Coming Over The Starnbergersee
by Kyra Cullinan

"Summer surprised us, coming over the Starnbergersee."
-- The Waste Land, T.S. Eliot

The first week of summer vacation doesn't count. It's its own weird middle ground, a limbo of excitement and wallowing in getting to sleep 'til noon. Like a really long weekend. It's only later that real summer sets in, hot and empty. A different feeling through and through, and you can sometimes get glimpses of what the long months will be like from how it transitions.

This summer is weirder, though, because even though the letter cutouts on the sign in front of Sunnydale High have been changed to the usual HAVE A GREAT SUMMER VACATION, he's still hanging around campus. The library, more specifically, which still seems to be the base of Scooby operations despite the apparent lack of classes, apocalypse or Slayer.

"I was thinking of stopping by school tomorrow," Willow says on the phone at night, sleepy and shy.

"Pick you up at eight?" he says and she giggles a little, at the ritual this is becoming.

"It's a date. Don't be late," she says, and after a while her breathing evens out, rhythmic, and he listens to her sleep. Feels the warm glow of inclusion in her world, pooled somewhere in his stomach.

Eight means the day is something like tolerably cool, though the air is heavy and wet with the promise of impending heat. Willow's lipgloss is slippery and sweet as she kisses him hello, but she frowns out her window as they drive.

"Hey," he says as he swings the van into one of the STAFF ONLY spaces and pulls on the parking brake. She jumps, then looks at him guiltily.

"I was just wondering --" she says. "I mean. Buffy's mom called her dad, right? He would have said something if he'd heard from her, wouldn't he?"

Oz reaches out, slides his fingers up the smooth skin at the nape of her neck, brushes a thumb over her jawbone. Willow shivers a little and gives him that sweet, worried smile.

"I'm sorry," she says. "I don't mean to be all broody. Hey! Maybe there's donuts."

Oz does miss Buffy, but for all the wrong reasons, he suspects. It's weird not having her around, yeah, but he's only ever known her while she's had the whole evil Angel thing going on so he suspects he's got kind of a skewed picture of her. It's worse the way everyone else reacts to not having her around. Giles is giving off worry and despair in waves, Willow is full of hollow hopes and Xander is quiet and distracted, which may be weirdest of all. Only Cordelia seems relatively unfazed, which Oz supposes makes sense. She's a degree away, like him, like cousins once removed -- or is it second cousins? He can see her starting to get impatient at the cloud of angst hovering over the library when they meet. It's been nearly a month already, and he gives it another week before she says something unintentionally callous which will make Xander yell at her and Willow complain about it later.

Inside there are indeed donuts and Willow descends on them happily.

"Boston cream!" she says. "Hooray Xander."

Xander, sprawled in one of the chairs and glaring at the wood grain of the tabletop, blinks and looks up.

"Huh? What?"

Willow's mouth is already full, though, and Cordelia stops turning the pages of her Cosmo. Its perfume sample smell hangs in the air heavier than the sugary scent of donuts.

"Nothing," she says. "You have jelly." She touches her cheek.

Xander fumbles for a napkin and swipes it across his face. Crumples it and tosses it toward the wastebasket, but it bounces off the side and lands on the floor. He stares at it for a minute, then scrapes his chair back.

"I'm gonna go check on the, that thing." He takes the stairs two at a time and disappears into the stacks. Cordelia stares after him for a minute, then starts flipping magazine pages faster than before.

"So is Giles ever going to come out of his office and tell us what's up? Has he found anything out?"

Willow has perched on the edge of the table, feet dangling, and Oz slides into the nearest chair. Runs a hand up the back of her leg to rest in the sweet spot behind her knee. She swallows her bite of donut and shrugs.

"He didn't call or anything. But he's been Mr. Investigator, like, 24/7. He even has a file." Willow's voice dips into the subtle tones of awe reserved for effective systems of categorization and other things Gilesian.

Cordelia sighs and shuts her magazine with a thud.

"All I know is I want Xander to stop acting weird. Or to start talking, at least."

Willow's eyes go wide like they do when she's really interested in something, which is often.

"He always does that!" she says. "He never wants to talk about anything."

"Which is ironic," says Cordelia.

"Yeah, I know, right?" says Willow, turning away from Oz and pulling her legs under her to face Cordelia. "Like, way to be selectively talkative. There was this one time, in fifth grade --"

Oz suspects he's got a pretty unusual perspective of Xander: Xander Harris, as portrayed by Willow Rosenberg. Who is, fair enough, as close to an expert as you're likely to get, which is why Oz now knows a lot about Xander. A whole lot, but all backwards, anecdotes and analysis before actual interaction.

From the corner of his eye he sees Giles move in his office, shadowy and indistinct beyond the blinds. He's tried to talk to Giles alone before, since everything, but got only a tight-lipped smile and an "I appreciate your concern," and that was that. He wonders if it would have gone better if he'd been able to bring himself to say the things Willow says: of course she's all right, of course she'll come back. If he'd said, it's not you. He doubts it, though. Giles is smarter than that.

But just talking about things has never seemed like the right way to fix them anyway. Cordelia is complaining about something Xander said last night, as Willow nods, earnest, intent. Oz pushes himself out of his chair and squeezes her shoulder. She tosses a smile back at him as he wanders off into the stacks.

Oz likes libraries. He doesn't care much about card catalogs, but he likes wandering, ignoring the numbers and categories written on the ends of the aisles, and just seeing what he finds. Today, instead of books about wormholes or T.S. Eliot, he finds Xander. Sitting at the end of the farthest aisle, knees drawn up in front of him, staring at his hands. His eyes are hollow when he looks up at Oz.

"Ever wish you could go back in time and change stuff?" he asks, looking back down at the carpet. "See if you should have done something different?" He doesn't sound like he really wants an answer, so Oz sits down beside him and doesn't offer one. Looks at the spines of the books over Xander's head and tries to think of something helpful to say that won't sound completely fake.

"You ever know anybody stronger than her?" he settles on, finally. Xander blinks, then shakes his head.

"No," he adds.

Oz shrugs, looks down at his own hands. Chipped nail polish. "Seems to me that's a good start right there. For being okay."

Xander opens his mouth, closes it, then takes a deep breath.

"Yeah," he says. "Yeah, I guess." Oz can practically see all the things buzzing around under his skin, worries and regrets, and he can only guess at half of them. Wants Xander to relax, to remember how to start being okay with things. Get beyond this and into the swing of summer, of the way summer's going to be, because this isn't helping anyone. Nothing Oz is saying is getting through that buffer of shock, the between state, so he finds himself doing what he does when Willow's too distracted to settle down, babbly and upset. Touch, instead, fingers in Xander's hair, palm curving against his scalp. Warm and ever so slightly showerdamp there, and Oz can smell soap and skin and surprise. Xander's eyes, blinking fast, turned toward him so they're facing.

"Hey," says Oz, and Xander repeats it back like a question. He's suddenly focused -- Oz can see him being reeled back into the room, the moment. Still fidgeting, though, thumbs tapping a nervous tattoo on his knees and Oz finds his other hand settling over one of Xander's, willing him to stillness with touch, like he's something small and speechless, a bird or a baby.

Xander lets out a shaky breath, eyes flickering down to Oz's hand, then back up. Emotions sliding across his face like their whirlwind is just now slowing enough to let him address them individually. His eyes are dark, focused on Oz.

"What if -- I think maybe I shouldn't have ..." he stops and Oz can feel Xander's hand tightening again under his own, can see his shoulders hunching.

So Oz kisses him. The perpetual internal what-if game taken to another level, and Xander is hot, motionless and Oz has just enough time to worry about the inadvisability of this before he starts kissing back. Intent and hungry, focused more than anything, nearly needy, and his tongue just brushes Oz's lip before he pulls back.

Shaken Xander to the extreme, mouth working as he tries to find something to say. His tongue flicks over his lips and Oz can almost feel it and with a tiny thrill he knows exactly what Cordelia saw in him.

Cordelia. Is a thought. Willow is another. Xander looks like he gets them at the same time, because he manages their names.

"Yeah," says Oz, hand still tangled in Xander's hair. "Doesn't count."

"This?" asks Xander. "Doesn't count?"

"Yep," says Oz firmly. "Doesn't count," and Xander is still looking just off kilter enough to believe him. So Oz kisses him again, before he can say anything else. Wetter and something unexpectedly sweet about it.

"Oh," says Xander, when he finally stops, and for a moment Oz thinks he could spend the morning here, between rows and rows of books, finding all Xander's secret tastes and noises. But --

"Giles!" comes Willow's voice, overly bright, from what seems like very far away, and Oz can see Xander shake himself out of it. He lets his hand drop, stands up first, so there won't be awkwardness or backpedaling. Shoves his hands in his pockets so he's not tempted to help Xander up.

"You coming?" he asks, jerking his head toward the front of the library.

"Yeah," Xander says. "Um, yeah. I'm right behind you. Uh, I mean, I'll be right there." Gives Oz his best self-deprecating smile, and Oz leaves him sitting there, as he weaves his way back through the rows and rows of books.

Willow gives him the sweetest smile as he wanders back down the stairs. Moves over to make room for him and he kisses her cheek. Giles is complaining about the remaining donut selection.

"Hey, you snooze, you lose," Cordelia says, then pauses. "You don't actually sleep in there, right?"

Giles pauses in his examination of a cruller to give her his best weary saint look.

"As shocking as it may seem, Cordelia, I actually have a house and a bed and an entire life completely separate from my office." Then pauses like he's just heard what he said.

"Giles, Giles, Banana-fanna-fo-files, you don't actually expect us to believe that, do you?" asks Xander, clattering down the steps. He plops down beside Cordelia, hesitates minutely, then covers her hand with his. She gives him a weird look, like she's going to pull away, but after a minute she relaxes, curls her fingers around his hand. "And someone please smack me if I ever do that name thing again."

"Indeed," says Giles, and Oz wonders if he'll ever be able to make one word sound so dry. "Be that as it may, I think I may have some good news. There are reports of a graveyard fight in a town in Oregon. I have a flight up there to investigate this afternoon." He's trying to play it cool but Oz can see his tethered excitement, identical to the last three times this happened, and he thinks this could get to be a bad habit. Willow twines her fingers with his, though, and squeezes happily, and Xander kisses Cordelia -- he's acting forcedly normal but maybe soon he'll forget it's an act. Already things are starting to shake themselves into feeling like some kind of normal.

"Oh, um," says Willow, raising her hand a little. "I had this idea. And maybe we won't need it, now, but I was thinking ... the vampires aren't gonna go away just 'cause there's no Slayer, right? And maybe we shouldn't let them notice there isn't one, 'cause then they could get all overly grr."

"Vampires are incurable opportunists," Xander agrees.

"So, I mean, I know we're not anything like a Slayer," Willow continues, "but there are a lot of us, instead of just one Slayer -- which, why is that, anyway? -- so maybe we could, you know, patrol? If we all worked together? Like when Buffy was sick, but ... all the time. We could have a routine!"

Everyone's quiet for a minute, and Oz thinks this is the first time he's heard anyone actually say Buffy's name since school let out. But then Xander starts nodding.

"Speaking as the former recipient of wacky mystical army knowledge, I think it could work," he says. "We kind of don't have any choice, do we?"

"There could be outfits," says Cordelia thoughtfully.

"Giles?" asks Willow, looking up at him. He takes off his glasses and reaches for his handkerchief before answering.

"Yes, well," he says, "it's an interesting possibility. We can discuss it more when I return, if you like." But he's looking at his glasses, not her, and he's not from Sunnydale. It's not about this town, for him. He's got his own thing and they're going to have to be the ones to care about this.

And that's okay, 'cause Xander starts talking about how many graveyards they could cover in a night and Willow is mentioning this idea she had with holy water soaked stakes and this is a thing Oz knows he can do, something concrete. He likes to help. To be helpful.

Willow smiles sideways at him, happy, and Oz feels something like guilt prickling at the base of his skull. He's new at this thing but he already knows he wouldn't like it if Willow did the same to him -- kissed someone else. Which is why he's not going to do it again, no matter how tempting Xander's lips or hands look. Oz lifts their twined fingers to kiss the back of Willow's knuckles and from the corner of his eye he sees Xander's eyes flicker over, then away. Another invisible tingle over Oz's skin, inverted sensation, hot like sunburn; like sunburn, the kind of thing that has to sink in and dissipate, rather than being shrugged off.

But for now it's summer, long hot months stretching out ahead of them all, and he's going to make the most of it. Close his eyes and let it wash over him, open and easy.


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