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Tue, Feb. 22nd, 2005, 05:22 pm
kindkit: London, December 2001: God loves a drunk

It tastes terrible.

First there's a rancid, stale-caramel sweetness, then a bitter smokiness like the smell of a burnt-out house. And then the burn down his throat, as though he's just vomited and his stomach acids are etching his own flesh.

Giles takes another swallow.

When he finishes this second glass of whiskey, he should be able to sleep.

Perhaps he'll have a half glass beyond the necessary, though, to muffle his dreams. He doesn't want to see it again, the people dead-eyed and shambling on their broken limbs, their hair and skin coated with the dust of shattered steel and incinerated glass. If that dream comes back, he'll never dare to sleep again.

And the other dreams . . . he'd be better off without those, too.

He finishes the glass in a huge gulp and pours the last half. His lips are a little numb, and the ends of his fingers. Barely three months without and he's lost his capacity for the stuff. Lost his taste for it too, or at least for this filthy imitation of a proper whiskey.

He'll have to remember to brush his teeth before he goes back to bed, so Oz won't--maybe--smell it on him.

Tue, Feb. 22nd, 2005 10:36 pm (UTC)

His nose is cold. His arm is, too, all the way up to the shoulder. Oz tries to open his eyes, but he can already tell something's off. Wrong.

It's not that he's cold, though that's odd. It's not that he's alone in bed, though that's strange for -- he checks the clock, across Giles' side, and shivers deeper into the covers -- the middle of the night. It's not that he can't hear the pipes clanking in the bathroom or the kettle boiling, which are the only two reasons he can think of for Giles being out of bed.

It's all of that, plus the faint smell of turpentine, added on top of how Giles' face has been looking lately. Since the Council kept calling and he went in and came back nine hours later, eyes tight and downcast, fingers curled into fists, voice deliberately *not*-abrupt and -preoccupied.

Carefully, Oz slides out of bed, toes curling against the cold floor, and wraps his arms around his waist as he shuffles out of the room.

The hall floor has a dim puddle of light from the living room and Oz is almost there when he stops.

Not turpentine. Whiskey.

And Giles, head down, skin gone yellow under the side lamp.

"Hey," Oz says, but his lips are dry and it's not very loud. He coughs and tries again. "Evening. You okay?"

Tue, Feb. 22nd, 2005 10:59 pm (UTC)

He should have known this would happen. Oz can sleep through traffic noise, music, nearby construction, but if Giles gets up to go to the toilet, Oz is usually awake when he gets back. Sleeping, Oz relies on him.

Oz looks so young, knuckling his eyes and yawning. Wrong of Giles to wake him, and Giles knew, must have known, he would. Selfish. If he'd waited, spent another night or two holding Oz and chasing blankness of mind, he'd have slept eventually.

Slept, and dreamed, and lain sleepless again, thinking about the bottle in his briefcase, the liquid miracle inside it.

"It's all right," he says quietly, face turned down just enough to keep Oz a peripheral blur. "Go back to sleep. I'll be in before long."

Tue, Feb. 22nd, 2005 11:14 pm (UTC)

Oz slides all the way into the room, the after-image of Giles' face -- blank, dark pooling shadows where his eyes should be -- stuck in front of his vision.

"Yeah," he says as he rounds the corner of the table and plops down into the arm chair opposite Giles. "Not sleepy any more, though."

The bottle's right under the bulb, and the light is caught in the last of the whiskey. Maybe two fingers' worth left, transformed into amber flame that curves around the inside of the bottle.

Orange juice, no pulp, was his favorite mixer. Oz takes the bottle and holds it in both his hands, letting the liquid slosh slowly back and forth, breathing out the citrus-sharp *hunger* for a swallow.

"Used to have this much for breakfast," he says, passing the bottle back to Giles and drawing his knees up to his chest even as he sits forward on the chair. "What's your occasion?"

Tue, Feb. 22nd, 2005 11:40 pm (UTC)

That can't be right.

Giles looks at Oz, almost invisible in the dark recess of the armchair, and tries to think. The drink's creeping into his synapses like fog around the doorframe, shrouding and stifling. He could probably sleep now, wrap himself around Oz and fade to black, if Oz hadn't said that strange and terrible thing.

Oz . . . Oz used to like scrambled eggs for breakfast. Or sweet things, French toast, oatmeal with a melting crust of brown sugar. Orange juice or grape juice or milk.

Oz got sick once from red wine, and never had more than a glass or two after that. Oz tasted Giles' best Oban scotch once and hated it.

"What-" His tongue, enormous and sticky, turns the consonants into muddy squelches. Nothing to wet his mouth with but whiskey, so he takes a sip. "I don't - don't understand." Oz held the bottle, looked at it, in a way Giles knows. Held it like he was aching for a drink.

Tue, Feb. 22nd, 2005 11:46 pm (UTC)

Oh, fuck. Giles is hoarse, and lost, and Oz just thought he knew. He made sure no one knew, that was the whole point, but Giles knew. He was sure Giles knew. He stole Giles' own Scotch, Giles had to notice that.

He scrubs his fists into his eyes again, like clearing his eyes will fix time and Giles, but nothing happens. Giles is sitting back in the love seat, mouth a little open and eyes gone unfixed and vague.

"I --" Shit, fuck, damn it. "Fuck, Giles, I thought you knew. Stupid." All these pointless, helpless words, just making Giles look more lost, and if he doesn't breathe soon, Oz might pass out. "Afterward, right? After the wolf, and you, I --"

Now would be the time for a drink.

"Drank. A lot. Among other things."

Wed, Feb. 23rd, 2005 12:01 am (UTC)

Weeks and months afterward, Oz in the library almost every damned afternoon, and he hardly ever looked at Giles. Kept his distance, naturally. Sat next to Willow, held her hand, played with the ends of her hair. Moved slowly, dreamily, and hardly spoke at all.

He seemed so calm.

Drinking. Was he drunk, all those endless fucking days?

Giles starts to laugh, and crosses his arms over his chest to snuff it out. "The flask in my desk. You were . . . Christ. And I was drinking so much myself that I thought I'd just lost track of amounts."

Couldn't talk, couldn't touch, but they found a way to drink together. It really is very funny, and he buries his face in his hands and laughs.

Wed, Feb. 23rd, 2005 12:11 am (UTC)

High, almost keening laughs, helpless and sharp, and before he lets himself think about it, Oz slides off the chair and sits next to Giles. They hardly ever use this love seat -- it's too small for two, unless you're both Oz-sized -- and its cushions smell like storage and cedar.

Next to Giles, rubbing his back lightly, Oz doesn't know what to say. All this laughter, like glass breaking and breaking and still flying on, still breaking, and he rubs and presses his face against Giles' shoulder.

"I'm sorry," Oz hears himself saying. Repeating. His voice sounds flat and cold to his own ears. "Thought you knew."

Of course Giles knew. Giles knew everything, that's why he's Giles.

He shivers, tasting the glass, traces of Giles' mouth, and Scotch, all mixed together, all over again.

Wed, Feb. 23rd, 2005 12:33 am (UTC)

He shouldn't touch Oz when he's like this, when he's stupid-drunk and shaking, but his arms have frozen around Oz and he can't let go. One last spasm of laughter rolls out of him, almost a hiccough, and it's too perfectly fucking appropriate for this drunk scene he's playing out.

Oz is holding him as tightly and tenderly as he held that bottle a few minutes ago. And apologizing. "Don't be sorry, don’t. I should've known." Should have been brave enough to look at him and see. Should have listened those few times he tried to talk.

What's he ever done for Oz but fail him? Turn him into someone who drinks. Who apologizes for things that aren't his fault.

Oz's body is scalding hot against Giles numb skin, but Giles can't let go, can only rock him a little, clumsily. "All my fault. All of it. So sorry, I'm so sorry. Such a coward, I'm sorry." A coward, drinking himself to sleep in secret, terrified of bad dreams.

Wed, Feb. 23rd, 2005 01:12 am (UTC)

Giles' hair is greasy, almost clammy, under Oz's awkward hand, but he keeps on petting, hoping somehow that it helps both of them.

"Shush," he says, twisting his face into a smile, but Giles is looking down into his lap, at his hands. "Giles." Oz clears his throat and firms up his voice. "Look at me."

Slow turn of the head, deer-startled eyes distant and wide under his smudged specs, but at least they're making eye contact.

"Not a coward, for one thing. Fuck, you save the world on a regular basis. And it's not your fault -- me, I mean. No way is it anything like your fault."

His fingers close in the back of Giles' hair and tug lightly for emphasis.

"No way."

Wed, Feb. 23rd, 2005 01:29 am (UTC)

The night they met, he gave Oz beer. Alcohol and seduction. Later, love.

He made Oz an adult.

Taught him to drink. Wine at meals, and Oz didn't much like the taste of it at first. And if Oz never drank whiskey when they were together, he saw Giles drink it.

So if a year later he's having whiskey for breakfast, the blame's no mystery.

Oz is waiting quietly, the way Giles waits sometimes. Waiting for him to believe. Oz says it's not his fault, and Oz's hand cups his neck gently. It feels as though Oz is holding him upright with that hand, with his eyes.

"I don't know." Giles wants to lean in and press his forehead to Oz's, but his breath must stink of cheap whiskey. He settles on Oz's shoulder instead, back hunched, resting there. "I'm so tired, I don't-"

Oz says it's not his fault, and Oz never lies. But Oz can be wrong.

Wed, Feb. 23rd, 2005 01:36 am (UTC)

"Ssshh," Oz says, holding his mouth right next to Giles' ear, tightening his arm around Giles' neck. He can almost see the guilt prickling up and warping Giles' face, crooking his spine and bowing his shoulders, and they've both had more than enough guilt to last them for a good long time. "Just breathe, okay?"

Giles smells like whiskey and salt. He smells like he did the first night Oz came back, drowned in it, Woolf wandering into the water with stones in her pockets.

"I stopped," he says a little later. He doesn't know how to ask why Giles is drinking again, but he can talk about himself. "I had to. I -- I liked it, though. Numbed everything out, right?"

Wed, Feb. 23rd, 2005 03:32 am (UTC)

If he wanted numbness, liked it, he must have hurt as badly as Giles did.

Shame flattens out the last taste of whiskey on Giles' tongue, because he can't help feeling a little bit glad of that. It wasn't easy for Oz to leave him. "I used to put whiskey in my thermos of tea," he says. "Besides the flask. Couldn't face seeing you. Or not. Drank all day. Then drank myself to sleep, those first few weeks." Sunk in alcohol and sorrow. Not paying attention. He didn't push Buffy to kill Angelus right away. Might have saved Jenny Calendar's life if he had.

Blindly, not lifting his head, he reaches up to touch Oz's cheek, slides his fingertips into Oz's hair. Like seeing him, but easier. "You stopped. Good. Better to stop. I should, but-" Deep breath, another, and he pulls himself away from Oz. There's such concern on Oz's face, such love, and Giles has to fight not to hide his head again. "I can't sleep. Such a stupid thing. I can't sleep, and . . . dreams."

Wed, Feb. 23rd, 2005 07:10 pm (UTC)

Fear is humming through, and off, Giles -- tightening his face, deepening the lines around his mouth -- and he sounds lost. Lost and confused, the words coming out like half-formed questions that curl, then hook and snag, down Oz's throat, inside his mind.

"Love you so much --" Oz tips a little against Giles and pulls him down, mouth on his cheek.

Every day for the next year, more than a year, they were breathing the same air and not *doing* anything. Being miserable together but separate. He watched Giles, watched as much as he could, but through the smear and fog of his own thoughts.

And anyway, back then, Giles never wanted to speak to him. So much time *wasted*.

"Not stupid," Oz is saying now, fingers moving in Giles' hair. "Never stupid. Want to tell me about the dreams?"

Mon, Feb. 28th, 2005 10:50 pm (UTC)

Of course he doesn't want to tell Oz. Not telling him is terribly, terribly important. Not telling him, because he's happy.

Guilt goes into happiness like blood into water. There's no making it clean again, afterwards.

Flaw in that thinking, somewhere. Monumental stupidity in it. Must be, because Oz wants to know. Must be, because Giles is drunk, stupid, cowardly, and Oz is holding him and saying love.

"Dream about-" No, that won't do. His face is pressed to Oz's neck, speech slurred even to his own ears. Giles lifts his head a little, just enough to talk, eyes closed. "All those people in New York. Who died. I dream . . . they come back to life. Wrong, demonic. And." He must be shaking, because Oz is holding him tightly, so tightly he can feel it through the numbness. "And I have to kill them. Every single one." Bloody hands slipping on the sword-hilt, and there are so many, and their families are screaming, begging him to let them live.

"And Buffy. I dream about her. Dying. Calling for me. Calling and calling." Sounds so little, in words. A child's nightmare to shake off in the morning. No words for how it feels.

Tue, Mar. 1st, 2005 10:58 pm (UTC)

Eyes closed, specs smeared with fingerprints and sticky with the light, Giles resembles a seer, Tiresias or somebody, reciting the horrors that lay ahead. Shamans get drunk, do psychotropics and other things, in order to induce the visions; that's who Giles is right now, except he's in his own vision.

Trapped there, and Oz kneads the iron-bar tension in Giles' shoulders, shivering against the fragments of horror gathering around them. He dreams of the towers, too, dreams of searching for Giles on a sunny morning, getting lost in an elevator or trampled in a stairwell. He dreams of dying; Giles dreams of surviving. Of living on, being responsible, never getting to rest.

"Not your fault," Oz says now, slowly and distinctly as a kindergarten teacher so Giles will listen. "None of that's your fault. You're good at what you do, good at watching, good at loving Buffy. She's not mad at you."

He said all of this endlessly in those horrible days after the towers fell and Giles collapsed, kept collapsing. It's different now; everything's different now. Buffy's alive, Giles isn't alone.

"Love you. Buffy loves you. It's not your fault, none of it is."

A mantra, repeated enough that it seems to lose sense, is where the truth is. Oz squeezes Giles' neck and tries to believe that.

Tue, Mar. 1st, 2005 11:39 pm (UTC)

The problem with not telling Oz is that then he doesn't know. Says well-meaning things, loving things, and thinks they're true. "I rang her," Giles says. "A few days ago. First night I couldn't sleep." Oz's hands go still on his neck and back, and Giles wants to push against him like a puppy, a spoilt housecat, demanding to be petted some more.

As though Oz hasn't touched him as much as ever these last days, kissed him, sat in his lap, come in his mouth and his hands, slept in his arms. Good, always good, but not a cure for this.

Taking Oz's hands in his own, Giles sits up. "She put the phone down. Wouldn't talk to me at all."

Unfair of him, really, to be so hurt. It's a way of blaming her. Burdening her with what's his, and she's got responsibilities enough of her own. "She'll get over it," Giles says quickly, in case Oz is about to be angry at her. "I know. But she - she will die. And I won't be there. I chose." He kisses Oz's hand, not sure if it's his lips or Oz's fingers that are so cold. "I chose right. Just need to get through this. And stop being stupid. I'm so sorry, Oz." So much went into choosing Oz--years of wanting, years to feel all his old mistakes. And tonight, for a while, he chose drink instead.


Wed, Mar. 2nd, 2005 12:22 am (UTC)

Oz wants to bark at Giles. Shake him, shout that he's not stupid, *something* to rile him up and get him out of this...this *fog* that's clogging his words and forgiving everyone else so he can shoulder more blame.

That is, however, absolutely the last thing Giles needs. Oz goes back to stroking long, slow circles over Giles' shoulderblades and tilts his head against his upper arm.

"Wish you'd told me," he says gently, then rolls his face so he can kiss the side of Giles' hands. Strong hands, long fingers that hold guitars, Oz, books just as confidently as they hold swords and battle-axes. "Glad you *did* tell me, just wish --." He lifts his eyes and looks steadily at Giles, summoning all the calm he can, hoping some of it transfers to Giles. "Don't apologize. It's talking to the Watchers, isn't it? That, and --"

Buffy. He can't be mad at her; he's never been mad at her so much as he's loved and resented her. She brought Giles to Sunnydale; without her, he'd never have met Giles. But she kept Giles away, too.

"Just love you so much."

Anger's wrong. He's not angry, he's grateful. He should thank Giles for choosing. Thank Buffy for bringing Giles to America. Thank *someone* for keeping everyone alive.

Wed, Mar. 2nd, 2005 12:56 am (UTC)

"The Council's not best pleased with me, no." Two days of bloody meetings, Incidents Committee and Disciplinary Committee and Executive Committee and a private chat with that bastard Travers as well. Two days of explaining himself, justifying himself, impossible when he daren't mention Oz, and then Travers shutting the door and looking him in the eye and saying We know about the American boy, Rupert. The one you've got living with you. That was always your weakness, wasn't it? Boys.

They did everything to break him, shame him, just like when he was twenty-one and had called up a demon and murdered a man.

Last time was different. Last time he deserved it.

Giles scrubs his hands over his face, wishing he could rub inside his skull, scour away the exhaustion and the whiskey. He's steadier now, with the initial dizzy slide into numbness over, but he's still drunk. Everything a bit sideways, logic chasing its own tail, words like merry paths leading nowhere.

"I love you," he says, because it's something he is sure of. "Don't - don't think I regret this. Please don't." It's hard to tell, from Oz's still and gentle face, if he ever did think it. "It's . . . a reason why I didn't tell you, I think. Didn't want you to misunderstand." It shouldn't be possible to make the right choice and still feel guilty. But it is.

"I think I need some tea." Tea will help. Tea's the opposite of whiskey. It's home, conversation, a truer and more lasting warmth. "Could we make some tea, Oz?"

Wed, Mar. 2nd, 2005 01:33 am (UTC)

"Lots of tea. And something to eat."

Holding Giles' elbow (unexpectedly sharp, even through the double layer of his pajamas and robe), Oz helps him up, then slides his arm around Giles' waist as they make their way through the dark to the kitchen.

He sits Giles at the table, kissing the top of his head before moving over to the counter to fill the kettle and plug it in. His hands are shaking. Regret is a word, a state, that hadn't occurred to him until just now.

Regret is implacable, seeping into your head, revising history again and again, uselessly and endlessly. That neither of them does regret is something of a miracle.

Oz takes out the scones he made yesterday afternoon, three batches more than he'd planned. He's been nervous, too, for over a week now; the cupboards and freezer are crammed with baked experiments. He added crushed butterscotch chips to these, just to use them up.

"What did they say?" he asks, joining Giles back at the table, bringing the scones with him. "The Watchers? Or don't tell me now, I just --"

The whistle sounds, eerie mechanical shriek in the dark, and Oz almost falls out his chair, heading to get it.

"Assam okay?" he asks over his shoulder, lifting two mugs from the drainer. Giles nods vaguely and Oz smiles at him. "Okay. Eat something. They're sweet and un-sconey."

He brings back the pot, dangling the mugs from his fingers, the jug of milk and jar of sugar tucked into his arms.

Fri, Mar. 4th, 2005 01:57 am (UTC)

Oz does everything so well. Such neat competence in his hands, such attention as he spoons sugar and pours milk into the mugs, removes the tealeaf-filled strainer from the pot, pours and stirs. Oz makes tea as though he's glad to be doing it. Lovingly. Giles wonders if the teapot feels grateful for Oz's attentions, as grateful as he himself does.

Oz sets a mug in front of him, and a scone on a plate, and clears his throat in reminder. Giles is supposed to be eating. So he eats, closing his eyes for a moment to fully taste the scone (sweet as a slice of cake), sipping at the milky tea between bites. He eats, as best he can, gratefully.

When he's eaten half the scone, he says, "The Council threatened to sack me if I don't go back to Sunnydale." Like the dreams, it doesn't sound like much. Oz doesn't say anything--just keeps sipping at his tea, then refills Giles' mug and his own--but even so, even in the dark, without touching, Giles knows it's not a skeptical silence. Just a sympathetic, patient one. Oz will always take him on faith. Won't assume he's being ridiculous.

"The problem is that they . . . they . . . they know about us. You. Not the wolf," Giles adds hastily when Oz takes a quick breath and holds it. "That you're here. I'm afraid they might have you deported."

The Council has influence in every country in the world. Giles used to be proud of that.

Fri, Mar. 4th, 2005 02:21 am (UTC)

Standing up, Oz embraces Giles with one arm, just briefly, just long enough to lean down and press his cheek against the top of Giles' head and take a deep breath.

He refills the kettle and rinses out the teapot before he says anything. Deport is such an ugly word, conjuring up images of bombed-out piers and broken ships, something Napoleonic and post-apocalyptic all at once.

"Did they say that?" he asks as he sits back down and covers Giles' hand with his own. "About me, I mean."

It shouldn't be a surprise, Oz supposes, that the Watchers know about him. The Watchers can get you a passport, they can kill the Slayer. They can basically do whatever they want.

"And the other part..." Oz leans back in his chair, flooded with heat that's something like shame, a little like anxiety, that matches exactly the intensity of sun on a California morning. "We can go back if you have to."

Giles turns his head, looking at Oz, working his lips together.

"Not that I want to," Oz says. "Or that you do. But if you have to -- Yeah. I'll follow you."

Fri, Mar. 4th, 2005 03:03 am (UTC)

Giles grips Oz's fingers hard, as though he might be dragged off to the airport at any second. "They didn't say it exactly. But they didn't need to." Travers' sneer, the easy contempt of a man who's never loved anything, not even his timid frump of a wife. Love's a tool to him, a manipulable weakness, and what is it about the Council that it's always run by these nasty little Iagos? "Last year they threatened to deport me from America if Buffy didn't submit to all kinds of tests and nonsense."

Oz would go. Back to the hellmouth, back to everything he's ever wanted to get away from. And that makes deciding easier somehow, makes Giles a little less afraid. "Shouldn't have let them try it on." There seemed no refusing, then. Until Buffy, clever brave Buffy, refused. It's long past time that he learned from her. "Not again. I won't be blackmailed. I'll send them a letter tomorrow. Resignation letter."

His voice sounds thick and hesitant, his heart's pounding, but it's not like the slow, glacial despair he felt when they sacked him a few years ago. Perhaps amputating a rotten limb feels like this, pain and a clean freedom.

The kettle whistles (Oz, being Oz, likes the old-fashioned sound and never uses the electric kettle) and when Oz gets up to make more tea, Giles pulls him close for a moment and kisses his cheek. Not on the mouth, not reeking of whiskey as he must be. "Thank you," he says.

Fri, Mar. 4th, 2005 03:49 am (UTC)

"Welcome," Oz says, wrapping his arms around Giles' neck and kissing his beard-rough upper lip. Giles has been a Watcher his whole life; even as a kid, Oz always imagined, he was intent and careful. Joyful, too, but smarter than most people, more loving but also more analytical.

When they fired him, Giles sagged like a rotten wooden bridge, swinging perilously over a chasm.

"Resigning's a big step," Oz says, swishing the hot water around the pot, then dumping it and refilling. "You good on scones?"

There are still five on the plate, but Oz wants to check. Giles nods and Oz brings the pot back to the table.

"Love you," he says, sliding back into his seat. He leans forward, both arms on the edge of the table, looking Giles over. Weary, unshaven, exhausted, and Giles *still* looks incredibly handsome and eminently lovable. "All the time, a little more. You said that thing about getting to know me? Better, or whatever. It's true."

Sat, Mar. 12th, 2005 10:40 pm (UTC)

Giles warms his hands on the teapot for a minute, then loosely grasps Oz's fingertips, curling his own fingers over them. Knowledge grows every day, it's true. Tonight he's learned that Oz can make tea in the dark, that he can sit in a cold kitchen with bare arms and bare feet and not notice his own shivers, that he'll meet Giles' foolishness with love.

"Not a big step. Resigning. Not really." Closing his eyes, Giles strokes the pads of Oz's fingers and the bitten nubs of his nails. Beautiful hands he has, small and precise and strong. "It's just the last step." Giles started walking away from the Watchers years ago. Perhaps on that first morning with Oz, when Giles explained about vampires and Slayers and himself. Or perhaps earlier, the night before, when he asked Oz to stay instead of sending him home and forgetting him.

Eyes closed, he can feel Oz looking at him, but he opens his eyes to look back. Too dark to see, really, but Giles knows Oz's expression without seeing it. Love, and mercy, and that little worried wrinkle between his eyebrows, that slight tension at the corners of his mouth. "If they do deport you, I'll follow. Not to Sunnydale. Somewhere else, wherever you want." Deportation was probably just a threat, but Quentin Travers in a punitive mood can be even nastier than usual.

There's a shift in Oz's face that might be a smile, and he squeezes Giles' hands before loosing them and pouring out more tea. Less sugar in the cup this time, as though he's bringing Giles back to normal, little by little. They don't talk for a while, but there's something comforting and good in the faint sounds of chewing, sipping, swallowing.

Tired as he is, and drunk, Giles' thoughts start to loop and hover and fade, forming with random suddenness and then disappearing again, like a stage magician's doves and coins. Halfway through the currant scone that Oz let him substitute for the too-sweet butterscotch one, Giles remembers something. "Oz, what were the other things?" Oz makes a puzzled sound. "You said - earlier, you said that after we split up, you drank. And other things. What were the other things?"

There's a bloody handprint in the memory book. Oz bled, and drank, and what else?

Sat, Mar. 12th, 2005 11:25 pm (UTC)

For a moment, the dark trembles, like it's about to pull apart, going threadbare, stretching over a bright shine it can't possibly cover. Oz blinks hard, swallowing against the uprush of air from his lungs, and squeezes Giles' hand.

Knowing someone better is all well and good when you know the *good* stuff. How he takes his tea, what he looks like asleep when you slip back into bed after morning meditation, the sound of his voice from the bottom of the stairwell.

Confession, though, confession of mistakes and stupidity is -- Oz thinks it's a whole other realm, but it isn't. It's the same as sharing soap and making tea for someone.

"Other things...well, like drugs. Lot of acid, that kind of thing." It's dark between them, around them, but Giles' face is a shade less dark, a degree warmer, and Oz leans in. "Anything to, um. Stop thinking. So I drank. Tripped." He coughs into his free hand. "Sleptaroundalot."

Better to get it all out then make Giles *pull* it out of him, strand by filthy tendon-like strand.

Sun, Mar. 13th, 2005 12:02 am (UTC)

Giles has to wait a few moments, blinking stupidly, deciphering, before he understands. "Slept around?"

Oz wasn't faithful to Willow. Even before that werewolf girl, Oz wasn't.

But Oz was faithful to him, while they were together.

The satisfaction of it is like scoring a hit in fencing, like watching a choice bit of sarcasm sink in. But he should be thinking of Oz now, not Willow.

"Who-?" Devon, maybe? But Oz wouldn't count Devon as "sleeping around." They'd been having sex since they were fourteen; Devon wouldn't be "sleeping around" because Devon was always there.

After Oz met Giles, he stopped sleeping with Devon. Stopped long before Giles dared to ask.

Devon must have been one of them. But not the only one.

Giles remembers the memory book again, a matchbook cover from a bar. "You - Weisse's. You were-" Picking up men there, sad and furtive men, and fucking them. Touching them. Letting them touch him. "Did you-?" Did you enjoy it?, Giles wants to ask, but he's afraid of how that would sound. Jealous, and he's not sure if he's jealous, not sure what this pain squeezing his lungs and his heart is made of.

Sun, Mar. 13th, 2005 12:17 am (UTC)

There's incomprehension and comprehension sliding against each other in Giles' voice, the need to understand contending with desperation to back away, to not know, to erase.

Oz knows the feeling.

"Yeah, Weisse's," he says, and the filthy tinsel-dimness of the place, the disinfectant stink and old, recycled beer stench, it's not coming back to him. It's just there, hovering around them. Oz nods; he doesn't want to take any of this back, but he also doesn't know how much Giles wants, needs, to know.

"On gigs, too, you know. Just a lot of it, and --" He remembers it all, and most of the time, it feels like it happened to someone else. But he did it; he did it all. "I was always careful. Like I told you. Not just 'cause that place was disgusting in ways there aren't words for."

When he looks at Giles, all he sees is the vague glow of his glasses. Oz squints, raising one shoulder to scratch against his chin.

"I -- I don't do that any more. Not for a long time. Not again, either."

Sun, Mar. 13th, 2005 01:04 am (UTC)

"I know." Whatever Oz did then happened, he's sure, because Oz missed him, not because Oz likes to deceive. And missing someone is like noise, like jackhammers and drilling. There's no ignoring it, only covering it with louder things like sex or blurring it with drink and drugs.

He doesn't want to think that Oz enjoyed it, enjoyed the feel and taste of all those other bodies, but it's worse to know that he didn't. That it was medicinal and desperate. "I . . . I did rather a lot of that myself. Sleeping around." And it was different. Not casual sex, not play and pleasure and an uncomplicated orgasm, but degrading somehow. Afterwards he always felt vaguely hung-over and deeply, specifically, incurably lonely.

"Once-" Giles holds on tight to Oz's hand and stares down at the teapot. It's the only way he can tell this, grounded and safe but not seeing how Oz reacts. "Once, in Los Angeles when I was meant to be looking for Buffy, I picked up a boy. A young boy, maybe fifteen or sixteen. A prostitute." Small and thin and red-haired. Giles had been drinking, or he'd have known better than to pick up anyone who looked like Oz.

Silence from Oz, even his breathing soundless, but he's rubbing Giles' wrist with his thumb. Gently. "I couldn't. He was an addict, there were track marks on him. And I, I couldn't even get hard." He'd wanted to fuck him, stroke him into coming with Giles' cock inside him, but he stayed limp even when the boy knelt between his legs and sucked him. "Paid him twice what we agreed. Because I could see he was scared that I might get angry. Hurt him." Sent him away and lay all night on the dirty coverlet of the dirty bed, listening to the sounds of fucking all around him.

Sun, Mar. 13th, 2005 01:19 am (UTC)

"Jesus. Poor guy --" Oz ducks his head when Giles lifts his suddenly. He sounds croaky, sleep- and water-deprived, and coughs again. "Him, you."

That was the summer after they broke up. When Buffy was gone and the center of everything just dropped away, leaving them all standing alone around a crater, not looking at each other. That was the summer he and Giles were going to drive up north, to Oregon and Washington, maybe even Canada. That was the summer Giles kept travelling, alone, reporting in from motels, calling Xander or Willow, never Oz, reappearing in the library each time a little thinner and wanner.

The hairs on Giles' wrist are starting to rasp and burn under Oz's thumb, so he slides his grip up to Giles' elbow. Without planning to, he pulls Giles toward him, his other arm going around Giles' neck. Giles presses his face into the curve of Oz's neck and Oz pats him like a baby with gas.

"Missed you," Oz says. "So much. I'm so sorry."

Sorry sounds stupid. Retarded and pointless, but it's the only word Oz can think of. The only word in his head, reverberating as it slams against the walls of his skull, sorrysorrysorrysorry.

He kisses the curve of Giles' cheekbone, right up at his hairline, and sighs.

"It's all so stupid. In retrospect, I mean. Made sense at the time. Kept looking for guys who looked like you, except -- No one looks like you. Feels like you."

Sun, Mar. 13th, 2005 01:50 am (UTC)

Giles wriggles in closer, twisting his fingers in the elastic waistband of Oz's pyjama bottoms, ignoring how the chair edge digs into his thighs. Oz smells good, like sleep and sugar and tea leaves spread in the sun, and Giles would gladly beg him never to leave again. "No substitutes," he says. He can smell the whiskey on his own breath, reflected back to him from Oz's skin, but it's fainter now. "Every time-" His voice snags and he starts again. "Every time I was with someone else, I just missed you more." What he missed wasn't fucking Oz, it was loving him. And there's no replacing that, no carob or chicory for an approximation that's almost good enough.

There was only absence, missing Oz more. Except the once, with Ethan, with the memory of love, but in the end that was just another betrayal.

Stupidity. "I'm sorry." Giles kisses Oz's neck, breathes sorry into the curve and salt. "Sorry for just now. Drinking. I hid it from you. The whiskey. I found it in the shop, back in Sunnydale, and I . . . sorry." He'd gladly beg Oz not to leave him, but he hopes he won't have to. Hopes his stupidity hasn't done them that much harm.

Sun, Mar. 13th, 2005 02:02 am (UTC)

"It's okay," Oz says, combing Giles' hair backward, up from his neck, making it stick up and curl almost as much as his own does. Three syllables to go from the nape of Giles' neck to the crown of his skull. "It's okay, it's okay."

No more secrets, they'd told each other, and Oz knows they both meant it. But keeping secrets, holding them close enough to your chest that they prick and draw blood, that's habitual. Habitforming and hard to give up.

"Glad you told me now," Oz says, and if he wonders what Giles would have done if he *hadn't* gotten out of bed, he doesn't finish the thought. Hand on Giles' shoulder, Oz eases slightly back so he can see Giles' face. Downturned and shadowed, but still familiar and loved. "Back then, I'd've done anything, said anything, to feel you again. Know how it feels. Hiding from -- from everything you're feeling. It's okay. Not mad, Giles."

He looked for numbness and stimulation back then, feared seeing Giles as much as he *needed* to see him.

Sun, Mar. 13th, 2005 02:30 am (UTC)

Relief has the same spreading, sinking warmth as sleep, and Giles lets his head sag down to his shoulder for a moment, resting his cheek on Oz's hand. "Thank you."

In these three months, Oz has seen him despairing three times, and hasn't given up on him. Giles doesn't want to test that miracle any farther. He lifts his head and says, "But it's not okay. I shouldn't . . . I was trying to protect you, I think. Hiding things. Treating you like a child." Which sounds so absurd that he could almost laugh.

"And . . ." He stokes Oz's forearm up and down, slightly chilly skin and a soft fuzz of hair. This is hard to say, harder than it should be. "I shouldn't drink anymore. At all. Neither of us should."

Oz wanted a drink of that whiskey. Giles shivers, realizing, and Oz pats his shoulder. Oz bought beer in Sunnydale and then didn't drink it. Almost stopped at the off-license, the day of Xander's engagement party, and then accelerated hard and sped away. They've both been dancing around temptation. "After everything, after all the ways we've been stupid . . . let's not be stupid about this. We can help each other."

No more whiskey, no more wine with dinner, no more having a pint at the pub. For a second Giles hates the thought. But he's left Sunnydale for Oz's sake. He's leaving the Watchers. This is a small thing, in comparison.

Sun, Mar. 13th, 2005 02:46 am (UTC)

Resignation, transatlantic travel, hellmouths, all of them seem frail -- almost wispy and ridiculous -- in comparison to something like agreeing never to drink again. That suddenly looms, momentous and unscaleable, like joining a monastic order or rappelling down the face of Mt. Rushmore.

Except Oz hasn't had anything since dinner at his mom's house. He barely drank that wine *anyway*. Right now, it's more about Giles, about Giles asking for help and wanting to stay sober, and Oz realizes he's already nodding.

"Yeah," he says slowly. Maybe too slowly, because Giles is starting to squint and pull in his shoulders. "Yeah, okay."

He kisses Giles' forehead -- who's being treated like a child here? he wonders, then decides he doesn't care, because when he presses his mouth against Giles' face, the wrinkles smooth out and Giles tightens his arms around Oz's waist, and they tip together, awkwardly, like birch trees in a storm, and rest.

"Okay," he says again. "Help each other. Yeah."

Mon, Mar. 14th, 2005 01:09 am (UTC)

Oz sounds hesitant, almost reluctant. It's understandable enough--after all, it's not he who was drinking secretly in the middle of the night. Not he who's on the verge of turning into another old soak, like so many middle-aged Watchers.

But he said okay. He'll help, and Giles doesn't think he could do this without Oz's help. "Thank you," Giles says yet again. How many times has he said that tonight? Fewer than he's said I'm sorry, probably, and he likes thank you better.

He leans against Oz for a while longer, letting his body go heavy and calm and sleepy. But there are a couple of things that need doing. "I want to get rid of the whiskey." Oz nods, holds his hand as he fetches the bottle and the glass, stands at his elbow while he pours the whiskey down the sink and washes the glass four times with scalding-hot water and plenty of suds.

After he puts the rinsed bottle in the bin, Giles says, "I did this once before. The morning after you came back. I was never sure if you noticed or not. Although I suppose you must have seen the binful of old bottles."

Mon, Mar. 14th, 2005 01:34 am (UTC)

It helps to *do* something. Despite every promise, well-meant and truthful, to talk more, Oz can't help preferring doing to talking. It feels realer. Heavier.

He puts his arm around Giles' waist and leans back against the counter, using the hem of his t-shirt to dry Giles' hands. Handsome hands -- and Oz smiles as he wonders if he's being redundant -- long fingers, broad across the knuckles, pink at the pads.

"Noticed them, sure," he says when he realizes he's been quiet too long. When Giles' hands are perfectly dry and Oz is just holding them in his own, working his thumbs back and forth like slow windshield-wipers. "Didn't know what to say."

He never knows what to say, that's the thing. Leaving one hand in Giles', Oz pulls away, far enough to reach the fridge and grab the carton of orange juice. White light, startling in all this dark, and it almost X-rays his hand as he reaches inside.

Three swallows of juice that drain it all, a rush of sugar and sun, and Oz sets the empty carton down in the sink.

"I just -- worry about you. And then I don't know what to say, and I start remembering other times I was worried or whatever, and it like -- clams me up even more." Coughing into the neck of his shirt, Oz squares his shoulders and looks up, meeting Giles' eyes. Glints in the dark like weird fish deep, deep down. "So I want to help. Anything. In case that wasn't clear. And I'm sorry about before, about, like. Weisse's and everything."

Mon, Mar. 14th, 2005 02:04 am (UTC)

"Oz. You've got nothing to apologize to me for." Trying to think what to say, Giles fills two glasses with water, hands one to Oz, and drinks several long swallows from his own. He imagines it chasing out the alcohol, making him clean again. "You were safe. You protected yourself. That's all that matters." When Oz drinks, the glass distorts his features, masklike, turning him to a pale sheet and two dark, listening eyes. "I'd be lying if I said it didn't bother me a little. But what bothers me, mostly, is that you were unhappy."

Both so unhappy, missing each other, and yet it took almost four years for them to find the obvious answer. And even now, for all their promises and good intentions, everything could go wrong again. Sometimes Giles feels the way he used to at the museum, when he unrolled a fragile scroll or sorted ancient clay bullae. One slip and disaster. But this is much more frightening, because it's his life he might drop.

He sets his water glass down and puts a hand on Oz's shoulder, right along the upward slope to his neck. Tension in the muscles, and Giles rubs gently. "As for the rest . . . you can just tell me. Tell me you're worried. Or, if you asked Olivia I'd think she'd recommend 'Rupert, you're being a fool.' Perhaps accompanied by a good hard kick to the backside." Oz takes a step in, closer, and Giles slides his other arm around Oz's waist. The best feeling in the world, this, or close to it. "I'll try not to put you through this again. I love you." He'd like to promise more, but he doesn't think he can and still be honest.

Mon, Mar. 14th, 2005 02:23 am (UTC)

"Love you. And it's okay," Oz says into the folds of Giles' robe. At the soft, inquiring sound from Giles, he looks up and repeats it. "It's okay. And I *did* say I was worried. I'll tell you again."

Giles' robe has nice, deep pockets, warmed from the inside out by his body, and Oz slips his hands into them. He's not quite sure why he feels so -- weird. Slickly empty inside, his pulse too close to the surface of his skin, but clanging hollowly around his body.

All those afternoons in the library, over the summer, then back to the library, soaked with whiskey and sliced by sidewise glances: Oz doesn't ever want to go back to those days. It's just that they feel strangely close right now.

"Can we go back to bed?" Oz asks, and he realizes he sounds shy. Croaky as a little kid, and next thing he knows, he'll be rubbing his eyes and kicking up a fuss.

Giles is looking at him, starting to frown, just a slight deepening around the corners of his mouth, and Oz shrugs.

"I'm okay, I just -- I *will* talk, I am talking. Get self-conscious sometimes."

Mon, Mar. 14th, 2005 02:48 am (UTC)

Giles stops himself from asking again if Oz is all right. He's tired, and he clearly doesn't want to talk anymore, and neither of those things is surprising. Poor boy, woken up from a sound sleep for this. "I'd like to have a shower first," Giles says. "Before bed. I feel . . ." Dirty, but it's too obvious to be worth saying. He doesn't want to wake up stinking of sweated-out whiskey, or to taste the slight sweet burn that's still there when he swallows. "Will you wait up for me?" Selfish of him, probably, but he doesn't want to get into bed and find Oz already lost in sleep.

Oz makes a movement against Giles' chest that might be a nod, and a small assenting sound. His hands, deep in the pockets of Giles' dressing gown, rub against the flannel. "God, you must be freezing. Here, I'm sorry." Giles takes off the gown and wraps Oz in it, and kisses his forehead in thanks before going into the bathroom.

He hurries through the shower as much as he can, but it still takes two head-to-toe scrubbings before he feels decent enough for Oz to lie next to him all night. Then a thorough toothbrushing and mouthwash, although he decides it would be silly to floss again. And then he's ready, as free of drink as he can be until his body digests it, turns it to sugar and water. He opens the door to the kitchen, where Oz is waiting for him.

Mon, Mar. 14th, 2005 03:14 am (UTC)

Giles' robe smells like whiskey, sure, but it also smells like their bed, warm with skin and sweat, and *Giles* himself, everything from cumin powder to parchment and in between. Oz wraps it twice around himself and pulls the wide lapels up around his face. Until Giles stepped away, he didn't realize quite how cold he was.

But now Giles is here, fragrant with steam, the moisture on his hair and across his face nearly glowing against his sober pajamas, and Oz is standing up, kissing him, tasting mint and hot water and Giles. All over again, and new starts can't be nearly this easy, but it kind of feels like one.

The bed's cold, and Oz leaves the robe on, but open, as he climbs back in between the sheets. He flips Giles' pillow and smoothes down the bottom sheet, and as soon as Giles lies down, Oz curls up against him, arm and leg over Giles, fingers and even toes curled in, gripping.

He was scared. He didn't realize it until just now, when the fear's evaporating away, but he was. Fear's like cold: he needs to remember to notice it.

"Promise me something?" he asks, tilting back his head and watching Giles' lashes rise and fall. "You have a nightmare or anything, just wake me up. Talk about it or not, whatever, but let me know and I'll --"

Chase it away. It's something his dad used to promise, back during that year of pre-K and then of kindergarten, when Oz had his zombies-dressed-up-like-Green Acres nightmares every single night.

"Chase it away. Or just listen. Promise."

Somehow it's turned from Giles promising *him* to Oz promising Giles. Like a cat curled up, tail tickling her whiskers, all circular and right.

Mon, Mar. 14th, 2005 03:32 am (UTC)

At the moment, warm and clean and mostly sober, heavy with his own weight and Oz's, reassuringly sleepy, Giles believes that Oz really could chase the nightmares away. Oz knows mysteries, after all. Knows how to make Giles better, happier. Knows how to work miracles with tea and scones and touch. "Yes."

It's warm now under the duvet, and Giles slips a hand past the dressing gown and t-shirt to touch Oz's back, fold his fingers into the valley below his shoulderblade. He thinks, vaguely, of the crowds around saints and lamas, jostling for a brush of fingers or even the hem of a robe. "You're so good to me," he says, and softly presses his lips to Oz's. Reverence. In the marriage service, there's a promise to worship. They knew something, all those old priests and scholars.

He's falling asleep faster than he wants to. Strange, after so many nights hungering for sleep, despairing of it and fearing it. But right, necessary. He's not afraid. If he has nightmares, Oz will be there.

Mon, Mar. 14th, 2005 03:48 am (UTC)

Eventually, Giles' head drops away, his forehead bumping Oz's chin, his mouth opening on the base of Oz's throat. Eventually, but it's a long time, his lips on Oz's, his breath stirring up with Oz's own, and it's almost like falling asleep. Sliding away and under, into dreams and comfort.

Almost, but Oz is still awake. His eyes are open, his fingers tight in Giles' pajamas, and he feels Giles sleeping against him, chest rising and voice murmuring occasionally.

He doesn't think he's particularly good to Giles. Not the way Giles means it, anyway -- as if he doesn't quite deserve it, as if it's a kind of mystery or plot that will change and lift at any moment. Oz is, he thinks, wiggling downward until his cheek is against Giles' forehead, just who he is.

It's just that Giles brings that -- whoever he is -- out better than anyone. Good and bad, gentleness and the thirst for drink, all of it at different times. Those days in the library are sliding farther away with every sigh and mumble from Giles, shrinking into dimness and softening at the edges. In their place, there's just this bed, wide and warm, and Oz could lie here for decades and never stir.

"Love you," he whispers, well after Giles is asleep, and catches his breath, suddenly afraid he'll wake Giles. But Giles just sighs again and Oz kisses his temple. Heads as holy places, skulls and souls, and he must be falling asleep. He's getting weird.

Weirder than usual, and that's all right, too. He's all right, Giles is safe and not afraid, and the morning feels a long, long way off.

Even when it comes, it's just the sun and there's nothing to be afraid of. Nothing, but everything to look forward to.