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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. 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.

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."

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.