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Sat, Aug. 7th, 2004, 02:58 pm
glossing: Sunnydale, 10/2001: Flooded, part 2

from here

Oz nods, grips his shoulder tightly for a second, then shuts off the car. "Thank you," Giles says, and he nods again. Despite all Oz's reassurances, Giles can see the nervousness in the set of his body as they walk to Buffy's door. Giles rests a hand on the small of his back, trying to return some comfort.

There's a rattle and clunk of locks, and then Dawn opens the door. She's holding a jagged chunk of ceramic, like a piece of a broken bowl, in one hand and a tube of glue in the other. "Hi guys. You missed all the fun." Then her eyes drop to the bruises on Oz's throat and she grins. "Or maybe not," she adds as they step inside.

"What on earth happened?" Giles says before Dawn can continue. There are bits of shattered glass and splintered wood all over the living room, Xander's frowning as he fiddles with the broken leg of a coffee table, Anya and Tara are trying to piece together a lamp, and Buffy is looking around unbelievingly at the wreckage.

"My bank-robbing demon pal decided to say hello," Buffy says. "He's currently floating in the flooded basement. It has not been a good morning."


"Is he dead?" Oz asks. Everyone looks at him and he ducks his head for a second. Of course he's dead; this is Buffy's *house*.

Dawn pokes him in the arm with the fragment of lamp, grinning at him like she always did, dancing away, and he wrestles her for it, and that helps dispel some of the nervousness. When he finally gets the shard out of her hand, they're all the way across the living room and Anya is complaining and he has to catch his breath.

Oz looks up, and Giles is still standing in the doorway, leaning down a little, talking quietly to Buffy. Probably about money stuff, so Oz elbows Dawn to distract attention from them. "What should I do? Like, sweep, or --?"

"This table's *dead*," Xander announces. He's doing a full-on impersonation of Benton on ER, and it's not half-bad. "I'm calling it."

Ignoring Xander, Willow leans forward from the couch and points at Oz. "You should go deal with the demon corpse. Spike could use the help."

He's not sure which is freakier - being told what to do by Willow, or the idea that Spike's just hanging around the Slayer's house. No one else seems to think either is particularly out of the ordinary, so maybe that's the freakiest part. Oz nods slowly and pushes himself to his feet.

"Corpse, Spike, basement. Okay," he says. "Sounds like a party."

Sat, Aug. 7th, 2004 09:49 pm (UTC)

Giles glances at Willow, who looks innocent, unaware, as though she meant nothing by sending Oz to face a dead demon and a vampire. Her eyes meet his, calmly, and as he starts to feel himself scowling, he looks away. There's no objection he can rationally make, and he can't, he realizes, protect Oz from Sunnydale except by excluding him. Oz, on his way to the basement stairs, touches Giles' arm, but Giles isn't sure if he's offering reassurance or seeking it.

"I'll give them a hand," Xander says, a little too loudly. "Since I can't do anything for the ex-table here. Plus, important male bonding. Demon corpse disposal: it's the football of the hellmouth." Dropping the table leg he's been clutching, he hurries after Oz.

Luckily, the uncomfortable silence can't last; there's too much that needs doing. As Dawn, Willow, and Tara hoist the tabletop between them and carry it to the back door, Giles returns to his conversation with Buffy. But she doesn't know why the demon attacked or how it found her, and it seems to concern her less than the cost of replacing the broken furniture and having the flooded basement pumped out.

It's frustrating, but not surprising. The whys and wherefores of demonic activity were always Giles' job, just as keeping the house in decent repair was always Buffy's mother's. "Right," Giles says. "Let's have a look at those bills, then, and see what can be done."

"Eleven thousand dollars," Anya says. She's dragging the vacuum cleaner out of the cupboard. "I've done the calculations. Twice, since Buffy didn't believe me the first time. And that's what she owes." Depositing it next to Giles, Anya hands him the cord and adds, "Right now. Her actual debt is much greater, but she has twenty-four more years to pay off the mortgage."

Buffy sinks into the desk chair and just sits, blinking at the papers piled up before her. "It'll be all right," Giles says. She doesn't answer. Best to let her have a little time, so Giles sets to work hoovering the carpet.

Sat, Aug. 7th, 2004 10:23 pm (UTC)

"Wow," Oz says, stopping halfway down the stairs. Xander bumps into him with an oof and rapid pull away, followed by an apologetic pat on the shoulder. "Check this out. Like the Captain Nemo ride at Disneyworld."

"Try the Titanic -" A sharp, accented voice, and lots of splashing, and then Spike appears, drying his face in his t-shirt. "Dogboy. Heard you'd wandered home."

He leans up, offering his hand, and Oz shakes it. "Hey, Spike." Spike doesn't let his hand go; instead, still grasping it, he rounds the bottom of the stairs and approaches Oz, peering at him. "Um. How're you?"

Play nice with the nice vampire, Oz thinks, and feels Xander descend a step and rest his hand on the small of his back. Sexuality-wigginess aside, Xander's got his back. Literally, it seems, and Oz relaxes that much more.

Spike releases his hand and pats his pocket, probably looking for cigarettes. "Oh, you know," he says airily. "Not shagging elderly Watchers, that's for sure."

"Okay!" Xander claps his hands loudly and pushes past Oz. "What've we got here, besides gallons of water and a half-ton demon?"

"Spent time in a sub once," Spike says, surveying the basement through a haze of smoke. The corpse is floating face-down in the far corner. "This is worse."

"You did not," Xander says as he splashes toward the corpse. Oz follows him. Checking over his shoulder, he sees Spike take a deep drag before following.

"I'll have you know, *Harris*," Spike says, passing both of them and planting his foot on the demon's back like it's Iwo Jima or the New World. "I did. Helped the war effort and earned myself a medal."

"Which kind?" Oz asks.

No answer. Spike and Xander are glaring at each other, circling warily, and it would be funny if it didn't smell so rank down here. He skirts their staring contest and lifts one of the Mfashnik's scaly arms. Somehow, he thinks, untangling Buffy's finances has got to be a breeze compared to this.

Sat, Aug. 7th, 2004 11:21 pm (UTC)

Hoovering makes Giles feel more at ease than anything has so far. At home, he or Oz hoovers the rugs every day, since they both like things clean. He's come to love the daily chores, dusting and washing-up, that keep the flat pleasant and welcoming. Home.

Buffy moves her feet so he can reach under the desk, but she doesn't do anything to help. Giles and the others work around her while she sits chewing on the ends of her hair and staring out the window. It can't be helping her, this invalid pampering, but Giles doesn't want to say anything until they get a chance to talk alone.

When he's finished wrestling the heavy, awkward machine back into the cupboard, Dawn appears and hands him a glass of water. "Thank you." There's clattering and talk in the kitchen, and Giles can smell coffee and bacon; someone's making a late breakfast. Very late—it's nearly eleven. "Dawn, shouldn't you be in school?"

"Not on Saturday." She looks a little affronted, as though he's asked whether she oughtn't to be playing hopscotch with the other children.

"Is it Saturday? Sorry, I'm more jet-lagged than I thought." The truth is that he and Oz haven't paid much attention to the days of the week, except in small pleasurable ways. New films open on Fridays, and the Sunday papers are thick with supplements.

The telephone rings, and Dawn starts to walk away, but then it stops. Buffy must have picked it up; her voice carries, indistinctly, from the living room. For a moment Dawn stands very still, as though she's trying to hear, but then she pulls Giles towards the kitchen. "Hope you're hungry. Tara makes the best pancakes. I always put peanut butter and jelly on them, like a sandwich."

Tara and Willow are talking quietly at the cooker. Quietly and seriously, and Giles is about to retreat to the living room when he hears thunks and footsteps from the basement stairs. The door swings open and Oz and Xander emerge, soaked past the knees and carrying the front end of a smelly, dripping demon.

Sat, Aug. 7th, 2004 11:28 pm (UTC)

Spike volunteered to butcher, so Xander and Oz took hauling duty. Xander backs up toward the back door and Dawn darts past them to open up.

"Hey," Oz says, a general greeting, but particular to Giles, too, who looks startled and slightly tense around the eyes and mouth.

Xander's voice bumps in time with the demon's head down the porch steps. "Dumpster's - just - back - here -"

"Christ," Oz says, when the torso's crammed on top of the furniture debris and some broken plasterboard. He stinks like bad fish and sewage, and so does Xander; Xander's also got demon sinew strung across his back, from when Spike clapped him there and wished him well. "That's half of it, at least."

He follows Xander back inside and catches a glimpse of Buffy in the hall, scowling up at Giles. Tara puts her finger to her lips and Oz grabs Xander's arm to keep him from going farther.

"You'll leave for LA tomorrow," Giles says.

Buffy's shaking her head and touching the base of her throat. "Not L.A. And not here. Somewhere in the middle. There's a, a place."

"I see. Well, we should get all these - bills and things out of the way before -"

"I gotta go now," she says. "Thanks for taking care of this."

Giles slumps slightly, his shoulders dipping, when Buffy turns and leaves. Xander's looking around, looking for answers, but Tara just shrugs, Dawn's standing next to Giles, and Willow's angrily flipping pancakes.

"What was that?" Oz asks quietly when he reaches Giles' side. "You okay?"

Sun, Aug. 8th, 2004 12:35 am (UTC)

"I'm fine." Oz's trousers and shirt are spattered with demon blood, and there's a smear of it on his cheek, which he must have rubbed with a gory hand. "Are you?" Oz nods and absently wipes his palms on the hem of his shirt.

Oz used to hate seeing Giles cook meat. The blood made him ill. But that was years ago. Was it the wolf, or the time he spent helping Buffy and the others, or whatever happened after he left Sunnydale, that changed him so much?

A questioning noise from Oz brings Giles back to the present, and he says, "Angel rang. She's gone to see him." It might help her. Just now she looked properly alive, properly tied to life and interested in it, for the first time. As she fled her real life—Dawn, her friends, her responsibilities—without a qualm and ran to Angel.

"Angel?" Spike, standing in the basement doorway, looks small and, when no one answers him, very alone. Giles could almost feel sorry for him. "She went – course she did." He drapes himself in a blanket that was hanging on the back of a chair and says, "Well, I'm off. Don't all thank me at once for manning the hacksaw."

"You were supposed to teach me how to play blackjack. You promised." Dawn takes a step towards Spike as he heads for the front door, but Tara catches her arm.

"'Nother time, bit," Spike says without looking back, and slams the door behind him as he leaves.

There's a pause, as though everyone exhales at once, and then a sudden bustle—Willow mopping the filthy kitchen floor, Tara flipping bacon and stirring pancake batter, Dawn (slowly, and with a lot of thumps and sighs) gathering plates and glasses. It's clearly a familiar routine, the household ticking on without Buffy's help. Buffy was dead for almost five months, after all.

Giles, Oz, Xander and Anya all stand around the fringes of the room and watch, unneeded. Giles pictures Buffy hovering like this too, getting in the way.

Dark water stains are spreading along the carpet under Oz and Xander, and the smell of them mixed horribly with the smells of cooking. "Oz," Giles says, "Perhaps you ought to drive back to the motel and change your clothes. I'm sure Xander would be glad to change as well—would you give him and Anya a lift?" With Buffy gone, there's suddenly an opportunity to talk to Willow, and it will probably go better if Oz isn't here.

Sun, Aug. 8th, 2004 01:22 am (UTC)

Giles is using his careful Sunnydale voice, and Oz knows why - he's distracted, he's thinking about Buffy and money and everything - but it's still kind of a shock. "Yeah, okay," Oz says, turning, catching Xander's eye before he opens the basement door. They gallop down the stairs and find the demon's legs piled like grotesque firewood on the last step. They each haul one upstairs and out the back again, and then lean against the dumpster, catching their breath.

"Spike always around?" Oz asks, stripping off his soaked t-shirt, regretting having chosen his favorite. He wipes his face and hands it to Xander.

"Pretty much, yeah," Xander says. Skirting the house, they leave through the back gate and walk around the corner to the driveway. "Dawnie likes him. I -"

He chews his lip, and Oz never knew Xander to be careful with what he says. "It's okay," Oz says now. "Just, like. Trying to get the lay of the land here."

Xander leans against the passenger-side door, Oz's t-shirt hanging around his neck, and squints at Oz. He's aged, Oz guesses, mostly around his eyes and in the way he's filled out, all shoulders and chest now. "You and me both," Xander says and Oz snorts. One thing to live here your whole life, another thing entirely to show up in the middle of the night after two years away. "Seriously. I'm serious, with extra Spock-logic action. Like, I don't know anything. Willow's straight, then she's gay. You're here, you're gone. Buffy's alive, then she's dead, then we do some Frankenstein blood spell and -"

Xander's voice is going higher and higher, the way it did that night in the haunted frat house. That was Oz's fault, too. Xander pushes off from the car, shaking his head, and he looks just like Spike for a second.

"I'll get Ahn," Xander says.

"Yeah, okay."

Oz waits in the car, sitting on a grocery bag that was wrapped around a little garden gnome, and soon enough, Xander and Anya clatter down the steps and Anya slides into the back.

"When you're not stinking and generally revolting, you have to visit Xander's apartment," she says. "It really is quite something."

Oz checks Xander's face as he pulls out; Xander just shrugs and smiles. "'kay," Oz says. "I'd like that."

Sun, Aug. 8th, 2004 02:14 am (UTC)

Oz is gone and Willow is irritatedly mopping the floor again by the time Giles realizes how he must have sounded. As though Oz were an outsider, an obstacle to be removed, and Giles remembers the momentary blank look on Oz's face before he agreed to go. He doesn't know how to talk to Oz in front of other people. Especially here, especially these people. He'll have to apologize to Oz later, and try to explain.

During breakfast, Dawn seems to recover her good spirits. She asks Giles odd questions about London—do he and Oz take the underground? How many bridges are there over the Thames, and how many has Giles himself walked across? Are English pigeons different from American ones? Does he think Oz will pick up an English accent? Giles drinks a mug of coffee (better than the coffee he paid three dollars for this morning), and tells her that he's no idea about the bridges, and he hopes Oz's accent won't change.

Willow and Tara are both quiet. Willow plays with her food instead of eating it, and she seems uncomfortable. Some of Giles' resentment drains away. This must be miserably awkward for her, and perhaps that's why she's been so resentful and sullen. Tara listens politely to the conversation, but her eyes keep coming back to Willow, and occasionally Tara squeezes her hand or rubs her back. Her careful, kind attentiveness reminds Giles of Oz.

Dawn shows no sign of running out of questions when breakfast ends. Do he and Oz go to nightclubs? Do they eat lots of Indian food? What she really wants to ask about, Giles suspects, is him and Oz: how it started, what happened, how they feel and what's happening now. He's not sure how he'd answer, so perhaps it's lucky that Willow is here and Dawn won't ask. Tara and Willow have been exchanging glances; when Dawn pauses for breath, Tara says, "Hey, sweetie, how about we do the dishes and then go for a walk?"

"Okay," Dawn says, clearly aware that she's being distracted with a bribe. "But could we go to the mall instead?"

While Dawn and Tara negotiate a shopping trip, Giles leans towards Willow. "I was hoping we could have a chat. About Buffy, and the spell."

To his astonishment, Willow smiles. "Sure. Let's go outside, it's so nice and sunny."

He follows her out into the back garden, where she flops into one of a pair of fading lawn chairs and smiles at him again. "The spell was totally amazing."

Giles cautiously settles into the other rickety chair and listens as she describes the snake that crawled from her mouth and the seething power that nearly overwhelmed her. Willow smiles the whole time, excited, happy, and she doesn't seem to notice that Giles isn't smiling back.

Sun, Aug. 8th, 2004 02:45 am (UTC)

Oz had figured he would drop Xander and Anya off at wherever Xander's kicking new apartment is, then continue on to the motel to shower and change. Anya, however, thinks otherwise; after she's poked his shoulder repeatedly in the guise of giving accurate, efficient directions, she pats Xander's head and says, "You wait here. I'll go get you some jeans and you and Oz can go off and do whatever it is that longlost best friends do."

They sit, silently, while Anya runs her errand. Oz wants to crack his knuckles, chew his thumbnail, just grab Xander and shake him. But Xander just slumps in the seat, arms loosely crossed, and he doesn't look pissed so much as weirded out.

"Look, I -" Oz starts, but Anya's rapping on his window and shoving a pile of clothes at him. Jeans and several shirts, all smelling like sawdust and lemon fabric softener; there isn't this kind of dryer sheet in England, and Oz never noticed until just now.

"I forgot," she says, poking Oz's hickey. "If the reunion includes kissing and other experimentation, save it for when I'm around, okay?"

"Ahn -" Xander says.

"Cross my heart," Oz says, twisting to put the clothes in the backseat. "Wouldn't do a thing without you *and* Giles around."

Her nose wrinkles as she thinks that over; he'd hoped the mention of Giles would put her off, but Anya just nods. "That seems fair. Have fun!"

She actually bangs the hood and slaps the door as Oz starts the engine again.

"I'm sorry -" Xander says.

"Nah." Oz merges back into traffic, and it's easier to talk when he has something else to concentrate on. "I'm not -. See, it's got to suck for you. All this weirdness, and you're like Mr. Stand-Up Guy, and I'm sorry."

They go back and forth, and it's always been easy to talk to Xander. Even after the thing at the old factory, when he was supposed to hate Xander, he didn't.

At the motel, Oz points toward the bathroom. "You go first. I'll get some sodas."

"Thanks." After closing the door, Xander opens it again and sticks his head back out. "I'm not going to kiss you."

"Yeah," Oz says. "Got that."

Xander smiles, finally, and Oz realizes that Xander *always* used to smile. Even when he was goofing off and pretending nothing was wrong, his smile was wide and real. But this is the first time he's grinned like himself all day.

"Shower -" Oz snaps a towel at him and Xander ducks back inside. "Buy you breakfast after.

The room is just as they left it, slightly messy, already lived-in, and Oz feels more tired *now* than he did when they arrived last night. He doesn't dare get the sheets gloopy with demon residue, however, so he paces and drinks ginger ale until Xander's finished in the shower.

"Hello, water pressure," Xander says, coming into the room with a towel around his waist. He really has filled out, and Oz slaps his bicep as he passes. "So this is where the magic happens, huh?"


Xander sits gingerly on the side of the bed. "Magic. Elderly Watchers. You know."

"Shower, then gossip," Oz says and closes the door. Steamy and private in here, and he stands under the water until it fills his mouth and runs down his chin.

Mon, Aug. 9th, 2004 11:35 pm (UTC)

"-and that's when Buffy found us, in the warehouse," Willow says. Most of her story is new, since she hadn't mentioned the demons when she rang, or the interruption of the spell. Giles had been wondering about the boarded-up storefronts and damaged houses he saw this morning. If the resurrection had failed, there'd be nothing left of Sunnydale. "She was pretty out of it, but then she sort of . . . came back, and she saved all our lives."

"She still seems quite distressed to me." Giles can hear the thinness of his voice—constraint, worry, a tinge of disapproval--and Willow's happy enthusiasm sours into a frown. "Do you have any idea what might be causing it? Was she in a hell dimension?" Buffy is the strongest person Giles has ever known, but not even she would come away blithe after months (years? centuries?) of torture, of endless pain and shattering fear. Giles only had a few hours of it with Angelus, and he still feels, sometimes, as though he died that night and now he's someone else.

"I don't know. She doesn't exactly want to talk about it." Willow plucks a few stalks of overlong grass, mutters something under her breath, and watches as they twist themselves into green lace.

"Well, trauma-"

"She doesn't even seem glad not to be dead! And you don't seem glad either."

"I'm not sure I am." It's a shocking thing to say, to feel. Giles can see it in Willow's face, that he's a cold, priggish, wretched human being. It's what Watchers are trained to be, and only now has he begun to understand why. "You know how much I care for Buffy. But the magic you did-"

"Saved Sunnydale! And maybe the world." The lovely web of grass collapses as Willow's fingers tug and tear at it. "Giles . . . without Buffy, there was no Slayer. I mean, Faith's in jail, and there won't be a new Slayer until . . ."

He could tell her that she should've trusted to the Council's ruthlessness; they were undoubtedly working on a plan to assassinate Faith and call a new Slayer. But he doesn't, and after a moment's pause (she's still such a child, she won't give death its proper name) Willow continues. "I brought back Buffy. I saved us, Giles! I did the hardest, scariest magic I've ever done, and I saved us, and nobody's even said 'thank you.'"

Such a child. Giles looks at her face for the first time in several minutes, and all he can think is how young she is, and how pretty. "You want thanks? For a spell that might've ended the world a lot bloody quicker than a gang of demons? A spell we still don't know all the consequences of? For all your power, Willow, you're a rank, arrogant amateur. You had no business meddling in life and death."

"You're right about one thing," Willow says. Her face isn't pretty anymore, somehow, and it isn't young either. "I am powerful. And maybe it's not such a good idea to piss me off."

Mon, Aug. 9th, 2004 11:57 pm (UTC)

Oz comes out the bathroom half-dressed, just needing a clean shirt, and he finds Xander still on the bed, carefully *not* looking away while Oz digs through the open suitcase. "Hey. The Ranch still open?"

"Haven't managed to shut it down yet," Xander says.

Noon on a Saturday, so the diner is overrun with families. Many toddlers and much syrup on the floor. *This* is a real diner, Oz thinks as they weave their way toward the back, though he'd never tell Giles that the little cafe they go to is only a pale, much cleaner imitation.

The Texas Breakfast for Xander, waffles instead of pancakes, three eggs, sausage and bacon and potatoes and toast.

The Lil' Rustler for Oz, which is exactly the same except no pancakes and just two eggs; he orders a side of beans, too.

"Baked beans?" Xander asks dubiously, peering at the shallow bowl when their food is served. "Isn't that dinner food?"

Oz dunks half a piece of toast into the bowl and eats the entire thing. "Baked beans are *any*-time food." Xander's still staring at him. "Okay," Oz admits. "English thing."

"Thought so." Satisfied, Xander starts slicing up his eggs and swirling the yolk through a puddle of ketchup. "Is it any good?"

Oz carefully cuts the whites off the edges of his sunny-side-up eggs and reaches for the pepper. "Nope. Horrible. But they'll kick me out of the country if I don't have them at every meal."



They use different grease in California. Probably margarine and accumulated burger fat, and it's all shiny and rich and Oz is far hungrier than he thought. Xander's appetite seems to be unchanged, just as huge as it ever was.

"So," Oz says, sitting back and taking a breath. "You and Anya? Doing okay?" He wants to wince at how adult and cocktail-partyish that sounds.

Mouth full of waffle and sausage, Xander nods until he's swallowed. "Yeah, yeah. I mean, never thought I'd end up with a demon -"

"Former demon."

"With a former demon, but, yeah. It's -" Xander stops, and frowns, and seems to be looking for the right word.

"She's great," Oz says. "Like her."

Xander looks surprised, then happy; just a shift in the angle of his brows, the way his mouth loosens into a smile. "Anya? Yeah. She's amazing. And she likes me, so go team me."

Oz raises his thimble-sized cup of orange juice in a toast and Xander clinks his coffee mug against it. "Think it's weird, though?" Oz asks. "Being in, like, these big longterm relationships?"

It's a question he never would have even thought of back in London. London is Giles, and Oz happily, relievedly, focuses on that. But here in Sunnydale, back in this sticky web of people and relationships and history, Oz wonders. Like, he's sitting here in the diner he spent entire nights in, drinking coffee and bullshitting away the time, but now he's living with somebody. He's in a relationship, like you're in an airplane, and so is Xander. Xander who's had the worst luck in love this side of Port Charles.

"Yeah," Xander says, scooping up bacon fragments on his knife. "Weird as hell. But - you know. You're different. *Giles*, man."

He says Giles' name like he's footnoting it. Oz grins; it's a good name. "Giles. Yup."

Tue, Aug. 10th, 2004 12:58 am (UTC)

Her eyes look darker, and Giles can feel magic build around her, around himself, insectile crawling blotches under his skin and a thickening of the air.

You can't fuck me about anymore, Ripper. You're not leaving this time. Ethan's face unrecognizable, twisted ugly with Chaos and painted with blood-sigils, and then a word and the magic winding around Giles' mind, strangling his will.

"Willow, don't threaten me. It's childish." He says it lightly, and rests his hands on his knees so she won't notice they're shaking. But already, before he speaks, the magic disappears as quickly as light from a switched-off bulb.

Willow looks herself again. "Giles, I don't want to fight." She doesn't, he knows. She didn't. It was just an impulse, a flash of anger backed with power. Willow's impulses can kill, now.

"Nor do I." Giles half-turns in the chair so he's facing her, and tries to ignore the rough aluminum edge of the arm digging into his hip. "I'm concerned about you. About how you're using magic, and where it can lead."

There's a hint of an eye-roll before she looks aside, and a heavy, bored sigh. "It led to Buffy being alive again. I'm so sick of this. What's the point of having magic if you don't use it? But all I hear is be careful, be careful, like I don't know what I'm doing."

"I'm not sure you do."

"You couldn't do it, could you?" Arms folded over her chest, Willow sits stiffly on the edge of her chair. "Bring her back. You didn't know how. I did what you couldn't, and you don't like it."

"I couldn't have done it, you're right." He still doesn't know how she did, and he's not sure she'll tell him, now. She'll cling to her secrets and dismiss everything he tells her as jealousy. "And if I could, I'd have known better than to try. Willow-"

"Stop it! Stop pretending that you're concerned for me. None of us ever mattered, compared to Buffy."

He'd like to stand up, walk around, try and understand what's happening and how this conversation slid out of his control, but he can't bring himself to get out of the chair. Perhaps it's that he doesn't want to tower threateningly over her; perhaps he doesn't want to turn his back on her. "Willow-"

"If you're so concerned, why did you . . . god, Giles. You bring Oz here. You – there were hickeys all over his neck this morning! Why didn't you just fuck him right there in front of us?"

The bottom drops out of Giles' stomach. Closing his eyes, feeling himself redden with shame, he thinks, absurdly, I've never heard her swear before.

Tue, Aug. 10th, 2004 01:40 am (UTC)

Xander points his fork, loaded with egg and toast, streaked with ketchup like blood, at Oz and leans in. "So what's he like?"

His beans are nearly gone, but Oz swipes up the last of the sweet sauce and thinks it over as he chews. He can't tell if Xander's asking the G-rated version of that question, or the NC-17 one. "He's, you know. Giles. Huge big brain, bigger heart, worries a lot, plays his guitar. Sexass bastard. Giles."

Xander was nodding along until the end. Now his eyes drop to his plate and he pokes at a desiccated sausage. "Um, okay. See -"

"Xander," Oz says, and thinks for a moment of the proverbial TV mom, who uses your full name to get your attention. It works on Xander, though; he looks up. "We've talked about that before. Remember?" Beers and cold fried chicken at night on the beach, Oz's second senior year, the two of them wrapped up in sweaters, discussing life and the universe and girls and men and what, exactly, Giles might be like to kiss.

"Yeah, but that was - that was just hypothetical. Who's sexier, Springsteen or Bono? Iman or Linda? Giles or Wesley? That was *before*."

"Okay," Oz says. It feels like Xander's working up the scale towards shouting - which is just silly, because his voice is perfectly normal. But it's *faster*, too, and Oz wants to lean away. "Fair enough."

"It's *Giles* -" Xander almost drops his fork, then stabs it into the remains of his sausage. Now he's using Giles' name like he's a priest, or a demi-god, something holy and not to be profaned. "Giles."

He'd been smiling before; now his face hurts from staying still. Oz nods and crumbles a shred of toast in his fingers. "Do you love Anya?"

"Huh?" Xander swipes his bacon through the yolk and blinks. "Yeah. I do."

"Nobody gets that, though."

"Oz, *I* don't get that." Xander looks scared, big eyes and white around his mouth.

"Yeah," Oz says softly. "That's all I'm saying. Giles --"

"Different, though." Xander sets aside his fork and nudges his eggs with toast. He sounds calmer, flatter. "You never said anything --"

Oz sits back into the creaking naugahyde seat. "What was I supposed to say?"

"I don't know. Should've said *something*. Early on --"

Oz thinks that Xander might be mad at him. The cardinal rule of Sunnydale, or at least of Buffy's group, is that secrets are bad. Never keep secrets, and if you do, something bad's going to happen. Oz used to think the wolf might be that punishment; it's been a long time since he even remembered thinking that way.

"You'd've been happy if I was like, nice to meet you, by the way, I'm in love with your librarian but I fucked up and broke his heart?"

"You -- what?"

"Nothing. Gonna finish that?"

"Take it." Xander pushes his waffle towards Oz. "What happened with you and Giles?"

Tue, Aug. 10th, 2004 01:41 am (UTC)
glossing: 2/2

Xander's stubborn; he's not going to let this drop. Weirder still, though, Oz wants to answer. Four years on, and no one knows the story except Giles. "Grrr," he says. "Big bad wolf."

"Oh. Oh, *shit*." Xander sounds like he sounds in Oz's memories of that night on the beach, of all their pizza and donut runs, of the letters to Penthouse Forum he would read out loud while wolfsitting. Husky, a little shy, and very gentle.


Xander drains his coffee, then holds the mug up toward the counter, asking for more. "But before that, you guys were -- you and Giles --"

"We were --" Oz suddenly feels the full weight of all the food in his stomach. He stretches and cracks his neck, but Xander hasn't even blinked. "We were really good. Like, spectacular. As good as a 17-year-old doofus and a 40-year-old genius can be, anyway."

"Not a doofus."

"Trust me," Oz says. "Doofus. Like, okay, the first time he said the -- you know. The L word. I blanked. Didn't even know what it meant."

Xander frowns. "Lubricant?"

"Other L word." Oz digs a corner of the waffle into his egg yolk and pops it into his mouth.


Snorting, covering his mouth with his hand, Oz says, "Nope. Watched enough porn, pretty sure I knew what lesbians were."

"*Ohhh*," Xander says, drawing it out. "*That* word. Really? Giles said, said he --"

"Yeah," Oz says. "Said it. Still does."


Xander is quiet then. Still eating, always eating, but very quiet. Oz has finished his eggs and beans and the rest of the waffle when Xander, peering fixedly at the salt shaker, says almost under his breath, "So it wasn't just sex."

Tue, Aug. 10th, 2004 02:12 am (UTC)

"Willow," he says again. Names her again, as though he can turn her back to the Willow he remembers, back to a charming, brilliant girl whom he'd never be afraid of. Who would never speak to him so brutally, never lay her finger so roughly and precisely on the festering sore. "I – we didn't mean to hurt you."

"Sure. You just showed up holding hands with my boyfriend and thought I wouldn't notice."

"He's not-"

"No big deal, Giles. Why should I be upset that Oz lied to me for two years? I'm just old reliable Willow, everybody's doormat." Her voice is tight, as though she's holding back tears, but there's no sign of them in her expression.

Giles leans back in the chair and tilts his face up, letting the sun burns blue afterimages into his closed eyelids. "It was . . . complicated." If he told her how much he'd loved Oz, how hard it had been to see Oz touch her, how he drank himself numb night after night, would that make things better or worse? Worse, probably. He'd only be staking his claim again, reminding her that Oz was his before her, and is his again. "But we weren't . . . Oz didn't betray you with me. Or me with you," he adds, unable to stop himself.

"Did he love you?" The words are a rush, spraying out like water from a split hose. Like an accident. Giles glances over, but she's not looking at him anymore.

Did you love her? he asked Oz, just a few weeks ago.

"Yes." With effort, he keeps himself from adding the present tense. She can fill it in herself. "Do you love Tara?" Another reminder of time.

"Of course!"

Giles doesn't doubt it, although they seem more awkward together than he remembers. Tara speaks hesitantly, gingerly. He hopes, for all kinds of reasons, that they're happy together. "Well, then." In this unaccustomed sunshine, everything's beginning to seem simpler. Or perhaps it's just that he has what he wants, but Willow, somehow, doesn't.

Her skeptical noise proves that a simple answer won't do. "Giles, just . . . go away, okay? I don't want to talk anymore."

She keeps her face turned away as he gets up. They've solved nothing. There is no solution, not for this, not now. "I need to wait for Oz to get back. I'll be indoors, going through the bills."

He can see her through the living room window, sitting motionless, shoulders hunched and small. Did she always do that when she was unhappy, or is it a mannerism she picked up from Oz? Giles turns his chair away and concentrates on the stacks of papers.

Tue, Aug. 10th, 2004 02:34 am (UTC)

In the silence, the waitress refills both their mugs of coffee and Oz finishes his bacon. "No," he says. Love and history and Giles are feeling too heavy, so he goes for a tease. "But the sex is really, really good."

Clicking the lid to the syrup pitcher erratically, almost annoyingly, Xander smiles tightly. "Guess I thought, like, older guy and you. Has to be the sex. Two guys, you know?"

Oz isn't sure where to *start* unpacking that. "We can talk about something else --"

"Nah," Xander says. He finally looks up and meets Oz's eyes. In the greasy light of the diner, he looks like he's wearing a mask. "You promised me gossip."

"Okay." Oz pushes his plate away and sips the scalding coffee. It's a million times better than the sludge the Pump overcharges for. "Hit me. Or I can --"

Xander leans in, knitting his fingers together, and Oz hopes that's relaxation in his expression. "So is he all Watchery? Lectures you, spanks you like a naughty schoolboy, uses the rep tie in new and kinky ways, that kind of thing?"

Oz has to clamp his napkin over his mouth. Giles has never hit him, but the tie's a little too close to the truth for comfort. "Nope. Not at all." Xander's still got his expectant face on, so Oz sets down the napkin and tries to explain. "Like - okay. Know how it is, how it feels, with someone you really like? Who doesn't make fun of you or expect stuff from you?"

"No," Xander says, then grins. "Okay, so not Cordy."

"Not Cordy. It's like that with Giles. Like, anything I'm feeling? Is cool. And most of the time, I'm more interested in what *he's* feeling. And it's like I can just say or do anything."

Xander's face tightens even more and his shoulders draw in. "Yeah."

He looks so haunted, like a ghost's creeping over him, and Oz doesn't know what to say. The only person Xander's ever felt like that with, Oz is pretty sure, is Willow. And that boat sailed a long time ago. "So, anyway --"

"Is he all Ripper, then?" Xander asks, his voice going a little high. "Like big thug guy, shove you over the hood of a car and ravish you? Make you take it, make you like it?"

"Dude," Oz says. It's an awesome image, even if Giles is nowhere to be found in it. He shifts a little. "You've got the weirdest, most porntastic ideas *ever*."

"Yeah," Xander says. He grins and shrugs. "Lotta noise in my head."

"I'll say." Oz glances over his shoulder at the clock above the counter; it's filmed in grease, and he can't tell what time it is. "You want to get going?"

Xander scratches his cheek. "You blowing me off?"

"Get down and dirty in the car," Oz says. Giles has been alone at Revello for way too long, and Oz feels itchy down the back of his neck. "Promise."

Xander doesn't actually want to hear any details, it turns out; he spends the ride back to town treating Oz to some of the ideas he's had. Real details wig him out, but jack-off fantasies - because that's what they are, no way could a guy think this thoroughly about Giles, Oz, and Giles and Oz without having gotten himself off in the process - are apparently fair game.

"- so, yeah, and then you undid the cummerbund and Giles fainted," Xander is saying as they pull into the driveway.

"Wow," Oz says, getting out. His head's thick with porn starring him and it's a very strange feeling. He coughs and adds, "You coming in?"

"Yeah, I'll follow you. Gotta check the dumpster first."

Oz climbs the stairs to the porch alone, then, and pushes the door open. You'd think a Slayer would have an alarm system or something. The house is quiet, water running somewhere - probably the basement - and Dawn's curled up on the couch with a Transmetropolitan graphic novel in her lap. She smiles at him and lifts her chin.

Giles is hunched over the little table in the far corner and something inside Oz's skin shifts and lightens at the sight of him.

"Hey -" he says lowly, wrapping his arms around Giles before he can jump. "Missed you."

Tue, Aug. 10th, 2004 03:43 am (UTC)

Oz's chin is resting on Giles' shoulder, his face in Giles' neck, and he's taking long deep breaths. Sniffing him. "I've missed you too," Giles says, and turns to wrap his arms around Oz's waist, press his nose into a clean t-shirt. Nothing but the scent of detergent, until Oz bends down again and Giles can smell Oz's skin and his own cologne on it. Oz must have put some on, as he does sometimes.

Giles has always like scents, flowers or old books or the smell of brewing tea, but lately he's more attentive to them. Oz's sense of smell is immeasurably keener, and Giles will never experience the world as Oz does, but he'll push himself as far as he can.

When they let each other go, both Dawn and Xander (hovering at the farthest edge of the room, shifting his weight from foot to foot) are staring. Willow, mercifully, appears to have stayed up in her room. "Sorry," Giles says, and offers an apologetic smile that Xander looks away from, red-faced. "That concludes the one o'clock show." When Oz takes a half-step away, though, Giles reaches for his hand.

"You guys are so cute," Dawn says. "It's like a movie or something." Xander goes even redder and starts to cough, and there's a tremor of what looks like suppressed laughter in Oz's shoulders. "What? What did I say?"

"Is that a new comic, Dawnie?" Xander chokes out, and sits down next to her to read over her shoulder. "Let's have a look."

The expression on Oz's face is more neutral than usual, which Giles has come to associate with secret plans and private jokes. But this time it's something he and Xander share, and it's impossible not to feel left out. "Well," Giles says quietly, and he's glad when Oz turns back to him, "I'm ready to go if you are." He's got far enough through the bills to be sure that Anya's figures are correct. And there's nothing else to do here at the moment.

After promising Dawn that they'll come back later for dinner, they walk out to the car. Inside its false privacy, Giles kisses Oz slowly—too slowly and too deeply for this half-public place, but Giles needs this kiss. Deserves it. "I'm tired," he says. "Could we leave the tour of Sunnydale for another day?" He'd like to be alone with Oz, but the mere thought of the motel room makes him long for open space. "I don't know why, but I think I'd like to go to the beach. Sit in the sun and think about nothing. Watch you go wading with your trousers rolled up." Oz grins, and Giles realizes he'll never again be able to claim that he hasn't missed the California weather.

Wed, Aug. 11th, 2004 07:58 pm (UTC)

The kiss still sparking through his mouth and over his lips, Oz squeezes the back of Giles' neck and nods again. "Beach's good. Little sun, little surf."

That feeling that's sifting and settling through him, Oz realizes at last, is relief. Like dust motes and raindrops, falling slowly through him and returning him to himself. He went months at a time - a year - without seeing Giles, but a morning apart has left him slightly twitchy and out of sorts. Giles, on the other hand, doesn't look relieved at all; he looks like he's holding himself tightly, skin and bones drawn in, and his face is a little blanched around the mouth and eyes. It hurts to look at, even in the sidewise glances Oz can give.

"Hey," Oz says when they're a good couple miles from Revello as he puts his hand on Giles' thigh and lets it rest there. "How'd it go at the homestead?" He spots a convenience store up ahead and hits the turn signal. "Hold that thought."

In the store, Oz grabs the highest-SPF lotion he can find, pink-bottled and decorated with balloons and teddy bears, and two bottles of water. At the cashier, he adds a few candy bars to the pile before paying and hoofing it back to the car.

"Loot," he says, passing the bag over to Giles and shouldering on his seatbelt. He takes the back way to the beach, avoiding the highway, threading through subdivisions and the odd dirt road, and it lands them right on the little bluffs, several miles up from the piers, where Oz figures it will be much quieter.

"Made it -" He leans over and kisses Giles, and hopes that things are okay. "Need to lotion you up first, though, before I let you out."

Wed, Aug. 11th, 2004 09:55 pm (UTC)

Giles takes off his glasses and lets Oz coat his face, which feels a bit tight from this morning's sun, with a thick layer of cream. Oz has already moved on to his neck before Giles realizes that he could, in fact, have done this himself. But this is nicer. "You know, I've never been here before," Giles says, pushing up the sleeves of his jumper and holding out an arm for Oz to work on. He went to the pier a couple of times, investigating one demon or another, but that's strictly for teenagers and he was never tempted to stay. Glasses back on, Giles looks at the steep rocky slope leading down to a narrow stretch of sand. "It's pretty."

Oz's touch, functional though it is, gentles away most of the cold tension in Giles' body. By the time Giles has put sunscreen on Oz and followed him down the footpath to the beach, he feels better. Normal. It's strange that this pitch of worry isn't normal anymore, that he's grown accustomed to relative peace. That peace isn't really normal to him, he thinks; it's one of the gifts Oz gives, all unawares.

Surprisingly, the beach is almost empty. There are a couple of slow-moving joggers and, in the distance, a women with a little girl. Perhaps the breeze off the sea makes the day too cold by California standards. It feels warm to Giles, and when they sit down he takes off his shoes and slides his feet in the rough sand.

"Well," he says, turning back to the question he's left unanswered for half an hour, "I've had better mornings." Oz listens quietly to his account of what happened, pouring a bit of sand from hand to hand, his expression shading gradually into a frown. "It's a mess," Giles concludes. "Anything I say to Willow will only make her angrier, I expect. I'd like to have a word with Tara—she's a level-headed girl—but I'm not sure I'll get the chance." He touches Oz's cheek. "It's as well you weren't there. But I'm sorry about . . . well, how I handled that. I don't intend to start ordering you about, honestly." Remembering their conversation this morning, he thinks, my Oz, but smiles instead of saying it.

Wed, Aug. 11th, 2004 10:24 pm (UTC)

Out in the sun, breeze teasing at his hair, Giles looks like himself, relaxed and loose, and Oz leans into the touch. It used to be, when they got away from Sunnydale, that Giles, relaxed, looked like a version of himself. Not the real thing.

"You were in Watcher-mode," Oz says and shrugs. "Really not a big deal." When he closes his eyes, he tries to picture what Willow looked like, so angry and hard, but it's impossible; the closest he can get is that blank, dark look on her face when they did the curse on Angel in the hospital room. He shivers and shifts closer, so his legs are folded over Giles', his toes digging in the sand. "Sorry about Will, though. I didn't think it'd be this hard."

Giles opens his mouth, but Oz shakes his head. "Know it's not my fault. Feels like it is." Giles' hand circles his upper back, plucking at his shirt, sweeping down his shoulder-blades, and Oz drops his head forward, lets the touch seep more deeply inside. The sound of the water, heavy and steady, is something he's missed without realizing it, like lemon-scented dryer sheets, and Oz times his breathing with the waves.

"I stuffed my face and fended off Xander's X-rated questions," he says, looking sideways at Giles and smiling. "Wanna trade?"

Wed, Aug. 11th, 2004 11:25 pm (UTC)

"Good lord." Xander's red face and suppressed giggles make a lot more sense now. Giles would have expected him to shy away from the topic, indeed to refuse to notice more than he absolutely must, but then Xander has always baffled him. If Oz was astonishingly, impossibly kindred, Xander was the alien being Giles had assumed American teenagers must be. "No thanks. Except perhaps for the face-stuffing part. Tara offered me breakfast, but I couldn't quite manage it."

Oz digs in the bag and pulls out a Hershey bar, but Giles shakes his head and says, "Later." He leans back on one elbow and watches how the sun falls on Oz's face. His London-pale skin is almost transparent, showing fine blue veins and tired shadows under his eyes, but his mouth is relaxed, half-smiling, and he looks happier than he has since they left for Heathrow. Giles runs a fingertip along the curve of one ear, flicking at each earring in turn, and says, "This must be rather uncomfortable for Xander. He's very fond of you, you know. I know he missed you after you left."

It's not the best thing he could have said. Something like a wince crosses Oz's face, and the hand that's been rubbing Giles' arms goes still. Giles works his fingers into Oz's hair and strokes the bumps and hollows of bone above his ear. "Do I want to know what he asked?" He brushes a bit of sand off Oz's neck and kisses his forehead. Being open, he's finding, is almost as awkward as it is liberating. All their long secrecy seems to have left a vacuum that's now rushing to fill with covert glances and open stares, impertinent questions, and gestures of effortful tolerance.

Wed, Aug. 11th, 2004 11:54 pm (UTC)

Oz twists at the waist until he's lying on his elbow in the gritty sand, his free hand tracking slowly up and down the center of Giles' chest. Sun, and waves, and touch - these are all things he's always associated with Giles, with being at ease and away from it all.

"Dunno if you want to know," Oz admits, plucking at the neck of Giles' sweater, learning the texture of its ribbing with his eyes closed. He opens his eyes and smiles at Giles. "Think he missed me, yeah. And you. More than, uh, you might've thought. All kind of smorgasbordy in his weird, weird head."

Giles' fingers slow in his hair and Oz pulls one knee up to his chest as he wiggles back beside Giles. He slides his arm around Giles' back and tips his head on the woolly shoulder, squinting out at the waves. Endless, massive, uncountable gallons, all pulling towards land, and when they reach it, crashing and sucking backwards, back where they came. The only ones watching are a raggedy dog and Oz and Giles.

"Like Catalina, remember?" Oz asks, slipping his hand under the hem of Giles' sweater. "Getting away from it all. Except colder. And permanent, this time."

He doesn't know what to say about Willow, or Xander, or about much of anything. But there's a furrow building between Giles' brows, just over his glasses, and, leaning up, Oz kisses his jaw. If he doesn't know what to say, he's learned enough since the first time they went to a beach to *say* so, at least. Xander agreed that longterm relationships were of the weird, but maybe Xander was right that it's different with Giles; Oz hopes so, wants to make it so.

"Wish I knew what to say. About anything. Just -" His voice drops and he has to cough a little. "Love you. Kept thinking in the diner how surreal this is, except it's not. You're not."

Thu, Aug. 12th, 2004 01:00 am (UTC)

Surreal. Odd and uncomfortable as the last day has been, it's not the word Giles would have chosen. Instead, it's as though reality has shifted into a new pattern, field and ground reversing, making the whole picture new. The change is in what he notices, what matters most.

"To me this feels very different from Catalina," he says, shivering a little as Oz's cool fingers slide along his belly. Catalina was a stolen pleasure, like phoning in sick to work or sneaking a look at the Christmas presents. Even at its best, as they sat alone on a hill above Two Harbors, kissed and watched the birds wheeling and the tiny sailboats gliding and bobbing in the bay, he couldn't forget the hours slipping away, the end relentlessly coming on. "Catalina—as you said, that was getting away from it all."

He rolls onto his back, pulling Oz along with him, and opens his eyes to the sky. It's the vivid blue of autumn, endlessly deep, a color that seems to generate its own gravity. With the rise and fall of the surf in his ears he's losing track of direction, and only the weight of Oz's body seems to stop him falling. "This . . . " Tracing the pebbly course of Oz's backbone, he stops worrying, for once, about the right words. "This is it all. You and I."

He's not Buffy's Watcher anymore, although he'll help her as much as he can. He's not the dutiful man who put Oz in second place. Her death freed him, as he always knew it would. It's not something he can say, even to Oz, but it's true.

"Permanent," he says, and settles his arm more firmly around Oz. "Yes." Not a holiday, not a distraction, but the real thing. The thing that matters most.