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Fri, Oct. 15th, 2004, 09:37 pm
kindkit: Sunnydale, Halloween 2001: an engagement

As Giles is fumbling in the dark broom closet, wishing for three ibuprofen, twelve hours' sleep and perhaps a new pair of feet, the voices in the shop behind him go suddenly quiet. Bugger. Anya's probably announced a third day of sales, or possibly that the Magic Box will now be the 7-11 of occult shops, open 24 hours a day for maximum profitability.

The last broom, wedged behind a box labelled "Sanchez Industrial Occult Cleansers" and "DO NOT DROP" comes free after a tug that adds a new layer to Giles' backache. He gathers them all up, loosens himself from a tangle of electrical cord, and turns around.

Behind the counter, Xander and Anya are smiling broadly, expectantly, with their arms around each other. The others look to be in various states of shock—Buffy expressionless, but narrow-eyed and blinking, as though she's peering through mist; Willow saying something low to Tara out of the corner of her mouth; Oz with his brows drawn together thoughtfully, crinkling the Hebrew letters (only Oz would decide to dress as a golem for Halloween) into unreadable fragments. Dawn, however, is undismayed and grinning almost as widely as Xander and Anya.

"Er, I seem to have missed something," Giles says. Four brooms and two feather dusters make an awkward armful, and he can't adjust his grip without dropping something. He tries shifting his weight to the other foot. The feathers are tickling his chin, and he must look a proper berk. For a moment he remembers the humiliating exposure of turning up late for class, when he was a boy.

"We're getting married!" Anya says. "Isn't it thrilling?"

As though Anya has turned on a tap, congratulations immediately fill the room, and Giles' "Oh. Of course. Delightful, yes," luckily goes unnoticed.

After a few seconds, it occurs to him that they won't be cleaning now. He puts the brooms back, and then Oz is next to him. "Well," Giles says, and can't think of anything to add. Oz looks . . . surprised, and so Giles' own face must show all too much doubt. Putting on a smile and holding Oz's hand, he leads them back over to Xander and Anya and says, "Congratulations. I'm sure you'll be very happy."

A silly twenty-one year old boy and an ex-demon, marrying on a hellmouth. It's more absurd them himself and Oz, and that's saying a lot.

Sat, Oct. 16th, 2004 01:58 am (UTC)

He can see doubt and etiquette twisting over Giles' face, and Oz squeezes his arm through the tweed jacket. Anya's grinning like she just won the lottery and Xander -- Xander's looking a lot like Giles right now, with some extra happiness mixed in with the doubt.

"Standing up for good old family values, huh?" he asks before Xander folds him into a huge bearhug. Anya tugs him loose and hugs Oz even more tightly as she rolls backward and he grabs her elbows to steady her.

"It's a tradition!" Anya says, rocking back and forth. "It's an institution that's evolved from one merely about property-transfer into one that includes love as well."

Oz nods and catches Xander's eye. Xander's returned to grinning broadly and bobbing his head in answer to Dawn and Tara and Willow's questions. Oz steps back, going around Giles, and nudges his hip against Buffy's. She's been standing in the same spot since before the announcement and, not for the first time, she reminds Oz of a statue. Something over a grave in Kensal Green Cemetery, which he and Giles poked through just a couple days before the call from Willow came. Streaked with grime and rain, an angel's still face.

"Everybody's pairing off," Buffy says, almost under her breath.

"Yeah," Oz says and wishes he was like Xander or Giles, so he could slide his arm around her shoulders. "Weird how that happens."

Giles has finally escaped from Xander pumping his hand and he joins them. Without thinking, Oz backs up a little so he's leaning against Giles' chest; Buffy cuts her gaze sharply over to them and sighs. Oz lets his arm brush against hers, just a little.

Sat, Oct. 16th, 2004 02:55 am (UTC)

It's automatic, with Oz standing this close, for Giles to put an arm around his waist; only afterwards does he notice how Buffy looks at them. It's not her "You're very old and it's gross," look. He's used to that. He'd rather see that than the terrible pinched impassivity of her face and her eyes gone dark as bruised flowers. Thinking about everything (everyone) Buffy has lost in the last few years is almost unbearable. What it must be like for Buffy, Giles would just as soon not imagine. There are times when he wishes that Angel had stayed in Sunnydale, that they'd found a way around the curse. Almost any man in the world, he believes, would be better for Buffy than Angel, but she seems not to agree. And it is, after all, her life. Her heart.

Even if there was something he could say to comfort her, he couldn't say it here, now. Buffy tries so hard to seem happy. It's even possible that she's got her friends fooled. Perhaps it's unhealthy, emotional blockage or some other psychobabble, but she's got so little right now except pride.

"Buffy," Dawn calls from the counter, having apparently given up on Anya letting her try on the ring. Behind her, Xander and Anya are absorbed in a wet kiss that looks like it might set some kind of duration record. "We can have a celebration, right? Tonight?" When Buffy hesitates, Dawn sighs theatrically. "Come on. There's gotta be something. They're getting married."

Anya pulls away from Xander (Giles thinks he's just imagining the sucking sound as their lips part) long enough to say, "That's a very good attitude, Dawn. Marriage is the foundation of our culture—who would buy houses otherwise? And SUVs and children's toys, not to mention wedding gowns. The economy would cease to function without marriage. And I think that's worth celebrating."

Dawn watches the resumed kiss for a long moment, then turns back to Buffy. "And it's not like it's a school night or anything, and anyway you made me do all my homework on Friday night."

"Dawnie-" Tara begins, but Buffy interrupts.

"Of course," she says, smiling almost as though she means it. "Of course we have to celebrate. I think we're fully stocked with chips and cookies at home, so let's go."

In her eagerness to celebrate, Anya even puts the money in the safe uncounted, and Giles has to remind her to set the burglar alarm before locking up.

Sat, Oct. 16th, 2004 03:26 am (UTC)

Oz has taken to holding his breath at the end of work days and research sessions; when it comes time to split up for the drive(s) home(s). Six times out of ten, he drives Dawn back to Revello, especially if Buffy's not around, which tends to happen more often than not. He grooves on Dawn, but when the day is over, he just wants to slide into the driver's seat and take Giles as far away as he can; they had dinner on the other side of Santa Barbara last night because Oz couldn't get far enough away.

But tonight Dawn is hanging on Anya's arm and hugging Xander and Buffy's already in the back seat of her mom's old car with Willow at the wheel, so Oz can breathe. For a little while, anyway.

He takes the long way to Revello, and when he makes another right, Giles turns to him questioningly. They've been quiet so far, and Oz is pretty sure that doubt is winning the war in Giles' head. Barnet's Liquors is right up on the next corner, and Oz slows down, scanning the street for a space.

"Wanted to get something to drink," he says, and then he *hears* himself. He'd been heading for Barnet's, could already smell that peculiar liquor-store scent of wood and glass and wine, had the champagne (for Anya) and whiskey (for Xander, Giles, and himself) all picked out. Like it was normal, like he could just swig some down and party like he used to.

Giles is *staring* at him as Oz speeds up, then makes a sharp left, pulling into the AM/PM's tiny lot. Willing his heart to slow a little and the sour hunger to stop drying out his throat, he brushes the back of his hand across Giles' downturned face. "And talk. Because, man. Heavy stuff."

He's not sure what to think about the news. And talk about marriage makes him queasy in a way he hasn't felt since dinner at Terry's: Ceremonies, and social approval, and freakiness all abound. Giles kisses Oz's hand and Oz takes another breath.

Sun, Oct. 17th, 2004 10:15 pm (UTC)

Trying to ignore the blatant stares of a group of teenage boys lounging against the wall outside the shop, Giles holds Oz's hand and rubs his tight-hunched shoulder. Oz looks shaken, misery twisting his mouth and brows into anxious curls, and if Giles were just a little braver he'd undo the seatbelt and hold him. But the boys are muttering and glaring, voices getting a little louder with each comment, words like "faggots" and "goddamn homos" carrying even over the traffic noise and the hum of the giant ice machine.

They won't try anything here, Giles tells himself, in this lighted parking lot on a well-travelled street. "Oz, what's the matter?" He should know; he would know if he'd been paying attention, if he hadn't spent the last five minutes trying to find a way to make Xander and Anya think twice without making them hate him. Going over subtle and not-so-subtle phrases, this is a surprise and you're both very young and perhaps you might be rushing things, and not noticing Oz, not noticing whatever has him almost hyperventilating and clutching the steering wheel with a white-knuckled fist. "I think this engagement of theirs is idiotic, but . . . "

Oz is watching him, staring with a wounded need and hope, and Giles didn't notice a thing until Oz turned the car, and one of the boys kicks an empty soda can that bounces off their tire, and Giles says, "What's the matter?" again and cups Oz's face in his hands and kisses his forehead, right over the lines of eyebrow pencil forming the Hebrew word for "truth."

Sun, Oct. 17th, 2004 10:51 pm (UTC)

This morning, when Oz was already dressed, he dug the liner pencil out of the bag from the pharmacy and joined Giles at the mirror in the bathroom. You know Hebrew, right? he asked, and Giles, absorbed in his shaving, murmured agreeably. After practicing 'emeth a few times on the motel pad, he sat on the edge of the bed and drew Oz in between his knees and cupped his cheek with his right hand while he *drew*, more than wrote, the letters on Oz's forehead.

Oz wants to be there again now, can feel the shivers of that ease and comfort hovering around them, would love it if Giles *could* read his mind and stroke the back of his head and remind him he doesn't need anything to numb out. But he's swallowing fast against the rush of spit that came up at the thought of whiskey, and there are losers outside the car doing the standard threatening-guy pose, preening and leering, and this is not the time.

"Off-balance," he says before Giles has to repeat himself. "Just kind of weirded out by marriage. And especially *Xander* and marriage. Plus, la jeunesse dorée out there. La? Le? Something."

"La," Giles says quietly, eyes tracking slowly over Oz's. He doesn't believe Oz, which is probably good. Intellectually, Oz knows that it's good, that there's still much more for them to talk over about Those Three Years. Right now, however, Oz wants to be believed, wants desperately, with a sort of tangled, painful yearning, for Giles' eyes to slide off him the way they used to during those years, wants to be alone.

"I'll go get some soda and beer." Oz undoes his seatbelt and squeezes Giles' hand. "Think they'll go through with it?" A pebble strikes the rear window and Oz tries to grin. "Xander and Anya, not Sunnydale's future."

Sun, Oct. 17th, 2004 11:28 pm (UTC)

Watching the teenagers, who strain forward like hunting dogs when Oz opens the door, Giles says, "I expect so." At the moment Xander and Anya are as vague as people he met once in an airport, and Giles doesn't care if they live happily ever after or spend the next fifty years throwing crockery and shouting the walls down. All that matters are the boys between Oz and the shop door and how small Oz looks next to them. Tiny, childlike, frail, and he could be on the ground and kicked half to death before Giles could stop it, and if one of those bastards has a knife or a gun Giles might see Oz die right now.

Of course he's being alarmist, of course he's panicking for nothing. Of course the boys posture for a moment, but then one spits on the pavement and laughs and they move off in a bunch, strutting and slapping each other's hands. Of course. And Oz is far, far stronger than he looks. He doesn't need Giles' protection to go in and buy some drinks.

Respect. It's simple respect, to let Oz go off on his own and not worry about him.

Giles folds his arms on the dash and lays his head down for a few breaths.

Is it respect, too, to let him hide whatever had him so upset a few minutes ago, to let him evade and say he's just surprised at Xander? Not to ask why he almost stopped at the off-license and then didn't? Not to ask, not to wonder, not to give any more shape to the formless, shadowy worry?

Giles sits up again just as Oz is coming out of the shop; he's fairly sure Oz didn't see. As Oz makes a right turn back onto Wilkins Avenue (amazing they haven't renamed it), Giles asks, "What did you mean, when you said especially Xander?" His voice sounds a little tight, a little formal. A little angry, and he's not sure he could explain why if Oz asks.

Sun, Oct. 17th, 2004 11:53 pm (UTC)

Out of the corner of Oz's eye, Giles' jaw is tight, painted by the oncoming headlights into something steely and flat, and his voice is just as bad. Oz slows the car for the left onto Revello and shrugs one shoulder.

"Dunno." He can't glance over at Giles, won't let himself. If they're going to argue, which would be *new*, at least then Giles won't ask about the liquor store, won't remember the stupid bottle of Scotch in his old desk, won't drag out Oz's various, ridiculous so-called coping mechanisms. "Always felt like marriage was stupid. Seeing Terry, all that, didn't exactly make me all rah-rah romance."

Just like your father, she said, because he left and Oz left and Giles heard that. It's been swimming around the back of Oz's brain for over a week now, those facts and the whiskey-thirst, and he feels it all tightening, inexorably as Giles' jaw. Just don't leave, Giles said so many times right after Oz came to London, because apologies don't mean anything, only staying is proof.

"Plus, Xander. I mean --" He's pulling into the driveway now, and through the curtains, the living room is lit up by something like Christmas lights. "Love Xander. Just never thought of him as -- Mr. Monogamy. Let alone Mr. 100% Straight."

Turning the key, Oz lets out a breath and turns to look at Giles. Weird language things going on -- drawing Hebrew, sorting out French genders -- and he has yet to figure out his own language. How to say what he means without fucking up. He leans over and lets his shoulder touch Giles' arm. A fight seemed like a good thing a minute ago, but now he's shivery and can't imagine Giles being mad.

"Love you," he says, almost under his breath, and closes his eyes. "Rah-rah about *you*, you know."

Mon, Oct. 18th, 2004 12:34 am (UTC)

Giles feels hollowed-out, a bare frame of twigs and skin almost collapsing under its own weight. It's a feeling of disaster barely avoided, of braking just in time not to rear-end the car in front. He reaches for Oz's hand and squeezes it tight as they sit silent for a moment, looking straight ahead. "I love you," he says. "And I'll be glad when we're away from all this. Home. Sunnydale is . . . not a good place." They're leaving in eight days, and he still hasn't told Buffy.

London, home, and maybe whatever just happened won't follow them there. They're bound to quarrel eventually, people do, but not over mysteries, over silences that Oz seemed so desperate just now to guard. That Oz shoved him roughly away from, cynical words between them like a border wall, high sheer concrete and razor wire.

But it's better already. Oz leans a little against him, leans more when Giles turns, and then they're hugging fiercely. Better, anger ready to be forgotten, and Giles hooks an arm around Oz's neck, kisses him, and starts off the forgetting by saying, "I think you're right about Xander. He's too . . . flighty . . . to get married."

Xander's been with Anya for two years, which is more than he and Oz have managed. And Xander's only about six months younger than Oz.

Giles finds he doesn't want to break the hug and go inside, even though the others must be waiting. "And I don't think he's entirely heterosexual, either. But-" Something twists, cold and sharp, under Giles' ribs, and he clutches drowningly at Oz. "But you're not a hundred percent not-heterosexual either. Even I'm not, come to that. And we're all right." Giles thought it was a statement, but it hangs in the air like a question, like a noxious fog of insecurity.

Mon, Oct. 18th, 2004 01:03 am (UTC)

Giles' fist loosens fractionally on the back of Oz's collar, but Oz butts in closer, hiding his face against Giles' neck like a sleepy, fretful baby. He's been so freaked out by drinking, by imagining Giles saddled with a drunk for a lover, that his past flexible sexuality has caught him completely by surprise.

He wishes he could draw the truth into Giles' skin, something like Eyghon but positive, and good, the promise not to leave and the assurance of his love sunk into Giles' pores, the best kind of tattoo. He wishes touch was enough.

But it's not, not for Giles, not even for Oz himself.

He pulls back, leaving his arm looped around Giles' shoulder, and bites his lip. Giles won't quite look at him directly; his eyes wander and dart, and he looks almost as surprised as Oz feels. "We're more than all right," Oz says, opting for the obvious and clear statement. Giles' eyes close and Oz squeezes the back of his neck. "We *are*. It's just, just this place --"

Now Oz has to close his eyes, but the lights from the house are painted on the backs of his lids, overlaying Giles' frowning, downturned face.

"We are," he continues, and the worst thing about Sunnydale is that there's nothing that's clear and obvious and trustworthy here. "I just don't feel good here. I should feel good anywhere, but --" When he inhales, the air tastes stale and sour, morning breath and hangover sweat. He kisses Giles again, replaces memory and worry with something more elemental, Giles' tiredness and tension and just plain *Giles*.

"Not straight, Giles. Never again, I promise." He wasn't in any shape to think how it must have looked to Giles, Oz sitting in the library, touching Willow, kissing her, right in front of Giles. He made sure he wasn't in any shape, though, and that's the worst thing. "We're good, and definitely not straight. Stake anything on it. Or I would, but. Superstitious around here."

Too many words and Oz wants to sag, emptied of them. Not until Giles looks him in the eye, though.

Mon, Oct. 18th, 2004 01:46 am (UTC)

Hearing Oz stammer out promises, reassurances, Giles wants to hide his hot face in Oz's neck, flinch from his own fear and shame. "You're right," he says, forcing a laugh. "No taking chances. No wishing, no betting, no bloody costumes." He licks his thumb and quickly rubs the lettering off Oz's forehead, strips the tweed jacket (he's dressed as a Watcher, and he remembers that it seemed funny at the time) from his shoulders and yanks roughly at the sleeves until he's free of it. His movements feel jerky, and at the end he's agitated and breathing hard, like a small boy in a tantrum.

It must be Sunnydale doing this, making them out-of-sorts and fractious. Giles looks up from the badly-woven houndstooth pattern he's been studying (the jacket's uglier than anything he would ever have worn, and he reminds himself that it's a costume, that it was the only jacket at the Salvation Army that fitted, that it's no indicator of how Oz saw him in those days). Oz is looking back at him, traces of sadness and worry on his face like the words of a sun-faded text. "Sorry." Giles rests his palm on Oz's cheek, little finger stroking the hinge of his jaw, and sighs. "I know we're all right." There's a shift in Oz's expression, so slight it might almost be a flicker of the streetlights, except that Oz presses a forceful kiss into the base of his thumb as though he's trying to imprint it there. "I won't always be so-" Paranoid, he thinks, but he's never liked the glib psychology of words like that. "Hypersensitive."

The last thing Giles wants now is a party, but they're expected. His palm prickles with cold when he moves it away. "Let's go in, shall we?" He twists and reaches into the back seat for the sack to stop himself reaching for Oz again.

Mon, Oct. 18th, 2004 02:28 am (UTC)

"Don't apologize --" Oz catches Giles' arm and squeezes. Under the ugly blazer, he's wearing a nice lambswool v-neck, dark-blue pre-dawn sky, one that's already elicited at least three comments from Xander on how Oz is affecting his sense of fashion.

Giles wasn't like this in London, and Oz *wants* to blame Sunnydale. It would help if it was only this town that made Giles tighten his shoulders and talk through gritted teeth, just like he did after Oz left him, whenever Oz tried to apologize. He can't blame Sunnydale, though, any more than he can blame Giles, or let Giles take the blame on himself. "Really, 'cause you're *not* hypersensitive. You're just --"

He can't think of the words, and Giles is opening his door, so Oz follows, locking the car and rubbing the traces of 'emeth from his forehead. Giles took it off, just like he took off the blazer; it's proof, small and solid, that Giles isn't irretrievably angry, that he's still thinking of Oz. So even if Giles is hugging the grocery bag up against his chest and striding toward the house a beat too fast, Oz has that fact to hold onto. In addition to the other bag cutting a welt in his palm.

Anya opens the door and grabs the bag from Giles. "Finally!" She peeks into the bag and hands it back to Giles. "I thought there were presents. But beverages are a good start."

Edging around the growing bottleneck -- Xander's joined Anya and Willow is hovering behind him -- Oz heads for the kitchen to stow the bottles in the fridge. Dark and quiet back here, and he exhales heavily before dropping the bag on the counter. Someone yelps, then Tara jumps up, brandishing a pizza-cutter.

"Sorry," Oz says, taking a step back, raising his hands. "I come in peace. With libations."

"S-sorry. I -- I'm just --" She puts the pizza-cutter down and scrubs her palms over her hips. "You know."


She ducks her head, smiling. "A little."

Oz can't help but smile in return; there's weirdness and hypersensitivity all over the place, and he'd do best to remember that. Behind him, Giles lays a hand on his shoulder and asks quietly, "Do you need any help?"

"Drinks," Oz says, pointing at the counter and resting against Giles. "Myriad sodas, a couple kinds of beer. Don't know what everyone likes."

Sun, Oct. 24th, 2004 10:53 pm (UTC)

"I do," Giles says, and smiles at Oz's startled look. "I've hosted countless research sessions, all of which required soda and junk food. So I also know that Xander likes Canadian bacon on his pizza and that Buffy harbors a secret addiction to Pringles." He squeezes Oz's shoulder, briefly kisses the top of his head—Oz lets out a slow breath and his whole body seems to loosen under Giles' hand—and starts unpacking the bags.

Oz must remember more than he thinks, because he's picked the right things: root beer for Willow, a vividly orange soda for Xander and Dawn, diet Pepsi for Buffy and Anya. Tara doesn't drink soda, but the house is always well stocked with the juice and milk she does drink, so that's not a problem. Giles explains who drinks what, and Oz half-smiles, says something about his memory, and starts filling the enormous plastic cups that he bought.

In the second bag there are two six-packs of beer—one of ordinary American lager in tins, the other, strangely familiar-looking, a cardboard box of brown bottles paled with condensation. Giles feels a dim thump of surprise in his stomach and a moment's certainty that he must be mistaken, but he's not; it's the same brand they bought together, at another AM/PM, the night they met. Giles drank the four leftover bottles afterwards, one a night; the bittersweet ale and the cool smooth glass of the bottleneck made him think of Oz's skin, made his heart speed and his mouth water with memory.

Smiling, he looks over at Oz, who's somehow looking at him and past him at the same time, eyes showing nothing. "Oz-" At the touch of Giles' hand on his, Oz wrenches his face into a smile that only makes his eyes sadder and more distant. Wanting to hold him, wanting to ask again what's wrong, unable to do much of anything in Buffy's house with Tara standing a few feet away, Giles presses his hand a little harder. Oz shrugs, drops his head shyly, and Giles leans closer and whispers, "I remember." Perhaps all this business about the engagement has Oz feeling lonely. No one's exactly delighted with the news, but they're still more enthusiastic than they were about Oz and him.

"Hey, am I gonna have to turn the hose on you two?" Xander's voice. Oz jumps, but his fingers tighten around Giles'.

"Not just yet," Giles says, fighting off the impulse to move away from Oz or at least to let his hand go. He manages, barely, to keep the annoyance out of his voice. Xander doesn't mean any harm, doesn't mean to imply that his touching Oz is indecent. Handing him a brimming cup at random, Giles adds, "Here, have a soda. Or a beer?"

"Bring on the beer! For today I am a man. A gonna-get-married man."

"Certainly a beer-worthy occasion," Giles says and opens a bottle for him. He's about to open another one for himself when he notices a strange, furtive look from Oz.

Maybe that's what this is about. Maybe Oz doesn't want him drinking. And god knows Oz probably has the right idea there. He sets the bottle back into its cardboard square and takes Oz's hand again.

Sun, Oct. 24th, 2004 11:25 pm (UTC)

Xander grabs the beer and takes a long swig, grimacing at the taste, questioning whether Englishmen can choose good beer, before drinking again, guzzling like the guy in the proverbial desert.

"Easy there, matey," Oz says, grinning, hating how censorious he sounds. It's a party, and Xander deserves more than to receive the dregs of Oz's guilt. Sticking his tongue out, Xander raises his fake hook and lets out a mighty arrrrrr, and Oz ducks theatrically out of the way. With one last squeeze of the hand, Giles has moved to the fridge, past Tara, who's carefully sorting Pringles and Doritos into big bowls.

Giles is searching, Oz knows, for something that's neither carbonated nor swimming in corn syrup. It's comforting -- extremely comforting, in a way he doesn't quite want to acknowledge just yet -- that Giles isn't drinking, either. He joins Giles at the fridge; helping himself to the carton of apple cider, he lets his hand rest between Giles' shoulder-blades and whispers, "Hey. Thanks."

Giles turns, his brow wrinkling in confusion, but before Oz can explain -- and how could he explain, here and now? -- Tara says, "I could heat that up for you --"

"Cider?" he asks and she nods. "Nah, that's okay. Thanks."

"Did you see the living room?" Xander asks, cuffing Oz and slopping some beer on his arm. "Will did this *thing*, with the mumbo-jumbo and the mojo, and it's a fairyland of twinkling lights."

"Really pretty," Tara says flatly and crumples up the empty Doritos bag. "You should go see."

Giles is pouring himself a glass of fizzy water, something with limes on the label. "A spell?"

Shrugging, Tara looks away, and Oz grabs the stack of plastic cups. Willow's magic is, ever since they got here, a major no-go area for public conversation. It's one of those at night, in the dark, under the covers, kind of subject. Weird, but not surprising, that Tara seems to share that attitude. Oz squints at her, but her face is placid and vaguely friendly.

"Second thought," Oz says, approaching Tara, trying to look nonthreatening. "Let's mull this up. You use nutmeg?"

Mon, Oct. 25th, 2004 12:18 am (UTC)

While Oz and Tara debate (if "debate" is even the right word for two such quiet people) the right number of cloves to use in the cider, Giles loads a tray with drinks and follows Xander into the sitting room. On the sofa, Buffy is listening to Anya with what looks to Giles like remarkable forbearance. When she sees him, she jumps up with a cry of "Oooh, sodas!" She grabs a glass and a handful of pretzels from the bowl Xander's carrying, and shows no inclination to sit down again.

"Lovely decorations," Giles says a little stiffly to Willow, who's been explaining the twinkling-lights spell to Dawn. Using magic for something so trivial seems like a tremendous waste of energy, but then, Willow apparently has power to spare. She can raise the dead, after all.

Willow looks at him for a second as though checking for sarcasm, shrugs, and says, "Thanks. It's easy if you're used to doing magic." Before Giles can answer, she takes a soda and heads off to the kitchen. In the doorway she meets Oz coming out; Giles feels uncomfortably relieved when she nods and passes him by.

"I can't believe Xander's getting married," Buffy says. It sounds as though she's been wanting to say that for a long time.

Dawn washes down a tortilla chip with a gulp of soda and says, rather unclearly, "Isn't it cool?" She takes another swallow and frowns. "But it sucks that Willow and Tara can't get married. They're such a great couple. The stupid laws are totally unfair. I'm writing a report about it for social studies."

"I thought you were writing about charter schools," Buffy says. "Isn't that what you told your teacher?" She sounds, for a moment, exactly like Joyce. As though she's turned overnight into a mother, a woman who doesn't quite have her own life anymore.

"Changed my mind. Hey," she says when Oz appears, mug in hand, at Giles' elbow. "So are the laws different in England? Are you guys gonna get married? 'Cause if you are I totally wanna be a bridesmaid or a groomsmaid or whatever you'd call it."

Buffy looks as though she wishes she were still talking to Anya. "Dawn-"

"We couldn't get married in England," Giles says, and under the embarrassment he's obscurely grateful that she asked. But he can almost feel the worry thrumming off Oz, vibrating him like a high-voltage power line. "And even if we could, it's not something we've talked about." Without looking, he brushes Oz's fingers.

Mon, Oct. 25th, 2004 01:12 am (UTC)

Oz sips his cider carefully, squinting through the steam, as he wraps his fingers around Giles' thumb. It's weird, these gestures in public; they're so small, but he likes them this way, like shadows and fabric-ends. When he was with Willow, he was touching her all the time, holding her on his lap, braiding her hair, plucking at her shirt. His affection, he thinks now as he looks at Xander, who's straightening his shirt, fixing his headband, glancing at Anya and Dawn and his beer and all around the room, was fidgety. Flighty. Because he was drunk, and lost, and she fidgeted a lot, too.

But he's sober now, the cider burning down his throat, and with Giles, he's not fidgety so much as...close. Small things aren't tiny or meaningless with Giles.

Big things, though. Big things like marriage and Giles, those might be enough to make him fidget.

"White satin kind of washes me out," he tells Dawn, and her nose scrunches up before she gets it.

Giles hasn't pulled away, but his face is hard to read behind the red plastic cup, and he seems to be deliberately talking to Buffy.

Xander drops his arm around Oz's shoulders and pulls him toward the couch; over his shoulder, Oz can see Giles peering after him, eyes dark and illegible. "You're the relationship man here," Xander's saying, piloting Oz toward Anya. "Tell her."

"Tell me what?" Anya scoots over, making room for Oz. "I've had the most experience of human relationships, actually. Probably ten times all of you put together."

"What am I telling her?" Oz asks Xander, but Xander's moving away, raising his beer to the ceiling and singing something that's probably supposed to be a pirate song. Or maybe "Here Comes the Bride". "Hey, Anya. Congrats."

"Thank you," she says and takes the mug out of his hands and sips it. "I'm very excited, and contrary to what I know they're probably saying, it's not just the presents and financial stability. It's getting to be with my best friend, you know?"

Across the room, Giles is stooping slightly, talking to Buffy and smiling at Xander. He looks at home here, sometimes, when Oz isn't around, like this is where he belongs. Even if Oz knows, and he *does*, that that's not true, it's a hard image to shake. "Yeah," Oz says. "That's probably the best thing of all."

"And the tax benefits are simply stunning. Like icing on the eight-tier cake!"

Mon, Oct. 25th, 2004 02:36 am (UTC)

Dawn, it seems, has strong opinions about bridesmaids' frocks. "Not seafoam green, okay?" Xander nods enthusiastically, in that overemphatic way he's had all evening, his eyes too wide and his gestures too big. He's probably got no more idea than Giles himself of what shade "seafoam" might be. "My friend Ashley had to wear seafoam at her brother's wedding, and I think she's scarred for life. She wouldn't even show us pictures. And no bows in the back—that's so bad prom dress."

Giles nods occasionally and watches Oz—discreetly, he hopes—over Dawn's shoulder. Every so often Oz looks over from whatever earnest conversation he's having with Anya, and when their eyes meet Giles feels a catch in his breath, like the nicotine jolt of a cigarette. Ten feet of distance and it's as though Oz has gone unbearably far, unbearably long. And, too, as though Oz is someone he doesn't know, a charming stranger to make one's pulse race at a party, to make every other conversation dull because nothing matters but talking to him.

Glances back and forth, smiles, half flirtation and half secret signal (lovers, spies, it's all secrecy), and it's a game to keep them occupied all night. No need to think about serious things, about alcohol and marriage and what Oz meant by his joke about white satin. Whether the word marriage has brought the truth of it all home to him, made him rethink those promises they've both made so freely.

"-any chocolate?" Xander's saying, and Giles pulls his attention back. "What this beer really needs is some Oreos." Dawn rushes off towards the kitchen, muttering something about experiments that has Buffy shaking her head sternly.

"Dear lord, Xander," Giles says. "I'd never have thought that growing up could possibly make your eating habits worse." Buffy's cough into her fist doesn't quite cover a laugh.

"Says the guy who eats deep-fried Mars bars."

"I do not. And that's not even English, that Scottish."

Xander grins cheekily, happily, and says, "Same difference. Just with worse teeth and a weirder accent."

All evening time's been behaving strangely, past and present blurring into one another like colored clays twisted together. Everything is hued with memory, and Xander could be sixteen years old again, ridiculous and infuriating and brave. Lonely, begging for attention with jokes.

Of course Xander's not sixteen anymore, but it's only the sudden contrast that lets Giles notice changes that have been accruing for years. Xander is older, changed, heavier in more ways than the physical. They all have more weight on their spirits, since Buffy died. Since . . . who knows when it began?

"Come on," Buffy says in the pause, and grabs Giles' arm and Xander's. "Let's see if Anya's already decided on seafoam or if there's still time to talk her out of it."

Oz smiles when they come over, and if he's having second thoughts, they don't show on his face.

Mon, Oct. 25th, 2004 03:11 am (UTC)

Giles looks shy suddenly, as he arrives with Buffy and Xander, and Oz stands up, making room, and for a second, in the shuffle of bodies, Xander joining Anya, Buffy sliding up onto the couch's far arm, he considers plopping onto Giles' lap. Static in the air between them, distance multiplied by the presence of too many people, too much history, and for that second, all he wants - and he wants with a sharp, magnetic *heat* - is for Giles to open his arms and pull Oz onto his lap.

But there're so many people around, it would embarrass both of them, and it would feel weirdly obscene. Like letting Dawn watch them make out, or having to help Xander have sex with Anya: obscene, and also just impossible.

"Seafoam's a lovely color," Anya's saying, and Oz finally stops hovering as he perches on the arm, close to but not *on* Giles, "and traditional, too. But I've always been partial to magenta. Everyone just *glows* in magenta."

"Which one's magenta?" Xander asks.

"Cordy's lipstick, my first year here," Buffy says.

Everyone's distracted, especially as Dawn returns, a bag of Oreos in her teeth and her arms wrapped around *another* big bowl of chips, with Tara behind her. Exhaling, Oz slumps slightly and slowly slips his arm around Giles' shoulder. It's not nearly the same, but he feels Giles lean a little more against his leg, and pushes his luck by rubbing wide circles on the side of Giles' neck with his thumb.

"I don't have to do anything, do I?" Xander's asking. "Like, I just pay for stuff but you girls choose everything?"

Anya and Buffy and Dawn answer him, chatter twisting and jangling around them, and Oz doesn't think he's imagining that Giles is leaning more heavily against him. Outside the circle, holding a jug of punch, Tara shifts her weight from foot to foot and doesn't really make eye contact with anyone.

She looks miserable. She looks like Oz feels on and off all the time here in Sunnydale, right in the center of his chest, lost and lonely, and there's no one leaning on her. Willow's nowhere in sight.

The girls are dancing now, and Xander's joining them, leaving him with Giles in the couch's corner.

Oz drops his head close to Giles'. "We're good," he whispers quickly. "Don't worry. Please?"

Sat, Oct. 30th, 2004 12:05 am (UTC)

Giles tilts his head a little, letting Oz's fingers reach the tense spots at the top of his neck, and if that also brings his face closer to Oz's, well, nobody's looking at them anyway. "I'll try." With a sideways smile that he's not sure Oz can see, he moves in just a little farther, rolling his cheek against Oz's and pushing the earpiece of his glasses up to his temple. "But you know me and worry." Another press of cheek against cheek, a flutter of his fingers over the small of Oz's back, and he sits up straight again.

Buffy, dancing with her sister, looks genuinely happy, with none of the little tensions and unhappy shadows that usually mark her face. She's even laughing as Anya tries to teach her a dance that Giles vaguely remembers from about 1972. It reminds Giles of his own hillwalking years, movement working its mysterious palliation on the emotions. Buffy's been training hard, patrolling a lot, and no doubt feels better for it. Kicking butt, he remembers her saying once, is comfort food.

"W-would you like some cran-apple juice?" Tara asks quietly from his other side, making him jump. He'd forgotten she was there. She's so unassuming, so still, so easy for the eyes to pass over without noticing. It must be something she learned, something she needed once; Giles remembers meeting her father.

When Oz murmurs a refusal, Tara looks so uncomfortable, cradling the pitcher in her arms, that Giles can't help nodding. "Yes, please." He finishes the warm sparkling water in one overlarge swallow and lets her fill his glass. "Do sit down, Tara," he says, as though she's a guest. She seems like a guest, a nervous one, standing stiffly like she's unsure where to put her arms and legs for fear of knocking something over. But this is her home. She's lived here for months, and Giles remembers her comfortable here. Central, the sun and gravitation of the household, holding everything together.

Tara sits on the farthest edge of the sofa, one arm folded self-protectively over her waist, free hand still clutching the handle of the pitcher. She smiles nervously at Giles and Oz and pretends—Giles isn't sure how he knows it's pretense—to watch the others dancing. Oz shifts and inhales as though he's about to say something, but doesn't, and when Giles tries to ask her what's wrong, he can't get a word out either. This is another problem he can't fix. When Willow finally appears from wherever she's been keeping herself and joins the dancing without a look in Tara's direction, Giles is even more sure of it.

"A bit hot in here," Giles says, although it's not, and stands up. "I think I'll step outside for a little air. Oz?" He holds out a hand, and Oz, after a sideways glance at Tara, takes it and hauls himself to his feet.

Sat, Oct. 30th, 2004 12:25 am (UTC)

On the front porch, the air smells like eucalyptus and far-off rain and sugar; the kids are out, moving in small, messy squads up and down the sidewalks, shouting to passing comrades. Oz wiggles in between Giles and the porch railing, bending over so he can see the next intersection.

"Always hated Halloween," he says, pulling himself upright and leaning against Giles' chest. "Around here, I mean. Spooky enough town any day of the year."

Giles wraps his arms around Oz's chest and plants his chin on Oz's skull. The fragile calm between them since their car ride is still clinging and Oz breathes shallowly, superstitious about disturbing it.

"What're you worrying about?" he asks the street and the lone little kid dressed like Frankenstein's monster trooping over the Summers' yard. "'cause we're good. I promise."

Above him, behind him, Giles is still and warm. When he sighs, it tickles Oz's forehead. Oz covers Giles' arms with his own and answers the sigh with one of his own. He's telling the truth; however much crap *he* has to deal with, it's not about Giles.

"And if it's marriage and everything," he adds, feeling his chest go hollow and papery, "don't. I'd walk down the aisle for you in a heartbeat."

Truth can sting as well as comfort, send wasps swarming up his spine, and Oz closes his eyes, lets Giles set their breathing rhythm. He doesn't want to go anywhere, not ever.

"It's like Anya said. Getting to be with your best friend is the best kind of deal."

Sat, Oct. 30th, 2004 01:20 am (UTC)

"Anya said that?" Giles fans his fingers over Oz's side, feeling the ribs swell and then sink as he breathes. Such a basic, necessary rhythm, more primal even than sex. This is what love is, surely, wanting to feel the other person breathe. How, he wonders with a sudden uncomfortable squirm in his belly, could Buffy possibly have loved Angel—unbreathing, silent and motionless at the heart, and cold? Pushing the thought away, he says, "So she does have feelings after all. Still . . ." He leaves the rest unspoken, sighing into Oz's hair instead. The children's dates and crushes and love affairs, even Buffy's, were never his responsibility. And especially not now, adults as they all are.

Giles has no responsibilities in Sunnydale anymore. Buffy is coping. She does her job as well as ever, certainly, and anything she needs from him, he can provide over the telephone. It ought to make leaving easier.

"Sorry," he says when Oz tilts his head back inquiringly. "Thinking again."

"Worrying," Oz says softly, and laces his fingers in Giles'. "Don't."

"I wish you could teach me how to stop." Giles kisses his temple and tries not to think. For a while he watches the costumed children instead, but that reminds him of the perverseness of the hellmouth, that Halloween night should be the safest of the year. "Should I start planning our wedding instead? Shall we dress poor Dawn in seafoam or magenta? Or maybe seafoam and magenta?"

It's good to hear Oz laugh, good to feel his chest shake and shoulders curl forward. "Because you have let yourself in for being asked, if it's ever possible." Stripped of the ridiculous images—a church decked in flowers, an uncomfortable vicar changing the pronouns of the service, Oz in white satin and a veil (and why is he thinking of Oz as the bride anyway, when it could just as easily be himself?)—it sounds like a good idea. Or at least not a bad one. Private promises respoken in public. Open commitment, marked with ceremony, with rings that they'd never take off. Belonging to each other officially, finally.

"Forever . . . forever's a bloody long time, Oz." Giles' voice croaks a little; he clears his throat and holds Oz closer. "And you're so young." The oldest worry, and he's a little ashamed at having said it.

Sat, Oct. 30th, 2004 01:40 am (UTC)

Within Giles' tight hold, Oz twists, wiggling around, until his face is pressed against Giles' chest. He takes a deep breath and pulls himself up onto the railing, then pulls Giles back in.

The porch-light paints Giles' glasses almost opaque, bright tinsel and gold, and the lines around his mouth are deep and black. His mouth twists into a frown, curving with regret.

"Forever's just a whole load of moments, one after the other," Oz says, one arm reaching up around Giles' neck, smoothing the edge of his hair. All that sour worry and sick hatred that animated him in the car is gone, emptying him out, and each breath he draws hurts a little. "And I wouldn't say it if I didn't mean it. And my age? I'm just me. Like you're you."

Giles starts to shake his head and Oz squeezes his neck, stopping the motion.

"I'm older than I used to be," he says, and that's true, too, even if sometimes since going to London he feels like he's starting all over again. "And I might ask you first, you never know."

He tilts back his head and looks Giles over, chin to forehead, and feels himself smiling. Light, and warmth, sliding over his lips, feeling happy a moment and a half before he realizes he is. Happy. With Giles' hands clasped around the small of his back, not letting him fall, looking at the face he's known for four years but loves a little more each time he opens his eyes.

"I talked to *you* first, after all. I'm sneaky like that."

Sat, Oct. 30th, 2004 02:23 am (UTC)

"True." Oz's smile is wide and hopeful, so full of love that it makes Giles ache even as he smiles back. Oz, smiling, is irresistible; a calculating person would've learned to use that, but Oz is the farthest thing from calculating. "You were remarkably forward. For such a shy boy." Giles kisses his forehead, which is slightly greasy from the eyebrow pencil, and sits next to him on the railing.

What's really worrying him could be explained in a few words. When Oz is thirty-five, a young man still, Giles will be sixty. Old. In what should be the richest years of his life, Oz will be stuck with an old man, grey and wrinkled and easily tired, maybe impotent as well. And from there it'll only get worse, Giles sliding into broken health and senility while Oz is no more than middle-aged. Unless (until) he dies and Oz is left alone.

They'll never have the lovers' dream of growing old together. They can't.

He shouldn't let Oz misunderstand, think Giles is worried about immaturity or fickleness or some other un-Oz-like fault. But Oz is smiling, holding his hand and pointing out a little boy in a werewolf costume, and it would be wrong to make him think about all this now. If he's never considered it, there'll be time enough, someday.

The door opens, making Giles blink in the sudden light, and Buffy leans out. "Giles, Dawn says I told her she could stay overnight at her friend Janice's. Do you remember me saying that? I don't think amnesia's a side effect of resurrection. And it's probably not a good idea, right, even on Halloween?"

"That's up to you, Buffy." Even if he were staying, he wouldn't want to start making decisions like this. He's not cut out to be a father-figure, and if he was one to Buffy, it only worked because he didn't really try for it.

Buffy looks at him for a moment, frowning, and then closes the door. In a moment, there's a little excited squeal of triumph from Dawn.

"I suppose we'd better go in," Giles says reluctantly. "The happy couple must be due for another round of congratulations."

Sat, Oct. 30th, 2004 02:49 am (UTC)

When Oz opens the screen door, Dawn blows past them, tossing goodbyes and happy Halloweens over her shoulder, and he only has a chance to squeeze Giles' hand before they're back inside.

Xander and Buffy are lingering by the stairs, and Oz gets a weird whiff of high-school secrets whispered by the lockers. Which is still more comfortable than the living room, where Willow's talking to Anya and Tara's sitting on the couch shuffling a deck of cards.

"Some party," Oz says under his breath, but Giles must catch it, because he squeezes Oz's shoulder as they linger in the doorway.

"There you are," Anya says, hurrying over with a bowl of cookies in her arms. "Thought I was stuck talking to Willow all night, and *that* would have been a bad omen for sure. Where's Xander?"

Oz plucks a cookie -- chocolate chocolate-chip -- from the bowl and glances over his shoulder. "Outside, I guess."

"And where were you?" Anya's barely looking at him, but peering *around* Oz, through the big window over the couch, shooing Giles out of the way with her hand.

"I *was* outside," Oz says, and suddenly realizes who Anya reminds him of: Miss Calendar. It's the same hard-edged, demanding tone that's not all that interested in you as a person. He slips away from Anya and joins Tara on the couch. "Up for some War?"

Her eyes are big, shadowy, as she glances, startled up at him.

"It's the only cardgame I can remember," he says, munching his cookie, wondering how much longer they have to stay. He should have asked Giles when he had the chance, but when he looks around, Giles isn't there. Kitchen probably.

"Me, too," she says, dealing out the deck, smiling in the general direction of her lap. "How's the cookie?"

"Burned but edible."

She actually looks him in the eye, shaking back her hair, as she smiles. "Dawn's batch, then. Your turn."

He flips over his top card and licks the crumbs off his lips. He can *be* with Tara like he's known her as long as Giles, or Xander; it's strange to feel like that about someone he almost killed. He should avoid her, so he doesn't piss off Willow, so he doesn't scare Tara, so things don't become more complicated. But aside from Xander, she's the only person here his age he can talk to, and she's snarky when you get her warmed up.

Also, she kind of kicks ass at War.

Sat, Oct. 30th, 2004 03:40 am (UTC)

Giles isn't sure what became of his cup, so he takes a clean one out of the plastic bag and rummages in the refrigerator for another bottle of water. A shadow crosses the light behind him, and Xander says, "Reach me another beer while you're in there, huh Giles?" After Giles hands him a bottle, he adds, "Buffy said to tell you she's gone patrolling. Guess she wasn't in a party mood."

There's a brief silence while they open bottles and pour fizzing drinks into cups. Xander offers Giles a bowl of Doritos, and grins when Giles takes some. Yellow-orange goo melting on his tongue, Giles decides that they're just as horrible as he remembers. But it gives him a little longer to try and gather his thoughts. "I'm sure you and Anya will be very happy," he ventures at last, lamely.

Halfway through Giles' sentence, Xander abruptly starts speaking, as though he's afraid to wait and lose his nerve. "Can I ask you something? In your official capacity as the Guy Who Knows Stuff?" He takes an enormous swallow and stares down at the cup, which looks almost small in his big hands.

Giles, wondering if he's in for the kind of questions that Xander asked Oz about their sex life, sits on a stool at the breakfast bar. "Only if you take off that eyepatch first," he says, rolling his aching feet over the rungs. It's not much of a massage, through the soles of his shoes, but it's better than nothing. "I can't have a serious conversation with a pirate."

Xander pulls off the eyepatch and tries to fasten it around one of the bottles of soda, but the elastic is too loose. "You and me having a serious conversation. Man, the laws of probability are strained tonight." He reaches for another Dorito, but doesn't eat it. "Okay, I'm just . . . is it different? With another guy, I mean."

Giles rubs intently at his orange-stained fingers and wonders why he's the one feeling embarrassed. "Xander, before I answer that, perhaps you ought to clarify what you meant."

"No! I mean, that's . . . I didn't mean the, you know, the sex parts." When Giles looks up at him, Xander turns away, blushing more brightly than Giles would've thought possible. "I figure the sex parts have gotta be different, because of the different . . . parts. Or, the same parts, which is different from normal. Oh, fuck," he says quickly, face in his hands, although Giles hasn't said anything. "I didn't mean it like that. I just meant . . . sometimes I don't think I understand Anya at all, you know? And I was wondering if it was different with a guy. If you . . . get along better and stuff."

"Ah." A beer, Giles thinks, would really hit the spot about now. But he shouldn't think like that, and anyway he doesn't want to upset Oz any further. "Oz and I . . . we get on very well. Although it's early days yet, of course. And I think I understand him, insofar as it's possible to understand Oz." Xander grins at that, and again he looks terribly young. "But there was a time when we misunderstood one another so badly that we split up."

From the way Xander's nodding, Giles thinks Oz must have told him rather a lot. "But you got back together."

"Yes. After three and a half years. I wouldn't recommend it as a model to others." So much for not being a father figure. This seems to be his night for it. With Xander, though, it's complicated in ways Giles doesn't want to examine too closely. "I'm not sure gender makes a difference. Maybe it does—I've never been seriously involved with a woman, I don't know what it's like." Giles watches Xander twist the eyepatch elastic for a long moment, until he looks up sheepishly. "Xander. Forgive me for saying this. But . . . if you're not sure, you oughtn't to marry her."

"I love Anya," Xander says quickly. He stands up and grabs another handful of Doritos. "So you and Oz are . . . seriously involved?" The words sound hesitant in his mouth, strange and formal.

"Oh yes. Seriously. Happily."

"Huh. Cool." Xander stands shifting his weight for a moment, then turns and walks out the door. Whatever he was really asking, and whether Giles' answer was helpful or not, Giles doesn't know.

Thu, Nov. 11th, 2004 10:49 pm (UTC)

"I'm going to have to surrender," Oz tells Tara. He's down to six cards -- three twos, two fours, and one seven -- and there's no way he's going to win. "General, you whupped me good."

Keeping her head down, hiding in her curtains of hair, Tara neatens her fat stack of cards and smiles. "And I'm a pacifist, too."

"Well, they're the sneakiest of all."

Tara looks up, and she's about to smile at him. Oz knows she's about to, because he keeps an eye on her. He likes how her face changes as she thinks, likes how she'll laugh to herself when Xander makes a joke but never let on. She's about to laugh, and then Willow calls her name across the room.

"Sorry," Tara says. "I --" She's half-standing up but hovering, still turned toward Oz. For a split-second, he wonders if she's asking him for something.

"No problem," he says. "Good game, better cookies. Thanks."

Oz pulls himself into the corner of the couch, slipping off his sneakers and folding his knees up to his chest. He keeps his head turned toward the window, watching the deep dark out there and the trick or treaters looking like wisps of color, barely substantial. Giles has been in the kitchen for a while, a full round of War, and Oz thinks about time. Forever, and how Giles says it's a bloody long time, but it's shorter, better, than the little slices they get together here. Jagged little moments stolen in the shop's office, out on the porch, and sometimes it feels like that leaves them more off-balance than not.

Time's just heartbeats, the lub-dub, lub-dub of muscles contracting and relaxing, and Oz likes the sound of Giles' heart. He wants to hear it as long as he can.

The phone rings, then again, and Oz jumps like a firecracker went off, fumbling for it. The ringing stops; someone must have gotten it.

The party has dwindled down to the girls over there, talking over each other, and Oz shuffling the cards until his thumbs burn. Xander and Anya deserve better, but he doesn't know how to fix this. If Giles doesn't know, Oz doesn't have a chance.

Thu, Nov. 11th, 2004 11:25 pm (UTC)

That irresponsible, foolish, feckless, selfish, bloody, bloody, bloody girl.

Giles puts the receiver down and walks—not running, surely there's no need to panic, he's just walking very quickly—into the sitting room. "Xander?" Xander's not there, and Giles calls again, louder, "Xander!"

Willow and Tara are both looking at him, identically wide-eyed and caught in the frozen pose, heads together, of the whispered discussion he interrupted. Oz shoots off the sofa faster than Giles has ever seen him move, not bothering to put on his shoes, and gestures towards the door when Giles asks, "Where's Xander?"

"I'm outside." In the doorframe, darkness behind him, and Xander blinks like someone who's been staring into the night. "Well-" he shuts the door "-I guess I'm inside now. What's up?"

"Dawn's not at Janice's. And Janice told her mother they'd be here." There's a round of exclamations that Giles doesn't listen to. Dawn's probably fine, he repeats to himself.

They're all watching him now. Even Oz. Waiting for him to think of something. "Did Buffy says if she was patrolling anywhere in particular?"

"No. But she was gonna go with Spike, she said." Confusion in Xander's tone, and something like old hurt. He reaches out for Anya, sitting on the arm of the sofa, and takes her hand.

"Right. I'll check Spike's crypt, then start on the cemeteries. Willow, Tara, would you do a sweep through the center of town? Xander, Anya, Oz, wait here in case Dawn comes back."

Giles takes a step towards the door, then, when no ones moves or answers, stops. Willow and Tara are arguing over something in emphatic whispers, Xander rocks on the balls of his feet as though he can barely stop himself from running out to look for Dawn, and Oz closes his fingers gently around Giles' elbow. "I'll be back soon," Giles says, and kisses his forehead.

This is just like a hundred times before, in Sunnydale. A phone call, a kiss and a quick goodbye, and Oz doesn't look like he's enjoying the memory any more than Giles is.

Thu, Nov. 11th, 2004 11:41 pm (UTC)

"Nice try," Oz says, handing Giles his jacket, then sliding his feet into his shoes and toeing up the backs. When they were first together, this was how it went, and Oz got very good at waiting. Too good. And then, afterward, they did emergency things together occasionally, but not together. Just as part of the team, and Oz started missing waiting.

Giles starts to open his mouth, then shrugs on his jacket, shoots his cuffs, and glances at the door.

Oz slips past him into the entryway. Last thing he wants is to have a huge discussion in front of everyone, so he waits until Giles joins him, then pulls into the dining room. "I'm pretty good at tracking, you know."

He ought to be embarrassed, but there isn't time for the usual hesitancy and mutters of yeah, remember? Werewolf. He's clutching Giles' sleeve and unlocks his fingers with difficulty.

"I can help. Want to."

If he helps, Oz thinks as he swipes the back of his hand across his nose, he's really here, not just something that turned up among Giles' luggage.

Fri, Nov. 12th, 2004 12:04 am (UTC)

Oz can track. Of course. Such a sense of smell, an animal's – a wolf's sense. Once he found Willow by smell, when- "We don't know what's happening. Probably nothing, but . . ."

Oz could probably find Dawn faster than anyone. If she really is in danger, that could save her life.

Giles looks intently at the dull gleam of the dining table, the cruciform shadows of the glass-paned cabinet doors, unrecognizable pictures on the mantle over the faux fireplace, but he can still see Oz with his hands in his pockets and his shoulders drawn tight. "Probably nothing. But if it came to a fight, what would you do? You're not a fighter."

Not when he's himself, the boy and not the wolf, the boy who doesn't look at Giles, who stares down at his shoes so that his lidded eyes are as white as the rest of his face. "I don't want you to get hurt," Giles says, breathing deeply, as though he can take conviction from the air like oxygen, force it into the cold blood that stings his arteries. He has to believe he's being rational. Has to believe he's right.

He doesn't want Oz to get hurt, and he can't help how it seems. That he's treating Oz like someone helpless, or someone dangerous.

Fri, Nov. 12th, 2004 12:21 am (UTC)

"Then I won't get hurt," Oz says. His head feels like marble and it hurts when he looks up at Giles. Maybe he should have stammered through the werewolf reminder; maybe then they'd both be more comfortable. "I'm not bad in a fight."

He's not a fighter, because fighting's stupid, most of the time. It's Spike picking fights with demons, or Xander, because he's bored and antsy. But fighting's not stupid if you have to do it.

"Look, everyone turned to you. You're in charge, so tell me to stay, I'll stay." He *knows* Giles doesn't want him hurt. But that works both ways, and Dawn's missing, which is even more important. "Don't want you out there alone. And I can help."

Giles keeps looking around and Oz starts looking, too. If Joyce was here, she'd shake her head and push them both out the door. Buffy, too.

Oz touches the side of Giles' hand and wraps his fingers around Giles' palm.

"I won't bite or anything." He smiles and waits. "Here or there, I'll be okay."

Fri, Nov. 12th, 2004 12:48 am (UTC)

You're not going.

Giles can feel the words in his throat, taste them bitter and parching on his tongue. A second to speak them, and then he can turn his mind to what needs doing. Find Dawn, although he's got no idea where she is, and neither will Buffy. Find Dawn with time and sheer good luck, while Oz waits and worries.

Oz's hand is smooth and cool to his palm, like a bandage. Giles folds his fingers over it.

If he tells Oz to stay, Oz will obey him. And everything will change. The first order, the first act of obedience, they're like the first drops of acid rain or the first bite of a woodworm. They're where rot and collapse begin.

"If you get killed," Giles says, sticking a muscle-spasm of a smile on his face, "I will never, ever forgive you." He squeezes Oz's hand until his own aches. "Let's go."

Fri, Nov. 12th, 2004 12:56 am (UTC)

"Duly noted."

Giles is still grimacing when they reach the end of the block and Oz stands on tiptoe, looking up and down the cross-street. The air's crowded with salt and shouting and chocolate crammed into hungry little mouths, but there are other things afloat. Cigarettes, and blood, and the usual oily Sunnydale-smog of fear.

Plus Giles' fear, which is crisp and full like a pile of coffee filters.

Oz turns around. "I'm going to be really embarrassed later, you know. Doing this in front of you."

Giles' rictus of a smile twitches again and Oz checks the traffic before setting off across the street. He's moving, and helping, and Giles' fear is making more and more sense to him, but it's secondary, right now, to Dawn and the shit that unfolds in this town.

Outside the gate to Spike's cemetery -- the closest one to Revello, and that's something else to think about later -- Oz pauses and holds up his hand before Giles can say anything.

"Spike's in there," he says, tasting Marlboros and cheap Jack on the back of his tongue. "No Buffy, though."

Fri, Nov. 12th, 2004 02:05 am (UTC)

"Bugger." Swinging open the crypt door, Giles reminds himself to ask, later, what vampires smell like.

Whiskey, apparently. By the time he's reached the bottom of the steps, he can smell it himself. Cheap stuff, medicine-and-burnt-wood, but Giles has to swallow twice as saliva fills his mouth.

A voice rises up from the other side of the armchair and briefly covers the shrieking-violin soundtrack of an old vampire movie that's playing on the television. "What the fucking hell do you two want? Can't a bloke get a bit of peace on Halloween?"

"Dawn's missing."

Spike's face appears above the chair back, cigarette in his mouth. "Oh, good glorious buggery. Hang on while I get me axe." The television cuts off, leaving only a ringing echo in Giles' ears.

"Actually, we're looking for Buffy."

"Haven't seen her," Spike says, opening a trunk. "Actually." Giles remembers the axe he lifts out, from this past strange, awful Sunnydale summer without Buffy. He's seen that axe wet all the way up the handle with demon blood, seen Spike's clothes and grim-set face gray with vampire dust. Spike even saved Giles' life once or twice.

Giles holds out a hand when Spike takes his coat off the peg. "Xander said she was looking for you to go patrolling. You'd better stay here and wait."

Spike's tooth-clenched grin tilts his cigarette precariously up. "Well, aren't you all unexpectedly masterful, Rupert." Grin sliding into a leer, he looks from Giles to Oz. "But then, I reckon you've learnt a few new tricks lately." Holding the axe gracelessly between his knees, he pulls the coat on. "If something big and bad has the girl, who's gonna save her? You and your new puppy? Pretty, but it's a bit too small to bite."

Oz makes an aborted movement, draws a quick breath that's nearly a snort, and Giles finds himself, absurdly, wanting to defend Oz's ferocity, the strength and blood-thirst of the werewolf in him. "Shut up, Spike."

"Well, I guess you told me."

"Spike. Please." Giles can almost feel his teeth grinding as he says it. "Buffy needs to know."

"Fine." Spike sits—flounces huffily, rather—in the chair again, crosswise with his feet over the arm. "I'll wait half an hour, but after that I'm leaving her a bloody note and going out looking." He raises a whiskey bottle and takes a long drink that makes Giles' mouth itch.

"Thank you."

Outside, walking between the gravestones, Giles lays a hand on the valley between Oz's shoulderblades and says, "You know, there was a time this summer when I actually liked him. I must have been off my head."

Fri, Nov. 12th, 2004 02:35 am (UTC)

Giles' touch is warm and sure and Oz's breathing comes more normally now.

Outside, down a row of graves, well away from the crypt, Oz stops again. "Last week he was telling me how he fought a werewolf for an hour and almost lost his hand." Giles' eyebrows raise and his forehead wrinkles up. Oz smiles and glances over his shoulder. "One on one he's okay. Debated whether he could have been the first known werevamp if he'd been bit."

There are sirens off to the east and the familiar blue lights painting the sky. Urban legends coming true -- candy overdose, razor blades in apples -- at least he hopes so.

"What do you think?" he asks Giles. "Meant to ask you, actually, 'cause maybe --"

There's a whimper, down past the cemetery, a girl moaning and leaves rustling and Oz starts running after the scent of excited girl -- hot citrus and facepowder -- and jock sweat mixing with acrid demon.

"Down here," he whispers when Giles catches up with him. Thundering breath, racing heartbeat, and Oz holds out his arm so Giles has to stop, too.

"Girl, probably Dawn, and something not -- something vampy. But, like, *young*."

They're barrelling forward now into the woods, through the leaves, and Giles scuffles with the stupid vampire while Oz pulls someone -- not Dawn -- off to the side. He presses the cuff of his sweater against her neck while Giles shoves the vamp away and the dust explodes.

Giles, heartbeat, dry leaves. Giles, heart still beating, and fear that Oz files away. Rich tang of blood and they're running again and Oz doesn't have time to think, just feel, hardpacked ground and rushing blood and peppermint soap. Peppermint, orange soda, Dawn. He grabs Giles' arm and pulls him to right.

"Dawn's over there. Not, like, alone."

Alive, peppermint and Giles and Oz drops to a crouch, pulls Giles down with him.

Fri, Nov. 12th, 2004 03:07 am (UTC)

"Over there" is a parked car. Giles can't see any movement inside, and he's just starting to wonder if Oz was mistaken when the door swoops open and a girl, Dawn, pulls herself out, fighting off the unseen hands of whoever's still inside, and starts running.

Giles is running too, Oz just behind him, even before the driver's door opens and a boy races after Dawn. "Dawn, come back, wait!" he's calling in the breath-gaps between her screams. A half-laughing boy in an athlete's letter jacket, running easily, catching up, and what in hell was Dawn thinking, getting in a car with him? He could as easily have been a rapist as a vampire.

Giles runs, not taking his eyes off Dawn and the boy who's getting closer and closer. Risking his neck on this uneven ground, risking a fall that'll slow him down and give the boy more time, but he can't stop watching. If he turns his eyes away, he'll be admitting that this is going to end in blood.

Runs and runs and his own breath is as loud as her screams. Louder, because the boy's caught her, he's got his elbow crooked round her neck and she's still and not screaming anymore.

But she's talking, thank god, they're talking almost like a couple having an ordinary argument, and Giles is there, finally. Gasping, hand shaking a little as he holds up a stake, words coming out in little bursts. "Let her go. Come on, son. Let's not make this any worse." He could be a policeman, a priest, talking to an ordinary boy in trouble.

But then the boy's face warps to its truth, its horror, and the vampire grins-snarls at him and at Oz, who's been sidling discreetly over with a bottle of holy water. "Worse? Things look pretty good to me."

A broken branch cracks behind him. Vampires, a dozen or more, starting to circle, and he and Dawn are going to die. Maybe not Oz, though, maybe if Oz changes he'll live. Giles looks around for him, and jumps when a heavy hand thumps down on his shoulder.

"Decided not to wait," Spike says. "But don't go all stammery with gratitude. 'S embarrassing."

Fri, Nov. 12th, 2004 03:23 am (UTC)

The holy water's uncorked and Oz turns slowly, counting the rest of the vampires, keeping his back pressed against Giles and Dawn and Spike in the corner of his vision. The vampires smell *hungry*, and he's wondering how he knows that, how he knows what Dawn's blood would taste. That it'd be better than her friend's, that it would be like rain and mint growing wild and green, growing things. Wondering and trying not to retch at his own hunger when Buffy runs up.

Buffy's got the talking thing going, yelling at Dawn and the doofus vamp, and Xander was right all those years ago. Buffy's quippage is one of her best weapons; the vamps are uneasy now, and then everything breaks. Like raindrops rolling over a puddle and vanishing, it's uneasy one moment and the next, everyone is fighting.

Oz is moving with knees bent, and Giles is gone, crunch of car doors and breaking windows and the scent of Buffy's anger streaking past him, and when Oz is tackled, he goes limp. Limp, heavy, and he rolls over, spraying the vampire with the holy water and watching horrified as its face sizzles and slides away. Long enough to push onto his knees and stake it, not long enough to catch his breath before the next one, another jock, kicks him back down.

Sunnydale varsity teams have really gone downhill since Larry died.

Oz flips over, the pain in his back sending an ugly, sulphurous growl out his mouth, and everything flashes still. Frozen, black and white, and he sees Giles over there. Sees the dust, sees another attacking him, and the asshole who kicked Oz is dust as Oz runs, ground-sky-trees all silver, launches himself at the second one throttling Giles.

He lands in color, lands human, but the water's empty and his stake's flying out his hand. But he's pulling her off, locking his arms under hers from behind. And Giles is on his feet looking fiercer than he has since that time he caught Willow reading the locked books, and when he stakes her, the wood goes all the way to Oz, tears his sweater, and it's quiet.

Quiet for two heartbeats, his own, Giles, and they stare at each other, not breathing.

"I can't believe you, Dawn!" Buffy yells. "Is there anything in your head besides boys and schemes to piss me off?"

Everything's all right. Giles pulls Oz in and Oz collapses against him, and the heartbeats keep rattling, thundering, onward.

Fri, Nov. 12th, 2004 04:07 am (UTC)

Vampire dust smells like burnt blood, mildew, and the bone ash fertilizer that Giles' mother always used on her roses. Organic foulness that slimes the throat, and then a bitter unnatural aftertaste. Oz's hair stinks of it, but he's alive, sweaty and shivering and wheezing great breaths that, for once, are out of time with Giles' own breathing. Alive, and Giles is alive, and if he'd gone out alone he might be dead now.

Giles leans back against the car, feeling the dull broken cubes of the windscreen imprint themselves through his clothes. His knees are rubbery, ready to give under him. "Thank you," he whispers to Oz, words sticky and indistinct from the grit on his tongue, and pulls Oz tighter against his chest so he doesn't have to answer. They're rocking a little back and forth as they each push closer into the other.

Giles doesn't really notice Buffy and Dawn shouting at each other until it stops. A little later, Buffy says hesitantly, "Uh, Giles?"

He lifts his head just enough to see her over the tips of Oz's hair. "You know, I truly loathe Halloween."

"Yeah, it's always more trick than treat on the hellmouth." Buffy pulls a few stray hairs off her face, blows out a sigh through pursed lips, and frowns over at Dawn. "I think we'd better get Little Miss Bite Me home. Dawn, you are in so much trouble."

"Okay. You've only said so eighty times." Dawn, arms crossed, looks remarkably unchastened. Giles glances around for Spike, but he's already gone.

The walk back to Revello Drive is long and silent. Occasionally Dawn tries to lag behind, and then Buffy pulls relentlessly on her arm and walks faster. Giles feels aches developing in the few muscles that weren't aching already, and every time he looks at Oz, the bruise on Oz's cheekbone is larger and darker.

At the house, Giles is tempted to just get in the car, but Buffy, in the doorway, looks back forlornly over her shoulder. "This has been a very, very long day," Giles says, taking a firmer grip on Oz's hand, and follows her inside.

Sun, Nov. 14th, 2004 10:45 pm (UTC)

When adrenaline drains away, it goes in fits and spurts, fizzing in its own wake, so inside the house, Oz is alternately asleep on his feet and still jumping out of his skin. This part of Sunnydale life, post-Giles, was always his favorite part. Handing out ice, uncapping aspirin and Percodan with aching wrenches of the wrist, just talking quietly and moving slowly.

Buffy swallows three aspirin in one gulp, then hands the soda to Oz. "Want a steak for that face?"

Oz touches the hot bruise crawling up his cheek. It's hard to talk, and every time he bends at the waist, his ribs complain. "Wouldn't say no to a burger."

"Nice try," Buffy says, squeezing his hand as she passes. "Tara's the chef, and -- Where are they, anyway?"

"Dunno." The last thing on Oz's mind is Tara and Willow. He's still hungry, hungry like he used to be in the mornings after full moons, and Oz casts around the kitchen for something more substantial than Doritos or cookies. "Giles sent 'em into town."

"Probably making kissy faces, then," Buffy says and unearths a frost-covered box from the back of the freezer. "Like you two. I think these are burgers --"

"Yeah," Oz says, pushing the box away. "Not that hungry. Wait, kissy faces?"

"Oh, yeah. Total kissy face going down." Buffy grins and shoves the box back into the freezer.

This is the hyper stage of exhaustion, Oz thinks, filling his cup with more Coke and sucking it down. "I don't make kissy face."

"You totally do," Buffy says and slaps him on the back, right where the vamp kicked him. "I'm going to go check on our very own juvenile delinquent."

Oz raises the cup in salute and reaches for some cookies. "If you see Giles, send him in?"

"Sure thing, Casanova."

He chews and swallows three or four cookies without tasting them. Blood, and the monochrome glare of the wolf's eyes, are still beating their tattoo against the inside of his skull. He wants to puke, like a good heave would bring everything up and free him. His hands are shaking as he tries to fill the cup again, and his face is throbbing in time with his heartbeat. His mouth is parched, his stomach twisting, and Oz fingers the mala.

Tells himself to feel the wolf and let it be. Let himself be and trust in acknowledgement.

Breathes in through his nose, out through his mouth, and looks for the calm.

Sun, Nov. 14th, 2004 10:48 pm (UTC)

"On Halloween?" Xander's saying for at least the third time. "Man, where's the Halloween spirit if you can't even count on the vamps to stay home? Sure, candy and costumes seem great, but without that sense of tradition it's just not meaningful."

Giles shifts his weight to his other foot (somehow it's better if only one aches at a time) and says, "Well, it's been dealt with."

"I hope Buffy's going to lay down the law," Anya says, nodding towards the dining room where Dawn sits staring at the wall, like a prisoner in a cell. "Children need rules, or they grow up to smoke crack cocaine and work as strippers. I've been reading lots of baby books. Perhaps I should give Buffy some suggestions."

Xander, halfway through raising a biscuit to his mouth, says in a small voice, "Baby books?"

"Anya, it's very generous of you to share your expertise, but I think Buffy should be left to work this out in her own way." She scarcely seems able to work out being alive again, but she's Dawn's guardian. Dawn is her responsibility, one among so many, and it may be irrational to hope that this responsibility will steady her and not just overwhelm.


"Ahn? Baby books?"

Giles sits down on the arm of the sofa, tries not to let his eyes close, and listens as little as possible to Xander and Anya's urgent back-and-forth about being prepared versus jumping the gun. Eight days until he leaves. Eight days until Buffy has no Watcher, no older person to rely on. No—he might as well admit it—father.

Nonsense. He's not dying or disappearing into the wilds of Siberia. He'll be at the other end of a telephone, whenever she needs him.

Buffy, but not Oz (is he all right?) finally returns to see Xander and Anya out the door with apologies and goodbyes and the promise of another party later. All very jovial and brisk. "Oz wants to talk to you," she says, looking around the empty room. Willow's magical decorations have disappeared. "He's in the kitchen."

"All right. Actually I think we'll be going. I'm sure you'll want to have a private chat with Dawn."

Buffy smiles a little, nervously, and retreats towards the stairs. "Um, I kinda thought maybe you could do that? You're much better at being all parental than I am. Thanks Giles goodnight!" She disappears past the landing in a clatter of footsteps, then the sound of a door closing.

"So you get to lecture me, huh?" Dawn says. She's holding the vampire's jacket in her arms, stroking the gold 'S' tenderly. It makes Giles angrier than anything she's done all evening. High school athlete, vampire, as though she's playing at being Cordelia and Buffy combined, weaving all their mistakes into one vast fabric of teenage stupidity. "Guess Buffy's too busy."

They both know that he shouldn't be doing this, but he is, and he's damn well going to make a good job of it. "Have you any idea what it would have done to your sister if you'd been killed?" He'd like to sit down, but he thinks it would lose him some advantage.

"Yeah, poor Buffy, too upset to Slay."

"You know how much Buffy loves you. Dawn." He waits, watching her averted, angry face, until she finally looks back at him. "You know."

"Like I can ever forget." With a violent movement, she throws the jacket across the table. "Better be a good girl, Dawn, 'cause your sister died to save your life! I could almost hear you guys thinking it, all summer long."

"Dawn, we all care-"

"You don't care! You wanted to kill me to stop Glory!" Now it's Giles who can't look at her, and when he manages, she says, with horrible calm, "Willow told me."

Sick taste in the back of his throat, his legs gone fluttery and weak, and he'll never forgive Willow for this. "I never wanted to kill you," Giles says, sitting down as slowly as if it might break his bones. "I thought there might be no other choice. And so I insisted that we consider the possibility."

Sun, Nov. 14th, 2004 10:48 pm (UTC)

Perhaps she expected him to deny it; his answer seems to derail her anger, the tirade she's no doubt been anticipating for days. "If you really cared about me," she says finally, flatly, "You wouldn't even have thought about it. You wouldn't consider the possibility of killing him just because of some stupid hell dimensions." Dawn points at Oz, standing in the kitchen doorway. Under the bruises his face is pale, the skin fragile over sharp bones.

"No," Giles says. And it's true, Oz means more to him than anything, more than the other six billion souls crowding the planet. This is the real reason, the best reason, why he can't be Buffy's Watcher anymore. "I wouldn't, any more than your sister ever considered killing you. True, you're not the center of everyone's life, Dawn. But that doesn't mean we don't love you. And if you throw your life away out of misguided anger, than you don't deserve Buffy's sacrifice."

Saying another word, staying here another minute is impossible. "Oz, let's go. I'm tired, and you must be too." Deeper than bone-weary. Soul-weary, soul-bruised.

Edited at 2008-09-29 09:46 pm (UTC)

Sun, Nov. 14th, 2004 11:31 pm (UTC)

Giles looks like Ichabod Crane, or the scarecrow, sagging, his arms and legs suddenly too long and hard to control. Oz switches his icepack from his cheek to his back and nods. He wishes he could fold Giles up and lug him all the way back to London, back to a deep tub and bottomless pots of tea.

Dawn's rooted in place, her arms crossed again, and with her hair covering her face, she looks so much like Tara, it's freaky. Oz touches her shoulder, feeling like he should apologize -- why? Because Giles wouldn't kill him? -- but she doesn't move.

He leans in and whispers, "Hey, Summers. See you tomorrow?"

Dawn shifts her weight and shrugs, then pushes him away when he kisses her forehead. She smells like dead leaves and peppermint, and his stomach hurts at the thought of her blood, his hunger. Scowling, she mutters, "Not a kid."

"Nope," Oz says, squeezing her shoulder, juggling the icepack, and stepping away. Giles has his hand on the door and he looks even closer to collapse. Over his shoulder, he says, "Glad you didn't get bit, by the way."

Dawn looks like she's trying to decide between laughing and flipping him off, but Oz follows Giles out the door before she makes up her mind. Cold out here, and his ice-numbed hands fumble the keys.

"Get you in bed," he tells Giles over the car's roof. "Mummify both of us in those Ben-Gay patches." Giles gives him a wan, very sad smile as Oz finally pops the locks. In the dark stuffiness of the car, still heavy with the remnants of their fight, Oz struggles to breathe, and he's gone almost a mile before he drops his right hand on Giles' thigh and squeezes gently.

He drives like that all the way to the motel, even though it usually makes Giles nervous, then holds Giles' hand through the garage into the elevator. Weird that the medicinal fluorescence of the garage and the stale-smoke of the elevator can reassure him, that they smell like an approximation of home.

In the room, Giles closes the door and leans heavily against it, like he's barricading them from the rest of the world. It's something, Oz realizes, that he's always done; when Oz came by after school, all those years ago, Giles would do the same thing, pull Oz against his chest like he is now, and wait until their breathing synched up. This position, more than any place or room, is home.

"Bath?" Oz asks into Giles' sweater. One shard of memory, Giles flipped by the vamp, slices through his mind and he squeezes his eyes shut against it. "Bed?"

Mon, Nov. 15th, 2004 12:26 am (UTC)

Giles has been given morphine a few times over the years, for one injury or another. It feels a lot like this. Somewhere, things hurt. Somewhere are aches and stiffness and bright knifing pains in his knees; somewhere there's grief over what Dawn said and sorrowing shock that Willow told her. Somewhere there's yet another round of second thoughts about leaving Buffy; somewhere there's guilt and worry, as always.

But here he's warm, body numb and heavy, mind floating so loose that he can feel a spinning behind his eyes. Here there's Oz leaning carefully against him, one hand around his waist and the other twisted in his jumper, and Oz blocks out all the rest. "Bed," Giles says. His voice sounds rough, and he remembers that a vampire tried to strangle him an hour ago. "Want a bath, but I'm too tired."

Oz helps him out of his clothes, wincing at every revealed bruise, offering ice that Giles refuses and Advil that he accepts, four in one gulp with a glass of water. "Here," Giles says, tugging clumsily at Oz's jumper and shirt. They have to help each other; that's what right and necessary. Gentle as he tries to be, he brushes sore spots that make Oz hiss through gritted teeth. There's a purple-black patch on his back as big as Giles' two hands. "Jesus. Should we take you to the emergency room?" Oz shakes his head and skims his trousers gingerly down to his ankles, then, with great care and some sharp intakes of breath, settles on the bed.

Giles works himself into a tolerable position on his back, switches off the light, and adjusts the covers around them. "Is there a way I can hold you without hurting you more?" Answering his careful touch, Oz smiles lopsidedly and leans in, resting the unbruised half of his face on Giles' shoulder with a sigh. His shoulders look mostly unhurt, so Giles strokes his palm lightly over them, in shallow ovals that slow with Oz's breathing. "I love you." Oz's exhalations smell of chocolate biscuits. When Giles kisses him, gently, on the corner of his mouth, he makes a small contented sound and doesn't move.

Wrong metaphor, Giles thinks as sleep drifts up like snow around the edges of his mind. Not morphine, not a drug that hides. Truth. Oz is the truth, this is the truth. Painful sometimes, frightening, but this truth sets them free.