Other Lines

by Sheila Perez

In the desert
I saw a creature, naked, bestial,
Who, squatting above the ground,
Held his heart in his hands,
And ate of it.
I said, "Is it good, friend?"
"It is bitter--bitter," he answered;
"But I like it
"Because it is bitter
"and because it is my heart."
--Stephen Crane, Poem Three, "Black Riders and Other Lines"

Oz frowned down at the bottle in his hand. He flung it at the wall and smiled grimly at the very satisfying crash it made.

She had chosen him.

Fuck him.

She probably was.

He stood up unsteadily and made his way over to the liquor cabinet. The strawberry daiquiri crap had gotten him started, but it wasn't enough. Not by a long shot. Ahhh, scotch. Oz stared at the bottle, wondering if he should even bother with a glass. Using a glass would be civilized. The hell with it. He took a swig directly from the bottle and grimaced. Okay...ow. Ow a lot.

So. She had chosen him. Xander. Wonderful. Just fucking wonderful.

Oz drank some more.

So who was he supposed to be with? Lassie? Or was he just supposed to be alone for the rest of his life? Which, according to Giles would be a really, really long time. Loneliness for the next several hundred years. Big fun.

Why the hell had she chosen Xander? Mr. I'll-ignore-you-all-our-lives. The biggest ass in Sunnydale.

Hadn't pretty much total worship been enough? Did a guy have to be a complete asshole to get a girl? Oz liked to think he was a nice guy. But apparently that just didn't cut it.

'Cause she had chosen Xander. Of all people, she'd chosen the one that hurt her most.

It was enough to make him sick. That could, maybe, have been the vast amounts of alcoholic he had consumed in the past few hours. Oz rather preferred to think otherwise. It was somehow a lot easier to blame Xander. Maybe 'cause it was his fault. In an obscure, roundabout way. Or not.

Oz picked up a picture of himself and Willow. She'd been sitting on his lap and they had made silly faces at the camera. It was one of his more treasured memories.

It also made a satisfying crash as it collided with the wall.

He flopped back onto the bed, cradling the bottle tenderly. If he were a) a violent person and b) at all capable of driving, he'd go over to Xander's and beat the crap out of him. But he wasn't. He wasn't even capable of standing up and walking steadily. Which just sucked.

Oz took another drink.

God, he wanted to act stupidly. Wanted to throw a tantrum. Which he was doing. But more of one. Involving grievous bodily harm to Xander and lots of property damage.

Full moon was soon. Maybe he'd just not lock himself up. Maybe Buffy'd kill him. Maybe...they'd use a trank gun and he'd be even worse off than before.

It had all started innocently enough. He had walked into the library. Normal, every day sort of thing. Except...

She was kissing him. And liking it. And he was kissing her. And God...it hurt. It was like someone kicked him in the stomach. Oz must have made some sound, because they pulled apart and Willow had looked horrified. Odd...he could remember Willow telling him about almost the same situation. Except with Xander and Cordelia. And well, she hadn't been dating Xander at the time. It was funny how Oz never even conceived of the thought that Willow would ever, in any way, betray him. It wasn't something she'd do. Especially not with Xander having done the same thing to her. She knew how much it hurt. She knew.

"Oz..." she'd said. "We need to talk."

The four most deadly words in the English language.

"Uh...okay." He'd replied.

They'd gone to the quad, where he'd first asked her out. Or she'd asked him. Whatever. The irony was overwhelming. He had wondered if Willow had remembered. Probably not.


Not a good sign.

"Just say it, Willow."

"Do I need to?"

He could've been nice and let her off the hook. "Could have" being the operative phrase.

"Yeah. If you're gonna do it, you might as well do it right."

She had looked down. Like it was hard or something. "Maybe...maybe it's better if we don't see each other anymore."

Well. There it was.


She had looked up in surprise. "That's it? You're not gonna argue or anything?"


"Why not? Am I not worth fighting for?"

Oz had looked at her silently for a few moments. "You're worth it. Not gonna though."


"It wouldn't do any good. Besides, I deserve better."

Walking away then had been the hardest thing he'd ever done. He couldn't bear to look at them be the happy couple.

Because Oz had Pride. Not a lot, granted, but some.

So God forbid he should let anyone know that he was hurting. Far better by far to get shit-faced at home and throw a temper tantrum.

Which he proceeded to do with a sort of grim joy that would have frightened the people who knew him. Or thought they knew him. Same thing.

Oz finished the bottle and attempted to stand up. He swayed unsteadily as he picked his way across the room. He stopped as he passed the mirror, and stared at it. There he was. Alone. Shock. Gasp.

And there was Willow and Xander. Mocking him. Laughing at the poor lonely dog-boy.

Somewhere in the back of his mind, Oz knew that they wouldn't do that. Or at least, that Willow wouldn't. That didn't stop him from slamming a fist into the mirror in an attempt to destroy the picture.

Drops of blood slid down his hand to mingle with the broken glass on the floor.

Oz blinked once and fell down onto the bed. He was a mess. A pathetic, lonely fool. Like always. Dammit. Life just sucked.

Fucking idiots. "Love is grand, love is wonderful! Fall in love, it'll make everything good." Bull. It was a big fat lie. It was the god damned Titanic of lies. Yeah, love was grand. Big fun. Fall in love, get emotionally involved, get knocked to the ground and kicked in the head a few times. Oh, and while you're at it Miss, could you please strip the skin off my body and rub salt in the wound? Thanks so much. Oh no, it doesn't hurt at all. Let me lie still while you hit me in the stomach a few more times. Yeah, there we go. Isn't this fun?

He took another drink and flopped back. God, he should have known better. Didn't he have a whole bunch of wonderful examples of how very much caring sucked? Was he some sort of masochist? Or just an idiot?

But she had been- still was- so incredibly beautiful. Oz closed his eyes, envisioning Willow with him. Her soft red hair brushing lightly across his hands as they leaned forward and kissed gently...

Yeah, she still did it to him. In a major way. He had a feeling she always would. Oh yeah, that'd be wonderful.

He was such a poor excuse for a human being.

Oz just wanted to curl up and cry. And cry and cry and throw things. And hit something. Preferably Xander. A lot.

He remembered something that a priest had said once. Back when he still attended Church out of some misguided attempt at presenting a united family front. Before cynicism and a general dislike of all things religious had set in.

"Love is a frightening thing. It's a leap of faith. You have to trust the other person..." Blah, blah, blah.

Yeah. Uh-huh. Faith should not exist. Well, Faith should, 'cause she was the Slayer, but faith in the "I believe in other people" sense was just a big waste of time. And generally tended to leave the faith-holding person lying on the ground in agony, feeling like shards of glass were digging into his back...

Oz shifted uncomfortably, realizing that, at some point, he had fallen off his bed and that there were actual shards of glass digging into his back. Well, hell. That wasn't fun. But on the bright side, he'd managed to retain the bottle. And woo...it was almost empty. Where did the time go? Time and alcohol...

He whimpered as he tried to hoist himself onto the bed. Owpainbad. Oz could feel the tears breaking free of the stranglehold he had of them and sliding down his face. No, crying was bad. Crying was not something guys did. Crying was a smack and a yell to be a man.

Stop. Must not cry. Oz wiped the tears away and took a deep breath. When he opened them again, his eyes were dry and focused on a picture of Willow. It was from after she'd gotten her hair cut, and they went to Disneyland. She'd been wearing a pair of those Mickey-mouse-ears and he'd taken a picture...she'd been so very beautiful that day...

There went the tears again. Fucking hell. He flung the picture as far as he could; it crashed into the wall and shattered. Poetry. Irony. Whatever.

Oz curled into a little ball, pulling the covers over his head and trying to block out the laughing images. He felt like a little kid again, sure that if he just pretended the bad nasty monsters weren't there, they'd go away and he'd be safe. Maybe if he curled up small enough and stayed still enough, it wouldn't hurt so much. He wouldn't see Willow and Xander kissing. Wouldn't hear them laughing together. All good things.

He'd be alone again.

That was even better.


Dimly, somewhere far in the back of his mind, Oz could recall his alarm going off. He could also recall unplugging it and sending it to join the mess along the wall. He shrugged. Darn. Missed a day of school. Bad him. No biscuit for Oz.

Ooh. Lycanthropic advantage. No hangovers. Oz combed his fingers through his hair and stretched. He could go to school. Or he could not. He rather thought not.

He grabbed a box of hair dye from the counter and headed for the bathroom. Might as well put the day to good use.


Oz snorted to himself as he walked into the library. Same old, same old. Cordelia saying something, Giles with his head in a book, Buffy being the leader. Xander smiling and making jokes. Willow...seeing him and suddenly looking very worried. She exchanged glances with Xander and took a step forward. "Oz?"

"Hi." Nothing more, nothing less. He'd be damned if he let on about anything. Luckily, he was known for his lack of wordage. Advantage Oz.

She walked up to him and touched his arm tentatively. He flinched away, and whispered, "Don't. Please...just don't."

Willow bit her lip. "Oz..."

He ignored her and walked into the room, struggling to maintain some semblance of unflappability.

Cordelia glanced up and grinned. "Wow, Oz. You look really good."

He smiled a little. "Thanks."

"New outfit?"

He glanced down. Shirt was new. Green, with black sleeves and a black stripe down the right side. Celtic knot-work picked out in green along the stripe. Black slacks weren't really new. "Shirt is."

"It's nice."

Oz smiled again as he grabbed a chair and straddled it. "So what's the sitch?"

Willow followed him back into the room, giving Xander another anxious glance. She decided to try again and touched his shoulder gently. "Oz, we really..."

He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "Willow. Don't." Each word was cold, bitten off at the end.

Xander glanced at him sharply. "Hey, she just--"

"Yeah Xander. Let's help some more." Oz glared at him.

"Oh, you're doing such a wonderful job."

Oz stood up quickly, green eyes flashing. "Don't start." He slid the chair smoothly back under the table. "Excuse me. I really think I should bail."

He could feel everyone's eyes watching him as he left. Oz had barely made it out the door before Buffy came running after him and grabbed his arm, spinning him around.

"Look, I don't know what your problem is but you will apologize to Willow and Xander right now."

He pulled his arm free. "You don't know what's going on and they're your best friends, so I'll try to be polite. Stay out of it."

"I will not. She's crying. You made Willow cry. Yeah, how does that feel, Oz?" Buffy crossed her arms and glared at him.

Oz closed his eyes for a moment. Willow was crying because of something he had done. Yeah, he needed more guilt. "Before you get mad at me, ask Willow why she wanted to talk to me."

"Nothing could be worth how you treated her just now."

"Buffy, please don't be too offended, but fuck off. You don't know what's going on." He turned and walked away.


Buffy walked back into the library, a very odd expression on her face. "Willow. Giles' office, now. Giles...Oz may talk to you. He seems to like you."

Willow squeaked in dismay, but followed.

"Okay, what's going on? I've never seen Oz like that before." Buffy leaned back against the table. "And don't tell me it's nothing, 'cause it is. He wouldn't have gone all weird for nothing. And the full moon's not for a while."

Willow frowned and began wringing her hands. "It's a mess."

"What is?"

"Me and Oz. Me and Xander."

Buffy raised an eyebrow. "You. And Xander. Why is there a you and Xander?"

"We kissed. At homecoming. And then again. And Oz saw. He was...it was bad." Willow brushed away a tear. "I don't know what to do."

"Yeah, I can see why." Buffy let out a breath and frowned. "Does Cordy know?"

"No. At least, I don't think she does." Willow sat down. "Oh God."

"Will, I hate to say this, but you messed up." Buffy wrapped her arms around Willow.

"I know." She laughed a little. "You know what's sad?"


"I do love Oz. In a more than friends sort of way." Another laugh. Sadder, more bitter. "And Xander..."

"Do you love Xander?"

"Is it awful that I don't know? I mean...I've loved him for a really long time. Does that ever go away?"

Buffy sighed. "I don't know, Will."


Giles blinked. He was supposed to find and talk to Oz? Why was he supposed to talk to Oz?

"What's going on? Xander, do you know? I'm out of the loop again. Arrrgh." Cordelia began to pace. "I hate being out of the loop. Why does all this stuff happen when I'm not around?"

Xander looked faintly ill.

Giles blinked again and put it together. Oh dear. Perhaps finding Oz would be a good idea...

It wasn't actually all that difficult to find Oz. He was sitting quite calmly on the front steps to the school staring out at the street.


"So I was wondering...could I just take some chains home and lock myself up?"

"I gather you don't really want to talk."

"No. Talking is definitely not high up on my list of things to do right now."

Giles sat down next to the younger man. "Is there anything I can say?"

"Sure. You can explain it to me." Oz glanced over. "You do know what happened, right?"

"I think I've managed to get the idea."

"Ah. Well, if you can explain why she chose him then go ahead. Otherwise, I'd really like to just be sitting here for a while." Oz turned his head back toward the street.

There was nothing to say.