Log in

Wed, Aug. 11th, 2004, 09:16 pm
glossing: Sunnydale, 10/01: An Oz only a mother (and Giles) could love

When Oz takes a right out of the Magic Box's alley, instead of the usual left, Giles looks surprised. Oz bites his lip and keeps his eye on the road, weaving up Main Street, then cutting across Calendula, and Giles' brows are lifting and he's about to open his mouth and ask where they're going as Oz slows to nab a parking space.

They've been back a week now, and Giles didn't mention Oz calling his mom until they were back from the beach the second day. Oz nodded then and picked at his peeling sunburn; he didn't want to think about it. And he knew Giles was torn, all worried-faced and hesitant-voiced, but that he couldn't exactly help himself from bringing it up, either. She is your mother. Surely she'd like to see you.

Giles isn't wrong; it's more that Oz isn't sure what to say. Not that that's anything new, though, he finally realized.

Which is why the increasingly stinky rental car is parked across from his mom's house and Oz is getting out.

"Doing what's right," he tells Giles across the hood of the car. "You okay with this?"

Thu, Aug. 12th, 2004 01:42 am (UTC)

"Of course," Giles says, without letting himself think about how he actually feels. This was his idea, but he'd hoped for a day or two's advance notice and a chance to plan out what he's going to say to Oz's mother. The mother of the boy he . . . thinking from her perspective, he stumbles over words he hasn't considered for a long time. Seduced. Molested.

Following Oz across the street, he takes a quick look at the house. It's like every other house on the street—big, low, pseudo-Spanish with a red tile roof—if just a touch run-down. The neglect doesn't surprise him, but the conventionality does. It's easier to imagine Oz growing up in a hut or a palace than in this icon of middle-class respectability.

At the top of the slightly warped steps, Oz pauses, hands in pockets, and takes a breath. "It'll be all right," Giles says, and rests his hand between Oz's shoulder blades, caressing through the thick wool of his jumper. But something about the posture makes him think of a policeman escorting a delinquent home, so he drops his hand. Oz takes another breath, stands up a little straighter, and rings the doorbell.

Thu, Aug. 12th, 2004 01:51 am (UTC)

The glass in the door is still frosted and carved, just like it was when they moved in, but through it, Oz can see something blue and red moving closer. Calling, but even with his good hearing, he can't tell if it's just a minute or jello tins. He picks at the droopy fronds of the fern hanging over the door and holds his breath.

Oz glances at Giles, mouthing love you and thanks, just as the door opens.

"Danny!" His mom's barrelling down on him, all blue cotton and long red hair, hugging him, and his face is buried in the same soft skin of her neck, just like always, smelling like Jean Nate and whatever's on sale at The Body Shop. She pulls him inside and Oz twists around, looking crazily for Giles. "Danny, Danny."

Terry props him against the back of the couch and holds both his hands in hers. Guilt slams like board into Oz's gut at her face, all soft and wet-eyed, and he opens his mouth to say he's sorry.

But she's turning, still clasping one of his hands, and smiling her best date smile at Giles. "And whoever is this?"

"Giles," he says. "He's -" Boyfriend, partner, lover: they're all stupid words. "Giles. My, you know. Boyfriend."

Thu, Aug. 12th, 2004 02:16 am (UTC)

Right now Giles knows exactly how Oz feels when he's tongue-tied. Events move faster than language, red-shifting past and disappearing into the distance while his words jog along hopelessly. "Hello," he manages, extending a hand that she takes for half a second before hugging Oz again. Pleased to meet you doesn't sound right, and he's not sure whether to call her Teresa or Mrs. Osbourne, but mercifully she's not paying much attention anyway.

He's always imagined her as cold, a stony harridan like Maggie Walsh. But she's smiling back and forth from him to Oz, calling Oz "Danny" as though he's a child, and the word "boyfriend" doesn't seem to bother her at all.

"Sit down, sit down," she says, fluttering one of her tiny hands towards the sofa. Oz seems almost tall beside her. Giles sits, and Oz, with Teresa still holding both his hands, takes half a step and then gives up. He looks overwhelmed, shoulders hunched and his eyebrows drawn together, but all Giles can do is stare. He can see Oz's features in her, and despite the matronly, unflattering caftan she's wearing, she can't be much more than forty.

Thu, Aug. 12th, 2004 02:27 am (UTC)

It smells the same in here, potpourri and patchouli and old pot and lemon Pledge, and his mom looks the same, but Oz isn't reassured. He keeps swinging between the need for Giles' hand and the urge to run out the back door and keep going.

"I got your postcard from Mexico," his mom says, pulling him down, and Oz finds himself in the guest chair, while Giles and his mom are on the couch. "And Devon said at one point that you were moving on south. Surely you didn't pick up this delicious Dutchman in South America?"

She's just the same and the guilt explodes under Oz's skin, leaving only comfort, bright and silly. He tries not to laugh, but, even more importantly, not to look at Giles, which *will* make him laugh. "English, Terry. He's English."

"Ohhh," she says, turning to look at Giles more appraisingly. "Really?"

"And he's actually from - here, before I left." The words come out in a rush, and he does look at Giles now, thinking his apology as hard as he can. "But we're in London now."

Terry has a thing for Keith Moon and Mick Jagger and all things Carnaby Street; she actually claps her hands, then grabs Giles' knee.

"Welcome, then!" she says brightly, and his mom, flirting? Has to be right up there in Oz's pantheon of nightmares, with the Initiative and the wolf. "However did you find your way to Sunnydale?"

Thu, Aug. 12th, 2004 02:54 am (UTC)

With the story he's been trying to work out for the last few minutes—business trip to Buenos Aires, meeting Oz in the tourist office or a tango bar or anything but the truth—ruined by Oz's inability to lie, Giles decides it's better not to attempt it. Things are too confusing already, with Teresa squeezing his knee and smiling and smoothing back her hair with her other hand. He slides into the corner of the sofa, away from her hand, and only just stops himself from going to sit on the arm of Oz's chair.

"I was, er, working here temporarily. I'm a librarian." He looks over at Oz, trying to beg him not to say it was the high school library. Although that might be enough to make her stop flirting, at least, if she knew he'd been one of her son's, his lover's, teachers.

"You don't seem like a librarian," she answers, lashes half-lowered over eyes that are a stronger, darker green than Oz's.

"I am, I assure you." She smiles again, girlishly, and something about that makes him feel calmer. This is just silliness, he thinks, a mannerism that most women would've outgrown years ago, rather than attraction. "And what do you do, Mrs. –" He corrects himself before she even opens her mouth. "Teresa." Let her remember she's an adult.

Thu, Aug. 12th, 2004 03:08 am (UTC)

"I'm a jill of many trades," Terry says, "master of none. Danny got the brains, I just got - what did I get?" She looks at Oz for help, for the right word, and he sits forward. Helping his mom is almost second nature, just about the opposite of watching her try to flirt.

"Social skills," he says and Terry grins at him. "Not the work ethic, though. Neither of us have that."

Terry nods and pushes her hair back off her shoulders. "It's true. Just now I'm doing secretarial work for one of the construction companies out of Santa Barbara. I've done paralegal, food-service, hospitality -"

"Hotel stuff," Oz says, because Giles is starting to look confused, his eyes moving restlessly between Oz and his mom. "Like, reservations and things." Giles nods, relieved, and Oz scoots the chair closer so he can touch Giles' hand.

"- but I'm thinking of chucking that in," Terry says. "Time to explore different avenues."

"Already?" Oz asks and his mom just nods. "You sure?"

"I'm sure, Daniel," she says. "But I'm being rude. Giles! And my Danny. Are you in town for a while? Have you seen that hideous mall they're putting in? Paved right over the last wetlands in the county, you know. How long have you known each other? Is this what they call the real thing?"

Oz feels the words all stopped up, midway up his throat, and he opens his fingers blindly, hoping that Giles touches him back. He does, just lightly, shyly, but it's enough and Oz exhales. "Yeah, it is."

Fri, Aug. 20th, 2004 12:18 am (UTC)

Teresa claps her hands again, brings them to her mouth and smiles behind her steepled fingers. "Oh, Danny. I'm so glad for you." Like a child at a party watching some luckier little girl unwrap presents. Her smile isn't false, but it's wistful. All mouth and nothing from the eyes, strangely opposite to Oz's smiles. "How did you meet?" she asks, leaning to pat Giles' knee again. "Tell me everything."

"We met at the Espresso Pump," Giles says quickly, just in case Oz takes her request for everything a little too literally. Blindly, too nervous to look, he reaches to brush his fingers against Oz's. "It was an open mic night. I played. Oz was working." Too late, he realizes that if she remembers when Oz had that job (if she even knew he had it, of course), she can figure out the rest. That Oz was only seventeen. That Giles was, by California law, a child molester.

But there's no sign that Teresa is tracking down memories, doing math, worrying belatedly about her son's safety. Instead she's watching Giles, turned sideways with one leg drawn up. "You play? You're a musician? How wonderful. And so romantic." She smiles at him, at Oz, and it's as though they're a film she's enjoying enormously. "A café, a dashing English musician, and the real thing. And now London. Do you like London, Danny? You must be glad to be out of this awful country, anyway." Oz looks as though he's about to answer, but Teresa turns back to Giles and adds, "We Americans aren't all like George W. Bush, you know, Giles."

Giles says, "Of course," which he hopes is sufficient answer for the last question, and leaves the rest of them alone. He should be helping Oz, smoothing the way and trying to make this moment bearable if not comfortable, but he's never been good at small talk. He glances over at Oz and smiles in a way that he hopes isn't too pleading.

Fri, Aug. 20th, 2004 12:38 am (UTC)

Giles is doing way better than he seems to think he is; it's taken Oz a bit to remember that being with Terry is, weirdly enough, a lot like being around Willow in the old days. She'll do most of the talking and you just kind of lie back and let it flow over you and enjoy.

"He's pretty amazing on the guitar," Oz tells her and rubs his palms up and down his thighs. Terry's grinning at Giles and Giles' eye looks like it's about to start twitching with the effort of politeness. "What about you? Keeping up with the drumming?"

"I drum," she says, and Giles nods. "Some rock, a little folk, but mostly I was concentrating on the shamanic aspects of it. The SB county women's drum circle was a good scene for a long time, but then Jacqui got perimenopausal, and we splintered a bit. Lots of politics in the circle. I'm thinking of starting up something a little more local, maybe over at the UC. There's a few progressive-thinking professors over there, a really active Wicca group."

Giles is coughing and Oz stands up. "Kitchen still in the same place?"

"Last I checked," Terry says and Oz rushes to get some water for himself and Giles. The cold tap's not running - probably hasn't run since he replaced the washer last time he was here - so it's two bottles of Rolling Rock. When he gets back to the living room, knocking his knee on his grandfather's mahogany dining table like he *always* did, Terry's excitedly telling Giles about how spiritual and magical the feminine power of the drum circle is.

"- of course, this must all be ridiculous to you," she says. "But I firmly believe in forces outside our control."

She glances at Oz, and he knows what she's thinking. He nods, she nods, and Giles looks confused. Wolf, he mouths, as he hands over the beer, and Giles coughs again.

"I just hope you're not an Episcopalian," Terry says.

Fri, Aug. 20th, 2004 01:10 am (UTC)

While Teresa was explaining about drumming and the maternal heartbeat and something about menstrual cycles that he'd just as soon not think about, Giles sneaked quick looks at the room. Like the house itself, it's conventional—respectable department-store furniture mixed with a few decent antiques, off-white walls that remind him of his own flat before Oz insisted on a livelier color, a neutral carpet and drapes in the same shade. The only signs of Teresa are a few pre-Raphaelite prints and posters for the Los Angeles County Spirituality and Wellness Expo and the California Women's Festival.

No wonder that she seems as if she's barely here. She ought to be hoeing the garden in a lesbian commune somewhere. Maybe she would have found one, years ago, if it hadn't been for Oz.

"Not to worry," Giles says, uncapping the beer and gulping down a swallow before he notices Oz didn't bring one for Teresa. He offers her the bottle, but she shakes her head. "I was raised in the Church of England, of course. I was even a choirboy, before I went away to school. But I wouldn't describe myself as a believer." He'd like to ask what she especially objects to about Anglicanism, but that seems rude, even though she brought it up.

There's a pause, an exchange of looks between her and Oz, and Giles says, "Teresa, I know. About the . . . the lycanthropy in your family. About Oz." He's surprised at himself for saying it, and his hands sweat even against the cold glass of the beer bottle. But he wants Teresa to know that he loves Oz entirely, in full knowledge.

Fri, Aug. 20th, 2004 01:36 am (UTC)

Terry doesn't talk about it, except in big terms, the kind Wesley used to specialize in. Where Wesley was pompous and judgmental, Terry's pompous and liberal: The moon's power is broad and deep, stretching to the seafloor and into the depths of the forest and the core of a woman's uterus... Keep it general, and it just sounds cool, incapable of ever hurting anyone.

Terry loosens Oz's grip on the neck of his bottle and takes a long, messy swig while Oz just grins stupidly at Giles. Giles' eyes are narrowed, the skin across his nose tight with worry, but he gradually relaxes, realizing that Oz is smiling, and it's like those stop-motion movies of sunflowers turning to the light as Giles' expression loosens into something more private and fond.

"I guess it is for real, then," Terry says after a couple more swigs. Oz takes the beer back but leaves his hand on her shoulder. Dad left for lots of reasons, but it's always been easiest to blame the wolf.

"Giles is down with the...freaky," he says quietly. "Supernatural, witch kind of stuff. Vampires."

Terry tilts her head against Oz's hand, and her skin feels soft as crepe, invisibly crinkled, and his chest starts to hurt. "Don't be silly, Danny. There's no such things as vampires."

Oz lifts his bottle at Giles in a belated toast and says, "That's leprechauns, Mom. Do you have any, like, pictures or anything of me? Finger-paintings or lumpy ashtrays?"

Fri, Aug. 20th, 2004 02:15 am (UTC)

With Oz on the arm of the sofa next to Teresa, Giles can compare faces again. They look almost impossibly alike. The same sharp face, the same cream-pale skin, the same feathery brows and wide mouth. Teresa's hair is a deeper red, but that could be dye. The only unequivocal difference is the shape of their noses, Teresa's delicate where Oz's is long and pronounced. It's the only trace of Oz's lost father, the only evidence that Oz wasn't a virgin birth, a perfect clone. Otherwise, he's his mother's son.

"Of course I have pictures, Danny," Teresa says, rolling her eyes up at Oz. "I'm your mother—I keep pictures. There's a box of them in the basement."

Giles didn't notice, earlier, that there aren't any in the room. It's like his old flat in Sunnydale, anonymous, bare of the personal. A peripheral space, accommodating a life lived elsewhere, in secrecy or fantasy. "I'd like to see them," he says, pleased enough to drop the topic of werewolves and vampires. "If it's not inconvenient."

"I'm sure I know where they are." She pats Oz's hand and gets up. "Danny, come and help me?" Oz nods, looks intently but unreadably at Giles for a moment (his expressions are much harder to interpret from six feet away), and follows her out of the room.

Giles waits uncomfortably, listening to their faint voices and the thuds of heavy things being moved. It would be nice to look around the room, to try and understand this place where Oz lived for nineteen years, but the usual excuse for that—a bookshelf—is absent. He picks up a copy of Yoga magazine from the coffee table and pages through it.

Fri, Aug. 20th, 2004 02:30 am (UTC)

"Something about coming back to Sunnydale and getting sent to the basement," Oz says, nudging the cellar door open with his hip. Giles glances up from the couch, startled, then pleased, setting his magazine aside so rapidly he couldn't have been reading it. Giles' concentration usually runs so deeply that it takes him several moments to switch gears when his reading is interrupted.

The basement had been dark and damp - not so damp as Buffy's, but far more cluttered; Terry's lived here twice as long as Buffy. She has back copies of The Nation and Ms. in bank boxes and the remnants of various hobbies - sewing, quilting, drumming, and so much more - standing around like angels in graveyards, still and unseen. He'd looked for boxes of his stuff, but couldn't find any. "Upstairs," Terry said. "Devon and I put it back in your room." Oz isn't sure whether to be grateful or freaked out by that; it's a little of both.

Giles takes the box from Oz's arms and kisses the top of his head quickly. "Be warned," Oz says lowly. "What counts as memorabilia for her is.... You know. Probably weird."

"Well!" Terry says, hefting her box from the dining table on her return from the kitchen. "Soy cookies, some carrot cake, and lots of Danny stuff. This is *fun*."

Giles is smiling and Oz settles on his knee, reaching for a slice of carrot cake while Giles and Terry bend over the first box.

"Never bronzed his shoes," Terry says, pulling out his red-canvas sneakers with Bozo's face on the rubber toes. "But these are so much *cuter*."

Sat, Aug. 21st, 2004 11:10 pm (UTC)

The shoes fit easily into the palm of Giles' hand. It's strange, difficult, to imagine the baby boy who wore these shoes before he took his first steps, the infant Daniel Osbourne, not yet Oz. Not yet anything but someone's baby. Giles would've been twenty-five then. He could have held that infant in his arms.

"Yes," he says vaguely to Teresa, who's already rooting around in the box again, depositing yellowed old finger paintings and dusty school reports on the coffee table. He adds the shoes to the pile and rests his cheek on Oz's shoulder for a moment.

"Such a mess," Teresa says. "I always meant to put all the pictures into albums, but – oh, here we go." With a grin, she hands Giles a photograph. "Isn't that just adorable? It was on the fridge for years, but then Danny made me take it down." There are two naked boys, perhaps three years old, standing on a lawn. The brown-haired one poses, muscled flexed like a comic-book superhero. Half-hidden behind him is the thin, dirty-kneed, red-haired one, watching the other boy and laughing.

Oz groans like an embarrassed teenager and shakes his head at his mother. "It's charming," Giles says, as much to Oz as to Teresa. "Who's the other boy?"

Sat, Aug. 21st, 2004 11:39 pm (UTC)

"It's Devon," Oz tells Giles, and glares at Terry again. He's forgotten, these months with Giles, that he *can* play-act, be the aggravated kid, keep her at ease and meet her expectations. When Terry's attention does swing his way - he's always thought of it like a lighthouse, except her lamp's off-kilter and doing its own thing - he's pretty good at being the kid she expects to find. With Giles, he's never been able to, let alone wanted to, pretend to be anyone he isn't.

He takes the picture from Giles' hand and stares at it; it's sun-faded, curling at the top, and it seems much, much older than he is. He's never been entirely sure what Giles thought of Devon, but now isn't the time to ask, so he sets it aside and wriggles back a little against Giles' chest. His mom is watching them, getting that tense look around her eyes, and he grins at her.

"It's embarrassing," he says. "We're naked in *every* picture you have."

"You couldn't keep your clothes on," Terry says and hands Giles a blue-backed school portrait. "That's not my fault. This is second grade. He was going through a phase where he wouldn't comb his hair." She grins at him, all the tension vanishing. "Looks like he's still in it."

Sun, Aug. 22nd, 2004 12:30 am (UTC)

Giles, already blushing and choking back a laugh, manages not to say that he likes Oz's hair this way. Teresa was joking, as parents do, about the nonsense of children, just as Oz seems much younger when he talks to her. But it's not a game Giles can join in, because he'd inevitably be on the wrong side, an adult to Oz's child.

When Teresa turns back to the box, he whispers in Oz's ear, "We'll talk later about your nudist inclinations," and trails a fingertip, out of sight of Teresa, across his ribs. This is another game, one to make Oz blush, to call him back to adulthood, to Giles.

When Giles finally remembers the photograph, he sees a small shaggy boy, Oliver Twist with messy hair almost to his shoulders and a faded "March for Justice in South Africa" t-shirt. "I'd hardly know it was you," he says. "If it weren't for the shirt." Oz, red to the ears, stares at the picture as though he's looking for proof.

"Oh my! Danny, do you remember this?" Teresa hands him a picture frame made of matchsticks, with a photo inside of a younger Teresa and a slumping, nondescript man who must be Oz's father. "You made it at that summer camp. Though who knows how they found time for crafts, between all the Christian brainwashing sessions."

Sun, Aug. 22nd, 2004 12:46 am (UTC)

The frame is light, breakable, in his hands, and Oz concentrates on the messy globs of hardened glue and the smeary fingerprints before looking at the picture. His breath slows down from the spike it gave at Giles' touch and whisper, and he tilts his head. Old things are so delicate, whether they're Giles' books or Oz's crappy crafts projects.

"Camp was fun," he says, squinting at how *pudgy* his dad looks, greasy hair and faint smirk on his lips. "Canoed and stuff." He twists so he can see Giles' face. "Episcopalian camp. Lots of guitars and hymns. This was before I stopped singing, so I was pretty happy."

Terry clucks her tongue against her teeth and takes the picture back. "Ron's mother enrolled Danny in the place. Didn't *pay* for it, of course, but he seemed content."

Oz smiles. "I'm good at that, yeah." He plucks another picture out of the box, because the last thing Giles needs to hear is all about how Nana controlled Ron and interfered in the marriage. "Hey, this one's nice -" In the backyard, he and Devon are sharing Devon's dad's purple sleeping bag, and Devon's grinning, waving at the camera. Oz himself is watching Devon, and he looks...kind of frustrated. "Used to camp out all the time," he says and shows the picture to Giles. "Didn't stop til, what? College, maybe?"

"Daniel is a sweet boy with many abilities," Terry reads from a report card. "His aptitude in math and language is remarkable, but I wish he would be a bit braver among his peers and make his presence known."

"See?" Oz asks Giles. "No social skills, told you."

He feels like he's pretending, walking this tightrope between his mom and Giles, and it's making his stomach hurt. But Giles holds him snugly around the waist and rests his chin on Oz's shoulder to look at the picture, and Oz tries to relax.

Sun, Aug. 22nd, 2004 01:34 am (UTC)

Giles presses a quick kiss to Oz's cheek and says, "You're just not . . . glib, that's all. Not brimming over with chatter that doesn't mean anything." Out of the corner of his eye he sees Teresa smile, approvingly or perhaps indulgently.

What he'd like is to take these boxes back to their motel and go through them together. He could tease Oz about his boyhood nudism, ask about his father, about singing hymns in summer camp, about a whole childhood spent (apparently) frolicking naked with Devon. It was with Devon, Giles knows, that Oz first had sex, but what he's seeing in these pictures—the two of them something like brothers, something like childhood sweethearts—seems much more idyllic than he'd imagined.

Looking back at the picture, Giles says, "We could go camping again if you like." And once again he's saying something he ought not to say in front of Teresa. Gratefully, he takes the new handful of photographs she gives him.

"They're all school pictures," Teresa says. "I think I found most of them. And I'm pretty sure these two are from different years, even though Danny's wearing the same shirt in them both."

Giles shuffles through the photos, watching the shaggy boy get taller, lose the babyish roundness in his face, and then suddenly transform into Oz at about thirteen. After that he varies in hair color, in the brightness of his overshirts and the number of his earrings, but he stays essentially the same. In the early photos, he has an awkward smile like the ones adults put on for the camera; in the later ones, he's stopped forcing himself.

"Remarkable," Giles says. "Here, let me look at you." Oz shifts in his lap, and Giles holds the third-to-last of the pictures (the one that must have been taken when Oz was seventeen) next to Oz's face. And then he can see the changes. Oz looks older now, and . . . no, not sadder, but like someone who's been sad, deeply and for a long time. It's an adult face, more different from these paper boys than any of them is from the others. Carefully, trying not to show too much in front of Teresa, Giles smiles at him.

Sun, Aug. 22nd, 2004 01:50 am (UTC)

Giles is reading him, wearing the same expression, all narrowed, shining eyes and soft mouth, that Oz saw for the first time the first night they met. In Giles' bed, Giles asking him about happy memories, and listening with exactly that look on his face. Oz wonders what Giles sees there, what's bringing the wet shine up to his eyes and making him look sad and tender and full of love all at the same time.

Oz has never done the math, but he knows now that there was love, or something like it, in the bed that night, and he smiles back at Giles.

"I love that purple shirt," he tells Terry, picking out the eighth grade picture. "Wore it to a Ramones show and Dee Dee spilled half a bottle of Bud on it."

"Which ones are the Ramones?" she asks, and he can't tell if she's teasing him. She was never any good with music made after Ian Tyson divorced Sylvia.

"Loud," Oz says, and Terry nods.

"Why don't you go upstairs and show Giles your room?" she asks, and it's a normal phrase, but it makes Oz laugh, like it always did, when she tries to play normal mom. "I've got some eggplant and salad I could make us all for dinner."

The box is nearly empty now and Oz starts to slide off Giles' lap.

"You cook now?" he asks, wrapping his hand in Giles'.

"I do," Terry says. "Had to fend for myself, didn't I?" Oz bites his lip and glances at Giles. "Kidding, Danny, God. Senses of humor aren't genetic, are they?"

Sun, Aug. 22nd, 2004 02:32 am (UTC)

Oz's fingers tighten in his, and Giles takes a deep breath. A whole angry speech unfurls in his brain and spills onto the back of his tongue. There are things he'd love to say about neglect and abandonment, about her utter selfishness and her blind ingratitude for whatever miracle let Oz grow up gentle and loving. That let him grow up at all, unprotected in a place like this. He'd love to hurt her back, precisely and deliberately, for the way she's just hurt Oz without even realizing.

Another breath, and he says, "Thank you, Teresa. Dinner would be lovely. We're both getting horribly tired of restaurant food."

"Well, you won't mistake this for restaurant food." There's no sign that she's noticed the stiffness of Giles' tone. In fact, her flirtatiousness is back. "But don't panic if you smell smoke. I haven't burned the house down yet."

He smiles, feeling the strain of it in his cheeks, and reminds himself that she's only silly and not deliberately cruel. And that Oz, in his patient and protective way, loves her.

Following Oz up the stairs, he tries to breathe out his anger, but he's still twitchy and tense when he shuts the bedroom door behind him. "Come here," he says, closing his eyes and wrapping his arms closely around Oz. "I love you. So much." I wish we were home, he doesn't say. I wish we could hide in our flat and never deal with other people ever again.

Sun, Aug. 22nd, 2004 02:51 am (UTC)

Oz lets himself pour and lean against Giles' larger, more solid body, hands on his waist and cheek pressed to Giles' shirt. Warm here, and very safe, a word he never would have associated with any square inch of Sunnydale.

Giles breathes slowly, deliberately, and Oz tries to match his rhythm.

"Love you, too," he says through a scratchy throat and thick, useless tongue, then straightens up. He hooks his index fingers in Giles' belt loops and tips back his head. Giles is angry, and Oz doesn't know what to say, how make that better. "Sorry for being so weird." Giles opens his mouth to disagree, but Oz shakes his head. "Not just me, I know. But -"

He turns in Giles' arms and surveys his room. Small, with cartons stacked haphazardly under his old desk and in the open closet; if Oz had to choose two of the *worst* people to help you move, Devon and Terry would be instant winners.

"Glad you're here. Even if it's weird and random, I'm glad you get to see this -" He sweeps his arm out, taking in the room, the single bed under the wall, his work table - and rolls his head against Giles' chest. "Always felt like you half-lived here, you know? Thought about you so much."

Fri, Aug. 27th, 2004 10:34 pm (UTC)

"Did you?" Giles slides one arm up to circle Oz's chest, and leans into the bob of Oz's head when he nods. "I used to try and imagine it. What a place that was yours would be like. What kinds of things you'd choose to have around you. Which is a way of wondering, I suppose, what your mind would look like if I could see it."

Although he can't actually tell, he's sure he can feel Oz smiling. "I don't think I did too badly," he says, looking around at posters of bands whose names he vaguely recognizes because Oz has mentioned them, mangy paperbacks, a jar full of buttons and bottlecaps, a stack of coasters that probably come from every bar the Dingoes ever played in. "Although every time you pulled some strange new object out of that rucksack, I had to revise."

The room might look like a jumble-sale collection of clutter to the casual eye, just as a casual listener might find Oz's conversation fragmented and strange. But the books acquired for pennies at thrift stores are good books, Dickens and Lorca and Tolstoy, poetry, history, politics, science. The bands on the posters, Giles trusts, are good bands, and he knows Oz has a memory attached to every oddity here--the old postcard of a ferris wheel, the necklace of leather cord with three red beads, the broken bits of a robin's eggshell like fragments of sky.

It's all a matter of knowing how to interpret, just as talking with Oz means working through the connections, piecing the whole thought together from its known fragments. Detail, accumulation, collage: that's Oz's mode, and this room really is his, molded to fit him, echoing his mind.

Fri, Aug. 27th, 2004 10:37 pm (UTC)

Oz sits on the corner of his bed, one knee drawn up and his arms wrapped around it, watching Giles inspect his stuff. Strange to think of a room as your mind, especially this room; Giles' old apartment wasn't really like his mind, more like a shell for it, one that fitted but wasn't the same. Oz always thought his knapsack was more like him, bouncing and jumbled and portable, but maybe Giles is right.

Whether this is still his mind, though, Oz isn't sure. It feels like one of the cemeteries in the bright sun, blanching out all the ghosts, making them wait.

"Used to keep my phone on the windowsill," he says, and Giles looks up, smiling, setting aside the book he'd been paging through. Oz drops his knee and scoots back farther on the bed, making room for Giles. "For, you know. Calling you, and -" Glancing away, his face is hot, the ghosts of embarrassment and shame sliding over him, and Oz forces himself to look at Giles. "Those conversations we used to have. Loved those."

The harsh, urgent sound of Giles' voice, just his voice, describing everything, touching Oz through the wires, making him twist and buck on this narrow, creaky bed. Oz shivers, face still hot but shame long gone. "Yeah. You definitely lived here." He lifts Giles' hand and puts it on his chest, lets it slide down into his lap. "And there, too."

Fri, Aug. 27th, 2004 10:38 pm (UTC)

Giles looks at Oz's face—slightly flushed, eyes not quite meeting his—and feels his hand move of its own accord, cupping Oz's crotch, thumb sliding along his zipper. Years ago he used to fantasize about this, about fucking Oz in this room he'd never seen, about slipping through his window at 3 am and waking him with a kiss, about how at first Oz would be nervous and shy, reluctant, and how he'd loosen into heat and eagerness with every touch. He told Oz about it in one of their conversations, and Oz's quick stuttery gasps were even better than the ones he'd imagined.

"Oh, Christ," he says, only the words get mangled because he's kissing Oz hard, pushing with his tongue and shivering as Oz opens, takes it, sucks fiercely at it. Under his hand Oz's cock stirs, stiffens, and Giles has to think very determinedly about Teresa, just downstairs, before he can lift his hand and move it to Oz's waist. "I loved them too." The words are nothing, barely even breath against his tongue, but the sensitive skin under Oz's ear would be warm, prickly-soft, salty. The skin he really can't lick right now. "Talking to you. Listening. The things you said."

He remembers words, the cool plastic of the telephone, his breath dampening the mouthpiece and his mind straining to do the impossible. Nothing of Oz but sound, but words and noises without substance, and his own hand transparent and vague on his own skin. "And I hated them. Afterwards I always missed you even more." Giles lies back on Oz's bed the way he always wanted to, and smiles when Oz follows, settling half on top of him in the narrow space. Giles' lips are sticky, sore with the need to kiss, but he speaks instead. "I like living with you much better when it's not metaphorical."

Fri, Aug. 27th, 2004 10:57 pm (UTC)

"Metaphor's kind of for the birds, yeah," Oz says, wiggling a little to release his arm. He pulls it free and leans his head on his hand and tries to memorize this sight. Giles, in extreme close-up, short graceful nose and smiling mouth, and beyond, the clutter of his old room, all these old treasures and keepsakes he left behind.

He concentrates, lets memory burn new threads and paths, but his body's feeling thick and hot, lying here so close to Giles but so - *chastely*, too. He's never felt chaste around Giles, for good or bad, and his skin's confused.

"Like living with you, *period," he says, smoothing back the hair standing up over Giles' forehead. "Good and literal and --" Something's curled up in an old ashtray on his sidetable and Oz grabs for it, across Giles, getting a slight oof from him. "My Catalina necklace. *Damn*."

Giles squints - Oz is holding it too close for him to make out clearly - and then smiles. His slow smile, the memory one. The *good* memory one, that is, full of honey and light.

Oz ducks his head. "Can you put it on me? I didn't think I still had this."

Fri, Aug. 27th, 2004 11:51 pm (UTC)

Giles wipes the dusty shell on his trousers and fastens the chain around Oz's neck. Oz was wearing it that last night. Giles remembers putting it on him after they showered, knowing it was the last time he'd do that, the last time he'd see Oz getting dressed, the last time for everything.

Oz is holding the shell in his hand, looking at it, and Giles wonders how long he kept wearing it, afterwards. Did he take it off the moment he got home the next morning, or did he cling to tokens the way Giles did? It was weeks before Giles threw away the shirt Oz left behind. He wrapped it around his pillow and slept with his face pressed into the smell of Oz. It was filthy when he finally managed to put it in the bin, and it smelled only of Giles himself, and the pillowcase under it was stained a faint green that never came out.

Apart from the shirt, Giles kept everything—mix tapes, a few of Oz's books that he really should have returned, all the photographs, even Oz's old mug. But he could never listen to the tapes, open the books, use the mug, and he left the pictures in a bureau drawer until he almost forgot about them. Those things were absence, the negative space where Oz used to be.

"It's strange, all these memories," Giles says, and kisses Oz's neck where the chain lies. Rubbing his cheek against Oz's, Giles can feel the drag of the earring that he took from Oz the day he came back. He's worn it ever since. "The past is . . . no. I was about to say the past is catching up with us. But that's backwards. We're catching up with the past. Revising it." Changing the ending, he's beginning to realize, changes the meaning of all the rest.

He kisses the corner of Oz's mouth and adds, "You really ought to go through all this and see if there are things you'd like to bring home." It's still a kind of surprise, that word home, and it makes them both smile.

Sat, Aug. 28th, 2004 12:20 am (UTC)

Oz looks around - he has a Lounge Lizards poster on his closet door that he'd like to keep, if only because John Lurie's cooler than *anyone* not English, and there are paperbacks from his Herman Melville phase that he's pretty sure Giles doesn't own, and probably a winecrate or two of cassettes he could salvage. The freight charges would be *obscene*, though, but he's not sure how to raise that point. Then again, he can't argue with the word home, goofy as it still makes him feel when he realizes he's grinning about it.

"Revision's a cool word," he says, sitting up a little straighter, moving his still-yearning skin to a safer, chaster distance. He drops the shell against the base of his throat and knits his fingers through Giles'. Catalina, and saltwater-wind, back where it belongs. "Even if it makes me think of junior-year English class and Ms. Petrie's lecture on re-envisioning and 'seeing anew' and all that crap."

Revise, though, is also how Brits describe studying. Olivia told him that in the midst of a tangled anecdote about revising for my O-levels. It's not just changing things, it's studying them and committing them to memory.

"I'll probably bring some books and tapes," he says and squares his shoulders. Money is the weirdest subject of all, even if Giles calls it ours. Money's not like home, it's not so easily shared. "If that's cool. Not too much, just -" Giles shakes his head gently and runs his thumb up and down Oz's knuckles. "Right. It's cool. Okay."

There's the squeaky groan of the third stair from the landing, the one Oz trained himself to hear in seventh grade when he and Devon started coming in through the window, so Terry's on her way up. And for a second, Oz thinks he should freeze, drop Giles' hand, but that's ridiculous.

Habits are like memories; they get changed and studied, too.

"Soup's on," Oz says, and wraps himself around Giles one more time. "Not ashamed to say, I'm a little scared of what she's done to that helpless eggplant."

Sat, Aug. 28th, 2004 01:19 am (UTC)

Giles laughs, picturing Teresa hacking at the vegetable like a mad murderer in a film. It's more vibration than sound, since his face is buried in the crook of Oz's neck. Oz laughs too, and squirms in a way that makes Giles take a breath and inch his hips back. "Oh dear," Giles says. "And I'm a little scared of eggplant even when you cook it. As you know." Oz used to claim it tasted just like meat if cooked properly, which always set off a long, silly argument that would finally devolve into tickling and kisses.

"Guys?" Teresa calls through the door. Giles jumps and sits up so quickly he almost knocks his head against Oz's nose. "Dinner'll be ready in five minutes. Grilled eggplant with Greek yogurt sauce. I'll have to show you my cookbook, Danny—it's got all these great recipes that are really low-fat and healthy." Oz raises an eyebrow with a faint smile, and Giles finally relaxes. Teresa isn't going to open the door, of course. He and Oz aren't teenagers to be monitored and caught out, and Teresa was never that kind of mother in any case.

On the way downstairs he squeezes Oz's hand (he's stopped caring, he realizes, about what Teresa might think or whether he might offend her) and says, "You should bring anything that you'd like to have. Anything you're fond of. And if you're worried about money, there's really no need." There've been many more important things to talk about than money, but it really is time. He can't let Oz keep fretting over every trivial expense.

Sat, Aug. 28th, 2004 01:42 am (UTC)

Terry actually set the table, which is something new and just as strange as the thought of her cooking. Mismatched plates, which Oz would never have known to notice before Giles, and his dead grandmother's Irish linen napkins with the little shamrock embroidery.

"Hey, it looks *nice*," Oz says, and Terry nods shortly, like he shouldn't be surprised. He's on the wrong foot again, but he's not sure if there's a right foot. "You need some help?"

"There's some wine your aunt and uncle brought from San Francisco. Maybe Giles could open it?"

"Yeah, Giles," Oz says, smiling, as Terry disappears back into the kitchen. "Can you do the big manly thing?" Giles gives him a tight, nervous smile and Oz kisses him. "I'm going to go help --"

In the kitchen, Terry's poking at something in a frying pan and her shoulders are kind of bent and sloping. For a second, she looks like Willow used to after Cordy said something particularly Cordelian, and Oz's stomach feels empty and it's not from hunger.

"Mom?" She turns, and straightens, shaking the hair out of her eyes, and Oz isn't the only one here feeling *all* kinds of displaced and confused. "It smells great. Want me to get the sauce?"

"Sure," she says and Oz hugs her from behind. Soft and she smells like dill from the sauce. Terry sighs and he squeezes her again and breathes an apology into her hair. "I like him, you know."

"Cool. So do I."

Terry pulls away and fixes her hair again, nervous and shy. "He's very...sophisticated."

Smiling, Oz kisses her forehead and reaches past her to get the platter out of the cabinet. Nothing's changed place, no *thing*, just everyone and every feeling.

Sat, Aug. 28th, 2004 02:37 am (UTC)

Giles reads the wine label, manages not to sigh, and reluctantly opens the bottle. It's one of those watery merlots that are so popular in America—wine for people who don't actually like wine. It won't go with the food, either.

He's being ridiculous, of course; he's never been a wine snob, or even a knowledgeable wine-drinker like Olivia. If this were Buffy's house, or anyone's house but Teresa's, he wouldn't care about whatever plonk was set before him. But at the moment he's ready to be irritated by anything of Teresa's, from the flowery plates (cheap Wedgewood imitations) and overly fussy serviettes to the nonsense about him opening the wine. Despite her ostentatious feminism, she keeps treating him like the man of the house, the way Giles' mother used to treat his father. Rose Giles never opened a wine bottle in her life.

The table's enormous, with that unused look that formal dining tables inevitable acquire, and there are places set at the head and either side. Giles sits at one of the side places; he's not about to play father any more than he already has.

"Can I help?" he asks when Oz comes in with a salad bowl, but Oz shakes his head and vanishes back into the kitchen. Watching Oz bring out glasses of water, a bowl of sauce and another of brown rice, salt and pepper and salad dressing, Giles is abruptly, painfully homesick for their own kitchen. There's always been something central, fundamental, about cooking together, and it's been more than a week since they've had the opportunity.

Finally, Oz emerges with a platter full of pale, thick slabs of eggplant. Teresa follows him in and smiles shyly, with a meaningful flick of her eyes at Oz, when Giles stands. Apparently he's being very English, or old-fashioned, or something else that Teresa interprets as charming. She hesitates for long enough at her chair that Giles is afraid she's going to ask him to switch places, but then sits down. There's an expectant pause, and for an awful moment Giles thinks she's going to say (or ask him to say) some kind of New Age, guaranteed-inoffensive blessing. But it's not, after all, that kind of pause. It's the silence of an anxious cook. "The food smells marvelous," Giles says as sincerely as he can manage, and Oz nods agreement.

"Shall we have a toast?" Teresa asks. "Giles?"

A blessing might almost have been better; it would've been easier to be vague. "To . . . to returns," he stammers out at last. "And memories." Teresa looks pleased amid the general clinking of glasses, and Oz gives him one of those speaking looks, a softening around the eyes and mouth that no one but Giles would recognize as a smile.

Sat, Aug. 28th, 2004 02:58 am (UTC)

Oz rattles through his mindfulness prayer, which Giles knows to wait for, but his mom digs in. Widening her eyes at the mala he's turning over his fingers and wrist, she says around a big mouthful of eggplant, "Are you still doing that Zen thing, Danny?"

Oz cracks pepper liberally over his brown rice and hands the shaker to Giles. "Nope. Tibetan."

"I thought you went to Argentina?"

And so it goes, Giles kind of glaring at Terry out of the corner of his eye like he used to do with Xander, but staring openly, widely, at Oz when their eyes meet, and Terry chattering about the job prospects for hypnotherapists just as soon as she gets her degree, and Oz swings back and forth between them until he's dizzy. Giles is ground and turned earth, solid and warm in the sun, and Terry's always been one of those high, high bridges made out of balsa and matchsticks over rocky rivers at the bottom of canyons, and Oz can barely eat.

Which, in itself, is okay, because the eggplant tastes like olive oil and the rice tastes likes cardboard. The dill and yogurt's pretty tasty, though.

"It's just like the way it used to be," she says, when Oz sets down his fork. Terry squeezes his hand and Oz presses his lips together. "Dinner, and family, and good friends."

"Okay," Oz says. The last time they used the table was Thanksgiving, 1989.

"We should make this a regular thing. My Danny and his handsome boyfriend, every Friday! That's what families do, isn't it?"

She's clinging to his hand still and Oz looks at Giles. He's holding the wrong hand. "We're not - I mean, see. We're not *moving* here, you know."

Sat, Aug. 28th, 2004 04:02 am (UTC)

Teresa looks . . . betrayed. Not just hurt or disappointed, but righteously angry. She's tight-lipped, still, and something in her rigid posture makes Giles think of the cinema, of every wronged wife who's ever wept enormous tears on a forty-foot screen. She takes her hand out of Oz's and says, very quietly, "I see."


She jumps, eyes darting to Giles for an instant, then turns back to Oz. It's as though she's forgotten that Giles even exists. "I should've known," she says to Oz, so expressionlessly that Giles isn't sure why it sounds so brutal.

Oz reaches for her hand again, then stops when she doesn't move. He slides back towards the edge of his chair, drawing in his shoulders in a way Giles remembers from before Oz got used to London crowds—making himself small, yes, but also shutting out what upsets him. Giles always thought of a turtle retreating into its shell. Oz is staring at Teresa, and for a moment Giles feels absolutely alone, pushed off into the wings by this older drama. Oz glances over at him then, briefly. The expression on his face is something well past blankness. Emptiness. It's the way he looked when Giles found out about the wolf, and then again the day he left.

"Teresa," Giles says again, stretching across the wide table to hold Oz's hand. Oz clutches hard at his fingers, nails digging in. "I'm sorry if we-"

"I should've known you'd walk out on me again, Danny." The cold dignity has disappeared, and now she sounds close to tears. "You're just like your father."

Sun, Aug. 29th, 2004 06:35 pm (UTC)

Giles' hand covers Oz's own, and it's warm and big, like someone cupping a candle or a chip of ice. Ice, definitely, and Oz stares down at his glass of wine.

"No, see -" he says and Giles clears his throat. But it's not fair to Giles that Giles always has to defend him, against Willow and now against Terry. Oz *isn't* a kid. He looks up, first at Giles - tight face, eyes dark and wet and dangerous like blood or wine - then at Terry, whose face is kind of melting, all soft drooping eyes and downturned mouth. "I'm not, and it's not like that."

Poking at her salad like she's looking for bugs, Terry says, "Always thought you could just come and go. Always like -"

She's right, that's probably the worst thing. Not until he got to London did Oz start figuring out how to stay, start realizing that he *wanted* to stay somewhere. "Mom? I'm sorry."

She shakes back her hair and Giles grips his hand even tighter; Oz's shoulder is starting to ache, being stretched so far, but he's not going to move, he can't.

"So am I," Terry says. She slides a quick glance at Giles and must see something in his face, because she straightens up and squares her shoulders. "But of course, you're happy now."

And again, she's right, and Oz doesn't know why he feels so guilty, sick with guilt swarming like hornets inside him, about that. After he left Giles, he remembers lying on his bed upstairs and telling himself that happiness was transient and life was not about being happy but about getting through. It's almost like he's regressing, and he's fine with that.

Except for the guilt.

"I am," he says. "Really, I am."

Mon, Aug. 30th, 2004 01:30 am (UTC)

Oz says it as though he's admitting to an obscure, Kafkaesque crime, as though happiness is something only obtained through robbery or fraud. It's a kind of guilt Giles knows very well, but that he's always thought Oz was immune to. But then, he only knows what Oz is like, what Oz feels, with him. Since they've been in Sunnydale, he's learned that he's got a specialist's knowledge of Oz, deep but narrow. Now he's putting Oz into context, learning his history and provenance, and it's surprising what a difference it makes.

"Happy," Teresa says, looking up from her plate with a wide, forced smile. "That's good, Danny. I mean, who wouldn't be? London and everything. I always wanted to live in London." While Giles is trying to find a pleasant, non-committal answer to that, something that will pull them back into small talk and politeness, Teresa looks appraisingly at Oz and adds, "I guess I always thought of you as more the L.A. type. You know, glamour and celebrities and whatever the latest music is. Instead of all that history and good old rock-and-roll." She refills Giles' wineglass, which he hadn't realized was empty, and gives him a quick smile. A conspiratorial smile, between adults.

"Los Angeles?" Giles looks over at Oz, hoping for a smile at such a spectacularly idiotic idea, but Oz has gone stiller and more stoic than before. Of course it must hurt, to be so completely, contemptuously misunderstood. "I can hardly imagine it. We're very happy in London." He chooses the word deliberately; her word, the ground she's chosen for whatever this hidden struggle is about.

For years, he assumed that Teresa didn't care, didn't feel anything for Oz. That would've been simple, almost easy compared to this swirl of rivalry and patronizing affection; he's beginning to wish it were true.

Mon, Aug. 30th, 2004 02:02 am (UTC)

"I burn pretty easy," Oz says and takes a sip of wine. His right hand is still curled like a snail underneath Giles', still and sticky, and it's the only patch of his skin that feels halfway real. The wine burns dully down to his gut and he takes another big swallow, enough to nearly empty the glass, before he remembers, with a twist in his stomach and a clawing up his throat, the old borrowed warmth of whiskey and tequila drunk like water. He puts the glass down as far away from himself as possible and scrubs his fist over his mouth, trying to remove the taste. "So LA was never really a possibility."

Giles' thumb moves slowly over Oz's knuckles, steadily, like it's reminding him how to breathe, and Oz wants to feel it *more*. Like he usually does, ease and security just kind of blossoming at Giles' touch, rather than having to be worked for and sought.

"Oh, no one in LA goes *outside*," Terry says. "It's all cars and air conditioning."

"True. Maybe I should've thought of that." Before he met Giles, even a long time *after* he met Giles, Oz didn't think he'd ever get to leave Sunnydale. He used that fact as some kind of dam against taking Giles as seriously as he wanted to, against responding to love you, against everything. And he never thought why he believed it so strongly; it would be like wondering why the sun rose in the east or why rain fell to earth. "I like London. It's no LA, but."

"I used to try to get Danny to watch A Hard Day's Night," Terry is telling Giles, "but you know him. Too old, too black and white to hold his interest."

Giles doesn't say anything, just keeps his eyes on Oz and squeezes his hand.

"I love that movie," Oz says. Wine burns like hot metal on the back of his tongue. "Fuck, Mom. I've seen Sympathy for the Devil on the big screen. Black and white, French *and* the Stones."

It feels like Terry takes half a century to turn and look at him, blink, and smile kindly. It's a smile his Nana wore in the nursing home, the Alzheimer's I should be nice to you but I have no idea who you are one.

"Oh, well, they're the *Stones*," she says. "Anyone who can write 'Under My Thumb' isn't exactly a good person."

He knows her better than anyone, better than himself, definitely better than Giles, but Oz has no idea why she's talking like this, what he did wrong. Besides leave, come back, and talk about leaving again.

"I -" Oz stands up, grabbing the napkin before it slides from his lap. He wants more wine, wants to throw something, wants to rewind half an hour and start dinner again. "What's for dessert? I'll get it."

He stopped holding Giles' hand. Maybe that's why he feels like falling over. He sits back down and reaches for Giles.

"Or we could go into town. Get cones or something." Act like things are okay, and they'll be that much closer to the motel, and sugar might distract him.

Mon, Aug. 30th, 2004 02:58 am (UTC)

Giles has never liked scenes, but for the second time this evening he wants to make one. Polite evasion and polite rebuke don't seem to work with Teresa, and she's even ignored how sharply Oz contradicted her (which, for Oz, is making a scene). There's something about her that reminds him, strangely, of Quentin Travers or even Principal Snyder—that absolute assurance of rightness and truth, that inability to imagine that any rational person might disagree. It's moral bullying, and he's never liked bullies. After all, he's been one.

"-all that refined sugar," Teresa's saying. She hasn't seemed to notice that he and Oz aren't answering, that they're watching each other instead of her. "I don't keep sweet stuff around anymore. Sugar is addictive, you know. I think that's why Danny always had such trouble in school."

Oz looks at her then, takes a deep breath as though he's nerving himself to answer, and then sighs it out. He looks tired and almost ill, sallow-faced except for feverish red patches on his cheeks. It's as though Teresa's words are viruses, eating him up, taking him over, replicating until they drown out Oz himself.

She talks about Oz as if no one could ever love him.

"-but if you're sure you want ice cream, we could go."

"Actually, Teresa," Giles says, folding his napkin and laying it on the table, "I think I've got a migraine coming on. I shouldn't have had the wine. Stupid of me." He doesn't look at Oz, who'll know he lying—he doesn't get migraines. It's never been easy for Giles to lie, and being around Oz, who doesn't, as far as Giles can tell, ever see a reason to, makes it almost impossible. "Sorry to cut the evening short." Oz strokes the back of his hands, and Giles remembers just in time not to smile.

It probably doesn't mean anything to Teresa that he understands Oz better than she does, loves him more. But Giles can't help feeling that he's won.

Mon, Aug. 30th, 2004 03:32 am (UTC)

Terry offers Giles some feverfew, just a few pinch, but Giles is doing a really convincing job, shading his eyes and shaking his head slowly and thanking her but no, he should just lie down.

Oz is the one who actually feels headachey, his temples throbbing and his eyes starting to burn. He hugs his mom goodbye, strokes her long, soft hair, and tells her he'll be back soon. She makes him take the platter of carrot cake and tucks several random snapshots into his front pocket. And through it all, he's blinking hard but there's no moisture in his eyes, and as soon as they hit the porch and descend the steps, he breathes in eucalyptus-scented air and stumbles. The carrot cake tips and starts to slide off the platter.

Giles catches his elbow, then draws him close against his side and kisses the top of Oz's head.

"I'm really sorry," Oz says at the car. Guilt's not just swarming in him, but breeding and spawning. "I should've planned better. Or at all."

He sets the platter down on the hood and hugs Giles, even though he still gets that Sunnydale-spike of fear at touching in public, rubbing his cheek against Giles' chest. Around him, Giles' arms are strong and sure.

"How's your head, fibber?" Oz asks and feels his face stretch into a smile as he reaches up and touches Giles' cheek. "God. Thank you."

Gratitude feels far too small in just words, but Giles would shake his head and not let Oz tell him how much he owes him, so Oz kisses him instead. Tries to let dry lips and hesitant tongue do the thanking for him, tries to promise to do better next time.

Mon, Aug. 30th, 2004 11:20 pm (UTC)

It feels almost like a first kiss, Oz's lips cool and slow, nearly still, against his own, and clumsy, shy maneuvering as the kiss deepens. Giles drops his glasses on the bonnet of the car and pushes in closer, one hand cupping the back of Oz's head and the other clutching his jumper, and this feels more like their real first kiss now, messy and fiercer than either of them expected. There's a low creak of metal as Oz sits back, wrapping his legs around Giles' hips, that reminds Giles of chocolate and spells and badly mistaken sex, but this is something else. This is Oz, and this is a first kiss, really. The first kiss afterwards, the first kiss with an Oz he knows better than he did two hours ago.

It's a damp night, cool; beads of dew seep into Giles' trousers from the car's metal sides and Oz is starting to shiver. "I'm the one who should be sorry," Giles says, holding Oz a little tighter for a moment and then letting him go. With his glasses back on, all the lines seem too sharp, surfaces too definite. Being close to Oz, for kissing or sex or sleep, usually means having his glasses off, and perhaps blurriness has come to mean happiness. "I pushed you into this." Oz, unlocking the car door, only shakes his head. They know better, usually, than to argue over who's sorrier.

"What should we do now?" There are things Giles wants to talk about, but not just yet. Better to gain a little distance, to stop (as best he can) being angry at Teresa, to let Oz sort through whatever all this means to him. "Are you hungry? You hardly ate a thing. Nor did I, come to that. Ice cream? Something more substantial?" The things Teresa said have given Giles a craving for rich meats, achingly sweet desserts, and music played so loud the windows rattle.

Tue, Aug. 31st, 2004 12:17 am (UTC)

Oz slides into the driver's seat and drums his fingers on the steering wheel. Right now he wants ice cream, and milkshakes, and to drive at high speeds down cold, dead-of-night desert highways. He wants crazy teenaged things, scenes from Aerosmith videos, girls dancing on the hoods of cars.

"Burgers," he says, shifting into gear and pulling out. "I want to go to the Red Rooster and have a bacon cheeseburger. Never had one, but they're supposed to be the best in three counties."

Giles ducks his head, smiling, as he pulls on his seatbelt, and Oz drives across town without saying much more. He's got dead guilt sifting and settling inside him and he needs to let it happen. If he talks too soon, he might set the guilt in amber, preserve it long past the time it should have dusted away and vanished. He cranks the radio to KROQ and Giles doesn't even flinch, just rests his left hand on Oz's knee and keeps time with his fingers.

The Red Rooster is half-rundown drive-in/diner and half-attempted tarting-up of said drive-in/diner, so the neon is new and flamingo-pink but the paint on the sides of the building is peeling and faded. Oz has only ever gotten milkshakes here, averting his eyes while Devon and Eric and, later, Xander stuffed their faces with bacon burgers and chili-cheese dogs, but he's different now in almost every way.

"They've got chocolate malteds, too," he tells Giles as they enter the frigid fluorescent interior, so bright that Giles' skin looks like old linen. Hand in hand, and that's even better than the prospect of loads of hot, greasy food. "Like Maltesers, but cold. And liquid."

Tue, Aug. 31st, 2004 12:58 am (UTC)

Following the waitress to a red vinyl booth, Giles feels as though he's walking through a film set. This is the America he imagined as a young boy--the place that made rock and roll, where the Beatles went to become superstars, where life was fuller and freer than it ever could be in England. It's an America that never existed, one that even Americans mythologize into the source of dreams. And myths turn sour with such terrible ease. When he was nineteen and cynical, he saw American Graffiti with Ethan, and they laughed and shouted rude comments at the screen.

Still, he's grinning as he looks over a menu, smeared with ketchup and grease, of things he'd normally consider inedible. It's like being a boy again, cramming down forbidden chips and sweets and ruining his appetite for tea. "Bacon cheeseburger, you say?" he half-shouts over the pallid pop music (which he tries not to hear as it breaks the illusion) and the echoes of other people's conversations off the chrome and linoleum. Oz, who barely looked at his menu before putting it back behind the napkin dispenser, nods. All the tight signs of anxiety—rigid shoulders, set mouth, tiny creases around his eyes and heavier ones between his brows—have gone, which is good, but strange. This isn't normally the sort of place that would relax him, any more than it would make Giles smile in the dizzy, foolish way he knows he's smiling. But a couple of hours with Teresa is enough to turn anyone into a rebellious teenager.

After the waitress takes their orders (far too much food—cheeseburgers and chips and onion rings, sodas and a malted that Oz has promised to share), Giles reaches across the table for Oz's hand. It feels as different as possible from the same gesture at Teresa's table—an overspill of pleasure, not nerves and need. "Good idea," he says. "I'm glad we came here."

Tue, Aug. 31st, 2004 01:18 am (UTC)

"Me, too," Oz says and turns his hand so his palm presses up against Giles' before sliding it free and lacing their fingers together and squeezing. His eyes are adjusting to the glare, and now he can really *see* Giles again, the real Giles - or as close as anyone gets to being real. Relaxed, eyes nearly disappearing in the width of his smile, glasses slipping halfway down his nose and glinting.

Oz bounces a little in his seat, testing the resiliency, and lets himself take a good, long look at Giles. Like they've been separated for several days, and he needs to relearn all the creases on his face, the dip of his left eyelid, the whorls at his hairline. The small details that rarely even show up in photographs, they're so faint and almost *private*. Maybe it's weird to feel private *here*, in the midst of a Top-40 power ballad, surrounded by high school students and families with squawling kids in high chairs, rather than in his mom's house, but however weird it is, it's still true.

When their drinks arrive, Oz takes a long, thirsty suck of Coke, relishing the peppery sweetness and its cold flood into his incredibly empty stomach.

"I'm glad, you know," he says, sitting back and slumping a little, pushing the glass away and toying with the sheath of his straw. "That you came. But it had to suck to be there for - for everything."

He ought to be stammering, Oz thinks, choking on apologies and gratitude, but that's for Terry. With Giles, he just needs to let the words come. He's finally acclimating, in fits and starts, to Giles' patience, feeling himself loosen inside in response to the readiness of Giles' grin, the steadiness of his eyes.

"Families suck," Oz adds. "Like the invented ones better. Like *you* better."

Sun, Sep. 5th, 2004 10:31 pm (UTC)

Families. Giles sips his Coca-Cola, rediscovers that he doesn't like it, and tries to puzzle through the word. For once Oz seems surer of language than Giles is.

The Sunnydale group was (is?) a family, of course. A loose one, shifting around the edges like smoke or a flock of birds. A variable one, where he can be Buffy's father or mother or something utterly undefined, where no one's role is ever quite fixed. A family that pushes--he won't say twists--the word family almost out of recognition, to the limits of meaning.

Almost. Last week, Xander wouldn't use the word. Too much sex for them to be a family anymore. Giles supposes it was he and Oz that finally made the metaphor impossible.

"It's odd," he says finally, looking away from the group of teenagers he'd been unconsciously staring at and focusing on Oz's puzzled face. "I've never thought of us--you and I--as a family." Blood won't work as their metaphor. They're not siblings, not, god forbid, parent and child. But there's more to it than blood. Giles remembers Buffy standing before Tara's father, claiming Tara as family. "But of course we are."

He strokes the inside of Oz's wrist and adds, "I'm glad I was there with you, tonight. I didn't like to see you hurt, but . . . I'm supposed to be there. As your family." Although he can feel his face going red--it's one thing to talk this way in bed together, but another, harder thing with clothes and a table between them and the glare of fluorescent lights half-blinding him--he looks into Oz's eyes and smiles.

Sun, Sep. 5th, 2004 10:51 pm (UTC)

Giles is blushing, and his words are coming out in a sort of stammery rhythm, so Oz turns his hand and covers Giles' hand with it, tucking his thumb inside as he smiles back.

"It's okay," he says. "I mean, I guess.... Like, I didn't know what to call you, right? Boyfriend or whatever. They're all such stupid words. But family works, because that's you and Buffy and Xander and also Jordy. People I like, you know?"

Oz swallows another gulp of Coke and checks over his shoulder. When he used to come here, people would shift back and forth from table to table, a great shifting crowd of faces, and you were always on the lookout for new arrivals. It kept him on edge, then, whereas now he just feels curious.

"Didn't mean to freak you out. With Terry, or the family thing. Just glad it's over." Hurt, Giles said Oz was hurt. He's still puzzling that out, and he could ask Giles, but that would be weird.

The waitress comes back with their fries and burgers, and Oz slides his hand from Giles. He doesn't look for the flicker on people's faces any more, the little twitch of eyes and thinning of lips that happens when they see him holding Giles' hand.

"Dig in," he tells Giles. Giles is still looking at him, smiling but his eyes are hooded, and Oz knows he's thinking. Oz is thinking, too, but it's an entirely different rhythm. He leans forward, ostensibly to grab the ketchup, and says, "Love you. *So* much."

Sun, Sep. 5th, 2004 11:52 pm (UTC)

"That's another very good word," Giles says. "Love." In so many ways, they're off the map of language. Family is a strange word for them, but Oz is right that it's not the only one. Giles can't imagine calling Oz his boyfriend, although he was pleased, earlier, when Oz said it to Teresa. But it's people Oz's age who have boyfriends and girlfriends. At Giles' age it sounds faintly sordid, as though it involves expensive presents, the promise of a career head start, and perhaps a messy, highly-publicized divorce.

Partner, on the other hand, sounds of golf games and contract negotiations, while lover is a bedroom word, not something to be said to strangers.

Oz, thoughtfully chewing a bite of his cheeseburger, makes one of his few imperative gestures, a wave of the hand and lift of the eybrows. Eat, it means. Giles steals a chip off Oz's plate, although there's an identical, untouched pile of chips on his own, and eats it, then tries his own burger. It really is very good: juicy, salty, and just greasy enough to satisfy that deep evolutionary craving for rich things.

He likes eating with Oz, and watching Oz eat. The table is as almost as important as the bed to love, Giles thinks, and then a word pops into his head. Copain, French for boyfriend, but its root is pain, bread. The English would be companion.

Companion. Oz is the man he shares bread with.

Reaching simultaneously for onion rings from the basket, he and Oz brush hands. "So what do you think?" Giles asks, sliding an oily fingertip across Oz's palm. "The best burger in three counties?"

Mon, Sep. 6th, 2004 12:20 am (UTC)

Oz swipes the napkin over his mouth, and exhales beef and grease; his head is already starting to swim from the massive meat-infusion, and he can only nod for a few seconds. "It's pretty damn good," he says, and grabs another onion ring from right under Giles' fingers. "Haven't been to the other two counties, though. Wanna come with?"

Giles grins, his mouth full, and there's no thought on his face now, just enjoyment. Oz tucks back into the second half of his burger, dripping juice and oily globs of cheese, and even if his stomach's starting to complain, he couldn't stop eating if he wanted to. He's never eaten like this, even before he gave up meat for the second time at ten, and he knows Giles prefers real food, with sauces and simmering. But they're both devouring their plates like they've been out in the desert for six months, and he'd think it was funny if he had the higher brain functions to think.

And there's still a huge glass of milkshake and the spillover in the dented tin container, plus onion rings whose batter just kind of melts and crackles in his mouth. When they finish - or slow down, there's still tons of fries on their plates - Giles has a smear of grease across his chin and Oz touches his own chin, trying to tell him, restraining the instinct to lean over and clean him up.
"Didn't eat meat til I was six," he says, slumping in the seat, drawing patterns in the condensation on the milkshake glass, smiling vaguely at Giles. "How about you? How old were you when you had your first nonboiled vegetable?"

Mon, Sep. 6th, 2004 01:04 am (UTC)

Two napkins aren't enough to take all the grease off his fingers and face, and then Giles undoes it anyway by eating another chip. "Not until you were six? But I thought-"

Oz licks a finger in a way Giles is fairly sure wasn't meant to be erotic, and explains that Teresa, at the time, was a vegan and a great believer in raw foods. It took the combined force of Oz's father, grandmother, and pediatrician (armed with growth charts and nutritional recommendations) to convince her to let Oz have dairy products and then, a few months later, meat.

Food and love. Teresa was faddish in both, spasms of enthusiasm covering a fundamental uninterest, a lack of trust in anything solid and simple. She starved Oz, and Giles thinks he hates her.

Oz, who's been talking quite cheerfully about it all, sputters to a stop in response to some tension or expression of Giles', and his face twists into worry. "Parents," Giles says, with a shake of his head and a smile that he's sure Oz isn't convinced by. "You're right, my mother practiced the darkest art of English middle-class cookery, the boiled vegetable. And of course boarding school was even worse. It wasn't until I went to France—nothing glamorous, I was harvesting grapes—that I learnt that vegetables had individual flavors. Must have been twenty, then." In his memory, it was glamorous, heat and sweat and laughter, meals of coarse wine and good bread, blisters and low pay and freedom. Ethan was with him, naturally, but even that doesn't spoil it.

Oz visibly relaxes again, sipping at the malted and listening to Giles talk, and Giles is glad he changed the subject. He'd like Oz to be angry on his own behalf, to understand that he deserved more love, better love, better care than he ever got, but he's not sure there's a way to that without hurting Oz in the process. And it's not as though there's a cure for the past. What matters is to give Oz love now.

Giles takes the glass that Oz offers him and sucks up a mouthful of cold chocolate. He's reminded again of films and old, sentimental Norman Rockwell illustrations of lovers in malt shops. "Pity I don't still have the BMW," he says. "We could drive around with the top down. Perhaps go on a burger-comparison road trip. Although by the end of it I'd be so disgustingly fat that you'd be ashamed of me. As it is, it's past time for me to take up running and fencing again." He's put on weight since Oz came back. Food, unlike love, has drawbacks, and Giles wants to be slim and healthy and desirable for as long as he can possibly manage.

Mon, Sep. 6th, 2004 01:24 am (UTC)

"Will you wear that mask that looks like a beekeeper's?" Oz asks, because he needs to ignore the tightness that's still haunting Giles' face as well as the idea that Giles could ever be disgusting. "When you fence?"

Nodding, Giles gives him a smile and Oz rubs his chin. "You could teach me how. Figure if you trained Buffy, I'd be really easy."

He flexes his hand, then grabs his knife and tries a short jab in Giles' direction, making him jump and grin even more widely. Oz's head is throbbing from the meat, and caffeine, and sugar, but he doesn't feel particularly antsy *or* loagy.

"I'd go running with you," Oz says, "but it wasn't ever my thing. Kind of more a moseyer. But fencing looks like chess, only live-action. Cool."

The waitress is clearing away their plates, and Oz has to curl his fingers into a fist to keep himself from grabbing the last tiny onion ring. He can't help but remember Giles, face sweaty and glowing, after training Buffy in the library, nor how he always had to cut his eyes away and keep busy with a random open book.

"I'm stuffed," Oz says, more to keep himself from thinking than anything else. "How're you doing?"

Sun, Sep. 12th, 2004 12:36 am (UTC)

Continued here