has his hand on Tara's thigh, stroking the soft down there, when Willow mewls at something and Tara turns to see what's wrong, knocking his hand away. He realizes - at least from where he is - what's wrong. Part of him hates this. Stupid selfish me-me-ME voice echoing around his skull that doesn't want this to be all about Willow, all about proving to her one more time how special and important and loved she is. That part of him rebels against that, resents it, rejects it.

It's not like it's Willow's fault, either. Vibes and dynamics happen in the spaces between people. No one, at least no one he's cared about, tries to force the dynamic and control it. It just happens.

So it's not his fault, either. He's too fucked up - still - over losing Doyle, he's already starting to miss Tara, and he can't bring himself to play this game. Things mean too much, every gesture's weighted down with love and promises and reassurance, and the story's too freighted with all those Sunnydale assumptions and interpretations.

So Oz does the selfish thing. He circles both arms around Tara's waist and kisses the hollow of her neck, up to the back of her ear.

"Babe?" he whispers and this is already goodbye. "Want you. Want you to fuck me."

Willow's right there, and she gasps again, and Tara shudders. Then she turns her head, looking at him, that broad, slow sex-smile on her face. The skin around her eyes is tight, though, and she gets it. She's starting to get what he's asking. When she kisses him, still turning, fist in his hair, he knows she understands this is goodbye.

She unfolds herself, stands up, and touches his cheek.

In her undershirt, breasts heavy, skin golden, and her favorite pair of his briefs, bright blue, the dildo thick under the cotton, Tara's glorious. Beautiful. The flare of her hips curves the waistband, makes it dip over the dark golden down over her belly, and she swallows loudly when he licks her there.

"But -" Willow starts to say, then clamps her mouth shut.

Oz knows she's thinking in categories again - man, woman; cock, silicone - not about people. It's just not his job any longer to show her different.

What he and Tara do together, the rituals they have, the whispery touches of palms and hard grind of hips, he can't explain that. He's on his knees, grasping her thighs, and sucking at her cock and Tara moans high and long. He can't explain what this means, if it means anything, can't explain how beautiful she is like this, cockslapping his cheek and laughing low in her throat, can't explain how hard this makes him, taking the cock into his throat so his nose is pressed against her mound and he's inhaling her sour-apple, black-tea scent, feeling her hand in his hair as he kneads her ass. How empty it feels when he has to pull away and slide the condom down her cock.

On his hands and knees now, watching Willow watch him with shock and repulsion and interest mixing all over her face. Tara kisses down his crack, spreads and stretches and lubes him up until he's shaking and panting and Willow's just a smear like the rest of the room.

"Come here," he says to no one, everyone, and this is what he wants. Can't explain, needs to show, flay himself gone and open and boneless before they both leave. His hand shaking, he reaches for her as she scoots closer, hands parting her thighs.

"Take them off, honey," Tara says, pausing behind him, two fingers inside, right up against that spot. Nodding, Willow hooks her thumbs in the tights' waistband, tugs and shimmies, and when Tara croons, "Good girl", Willow trembles and the vibe's right back, boiling into a crescendo inside Oz, driving his tongue forward.

Tara fingerfucks Oz until he's groaning, mouth buried between Willow's legs, sucking the swell of her mound and nipping the inside of her thighs as he pushes back, whimpers and asks for more.

When she thrusts in, always harder and bigger than Oz remembered to expect, the burn shoots through him, up him and out his mouth in shaky, steaming grunts, and he's fucking Willow with the noise, and now Tara rocks deep into him, nails in his hips, talking to Willow, and sometimes he can hear it - "touch your breasts, so pretty, good girl" - and other times, it's like the surf heard in a conch, secret and loud and senseless.

Willow lifts her hips, pushing down against his mouth, and Oz is blind as well as mute and deaf, but he knows the girls are looking at each other, knows regrets and apologies and promises to do better are twining back and forth between them. Tara closes her hand in his hair, pulling his head up until his neck pops, and he's talking to Willow now, truth-telling - "taste so good, always loved the way you taste" - and her head thrashes, hair whipping and chest heaving as her hips swing and Tara fucks him faster, shallow then deep jabs that drive the breath out of him and crackle into sheet-lightning all over his skin.

He knows Tara, knows she's going to stretch this out, make him melt and beg, and he's going to take Willow along for the ride.

"You're such a fucking dyke, dude," Devon always told him, because Oz likes using his tongue, because he feels stuff about pleasure. Gasping, grunting like a baby animal, he spreads Willow's legs farther apart, licks down toward her ass, then swoops back up, sucking her inner lips together until they swell, and every time he brushes his nose over her clit, she yelps and thrashes and he can hear Tara's breath coming fast and deep.

"Fuck her," Tara says, folding herself over Oz's back, holding him close, mouth on his shoulder, breasts riding his shoulderblades, her nipples like pebbles in his skin. "Make her feel good and you can come -"

Blue-white lightning, melting centers of flames, sliding and trebling around him, and he knows why Willow likes being coaxed. Because it feels so fucking good, being told what to do, abandoning responsibility, letting someone else make the decision.

"Fuck, please -" he grunts and twitches his own hips but Tara pulls away, pulls out, leaves just the head inside him so it's stretching him wide open, the burn red and dark, enveloping him.

When he closes his lips around the shaft of Willow's clit and slides two fingers inside, she's tight, slick, and she pulls at his hair, pain popping in bright violet bursts behind his eyes, deep in his balls. He rolls her clit against the flat of his tongue, reaching and scissoring his fingers, and she tightens unbearably, thighs closing over his ears, hole sucking him deeper, just as Tara thrusts all the way back inside and --

There's no thought any more. Fire around his hand, in his mouth, up his spine, and Willow starts coming with shallow little whines and bouncing hips, and he remembers how scared she used to be of coming, of letting go, but he pushes on, keeps fluttering his fingers against the pressure trying to shove him out, keeps suckling hard as she lifts and thrusts into the air and jack-knifes and finally screams.

His wrist aches, his mouth burns into numbness, and Willow shoves him away, almost slaps him, and Oz splays out, collapsed onto the mattress, and there's no thought, no breath, just need breaking out in thick black spiderwebs until Tara wraps her hand around the base of his cock and starts pulling in time with her hard, rapid thrusts.

Farewell, and love, and everything else burning up in the bright heat that's swallowing him whole, and he grinds into her palm and shoves back and comes and comes, shooting, crying, saying goodbye until the white goes black behind his lids, atomic afterimages, the last time.


Keeping their usual Saturday-afternoon playdate, Oz goes to the arcade with Gunn while the girls pack up Tara's stuff. He frags until his hands shake and his skull pounds, and he still can't get the thoughts of her disappearing piece by piece, shirt by book by magazine by toothbrush, out of his mind.

"You gonna be all right -" Gunn says when he drops Oz off. It's a statement, because Oz will be all right, and it's a question, because Gunn's his friend.

Gunn leaves the motor running; he's driving Will and Tara back to Sunnydale, and while Oz would really like to see him take in Whitebread, USA for the first time, there's not enough room in the truck to tag along.

"Hell, yeah," Oz replies, sliding off the seat. "Just keep on keeping on, you know?"

Gunn nods; reaching over, he ruffles up Oz's hair and mutters something about punkass poseur boys. Oz tilts into the touch and for a second, it's almost enough.

The girls are holding hands there on the sidewalk, the afternoon light painting their hair brighter, even more beautiful, their eyes downcast and Oz wishes they weren't so guilty. They're happy; that ought to be enough.

He holds Tara longer than he ought to, kisses her hard, and says lowly, "Take care of -"

"Her," Tara whispers. "I know."

"You. Take care of yourself." Oz drops the hug and kisses her cheek again. "Love you."

She ducks her head and his mouth fills with gravel, cold and bleach.

"We good to go, or should I go stock up on refreshments?" Gunn calls from the truck.

Oz grabs Willow's hand as she passes and kisses her cheek, getting more hair than skin. "You, too," he says, yanking the words out from the rocks filling his chest.

She nods gravely and climbs into the truck, followed by Tara.

He doesn't watch them go. There's masochism and martyrdom, and then there's sheer fucking stupidity. He knows the difference.

Besides, Angel needs his afternoon feeding and Wes'll be getting nervous.


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