That Good Night
It was a weird sound, when it went out. Little buzzing noise, then a
flicker that cast Oz's face with this momentary flash of darkness,
then brilliant light again, before it really went out and it was all dark,
And then the darkness - the same that had seemed so startlingly
unnatural during that one flicker - started to make sense. Or
something like that. I don't really know. It fit.
Or maybe it's just that I didn't want to see it. Oz's face, I mean.
Because it happened like this: he lying there, holding his head and
moaning, and I don't know what the hell to say or do to make it stop.
Then the streetlight blinked. And you know, alleys are fucking
dark all on their own. I wasn't so fixated on the alley, of course. I
was more staring straight at Oz's face, taking in the pained torment,
and during that initial split second before the light returned, it was all
ash. His skin went from pale, sheening with sweat, to dull, pasty
gray. So fast, and then it was gone.
But the light wasn't the same. It was the same, yeah. Same
streetlight, same stream of photons, or whatever, but it just wasn't the
same...felt like maybe it was only there to give me one last harsh,
illuminating look, so that this time I could really see exactly what was
I saw. I saw, all right. That was the second Oz chose to blink the pain
back, to force it behind his eyes and get it just deep enough within
his head so that he could look at me. Really look at me, eyes finally
clear of all that murky discomfort. So clear I could almost believe it
was all better, than he was fine and we could get up and walk away.
Except the pain wasn't just gone. It left something in its place, for at
least the few seconds it did Oz the not-so-small favor of retreating
from immediate attention.
I don't even know what it was. But it made me sick. Looking in his
eyes, trying to figure out how to ask what the hell was going on, I
saw...whatever. This thing. This really bad knowledge. Then the
streetlight went out for the last time, and we were back to ashy pallor.
And Oz winced again, and it sucked.
It did, it really sucked. It may have been worse if I'd had any clue
what was happening, but as it was, I didn't. Regular old night in
Sunnydale, caught up in killing the miscellaneous vampire wandering
the streets, and suddenly Oz had just...crumpled. A few seconds after
I dusted the sucker he was holding back, we were about to leave the
alley, and he sort of leaned against the wall - sagged, more exactly -
and touched his fingers to his temples with this confused look on his
face, like a scared little kid who can't wrap his brain around what's
happening, no matter how hard he tries.
It was bad, I could see that. He groaned and slipped down the
ground, and I don't think he even noticed how wet and dirty
everything was. You'd think the rain would have washed all the dank
filth away, but...some things are just too dirty, I guess. They stay that
So after that god-awful look, the one I know I'll remember for a
horribly long time, and after it was dark once and for all, and after the
pain came back, and after I kept right on being confused - which
you'd think I of all people would get used to, but I don't - Oz let his
head fall back against the wall he was sitting against and stared up
for a second, his breath hissing as it moved its way in and out of his
Next time he looked at me, things were different yet again. He
was...softer, or something. All toned down like only Oz can do, with
all the torment still there, right up front but tolerated. Accepted. Lived
with, and in a flash I knew what Oz already did, that the living with it
part wasn't going to be much longer.
Real fast. No explanation. That's the part I wonder about most of all,
the inexplicable part. For so long I've been aware of how many
things could just snatch me up and kill me, and the whole time I
figured I'd have a least long enough to understand. Like, the pain of
teeth in my neck, and I'd know that was it. Xander Harris, his life and
all, would end at last because of a vampire. I want to know what kills
me, you know?
But Oz...Oz didn't know. He just knew that the killing was
happening, and that there was something so fucking painful in his
head, and I don't want to have to face that confusion when I die. I just
don't. I'm not like Oz. Because the way he is, he actually looked sort
of...okay with it. At peace, almost.
That almost freaked me out completely in and of itself. Oz taking
hold of my hand, adjusting his grip until our palms fit together just
the right way, got to me even more. And then he squeezed, only as
tight as he needed to let loose a little of the agony, and I was
suddenly wishing he'd squeeze harder, so maybe I could take more
of it out of him and into me, maybe make things better that way.
Feeling useless - you'd think I'd get used to that, too. But I'm nothing
if not habitual. Good old reliable Xander. You can always count on
him to screw things up, or at the very least, to have no chance of
making anything better.
Oz's breathing was getting worse - he was only sucking air down in
desperate gulps because his body demanded it, and he couldn't even
spare any thought to regulating the action. The pain must have
spiked, because his hand tightened on mine for a moment, and he
curled in around himself, which pulled me closer. So I ignored the
filthy, wet ground and sank down with him from where I was
kneeling, and I guess it was the right thing to do because he just sort
of collapsed against my body.
He wasn't particularly warm or anything, not that I noticed. He was
just there, trembling and biting back distressed noises, and it felt so
frustrating that the only thing I could think of to do was wrap my
arm around his shoulders and hold him.
"Xander?" he finally muttered, everything about his voice taut and
anxious. "Xander, this is...bad."
"Nah, this is..." He stiffened and I just couldn't keep going with the
stupid lie. "Yeah, I know. But we'll get through it."
"No. Xander, it's bad." He was still all stiff; this time the pain
wasn't going to recede and he wouldn't be relaxing again. "It's..."
He didn't finish. He just coiled away from me until only our hands
were touching, and that's when I got really fucking scared. Like,
realizing that pretty soon, my world wasn't going to have an Oz in it,
scared. Nauseated. Horrified. Scared like that. So I just started
moving; not thinking, not planning, not understanding or even trying.
I just did. I squeezed his hand, just enough to remind him that I
was there, that it wasn't just the pain and him dueling it out in a dark
alley, and I found myself leaning forward.
Funny how I never once before thought about his lips. How they'd
feel, how they'd taste. Nothing like that. Oz's lips were for talking;
my whole life is full of things boiled down to simplicity like that. But
talking wasn't getting anywhere, and the idea of kissing them was
just suddenly there, and it seemed right, and okay, so I did it.
And then I knew everything there was to know about Oz's lips. That
they were soft, and had lots of tiny little muscles that could jerk and
tremble independently of each other. That he tasted a little like soda,
but more of something that was only Oz. Simple, sharp, a little bitter
in its sweetness. That they were dry and parched until I eased the tip
of my tongue across them, and that little action opened up a
floodgate, and he saw through the aching fog he was suffering and
To me. Even with everything else, that was a gentle surprise, him
opening up to me. It couldn't exactly slip my notice that he was
taking one of his...last...moments to yank in a hitched breath, to part
his lips and press hot, limber heat between my own lips.
One moment. Just one, all he could spare. Short and infinitely sweet,
and then he just...fell away. Sank back and let the wall catch him up,
and I knew it was happening because of how his breath slowed. He
kept sucking in air, but now he didn't seem to be letting any of it out.
Just kept pulling and pulling, trying to find something in the air that
would make it all better.
None of it did. So eventually those desperate gulps slowed, eased,
and with a tiny wheeze, all of it flowed out of him in a final release.
And the ashy paste of his skin seemed to change, into a different
ashy shade, except not really. It just looked ifferent, because his face
smoothed out, relaxed and liquified into a gentle, untroubled
stillness. He was gone, easily, all wrapped up in the pain that stole
him away as it left.
And I was left with...whatever. A shell, but a damn expressive one at
that. One so full of reminders of what had been contained that I
couldn't really muster up the will right away to get up and leave it
behind, to go get help. I had to watch him for a ew minutes. Just sit
and stare, and let myself know that he was gone.
Gone gently, after all. Just like Oz to manage it.