All Along The Watchtower
by Tesla

Oz had a pretty nice place downtown in the business district. He could walk to a classic cinema, a coffee shop, a newspaper stand, a grocery store, and a bookstore. He could get the van out and drive to gigs with the new band, and he wasn't that far from a Tibetian Buddhist temple and herbalist shop. Smells of curry and copper and incense and baking doughnuts, old-school yuppies, new age Kabbalist with red string bracelet, Junior Leaguers and art school students, all jostling amiably along the sidewalks in the long light evenings of early summer.

Plenty of work for a musician at all the universities and colleges and private school dances. One of the homes of the blues. Baseball games, hot dogs, big Mississippi River running down to New Orleans, blues music and the gateway to the west; Oz liked St. Louis for many reasons, but most of all, no Hellmouth. No smell of burning.

When he meditated, breathing in, breathing out, he thought of California as some paradise, barred to him by his own choice. Barred to him because he loved it too much, loved some of the people too much and wished he could be with them too much.Never have that recipe again. Big Mississippi wasn't the ocean, no, but it really was wider than a mile, with the sun sparkling on the muddy wakes of the barges.

Sometimes he sat on his fire escape and looked up at the full moon, feeling the vibrations in every cell of his skin, in every tooth and fingernail, in his hair follicles. Bold, he thought, but not fool- hardy. The wolf lay quiet in his golden shackles of thought, an obedient wolf, a wolf who would, actually, come when it was called. Shake out of Oz's clothes and grow hair, claws, fangs, tongue and fury, walk around the linoleum of Oz's apartment, click clack click clack. There was no river like craving and no craving like the way he craved the past, sometimes.

Moonlight on the Mississippi River. Thin sliver of a moon, threading its silver needle in and out of the inky water. Sound of a fire engine, way off.

Some nights, when he wasn't playing with the band, he stayed indoors and played his vinyl records on the old stereo. New needles, he had needles by the dozen, hoarded to keep the stereo running. Did some toking on his own, to center himself in now. When he didn't he was too apt to run back to the past, to a city that didn't exist. Even Nagasaki and Hiroshima were still there, but there was nothing left of Sunnydale. Even Mount St. Helens was still there, and trees grew back, but Sunnydale was nothing but a crater, filling up with sinkwater.

Giles had given Oz his record collection, and it still made Oz shake his head. Cream and Derek and the Dominos, The Doors and Hendrix, the Clash and Joe Cocker. "Better you have them than they get damaged in shipping," Giles had said. "I have more back home. I bought these here." Earl Grey tea and tweed, leather chairs and the clink of the neck of a whiskey bottle on a crystal highball glass, as Giles poured whiskey and they listened to Ginger Baker's drums and Clapton's guitar. Rasp of tweed on leather.

Oz had the big eighties records Devon had given him, Devon with his easiness within his skin, his glittery body paint and his eyeliner, his breath smelling of Certs and his tongue tasting of Jolly Ranchers. Devon had an odd liking for Duran Duran and Rick Springfield and soundtracks to movies. He had bought up the last LPs pressed, apparently.

Oz wondered where Devon was, where Devon was being a trap for the unwary, now. With his hot eyes and hot mouth, Devon, man. Devon. He missed him, missed the way it was all about the mellow and all about getting off, missed the "it's all good" sexuality. Devon had gone to the doors of perception and rung the doorbells and run off.

Here was Barry White, and Oz grinned to himself, thinking of that Christmas Eve when Willow had tried to seduce him. God, he'd loved his little red witch, loved her so much, and it was never the same, even after he'd fucked Veruca in wolf-form. It had levelled them out as far as cheating-wise went, but it revealed to Oz how much the Wolf was with him. How much a danger he was to the ones he loved.

And then, it wasn't Willow's fault that she found women to be better, to love her more completely, to fill those lonely spaces better than he ever had. No one's fault. Love couldn't be at fault. Love was love, and flowed like water. If there was a crack, it would fill it. If there was a hole, it would rush away.

Water seem to run out of all the cracks in Oz's heart, which is why he was wandering down the sidewalks in his padded coat, staring in the windows of the record store. Elton John and the "Two Virgins" albums, "Eat a Peach" and Patsy Cline. It was kind of a surprise to see himself reflected on the albums, see his spikes of red-gold streaks palely alternating with Carole King's "Tapestry" and "Sweet Baby James" as he shifted his visual perception.

Which is why he had the horrible, horrible Manilow album. He thought about the tall, broad-shouldered dead man whenever he saw it.

Couldn't bear to actually play it, dude, because, Manilow. He'd lose his self-respect. The big guy liked Beethoven and the Chieftains, Enya and Elton, Roger Whitaker and Gloria Estefan, but he softened his eyes and hummed whenever Manilow came on the van radio. Oz had always hunched his shoulders and rolled his eyes when Angel started nodding his head to "Mandy."

"What?" Angel would ask, eyes as wide as a kid's. "It's pretty."

He had a sentimental streak as wide as a river, the big bad vampire, the former terror of Europe, the one who terrorized Sunnydale for months, the one Oz had seen striding into the movie theatre with a big blue monster. The man who faced a pack of vampires and dusted them all, one, two, three, then said in a soft voice, "Let's see what the girls are doing."

The same one who ran out of Oz's van, catching on fire as he plummeted into the ocean, all to save people he didn't know and who never thanked him. That big bad former vampire of Sunnydale.

The one that Oz took back and bandaged up in that cozy cellar apartment, the one who called him, "Daniel."

No one would tell Oz what had happened to Angel, why he was on the "no contact" list; not Faith, who stayed in Cleveland, or Willow who stayed in England with Giles, Buffy and Dawn in Rome, and Xander somewhere in Africa. No one would tell him where Angel was, and when Oz had gone to the Hyperion, it was locked up tight. No fresh smell of him anywhere, and no listing for Angel Investigations any more.

So St. Louis was as good a place to be, as anywhere else, anywhere else that wasn't Nepal or India or California. There were seasons in Missouri, seasons of rain, of heat, of cold and ice. Big chunks of dirty ice came down the river last year, he heard.

Vampires in St. Louis, of course, vampires and demons if you knew where to look, but they could smell the wolf and left him alone.

No one like Oz in town, though.

Sometimes Oz would see a man walking down the wet streets, his head hunched between broad shoulders, a black coat billowing around him. He'd sniff, hard, but of course, no smell of leather and parchment and sandalwood came to him.

That's what Angel smelled like; spiciness and the underlying notes of blood and tears and....styling mousse.

Oz hadn't smelled that in a couple of years.

He guessed he was firmly out of the loop, himself. The ones who dropped out of the Slayer's sphere, the ones who were never spoken of, he supposed. No one told him that poor Anya had been killed in the final battle of Sunnydale, that Riley had broke up with Buffy and gotten married, that Xander had lost his eye, that Spike had acquired a soul and died and, apparently, re-emerged, until he saw Andrew, Tucker's brother, at the airport one day.

"Angel and Spike are in the heart of darkness," Andrew said, all prissy mouth and faux tweediness. Andrew knew who Oz was, of course, because Andrew used to go to the Bronze and gaze at the Dingoes in helpless awe. Gaze at Devon, actually, but well. Everyone did.

Oz didn't ask anything else, because he was loath to dictate Andrew's report to Giles. "Angel's fat and wears Hugo Boss," he had said. "Lives in a high-rise with special glass so he can feel the sun. Sold out." Andrew never could get his street slang right, and he had gone into a mutter about dee-luxe apartments in the sky.

Angel had lived in an old hotel, the last time Oz had seen him. But when Oz thought about Angel, he thought about Angel in the old basement apartment, that had texture and color and intimacy. Not a basement, at all, in feeling, it had that safe feeling.

Angel liked silk tapestries and velvet. Angel had stretched out, naked, on his bed and let Oz inventory his injuries from that day: burns from the sun, a cut lip, burns on the back of his head, the gaping, cauterized holes from the hot pokers in his belly and back, the bite the torturing vampire had put in the back of his neck; all healing. All rimed with sand and salt, and Oz had convinced Angel to get in the shower, before Oz had to go to his gig.

Oz had walked Angel into the shower, and stripped, himself, and stepped under the water with him. Angel had smiled, heavy-lidded, and let Oz wash his hair. Oz had massaged his scalp and Angel had set his hands on Oz's shoulders and let him.

Brown clots of dried blood swirled into the shower, and Angel had suddenly started crying, head bent under the water, hands gripping Oz's shoulders. "It's over," Oz had soothed. "It's all over, now."

"One more hot poker and I was done," Angel said, hoarsely. "I wasn't that strong."

"You were strong enough," Oz had soothed, his arms around the bigger man's waist.

It wasn't about sex. It was comfort. It was comfort, like it had been that lonely winter in Sunnydale.

It wasn't sex, even though they rolled around the cashmere blanket and the paisley sheets of Angel's bed, and Oz kissed the tears from Angel's eyelashes, and licked the water droplets from his neck and shoulders. It wasn't sex, although they jerked each other off and tasted each other's tongues.

It was comfort. And when Oz went off to his gig, Angel still had the ring, and thought he'd go watch the sun set, for the first time in two hundred-something years.

When Oz got back, the wounds were closing up, and Angel was gulping down another mug of blood. His somber eyes lit up at the sight of Oz. He was an ancient being, held together by a demon. A man's soul in a body that would collapse into dust if the demon was gone. So why did he seem, sometimes, that he was younger than Oz?

The heart of darkness, huh? In Los Angeles?

Oz carefully took "History of Eric Clapton" out and put the first disk on the turntable. "I've been down to the crossroads," he hummed.

He had told Angel that Clapton wrote "Layla" about George Harrison's wife, Patti Boyd, and that Harrison wrote "Here Comes the Sun," in Clapton's garden. And that Patti had left Harrison to be with Clapton.

"So did they live happily ever after?" Angel had asked, lying on the floor with his head on a kelim pillow, arm behind his head.

"No, she couldn't have children, so Clapton got with another woman, and then his son died falling out of a high-rise window. That was after Clapton had been on heroin. He got clean in the seventies, and Pete Townsend got him the part of the preacher in the film version---"

"Of Tommy," Angel said. At Oz's look, he had said, "What? I'm not a complete cultural ignoramus. I liked Tina Turner as the Acid Queen in the movie."

"But I've got the original rock opera, here," Oz had said. He looked and found "Eyesight for the Blind."

Angel had stared off into the corners of the room, and Oz took the needle off the record, and found some Hendrix, instead.

It was a long time before Angel came back to his head. Then, he had thumbed through his own box of LPs until he found one, and with surprising grace for such a large man, put on "Daniel."

"Think about you when I hear it," he had said, quietly, and they had gone to bed with the phonograph playing in the next room, and quietly turning off, long after they'd stopped hearing it.

Big river keep on rollin' Oz couldn't save Angel. He couldn't go to LA, one little wolf-man, and stride into whatever badness there was, and rescue him.

He could still want to, though.

Oz could run his prayer beads through his fingers and send good thoughts Angel's way. Spike's way, too, but mainly Angel's.

You are mentor, you are archetype deity, You are Angel and Protector...Be his eternal friend. Defend him from attack.

Yet somehow he was also praying, But you and I have been through that, And this is not our fate Let us not speak falsely now, The hour is getting late.

And the wind began to howl.


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