He jerks awake in the heavy dark of early evening, without any idea of what time it really is. Morning is somewhere back in wintery London, two sweat-soaked days of travel away. Here on Australian Eastern Standard Time, ladies and gentlemen, it is Lager o'Clock for the bloody ache in Charlie's pounding head, with a side of magic dust to quiet the oncoming shakes.
Charlie lifts himself up from the flat hotel pillow, his tongue thick and sticky in his mouth, and fumbles on the floor for his shoe. He pries up the grubby lining with sleep-stupid fingers, fishes in the bag, and does a quick hit, the stuff opening his eyes and clearing his sinuses out in a rush. He flops down again for a moment to enjoy it, sucking in deep lungfuls of the humid air. Every nerve in his body seems to be twitching awake, like quick little happy flashes that start in his feet, then tingle all over his scalp and race up and down his spine. There's a few ounces left. Enough to get him to LA, although what the hell he's going to do when he shows up without fucking Liam is beyond him at the moment.
After the first ecstasies fade the pounding head returns, so he heaves himself back upright and feels for his kit. He pulls a shirt over his head, pulls it off to smell it, and puts it on again. Trousers are hanging, for some reason, on the knob of the wardrobe door, and both socks have gone missing. He shoves his feet into his Vans anyhow, first replacing the bag carefully beneath the lining.
He hadn't meant to take a room tonight. If things had gone the way they were supposed to, he'd be sleeping in his brother's spare room and talking over set lists for the reunion tour. Instead he's spending the last of his dwindling dosh on the first hotel he saw on the way back to the airport that would take pounds. Fucking, sodding Liam.
There was a canteen downstairs, he thinks. The place isn't posh, but they've got to have a warm Foster's somewhere around the place.
When he staggers through the front lounge, the canteen turns out to be a nearly-empty bar, with Foster's on tap, so he makes a good start on what promises to be a long night of the same. He polishes off the pint in two goes, just enough to turn the sharp-edged drug high into a warm, sustained buzz, and orders another.
Two pints later, the bloke staring at the other end of the bar registers with him. It isn't the usual absent-minded stare people do with celebrities they can't quite place -- it's been months since he's gotten that kind of look -- and it isn't the excited, knowing stare people do with celebrities they've recognized -- it's been years since he's had that one. It's some kind of contemplative gaze, like a priest at his congregation, or a mother with her child. The bloke looks maybe five years younger than Charlie, but he gets the creepy feeling that he's somehow much older.
He has another pull at his drink, but that stare is putting him off, tapping into the ever-ready paranoia the drug provokes in him. His shoulders hunch as he sets the drink back down and turns to face the staring bloke.
"What," he says, low and rough.
The bloke raises his eyebrows a little, a question.
"You've been staring at me for a quarter of an hour," Charlie growls. "It's bothering me."
"Sorry," the bloke says. His American voice is high and gentle, perfectly fitted to his small body. Charlie realizes that they're of a height, although Charlie has more muscle. The bloke is built like a jockey, though maybe his skinny arms are stronger than they look. Charlie thinks they'd be about even odds in a fight.
"Well, piss off," Charlie says at last, turning back to his neglected pint. "I don't like being stared at."
"No?" the bloke asks. "That's weird." He's got a funny way of speaking, the words coming out fast but not nervous, like he's being thinking about them for a long time before he's said them.
"And what," Charlie asks, looking up, "is so bloody weird about it?"
"Well, you're used to it, right? I mean, people used to give you money so they could stare at you. And that was like, a good thing. You wanted that to happen."
Charlie clenches his jaw, glancing at the ceiling. He should have guessed he was talking to an angry ex-fan. One of the crazy ones, who were always sending Liam gushing fanmail about his songs, who wrote Charlie pissed-off letters when his idiot brother left the band.
"Look," he says, slow and dangerous. "I'm a musician. People gave me money to hear me play for them. I didn't want to be on magazine covers and Top of the Pops and all that shit. That was Liam. And I don't care if you think the band was rubbish after he left. It was my songs and my music that the real fans cared about, not his pretty face. So why don't you shut your gob and leave me to enjoy a pint in peace?"
To his surprise, a smile breaks out across the other bloke's face, a real beaming grin.
"That's great," he says. "I'm a musician too."
At Charlie's blank look, he goes on. "I played with a band for a few years in high school. Lead guitar. Had a pretty-boy singer, maybe not as pretty as your brother. We didn't make it like you guys did, but that wasn't his fault."
"Great," Charlie says.
"It was," the bloke answers, and the contemplative look is back again. "Things were kinda rough in high school, and I guess playing with the Dingoes helped. That was our name -- Dingoes Ate My Baby."
He says the last part in an Australian accent, and the bartender turns to give him a dirty look.
"Yeah, that was Devon's idea," he says to the bartender, by way of apology. "The singer," he adds in Charlie's direction.
Charlie has finished his pint, and is finding it difficult to concentrate.
"Great," he says again, into his glass. "I'm really happy for you, Devon."
"Oz," the bloke says. "Devon was the singer. I'm Oz."
"Great," Charlie says, a final time, just as he begins to slip sideways from his stool.
Oz is there with uncanny speed, so fast Charlie didn't even see him get up, though it's rather hard to see with all these rainbow spots in the air. He feels a warning lurch from his stomach as his head drops sharply downwards, but Oz has his hands under Charlie's arms, and pulls him up until he's sitting again.
Charlie hangs his head forward, gripping the edge of the bar. Oz still has his hands on Charlie's shoulders.
"You should go outside for a minute," he says, his face just below Charlie's. "Come on."
Charlie pukes within seconds of getting outside. It's bitter, thin puke, nothing but beer and the cheese sandwich Liam's wife gave him hours ago, and it burns the back of his throat. He gets sick again just thinking about Liam's wife, with her pinched face and bleached hair and nagging whine. Bitch.
Oz hands him a scruffy, bleach-smelling pool towel to wipe his mouth, and nods toward a couple of lounge chairs. The pool itself is full of green water, brown rust stains mottling the edges. Charlie grabs the back of the flimsy plastic chair and lowers himself into it gingerly. Oz sits sideways in the one next him.
A jet takes off overhead, its engines screaming. The air is hot and close, almost thick. Charlie wishes he had a pair of sunglasses on, even though it's dark. He wishes he were at a posh hotel on Bondi Beach, with a blonde Aussie bird on either side and a cooler full of beer and a hit single. He wishes he were a rock star, instead of a washed-up junkie with a shoe full of drugs and a stranger sitting next to him.
"You're staring again, Devon," he says.
"I know," he says.
Another jet takes off, filling his ears with painful sound. The drug is making him feel hyper-aware and floating, now that the beer is gone, and he's starting to get good and recklessly fucked-up, like he can do whatever he wants. It's his favorite way to feel.
"Tell me about Devon, Oz," he says. "Tell me about your pretty-boy singer. Did he write the songs, or did he just sing them? Did he care about the music, or was he just in it for the fame and the money?"
"It was a high school band," Oz says quietly. "We usually played for gas money."
"What about the birds, then, the chicks? Bet you had a lot of those. Lovely young nubile teenage girls, right?"
"Some," Oz says. "Devon didn't just like the girls, though."
Charlie opens one eye. "A queer?"
Oz shrugs. "Both ways. He just liked pretty people."
"I had a girlfriend. She was pretty."
It's too much effort to keep his eye open, and Charlie closes it again.
"Where's your pretty girlfriend now, then?"
Oz doesn't say anything for a minute. "I'm not sure," he says finally. "Somewhere in the states, I think, but I haven't heard from her in a while. I've been kind of worried, actually. There was, uh, an earthquake in our hometown last year."
A bit of regret pierces Charlie's belligerant high. "Er, sorry, mate. Did you, er, check the survivor list, or whatever?"
"There weren't any survivors," Oz says.
Charlie makes the effort and gets both eyes open.
"Get away," he says. "Earthquake that big in the States, everyone would've heard about it."
Oz shrugs, in that quick, abbreviated way of his. "Guess it didn't make the news."
"How'd you hear about it, then?"
"People talk. You hear things."
Charlie thinks, unwillingly, that Oz may have lost more than just a pretty ex-girlfriend.
"That's rough, mate," he says.
Oz smiles, almost a grimace. "Thanks."
They look at each other for another moment, until Oz reaches for the bottom of his teeshirt, printed with a Queens of the Stone Age concert logo, and pulls it over his head.
"Think I'll go for a swim," he says, voice muffled by worn cotton.
"Are you mad?" Charlie asks. "That water's nuclear. You'll grow a tail if you go in there."
"Haven't you heard?" Oz says, standing up and dropping his shirt on the chair. "There's a hole in the ozone over Australia the size of Texas. Just standing out here is giving us massive doses of radiation. You might have grown a tail already." He undoes his fly and drops his grey cargo trousers, revealing checked blue pants beneath. As Oz turns to dive into the water, Charlie can't help but notice the lack of tail where Oz's pants cover his small, fit arse.
Oz does a lap of the pool underwater, then surfaces, spraying water from his mouth. His dark red hair is plastered to his forehead, making him look like a very sleek fox.
"It's cool, Charlie," he shouts. "You should come in."
It's the first time Oz has called Charlie by his name, and it makes him feel strange. He can't tell if it's the old discomfort of having strangers know all about him, or something else entirely. Oz doesn't seem to be interested in his celebrity, though, just his music. That seems even stranger.
"Thanks, I'd rather not get poisoned by swamp water," he shouts back.
"Stick your feet in. You'll feel better."
A moment passes, during which Charlie contemplates just how bloody hot it is out here, and then he drags himself to his feet. Oz has ducked under again and seems to be lying on the bottom of the pool, eyes wide open like he's drowned. A big bubble of air rises from his mouth and explodes on the surface. Charlie toes off his shoes and sets them next to him, well back from the edge of the pool. He begins to roll up his trouser legs, keeping an eye on the still-submerged Oz.
Charlie puts one foot into the water, which is pleasantly cool. Oz is still down there. He puts his other foot in and kicks a little, enjoying the swirl of the water around his legs. It's been almost two minutes now. He is just about to dive in for a rescue attempt when Oz draws up his legs and rockets to the surface, spraying water everywhere and taking a huge, gasping breath.
"Christ," Charlie shouts. "Trying to give me a bloody heart attack?" His heart actually is pounding, his nerves too sensitive from the drug, and he's having a hard time getting his breath. Fuck.
"Sorry," Oz says, shaking water from his hair. "I was fine down there. I can hold my breath a really long time."
"Well, don't, all right?" Charlie says. "I don't fancy fishing your drowned body out of this sewer."
"You won't have to," Oz says. "I have excellent physical control."
"Like a bloody swami?" Charlie scoffs, his heart still pounding.
"Something like that," Oz says. "Why don't you get in the water?"
"I'm fine right here," Charlie says, but the water is starting to seem more inviting, now that it hasn't seared off his skin.
"Are you sure?" Oz asks as he rolls onto his back and begins to scull up and down the short length of the pool.
Charlie doesn't say anything, but he strips off his crumpled teeshirt, and pulls his legs up from the water to wiggle out of his trousers. He's aware, suddenly, of how slack the skin on his ribs seems, and how loose his belt is around his waist. He's still muscular, but he looks thinner, bones sticking out in new places. Like a bloody junkie, he has to admit.
He piles his clothes next to the pool, settling his shoes on top, and slides into the water feet first. The cold water on his upper body is a shock, waking him up like the hit he had an hour ago. The thought makes him look longingly back towards his shoe, but Oz splashes him with a faceful of green water, and he can't let that go.
They chase each other up and down the pool, splashing, trying to duck each other. Charlie gets a hand on Oz's head and manages to get him under the water for a few seconds before he scissors Charlie's legs with his own and drags him down. They try a race, but Oz's lean limbs outstrip Charlie's tired ones, and eventually they just float in the deepest part of the pool, arms spread wide.
They watch more jets take off with teeth-rattling screams, muted to a dull roar by their underwater ears. The sky above them is black and starless, full of a sulfur yellow from the city lights, and Charlie thinks about that giant hole, letting in all the poisons and killer rays of the universe. He wonders how much more poison his body can take.
"How long are you staying in Sydney?" Oz asks him.
"I'm leaving for LA tomorrow. You?"
"Dunno. Depends on if I find a place to stay."
Charlie turns his head to look at Oz. "Aren't you in the hotel?"
"Nah. Just stopped in for a drink at the bar." Oz grins.
"Oh," Charlie says. "Er, you're welcome to sleep on my floor tonight. Free of charge, even."
"That's be great. Thanks."
The water is beginning to feel cold, and Charlie shivers, prickling with gooseflesh. He rolls forward and swims toward his pile of clothes, but Oz is racing there ahead of him, reaching for -- fuck, for his shoes.
"Oi!" Charlie shouts, as Oz picks up his Vans and swims back into the middle of the pool with them.
"Catch!" Oz shouts back, priming one hand to throw.
A shoe flies across the pool, landing with a splash next to Charlie. He lunges for it, floating on the water, and thank Jesus, it's only the left one. He tosses it onto the pool deck, then launches himself towards Oz and the remaining shoe.
"Can't catch me!" Oz crows, swimming away faster than Charlie can. Charlie frowns in furious determination, kicking hard. He's going to murder the bastard. Offer a bloke a free room, and he steals your bloody stash.
"Give it the FUCK back!" he shouts, gasping as he tries to keep up.
"It's just a shoe, Charlie!" Oz calls back. He reaches the ladder in the deep end and crawls out, dangling the shoe over the water. Charlie catches up and reaches for the ladder, just as Oz drops the shoe square on his head.
He's too slow. The shoe hits the water, but it floats, and Charlie has it in his hand and is out of the pool in five seconds, hauling himself roughly over the edge on his stomach. He puts the shoe down at a safe distance, then turns to Oz and tackles him, hard, throwing them both back into the water.
Charlie is so angry it's terrifying. He wants to drown Oz, watch his face go blue, crack his head on the bottom of the pool. They fight in the water, kicking at each other. Oz breaks away for a moment, heading towards shallower water, but Charlie's rage makes him fast and he catches Oz up. Charlie's hands go round Oz's throat, and he's ready to pull them both under, but Oz's surprisingly strong hands pry off his grip, and suddenly Charlie's feet find the bottom and he's pressed against the wall of the pool by Oz's hands on his shoulders.
They stare at each other, both heaving for breath. Oz's face is unreadable, not angry or even confused. Maybe sad.
"It's just a shoe, Charlie," Oz says. He turns his head and coughs out water.
"I know," Charlie says. "I know."
Oz has got one of those giant student rucksacks stashed behind the front desk, and the night clerk drags out for him. Oz lifts it like it weighs nothing, but Charlie can see hard, heavy-looking things poking out through the thin nylon. They take the lift to the third floor, back to Charlie's dank queen-sized room, which was more expensive than he wanted but all they had on short notice.
"Gonna take a shower," Charlie announces as Oz drops his rucksack at the foot of the bed. "I can feel the bacteria colonizing in my ears."
"Sure," Oz says, zipping open one of the compartments on his bag.
Charlie gets the water going, a lukewarm drizzle from a skinny showerhead, and sits down on the toilet to pull his shoes off. He takes the bag out with his heart in his throat, but there doesn't seem to be any water inside. He thinks about taking another hit, just something to calm him down, but he counts out the hours ahead and decides he can't risk it. Nothing like withdrawal at ten thousand feet.
When he comes out of the lav, Oz is sitting at the desk reading a thin paperback. His hands are covering most of the title, but Charlie can make out the symbols of some Asian language he can't recognize. Bloody swami is right.
"Shower?" he asks.
"Nah," Oz answers. "Bacteria's good for you. Like penicillin."
"I doubt penicillin is growing in that pool."
"Yeah, but who knows? Maybe I'm carrying the cure for cancer in my nose hair. Better not take the chance."
Oz says everything with such a straight face and a serious voice, it's hard to tell when he's joking. It makes Charlie have to think, to pay attention to what Oz is saying, and that's both exhausting and exciting. Oz is just so very present.
"Want some food then?" Charlie asks, flopping on the bed and reaching for the remote.
"Got some in my bag," Oz answers as he unzips a new compartment. "You're welcome to it, if you like granola bars."
"Not really hungry. I don't eat much."
"Mm," Oz says, unwrapping a bar of something that looks like horse feed.
"Oh, look. 'Neighbors.' Shall we watch?"
"Huh?" Oz asks around a crunchy mouthful.
"Sleazy Aussie soap opera. Lots of tits and catfights. Excellent high-brow fare."
"Isn't there some soft-core porn we could be watching instead?"
"Brilliant idea. Let me check."
Oz shakes his head as he wanders over to the corner, where Charlie's propped up his bass and guitar. Charlie flips through the cable booklet on the nightstand, but the porn is pay-only. He throws the booklet down again and settles for watching the previews.
"Mind if I play?" Oz asks, as a girl in leopard-print bikini begins to address Charlie from the television screen.
Charlie flicks his glance over to Oz, hands on the guitar and a hungry look in his eye.
"Sure," Charlie says. "The amp is checked through to London, though."
"Doesn't matter," Oz answers, already reaching for the little zippered pocket full of picks.
The leopard bikini girl goes through her spiel while Oz tunes up, running through a few chords and a riff or two Charlie almost recognizes. He plays bits of songs, humming along in a quiet tenor, eyes closed.
"You sing?" Charlie asks, still watching the telly.
"A little backup with the Dingoes."
"Never on your own?"
Oz shrugs. "Here and there. A few street corners, couple of open mics. You know."
Charlie doesn't -- they had a contract by the time he was twenty -- but he nods like he does.
"You write your own stuff?"
"Yeah. I mostly do covers now. They're what brings in the nickels."
Charlie nods again. He's starting to crash. The leopard bikini girl has been replaced by a series of ads for boxing bouts. His head is getting muzzy and his limbs are starting to melt into the cheap quilted duvet beneath him.
"Play something, why doncha," he yawns.
Oz doesn't answer, but he finishes the complicated little riff he's been meandering through, and switches into something Charlie doesn't recognize. After a minute, Oz starts to sing too, words about mountains and strange moonlight and a long journey. Charlie's asleep before he finishes.
The sweats wake him up, like always. He's still dressed, laying on top of the sweaty bedclothes, and he's got a crick in his neck from sleeping on too many pillows. He scarcely notices any of that, though, in comparison with the need.
He sits up with stealthy caution. Oz is asleep on the floor, stripped down to shirt and boxers, head pillowed on his rucksack. Charlie slides off the bed on the other side, and goes round to retrieve his shoe from the wardrobe. He has kneel down to dig among the crumped clothes at the bottom, and he knocks his elbow on the door and swears before he can help it.
Oz's voice doesn't even sound sleepy; it's clear and low like always. Charlie freezes.
"What are you doing?"
Charlie can't think of anything for a moment, and while he hesitates he hears Oz sit up. He forces himself to sound casual.
"Just getting some aspirin out of my bag. No worries."
"Your bag's over here, Charlie."
He can't put his finger on it, but there's a different tone in Oz's voice, serious and a little sad. Like he's disappointed somehow.
"Different -- different bag, mate."
There's no doubting the disappointment this time. It needles at Charlie, making him feel something like the rage he felt in the pool. Fuck Oz. He needs this.
He begins to root around for his shoe again in earnest, throwing things over his shoulder in the hunt. How could the fucking wardrobe be such a mess in less than twelve hours? Fuck.
Oz's hands come down on his shoulders a moment later, Oz's warm breath on his neck. Charlie is starting to panic now, and his own breath is short and wheezing.
"Charlie," Oz says in his ear. "Stop."
"Fuck off," Charlie says, jerking his shoulder forward.
"Charlie. It's okay."
Charlie wrenches out of Oz's grasp, turning to face him.
"I said fuck OFF, Oz. You don't fucking know me."
"Didn't say I did. Just calm down, man."
"I am FUCKING CALM."
It's always bad like this when he can't get a hit, the fear and the need choking off the part of his brain that knows he's losing it. But there's Oz just looking at him like the world's youngest, whitest swami, all patient and understanding, and fuck, he can't take this tonight. Not after Liam's done it again, walked off all "got mine, sod you" while his world fell apart.
Oz has his hands back on Charlie's shoulders again, and his face is inches away. His eyes open wide, clear blue with long reddish lashes, and Charlie does not look at other blokes' eyes.
"Charlie, you don't have to do this," Oz says.
"Bloody right, I don't have to. Get out."
"You don't have to take whatever you've got in there. You don't need it."
"What I don't need is you feeling me up like some poufter at three in the morning in my own bloody hotel room. I said get out."
Charlie can't help but notice that, whatever he says, Oz is still holding his shoulders and he's still letting him. Oz is still looking at him, and he's still looking back.
"Charlie, you're better than this. You can change. I can show you how."
"What does this look like, a bloody intervention? I'm saying this for the last fucking time: get the hell out."
"Charlie, your body isn't just something that controls you. You can teach yourself to be different. I -- "
Charlie brings his arms up, furious, but Oz clutches his shoulders. Charlie gets his hands braced on Oz's chest, pushing, but Oz is leaning into him, and he's going to keep fucking talking, all those bloody words while Charlie is shaking and melting and he can't get his drugs or his breath, so he takes fistfuls of Oz's shirt and pulls, hard, and Oz doesn't look surprised at all when their mouths meet.
It's like they're back in the pool again, fighting for nothing at all, only it's Oz's hands on his neck, sliding up his shoulders, and the water is the air around them, no resistance when they fall back, Charlie on top of Oz, and he feels like he's never going to get a breath again.
Oz moves his hands to Charlie's hair, tangling and pulling, and his kisses are hot and wet and deliberate. Charlie shoves his tongue into Oz's mouth, pushing Oz's knees apart with his own so he can start thrusting, his denim-covered erection rough against Oz's cotton-covered one. It hurts him, and it's got to be hurting Oz, but he can't seem to stop long enough for anything.
After a minute Oz rises up, all wiry strength, and rolls over until Charlie's on the bottom. Oz pulls Charlie's shirt up and licks his way down, straddling Charlie's leg and rubbing his cock against Charlie's thigh. He gets Charlie's fly down, and then his mouth is all over Charlie, sucking, hot and slick, making Charlie moan, his own mouth wet and empty.
Charlie's buzzed and gasping for air, as high as anything, and he comes fast, feeling the spurt and the burn like it's being wrung out of him. Oz swallows, then slides back up to thrust on Charlie's thigh again, his wet boxers making Charlie's jeans damp. Charlie finds he has a hand on Oz's arse, and squeezes. Oz comes with a groan, muffled against Charlie's neck where he's biting hard.
Charlie will never breathe again. Charlie will never move again.
"You don't need that shit," Oz says against his neck.
"Fuck," says Charlie.
He's doing a hit when Oz wakes up, curled up on the floor where Charlie left him. There's a moment of pain in the blue eyes before they go calm and blank, then close again.
He's in the bar when Oz leaves, the rucksack on his back as he stops in the lobby to call for a cab. Their eyes meet for a second before Oz looks away, asking the clerk something. Charlie wants to tell Oz what it was like when he woke up, how rotten he felt, tired and worthless and sick. He wants to tell Oz that they can't be shagging all the time, and that he can buy a high but he can't buy a person. He wants Oz to know these things, but Oz leaves without looking in again, and Charlie doesn't go after him.
When he gets back up to the room, there's a sheet of hotel stationary with chords and lyrics on it. He turns it over, and there's a few numbers and addresses on the back. Charlie folds up the paper and puts it in his guitar case. He thinks about calling Liam, or the producer in LA, but he's really got to get to the airport.
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Fandom: Buffy, Other (Lost)
Title: All the Roads We Have to Walk Are Winding
Author: Sophia Jirafe [email] [website]
Details: Standalone | R | *slash* | 26k | 02/25/05
Characters: Oz, Charlie
Summary: "His eyes open wide, clear blue with long reddish lashes, and Charlie does not look at other blokes' eyes."
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