Characters: Xander/ Oz
Warnings: Implications of slash, but nothing full on
Disclaimer: Joss and Mutant Enemy et al, own everything. I own nothing.
Summary: It’s the morning after the night before and Xander needs to get his head together.
Word Count: 2,175
Beta extraordinaire: thismaz
Written for 2011 spring_with_xan
This is chapter 2 of Tools of the Trade - you can find the first chapter right here.... This one won’t really make sense without reading the first bit!
Measure Twice, Cut Once
Xander paused at the top of the hill, staring down Beach Boulevard towards the sea and shivered as the wind whipped in across the breakwaters. The pale, fall sun of the previous afternoon had been banished by scudding clouds and he wondered if the shine on the dull, grey granite had just been a dream. Hunching his shoulders, he started off down the slope, the siren sound of the water calling to him in the same way it did in Sunnydale. But that was a different expanse of water, with different moods, and colours, and temperatures, from the grim, dark expanse of the North Sea. He couldn’t imagine anyone having a beach party down here.
As if to counter his thought, an amusement park came into view as he followed the bend in the road and he perked up at the sight of the familiar rides – the roller coaster, the carousel, the Ferris wheel and the bowling alley - some things didn’t change, wherever you went in the world. But when he drew nearer, he realised that the gates were shut and a heavy chain and padlock signaled that the park was well and truly closed for the season. Xander drove his hands deep into the pockets of his jacket and walked on quickly, wanting to put the sight of the silent rides and stalls behind him. There was something sinister about an empty funfair. It seemed to promise delights more dangerous than those on offer at the height of a balmy summer evening, but then, he thought ruefully, perhaps he’d read Ray Bradbury one too many times when he was younger.
Turning right, more by instinct than design, he followed the edge of the water, until he hit a jumble of small, narrow streets at the edge of a fishing port. Foot Dee, the sign said, but Xander overheard an old man say ‘Fittie’ as he hauled a box of fish off a boat and onto the quayside. Xander wished that he’d asked Oz to come with him, so that he could navigate both the geography of the city and the quirks of the local language.
‘Oz’, now that had been unexpected. Of all the people he could have dreamed of meeting in a ridiculous theme bar in the north of Scotland, Oz was probably the one he would have thought of last. But that was the way Xander’s life worked. When it came right down to it, as a card carrying slacker, he shouldn’t have been in the library on the day Giles talked to Buffy about her calling. But he had been, and look how that had panned out. Perhaps it was fate, perhaps coincidence, but unexpected events had a habit of directing his life.
Leaning on the rail at the edge of quay, Xander closed his eye and let the sounds of the harbour wash over him, picturing the room he had left to go out walking. Oz had a room in an old house up in Rosemount. The house was run down and the back door, which gave access of a huge and not very clean, shared kitchen, didn’t shut properly, but his room was off the landing at the top of the first flight of stairs, and had a window overlooking a back garden that was overgrown with wild roses and honeysuckle. Oz had a table with a small hot plate, a coffee maker, a microwave, and a couple of overstuffed chairs facing a small portable TV with a circular aerial. He’d said he didn’t watch much TV. Then there was the bed. It was a good bed – a queen, with bottle green sheets, four pillows and a soft, sky blue comforter. The mattress was firm, didn’t sag in the middle and the pillows were big enough to support you if you wanted to sit up in bed and read, but soft enough that you could sink into them and sleep without waking up with a crick in your neck. It was a bed that Oz had obviously given considerable thought to, when he’d bought the bed linen. Xander could happily have spent the rest of the day enjoying its comforts. But instead, he was standing by the harbour, listening to the gulls screech and dive bomb the fishing boats, while tough men in oilskins worked winches and ropes, and talked in soft voices, in an accent that Xander didn’t understand.
The trouble was that it had been Oz’s bed. When Xander had dressed, trying to be quiet, Oz had been curled up under the dark green sheets, his pale skin almost translucent in the light of the single bulb in the ceiling light. His dark hair disappeared against the bedding.
Xander had picked up his shoes and tiptoed to the door when he’d heard Oz shift slightly and had turned to see him propped up on one elbow, the pink stripe in his hair now visible and glinting in the artificial light. “Will you get some milk while you’re out,” he murmured sleepily. “I meant to get some last night, on the way home from work, but got a bit sidetracked.”
“Sure,” Xander replied, not knowing what else to say. “I’m just going out to clear my head and check in with Dawn. I won’t be long.”
That had been nearly two hours ago. He hadn’t checked in with Dawn because he hadn’t known what to say and she always knew when he was keeping secrets. And Oz was probably thinking that he’d gone to find a cow to milk, rather than going to the local corner store like any normal person.
Xander wasn’t sure why he’d freaked when he’d woken up. It wasn’t like he hadn’t slept with a guy before. He and Jesse had fooled around, even if they’d never actually had the chance to do the deed. It was Larry’s cousin Jamie who’d had the honour of the ritual gay deflowering. Larry had actually introduced them, when he’d realised that there was too much history between them for Xander to ever relax enough around Larry to make a relationship possible. So it wasn’t the guy thing, although he hadn’t been down that particular road since high school. If he was been honest with himself, he realised that it was Oz that was the problem. Not that Oz was a problem. And that was the problem. God, he was giving himself a headache just trying to work things through.
In the giant Venn diagram in Xander’s head, Oz belonged in the circle marked Willow. He knew that was unfair. Oz was his own person, just as Tara had been, and neither of them belonged to Willow. But that didn’t help the way things were arranged in his brain. Sure, their circles overlapped from time to time, but the night before had been so much more than an overlap. The easy banter at the bar had led to more intimate conversation and then to soft touches that had become more urgent and intense, until the inevitable had happened. Oz had topped and somehow Xander wasn’t surprised. It had felt right; felt good; felt terrifyingly like he could take the next day, or week, or month, and stay in the bed with the firm mattress and the green sheets and the just right pillows, and continue this exploration until the unexpected became the norm.
That’s what was so scary, and had sent him out into the wind and the threatened rain. One night had changed the overlap to the circles in his head. There was the possibility of drawing another diagram, but he had no idea what to do next. He hadn’t exactly been in the driving seat in any of his past relationships and he’d gone with the flow, because Cordy, Faith and Anya had all had very clear ideas about where he stood in the decision-making process, and it wasn’t in charge. But Oz had made no big demands, no ultimatums and, in Xander’s mind, that freedom was more terrifying than anything he’d encountered before.
The start of a fine mist of rain settled on his hair and the exposed skin of his face. Shivering, he turned away from the fishing boats and skirted the edge of the harbour. He turned right again, his instincts telling him it was time to head inland and the street rose in front of him until he was standing back on Union Street, facing an ancient graveyard next to an old church. It was an incongruous sight in the middle of the main shopping drag, and the drizzle darkened the grey granite, making him shiver as the mid morning light seemed to darken in sympathy around him. All of a sudden, it seemed like the best idea in the world to get in out of the rain, out of the gloom and away from the churchyard.
He walked back along Union Street, pausing to shake his head at the tacky statues outside the bar from yesterday. If someone had suggested, when he got off the train the morning before, that he’d spend the night with Oz, he would have laughed. A lot. He wasn’t laughing now; he was just confused. That wasn’t an uncommon feeling in the strangeness of his life.
He wandered on, pausing at the bakery on the corner to buy a pint of milk and some dense, flat, buttery pastries that the girl behind the counter insisted were the breakfast of champions. He wasn’t sure that was a recommendation given his current state of mind, but as with most of his encounters with strong minded women over the years, he decided that debate was probably a waste of time. Gathering up his purchases, he left the shop and continued up the hill, threading his way between the grey, granite tenements that gave way at the top to wider streets and substantial houses with gardens and imposing bay windows. He paused at a black, wooden gate in need of a lick of paint, mentally checked off the house number to ensure he was at the right place, before following the overgrown path around the side of the house to the rear of the building.
The back door was still partially open and Xander headed through the kitchen and up the stairs to the first landing. He wasn’t surprised to see that Oz’s door was slightly ajar and, after a brief moment to collect his thoughts, he nudged it with his elbow, stepped over the threshold and pushed it shut with the flat of his foot.
Oz was sitting up in bed, propped up on the four pillows, the dark green sheets pooled about his waist and his pale skin half covered by the comforter wrapped around his shoulders. He had a paperback book on his lap and Xander watched as he picked it up, shifted a paperclip from the back cover to mark his place and set it aside, on the shelf by the bed.
He smiled at Xander as if Xander had only been gone five minutes. “Hey,” he said, “I guess it’s raining out there again.”
“Yeah, and here was me expecting Caribbean-type weather. I guess I got my ‘seas’ mixed up. I brought milk, as requested, and these things.” Xander waved the bag to illustrate the point and nearly dropped the carton of milk he was holding in the same hand. “The girl at the bakery on the corner said I had to buy them.”
Putting the milk down on the table before he had an accident, he handed over the bag and Oz peered inside. “Rowies. Cool. You’re not really initiated into Aberdeen life until you’ve had a rowie for breakfast.”
Shrugging, Xander pushed his fingers through his hair for want of something better to do with his hands. “Wouldn’t want to be an outsider.”
Oz raised his eyebrows. “Xander,” he said softly.
“Come back to bed.”
“Okay,” Xander replied, because it seemed there was nothing else to say.
Slipping off his flannel shirt and t-shirt, he toed off his shoes and socks and hauled down his trousers and boxers. He felt he should be blushing, but he wasn’t sure why.
Oz pulled back the sheets, scooted over towards the wall and, before Xander could settle in against the plump pillows, slipped the sky, blue comforter off one shoulder and wrapped it around Xander’s back.
Turning his attention to the bakery bag in his lap, Oz broke a rowie in half and offered it to Xander with a smile. Xander accepted and took a bite, munching slowly at first, and then more quickly, once he realised that the girl in the bakery hadn’t been exaggerating. The buttery, salty pastry stuck to his fingers and left crumbs on the sheets, and Oz leaned over, lifted Xander’s hand and sucked the flakes of pastry off his fingers, one by one.
Xander leaned back on the plump, comfortable pillows, with the sky blue comforter wrapped around his shoulders and the bottle green sheets pooling at his waist and let Oz suck.
The final chapter in this little story can be found right here...Finding the Level
For the curious, a Rowie (which is also known as a ‘Buttery’) is a North-East of Scotland pastry guaranteed to make your arteries beg for mercy. It’s a bit like a flat croissant, only more salty. If you go into any Aberdeen bakery and ask for a ‘Roll’, you’ll get a Rowie. If you want a roll as in a bap or a bun, then you have to ask for a ‘Softie’. See, aren’t you glad I cleared that up! *g* If you can’t face life without knowing more about the Rowie, go Here...