Monosyllabic Eccentricity

Writing Xander/Oz
by Glossolalia

From The Zeppo (Season 3): 

: But... It's just that it's buggin' me, this 'cool' thing. I mean, what is it? How do you get it? Who doesn't have it? And who decides who doesn't have it? What is the essence of cool?
Oz: Not sure. (reaches for a chip)
Xander: I mean, you yourself, Oz, are considered more or less cool. Why is that?
Oz: Am I? (eats a chip)
Xander: Is it about the talking? You know, the way you tend to express yourself in short, noncommittal phrases?
Oz: (considers) Could be.
Xander: (smiles) I know! You're in a band! That's like a business-class ticket to cool with complementary mojo after takeoff! I gotta learn an instrument. Is it hard to play guitar?
Oz: (shakes his head) Not the way I play it.
Xander: Okay, but on the other hand: eighth grade. I'm taking the flügelhorn and gettin' *zero* trim. So the whole instrument thing could be a mislead. (thinks) But you need a thing, one thing nobody else has. What do I have?
Oz: An exciting new obsession. Which I feel makes you very special.
Xander: Now with the mocking. Which I can handle because I know I'm right about this. I'm on the track. I just need to find my thing. (gets lost in thought)
Oz: It seems like you're over-thinking it. I mean, you got some identity issues. It's not...

Oz and Xander: It's an unlikely pair, but not impossible. Theirs may not be a love for the ages (to my mind, anyway, Oz is perfectly suited to Giles, and Xander to Spike), but it's got potential. As the little man once tried to tell the Zeppo, it "could be".

In fact, a great deal of the dynamics of their relationship can be found in that conversation. Xander seems excitably insecure while Oz appears to be unflappable and inscrutably wise. Xander can't make up his mind about himself, and seeks advice from others about where he fits into the world. Oz seems to get it; after all, he *does* point out that Xander has "some identity issues". Any slash fan has to leer at that phrase.

Writing fan fiction is an exercise, at least in part, in addressing canon while elaborating believably beyond it. The canonical relationship between Oz and Xander is pretty complex. The complexity, however, has to do with two main factors: each guy's relationship with Willow, and the general obscurity of the characters themselves. I'll talk at length at Willow below, but the lack of character development, while regrettable onscreen, is something of a boon for fic writers. Fill in your own holes! Pave the gaps! Make them make some sense!

The canonical interaction between Xander and Oz can be broken down into four stages.

1. Season Two It is Willow, of course, who brings Oz into the Scooby inner-circle. Xander has, until this point, been the odd man out. At the same time, Oz's relationship with Willow is, at least at first, generated through Willow's jealousy of Xander's burgeoning relationship with Cordelia. As Oz tells Willow when he explains why he won't kiss her just yet: "Well, to the casual observer, it would appear that like you want to make your friend Xander jealous. Or even the score or something. That's on the empty side. See, in my fantasy, when I'm kissing you, you're kissing me. It's okay, I can wait." (Innocence).

2. Post-Lover's Walk: Aftermaths After the flirtation between Xander and Willow heats up to the point of the kiss witnessed by Oz and Cordelia, things basically fall apart for Xander. It takes a little while for Oz to try again with Willow, but Cordelia immediately breaks up with Xander. We get a good sense of Oz's deep hurt at what is portrayed as Willow's betrayal, as well as of his emotional maturity in admitting that he does miss her: "This is what I do know: I miss you. Like, every second. Almost like I lost an arm, or worse, a torso. So, I think I'd be willing to... give it a shot" (Amends). In the aftermath of the kiss, the distinction between Xander and Oz becomes all the clearer. Xander flounders awfully, eventually ending up in bed again with Faith, with some serious consequences of the ligature kind, while Oz returns to his generally cool, secure state.

3. Reconciliation; Or, "We're too manly" An actual reconciliation between Oz and Xander after the events of "Lover's Walk" was never shown onscreen. They seem to get along fairly well shortly afterward; they work together to save Willow, Buffy and Amy in Gingerbread, for example. Then there's the geeky high of their debate about varieties of kryptonite in Helpless, followed the next week by the Zeppo conversation. But Xander's still hyper about Oz not thinking he and Willow are together, and that seems to color their interactions (when, rarely, they are seen). By the time season 4 starts, they seem to be friends. Xander offers to hug Oz upon his return from beautiful downtown Oxnard, but they agree that they are "too manly" for that. Shortly thereafter, however, Oz leaves town (at the end of Wild at Heart).

4. Wild at Heart and After: Xander Keeps the Home Fires Burning When Oz reappears near the end of S4 (in New Moon Rising), it is Xander who expresses how much he's missed him: "Hate to sound grandma, don't call, you don't write." In seasons since, Xander has mentioned Oz the most. In S5, discussing the Buffybot, Xander makes a crack about how any guy would like a sexbot. When everyone looks askance at him, he says: "Too many girls. I miss Oz. He'd get it. He wouldn't say anything, but he'd get it." In S7's Potential, Oz comes up again in Xander's beautiful speech to Dawn about being ordinary. It's worth quoting at length, simply for the insight it gives us into Xander himself: "Seven years, Dawn. Working with the Slayer, watching my friends become more and more powerful... a witch, a demon, hell, I could fit Oz in my shaving kit but come the full moon he had wolfy mojo not to be messed with. Powerful, all of them. And I'm the guy fixing the windows." He might be fixing the windows, but Xander's also the one who remembers his friends. Even if they've been gone for three years.

One of the pleasures of reading and writing unconventional relationships is the opportunities to explore dimensions of under-developed characters. Oz/Xander slash is a fine example of this. A good exercise to conduct periodically is brainstorming some of the yin-yang qualities of the two: Voluble vs. laconic; anxious vs. confident; always-present vs. tending to flee from pressure; steadfast vs., well, steadfast. There are countless complements and supplements dwelling in the slash between O and X.

Some Slash Already Out There The standard, almost canonical characterizations of Xander-the-babbler and Oz-the-eminently-cool stoic serve PWP quite nicely. Geeky insecure Xander meeting up the incredibly cool Oz and getting introduced to the pleasures of weed and boysex is a fairly popular approach, as in Te's Mix and the sublime "Miss Finchley Bent Over" (cowritten with Jessica Harris).

The difference between Xander and Oz as characters can be explored more deeply as well. Xander's need to fit in and be accepted clashes remarkably with Oz's self-contained confidence; this is the generative conflict in Dolores Labouchere's moving "Driftwood" series. Another perspective emerges when big-hearted Xander helps a self-protective Oz open up, as in Meagan's "Marked" series.

Another fine author in O/X slash is Juniper, who brings a sure sense of the characters to some small, very funny set pieces. Consider this very fine and wonderfully comedic piece of characterization in "Boogie On The Bath Mat": Xander was squirming, all right. He was digging his fingers into what he vaguely recognized as a bathroom mat, but he didn't really care to wonder why Oz had chosen to put it there of all places. He was much better off thrusting up into Oz's mouth and catching the occasional glimpses of orange hair attached to a bobbing head, and of course wondering, as he always did, about the state of his sexuality. Sheila Perez does a lovely, melancholy Oz; in the few stories with Xander, her Oz is all the sadder when seen through Xander's empathetic eyes. The penultimate paragraph of "Kryptonite" sums it up: Xander grins at him, and Oz's hand rests for a moment in the small of his back. He doesn't smile back, not with his mouth, but his eyes do the smiling for him and Xander feels like Superman.

This little excursion through existing Oz/Xander slash has, I hope, demonstrated the range of options and perspectives, the variety of different ways these two guys "could be". In the end, of course, it's all about characterization. An understanding of who these men have been and could be is all one needs for some good O/X.