The Soul Of Wit
by Kyra Cullinan

Oz is out New Jersey way. Doing his thing, drifting and blending with the kind of people who expect it 'cause they do it too. Mostly he figures it's the age that makes it so fluid; he rubs up against older groups in his wanderings too, so to speak, but after a while it starts to get a little sad, a little creepy. This is cool, though, kids who remind him of Dev, just be being their bright, angsty, loudmouthed selves.

Ends up backing for a garage band a couple times, one of the young-hopefuls the 'burbs are always teeming with. Sets pounded out in little bars and grimy clubs populated by audiences who haven't quite realized grunge is over. Jersey's got a very particular vibe and he likes it while he's here, how it's so very its own place, to contrast later with all kinds of other backdrops. Suburban cookiecutter desperation to the nth degree. Plus it's got the reflected glare -- or maybe shadow -- of New York flavoring everything, about as close to a real city as he likes to get.

Out in a back alley, night just this side of nippy, crouched with his back pressed up against the bricks. Handful of stoners out here, passing around the weed he'd been able to smell all during the show. A couple of them are arguing about -- what? Star Wars grudge matches, he thinks. Lets the discussion wash over him like so much homey white noise.

Guy leaning on the wall across from him, the bottom of one sneaker pressed against it, taking it all in, too. A little older than Oz, or maybe it's just the facial hair that makes him look that way. Oz watches him from the corner of his eye, looking for a flicker of expression, a move to join the conversation. There's nothing, though, just a mellow kind of observation Oz gets. Recognizes. That watching, the kind Devon used to roll his eyes at him for. Not Oz's fault though that everything's so interesting in ways he'd maybe rather not discuss. Or that he just doesn't usually need to hear the sound of his own voice too much. Cooler to see what everyone else has to say, let a room take its own direction rather than get derailed by him. Also he noticed in, like, ninth grade that being quiet makes people pay more attention when you do talk.

Guy notices him looking. No hiding it, and it's nothing to be ashamed of, so Oz looks back. Level gaze searching his face. A raised eyebrow, then, and Oz blinks in response. Lets his gaze slide to the argument beside him, then back. Subtle eye crinkle of agreement from the guy. Oz tilts his head. Gets a slight nod as answer.

It's interrupted by the sudden curve of the conversation to take them in. Or Other Wall Dude, anyway.

"Hey! Tons of Fun!" his friend demands, all dirty blond hair and a toque. "The Fett would have kicked that pussy Han Solo's ass, right? Back me up here against this asswipe."

Guy shrugs, glances back at Oz. Who gets that comfortable feeling of rightness, of being caught up by someone else's whirlwind, letting reflected chatter fill the air around him. Willow's cheerful babble, Xander's nervous jokes. Not his place here, though, but it's good to see the old values still exist in the world. Revels in it for another moment before standing and wandering back inside through the stage door. Hears his exit noticed just as it's swinging shut.

"Who the fuck was that, anyway?" the loudmouthed kid is saying. "Didja make a new best friend, Bob? Gonna discuss metaphysics?"

Metaphysics, thinks Oz as he steps over wires and around amps, is old news, anyway.


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