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Singing and Other Nice Things

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Thursdays, market days, are the best for busking. The downtown farmer's market lures all the office workers out on the street with cash close at hand. Plus, there's so much to see--the long, bright stalks of gladiolas and irises at the flower stall up by the library, the strange Asian vegetables the Hmong farmers sell, the green-and-yellow mountains of sweet corn, the red pyramids of early tomatoes. The smell of strawberries from the stall on Oz's corner covers even the reek of bus exhaust; at lunchtime, when it was already 90 degrees, people were lined up three-deep to get some.

There's good people-watching, every tribe and custom on display: bank executives, sales clerks, tourists. Busking, though, Oz really only sees torsos, from shoulders in geometric suits or clingy t-shirts to knees, pinstriped or nylon-shadowed or bare. Faces are a no. Looking in people's eyes would turn him from busker to beggar, and he knows from experience that it makes them less likely to toss a few quarters into the guitar case. It's like asking for a loan, or a job--you can only have it if you don't seem to need it.

Anyway, if he looked at people's faces he'd see their reactions to his singing. Oz knows his voice stumbles along independent of the tune--when he and Devon were fourteen and fighting over who got to be lead singer of the Dingoes, Devon made him record himself. But busking with singing works a little better than busking without; he makes some money instead of none. Probably people feel sorry for him, like he's an armless guy who paints with his feet. Oz takes their money, but he doesn't like to look at them when they give it.

So, halfway through his weirdass solo version of "Androgynous" (the 'Mats are local, after all, and folks like that), all Oz notices is a shirt so white it makes his skin prickle, like the touch of an ice cube, and the seedpod flutter of a bill dropped from broad fingers. Instead of walking on, the man waits just at the edge of Oz's vision, leaning back against one of the pillars in front of Dayton's. People jostle around them both, going into the store or buying stuff at the market.

Once or twice Oz glances over at the guy, just to see if he's moved on. He dropped a ten, which is way more music appreciation than anybody has, and as Oz finishes the song he pulls together his nicest brush-off. He doesn't need money that bad, not anymore.

Putting on a polite half-smile, the kind for bosses and crazy people in the park who talk about their alien tracking devices, Oz turns and looks up at a face for the first time in hours. Its features--middle-aged, handsome, graying rumpled hair and a smile bracketed in laugh-lines--seem general at first, like a picture of someone's uncle at a wedding, and then they click together to make a real person. Not someone's uncle. Giles. Oz feels his own face slide into cartoon shock, dropped jaw and bulging eyes.

Giles belongs to Sunnydale. Giles is suits and ties, armloads of books, and a pretty scary knowledge of high explosives; he's not those funky amber-lensed sunglasses and he's definitely not Minneapolis. If there was a hellmouth here, Oz could almost believe that space had collapsed or time had lurched backwards, or that one of them was in the wrong reality. Stuff like that, like the lost vampire version of . . . of a girl he used to know, can happen on a hellmouth.

"Giles?" It turns from statement to question halfway up Oz's throat, which is probably why it comes out so high-pitched and squeaky. Stupid, like he's twelve again. When his voice was breaking he didn't talk for two months, it was so embarrassing.

"Oz." In the middle of a handshake, they both shift and stumble until they're hugging. Awkwardly, like Oz isn't the only one who hasn't hugged anybody in a while. Giles thumps him hard on the back, which makes him cough, and then thumps him harder until he stops. "Dear god. How are you? What are you doing here?"

"Live here now." Let go, Oz can still feel every button of Giles' shirt on his own chest, and Giles' scent--bleach and hot-ironed cotton, sweat and a cologne like blood oranges and tobacco--clings inside his nostrils. He can't remember Giles having a smell before, except maybe old wool. "Also, I kinda think that was my line. You're a long way from Sunnydale."

"I'm traveling this summer. Or, as Buffy puts it, taking my midlife crisis on tour." Judging from the eye-crinkling width of his smile, the midlife crisis is the most fun Giles has had in ages. In Sunnydale, Giles smiled when he was nervous or relieved, but hardly ever because he was happy about something. A real smile makes him look . . . not younger, exactly, but his own age instead of prematurely old. "Things have been quiet, and I thought I'd see a bit of America while I had the chance."

Scooping the money--Giles' ten, a few stray ones, some change--out of the guitar case and stuffing it into his pocket, Oz asks, "Like a road trip?" He wipes the sweat off his forehead with the sleeve of his t-shirt, which lets him look away, hide his face, for a second. This is about the longest he's ever talked to Giles. It feels a little like the day he ran into Ms. Wilson, his physics teacher, in the record store. Cool and really awkward at the same time, talking about Yo La Tengo with somebody whose first name he didn't know.

Giles nods, watches as he stows the guitar, and then says, "Why don't you come and have a drink with me, so we can catch up? Or, no, I'm a bit peckish, why don't we get a meal?"

It's 2:30 in the afternoon. Giles probably isn't hungry, but he thinks Oz might be. He's giving Oz the same appraising look that Aunt Maureen used to get right before she'd drop another pork chop on his plate. Weird, because in Sunnydale Giles would hardly have noticed if Oz had been starving to death, poisoned and hemorrhaging, all in the middle of the library. Maybe, with Buffy so far away, he needs somebody to worry about.

"Can't," Oz says, and adds "Thanks," when Giles frowns. "Gotta be at work in like half an hour. Bookstore, a couple blocks from here. Big corporate Barnes and Noble," he explains, and he doesn't know why he's apologizing to Giles about his job, "but it pays okay." It doesn't give him time to read the way he thought it would, but it's better than washing dishes. Air conditioned, and his clothes don't get dirty.

Giles nods again, and sort of gathers himself together like he's getting ready to leave. The sun's full in his face, picking out wrinkles but good bone structure too, and a sadness under the smile. Like one of those X-rayed paintings Oz saw in art history class, where you can see the original drawing and the changes the artist made. Some of the sadness looks broken-in and familiar, almost comfortable, but some of it's new. He hurt Giles' feelings, which, if he'd ever thought about it, he would've said was like writing a novel or slaying vampires by himself--something way beyond his ability. "I get off at ten," Oz says before Giles finds whatever parting words he's searching for. "We could meet up after that."

The underpainted frown disappears from the smile. It's complete now, the kind of smile you give somebody you like. Traveling's lonely, Oz knows, and after a while you're glad to see anybody you recognize. Moving's the same--you can like a place a lot and still not feel at home there. He smiles back.

***

After a few really strong, gasoline-tasting gin-and-tonics, all kinds of things start to seem natural. Like Giles singing some jazzy fifties song ("The same old tingle that I feel inside / When that elevator starts its ride"), accompanied by the bar's ancient piano player, who doesn't seem to mind that Giles has sung the last three songs or that Giles' voice is better than his. The tips are piling up in the jar, and Oz wouldn't complain in that situation either. Another drink later, it seems natural that Giles is dragging him to his feet and they're both singing "My Funny Valentine," which Oz only half knows the words to after seeing that movie where Tom Ripley sang it for Dickie, who didn't even notice. Oz's face gets hotter and hotter and his singing is even less on-key than usual, but Giles elbows him when he tries to sort of duck under Giles' voice, and then hugs him when the song's over, and then they're stumbling out the door with Giles' arm around his shoulders and Giles is waving at the piano player and the crowd of laughing clapping drunk students, and then they're out in the parking lot, thank god. The air's hot and sticky, but it's dark and Oz's face cools back down from hot-coal red to something that feels like skin.

Watching Giles laughingly pat his pockets for his keys, Oz thinks that maybe Giles isn't so much drunk as . . . boisterous or silly or some other un-Gilesy word. They've had the same number of drinks, after all, and Giles is a lot bigger. But when Giles finds the keys, Oz takes them away. He'd like to ride around the city in Giles' red BMW, the August night slapping his face like a wet towel, seeing the checkerboard glow of nighttime buildings and the Hennepin Avenue Bridge strung with gold lights, brighter than the stars. But it might end with the sudden interruption of a telephone pole or a freeway median and Giles' amazing car twisted into a mobius strip, just like a drivers' ed movie. "We can walk to my place," Oz says. "I share a house with a bunch of students from the U. You can sleep there and get your car in the morning."

"Spoilsport," Giles mutters, but then he laughs and swings his arm back over Oz's shoulders. It's heavy, and an arm-shaped band of sweat comes up on Oz's skin, but it feels nice, too. Their footsteps shuffle along the concrete, blending with all the other night sounds like weird modern music, John Cage maybe. Crickets and a little wind, a few cars going past and the more distant liquid rush of the freeway, his breath and Giles' faint humming. In the daytime that stuff's just noise, but at night, when the sulfur-yellow of the streetlights is the only color and the whole visual world dims down to blocky shapes, it takes form.

Darkness lets the music out, and it makes touching simpler. Easily, in the forward sway of a step, Oz puts an arm around Giles' waist. Damp cotton, skin barely hotter than the air, fluid muscle under just a little cushiony fat. Giles isn't bony like Oz; he'd feel good to lean against. Oz lets himself tilt a little, until his head's resting in the hollow of Giles' shoulder, and it does feel good. "I didn't know you could sing," Oz says, and even though it's kind of a stupid remark, he's not sorry he said it. Talking to Giles seems natural now, which is maybe the weirdest thing about the whole evening. It's not just because of the gin-and-tonics that are working happy magic in Oz's blood, either; this is something more fundamental. Being away from Sunnydale, or growing up.

"I was in a band. Lifetime ago, now. I was your age." Giles looks past Oz's head at the big three-story house they're passing, which looks really suburban even though it probably holds six or eight students, like Oz's place. He lets out a slow, disgusted sigh, and his fingers clutch Oz's shoulder a little harder. "I was twenty-one and in a band, during the great age of punk rock. Fucking wonderful. Do you know what's the best thing about being twenty-one?"

Oz won't be twenty-one until November, but Giles is on a roll, talking and swearing just like anybody who's had a few drinks, just like he's one of Oz's friends or something, so Oz doesn't correct him.

"The best thing about being twenty-one," Giles continues, "is that you haven't had that morning yet."

The words have audible capital letters: That Morning. Giles can talk with a full range of effects--capitalization, italics, bold, everything. He can even be sarcastic without making little quotation marks with his fingertips. Oz likes the way Giles talks, the same way he likes how Thurston Moore plays guitar, knowing he'll never be as good. "What morning?" he asks when it becomes clear that Giles is waiting.

"The morning when you wake up and you realize you'll never be a rock star."

After a second Giles laughs, short and sharp as a bark, as a sudden gunshot. It's not the way you laugh about something that happened twenty years ago. Maybe you can get to forty-five or whatever, spend your whole life doing something else, and never quite realize that it is your life, that you're not waiting for anything, that your big break isn't coming. Or maybe you can have That Morning more than once. Every ten years or so, like a vaccination.

Either way, it explains why Giles is driving around the country in a convertible. It might explain, too, why Giles' fingers are slipping little by little up Oz's shoulder, sly as nighttime border-crossers, until they reach bare skin. Why Giles takes a deep breath and runs his thumb along the neckline of Oz's t-shirt, and why he swallows so loudly when Oz tips his neck and drops his own hand, thumb looping over Giles' belt, fingers curved against his hip.

When they reach the dark, quiet house (it's not yet midnight, and his roommates must still be out) Oz doesn't even bother offering to make up the couch for Giles. He leads the way up two flights of stairs, Giles' hand on his waist, and he can feel the bulk of Giles' body behind him even though they're hardly touching. "Careful," Oz says at the door of his little bedroom, the cheapest in the house. "Ceiling's low."

No need to turn the light on, because the bed's pretty much all there is, except for the mat where Oz sits to meditate. Shoes thump and springs creak and they're lying there face to face, sweating already in the baking hot room, and Oz wonders for half a second whether this was inevitable from the moment Giles dropped the ten into his guitar case. Or was it later, in some faint exchange of signals (pheromones, body language, something unconscious and unbound by reason) that they agreed how this night would end, with Giles dropping his glasses on the floor and touching Oz's face and kissing him?

It starts out sweet, tentative, lips barely open, and Oz can't help remembering Willow. He hasn't kissed anyone since Willow, touched anyone, and he doesn't want to think about Willow, and that's easier when Giles' tongue slides insistently between his lips and Giles' hand finds the small of his back and pulls him closer. The kiss tastes doubly of gin, and Oz breathes deep to catch the Giles-scent that he's already starting not to notice because he's used to it, and he's not thinking of Willow, he's thinking of Giles.

Giles, who kisses really well, thoroughly, like kissing is a translation or a crossword puzzle, and whose body is big and hot and flexible, and whose hands are big and just a little rough at the fingertips. Musician's calluses, and he's using them, turning and stroking his fingers over Oz's skin from every angle, testing. Thorough. Oz moans and whimpers and makes noises he doesn't have words for, sucks on Giles' tongue, licks his ears and hair and eyelids, clutches and twists Giles' shirt until it goes wherever Oz's clothes have gone and then digs his fingers into Giles' skin, wraps his legs around Giles and tries to hold him as he moves. And Giles moves, his mouth painting kisses, dripping and smearing and splashing them, he's the Jackson fucking Pollock of kisses, and his hands know things about Oz's body that Oz didn't know, how a dragging fingernail feels here, how a pinch there makes his whole skin glow like one of those Christmas lawn ornaments with a lightbulb inside.

And Giles talks, Giles says beautiful and sweet and let me, he says you feel good and I love how you taste, and over and over he says let me, lie back, let me. And sure, back in the day Oz thought about this once or twice, because people think about that stuff, but he got it all wrong. He thought Giles would be shy, that he'd freak and need persuading, not that he'd push Oz's legs apart and flop half off the end of the bed and swipe his tongue over Oz's balls, let his spit drip down over the skin behind them and then lick it up, lick and murmur against Oz's skin like he's talking straight to Oz's body, to his cock and balls and asshole. "Let me," Giles says again and his tongue drags lower and he's licking Oz's asshole, hot tongue swirling and no one's ever licked him there, not even Devon at his perviest, and he never thought it would feel this good.

All these mouth skills, talking and singing, kissing and licking like this, maybe they're all related, maybe that's why Giles is good at all of them. Which would mean Oz is a lousy kisser and gives head like a virgin, but it's not too late to learn. Giles' mouth is wandering back north along Oz's balls, skimming over the base of his cock, and before it can get any higher, any better, Oz says, "Wait, come here, let me -"

Somehow Giles must understand, because he grunts and hauls himself around until they're lying head-to-foot and his cock is there, almost brushing Oz's nose. No other skin smells like this, dark as fresh-turned earth, sour-sweet as the night wind in the tropics, full of things that grow and things that rot. Almost too strong, almost sickly, the way sex smells have been ever since the first time Oz turned werewolf, yet it grips him by the gut and the balls and he wants. He licks the tip of Giles' cock, salt-crusted velvet like something precious washed ashore, and Giles groans and then laughs when Oz pushes him onto his back, knees bent and feet on the wall, and straddles him.

"Oh, yes," Giles says, and Oz feels an arm wrap around his hips, a hand circle his cock and guide it down, and then soft wet tongue-strokes, cool at first and then hot as blood, hotter.

"Yeah, show me," he says, muscles clenched and voice harsh because it's been a hell of a long time and he doesn't want to come this soon. Imitation lets him concentrate, lets him hold back just enough. Following Giles, he licks zigzags and spirals over the cockhead, probes and darts at the hole. Not quite identical, because Giles has a foreskin, and he gasps and arches when Oz pulls it back, so that Oz wishes he still had one too if it feels that fucking amazing. But pretty close, echo and harmony, and maybe if he sucked Giles' cock enough he could learn everything Giles knows. Learn to talk, learn to sing, learn to wear a tie like he means it. Learn to have a normal life even though he's a freak--Giles isn't a werewolf, but he's a Watcher, and that's freaky enough for its own Enquirer article or a whole week of Jerry Springer.

Long licks up the shaft, hand stroking balls or sometimes sliding up for a slow twisting pull, sucking just the brine-wet tip, then taking more, mouth and hand moving in rhythm, loose and tight, slow and fast, tongue looping in ways that make Oz or Giles or both of them groan and shake, deep head-thrusts that push against the gag reflex, and this is the best thing Giles could ever teach him, the most amazing thing he could possibly know, and Oz isn't thinking, he's learning with muscles and nerves, and Giles scrapes with his teeth and everything goes phosphorescent white and Oz lifts his head and says "Fuck, fuck, fuck," and he comes and comes and years have gone by and he's still coming.

He's on his side, trembling and mush-bodied, and Giles is holding him, kissing his belly and thighs and giving little licks to his softening cock, and god knows how long he's been lying here and leaving Giles frustrated. "Sorry," Oz says, and shifts to take Giles' cock again. He tries to suck like Giles, confidently, knowledgeably, and when Giles starts to moan, when his muscles tremor and he nips at Oz's thighs, whining and panting, he figures it's working. Faster as he brings Giles closer, as Giles tenses and breathes in staccato gasps, and he tugs Giles' balls and strokes his fingers behind them and sucks hard, twisting his head as he moves. Giles bites his hip, grunts and growls and thrusts so deep Oz almost chokes, and Oz keeps moving as Giles' cock pulses, as his mouth fills, as he swallows and swallows again, and he doesn't stop until Giles is empty, shaking and making high little animal noises. A+, he thinks. Perfect 800, standing ovation, Grammy, gold record even.

A little flopping, struggling, and re-tucking the sheets brings them face to face again, and kissing now tastes like seawater. All the afterwards things, all the slow, unhurried kissing and touching--that's almost the best part, and he's glad that Giles isn't one of those guys who's too macho to do anything but screw and then sleep. Instead, Giles keeps touching him, nuzzling his hair and fingering his bones, spine and ribs, hips and elbows. That's just how Oz thought it would be, and this time he was right.

"You okay?" Oz says after a while. He's drawing patterns on Giles' sweaty chest and tickling his lips over the soft hair there. "Not too hot?"

"It's hot." Maybe Giles can read minds, too, because he pulls Oz a little closer just as Oz is about, reluctantly, to move away and let him breathe. "But I like this."

"Yeah." Oz kisses him, and Giles' hand settles in his hair and keeps him there, draws the kiss out. It's a slow, deep kiss, a getting-to-know-you kiss, and Oz can feel it in the soles of his feet and the center of his bones.

"You know," Giles says a little later, "I don't need to start back to Sunnydale for another couple of weeks. And my hotel room is air-conditioned."

"Air-conditioned is good. I bet the bed's wider, too." Oz lets his fingers slide up Giles' neck, stroke his cheek, ruffle his damp hair. This feels even more intimate than sex, somehow. He wants to have sex with Giles again, a whole porn epic's worth of sex in 101 different positions. He wants to talk with him, show him the Sculpture Garden and the lakes and the great Chinese restaurant by the university campus, get him to sing again, sleep with him at night. It won't be a big thing, a Willow-sized thing, but it'll be something. Something nice, with Giles.

He can't ever have a Willow-sized thing again. It makes him dangerous. But maybe that's just for kids anyway, loving so hard that the other person's all you can see and the rest of the world is just a blur around the edges. Tomorrow, or next week, he'll ask Giles how grownups love without turning into monsters.

"Hey Giles?" Oz says, quietly, in case Giles has fallen asleep.

"Hmm?"

"I don't think I'm ever gonna be a rock star." Giles' stroking fingers on his neck pause, then resume. "But it's okay. It's just life." Werewolf, rock star. It'd be like being hit by lightning twice. Oz has used up his freak accidents, and maybe his melodrama too.

"Yes, just life," Giles says sleepily and kisses his forehead. Oz closes his eyes and thinks about where they should go for breakfast tomorrow.